On the 28 April edition of the ABC TV show, Insiders, Gerard Henderson displayed a common misunderstanding about the role and existence of regulations. In discussing the childcare industry Henderson, Executive Director of the Sydney Institute, said that regulations always increase business costs, as if regulations are the start of a process when regulations are almost always a reaction to a hazard, an abuse, an exploitation or a risk.
Business leaders seem to be incapable of understanding that they have the power to reduce what they see as OHS red tape by changing their behaviours, perhaps by embracing and implementing safety leadership.
Many politicians and commentators have linked recent factory explosions and collapses around the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April. As quoted in The Guardian, Tom O’Connor, executive director of National COSH.
“But as companies decry regulations and emphasize profits over safety, workers pay the ultimate price…”
O’Connor could easily have replaced “profits” with “productivity” but he does link worker welfare to the arguments against red tape and regulations.
“…suggests the limited effectiveness of regulation is caused by two different factors. First, regulation as the quintessential instrumental form of policymaking is both politically and technically attractive, but can be thwarted when the risk to be reduced is not amenable to narrow, targeted interventions. Nonetheless, regulation may remain popular as it allows claims that progress has been made and that, this time, the lessons from tragedy have been learnt. Secondly, the analysis here suggests that even when regulation can be effective in avoiding catastrophe it needs sufficient political support to ensure its implementation but not overweening political intervention that prevents the regulator framing the regime in the optimal direction.” (page 3)
On Haines first point, it is suggested that work stress and workplace bullying may be one of those hazards that is not “amenable to narrow, targeted interventions.”
On her second point it is clear that regulation may be created as a politically attractive “fix”, particularly after a disaster, but that the aim of the regulation will not be realised without ongoing political will. It is perhaps in this context that one can argue that workplace safety regulation always has a political or industrial relations context and to control or eliminate a hazard successfully requires safety professionals and OHS regulators to understanding that context.
Henderson may argue that workplace safety will always have an economic context as well as political or industrial and this is acknowledged by most safety professionals but the size and type of economic impact is not always a burden or cost as Henderson would say. I would argue that seeing OHS as an additional business cost is a fundamental misunderstanding of basic business management.
Safety is only an additional cost if that unavoidable cost was not considered in the earliest steps of developing a business management plan or undertaking proper due diligence. The cost of safety is a cost of operation and can be quantified in operational estimates of productivity and output at the business design stage but business is usually seen in terms of productive quantities and not the quality of production. Safety management and safety regulations must apply a broader pool of concerns, particularly the human element.
Haines writes that
“To be successful, regulation must embrace actuarial, sociocultural and political risk reduction through a common regulatory project.” (Page 7)
All these elements must be considered and balanced as well as they can but whether this is dependent on a “common regulatory project” is debatable. Such a project encourages the dominance of regulation as a political and social tool. More sustainable change may come from the re-emphasis of social values, recently mentioned by Minister Bill Shorten in Brisbane and again, today, in Canberra, those of dignity, trust and respect.