Two different approaches to risk management and safety in Australia Reply

Australian Standards can have a major role to play in the management of safety in workplaces.  They apply to equipment, documents, decisions and can have legislative credibility if required by specific regulations.  Australian Standards are regularly referred to in guidances issued by OHS regulators adding further credibility.  The highest selling standard for many years has been Risk Management.

Unreasonable safety costs

One of SafetyAtWorkBlog’s long-held peeves needs to be stated here.  The standards are produced by a private company, Standards Australia.  The standards are only available for sale.  Small business, in particular, often baulks at OHS improvements because they see OHS management as a large cost for a small return, in a risk management context.  But the standards they need to satisfy regulatory compliance can only to be purchased.

If the Australian government is serious about easing the cost of regulatory compliance, make any Australian Standard that is mentioned in legislation available for free.

But government’s are only interested in reducing indirect OHS costs through paperwork and “red tape”, and OHS compliance requires some level of documentation.

Risk Management

Two important OHS documents that discuss risk management were released within weeks of each other.  First the Australian government released the second and final report of the Review into National Model OHS Laws (OHS Report).  The other report was the findings of the Tasmanian Coroner into the death of Larry Knight.  

The Coroner’s report was highly critical of the Beaconsfield mine’s (BGM) risk management process.

“BGM submits that there has been adequate documentation of its risk management…… I do not accept BGM’s submission” (pages 68-69)

The Coroner goes on to say

“…., the evidence is unclear upon the steps taken by BGM, prior to this decision, in its evaluation of those risks identified by its own risk analysis process. To illustrate:

  • There is no evidence to explain the decision to resume mining in contradiction of Mr Gill’s memorandum which had stipulated that forward modelling be completed beforehand.
  • Mr Gill had, in his memorandum posed the questions, “Are our current ground support standards sufficient for the seismicity being experienced?, and if they aren’t, “What is required?” However, there is not any evidence of BGM having undertaking an assessment of the sufficiency of its ground support standards so that these questions could be answered nor is there any record evidencing why the decision was taken to resume mining without these questions being addressed.
  • Dr Sharrock had identified an important depth of failure issue which Mr Gill acknowledged was raised by him at his close-out meeting yet there is no evidence to explain the evaluation of this concern by BGM and the basis for its rejection.
  • There does not appear to be any evidence of BMG having considered the reevaluation of its ground support after Mr Basson’s modelling results became available although this had been advised by Mr Turner.”  (pages 66-67, my emphasis)

The coroner’s report is full of this type of comment of an inadequate risk management and assessment process.

Reading the report in full generates a big question of how can a company be so deficient in its safety management system and still not be held responsible for the consequences of its actions?

The company remains belligerent  in its defence of the very risk assessment process that the Coroner slammed.  In a media statement, CEO Bill Colvin states

“…the company is disappointed at the lack of acknowledgement of the extensive risk assessment process undertaken by the Beaconsfield Gold mine following the October 2005 rock fall.

“Contrary to comments made by the Coroner, there was rigorous risk assessment, the mine did vary its ground support system and it changed its mining method. Nevertheless, the Coroner did find that no person contributed to the death of Larry Knight.”

Which report was he reading?

Outside of the coronial process, there seems to be sufficient evidence in the coroner’s report for Workplace Standards Tasmania to have another look at prosecuting BGM for failing to ensure that Larry Knight had a healthy and safe work environment.

Review Panel – Risk Management

The Review Panel decided not to include risk management as an enforceable element of national OHS legislation, even though it is a legislative requirement in Queensland.  The panel has reduced the emphasis on risk management by including it only “as part of an object of the model Act.” (page xviii) 

Placing it as an object of the Act puts risk management out of the public’s eye.  If risk management is not part of the obligations of an employer in law, we should not expect business operators to embrace them.  The BGM risk management process was found to be deficient by the Coroner and may have contributed to the death of Larry Knight but the Review Panel sets risk management as an aim and not an enforceable part of model OHS legislation.  It advocated the concept but would not committed

The panel heard, in a submission by Johnstone, Bluff and Quinlan, that

“The Model OHS Act should explicitly require duty holders to undertake systematic OHS management in order to comply with their general duty obligations, and the Act should outline the approach to be taken in a way that integrates the concept of ‘reasonably practicable’ into the process, and also shows how duty holders should use the provisions in regulations and codes of relevance to the issue being addressed in order to comply with the general duty.”

The Review Panel followed the recommendation of the Law Council of Australia that risk management be included in Regulations and not the Act itself.

But then, the review was not a review of occupational health and safety but of occupational health and safety law.  The management of safety was never its focus.

If it had been such a review, or if the government decides that a “safety management review” is warranted in the next few years, there would have been the opportunity to analyse the cost of managing safety and to show how the legal fraternity and the standards setting processes unnecessarily contribute to high compliance costs and red tape.

Risk management was clearly an important business process at Beaconsfield Gold even if the application of the process was poor.  The Coroner said

“one obvious line of defence is to have in place a systematic, comprehensive, rigorous and properly documented risk assessment process.  It is my opinion that BGM did not abide by such a process in the period between the October ’05 rockfalls and Anzac Day 2006.” (page 71)

Larry Knight died on Anzac day 2006.

The Review Panel believes risk management can sit in Regulations and in legislative aims.  Standards Australia continues to charge for its OHS and risk management standards.  The Australian government remains silent on providing free business management information that has the real possibility of saving lives.  Bring on the safety management review!

Kevin Jones

Beaconsfield Coroners report update Reply

There have been several media reports of the disappointment in the findings felt by Larry Knight’s family but little else in the media, particularly over the weekend when some retrospection could have been expected.

However, the Tasmanian workplace relations minister, Lisa Singh, issued a statement last week.  The most significant parts of the statement are

“I was pleased that the coroner Mr Rod Chandler noted in his report that the inspectorate was adequately staffed,” Ms Singh said. “I accept his criticism that at the time of the rock fall that killed Mr Knight, Workplace Standards was not sufficiently resourced to handle some issues of mine safety. That has now been rectified.

“I am seeking further advice on his recommendation that an audit of the office be undertaken each year to ensure that it is properly fulfilling its statutory duties.”

According to a statement from the law firm Maurice Blackburn

“Maurice Blackburn Special counsel Kamal Farouque, who acted as Counsel for the Knight family and the AWU throughout the Coronial Inquest, said that Coroner Rod Chandler’s findings include several major criticisms including:

  • ground support at the mine was inadequate;
  • the mine failed to put in place a comprehensive, rigorous and properly documented risk assessment process; and
  • if a thorough and systematic risk assessment process had been conducted, the likelihood of Mr Knight’s death occurring would have been reduced, perhaps significantly.

“What is plain is that the Coroner has made findings that indicate safety deficiencies,” Mr. Farouque said.

“A lesson to be learned from Mr Knight’s tragic death is the critical importance of proper risk management practices to worker safety, particularly in the mining industry,” Mr. Chandler found.”

Now we wait to see who implements those lessons.

Kevin Jones

Safety In Numbers Reply

Occupational health and safety has long been viewed by companies as a cost burden, but with legislative reform on the horizon, the time for a more proactive approach by the business community is now.

The full article is available at Business Spectator

Happiness is a warm million Reply

The Australian newspapers in late-February shared the “outrage” of politicians and then the community over training that was provided to public servants by the American “happiness guru” Professor Martin Seligman.

The cost to the taxpayer seems exorbitant but the psychologist was from the US and was training delegates for many days.  It is not unusual for US experts to charge over $US600 per hour plus travel and accomm0dation.

The Community & Public Sector Union‘s Assistant National Secretary Paul Gepp noted  in a media statement that news of the expensive conference, which paid an American psychologist’s team more than $440,000, came with news of more layoffs of  public servants, as 100 lost their jobs in the Crime Commission. 

“Public servants are working hard to keep essential services going, keep our communities safe and make the stimulus package work,” said Mr Gepp.  “Million-dollar, feel-good conferences don’t help get these jobs done. If the Government is looking to cut, we suggest it starts with junkets like this.” 

The OHS context of this furore comes from the reasons for the training and whether the same benefits could have been obtained at a reduced price.

Media reports say that in parliament on 26 February 2009

“[Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Julia] Gillard attacked Liberal frontbencher Andrew Southcott for attempting to “parody” Professor Seligman, who she described as a “noted educationalist”.
“He is the leader in the development of (a) resiliency program that has been shown to make a difference to mental health issues amongst young people, including issues like anorexia and depression.  That is actually serious and ought not to be cat-called about.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog has written previously about the workloads of the public sector under the Rudd government and how the government has chosen not to set reasonable production targets.  The Seligman seminars are an example of trying to treat the symptoms and not the cause.   Seligman’s programs are not the issue here as the results claimed may be absolutely justified.  

Part of the problem for the government is timing, and in this, it shares a lot with behavioural-based safety programs.  Whenever a company introduces a wellbeing program, or a happiness seminar, or resilience training, or a team-building extreme sports excursion, it indicates to me that either the company is one that has already tried the traditional approaches to controlling workplace hazards, hasn’t  the faintest ides what to do to improve the safety in their workplace , or has too much money in its human resources budget and needs to spend it by the end of the financial year.

Regrettably, the money spent on public service mental health has been poorly targeted and papers over the cracks whilst ignoring the structural instability of how it manages its people.

Kevin Jones

Company directors and OHS obligations Reply

Since the final report of Australia’s Review into Model OHS Law, discussion has been remarkably quiet.  The ACTU was scheduled to meet for discussions on the report last Monday and no public statements have been made.  Most of the labour law firms have been quiet also.  It is fair to say that most are trying to digest the 480 page report.

But one employer group has provided an opinion piece in the business pages of The Age newspaper on March 2 2009.  The article says little that is new but it is mischievous in some of its comments. 

John  Colvin, CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, writes of his concerns about increased exposure for the Institute’s members.  Colvin is concerned that upcoming OHS laws may be unprincipled and counterproductive.

The Model OHS Law report has said that it supports the statement of OHS principles as are already in place in the Victorian OHS legislation.  According to WorkSafe Victoria

“The Act sets out the key principles, duties and rights in relation to occupational health and safety. The general nature of the duties imposed by the Act means that they cover a very wide variety of circumstances, do not readily date and provide considerable flexibility for a duty holder to determine what needs to be done to comply.”

These principles are

4. The principles of health and safety protection

(1)    The importance of health and safety requires that employees, other persons at work and members of the public be given the highest level of protection against risks to their health and safety that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances.

(2)    Persons who control or manage matters that give rise or may give rise to risks to health or safety are responsible for eliminating or reducing those risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

(3)    Employers and self-employed persons should be proactive, and take all reasonably practicable measures, to ensure health and safety at workplaces and in the conduct of undertakings.

(4)    Employers and employees should exchange information and ideas about risks to health and safety and measures that can be taken to eliminate or reduce those risks.

(5)    Employees are entitled, and should be encouraged, to be represented in relation to health and safety issues.

The article is mischievous in a number of areas.  Colvin mentions how the current laws vary from state to state.  He mentions that

Some carry personal criminal liability for directors, even where they may not have had any personal involvement in a breach. In some states, they reverse the onus of proof, removing the presumption of innocence, and offer narrow legal defences and limited appeal rights.” (my emphasis)

Colvin is talking primarily about New South Wales, the State that everyone agrees has the OHS law that is most onerous for employers.  However, the New South Wales union movement has been remarkably quiet and flexible on the issue of its OHS laws.  There has been some rhetoric for the benefit of its members and to retain some ideological “face” but the union movement across Australia is coming to accept the reality of better OHS outcomes from nationally harmonised legislation.  

Repeatedly the National OHS Law Review panel stated that it has based its decisions on the structure of the Victorian legislation as, for one reason, it has undergone the most recent legal review.  Colvin’s focus on New South Wales OHS law is outdated, reflective, and unhelpful.

Colvin mentions a survey that found

“..more than 65 per cent said the risk of personal liability occasionally made them take an overly cautious approach in the boardroom and another 13 per cent said this happened frequently. Almost two-thirds felt this had inhibited an optimal business decision to a medium to high degree.”

This indicates that the risk of being prosecuted on OHS breaches is being discussed at board level – great result.  Whether this translates to the board improving the OHS performance of their company is doubtful as Colvin’s article implies that directors are looking at ways of avoiding responsibility and liability rather than accepting the reality of their OHS obligations and working to improve them.

Colvin says that

“Directors should not be held criminally liable for a company’s misconduct simply because they are a director.”

Directors are not prosecuted for OHS breaches because of their status or position.  They are prosecuted because of the decisions that they make and the ramifications of those decisions.  If a director is dismissive of OHS issues and palms them off to someone else in the organisation and an incident occurs, should not the director be called to account for why they considered the safety of their workers to be unimportant, even when for over thirty years directors and executives have had responsibility for OHS compliance?

Colvin believes that holding directors accountable implies that directors have more control over the actions of their employers than they do.  Current business and management theories promote the position that directors should be more in touch with what is happening on the shopfloor.  The theories promote informed leadership and an increased awareness of how the company and its people work, they promote a level of engagement that creates a positive workplace culture and displays leadership.   Colvin seems to be encouraging the opposite.

He ends his article with

“More fundamentally, it unfairly treats directors more harshly under the law than the rest of the community.”

He misunderstands the application and aims of OHS law.  All people in a workplace have a responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for themselves, for employees and for members of public on and off their worksites.  Directors have more detailed obligations, but not less, because they have control of production and benefit more from the success of the company than do the employees. 

Ultimately, Colvin’s article reflects the misunderstanding of OHS that directors and companies have had for decades.  Companies need to realise that the best performing companies in OHS, and those with the best productivity, are those that have embraced their obligations for safety and have incorporated the principles within their own culture. 

The review into model OHS law has indicated the way of the future and company directors would be well-served to realise this and get on board.  Being left behind will benefit no one, especially the shareholders.

Kevin Jones

CEO loses job over safety failures Reply

Health funding and management is a constant political issue.  The attention increases hugely during election campaigns like the one that is currently occurring in the Australian state of Queensland.

This week the leader of the opposition parties, Lawrence Springborg, called for the release of a government report into the sexual attack on a nurse and security in Torres Strait islands.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has written repeatedly on OHS issues associated with the attack in February 2008.  Springborg has pledged increased safety resources for remote area nurses.

Queensland Health reports on 25 February 2009 that the CEO of the Torres Strait District’s health service CEO has been stood aside as a result of the government’s investigation.  The statement reads

“Director-General Michael Reid said the Crime and Misconduct Commission had reviewed the report by the Ethical Standards Unit and was satisfied with the investigation.
“Some allegations that members of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District executive did not act appropriately were upheld by this investigation,” he said. “We accept this investigation has found serious faults in the way Queensland Health staff responded to this critical incident and we are taking immediate action.”
The CEO of the Torres Strait-Northern Peninsula District has been stood down, effective immediately, while her role with Queensland Health is under further consideration.”

Many of the issues raised relate to possible corruption and improper behaviour by the Queensland Health and others.  These are the political points that Springborg is likely to chase.  

In terms of occupational health and safety, the focus of this blog, Queensland Health says

“There is substantial evidence that there has been a systemic failure by the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District to acknowledge and address workplace health and safety issues within the District over a long period of time.”

“There is sufficient evidence to conclude, on the balance of probabilities, that members of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District (TSNPHSD)
Executive responded inappropriately and insensitively when notified of the alleged rape of a Remote Island Nurse on Mabuiag Island on or around 5 February 2008.”

“Further, there is sufficient evidence exists to find, on the balance of probabilities, that the repatriation of the remote area nurse from the outer islands as not managed or coordinated at a level cognisant with the seriousness of the events which had occurred.”

It is no wonder the CEO of the health service has lost her job.  It is a little surprising that more, and more prominent, heads have not rolled.  It is suspected that this may be one of the aims of the opposition politicians during the current election campaign.

To return to our core issue of OHS and accountability, this result clearly indicates that senior executives, particularly in the public sector in this instance, must take a preventative approach to the health, safety and security of their staff, wherever the employee is located.

Kevin Jones

Beaconsfield Mine Collapse – Coroner’s Report Released Reply

On 26 February 2009, the Tasmanian Coroner, Rod Chandler, released his findings in to the death of Larry Knight in the Beaconsfield mine collapse of April 2006

The Coroner found that 

“the evidence does not permit me to make a positive finding that any person, corporation or other entity, by their conduct, directly contributed to Mr Knight’s death.”

The report is available for download HERE

SafetyAtWorkBlog will bring more information on this important decision over the next few days.


The brother of Larry Knight, Shane, and union representative Paul Howe, have expressed their disappointment with the findings of the Tasmanian Coroner.  In an interview with journalists there was mention of the inadequacies in the risk assessment process, the poor resources of Workplace Standards Tasmania, the lack of attention given to safety advice from multiple consultants.

Shane Knight continues to believe that the mine management was responsible for the death of his brother.

Paul Howes called on the government to end the approach of self-regulation and called on business to not put profit before safety.

Safety Awards 3

Awards for safety have always been an odd beast.  Any award is an acknowledgement for effort and should be valued but frequently eligibility and the judging criteria are not clear.

Last year WorkCover NSW released this criteria in the booklet that they produced about the award finalists and winners.  This provided the winners with a clear indication of why they won, not just the fact that they did win.

Anyone who doubts that a lot of effort goes into nominating for these awards should be reminded of the dance that Joe Jurisic made across the stage years ago in Victoria or the long kiss that one of the award winners shared on stage in New South Wales last year.

The awards are important and are valued. However an assessment process that is not open and accountable calls into question this value.

Today the Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union released a statement “celebrating” the disqualification of John Holland Rail from the Safe Work Australia Awards.  The statement reads

“John Holland Rail Pty Ltd was listed among nine finalists for one of Australia’s premier national awards for workplace safety, the Safe Work Australia Awards. But Federal Court proceedings against John Holland Pty Ltd over the death of an employee on a Queensland site last year meant the company was disqualified at the last minute.

Mark McCallum, 34, died after being run over by machinery while working at the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal in north Queensland, when his foot became trapped under wooden scaffolding planks while moving precast concrete decks.”

The inclusion of John  Holland Rail did always seem peculiar.

The rest of the media release covers the ongoing dissatisfaction of the trade union with the legally legitimate business decision for John Holland to move to the Federal  workers’ compensation system

Award Ceremonies

The question about safety award ceremonies should also be reconsidered in the light of the move to a nationally harmonised system of OHS regulation.

Over the years, many of the State awards nights have become huge and glamourous affairs with well over 1000 attendees.  They are also costly affairs that have a remarkably short shelf life.  It will be very interesting to see which OHS regulatory agency will cut back on their awards expenditure first in this economic climate that questions the duplication of events.

It was also odd that such a small country like Australia had so many safety award processes.  State awards are principally a marketing tool to promote the local OHS agency with the added benefit of being able to talk about safety in a positive, preventative light rather than through fatalities and the annual counting of the dead.  Interestingly the 2009 national awards ceremony is scheduled for World Day for Health and Safety at Work on 28 April 2009 – a day the union movement commemorates as International Workers Memorial Day.

Safety awards tend to generate very little media attention, partly because the media is unsure of which awards they should cover – State or National.  Award winners are lucky to get a paragraph in the next edition of a daily newspaper.  Local media attention is better as local business makes good and the direct benefit to the community is easier to see.

Running such events are always a balance between cost and benefits that should be reviewed each year.  Let’s see if the OHS regulators review the awards on both a state and federal level so that there will be a future for such events that we can all support and value.

[It may be useful to note that the CFMEU has received several OHS awards over the years.  I seem to recollect one award for a safety colouring book over a decade ago in Victoria]

Kevin Jones

Ethics & Safety Reply

Ethics is gaining an increased level of attention in the safety profession in Australia but remains way behind other professions and the business community in general.

The UK’s Ethical Corporation Institute has made available a “pubcast” with one of the authors of a report entitled “Best Practices for Designing Effective Ethics Programmes”.  The report itself is only for sale so I recommend you gain as much information from the podcast as possible or request a summary.

Howard Whitton

Howard Whitton

Interestingly a world-class ethics expert has returned recently to Australia after many years on the international stage.  Howard Whitton will be conducting a workshop in Melbourne on 30 March 2009 concerning “Managing Ethics and Values: Beyond the Code of Conduct”.  Below is an article I wrote about a seminar I attended early in 2008

Kevin Jones, BA, FSIA

Howard Whitton is one of those Australians who are obscure but when brought to one’s attention you feel guilty that you did not know of him. I first heard Howard speak at an ethics seminar in Melbourne in early 2008.
I attended from curiosity because the safety profession, by and large, in Australia has paid lip-service to professional ethics, and still does. I attended an Ergonomics Society conference almost ten years ago in Sydney where one of the speakers, a member of the society, spoke about professional ethics. Apparently that it was the first time that the Ergonomics conference had ever “discussed” ethics.

Other organizations profess to have an ethics procedure but this is shrouded in secrecy making it difficult for members to know the ethical parameters of a profession. Professional ethics come from open and active discussion of issues such as conflict of interest, confidentiality, whistleblowing, rather than developing a few sheets on professional conduct and thinking the process has ended.

Howard’s presentation in Melbourne surprised. It was in plain English, and overwhelmingly relevant. Howard had a professional film scenario that he based his presentation on. The film involved all the elements of a road construction program from political pressure, safety compliance, environmental considerations, resource allocation, and personal choice. It showed the decision-making processes that safety professional frequently face themselves or have an active role in. It was a microcosm of the project manager’s contemporary role.

The moments I remember are when bones are discovered in the construction project. This echoed the need to manage a project in sensitive environmental areas. One of the workers takes photos of each stage of the project as a hobby, without realizing the photos could be evidence. The project manager is already working within the project parameters when a political (undocumented) element appears that substantially affects the project.

I had half-expected a dry academic discussion and ended up in a fascinating safety-themed debate. If there was one SIA seminar that I would attend this year it would be one of Howard’s workshops being held in late-March in Melbourne, prior to the Safety In Action Conference.

For those members who, like me, weren’t aware of Howard Whitton, I would strongly recommend you look at the online resources listed below.

According to the Ethicos website:

“Following a career as a public servant in Australia, Howard has worked since 1999 in 11 countries as a specialist consultant on Public Sector Ethics, Conflict of Interest, Whistleblower Protection, institutional integrity systems, ethics codes, disciplinary investigations, and training/capacity-building in ‘Ethical Competence’, both for public services and international organisations. After completing a three-year term at the OECD’s Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate in Paris, Howard was asked to serve as one of two independent specialists helping to establish the new Ethics Office for the UN Secretariat. Since 2006 Howard has been Team Leader on various Ethics/Integrity/Anti-corruption capacity-building projects for national governments, UN specialist agencies, and international NGOs.”

Lucky for us Howard is spending some time at home in Queensland.

International Women’s Day (of safety) Reply

The global theme for the 2009 International Women’s Day (8 March 2009) is 

“Women and men united to end violence against women and girls”

The organising committee is at pains to stress that although this is a global theme, individual nations, individual states and organisations are able to set their own themes.  Some themes already chosen include

  • Australia, UNIFEM: Unite to End Violence Against Women 
  • Australia, QLD Office for Women: Our Women, Our State 
  • Australia, WA Department for Communities: Sharing the Caring for the Future 
  • UK, Doncaster Council: Women’s Voices and Influence 
  • UK, Welsh Assembly Government: Bridging the Generational Gap

Given that Australian health care workers suffer occupational violence, amongst many other sectors, and that employers are obliged to assist workers who may be subjected to violence at work or the consequences of non-work-related violence, it seems odd that so often the major advocates of International Women’s Day remain the unions.

It is also regrettable that many of the themes internationally and locally are responding to negatives rather than motivating action from strengths.

As is indicated from the list above, the public sector agencies are keen to develop programs around the international day.  The societal and career disadvantages of women are integral to how safety is managed.  

Stress, violence, adequate leave entitlements, security, work/life balance, chronic illness – all of these issues are dealt with by good safety professionals.  Perhaps a safety organisation or agency in Australia could take up the theme of “Safe work for women” and look at these issues this year using gender as the key to controlling these hazards in a coordinated and cross-gender fashion.

In support of women’s OHS (if there can be such a specific category), readers are reminded of an excellent (and FREE)  resource written by Melody Kemp called Working for Life: Sourcebook on Occupational Health for Women

Kevin Jones