OHS objectors get support from South Australia parliamentarian

The last seven days has seen many of the conservative speakers express concerns or objections to the Australian government’s close-to-completed process for harmonising workplace safety laws.  Although one may not agree with the objections, in most cases there is some ideological sense.  On 15 September 2011, South Australia’s shadow Minister for Industrial Relations (IR), Rob Lucas, launched a broadside attack on the OHS laws but with dubious claims.

Lucas’ media release states that

“There is growing opposition to Labor’s proposed bill from industry and business organisations such as Business SA, Master Builders Association, Housing Industry Association, Motor Trade Association, Self Insurers of SA and the Australian Hotels Association.

“The Liberal Opposition believes this bill is a massive full frontal assault on subcontractors and small business in SA which will lead to significant increases in house prices,” Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Rob Lucas said.

“For example, the HIA have estimated the new laws will increase costs by $12,000 for a single story construction and approximately $20,000 for a double story construction.”

The $A20,000 claim has been used by the HIA in the past in South Australia .  A former (Labor) IR minister, Paul Caica, was confronted by the claim in 2008.  The costs seemed to concern the provision of scaffolding on domestic construction sites for work above two metres but no clarification was made publicly.

In May 2011, SafetyAtWorkBlog investigated the $A20,000 claim.  The claim  was quoted at the time by Rob Lucas in a media statement.  The blog article in May said:

“On looking for the evidence on the potential business costs, an HIA spokesperson has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that no figures were provided by the HIA to the minister for this media statement.  The spokesperson said that the cost figures may have been extracted from earlier submissions to government.”

The timing of Lucas’ statement is a little odd as well given that the harmonisation laws’ regulation impact statement (RIS) was made available to the public this afternoon.  Posting an objection based on a cost estimate at the same time that an official cost analysis is released is bizarre and pushes people to search the RIS for any support of the construction cost increases mentioned.

Section 6.6.4 of the RIS discusses the issue of falls and references domestic construction.  It states (page 96) that

“The proposed changes mean that no height threshold will be specified. This addresses concerns that prescribing a height threshold such as two metres sends a misleading message that risks of ‘small falls’ at the workplace do not need to be managed. This is also consistent with the policy position in most jurisdictions. Most jurisdictions prescribe a general hierarchy of controls that applies in relation to all kinds of falls including ‘small falls’.”

The application of the hierarchy of controls to construction can provide many fall protection options that are likely to cost a fraction of that estimated by the HIA and, sadly, the shadow IR minister.

In discussing the application of the hierarchy, the RIS states (page 98) that

“The proposed special requirement of the construction section ….. may reduce compliance burdens in the ACT, Tasmania and SA which do not currently have these thresholds for the construction sector.” [emphasis added]

Further cost estimates are available in the 2009 National Code of Practice for the Prevention of Falls in Housing Construction Regulation Impact Statement for Decision.

There are many references to the residential housing sector throughout the September 2011 RIS that require close examination and falls in this industrial sector  are specifically discussed

Equally odd is Lucas’ concerns over increased union right of entry.  This option will be new in some States but the experience in Victoria, where such a process has existed for several years, is that despite some forecasts of union abuse, the option has had sufficient approval and appeal processes through the courts to render it little more than a procedural matter and one that operates without industrial relations tension.

Part of the reason for the spate of recent objections is that people are not looking beyond their own patch and local interests.  The way each State and business manages safety in the workplace is likely to change but this was always going to be the case from the moment the process was launched by the former conservative Prime Minister, John Howard.  But by looking at the experiences of other States, States that have had such laws for some time, like Victoria, the current alarm bells seem shrill, petty and ill-informed.

And there is a growing perception that the Australian government will agree to a six-month delay.  This concession to the objectors would acknowledge their concerns but also state a clear expectation that in return for the delay, the government will receive the objectors’ full co-operation in negotiations.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, construction, economics, evidence, height, law, Lucas, OHS, politics, safety, UncategorizedTags , , ,

8 thoughts on “OHS objectors get support from South Australia parliamentarian”

  1. I recently tired of hearing the HIA claim of significant increases in housing costs attributable to the new WHS laws based on an independent report they commissioned being quoted again and again. So I wrote to the HIA saying that:

    \” I would greatly appreciate a copy of the report which is so often cited, or if the HIA will not release the report on which it is basing its claims,

    • The reasons that it will not release the independent report on which it bases its campaign, and

    at least details of:

    • the independent consultant, and what qualifies them as “independent” (i.e. do they have an ongoing relationship with the HIA, did they develop the survey methodology on their own, the objective of their brief / terms of reference)

    • the methodology they used for their review including the extent of any survey they conducted;

    • the basis on which the cost increases have been determined.\”

    Today (30 November) I received a response which, after a political sermon about the new laws concluded (emphasis – i.e. CAPITALS has been added by me):
    \”The impact of harmonisation of OH&S laws will no doubt vary across Australia depending on the regimes currently operating in each jurisdiction, however, there can be little argument that it will have a particularly large impact in South Australia – which is reflected in the REPORT.

    HIA has not released the REPORT to which you refer, and at this point in time has no plans to do so.\”

    My comment: So what I hear the HIA say is, this Report is the basis of and critical to our position. The large (adverse) impact on SA is all in the \”independent\” Report but we won\’t release this document even though it is central to the aggressive scare campaign we have been running – just trust us OK !!

    If the \”independent\” report cannot or will not be released it is fair to assume, in fact in my view it is compelling logic, that it contains qualifications or flaws which undermine the HIA case. In short, the claims of cost increases by the HIA can have no credibility unless the Report is released.

  2. I was a safety manager in multi-national manufacturing companies with large workforces, active unions and experienced HSR. I only ever saw 1 PIN written and that was on an unwise supervisor who refused to fix an obvious hazard which had been reported over and over. The issuing of this solitary notice could not be disputed, because the Supervisor was being bloody minded, and the fix was very inexpensive and very simple. From an objective position there were no reasonable grounds for refusing the actions, and as soon as the PIN was issued the problem was fixed in a day. Afterwards the supervisor had a one-on-one motivational session with the boss who, like me, could not understand why it would ever get to the stage a PIN would be written.
    Any other time it has got even close to the stage where a PIN could be issued, the problem has been discussed, an interim or permanent control agreed upon, and life goes on. Not everyone gets their way every time and that is the key. Give and take. From my perspective, any time an HSR digs their toes in, I revisit the problem and often I find a key point I have not been aware of or missed. Therefore squashing or stifling HSR is not wise and, in fact, good HSR will often cover your butts.
    I agree with Kevin that wholesale issuing of PIN is a sign of disfunction and that power mad HSR are just not the norm or even common. The law is quite smart and quite clear; that any person with duties has to be consulted before a PIN is issued to them. There are opportunities to appeal the PIN if the manager believes it has been issued unfairly.This keeps both parties honest.
    In my opinion, this issue is a red herring for interstate companies and their fears are not backed by any evidence I have come across or heard of.

  3. I think in the early days of HSRs in Victoria, Brett, similar concerns were held. I have been in companies that seem to run OHS through PINs. PINs are almost an indication of a fractured relationship and I think that Victoria ramped up its emphasis on consultation in order to reduce the over-use of provisional improvement notices. In fact PINs should be applied only when consultation has failed.
    The new legislation and codes should do a strong sell on consultaiton

  4. I\’m thinking the $20K figure is thrown in to set a little seed of \’worry\’ – that\’s what the media pick up on – how the new laws will hit the public pocket.

    Who knows where the figure came from. It could have been plucked from a pie in the sky for all we know. The main stream public assume it\’s accurate and substantiated. Most of all, they\’re potentially seeing the building blocks of a heavy unionisation (again) …

    I don\’t think you have to be a strong Union advocate to see sense in broadening the ability of someone outside of the company addressing workplace safety. If the Liberals won\’t have the Unions and if the Business lobbies won\’t have the Unions, then by heck they better look long and hard at some rather deep pocketed resourcing to the regulator so it can do the job alone. Of course that would need to be funded too…

  5. In NSW there are people absoultely frightened of the HSR\’s. They think this new position will be too powerful and just run around giving PINS and shutting down operations. This has been operational in many states already without those sort of consequences. Unfortunately our siloed state based thinking has no one thinking of the forrest, but only their tree, or sometimes only their own branch or leaf.

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