In May 2012, the South Australian parliament announced an inquiry into the effectiveness of that State’s workplace safety regulator, SafeWorkSA. Submissions are being received by the Parliament Committee but, as yet, none are available through the inquiry’s website.
Andrea Madeley of VOID has commented that her organisation has already provided the committee of inquiry with a submission but the only public submission SafetyAtWorkBlog can find is from the Self-Insurers of South Australian Inc (SISA). Below is the summary of SISA’s submission:
“Should the responsibility for all occupational, health and safety issues remain with SafeWork SA or should some or all of that responsibility be transferred to WorkCover?
SISA members have no fixed views, although if the choice were simply limited to the current separated model and a single massive regulator, we might well opt for the current model as a means to avoid conflicts of interest. If, in the alternate, we are asked ‘Could the quality of OHS regulation and functional delivery be improved?’, we would answer ‘yes, but this cannot be achieved by structural change alone’. We therefore advocate no particular structure (though with a preference against amalgamation) and urge the Committee to concentrate on the quality of what is delivered.
2(a) WorkCover ought to be recognised as having a vital role and interest in improved OHS outcomes.
2(b) Scope exists for improved collaboration between WorkCover and SafeWork SA, especially in the field of data collection, management and use.
2(c) SafeWork SA and WorkCover should look at the self insured employers as resources and force multipliers for their own efforts to reach out to smaller employers.
2(d) Our members have few complaints (and no recent ones we are aware of) about their interactions with SafeWork SA.
2(e) The experience of small and medium size business may be different, however.
3. The OHS profession should have substantial representation on OHS regulatory and advisory bodies.
4(a) The real challenge for SafeWork SA lies in the small and medium size business community.
4(b) The conventional model of the regulator being the initiator of action will always be inadequate for small and medium size business due to the sheer numbers involved compared to the resources available.
4(c) Experience rating of workers compensation premiums has at best limited and delayed effect, and even that is anecdotal and presumptive rather than established as fact.
4(d) South Australia needs to think outside the square of normal regulatory models when considering small business safety. The French CRAM model might offer one such possibility.” [emphasis added]
SISA believes that SafeWorkSA’s performance can be improved but not through structural change. It would be fascinating to see how SafeWorkSA would change with a new set of work health and safety laws. From recent comments in the media by SafeWorkSA’s Judith Lovatt it would appear that the organisation is looking forward to them.
SISA clearly understands the separation between the workers compensation and rehabilitation roles of Workcover and the harm prevention and prosecution role of SafeWorkSA. Too often criticism of the management of workers compensation is aimed at the wrong regulatory agency, a major problem seen recently in the Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying.
SISA’s first quote above should be of particular note to those other State Governments who are investigating (sometimes secretively) “efficiencies” from combining the two safety roles and generating a major conflict of operational and jurisdictional interest. The effectiveness of OHS regulation in the small and medium-sized business sectors has been dogging governments in Australia and elsewhere for years. The United Kingdom has recently illustrated the special OHS case of the SME sector by removing some business levels from OHS regulations. Australia has briefly considered a two-tiered OHS system but this has never progressed.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has questioned the timing of the inquiry into SafeWorkSA. An investigation of an OHS regulator may be warranted in a period of stable OHS legislation but while the whole is moving towards a harmonised OHS legal system and enforcement strategy, the inquiry seems peculiar. Judith Lovatt seems to believe that new Work Health and Safety laws are needed, so does the Minister for Industrial Relations, Russell Wortley, and the Premier, Jay Weatherill.
There is also a great risk that the wrong organisation or body is being targeted for non-performance and it is important that the employer’s primary duty for a safe workplace be re-emphasised. It is employer performance on safety management that would be a more effective target for questions and improvement but several employer and industry associations have obfuscated lines of responsibility to an extent that SafeWork SA is the slowest moving and most readily locatable target.
Whether SISA’s submission echoes mainstream opinion cannot be determined as no other submissions are available at the moment. Some inquiries, as per the workplace bullying inquiry, need to review the release of parliamentary submissions due to personal considerations but it is hard to see any impediments to a quick publication in this SafeWorkSA inquiry. Transparency is likely to create a public debate on the role of the workplace safety regulator and, by association, SafeWorkSA’s performance to outdated OHS laws.
South Australia, like the rest of Australia, has a chance to give safety laws a major and much-needed update. The people of that State should also give the regulator a chance to perform to a new, contemporary, set of laws and with new, more powerful enforcement tools. Just, perhaps, the perceived problems with SafeWorkSA only needed a reboot of laws to improve performance. At the moment SafeWorkSA is stuck in the middle of conflicting pressures, a situation that is likely to further impede any performance improvements and long-term strategy.