SafetyAtWorkBlog has been vocal on the need for Australia OHS awards to be reinvigorated, freshened up and re-booted. WorkSafe Victoria launched a new interactive approach to its State awards several months ago with the intention of engaging the community and trying to maintain a momentum for the award process throughout the year.
In an exclusive interview in July 2011, WorkSafe Victoria’s Director of Communications, Bernie Dean, told SafetyAtWorkBlog that changes to the award process was essential because, amongst other reasons, there was a slow steady decline in the number of applications and a fall in the number of suitable applications. He acknowledged that some of the extensions of application deadlines in previous years have been due to insufficient numbers of applications. He also said that the assessment or judging process had become overly long and bureaucratic but having applications available throughout the year should help.
Cost is always a consideration in revising strategies and Dean admitted that the awards eat up hundreds of thousands of dollars from WorkSafe’s operational budget. He said that double-digit decline in any process would lead to serious questioning and this has occurred in Victoria.
Dean stressed that the WorkSafe Awards continue to have a key role in the Victorian community’s contribution to safety.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been critical of the new direction for the WorkSafe Awards as they are a major feeder to the national Safe Work Australia Awards. Dean said the new approach has strengthened the linkages with the SWA awards but, at the same time, Victoria needs to ensure their own awards are sustainable.
Dean says that he is very happy with how the new voting process has grown. He pointed out that 990 people have registered their involvement in the process which is more that the total number of applications in the last five years but stressed that this approach has not changed the awards into a popularity contest. The new process continues to recognise excellence and was always designed to increase the level of interest in the awards.
One of the most difficult challenges for all OHS awards has been to generate media interest, Dean said. By establishing an awards presence throughout the year, Dean believes that the media will look at some of the positive OHS initiatives, such as the Monthly Champions. Dean was particularly proud of the reception to the Skeleton Project which has shown that innovative and quirky safety content can generate interest.
Victoria was one of the first of the Australian States to start safety awards over a decade ago and it is worth watching what WorkSafe Victoria does to enliven the award process. It has been prominent in its safety advertising on television and has begun to use the new social media tools in a cautious but increasingly successful way with its Twitter account and Youtube channels. This new approach requires a considerable investment and will require a broadening of the minds of some of the WorkSafe executive but it just may be the saviour for a moribund but important safety program.