Half time at union OHS representatives conference

image1300 occupational health and safety representatives in one room provides a great deal of passion about workplace safety.  These are not the OHS suits, the regulators or the safety app spruikers that other conferences attract.

There is talk about safety leadership but few are thinking about the CEOs.  They see leadership in themselves. Indeed, it may be a major step forward for the OHS sector to start to separate OHS leaders from OHS leadership.  The room this morning had hundreds of OHS leaders.

Victoria’s Workplace Relations Minister, Robin Scott, reiterated his support for HSRs and the importance of workplace safety but not much else. This was expected but he remained on stage longer than speakers at other conferences to answer questions without notice, showing a person who is confident in their skills, knowledgeable about their portfolio and clearly among supporters.

WorkSafe Victoria’s representative Claire Amies provided a solid outline of the OHS regulator’s plans but the authority is clearly finding its feet under new management. Delegates indicated that WorkSafe intends to step into the future by jumping back to the past. Rumours were that OHS will regain some of the prominence in OHS planning that it has lost over the last 6 or 7 years.

The HSR conference splits into two streams for part of the day – Private Sector and Private Sector.  This is an understandable split by delegates in each stream really need to understand the approaches and values applied to OHS in the other stream.

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones was a guest of the Victorian Trades Hall at this event.

4 thoughts on “Half time at union OHS representatives conference”

  1. Hi Kevin,
    Thank you for your response. Yes, I did write to Ms Amies and the Minister for Worksafe however, it appears when you complain about VWA internal processes and Inspectors, nobody wants to listen or hear about it or are prepared to address the substantive issues. This is why we need an OHS Ombudsman.

  2. Whilst yesterday’s conference was well organised thanks to the VTHC, there was little or no importance given to the issues HSR’s are experiencing including :
    Inspectors are making decisions on OHS matters without consulting with the relevant HSR and or members of the DWG to check information provided by the employer;
    Inspectors ignoring information provided by the workers and Health and Safety Representative’s,
    Inspectors are placing the responsibility on the HSR to demonstrate the employer’s non-compliance rather than the employer to demonstrate compliance with OHS legislation;
    A lack of understanding on the part of some inspectors of the power imbalance in a workplace; equating “attending a workplace” with “providing support to HSRs”;
    Failure on the part of the internal reviewer to undertake a transparent and fair review of inspectors decisions,
    Concerns with regards to unfair and lack of transparency in the Recruitment and work safe awards process and
    Worksafe Inspectors encouraging managers to take disciplinary actions against HSR’s.
    These issues are well substantiated, and documented and supported by the experiences of HSRs.
    Perhaps it is time for the Victorian parliament to appoint an occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Ombudsman(with a significant degree of independence) should be appointed by the Victorian parliament to represent the interest of workers and the public to improve the standards of occupational health and safety at work; strength the support and protection of health and safety representatives; ensure transparency and accountability in the current Work Safe Victoria complaints’ management system; promoting professional, safe and expert advice, as well as high standards of service delivery by the Health and Safety Regulator

    1. HSR, you make some excellent points.

      I also have floated the concept of an OHS Ombudsman in the past and still thing there is merit in the concept. However this cuts directly across the existing role of WorkSafe Victoria. WorkSafe would need to be part of the discussion on the Ombudsman and perhaps the new executive members will seriously consider this as part of their renewed strategy.

      I have written about the secretive McKenzie review into WorkSafe. The Ombudsman suggestion would have been a good one for James McKenzie to consider. I take it as a possible creative solution but others may see it only through the prism of “red tape”.

      On the activities of OHS Inspectors, in my previous roles I have always invited the HSR to participate in any site walks of construction sites. Some HSRs were supportive but, at other times, the same HSRs have been hostile. Regardless, I believe the OHS advisers and consultants should always ask about HSR participation.

      My experience is that a workplace in Victoria is much more likely NOT to be visited by a WorkSafe Inspector. In most workplaces the major HSR relationship is with the employee and this is what the OHS legislation encourages and is structured on. I would like to say that the presence of an Inspector is like the application of a PIN notice, an acknowledgement that the safety relationship between worker and employer is already fractured, but that is too simplistic.

      In relation to yesterday’s conference, I don’t think the conference was intended to address many of the issues that raise. My understanding is that the conference was an opportunity to present new OHS information to delegates, for HSRs to network amongst themselves and for them to hear directly from the OHS regulator about enforcement strategies. In that context the conference succeeded.

      My experience is that WorkSafe Victoria will listen to direct communication from Victorians on all safety-related matters, including those you raise in your comments. Consider going “old school” and writing down your concerns and sending them through to Claire Amies, who spoke at yesterday’s conference. She encouraged HSRs to contact her so take her up on the offer.

  3. OSH leaders – cerainly subscribe to the idea – at a previous site we took HSR applicants from field and trade roles (seconded after selection) and created trainee posiitons within safety where they could be properly mentored. Critical factor here is to have a sound well rounded program with minimal time wastage and positiive outputs and training goals. After 12 months, the successful ones were offered HSE advisor roles.
    Two of the three I dealt with developed extrtemwly well and have moved on sicne into senior advisor roles, but brining with them a breath of rfresh air, yet understanding a borad spectrum of the issues that will come up against in challenging some of the sacred cows along the way. Too often we overlook the potential that is just waiting to be tapped because businesses consider that it is a voluntary role.

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