On the night of the 29 October 2008 over 570 people attended the WorkCover NSW Safety Awards. The awards are in their fifth year and the ceremony was professional, well organised and, perhaps most importantly, an excellent opportunity for safety professionals to meet others. There were clients and advisers, ergonomists and hygienists, health and safety reps, regulators and employer groups in the audience. As the CEO of WorkCover NSW, Jon Blackwell said, there were over 570 safety advocates and believers.
The award winners were all worthy of the awards but there needed to be more innovation and there needed to be a spark of inspiration in the nominees and the award winners. Of the winners, the Dorsal Boutique was a standout for several reasons. The solution was innovative, quirky and applicable to a wide variety of hospitality worksites. The boutique won the award for the “Best Solution to an Identified Workplace Health and Safety Issue with bed lifting system that reduced the manual handling hazards associated with making a bed.
Many of the other finalists were often tweaks on existing technology but none were breathtaking. And it is this extreme that such award processes should aim to reward. It may be that the pool was small although there were more applications in 2008 than in previous years.
The shallowness of the pool was also indicated by many on the systems awards coming from companies undertaking the legislative OHS duties that have existed for decades. They were not in new industry sectors or challenging sectors which would have added value.
This is not to belittle the personal achievements of the finalists and award winners. Speaking to several on the night, their efforts and sacrifices were clear and in some cases, life-changing for themselves and others but the consultative, compliance standards being rewarded were where the businesses should have been already.
There were several award finalists who, it was stated in the introductions in the Leadership category, had already participated closely in WorkCover’s Assist and mentoring programs. Participation should not exclude companies from eligibility for a WorkCover Award but the WorkCover involvement would provide a considerable leg-up in the stakes and provide a prominence that other companies may not have access to.
However, it is acknowledged that these are the WorkCover Awards. The judging panel has three WorkCover representatives, one union representative and one form the employers. There were no independent safety professionals, ergonomists, engineers or hygienists.
Over the last few years in OHS awards around the country there have been many solutions that have gone on to The New Inventors and many have come through that show. It’s judging criteria is just as questionable as any other but at least that program is from outside the industry sectors of the inventors, there is some effort for independence, and some understanding of the commercial reality facing many of the applicants.
WorkCover is to be congratulated for providing as much judging criteria as it has on each award. This adds value and veracity to the award winners and finalists but perhaps with the harmonisation of OHS laws and processes, it is time to save each State regulator big dollars and to put finalists onto a proper national platform by putting all our efforts into the national award process