Major rethink on Australian Standards needed

A recent download of a “free” guide from the Victorian Building Commission on retrofitting a home for bushfire protection raised the ongoing nonsense of Australian Standards costs.  Sure enough, this free guide is only notionally so; if you don’t hand over $100  then the guide has limited use.

The guide I got, “A guide to retrofit your home for better protection from a bushfire”, is packed with useful info, up to the point you need the nitty-gritty.  Time and time again the reader is sent off to AS 3959 – Construction of buildings in bush-fire prone areas.  Being in OH&S-World we get used to that little double-blind.  Happens all the time with regs and codes and all sorts of guidance stuff.  And it is ridiculous. Its gotta change.

As best as I know a massive cost of development of Australian Standards is born by the participating development organizations.  They are the ones that foot the salary bill to have their staff go off to meetings to formulate the Standards.  Sure, there is going to be lots of other costs, but from what I can see this critical contribution to the development of Australian Standards is a cost to the businesses and government agencies taking part (ultimately a community cost) and the double whammy comes when you want to buy a Standard.

The fact that such an important bit of guidance on protecting homes from bushfire is essentially diminished by the need to spend $100 to get the Standard really slams home the point that change has to happen.

For mine, all PDF downloads of Australian Standards should be free.  A cost recovery cost for a hard copy seems fair enough. I don’t know about the experience of others, but it borders on embarrassing to be giving a punter help on this or that OH&S issue and then have to add “Oh and I think you have no choice but to fork out $XXX for this Standard.”  I hate that, and where I can I avoid it.  But clearly there’s times when it’s impossible.

Perhaps it’s time to get fair dinkum about improved standards of safety, and fair dinkum in way that truly cuts the bullshit?  And that means nationally developed Standards become the nation’s product; PDF copies free to anyone who needs to use ‘em.

Col Finnie
col@finiohs.com

Categories construction, guidance, OHS, Professional standards, research, risk, safety, standards, UncategorizedTags , ,

26 thoughts on “Major rethink on Australian Standards needed”

  1. SAI has exclusive rights to distribute more than 6,500 Australian Standards in Australia: these rights expire in December 2018, but SAI holds an option to renew for a further five-year term. I think it time to start writing to ministers to have SAI global lose their monopoly. What a con to small business with the SA / SAI Global stitch up.

  2. Maybe time for a Change.org petition?

    Its not just OHS related laws and polices that refer to Australian Standards. Its just wrong for laws we have to comply with being locked up behind a paywall. The concepts of Open Government are catching on, Australian Standards should be on the list of reforms.

  3. You\’re welcome Cat, it is a truly frustrating issue. As a new starter you will have plenty of time on your hands (joke!). But I suggest you consider writing to any business association you may have become a member of, and writing to your local Federal parliamentarian to bring the nuttiness of expensive Standards to their attention. See Terence Thomas\’s earlier comment about how Canada has at least had a go at reigning in the big costs. Good luck with ya new business!

  4. Thanks for raising this issue publicly! As a starter of a brand new small business, I was shocked to discover how much I have to pay for each standard, and how many I need to refer to…the current cost of around $100 each just for a pdf download is disgraceful. It looks like I wouldn\’t get much change out of two grand to download every last one relevant…

    To make the problem more outrageous, all around me I see small businesses clearly not compliant and not safe enough. This is about keeping people injury free, and alive, and should not be about money. The cost of the standards is clearly standing in the way of small businesses getting on with complying and being safe. I would be happy to pay a more reasonable amount, say anywhere between $5 and $25 each….but this is ridiculous. Where\’s the support for the little guys? There\’s alot of us out there…

  5. The latest fiasco with SAI is that the computer that views the PDF must be connected to the Internet. So much for the Engineer onsite with his notebook who wants to check a Standard that he has paid for.

    These are the laws that we must abide by for construction etc. We should not have to pay huge amounts to be able to know how to comply!

  6. Completely agree. If the government are stupid enough to implement rules and regulations that are compulsory to abide by, Yet hold them out of reach for us small businesses that need this information to stay compliant and avoid a headbutt from work safe etc. should know to expect that no company will ever be up to the expectations set.

    I believe that we should all get together and start sharing our documents between us. Illegal as it may be it is not half as illegal as being non compliant as a company towards the regs!

  7. Great article and responses! I am very new to this issue but was shock when I discovered \”Australia Standards\” were not freely and readily available. Who is responsible for this ridiculous situation and what is their defence?

  8. Good on ya with the wiki thing KJ. Certainly would be interesting. But as we know it\’s the key issue of the cost of standards that is the problem. I can\’t see why pressure couldn\’t be put on to convert nationally developed standards in to a national product, even by introducing a \”micro-transaction\” thing. That on-line product option of charging a small amount in the expectation of lots of transactions.

    It\’s probably impossible to measure, or predict accurately, but my guesstimate is that sales of standards would go up a lot if they were all $5 each for an on-line download. Yep, I think the best option is free, but maybe a micro-transaction option could be more doable.

    It would be negligent and just plain ridiculous for me to recommend to a small business client to fork out a grand or 2 for tech standards the client or may not refer to every now and then. Critical safety stuff a different thing, but for just having access to some generally useful info it\’s not gunna happen. If a package of generally useful tech standards cost $200 then I may well recommend getting them. Point is, a sensible price could well result in a big climb in sales when people can to afford to have access to the stuff, particularly small businesses.

  9. I strongly believe that this, along with census data, should be provided free of charge by the government, or at very minimum by a not-for-profit organisation.
    I do recognise there is significant costs involved in compiling and hosting (digital)/printing (hard copy) but the current price is absurd!. The concept of a wiki standards is a good idea, I just see the only problem in the legal issues, as with Wikipedia data is not always accurate. In the past I have found \”Wiki said so\” is a very weak justification. These days I use it more to get a different perspective, and take most information found with a grain of salt!

    Standards are important (And Very Expensive) in many fields, Civil Engineering for one, requires MANY standards, eg just to test soil for adequacy for building on it you require over 10 different standards (that I am aware of, as a student) and that is a very small portion of designing a building. The cost of those standards would go through the roof for the project as a whole.

    Excellent article Col!

    1. Scott

      If the Australian Government is truly committed to the reduction of OHS-related business costs (as it states through its harmonisation process), it must reduce the cost of Standards. If its privatisation contract with SAI-Global and Standards Australia allows it, Standards should be free.

      An alternative is for an OHS professional association to strongly negotiate for a substantial discount for member access to Standards. This maintains some degree of revenue stream and the professional association would generate an increase in members purely on the basis of value for money. I am aware that the Safety Institute has tried negotiating with Standards Australia and SAI-Global in the past on member discounts but with no success. Of course, failing once should not mean giving up. It would be good to see the SIA or, perhaps, Engineers Australia, begin lobbying the Federal Government seriously using the logic of business cost reduction.

      On the issue of a Safety-Wiki, the quality of content relates directly to the quality of input. Let me have a think about seeking funding from the OHS regulators to start something up.

      Thanks for commenting

      Kevin

  10. Hmm… wiki-standards, nice idea. Double hmm…SIA sponsors and manages the wiki. Could be worth a trial, members only access for 6 months to see what crops up. Probably shouldn\’t be micro-managed, even medium-managed, just see what members produce.

  11. When The Standards Association of Australia became Standards Australia, the die was cast – this was a for profit business, intent on developing products that would be indispensible. Safety standards, or rather standards that specified safety, became a major focus and the major money-spinner
    The 1988 memorandum of understanding entered into by the Commonwealth Government was indefensible. There was no competitor in the market, and the agreement guaranteed that there never would be.
    The few paltry national safety standards brought into being by NOHSC (now SafeWork Australia) hardly register against the sheer volume and diversity of Australia Standards published by SAI Global.
    The fundamentals of the legislated approach to workplace safety are specified in Australan Satndards – OHS Management Systems and Risk Management. Thank goodness the jurisdictional approaches to workplace consultation/representation are so diverse, or we\’d undoubtedly have a standard specifying that
    I got an enquiry today about he safety of theatre rigging attachments in a new civic centre. Guess where I have to go for the answers?
    If we are serious about breaking the commercial stranglehold that SAI has on the technical detail of safety information, we should be developing alternative models. The implementation of the model WHS Act gives us an opportunity to take back some of the ground. Legislation, regulations, cosdes of practice and standards are all up for development/redevelopment. Let\’s do something with the opportunity, rather than be passengers.

    1. It is useful to note some of the recent events in the online and computer worlds where online content has been given away for free. In some cases, such as online multi-player video games, removing the subscription structure has resulted in an income boom as alternative income streams appear.

      Standards Australia has been spruiking for others to take on the cost of developing Standards since its revenue stream collapsed in the global financial crisis, as reported elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog. I haven\’t seen any co-badged industry safety standards appear yet.

      Selling off part of Standards Australia to SAI-Global has not helped in improving safety through the use of Standards. The Standards are as expensive as ever and, in some cases, are being superseded by international Standards such as 31000 – Risk Management.

      SAI-Global may find out that they gain a stronger market position by restructuring its products along more contemporary income models. It may be a \”courageous\” move, to quote Yes Minister but it could also be visionary, if done properly.

      In relation to the development of Standards, I recommend that Standards Australia consider establishing \”wiki-Standards\” were those who are committed to improving Standards can do so from their desks. Standards Australia may just find that they develop a better product because of the breadth of expert contribution and the minimal cost structure.

  12. I am 100% behind all of your comments. After some years of teaching safety and rescue skills and then creating training programs for multiple fields, it is definitely a cash cow every time a change is made but usually a training provider is the first to advise a business that they are no longer compliant. This is sad as most of the smaller businesses can\’t afford the subscription to be advised of relevant updates. I agree that hard copies would need some sort of costing but PDFs should not cost anything.

    What would happen if someone with a subscription made the documents available??? I\’m sure legal action would ensue.

  13. Businesses and OHS professionals in Canada have had the same problem for a number of years. Numerous CSA standards are referenced in legislation but the cost of buying standard can be onerous with each standard costing between $60-90 dollars. Getting the standards referenced in BC OHS legislation could easily set you back $1600 dollars or more.
    However 2 years ago a pilot project was sponsered by the provincial OHS regulators and CSA that made all the CSA standards referenced in legislation available for viewing by any member of the general public. You cannot download or print the documents but you can review them and copy down any information you feel is pertinent. Not a perfect solution much much better than what was available previously.
    My personal view is that if it is referenced in legislation it should be available to those who require it at a nominal cost.

  14. It also points to the current debacle that is Standards Australia. I don\’t understand how standards can be referenced in legislation and therefore expected to be enforced, and yet the legislating bodies don\’t tip in their part!!
    A second point about Australian Standards and small to medium business is the actual coal face usefulness of them. Standards can often be heavily technical and can become a real \”slog\” to read….buy it, flick through it and shelve it!! This is not a criticism of the standard, which should be a highly specific technical document, but more a comment on what is expected of people who are not/or may not be experts in a particular field.

    ps. pdf\’s are so much easier to use with the ability to use the search function!!

  15. In my opinion it\’s one of those OH&S issues where the problem is so profound that there is nothing to do but keep chipping away at the absurdity of it. I believe the absence of free PDF copies could well be one of the significant factors that has small businesses turning their back on OH&S in droves.

  16. Completely agree with you Colin.

    In the past I\’ve had clients tell me that they have paid for parts of a standard e.g. Parts 1 and 2, only to find they actually wanted Part 3. It can be very costly and sometimes to find after purchase that it is of very little value.

  17. I am pretty much in full agreement. If it is important then it ought to be free – OHS needs to stop trying to look clever and expensive and get on with saving lifes and preventing ill health (that is the real cost).

  18. Hear hear to both of ya (Tony and Maralyn). I was (in me WorSafe legie days) and still are a big fan of minimising any referencing of Standards in regs.

    And roger Tony on the cost of hard copies of legislation. I just don\’t buy \’em. I have a hard copy of the Vic OH&S Act, but no others. PDFs and the Word copies the Parliaments provide do me fine and those cost ziltch. (Pity more places don\’t have such a good site as the Victorian Parliamentary site though. A ripper for finding and downloading legislation.)

    I am hoping more readers rip in with comments. I think this issue of cost of Standards is a \”sleeper\” out there and unless we make more noise it\’s pretty obvious that bugger all will change.

  19. I totally agree with you. It is ludicrous that compliance to legislation is predicated on not just compliance to the Act, Regs and Codes of Practice (state and federal) but then to find out what\’s required in depth requires the purchase of another separate set of documents.

    When you look at the amount of Australian Standards that are required to be properly referenced in work method statements, you see the idiocy of the system.

    A small business simply cannot afford to purchase the large volume of standards that is required and a perfect example is one that we developed for for excavating a trench which had references to 16 Australian Standards.

    Whilst recommending the purchase, I doubt; NO, I know they cannot afford it.

    Perhaps a concerted campaign is in order to make these available free. After all, the Acts, Regs and COPs are available for download at no cost, so why not the standards?

    1. I think it is useful to note that from a much earlier blog post that there
      has been debate about reducing the relevance of Australian OHS Standards in
      the harmonisation process.  Over 18 months ago, there was a move to
      increase the independence of OHS guidance which is due for release on or
      around 10 November 2010.

      The chances of OHS standards being available free are very small.  Even the
      Safety Institute of Australia, who has Standards Australia as a strategic
      partner, has not been able to negotiate a reduce access fee for the
      Standards even though its membership is a big user, supporter and
      participant in developing Standards.

  20. Right on the money Col.

    Same goes for any legislation, regs and the such, they pass them and enact them, so how are the financially challenged supposed to access them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *