Regulating The Great Leap Forward (Into The Bleeding Obvious)

Col Finnie has provided the following article in response to OHS compliance checklists:

It’s gotta be time to bite-the-bullet.  The wish-fulfilment approach – that people will apply some sort of system to how they look after safety because that’s the only sensible way to do it – well, that’s not working, particularly it seems, in the small business area.

Time to regulate for the obligation to have something that can, at very least, lay the foundation for a comprehensive systematic approach.  Seems just a bit whacked to me that a demonstrable systematic approach is required once a worker is injured (with the return-to-work obligations) and yet there is nuthin’ for the prevention stuff.

Getting a slapping from a magistrate for having no safe work procedures (as one part of a systematic approach) would work as an incentive if people were busted as often as they are for road traffic naughtiness; but we know that frequency of OHS busts are just not going to happen.

The Great Leap Forward (Into The Bleeding Obvious) would have to be regulated in a smart way.  No silliness that infers every workplace will have a full bells and whistles safety management system in say, a year.  Instead the reg could do what people often don’t expect laws to do (but laws can do) and that’s be realistic about what can be expected.  Yes, describe expectations of what it means to manage safety systematically, but provide scope for a business owner not to be flogged when it’s demonstrable that adequate stuff has been done to deal systematically with risks that can kill and maim and there is evidence that the full SMS is moving in a good direction.  Have 12 month (or more) formal compliance Notices where a sensible dialogue goes on between the employer and the Regulator about what can be expected in that period.  (It’s just more silliness to equate the time needed to put together a bunch of SMS material with having an SMS that really matters.)

And get unions and employer associations in on the Great Leap Forward (ITBO).  They could work as resources with a good feel of what is “real” for their industries: fund them to whack together templates, guides and “how-to” stuff.  Each already have a huge pool of expertise to draw on and serve informing realistic, sleeves-up information on managing safety.  The tricky bit will obviously be managing funding to minimise the shit-fights that are likely to crop up if funding is seen to be unbalanced.  But my guesstimate is that the grief that’s bound to occur every now and then will be countervailed by the high credibility resources that will be available to everyone.  I suppose what I’m talking about here is creating a vigorous, high cred “state of knowledge” market that works as a type of knowledge engine for really getting fair dinkum about managing safety systematically.

Clearly the Regulators have to stay in the picture, and that should include making sure the “state of knowledge market” stays on track (in addition to the funding and normal enforcement stuff of course).

A pipe-dream?  Well, I suppose it depends on how big we’re game to make our Big Picture.

col@finiohs. com

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, government, guidance, law, OHS, safety, small business, UncategorizedTags , , , ,

5 thoughts on “Regulating The Great Leap Forward (Into The Bleeding Obvious)”

  1. To Tony: Roger on the risk of a SMS Regulation being snowed with box-ticking and generally pointless recording. I suppose I\’m talkin\’ about a regulatory shift, not unlike the move from the prescriptive to the Robens stuff: it wasn\’t an easy move, but logic showed it had to be done.

    To Les: At first read I thought your idea of a comp-linked thing would be an enforcement nightmare. But on nutting it through more, I think it could be made relatively straightforward. And that might be a very brief report to be submitted on SMS progress over a year. No change from the year before and up goes the premium. Hmm, but then again, without close assessment of each SMS report summary it could all be circumvented by tiny alterations of the report. I suspect the only option for making it work properly is a proper evaluation of each report and I doubt the resources would be there to do that sort of thing.

    Either way, something specific has to be the \”carrot\” (or the club). I reckon you\’re right that many employers use the comparable fallacious reasoning with SMSs – \”I haven\’t had an accident, why wear a seatbelt?\”

  2. Full marks Col, but I suspect we are still going to be @#$%ing into the wind to get anywhere near that sort of obvious practicality. The vested interests would want to worry it to death with mindless statistical reporting, reviews and all manner of conventions, conferences, research and opinion to justify their individual places under the OHSW sun.

    To be a bit cynical, one can\’t help but see how OHSW has become a burgeoning industry in it\’s own right and as a consequence, to have the problems of injury fixed surely flies in the face of industry growth and individual income and importance, self or otherwise.

    I do seriously question the morality and competence of those responsible for the development of the regs and rules to allow the OHSW landscape to become what it has and more so, since the monolithic-ally bureaucratic attempt at \”Harmonisation\” to supposedly reduce injury at the coal face. I suspect we will not have made any real difference to the situation if we honestly review matters in 5 years time.

    Cynical YES realistic DEFINITELY YES.

  3. I understand and agree that we have to make it simpler for businesses (especially small ones) to understand what a systematic OHSMS really is and how to build one that fit\’s their business.
    But I also believe that \’the bleeding obvious\’ is really that no amount of regulation that relies on penalties IF something goes wrong, \’state of knowledge\’ market or any other aid will induce an employer to spend resources on something they don\’t really want to spend money on.
    Small businesses already have a cost break with capped workers compensation insurance.
    If they haven\’t had experience of injuries and workers comp claims, (whether through good management or good luck)then why would they see any benefit in spending resources to prevent something that doesn\’t happen in their business – that doesn\’t make good business sense even to me, an OHS practitioner.
    I think it is generally understood that safety management is about managing risks. Every business operator, formally or informally, assesses risks every day and makes decisions on spending money or not spending money based on those risk assessments – however flawed they may be.
    It\’s easy to see then that \”If I haven\’t had any accidents that add costs to my business why should I spend scarce resources to prevent something that doesn\’t happen? That\’s just dead cost off the bottom line directly affecting my profit.\”
    Similarly, \”If I haven\’t had any serious incidents that bring me into WorkCover\’s sights why do I want to waste my profits?\”
    I think the only way to make the leap forward is to link OHSMS development with workers compensation insurance costs.
    Sure, we saw some years ago the Premium Discount Scheme in NSW that offered premium REDUCTIONS for employers that could demonstrate a well developed (or developing) OHSMS. But only those employers with high premiums that stood to gain more in discount than the cost of OHSM development took it up. (I did work as a PDS auditor & system developer through that period).
    Maybe the next generation of this approach should be to allow the Insurers to audit the OHSMS and calculate the premium using \’quality of OHSMS\’ as one factor in the calculation.
    We already see that organisations with high injury rates are hit in the hip pocket with higher premiums. That penalty only kicks in when something goes wrong – just as the OHS penalties.
    Why not also, or alternatively, financially penalise an organisation that isn\’t proactively managing prevention strategies as well? In other words – not a discount approach but a proactive $$$$ penalty approach. Ie penalise them for failing to try to prevent the injury BEFORE something goes wrong.
    After all businesses respond best to financial incentives and penalties up front than to the \’threat\’ of penalties IF something goes wrong.

    Les Henley

    1. Les

      I was always a supporter of the premium discount scheme in New South Wales. It was an attempt to show people a linkage between positive action and cost return. At the time I asked WorkSafe Victoria if they would also consider introducing such a program. They said they had the power and capacity but were focussing on other strategies.

      I agree that there are not enough safety \”carrots\” for small business.

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