Harsco’s safety award rescinded due to anomalies in injury claims data

The awarding of safety awards by government OHS authorities in Australia have needed reviewing for some time.  There remains inconsistencies on the openness of the judging processes and differences in award categories. In 2009, John Holland’s award nomination was withdrawn and now, according to the a video report on TV program Today Tonight in Adelaide, another safety award has been withdrawn.

According to the Today Tonight (click on SafeWork story on the left of the screen or in archives) South Australian manufacturing company Harsco has had its award withdrawn because the company fudged its safety performance figures.  The media release issued on 21 January 2011 by SafeWorkSA, the regulator managing the state-based awards, says:

“After careful consideration, the Panel has decided to rescind the award presented to Harsco Metals in the category of Private Sector Employer of the Year on the basis of anomalies in the interpretation and presentation of injury claims data made in the award entry.”

SafeworkSA is at pains to stress the ongoing integrity of the awards process but this action, emphasised by the attention given to the issue by Today Tonight, is a serious blow.

However, some good has come from the incident.  SafeworkSA says:

“In order to avoid such confusion in future, the judging criteria will explicitly state the preferred means of interpreting and presenting injury claims data for all award entrants.”
SafetyAtWorkBlog suggests that OHS regulators give special attention to the ways injury claims are recorded across industries and not only in the context of awards.  There is constant debate and discussion on “interpreting and presenting injury claims data” and it would be good to see the regulators more involved in the debate.
It is debatable whether the judging criteria for such safety awards should be publicly known but for the sake of transparency, WorkCover New South Wales has published its judging criteria since at least 2008 to no ill effect.
The exposure of judging panel membership is more problematic as this could lead to corruption if the system integrity is not ensured.  It may also be useful to change panel members on a very regular basis so that there is a freshness in the approach even with set judging criteria.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has written about OHS awards for many years and believes that the state and national system needs extensive review.  The purpose of OHS awards is to recognise effort, usually effort that is extraordinary or noteworthy.  Rescinding Harsco’s OHS award brings into question the purpose of OHS awards, the use made of awards, the basis of the awards.
It is interesting to note that Harsco received a global OHS award [the site has a pop-up ad] in June 2010.
“The award, given annually to the contractor who has made the greatest contribution to safety, health and the environment throughout SABIC’s global operations, recognizes Harsco’s exceptional safety performance at SABIC’s Geleen petrochemicals plant in the Netherlands. Harsco has worked at the site for more than three years without any EU-OSHA violations.”
Harsco’s Chairman and CEO Salvatore D. Fazzolari said,a t the time:
“This award reaffirms the pre-eminent importance of safety to our customers, our employees and our entire Harsco organization,”
The juxtaposition of these quotes with SafeWorkSA’s actions is not to say that Harsco is not committed to improving health and safety.  SafeWorkSA has stressed the company’s ongoing commitment to OHS in its media statement.
According to a newspaper article at the time of Harsco’s award in November 2011:
“All nominations for the annual awards are adjudicated by a team of SafeWork SA representatives and after review and assessment the process moves to auditing and interviewing nominees to determine the award winner.”
Clearly the assessment process was flawed.  Taking the issue beyond South Australia, can other State’s claim that their award processes are of the highest integrity?  This question has additional significance as only recently, 24 January 2011, Safe Work Australia announced its shortlist for its national OHS awards.
It is the nature of Today Tonight to analyse issues through a tabloid perspective.  It is interesting that SafeWork SA’s decision has received little media attention other than through Today Tonight.
Most award processes have some embarrassments in the presentations, assessments or nominees over time.  This time it is SafeWorkSA’s moment.  But similar OHS awards processes occur in almost every State of Australia and the Harsco experience must generate a reexamination of the awards processes.  Australia has managed to harmonise its award categories over recent years and now it needs to harmonise the award process so that when companies receive these awards, the integrity of their achievements cannot be questioned.
Categories business, government, media, OHS, safety, statistics, UncategorizedTags , , , ,

3 thoughts on “Harsco’s safety award rescinded due to anomalies in injury claims data”

  1. SafeWorkSA has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that TodayTonight was provided with a list of the judging criteria for the category Harsco nominated for. These criteria are listed below.

    The judging criteria was made available to all applicants as part of the \”Call for Entries\” booklet available at the time.

    \”How do the organisation’s OHS and injury management practices deliver accountability for improvements?
    How has the organisation delivered continuous improvement and excellent performance in OHS at all levels of the business using the key elements of risk management and consultation in the workplace?
    How has the organisation actively encouraged and supported employees in OHS across all areas of business operations?
    How does the organisation demonstrate leadership qualities to achieve its OHS and injury management outcomes?\”

    It is reasonable for government authorities to be wary when responding to or participating in some of the tabloid journalism coverage. For instance, many of the speed camera stories that are run have no participation or response from the camera authorities, road authorities or police. From personal experience, in relation to my own appearance on TodayTonight regarding the safety of roof insulation installers, one must be guarded in what one says, think before answering and resist the temptation to offer an opinion that is outside one\’s area of expertise. It would have been easy to provide an emotive comment on installers allowing children to roam about a roof but I was well aware that it was the emotive and not the professional comment that would have made it to air.

    TodayTonight, in its own way and style, has brought attention to the actions of SafeWorkSA in relation to the OHS award for Harsco. This is a legitimate newsworthy issue but to accept TodayTonight\’s coverage of any issue as definitive is a mistake.

    SafeWorkSA is still working through the ramifications of its decision of last week. There is much to do to regain credibility for its awards process and to re-establish trust and reliability with South Australian businesses and the community generally. After the Harsco incident, the reputational risk of the organisation is heightened. It could be argued this increased risk applies to all State OHS award processes. The challenge is to stop a recurrence and the challenge presents an opportunity for broader reform of the process.

  2. The SAfeWork Awards panels do not have any injured worker representation on any of them.

    The tragic thing is Tony is correct, there has not been any reduction in workplace incidents or workplace deaths or suicides as a result of the workplace regardless of all the money spent on promoting the SAfeWork Awards. Likewise the WorkCover Awards are just as \”pliable\” and have not had any impact on the wider workplace in regard to successful return to pre-injury employment.

    Tha Awards are little more than a feel good for those who put them events together, but have no real meaning on the shopfloor.

  3. Show me where there is one accident less as a result of \”Safety Awards\” based on submission without physical inspection by an independent panel not associated with either the promoter or the applicant.

    The credibility of these awards has been in question for some considerable time and in the main, the application for for an award is based on the marketing requirements for the applying organization, usually a supplier to an industry such as the defense industry where the receipt of an OHSW award may provide an advantage over others in the quest for business.

    On the basis of the foregoing, there is a real incentive to fudge the figures and from my experience in judging business awards, where an application is put to the test at the place of business, there is usually a propensity to some exaggeration which those with experience will \”sniff out\”, including those that are deliberately misleading.

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