Day 2 of the Safety In Action Conference is almost over and I am confused. Some speakers say that safety cannot be improved without commitment from the most senior executives of a company. Others are saying that safety improvement can be best achieved by trusting employees.
One speaker questioned the validity of the risk management approach to safety. A colleague argued that this was not a return to prescriptive legislation, regulation and codes of practice but an opportunity for companies to assess their needs and set their own “rules” of compliance based on the risk assessment results, effectively determining their own level of OHS compliance.
Another speaker speculated that a particular Federal Minister may have been prosecuted under the model Work Health & Safety Act if Ministers had not been excluded from their duty of care.
Some see new the OHS laws as revolutionary, others see it as tweaking a legislative approach that is over 30 years old.
Some speakers I found thought-provoking, others thought these were facile and had lousy PowerPoint skills.
What this Safety In Action Conference in Australia has not been is dull. The whole program started inauspiciously with the principal breakfast speaker appearing over 90 minutes late. This was allowed to delay the whole first day of the conference by 30 minutes, resulting in confusion for the conference delegates.
This was not helped by the conference being held in a new venue. The venue is very good but roomy and poorly signposted, particularly today when there were other conferences and seminars being conducted. For those who have not attended an event there since it opened around six months ago, the experience was bamboozling.
I am sure that the Safety Institute will be very happy with the results as the number of delegates was around 700. This is better than in 2009 but remains several hundred below some of the previous years.
A curious arrangement remains the free seminars conducted in the adjacent trade show. These seminars are free and the one I attended at lunchtime had several hundred listening to Michael Tooma, of the Norton Rose law firm, talk for one hour on the implications of the model Work Health & Safety Act. I saw at least 4 professional colleagues who chose to attend the free seminar rather than paying to hear similar information in the conference. Sure the seats were harder and the sound quality was poorer but Tooma’s information was as good, if not better, than what he presented in the conference.
The other peculiar element of the trade exhibition was that it was organised “in partnership with WorkSafe Victoria” but WorkSafe was not exhibiting. In the past, WorkSafe had a large stand which distributed the latest OHS guidance materials, provided direct access to OHS inspectors and other “client” services. This year, WorkSafe elected to devote its entire exhibition space to its WorkHealth program as, I was informed, WorkSafe felt this program would better match the trade show audience. This may be the case and this program has some merits but there was nowhere to obtain the latest OHS information or talk with an inspector.
OHS conferences are intended to improve one’s state of knowledge on safety and there was no end of new and, mostly, interesting information from the conference but where previously one would leave the conference confident, in 2010 I was leaving with a lot of conflicting and, sometime, confusing thoughts and concepts. It will take time for the brain to filter the information and determine what is the most useful. Confused, but in a good way.