Making the Law Count

handDid you know that in 1996 that 3 362 people died as the result of accidents in Chinese coal mines. Or that 16 workers died building the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Building the Empire State building led to the deaths of five construction workers. Death at work is a tragic and mostly unnecessary thing.  Recognising this governments the world over have enacted Occupational Health and Safety Laws (OHS). Indeed OHS is in our faces all the time. Have you seen the latest ads on TV.  Where  workers fall off ladders or slip on floors, as they fall we see their limbs hitting the ground and they are in X Ray format. In all their gory detail we see the pain etched in the faces of the workers and their bones shattering in slow motion. Its queasy but effective advertising that leaves the watcher in no doubt that OHS is an important thing.

In the Australian Capital Territory gross breaches of OHS laws that lead to death can attract manslaughter charges. Fines can reach $1 million and there is a maximum of 20 years imprisonment for gross breaches of OHS laws that lead to death. State OHS laws in Australia vary but standards must be maintained. Large fines and imprisonment are the norm. Employers are subject to random spot checks from inspectors that can lead to substantial fines. In short OHS is no joke. Employers breach OHS laws at their peril. And rightly so because serious injury and death is no joke either.

But it has not always been the way. For years employers got away, virtually, with murder. It goes as far back as the Industrial revolution when workers were forced to work in dangerous conditions and for ridiculously long hours. It took unions and intensive lobbying to get OHS laws implemented. To this day OHS laws still are not seen as being strong enough and industrial advocates continue to lobby for further protection. Thankfully governments have largely enforced OHS laws,  introducing imprisonment and large fines for breaches of the laws. In short OHS laws today offer PROTECTION. Employers are left in no doubt as to what they must do and what can happen if they do not meet the required standards.

This is a far cry from our disability discrimination laws. Our disability discrimination laws offer loop holes that are so big a herd of elephants could get through them. Our disability discrimination laws rely on the principle of reasonable adjustments and unjustifiable hardship. In short organisations can argue that they have taken all reasonable steps to avoid discrimination and they can even argue that they discriminated only because they did not have enough money to not discriminate.

Compare this with our OHS laws. Imagine Judy going to work tomorrow. The safety cover on the meat slicer is broken. She chops of her hand and can’t work in her chosen area ever again. The employer argues that they tried to fix the cover several times but couldn’t. Last month they lost a few thousand dollars and simply couldn’t afford to fix the cover. The judge takes a look at the case and says OK .. you did everything within reason and if you fixed it you would have gone out of business. Case dismissed.  Meanwhile Judy is left waving her stump in  a pathetic effort to remind everyone that she was the victim .. “WHAT ABOUT ME” – she cries. Too bad – money and profit comes first.

Of course this scenario is unlikely to happen in Australia or any other developed countries. Employers KNOW that if they break OHS laws they face big fines and are LIKELY to make sure the workplace is as safe as it possibly can be. Random spot inspections from OHS authorities serve to keep employers on their toes. In the case of injury workers compensation is likely to support workers like Judy. Admittedly there is no compensation for the loss of her hand but at least there is help.

Did you know that the Cinema industry have applied to the Australian Human Rights Commission for an exemption for another 2.5 years from increasing cinema captioning. Arts Access Victoria  put out a media release today imploring all and sundry to reject their application for exemption. Arts Access Victoria provided figures that showed that at current rates of progress it will be 1000 years before the deaf get full captioned access to cinemas. An absurd state of affairs.

In 2004, for example, Greater Union Cinemas posted a net profit of $52 million. Healthy by any standards yet it will not commit to any substantial increase in captioned cinema. We deaf people are expected to say thank you very much for whatever paltry handout we get and then accept this as our lot for the next three years. Imagine if we had Discrimination Standards similar to OHS laws whereby the standard was that  all Multiplex Cinemas must commit to at least 1 captioned session of EVERY movie per day including at least four peak time showings per week.  If they don’t then they face huge fines or six months in jail. (Ok Jail might be a bit extreme.) I bet you they would comply quick sharp.

Imagine if there were disrimination inspectors. At random they visit schools or workplaces.  They ask to see disability action plans, they check for accessible formats for information, they check if all meetings are interpreted for deaf participants and so on. If you don’t comply .. Fines. And what is more there are no excuses! Organisations have a responsibility to KNOW. Just like with safety.

Imagine with DVDs if we have a law that says EVERY DVD will be captioned … no excuses. $10 000 fines for distributors that don’t comply. Every DVD checked by the inspectors … No captions then face the consequences! Would they comply? HO HO HO HO .. you bet they would.

Legislating for discrimination in the same way as OHS is not hard. You just recognise that people who are deaf or have disabilities are active and contributing members of our society. You recognise that discrimination, like injuries in the work place, is preventable and abhorrent and you draft laws with punch that protect and prescribe what must happen. Enough of this Reasonable Adjustments crap … Enough of unjustifiable hardship nonsense – if safety can be dictated and prescribed then why not discrimination laws. Its not hard and it is not as far fetched as it seems!

2 thoughts on “Making the Law Count

  1. Hi Gary,
    I was hoping you would be talking about this request from the major cinema chains for an exemption from the DDA on here and I see you are. 😉
    The request for an exemption is going to be considered by the human Rights Commissioner and he will decide if giving the cinemas a two and a half year exemption from the DDA is going to help deaf, HI, blind and vision impaired people get more access to cinema. All the details of this can be found at the link below. They want to hear from any deaf or HI person interested in cinema captioning :

    I hope everyone interested in access to captioned cinema will make a submission. The deadline is Monday 7th December. I just looked and, after Arts Access got involved, there are now 33 submissions – 32 against and, strangely, one from it from an anti Discrimination Office in Tasmania!

    The most surprising thing is how many of the submissions are coming from mainstream Australia. That is fantastic. While the cinemas don’t care much about us as they can’t make a profit from us or blind/vision impaired people, this now stands to be a big public relations disaster for them. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. 😉

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