Unnecessary pissing contest in the Western Australian safety profession

In Western Australia in 2010, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) conducted its conference, the WA Safety Show, at the end of August.  In 2011, the SIA did not hold a conference in that State but in 2012 the WA Safety Show returned to Perth however it was oddly rescheduled earlier in the month, August 7-9.  Curiously there is another safety conference occurring in Perth on those very same days, only 500 metres away and it happens to be conducted by Safety In Workplaces Australia (SIWA), a recent safety professional association that emerged from disenfranchised SIA members.

The 2010 WA Safety Show was organised by the then secretary of the WA branch of the SIA, Gavin Waugh, who is now the President of SIWA.  In 2012 there is both a WA Safety Show and a WA Safety Conference happening on the same days within 500 metres of each other but run by different safety professional organisations.

What the ???

By now in this article you will realise that the safety profession in Western Australia is a mess and the conduct of the respective safety professions is not helping.

Gavin Waugh has explained to SafetyAtWorkBlog that the safety conferences should be seen as a complementary event to the safety trade shows run nationally by Australian Exhibition and Conferences (AEC).  AEC schedules the venues and dates and then negotiates with safety organisations.  Over the last year or so, AEC signed a national agreement with the SIA, although it had previously run trade shows and conferences with Gavin Waugh’s SIWA.

In 2012, SIWA scheduled their conference to match AEC’s trade show.  Around March or April this year, AEC applied its national agreement with the SIA and requested a safety conference.  The SIA hastily organised the three-day conference that is currently occurring.  Why AEC made this request is unclear and the SIA’s conference chair, Tony Mitchell, has been approached for comment.

One delegate who attended both conferences told SafetyAtWorkBlog that the SIWA event had top quality international speakers with a strong African theme, an unheard-of element for safety conferences on Australia’s east coast. The conference ran both a scientific stream and a practical stream.

The SIA’s program was described as similar.  It is noted that some of the speakers had already addressed safety conferences earlier in the year but it is very surprising that both WA conferences had the same keynote speaker, Gerard Forlin QC!

The delegate also pointed out that AEC included, and promoted, free OHS information sessions in their trade show, as they do in other trade shows.

“…14 free industry knowledge seminars focused on Managing Risk, Mining, Harmonisation plus more.”

These were standing room only and, regardless of the insistence that a “conference audience” is demographically different from a “trade show audience”, why was a trade show duplicating the topics on offer in the $A1200 conference?  Forklift demonstrations, vacuum handlers, safety boots and fall protection demonstrations are understandable but seminars of the harmonisation of OHS laws weakens the commercial relationship with the conference, particularly if the conference numbers are falling, as seems to have occurred at the Melbourne safety conference earlier this year.  These seminars also devalue the conference speakers.

This conference mess is a further example of the damage done by the nasty squabbling between the SIA and the SIWA over many years.  According to one delegate at least one exhibitor, amongst several “disenchanted stall holders”, withdrew from the trade show when aware that the conference would have the “new” SIA rather than the one with whom they had built a relationship over many years.  For US readers imagine a Californian’s conference being organised at short notice by an organisation from New York.  The east and west coasts of Australia have a similar differentiation of cultures.

Gavin Waugh says that the conference conflict will not recur but the tensions between the two organisations continue on various internet discussion forums and also through the Courts.  Perhaps the best that can be said about the conference mess is that it was a result of poor management in both organisations and legitimate commercial opportunism by AEC.  The worst that can be said is that safety professionals in Western Australia are still being asked  to choose sides in a totally unnecessary pissing contest, and that is no way to grow a profession.

Kevin Jones

11 thoughts on “Unnecessary pissing contest in the Western Australian safety profession”

  1. Well well well. The issue of the SIA and the break away SIWA is posing problems for the safety profession in WAvaccording to the author of the Blog Kevin Jones. Wow, what a revelation Kevin. Back in 2010 a certain blogger was giving a great deal of \’air time! to the claim pressed at the time that WA resident members of the SIA were infact instead somehow members of a state based group that they wre not (according to the WA Assoiations Branch) even members of… Feel free to review the safety blog entries of this era.

  2. Kevin
    Thank you for allowing through all my comments!
    The purpose of this message is not to pick up any of your points – I think we have both had our say.
    Rather, I want to introduce a more lighthearted note for you and your \’followers\’ – you know that we have joked about my lack of social media skills at my age, and you have prodded me about that from time to time – maybe all this \’prodding\’ of yours is going to have an unintended consequence and improve my skills!
    Not that I actually want you to write more controversial things just to get me going!!

  3. Having read your article, Kevin, and reflected on how wildly inaccurate it is, I will have to question the efficacy of other material you write. I did privately reflect to you on the inaccuracy yesterday, and the unnecessary slur you cast on the the SIA, but after a temporary removal, you seem intent on continuing that slur, for reasons best known to you.

    Some facts might help:
    – SIA has had a contract, on a national basis, since 2008 with AEC to conduct a safety conference in conjunction with, and at the same venue as, their \’Safety Show\’ around Australia.
    -These dual events have occured annually in Melbourne and Sydney since, and every two years in some other capitals, including Perth
    – Hence the conferences and safety shows in Perth in 2008, 2010,and 2012 which were conducted under the terms of that national contract and under the auspices of SIA
    – the dates for these conferences are set a couple of years ahead because of the need for AEC to secure event space for their shows well ahead of time.
    – a copy of the signed national contract is held in my office, and is between SIA and AEC and is not and never has been with any other party.
    – the planning for the 2012 conference was conducted by the WA Branch of SIA, and a special organising committee was established for the purpose
    – the title of the conference was chosen to be \’Perth Safety Conference\’ and AEC made the conference facility arrangements for SIA to coincide with their \’WA Safety Show\’
    – so that was the dual event just held at the Perth Conference and Exhibition Centre
    – the 2012 \’Perth Safety Conference\’ was organised to honour our commitments to AEC and to our 700 members in WA.

    I attended the \’Perth Safety Conference\’ and found it to be very successful, and well organised by a committed group of SIA members (volunteers) in WA, assisted by the SIA National Office as well as AEC. I pay tribute to the organisers of the conference who do not deserve the slur you cast upon them.

    Finally, some compounding errors in your comment:
    – the \’Perth Safety Conference\’ content was organised by the local branch, not by the \”east coast\”
    – SIA does not currently have action regarding any other party on foot through any courts, and has not for some time
    – despite your assertion that \”disenchanted stallholders withdrew from the trade show\” the AEC Safety Show looked fully occupied and quite large when I walked around it
    – the Perth Safety Conference date was set a couple of years ago, and the content has been in planning for more than a year, and most certainly not \”hastily organised\”
    – the AEC contract was signed in 2008, not \”over the last year or so\”.
    – AEC trade shows have always been conducted in terms of the national agreement with SIA
    – the safety profession in WA is not \”in a mess\”. The WA branch of SIA is the fastest growing branch in Australia and is rapidly reaching a membership of 700. In fact, many new members signed on at the SIA stand in the WA Safety Show conducted by AEC
    -SIWA (Safety in Workplaces Australia Ltd) is its own legal entity and conducts its own affairs, as it is entitled to do, and has no relationship of any kind with either SIA or AEC

    Congratulations to the WA Branch of SIA and the \’Perth Safety Conference\’ Organising Committee for the great work they do for those SIA members in WA

    1. Keith,

      Thank you very much for commenting on this blog. I suspect this is the first time that an SIA representative has officially responded. Blogs are frequently about dialogue and I welcome your contribution.

      You mention a \”slur\” but I am not sure where this is in the article. Please be specific, online or off.

      On the \”errors\” in the article:

    2. I am not sure I said the content was determined by the \”east coast\”.
    3. I was informed that action was being taken against office holders of the Safety Institute. I will contact my source for further clarification on this.
    4. The quote \”disenchanted stallholder…\” was a direct quote from a conference delegate I interviewed on the phone. That the quote was from that delegate is clearly stated in the article.
    5. On the matter of hasty organisation, the information was provided by Gavin Waugh and was a point that would have been clarified if the SIA\’s designated conference chair had been available for comment. I am happy that you have provided that clarification and disappointed that the delegated spokesperson has been unable to comment.
    6. Thank you for clarifying the date of the national AEC conference contract.
    7. On the issue that \”the safety profession in Western Australia is a mess\”, I do not single out the SIA for criticism in this mess and am equally critical of both WA professional bodies. I applaud the new SIA members and congratulate you on this level of growth.

      I am well aware that the SIWA is its own entity and acknowledge it has no current relationship with the SIA or AEC but it is inaccurate to say \”no relationship of any kind\” as the SIWA is unlikely to have existed without a schism from the SIA. I believe that the SIA needs to work harder on this differentiation in WA, a differentiation that was not helped by concurrent conferences. It also needs to convince the broader Australian business sector that the SIA in 2012 is a totally different organisation than it was several years ago when bitter internal disputes became public.

      If WA can achieve that many new members in one conference, it should be a benchmark for the other States. I would like to see the SIA achieve the level of influence that it always thought it had and this blog will always support positive efforts by any safety organisation but it will also note and criticise actions that impede professional development. The article above is an example of this.

      For the benefit of readers, it may be worth noting that I recently renewed my Fellowship in the SIA but have no association with SIWA.

  4. Late yesterday, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) contacted me about some errors in this article. I took the post down for a little while to reassess the content and check information. I also tried once more to contact the SIA\’s Tony Mitchell with a series of questions, but without success.

    The SIA has now advised that a detailed picture of the background to the conference scheduling will be provided next week.

    The article is back online awaiting that clarification

  5. Meantime in Victoria we are told by some voices that we aren\’t competent OHS professionals unless we belong to the SIA.

    The reasoning for being excluded from some work appears tenuous, at the very least.

  6. Went to Safety show and some sessions, not overly impressed – if anything the show had degenerated with girls akin to almost skimpys running round handing out items (sorry I wasnt even in kalgoorlie), whilst the seesions did not add much to anything that was not already genrally known. As for the SIWA vs SIA stoush that continues, one really has to wonder after all if this time what credibility they will ever have again and what level of up front actual disclosure and transperancy they are eveer going to bring to the professions as the ongoing squabbles have all been about finances and how it has beeen spent / allocated or misuesed and given the grants relating to BoK there certainly does not seen to be any proper records, accounting of or disclosure of expenditure, or conflicts for that matter. Listen guys, get your act together and stop tearing the safety profession as a whole to pieces – you are doing irreparable damge to the preofession as a whole!

  7. My dissappointment is not that there are two safety events, my dissappointment is that politics has gotten in the way of both SIWA and SIA.

    It is no secret that I hold no real interest in the safety industry as my work comes into play when safety in the workplace has failed.
    But it does sadden me to see what could be described as open political moves for confenerence dollars regardless of the interest in the various industry groups of individuals who would benefit from attending both conferences.

    As for harmonisation becoming a part of the any process, my thoughts on that are very basic and are also widely known, I do not put any creedence or value in the false and faint hope that harmonisation will bring any change.

  8. I myself noticed the date conflict a few weeks ago after receiving some of the marketing material from one of the shows.

    It showed, if nothing else, the lack of clear organisation and leadership within the safety industry and the lack of direction that aspiring people such as myself have to look forward to.

    Unlike professions such as engineering that have a well established and respected industry body, safety has, it seems, very poor professional leadership.

    I am unsure if that is due to the SIA, the general safety movement over the last say 15 years or due to the actions of Safe Work Australia / ASCC. It probably also has to do with the way safety has always been a state responsibility.

    Hopefully, through the harmonisation process and future years as safety gains a higher level of importance and recognition, industry leadership will become more visible, recognised and respected.

  9. Kevin,

    You mentioned that the SIA Conference Chair Tony Mitchell was approached for comment, however you did not report on what his comment was.

    It would be very interesting to hear what Mr Mitchell has to say in this regard.

    I was not aware that he was the SIA Conference Chair, but now that I do I am no longer surprised at the debacle that has taken place.

    1. The SIA\’s media spokesperson advised me to contact Tony Mitchell as he is the conference chair and the only one to talk about the conference. I would have expected a media or PR contact but the conference doesn\’t appear to have that resource, which is odd as the east coast SIA conferences have had detailed strategies with daily conference reports.

      Tony has yet to return my call as, I suspect, he is participating in the conference. However any relevant comments he has will be reported on.

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