Small business OHS shortcomings

The home insulation debate in Australia is fragmenting.  Workplace safety is one of the chunks of debate heading in an unknown direction (political safety goggles anyone?)  The Australian newspaper included an article on 19 February 2010 that, although coming from the insulation sector, illustrates a dominant misunderstanding by small businesses.

The proprietor has run many businesses in a range of industries but he clearly has little understanding of his OHS obligations as he denies any responsibility for the death Matthew Fuller, an employee of the firm he contracted to undertake insulation installations, QHI Installations.  The proprietor states the reason is that “we did not employ him.”  This excuse has been seen as invalid by the courts and OHS regulators around Australia for a long time.

The proprietor also says “We’d done everything by the regulations of the Department of Environment”.  Every businessman knows that business activities are ruled by multiple pieces of legislation by multiple government agencies.  The proprietor’s comment reveals that he does not understand his broader business obligations that include workplace safety.

The proprietor’s comments illustrate several themes that run through the SafetyAtWorkBlog:

  • Information about OHS obligations needs to be provided and promoted to people when they register their businesses.
  • Information about OHS obligations needs to be included in business education, including tertiary courses and MBAs.  (Too much advice is provided on minimising the impacts of a prosecution rather than avoiding prosecution in the first place)
  • Businesses cannot contract out responsibility. (This may change in Australia with new OHS laws but it may also simply shift the argument from “I didn’t employ him” to “I didn’t have control of the workplace”, which would achieve nothing)
  • OHS regulators and advises are aiming the safety messages at the wrong stage of business.  Advice is provided after a business is created rather that having OHS as fundamental consideration in the creation of the business

On this last point, particularly, safety principles can sound like advice from one’s grandparents – “if it can’t be done safely, don’t do it at all”.  But maybe more business operators should start acknowledging the wisdom of their grandparents.

Kevin Jones

2 thoughts on “Small business OHS shortcomings”

  1. Excellent post. \”Businesses cannot contract out responsibility.\” This is an excellent reminder to all of us in small business. The keys are responsibilility, ethics, and quality training, over and above quick and easy profits.

    I guess foil insulation can be a cuplrit becasue of the implications of poor installation, which is a shame b/c I believe it may be a better insultation solution for Queensland homes.

    Other\’s thoughts on this?

    Peter

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