Australian OHS awards need reviewing now more than ever

The various government safety awards process in Australia needs a thorough coordinated review in order to maintain their relevance.  Earlier last year WorkSafe Victoria tried a new strategy to increase community participation in their awards process.  This involved monthly mini-awards and nominees calling on their friends and professional networks for support and votes.  It was worth a try but WorkSafe Victoria went it alone and it will be difficult to sustain this strategy without broader support, probably from the other States.

SafetyAtWorkBlog stated following last year’s national safety awards ceremony that change was required but no one took up the challenge.  The need for review was even more evident at this year’s Safe Work Australia Awards held last week.  The lacklustre atmosphere could have been partly due to an MC, Paul McDermott, who is more comfortable piercing the pretensions of institutions.  In these awards, it would have been rude to make fun of workplace safety.  McDermott understood this and could only make jokes of his own brushes with danger, such as having his scrotum pierced with a winklepinker. But it is more likely that the awards had more serious deficiencies.

The Safe Work Australia Awards are at a major disadvantage to the awards in the Australian States as all of the finalists are already familiar.  The structure of Australian OHS awards is as if the State contests are the heats and the SWA Awards are the finals.  But whereas in sports one’s performance must continue to improve in order to win, SWA Award finalists come to the finals with the same product, service or solution that got them through the heats.  It could be said that the SWA Awards have no personality of their own.

There is of course some kudos for being a national winner but unless one’s company operates in multiple states, the national award has little functional benefit.  Recognition is always appreciated but it is reasonable to expect a national award to be more.

Occupational health and safety’s (OHS) focus must always be on the prevention of harm.  OHS awards have sat well with this focus as the awards originated on solutions – guarding, lifting devices, scaffold innovations….  This focus remains, but not as prominently.  Most of the categories are for OHS management systems (OHSMS) which are principally strategies for compliance.  The safety performances of effective OHSMS are undeniable and reductions of injury rates are important.  But frequently finalists and winners of OHSMS categories have had substantial support in improving their OHSMS from external companies.

At the 2012 awards ceremony, the management of construction company Grocon (pictured right) acknowledged the assistance of Dupont in affecting change in their OHSMS.  Some in the audience believed that the award, Best Workplace Health and Safety Management System – Private Sector, acknowledged the Dupont safety training program as much as it did the finalist.  It would be interesting to analyse how many past OHSMS winners have, at some time, contracted Dupont’s safety services.

The fraught OHS harmonisation process initially projected a sense of brotherhood on workplace safety, and some categorise were rationalised.  It could have been possible to exploit this goodwill to restructuring the OHS awards processes for greater authority and relevance.  Harmonisation is now fractured but the need for reform of the awards is just as important.  Below are some options for consideration:

  • Expand the national awards across the Tasman Sea to include New Zealand.  This could open new markets for safety solutions and initiatives in both directions.
  • Expand the national awards to South East Asia. The economic and marketing benefits would reflect the point above but (in partnership with trade agencies) it would also open supply and manufacturing pathways.
  • Split the “engineering” categories from the “management” strategies so that  monetary/development grants can be offered to the engineering finalists.
  • Open the management categories to sponsorship.  This would provide development funds but not from government coffers.  This option could only work if any sponsors were independent of nominees and finalists, which could cause problems for Dupont and others.  Sponsors would need to be excluded from the judging process as well.
  • OHS regulators could establish consistent judging criteria and panels at all judging levels and States.  Perhaps this can be supported by clearly defined leading indicators. (The latter would be of considerable benefit to business generally)
  • Look beyond Australia’s geographic to establish links with OHS awards programs in other countries that have similar OHS legislative structures such as the UK, Canada and, perhaps, South Africa.  Benefits would be similar to those above but global.
  • Establish formal links between the national awards and the ILO’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
  • Develop formal links to other business awards so that there are reciprocal arrangements between safety and human resources, in particular.
  • Establish a relationship with a television production company or documentary maker to follow several award nominees through the competitive process (if such a concept still has relevance in a year or two’s time).
The Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, said, on the awards night, that Australians are great adopters of technology and pointed to the rapid acceptance of new technologies such as mobile phones, etc.  What we seem not to be are innovators in safety management systems.  Australia is not leading in the development of safety management innovations although there are some notable safety inventions.
 Australia does not have a Dupont but there are many clients of Dupont and it would be refreshing to see an Australian company build on the safety principles advocated by Dupont to produce a safety management system or change process that fits with and reflects the Australian culture, rather than changing Australian companies to follow an imported safety program.
A revised Australian Safety Awards may assist in actively creating safety innovation instead of rewarding it.
reservoir, victoria, australia

One thought on “Australian OHS awards need reviewing now more than ever”

  1. Hi Kevin. I realise your article is old. However I do applaud your recognition of DuPont’ continued leadership within the OH&S space. No, I’ve never worked for DuPont. But as a former senior sales manager with Spotless a few years back, workplace injuries were discussed every meeting. Considering Spotless at the time employed over 30,000 Australians. Most of which were students working part-time in their first jobs within the cleaning and catering divisions. Just the MCG alone during footy season, attracted 5000 first time Spotless employees. Mostly kids.
    I believe former Spotless CEO; Jo Farnik engaged.DuPont to run a full series of safety leadership courses to all managers, after the plastics division had a workplace fatality in South America. Absolutely tragic event for anyone, and any company.
    Having completed numerous sessions with DuPont as a manager at Spotless, one thing that really struck me. Instead of being fed facts and figures, or buzz words and logo’, what DuPont was driving home to its “students” was a 100% every time safety culture. They are passionate about it. Rather than a mass of paperwork and processes, DuPont were more about taking the time to have a conversation about safety with individuals on an adhoc informal basis. They call it a safety observation.
    Jo Farnik, set a target of reducing workplace injuries by 40% the first year, and a further 40% the following year. Locally at my level, this was driven by our absolute gun HSE Manager Geoff Dunn. Coming off a low base, we achieved the first years target, and landed at 38% or thereabouts the second year.
    Every manager had to submit two safety observations per week. No excuses. At first I felt this an onerous task for a sales manager. But, being well aware that sales personnel are often walking through unfamiliar industrial sites and driving many kilometers, I embraced the DuPont culture and still do.
    I know that Australian organisations are continuously getting better with safety. I’ve experienced the effect when visiting 1000 sites/years for 15 years. But like DuPont, I also believe that for it to continue on a positive trend then it must be cultural, and driven top down. Finally, Australia is relatively new at industry. We will catch the global leaders in your field.
    Kind Regards,

    Andrew Ludlow

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