In May 2016, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) held their annual safety breakfast. The speakers were the usual blend of WorkSafe representative, SIA, Herbert Smith Freehills and remuneration survey results but there is always bits of useful information for the old hands and a lot of information for new entrants in the occupational health and safety profession.
Steve Bell, of HSF, has been mentioning the importance of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) and the Heavy Vehicle National Regulator. Those OHS professionals who are not in the transport sector have largely ignored his advice partly because the industry sector can be quite insular but also because the laws, as Bell describes them, have become increasingly complex and “arcane”. Bell advised that a review of the HVNL is likely to lead to a regulatory approach that is reminiscent of the OHS and Work Health and Safety laws by focussing on a set of principles and outcomes, and the application of a “reasonably practicable” standard of safety in the transport sector.
He suggested that these reforms will, initially, lead to a lack of clarity (as occurred when OHS laws changed) due to the transition from prescriptive to risk-based criteria. However, the heavy vehicle transport sector in Australia is quite mature in relation to its OHS obligations. The safety concepts and general duties are already known to transport companies and drivers in one area of their business. The impending HVNL reform broadens the application of the OHS format across their business operations. Whether this means a business opportunity for OHS professionals is debatable.
Drug and Alcohol Testing
Steve Bell also spoke about how recent changes to the National Building Code requiring drug and alcohol testing have been received and quickly implemented by his firm’s clients. But also about how those outside of the construction industry are struggling with similar activities.
OHS requires safe and healthy work environments. Whether that is achieved through drug and alcohol testing or other measure is not really important for OHS professionals or, more significantly, safety regulators. However it is critical for those who see such testing as an unnecessary cost and inconvenience; particularly, if one also does not consider the risks associated with impairments and lost production as being relevant to one’s own workplace. In short, why police for a hazard that a particular workplace does not have?
Bell also mentioned a couple of recent OHS cases that may cause a rethink about the role of safety management and its role as a social good. One involved action in the Court of Appeal over the size of a financial penalty resulting from a workplace fatality. The Court increased one fine from $A100,000 to $A750,000.
He also mentioned that the OHS regulators are showing an increased attention to public safety issues. These are legal breaches of OHS law that present risk to members of the public as well as to workers. Bell mentions a prosecution concerning a floating boom rollover, where there was no injury or fatality:
“noting that the penalties there were $A250,000 for the risk to the workers and a penalty of $A300,000 for the risk occasioned to members of the public.”
This information came from Steve Bell’s ten minutes of things to think about.
The presentation from WorkSafe Victoria’s Marnie Williams was well-scripted and interesting but the magnitude of the safety regulator’s activities was most clearly shown during question time. WorkSafe’s involvement with an independent inquiry into its enforcement policies, scrutiny of its inspectors, particularly in relation to a wall collapse in North Melbourne, regulatory impact statements, and increased attention to fatalities in the agricultural sector, on top of its general inspectorate and safety promotion activities is a hefty workload.
Williams’ presentation was one of those that is familiar to established OHS professionals but could be fascinating to new entrants and professionals. The blend of speakers with different perspectives and from different sectors makes these sorts of events important to attend.