A new approach to OHS advertisements is required in Australia

Workcover NSW should be supported in its new advertising campaign “Here to Help”.  Two ads are currently available on-line and are embedded below.  What is surprising is that OHS regulators still feel the need to create new awareness-raising campaigns rather than providing examples of the consequences of non-compliance.

It may be unfair to criticise an OHS regulator for an advertising campaign that raises the awareness of the need for safety, particularly if that ad is only the most visible element of a new enforcement strategy but it would be refreshing to see a different type of ad, one that speaks directly to business owners, with perhaps a similar one to workers.

What I see is an advertisement  similar to the famous Yul Brynner anti-smoking ad but with a script similar to this:

[Close up of head and shoulders of a businessman facing the camera.  Camera slowly pulls back as businessman speaks.]

“It has been the law in Australia for over thirty years for employers and workers to have and maintain a safe and healthy workplace.  Even though we all know that, on average one Australian dies at work around every three days and no one knows how many more die from occupational diseases, illnesses and cancers.

As a business owner it is my responsibility to keep you safe.   Sometimes we fail and people die.  Some of us risk jail.

[Camera pulls back through the bars of a jail cell]

Let’s not fail but start to work together for a safe workplace.”

Another ad could also be produced with exactly the same structure but with a worker talking to camera.  The only script change would be the replacement of “business owner” with “worker”.

This scenario acknowledges the decades of awareness-raising ads that OHS regulators in Australia have created but takes the next step of personalising the consequences of not working safely.

It does focus on the consequences of doing the wrong thing, getting caught and being prosecuted, a focus that I have criticised in the past when all the political debate is on penalties and not on how to manage safely.  However, as OHS regulators have shown in the past, it is difficult to depict good safety management as it looks, as it should, as a “normal” workplace and how do you attract people’s attention with something they see every day?

Workcover NSW’s ads must be seen as part of a larger enforcement strategy and  for that we should cut them some slack.  That is, of course, if that enforcement strategy exists, as 2012 will be a year of OHS uncertainty in Australia.

Kevin Jones

4 thoughts on “A new approach to OHS advertisements is required in Australia”

  1. Excellent idea Kevin; PCBUs need it brought home to them that they are responsible and accountable for the safety of their workers. However, if such ads went to air, I can see employer groups lobbying to have political pressure brought to bear in having the ads removed.

  2. Having been roundly chastised for taking the line of real and painful enforcement of legislation on offenders, I do find it a bit rich to see the view now regurgitated as the best option in advertising campaigns.

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