Independent Member of the South Australian Parliament, John Darley, provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with some background to the package of amendments he has for that State’s Work Health and Safety laws currently before Parliament.
Darley acknowledged that he delayed the Work Health and Safety Bill since December 2011 and admitted that the Bill looked like common sense but his approach is to jump ahead an consider how the Bill would look as an Act and determine its social impact. The opposition parties in South Australia believed the Bill was so bad that it should have been defeated before it proceeded to the committee stage but Darley knew that could imply that he was not interested in workplace safety. Darley believes that the reassessment of the WHS Bill over such a long time indicates his commitment to the safety of workers.
Darley said that union right-of-entry was not an issue of concern in December 2011 but he came to see the significance of the issue after delegations and meetings with people affected by workplace deaths but who were also very dissatisfied with the operations of the OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA. The union OHS representatives offered an alternate but Darley felt that union access needed additional accountability so he has introduced a system where unions may enter workplaces only after directly contacting SafeWorkSA’s Executive Director and informing of any site visits. All visits are to be kept in a register and that register will be regularly presented to Parliament and made publicly available.
In this way SafeWorkSA has the opportunity to accompany the union OHS representative on the site visit. Should an inspector attend, the inspector takes the lead in the visit. If an inspector does not attend and an OHS contravention is found, the union writes a report and sends this through SafeWorkSA’s Executive Director.
This process seems enormously cumbersome but reflects the strong distrust of SafeWorkSA felt by some sections of the community. A level of concern that has led to a Parliamentary Inquiry into the organisation’s operations. Submissions and presentations have been made to the inquiry but no submissions have been officially released.
On the matter of clarifying who has “control” over a workplace for OHS purposes, Darley said that he resisted those who felt that “direct control” was needed to provide certainty on OHS responsibilities. His amendment package includes the term “influence and control” for the WHS laws.
Darley’s actions on the impacts of Codes of Practice for small business have been addressed elsewhere and it will be interesting to see how such a consultative process will work. He said that his amendments will only apply to new Codes of Practice and have addressed the pressure from some for a cost benefit analysis of the Codes.
Coincidentally in the Federal Government’s Senate Estimates Committee hearing on 17 October 2012, a cost-benefit of Codes of Practice was put to Rex Hoy of Safe Work Australia and Senator Jacinta Collins by Senator Edwards. According to the draft transcript (try this link but not sure if it works):
“Senator EDWARDS: … Just what cost is this process to the country, all these processes? How many codes of practice do you have currently under review?
Ms Collins: By the time we have completed we will have 40 codes of practice. We still have a number to go through our approval processes that we have published 23 codes.
Senator EDWARDS: Do you have any idea what the budget is for these 40 codes of practice?
Mr Hoy: No, we do not specifically have that detail and it would be very difficult to estimate. I can tell you what the budget for Safe Work Australia is but we would not go down to the level of determining that sort of detail.” (Page 42)
Surely this is more than a coincidence from lobbying an Independent MP in one State to raising the issue in a Senate hearing. There seems to be a strategy here, perhaps a Plan B due to the holes in the cost estimates provided to the Victorian Government by PricewaterhouseCoopers and quoted by Conservative politicians and organisations. If the cost of introducing the laws nationally are “affordable” perhaps by questioning the cost to taxpayers of the development of specific Codes of Practice will work.
Of note in the Senate Estimates was that the fatigue management code was specifically mentioned even though there has been no public movement on the draft since December 2011. Psychosocial hazards such as fatigue, bullying and mental are relatively new in Australia and are difficult to understand for health and safety professionals so politicians are likely to struggle. Prepare to hear more ridicule of these Codes in the future.
John Darley advised that his amendment package may not appear in the SA Parliament for a couple of weeks yet. An introduction date of 1 January 2013 remains achievable but Darley insists of a twelve month transition period. Others speculate of a potential start date of 1 July 2013, but Darley says this would shorten any transition back to six months.