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 In 2009, John Holland’s award nomination was withdrawn and now, according to the a video report on TV program Today Tonight in Adelaide, another safety award has been withdrawn.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story on the left of the screen or in archives) South Australian manufacturing company Harsco has had its award withdrawn because the company fudged its safety performance figures.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.