South Australian WHS laws get closer

Australian OHS discussion forums have been buzzing with the passing of the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) bill through the South Australian Parliament. SafetyAtWorkBlog has been advised that the WHS Bill has yet to go to Committee stage which then requires a third reading.  Some engaged in South Australian politics still believe the WHS Bill will fail to become law.

However the focus should not only be on the WHS Bill as there were other OHS matters discussed in Parliament on 6 September, such as workplace bullying.

Second Reading

The Second Reading Speech (page 2069) by Russell Wortley on 6 September 2012 includes some comments of note. Below are a couple of extracts:

“There has been a lot of fearmongering about the effects of these laws. I want to assure honourable members that these fears are misguided and, sadly, often based on misinformation from lobby groups with a particular self-interest in seeing this legislation defeated.”

“…if we do not modernise our laws now, the scope of legal workplace safety protections will continue to be limited by the employer/employee relationship and existing ambiguities will remain. Honourable members need to understand that if the bill is not passed, a South Australia worker will have lower standards of safety than other workers in other states and territories across Australia.”

Of particular note is that Wortley tables (pages 2077-2079) the Housing Industry Association‘s table of increased costs from the new WHS laws.

These have been discussed elsewhere in the SafetyAtWorkBlog but Wortley told Parliament:

“Let me describe some of the items listed in the $15,540 figure described by the HIA as additional costs of compliance. They include: $1,000 of gravel for paths, $1,050 for rubbish removal, $1,000 to maintain fences on top of the ostensible $1,000 to erect a site fence, and $1,200 for someone to direct traffic on site. To be quite frank, these items are ludicrous; they are not mandatory under the Work Health and Safety Bill or current occupational health and safety laws.

Other costs include multiple entries for fall protection. For example, there is $1,000 for a ceiling fixer to erect a scaffold, $2,000 for a roofer to install edge protection, $950 for a roof tiler to erect safety rails, $750 for a solar hot water service installer to hire a cherry picker, and $950 for an air-conditioning contractor to hire a crane. I could go on, but it is clear that what they have done here is replicate the figures for the same risk controls for each and every separate trade on site. This is ludicrous and suggests on-site inefficiencies in the planning and management of the work to the utmost limit.

What is even more alarming in this message from the HIA is that it suggests that its members are currently not complying with their current occupational health and safety obligations.”

It seems from the information provided to Parliament that the HIA perhaps should have attended to the application of WHS laws rather than looking for a media/political “grab” that does not stand detailed analysis. This flaw seems to be common in South Australia as the Australian Hotels Association in South Australia took the same tack.

Wortley expresses the general duty of care, the basic morality behind OHS obligations:

“All that this legislation requires is that anyone who has the capacity to influence a work health and safety outcome should use that influence to prevent injury or death in the workplace. I repeat: surely this is as it should be. Those business groups who still oppose this bill appear to be looking for a legal framework where their members can wash their hands of any health and safety responsibilities. Would this state want to support a notion that a person has no responsibility for safety, even though they have the capacity to influence the safety outcome? I do not think so!”

Workplace Bullying Enforcement

On page 2064, John Darley asked the Workplace Relations Minister, Russell Wortley, three questions specifically about the performance and resources of SafeWorkSA. Wortley provided some statistics that provide a useful counterpoint to the workplace bullying enforcement activities of other Australian OHS regulators. He stated that in the 2011-12 financial year, SafeWork SA’s Help Centre answered 44,565 calls on occupational health and safety. Wortley provided more statistics:

“For the 2011-12 financial year, the help centre recorded 2,756 occupational health and safety activities. This figure is made up of 1,326 notifiable dangerous occurrences, 290 notifiable work injuries, 1,165 complaints, and 145 bullying allegations.

Of this number, during the same financial year the help and early intervention centre managed 1,183 activities, being 734 notifiable dangerous occurrences, 103 notifiable work injuries, 331 complaints and 15 bullying allegations. For the period 1 July to 31 July 2012, the help centre recorded 246 occupational health and safety activities. This figure is made up of 92 notifiable dangerous occurrences, 30 notifiable work injuries, 112 complaints, and 12 bullying allegations.”

44,565 OHS-related calls generated 2,756 (undefined) activities of which 145 addressed workplace bullying. SafetyAtWorkBlog’s mathematical adviser says that this means that 0.33% of OHS calls related to bullying and that, of the total activities, bullying allegations equated to 5.3% of activities. In the month of July 2012, from the Minister’s data, bullying allegations equated to 4.9% of SafeWork SA activities.

The lack of definition of SafeWorkSA “activities” stops a direct comparison with similar workplace bullying data in New South Wales and Victoria but the figures, nevertheless, provide some insight into the extent of workplace bullying concerns expressed to South Australia’s safety regulator.

There seems to be nothing limiting John Darley from asking the Minister these questions in Parliament but it seems odd to do so when one is also a member of a recently announced Parliamentary Inquiry into SafeWorkSA. Why not wait for the Inquiry? Why ask questions in Parliament when an Inquiry is likely to reveal the same data? The Inquiry’s terms of reference already look like a fishing expedition and now, since the Work Health and Safety Bill has passed the South Australian Parliament, Darley and other committee members will be investigating an OHS regulator whose laws of reference and enforcement policy have changed in line with national harmonisation. Politics is certainly an odd game.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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