Victorian Minister claims “safest state in Australia”

Victoria’s Minister for WorkCover, Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips, obviously felt obliged to get in early for the 2012 WorkSafe Week by stating, in a media release, that:

“Victoria is the safest state in Australia in which to work”

Rich-Phillips quotes a range of statistics based on a recent report by Safe Work Australia (SWA) – the Fourteenth Edition of the Comparative Performance Monitoring.  His claims may be correct, but he is selective.  He mentions his State’s workers’ compensation claims performance:

“Victoria had nine serious injury and disease claims for every 1,000 employees, far fewer than the national average of 12.2 claims. It was also well ahead of the Northern Territory (11.2 claims), Western Australia (12), South Australia (12.3), Australian Capital Territory (13), New South Wales (13.7), Queensland (14.7) and Tasmania (15.6).”

However, it is well-known that workers’ compensation statistics indicate the performance of the workers’ compensation scheme and claims,  and not the real workplace injury rate.  The SWA report provides information on both safety performance and workers’ compensation claims.  The Minister extrapolates the performance of one element and applies it to the other.

The Comparative Performance Monitoring report also measures each State’s regulatory safety performance against the agreed National OHS Strategy.  Against the Injury and Musculoskeletal measure, again based on claims data, only South Australia exceeded the “36% improvement required to meet the long-term target of a 40% improvement by 30 June 2012.”

Victoria came third, after New South Wales, with a 31% improvement rate.

Safe Work Australia stated that

” It is unlikely that Australia will meet the target.” (page 2)

The targets of the OHS National Strategy established in 2012 have been aspirational for some time and without any fear of sanction or reward for attainment, the worth of any National OHS Strategy is dubious.

SWA’s report also includes very positive national statistics on fatalities but still insists that:

“The volatility in this measure means that this improvement should be interpreted with caution and consistent improvement is still required to ensure the target is actually achieved.” (page 3)

This caution is missing from the statements of Gordon Rich-Phillips.

OHS Harmonisation

Gordon Rich-Phillips also uses his interpretation to, again, criticise the Federal Government under Julia Gillard with cost estimates that have been shown to be invalid and spurious.  He states:

“This comparison provides compelling evidence that the Commonwealth’s proposed national occupational health and safety laws will take Victoria backwards,…..

“Victoria has the safest scheme, the most effective scheme, the lowest rate of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths and the lowest workers’ compensation premiums in the country.

“Despite all of this, the Gillard Government is seeking to introduce a national model which is likely to cost Victorian businesses more than $3.4 billion over the next five years.”

The minister’s media release then makes the curious call that

“…the Gillard Government should heed its own report by introducing national laws based on Victoria’s laws which were already best practice.”

The Federal Government, with the cooperation of the States, employers, unions and through a broad submissions process, has done that very thing.  Yet because the proposed Work Health and Safety laws were changed/improved/ruined (let your personal politics choose the preferred term) the Victorian Government rejected them outright.  Legislation is in a regular cycle of revision and tweaking to ensure they meet the criteria, needs and expectations of the community.  The Victorian Government has promised the State will be out of step with the progressive workplace safety laws of New South Wales, Queensland and several other jurisdictions.

Victoria’s Construction Compliance Code

The Minister also stated in this media release:

“Our determination to improve workplace safety in Victoria has seen our state become the national leader in workplace safety.”

This is doubtful, but Rich-Phillips could have mentioned the potential for OHS good that his government’s Construction Compliance Code presents.  At the moment, the Code is struggling under its Industrial Relations scope, but the Code is not a local version of the Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC), as some say dismissively, because this Code has a workplace safety obligation that was not part of the ABCC’s determinations.

What the Minister could have outlined was the government’s intention to establish high standards of workplace safety throughout Victorian businesses via an alternate mechanism to Regulation.  The Compliance Code places OHS obligations on those companies tendering for government infrastructure construction projects and extends these obligations to all the subcontractors of the major company, regardless of whether the company wins the tender or not.

One construction contractor is currently testing the bounds of the Code but not on the basis of workplace safety.

The safety elements of the Construction Compliance Code are untested as they remain unfinished, and it is debatable whether this contract-based safety regulation method will be effective.  However, it is a new statewide approach to workplace safety, and Minister Rich-Phillips could have attempted to use the Code to claim a type of OHS “innovation” and to indicate that the Federal Government’s Work Health and Safety laws were not needed in Victoria.  (SafetyAtWorkBlog is in the process of arranging an interview with the Director of the Construction Compliance Code Unit, Nigel Hadgkiss)

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

5 thoughts on “Victorian Minister claims “safest state in Australia””

  1. WorkSafe\’s own statistics on workplace deaths are incomplete to the point where they are a soft target.

    WorkSafe\’s data quality and methods are unchanged from 2001 when it said 34 people died at work. Later data, signed off by the Victorian Minister for Health, said 63.

    This comes from a Health Dept 2005 report on causes of premature death in Victoria in 2001. Considerable thought and effort went into linking deaths with their causes. Their best estimate was –

    Total deaths arising out of occupational exposures: 489

    Compiled from:
    Cancers: 368
    Other chronic diseases: 58
    Arising from injuries: 63

    Refer Table 28, page 90, of this report:

    Arising from suicide: not counted (this would omit stress & bullying).

    Arising from driving while employed: status not known. It might be excluded, might be included. Police do not ask whether the person in a car accident was driving for employer\’s purposes when the accident happened. As a result it\’s very hard to sheet home any employer duty of care omissions.

    Anyway, based on the State Government\’s medical evidence on \”blood on the floor\” deaths, the best advice is to take WorkSafe\’s figure and double it.

    More recent Health Dept data linking death to causation is not available.

    The Minister ought to exercise some caution.

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