In Australia and the United Kingdom, workplace health and safety compliance has been considered a prominent element of allegations of business “Red Tape“. On 21 January 2013, Victoria’s Treasurer, Kim Wells, announced new guidelines into red tape in that State’s government authorities and regulators. Wells’ media release states:
“Stage one of the reform will focus on the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA), VicRoads, Environment Protection Authority, Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.” [emphasis added]
Wells also says that the Red Tape Commissioner, John Lloyd, will administer the system which runs like this:
“Ministers will issue statements of expectations to key regulators which will require them to outline by 1 July 2013 how they intend to reduce red tape. Our aim is to see regulators reduce the cost of high-impact or high-volume compliance and administrative activities by reducing timelines and streamlining processes… This might include spending less time assessing license applications for parties with a history of compliance, resolving referrals simultaneously and cutting unnecessary or low-value added steps in approval processes.”
High-risk work licences were mentioned specifically as an example of a positive reduction in red tape.
“People who miss their licence renewal date can now re-apply without incurring the significant additional costs in fees and re-training as a new applicant, if they do so within 12 months of it expiring…. Tens of thousands of these licences are issued by the VWA every year. This is one example of a simple but sensible reform that will significantly reduce business costs.”
It is curious that high-risk work licences are mentioned so prominently. There is no secret that the Victorian Liberal Government has some ideological and political problems with the construction unions, a major sector affected by high-risk licences.
It would be fascinating to see the estimates of cost savings from any red-tape reduction in this area. WorkSafe Victoria’s page on high-risk work licences specifies the costs associated with issuing licences and with renewals. They do not seem exorbitant The costs may be high if construction companies pay for these licences but it is more likely that these personal qualifications are purchased and maintained by individual building workers.
The only licence mentioned in the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ report into WHS business costs commissioned by the government is the taxi licence. There is a cost estimate for “Extended definition of construction work requiring a Construction Induction Training Card” but the CI card is a once-only training cost of around $A150 when done through the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union or the NSCA.
Treasurer Wells’ media release fails to mention the not-insignificant fact that the new Red Tape Commissioner, John Lloyd, is a former commissioner of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), an institution much hated by the construction unions.
Lloyd was also the head of the Institute of Public Affairs’ director of the Work Reform and Productivity Unit during which he wrote extensively about union powers and industrial relations. Early in January 2013 Lloyd told SafetyAtWorkBlog that
“I have found good projects that are well managed and code compliant have very sound OHS practices that comply with the law. Inadequate and sloppy OHS practices is normally an indicator of a poorly managed project.
Of course, one has to be mindful that on occasions the unions tend to use OHS as a ruse for other grievances and agendas. This is of concern as it can undermine the commitment of workers to good OHS practices. “
Lloyd has said publicly that he considers red tape to have a:
“…broad definition – it’s not just the laws, regulations, rules, codes, it’s the whole range of government requirements placed on business and people in Victoria…”
He sees his role a looking why red tape is there:
“….what’s the purpose of the requirement, the regulation, the rule or the form or whatever – what purpose does it serve and is that end of any use, does it serve any purpose for government, does it add any value and what is the cost”.
One of the suggestions in the guidelines for “reducing costs on regulated entities is:
“Taking a more targeted and risk-based approach to inspections. For example, reducing the frequency of inspections for parties with a strong history of compliance in low-risk areas of operation (i.e. areas with a history of low incident frequency and severity).”
The government has not followed the UK model of excising the small business sector from OHS reporting but it would be interesting to determine what number of OHS inspections have been occurring in “low risk areas of operation”. Where is the evidence that WorkSafe has not been targeting high-risk activities?
Another (bizarre) suggestion is:
“Improving guidance to regulated parties to help reduce the need for inspections.”
One would have to agree that WorkSafe Victoria is one government authority that is leading in its marketing and compliance information. There is no indication which authority or agency the government is pointing at with this suggestion.
These new guidelines put the Victorian safety profession, and others, into the position where it has to prove the cost benefit of what the government considers red tape. It also needs to consider whether the government and its red tape commissioner will accept arguments on qualitative benefits or whether only the dollar cost is considered. The safety profession needs to present the dollar benefits of the OHS paperwork that it requires and it is required to produce.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has said previously that “one person’s red tape is another’s due diligence“. In the next few months, that case needs to be made, argued and validated.