The future for Standards Australia will be hard

SafetyAtWorkBlog has written elsewhere of how the global financial crisis has caused OHS related programs to be revised.  The latest bulletin from Standards Australia indicates the impact of the financial pressures on its plans and the reduction in the value of their investments has come at a time of other worrisome changes.

(In this article there is a focus on the safety-related Australian Standards.)

Bulletin_1_Standards_Australia_170809_Page_1According to the 17 August 2009 bulletin, Standards Australia has lost $A70 million from its investment portfolio since November 2007.  This has caused it to introduce a “New Business Model”  which reduces Standards Australia’s operating costs and also increases the costs to many of the voluntary participants on committees that develop Australian Standards through the new consultative strategies.

Hopefully during the period of reflection caused by the financial threats, Standards Australia should have considered whether it is worth continuing, at all.

Following are some ruminations about safety-related Standards and their applicability.  These may be relevant to quality, risk and environmental Standards, also.

  • Australia is a very small market for Standards compared to Europe and the United States, in particular.
  • The management professions are becoming more globalised.
  • Manufacturing is becoming more globalised.
  • Europe can draw upon a broader range of expertise in the development of management standards, than can Australia.
  • Several International Standards could be applied in Australia allowing for an international “compliance”.  Some Standards are already in place and promoted by companies as somehow more legitimate that the Australian Standards.
  • Safe Work Australia has informed SafetyAtWorkBlog that:

“The application and use of Australian Standards in model OHS regulations has not yet been decided and will be considered by the Safe Work Australia Council’s Strategic Issues Group”

  • SafetyAtWorkBlog has heard from a South Australian colleague that SafeWorkSA is considering replacing OHS Standards referenced in legislation with codes of practice. (SafetyAtWorkBlog has sought confirmation of this from SafeWorkSA)
  • Australian Standards can be expensive for small businesses, who may have the greatest need for OHS management standards, whereas government publications, such as Codes of Practice are generally free.

Australian Standards are important for many industries, particularly, those that are required to be audited and/or accredited.  Needless to say there is a considerable secondary industry of auditors for these sectors.

All Australian Standards are only guidelines but many have been granted legislative clout by being referenced in law.  As mentioned above a considerable industry has developed in support, providing some legitimacy to the guidelines through weight of numbers.

Safe Work Australia recognised the important role of Australian Standards, but with several qualifications:

“The COAG [Council of Australian Governments] Guidelines recognise that the use of prescriptive requirements, such as those in Australian Standards, while not preferable, may be unavoidable in order to ensure safety.”

Standards Australia must have realised by now that the days of automatic legitimacy through referencing in legislation may be numbered for many of their Standards .  Their previous operating model has had to be thoroughly revised, government and business are fierce on reducing red tape, international standards have been developed that can be applied in Australia, and contributing organisations are reviewing their own costs of participation.

In fact so keen is the government on the reduction of red tape that it established an Office of Best Practice Regulation in the Department of Finance.  On Finance’s website is a clear statement of aim:

“The Government has committed to reducing the regulatory burden on Australian businesses, non-profit organisations and consumers.  This is consistent with larger commitments to address impediments to Australia’s long-term productivity growth.”

Employer groups have identified industrial relations and OHS requirements as “impediments”.

There is no doubt that in many circumstances technical standards are essential reference documents for improving safety, in particular, and for showing that workplace safety is being managed in a systematic and verifiable manner.  The big question is whether those technical standards should be those produced by Standards Australia.

Kevin Jones

Categories business, government, guidance, law, OHS, research, standards, UncategorizedTags , ,

8 thoughts on “The future for Standards Australia will be hard”

  1. It\’s always going to present complications when a tech standard is magically converted into law by incorporating it into a regulation. And that happens whether it\’s an AS/NZ tech standard or one produced in Europe.

    The fundamental problem is that tech standards are often not produced with enforcement in mind.

    The core questions that drafters for each type of document have to ask are fundamentally different. The law drafter has to constantly ask: \”What am I demanding and why? Does what I\’m demanding fit sensibly and reasonably within the scope of the powers I have? How does a person comply with what I\’m demanding? How do I prove that person is not complying?\” Very few elements of those questions need to be addressed when developing a technical guidance document.

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