An Ombudsman for the safety profession

WorkSafe Victoria is very keen for the safety advice and management discipline to become professional.  It is providing considerable technical and financial support to the Safety Institute of Australia and other members of the Health and Safety Professionals Alliance (HaSPA).  The current status of HaSPA in Australia has been discussed in other SafetyAtWorkBlog articles.

HaSPA likes to compare itself to other managerial professions such as accounting, medicine and the law, and is trying to establish a contemporary profession.  One of the professions mentioned, law, an established profession for hundreds of years, is seriously considering the introduction of an ombudsman, a concept that should have been established already for the safety sector.

According to a media report in The Australian on 4 September 2009:

A taskforce of federal and state officials is working on a plan to create a national legal ombudsman with unprecedented power over the nation’s lawyers.

If the plan goes ahead, the ombudsman would be able to set standards for all lawyers, oversee the handling of all complaints from consumers and intervene with the profession’s state-based regulators.

One option being considered would establish the office of the legal ombudsman as a new national institution drawing authority from a network of uniform state laws.

This would unify the regulation of lawyers and give state governments a role in confirming prospective candidates for the new national office.

Lawyers, rather than taxpayers, could be asked to pay for the cost of establishing their new regulator.

The taskforce, which has been appointed by federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, is examining the possibility of establishing the new office as the centrepiece for the promised regulatory overhaul of the legal profession.

OHS law in Australia is undergoing its most major national review in decades.  Shouldn’t the safety profession also develop the “Office of the Safety Ombudsman”?  The legal profession is doing all the work on a model.

Australia has a tradition of effective industry-based ombudsmen.  A list is available online but the most publicly well-known would be the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

[In the last couple of years the safety profession has heard from the Victorian Health Services Commissioner, Beth Wilson, on the purpose and role of the commission and how the safety profession can learn from her support, adjudication and  advocacy.  The commissioner is not an ombudsman but there may be a role for a safety commissioner to address WorkSafe’s concerns over the quality of safety advice being provided by safety professioanls to business.  A video of Beth Wilson briefly discussing the role is available on YouTube.]

The application of an Ombudsman model in the safety profession should be discussed but similar objections will be raised to those of the legal profession in the article quoted above.  Underpinning the objections is that an established profession is resistant to change and suspicious of relinquishing the power it has established over its lifetime.

If the safety advocates are truly committed to establishing a contemporary profession, the concept of a safety ombudsman must be discussed or else  the system of self-regulation will continue and so will the lack of independence, the lack of accountability, the limited communication and the lack of faith by the general community that safety professionals can be trusted to do a good job.

Kevin Jones

4 thoughts on “An Ombudsman for the safety profession”

  1. Once you go down the track of organisational representation and control there is no turning back. The few end up controlling the many via a plethora of membership requirements and standards, usually designed by the few to serve their own or coinciding interests.

    As it stands at the moment, individuals and organisations are providing a very broad range of \”Safety\” services and advice, to an equally broad range of organisations, over a huge number of industries and endeavors. Each one of those suppliers being open to civil action if their clients are not satisfied with service provided.

    The law is the law, employers \”\”\”must\”\”\”\” understand it and comply with it and there are no excuses, They are ultimately responsible for the safety and welfare of their workforce and others attending their premises or work sites under their control. Failure to do so should result in rapid and substantial action against perpetrators.

    The only real need for an Ombudsman is for an independent umpire in dispute resolution, or complaint resolution, in the day to day sphere of action and as a garner of trend information for feed back to legislators and those charged with administering the various acts.

    1. I do feel strongly that Safety would benefit enormously from an Ombudsman particularly as the criminal aspects of OHS law become more emphasised under the model Work Health & Safety Act in Australia. Also because the shift from a focus on \”workplace\” to \”work\” brings in a large range of new work environments and introduces (traditionally) public safety issues into the OHS law.

  2. The Safety Ombudsman was put up to the National OHS Model Law review panel in the Safety Institutes of Australia\’s submission (I was in the SIA submission workshop) but I think a stronger case can, and should, be made.

    There is a degree of suspicion within some of the SIA divisions over HaSPA and also within the safety industry generally. Some have seen HaSPA as a national takeover by the SIA, others a takeover by WorkSafe Victoria……

    A lot of attention is being given to the HaSPA Code of Conduct but it only has three signatories at the moment and the tertiary institution HaSPA members have their own ethics code and complaints procedures. The HaSPA Code seems to be given more authority than it has but a revised version is being developed, or so I believe.

    An Ombudsman could be the independent overseer of the Code and Ethics Procedures, if not the \”court of appeal\” on such matters.

    In a fractured, and fractious(?), industry like safety, an Ombudsman could be the unifying element required to broach some uniformity of purpose but also to garner the professionalism that the Safety Institute, in particular, seems to crave.

    But such a move would require the suspension of institutional egos for the greater good. It could be argued that the maturity of an institution is best indicated by its willingness to do such an act.

  3. Dear All,
    In all fairness it is a genuine requirement for overseeing in a more justified manner without a shadow of prejudice,likening& dis-likening of any sort.
    this might be helpful in many environments,counties and set-ups positively I believe.
    Best regards

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