Success from enlightenment not compliance

An article in the InDaily online newspaper for 4 April 2011 provides several safety management issues that are worth pondering. (Thanks to the readers who brought the article to my attention)

Keith Brown was the CEO of South Australia’s Workcover Corporation earlier this century.  He has told InDaily that he lost his position due to a change in the politics of the state and has not been welcome since. (A more personal perspective on Brown was provided by Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson in a January 2011 blog comment.)

Brown says that the most effective way of reducing the unfunded liabilities of workers compensation is to communicate with all stakeholders in the injury management process.  He believes that

“WorkCover now operates more to service the needs of the bureaucracy compared to the operation he ran for six years in favour of the clients.”

This perspective has been supported by a number of past comments received by the SafetyAtWorkBlog.

Openness, inclusion and transparency are business values that are being ignored by many companies and the figures quoted in the inDaily article illustrate Brown’s position.

Brown also voices a warning for those who believe that the regulation of injury prevention and rehabilitation should be managed by separate government agencies.

“Were he running the review, Brown says he’d be asking hard questions about the WorkCover culture, which he says changed once Labor removed from the corporation its responsibility for injury prevention.

He says the front-end prevention of injuries was a lever he had used to control both the human cost and the financial cost.

“That lever was removed and put into the bureaucracy. That, I think, is an equation that was negative for the culture of the organisation. You need to look at that link.”

It is rare to see such an inside perspective from a former CEO and one which, to some extent, balances those who call for the splitting up of various OHS regulators for the sake of economic efficiency and bottom-line returns.  It may be that, like public transport, workers’ compensation is to be one of those government services that will never be profitable but is always needed.

Brown’s comments auger rough times ahead for the national harmonisation of workers compensation that the federal (Labor) government has proposed (and for which initial stakeholder meetings have been held).

Browon said that establishing cultural change in workers compensation is like using carrots and sticks:

“Though both are available, we focused very, very heavily on the carrot. Because if you’ve got enlightenment rather than compliance, then you are more likely to be successful.”

A 2001 article by law firm fountain+bonig seems to support the Broan approach and had this to say about Keith Brown’s keynote address at a conference:

“Keith Brown’s presentation underscored a fundamental theme that existed throughout the conference, namely the financial and social benefits that can be achieved as a result of a genuine commitment to workplace safety. Many companies will be aware of the significant savings that can be achieved through recognising the importance of safe work practices and promoting a safety culture at all levels of the organisation.”

It seems that Brown’s approach has lost political support, certainly in South Australia, but that it should be a voice at the table in the future plans for harmonisation.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

5 thoughts on “Success from enlightenment not compliance”

  1. “Though both are available, we focused very, very heavily on the carrot. Because if you’ve got enlightenment rather than compliance, then you are more likely to be successful.” A very interesting perspective, and something I\’ve found to be true at the small manufacturing business I own and operate.


  2. I have been wondering just what more evidence is required before it is understood that WorkCover is about people. People such as Keith Brown who understood that the Corporation had to be people focused and people like Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson who understands that injured workers are people.

    I wonder just what can be done to get Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson funding to do the work she so desperately wants to do and what needs to be done to get Keith Brown back to rebuild WorkCover from the carpet up.

    Too many lives have already been lost broken or totally destroyed by the bureaucrats and the industry churners.

  3. I support Keith Brown\’s approach and would love to see the statutory authority approach back for good, in terms of injury prevention and workers compensation management. With all aspects of safety residing in the control of one organisation it would certainly stop any blame shifting and give that organisation a full set of tools to manage, educate, enthuse, cajole and enforce workplace compliance.

    An injured worker must be treated with dignity, respect and sympathy through the management of injury and rehabilitation back into the workforce, currently this is far from the case and I would like to see an independent survey of all injured workers for say the last two years asking the simple question of: Were you or are you satisfied with the management of your case, scored 1 – 10 one being totally dissatisfied, ten being completely satisfied. I would suggest the figure would be very much at the lower end of the scale.

    South Australian workers compensation management is an appalling disgrace and anyone who supports the scheme as it exists, falls into that same category. Arms length management of claims is a complete failure and all politicians seem to have their heads down on the matter, which is shameful.

    Profit at the expense of injured workers does not sit well with me and many other advocates for injured workers.

    I work as an advocate for injured workers every day and know from first hand experience how injured workers are treated by the system. Case Managers have case loads that they find impossible to cover adequately and the whole mess boils down to form and process involving the use of legislation and regulation in entirely inappropriate ways, to obtain completely perverse decisions and outcomes.

    While the current management arrangements are in place, the outlook for injured workers is very poor indeed and the woeful case management culture that pervades the system now will remain and get worse, as the new CEO of Workcover plies his slash and burn philosophy of cost cutting via removal of adequate resources and other means.

    I suspect the current review will not improve matters by much and on that basis, all politicians will need to held to account. The current government is so much on the nose our police minister has now been assaulted twice and our premier is held in contempt by a very large part of the community.

    This a Labor state supposedly looking after the interests of working people and even the unions have run up the white flag regarding workers compensation failing until quite recently, the government and alternative government do not care.

  4. Thanks Jennifer, as always you are an amazing supporter of the work that I do.

    Over the last years industry people have told me that any business the size of the SA WorkCover Corporation can not have a heart it is too big to be concerned with the day to day lives of the very people who require it to be in place.
    For me that has always been a false statement.
    For me regardless of the size of the business there has to be a strong and compassionate heart because without that, then the business will fail not just the people who require it to be in place, but it will fail in itself.

    I have seen WorkCover SA go from being an industry leader where workers compensation people from all corners of the world would come to learn just what WorkCover SA was doing to now where the staff of WorkCover SA no longer truly smile and there are no flowers on the reception desk.
    There is no heart within WorkCover SA.

    Keith is correct the culture is wrong within the system, I believe hand on my own heart, that that is because there is no longer any heart within WorkCover SA.

  5. If Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson has faith in Keith Brown then I would urge every employer in South Australia to demand his return to resolve the mire that WorkCover SA now is. Surely the employers who pay the highest levies in all of Australia have a right to demand that the person heading up WorkCover Corporation be a man of high integrity and not be satisfied with the out of control unfunded liability and the spin that is put on the reduction of the unfunded liability due to the removal of so many injured workers.

    Injured workers need a strong leader to get them through the maze that is the WorkCover system, that leader is Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson.
    WorkCover Corporation also needs a strong leader and that person is Keith Brown.

    We just need the employers of South Australia to demand his return regardless of the politics involved.

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