Political argy-bargy over OHS continues in South Australia

On 10 July 2012, the InDaily online news service ran an article about Jodie Bradbrook of Bradbrook Lawyers, a boutique law firm in South Australia.  The article was very critical of the currently Work Health and Safety Bill that is stalled in that State’s Parliament.  Bradbrook stated that the major points of contention were, amongst others, the issue of control, union right of entry and confusion over the Persons Conducting Business or Undertaking (PCBU).

This alarmist scaremongering has similarities to matters raised by the Housing Industry Australia (HIA), an organisation that, according to South Australia’s Industrial Relations Minister, Russell Wortley has been represented by Jodie Bradbrook, a relevant fact not acknowledged in the article or by InDaily.  Bradbrook’s involvement with the HIA was noted in a December 2011 SafetyAtWorkBlog article.

The Bradbrook Layers website includes a July 2012 newsletter expanding on her concerns which also encourages readers to contact John Darley MP “If you are concerned about how this will affect your business…”.

Curiously the newsletter about legal issues, from a law firm should not be considered as “legal advice”.  Bradbrook’s newsletter states

“This newsletter is  provided for information purposes and does not constitute legal advice.”

Clearly then the newsletter is  produced for other non-legal purposes, perhaps marketing and promotion.  If this is the case, there is a reduced validity in the legal interpretations being offered.

South Australia’s Industrial Relations Minister, Russel Wortley responded in an opinion piece in  the July 25 edition of Indaily.  Wortley described the HIA’s campaign as “mischievous and self indulgent” however, as it has generated a response from the Minister, some could claim that the campaign has been successful lobbying if attention was the aim.

Wortley says that

“The HIA’s primary concern is the issue of “control”, or responsibility. It claims its members will be held responsible for matters beyond their control.

But what the HIA wants is for its members to be able to abrogate all responsibility for safety outcomes on their worksites. This is not acceptable to the Government or the community.”

The HIA’s concern is understandable if it is being fed legal information from organisations like Bradbrook Lawyers.

Wortley refers to baseless advice provided by Bradbrook but addresses a myth that the HIA has been peddling for some time with little foundation.

“Other myths peddled by the HIA include that the laws will put $20,000 onto the price of a new house.  This is despite two expert independent reports showing the only likely new costs for builders would be for fall protection measures if in fact they were not currently using them as is stipulated under existing laws.”

Wortley almost challenges the HIA to account for the high rate of injuries in the housing sector:

“It beggars belief that an industry like housing sector, with a high incident of illness and injury, could be so self serving as to run a dishonest, fear-based campaign around laws designed to protect South Australians.”

The Minister tries to argue from the high moral ground by mentioning worker safety.  As mentioned before, the Work Health and Safety harmonisation process was more about uniformity and the reduction of business costs than improving the safety of workers but some Australian States certainly needed their OHS laws reviewing and safety performance improving.

“The one fundamental thing the HIA and the Liberals have overlooked in their attempt to undermine these important laws is worker safety. South Australians have a right to a safe workplace and these laws will provide added protections.”

Russell Wortley’s opinion piece can be seen as an expression of frustration as many of the issues have been raised in previous newspaper articles and on talkback radio.  There is speculation that the delay on the WHS Laws passing Parliament will be stalled until the political cycle in South Australia comes to an election.  The Conservative parties have increased their State presences during the Labor Party’s federal reign but it is hard to see the strategy being sustained until the next scheduled election in March 2014.

South Australia needs an event or incident to break the political deadlock on WHS laws.  SafetyAtWorkBlog’s guess is that South Australia will have a contentious court decision over a workplace fatality, perhaps related to  housing construction, and the opportunity for political mileage will be too tempting to resist.  Too often it seems to be workplace deaths coupled with community outrage that progresses change in the area of safety laws.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

8 thoughts on “Political argy-bargy over OHS continues in South Australia”

  1. Dave, my point exactly and we have piles of legislation, reports and whatever, all supposedly aimed at injury reduction and compliance by employers so we should all sleep soundly knowing big brother has got our back. Yeah Right!

    Not one workplace I have been in during all my years of consulting has come close to complying with their responsibilities under law in OHSW. The legislation enforcers are totally missing in action, as are all legislators, who have done nothing to provide effective legislation and enforcement that has significantly altered the number of injuries sustained. I might also comment on the lack of union visibility on OHSW matters, if the various union secretaries turned their attention to achieving better OHSW law in prevention and compensation for their 2 million odd members, rather than positioning themselves for a tilt at politics, then maybe we might see some change.

    Harmonisation is a nonsense given that it is highly unlikely to reduce injuries and provide safer work places. All in all, there seems not to be anything in play that is likely to enhance OHSW for workers to the contrary, I see less protection and more misery for workers and their families.

  2. It does appear as if Russell Wortley is doing his best to get some realism into the debate even if those opposed to the WHS Act here in SA are continuing their campaign of misdirection. Unfortunately it seems as if the latter group are the ones getting the attention of the media. As a result, I think this debate going on until the next election (that will probably see a Liberal government elected and likely sound the death knell for the WHS legislation in SA) is more than likely with independents such as John Darly prevaricating while holding the casting vote.

  3. Then again the legal fraternity would see more first hand cause of workplace injury than anyone else ,where is the leadership from the legal bodies about the serious nature of workplace injuries and what could be done to address it , I would think that a cost yearly of workplace accidents injuries etc only a few years ago approaching six percent of gdp annually might concern those who only think of financial costs

  4. If the hierarchy of controls is correctly in place at any place of employment then injury or fatality is minimised to the greatest possible extent.Is it not?

    On the basis of the foregoing it is only logical to assume that any accident resulting in injury or death is as a result of extraordinary circumstances and beyond the control of the employer. The \”reasonably practicable\” rule comes into play.

    Employers who have undertaken the task in good faith should not fear investigation, to the contrary, they should welcome any investigation that proves their commitment to safety for their employees.

    As usual everyone is wise after the event, but apart from more information and discussion nothing practical in injury prevention ever really evolves to improve matters.

  5. Mmmmm – Funny about that, thats been the feeling here for the last 12 months \’There is speculation that the delay on the WHS Laws passing Parliament will be stalled until the political cycle in South Australia comes to an election\’. Unfortunately Kevin, workplace fatalities here in SA take at least 2 years before there are any charges laid (statue of limitations) i.e. Desal Plant death, and by the time that even gets close to a resolaution, the WHS legislation will be a thing of the past or that watered down it will not be any more effective that what we have now! PS the Desal Death will only attract a MAXIMUM fine of $200k under the current legislation, and precedent would indicate that will more likely be about $50k. We\’re not worth much over here!

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