WorkSafe media director, Bernie Dean, talks about the new awards strategy

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.

Kevin Jones

17 thoughts on “WorkSafe media director, Bernie Dean, talks about the new awards strategy”

  1. While safety should be the top priority in any work place, I don\’t think having a safety award necessary. It could create a culture where employees are discouraged from reporting accidents and incidents to save a companies good record.

  2. I have to agree Tony, It does seem like a plaque sitting in the reception area of an award winner hardly gets people motivated. It\’s really only those who are already passionate about safety who hear about them anyway. Beyond that I think they gather dust as years go by – management changes … safety becomes less important…

    Les – safety should be be its own reward but I\’d suggest that\’s not motivation enough. I spent some time talking to small business owners about this. The main theme here was \’Safety\’ can increase the struggle to remain competitive. Excuses? Maybe, but then as we chatted on a bit, I was a little less skeptical.

    An example: Chatting to a gentleman who owns a boutique domethic scale building company. He told me his sales reps constantly complain about losing quotes because of the extra safety $ they are told to factor in that their competitor doesn\’t. Of course these guys are on commission too so \’safety\’ becomes the annoying arm … and so it becomes clearer to me why so many view it as a load of red-tape BS.

    Couple that with a real lack of enforcement by the regulators and you can see why these guys get frustrated. It\’s worth noting after several attempts of reporting these unsafe work practises, nothing happened. No follow up – nothing.

    I suggested he enter his business in the Safety Awards – his reply …\”what safety awards?\” Mmmm…me thinks there\’s yet another problem there.

    It makese perfect sense to me to give these safety award winners a real business advantage and that has to include some kind of public recognition -paid advertising for the winners.

  3. I take ya point Les. And it could be that I\’m talking about an innovative incentive program, although I don\’t see how that can\’t be incorporated into the slap-on-the-back-job-well-done part of awards.

    And double roger on the idea of leading speculative investors towards OHS product innovators. (I have been told by people far more experienced in investment stuff than me that Australia is woeful when it comes to finding speculative investors. Probably triply so when it comes to an OHS product.)

    Finance and business mentoring is a big part of the struggle for product developers. The two I worked with were babes in the wood when it come to that sort of business development. I reckon paying for a small business mentor through the various schemes available (InnoVic supports something like that in Victoria) would be a much valued award prize. Finding mentors with lots of experience with green-field product development in small business would be very valuable. Yep, there is gunna be a fair few of those sponsored award prizes fall on their face, but hey, aren\’t we all in the game of risk?!

  4. Don\’t get me wrong Col, I\’m all for encouraging innovation.
    But if the cost is going to be beyond, and hence not \’practicable\’ for, an individual enterprise to foot the bill, a bit of cost/benefit analysis and market research at the concept and design stage will soon identify whether it might be an earner in the longer run.
    This is what is needed to get the \’investors\’ (eg: Austrade, WorkCover or other private entrepreneurs) on board to assist with the funding process.
    I don\’t see an awards process as an alternate to this approach.
    Even the ABC New Inventors program (no cash prizes) requires a certain level of research and prototyping to include entrants to that award system.
    As I understand it, most of the \’safe work awards\’ are for solutions to enterprise specific problems and hence transferability has to be a possibility before they would become \’earners\’ anyway. That was why, in one of my earlier comments, I would like to know at least some of the detail about the thing that won the award to know if it might be applicabe in my context.

  5. Hi Les, I refer to the prize incentives as being for commercialisation assistance of product developed for the Australian and global markets \”the Carrot\”, I do not refer to anything that is put forward by any of the compensation authorities which is all very well but in the years I\’ve been around have not resulted in anything long lasting and meaningful – I\’m happy to be corrected.

    Given also that injury reduction is the goal we are all striving for I would have thought territorial issues would have long been buried and all encouragement to those that wish to attempt to develop product that achieves that end would be provided. Profiting from the exercise should be applauded, as in itself it provides further encouragement to go forth and invest more in safety – nobody loses.

    As OHS professionals it is incumbent upon us to explore all means of achieving our aim and thinking outside the box is imperative if we have any chance of achieving the success we desire but has eluded us to date.

    The organisers of these awards maybe need to get some professional help from those who know how to get all the money players on board. The compensating authorities have been wasting money for years on useless self congratulatory awards so maybe they could be encouraged to divert those funds to something practical. The excuse that they can\’t be seen to endorse product is nothing more than a \”cop out\” there would not be an endorsement, rather a judgment of experts.

    I see this as achieving the following:
    1. Reducing injuries
    2. Reducing cost
    3. Increasing health outcomes
    4. Improving workplace relations
    5. Improving the bottom line for employers

    I am sure there are other benefits that will accrue.

  6. Having done a wee bit to help out a coupla small scale product developers Les I can say from that experience that, yep, they are typically passionate about doing good things. They also quite obviously hope they have found a market niche that will pay off. But that latter thing is a very low odds probability.

    For my punters, think what it would be like for you having a crack at putting together a product from scratch, testing it and trying to find someone to pitch in some development funds (because it\’s odds on that the development done solo will send ya broke). All this happening while trying to keep some sort of earner happening so you can pay the rent. Like I said, what they go through is mind-boggling.

    All that occurs with the overlaying passionately held belief that the world can be better if their product gets on the market; passionately held while trying to jump one hurdle after another. It is no beer-and-skittles road to fame and riches – not by a long stretch.

    I reckon the core issue with awards is do you pat a lay-down misere winner product that is self-evidently a winner, or do you reach out to the clever strugglers that have come up with a great little innovation that needs that extra bit of help for them to get the product up and running. i.e. Do you play it safe or do you roll ya sleeves up and take a bit of a punt yaself (as a Regulator) to stimulate fair-dinkum innovation?

  7. Hi Tony,
    As per my first comment above – isn\’t safety its own reward?
    Aren\’t there already avenues available for funding for research & development? Eg: You refer to Austrade and WorkCover NSW runs a Grants program each year.
    Doesn\’t the end result of an \’innovative product or service\’ that is functional and saleable bring its own rewards? And bring the added new jobs and business growth.
    As OHS professionals isn\’t our first priority to be improving health and safety with a view to minim ising incidents and injuries and their asociated costs?
    And finally, who\’s going to foot the bill for all these big cash prizes? Especially if the end result is additional profit for the award recipient?
    My further 2 cents worth.
    Les

  8. There are a plethora of awards out there for all sorts of activities undertaken by businesses of all sizes and the value of winning an award is usually marginal for the bottom line of the business. Sad, long dated certificates of attainment hanging on reception area walls that tell the tale of enthusiasm much diluted.

    I think there needs to be a complete change in how we approach this \”awards\” business. I would suggest that there be some real money on the table for substantial \”innovation in safety prizes\” aimed clearly at \”coal face\”, practical and direct safety measures and product that will have immediate impact on injury reduction and business compliance with regulation.

    A couple of good things could happen here:

    1. As a consequence, we would see innovation in new product and systems that just may create new employment and local business growth with the possibility of export business if it is good enough. Locking in Austrade and other grant providers for the purpose of providing assistance to prize winners in the development and marketing of their products will add real value to the prizes.

    2. The most important element is that of injury reduction as a result of implementation of safety measures and use of prize winning technology and products.

    I think this sort of \”Gala\” would put real meat on the bones of getting things done that matter, particularly since it is usually small business that is the most innovative in this country and this is also the source of the majority of workplace injuries. When I say prizes I mean real prizes such as large cash prizes and things such as motor vehicles at both state and national level.

    We throw away millions of dollars a year in failed \”safety programs\” so prize incentives should not be a problem. Keep it simple and open to all who have an ABN for business and have a separate section for \”public\” entries. Are we not a country of innovators? or is that all jingoistic nonsense.

    The use of \”professional speak\” should be eliminated as far as possible and plain English provided to potential entrants in information packs that should be designed to eliminate as much bureaucratic feel as possible.

    Judging may cause a bit of angst but should be balanced between Professionals – End users, small, large and medium – regulators.

    A big juicy carrot usually gets things moving rather than the laxative effect of boring clap trap

    My two cents worth.

  9. Hear hear to refreshing the award system. I can understand the demands of categorically saying \”This is a good safety idea\”, but I do think it has to be bolder. The area I think the award systems fall down is in giving thumbs up to innovation.

    And that means chancing ya arm on an incomplete proposal that has enough evidence that it will be a goer.

    A pat on the back from the Regulator after the developer has gone through hell and high water to get a product up is all very nice. But a boost for the soundness of the idea when the developer is in the thick of the development battles would be far more valuable. The funding struggles, the technical challenges and the not uncommon stress on relationships that small scale developers go through are quite mind-boggling.

    Plus, I\’d vote for Regulator recognition of product ideas that aren\’t necessarily \”perfect\” but still are likely to improve the targeted safety issue; that would be very good. Nit-picking over safety perfection usually results in more fiddling than action, same same with looking at the merit of a safety product.

  10. Hi again,
    I appreciate the issues around IP and am also aware of the information available re OHS management systems. In fact I\’ve built a stack of it myself.
    But for the \’punter\’ there\’s no better way to learn than to apply it to a given situation. The next best way to learn is to understand how someone else applied the OHSMS stuff to a specific situation.
    For me it aligns closely with the recent discussion re OHS workshops on this blogsite. If it\’s not relevant to others it\’s of no real value outside the \’inner circle\’.
    Les

  11. Hi Kevin,
    I have to admit that I\’ve been reluctant to even spend time looking at the various Safety Awards processes. I\’ve always been of the opinion that safety is its own reward.
    On the few occasions when I have gone to check out the various websites and review the awards, hoping to learn something new from what they\’ve achieved, I find there is so little information of real value provided about what is actually being awarded that I don\’t get any value from that time cost. What I usually fnd is just a broad description of the \’outcome\’ that is entered for an award along with a detailed \’bio\’ of the entrant.
    I believe that for the awards to be of any value at all to the broader community, there should be detailed information about each entry, including even a \’project outline\’ of how the outcome was achieved.
    This would make it not simply a process of rewarding \’safety champions\’ but also an opportunity to teach the punters (non-OHS personnel) how to get it done.
    As it is I\’ve been in several roles since the awards processes began and have never once publicised them into the organisations I have worked with because I didn\’t see the value for the broader populace.
    Cheers
    Les

    1. Les, one of the challenges with the awards is the conflict between sharing knowledge and intellectual property. If you show your invention on television or publicize it widely, perhaps, through an awards process, people can capitalize on your concept without your permission. It may be necessary to prepare legally and financially with the need to enforce one.s IP ownership and the cost and complexity of this may be a deterrent to \”go public\”.
      However there is a considerable amount of OHS information already in the public domain, enough to develop a fairly comprehensive safety management system.
      I would support WorkSafe releasing a lot more detail about it\’s award nominees for the sake of safety but it\’s not necessarily WorkSafe\’s role to do so.

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