[Updated 12 noon 12 June 2019]
Why do some companies accept or propose an Enforceable Undertaking in relation to breaches of occupational health and safety law? This media statement from WorkSafeNT dated June 7, 2019 illustrates one answer:
“Car Festivals Pty Ltd and the Northern Territory Major Events Company Pty Ltd committed to spend a combined $1.2 million in legally binding agreements, when it became clear NT WorkSafe was considering laying charges over the incident.” (emphasis added)
This reads like someone has calculated the potential cost (fines, etc) to the companies from an OHS prosecution and has opted for the cheaper option. And $1.2 million is a hefty financial commitment.
The current debate and lobbying campaigns over quad bikes in Australia have become less about safety than about product design integrity. The opposition to operator protection devices (OPDs) has been so loud that it has dominated the quad bike safety discussion. So, last week I decided to visit a local quad bike dealer to talk to the sellers not about OPDs but about Safety. I found that some vehicles have safety integrated into their design and operation.
I have learnt that the best conversations happen during the weekdays when shop assistants and managers have the time to devote to someone who may be a potential buyer but is, at least, someone genuinely interested in the product, in this case quad bikes and side-by-side (SXS) work vehicles.
“Just carrying on doing more reviews is not going to take us very far. We now have to make a start and that’s going to require legislation,”
These words were spoken by the head of the UK Competition and Markets Authority, Andrew Tyrie, but could easily have been a quote from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in relation to its recent review of the safety of quad bikes.
Improving the safety of quad bikes, or what used to be called All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) until everyone accepted that they don’t travel safely over all terrains, has been a contentious issue in Australia for well over a decade. The issue appears in the media regularly after each death or near miss involving a quad bike rider.
Last week the issue appeared in the media for a different reason. Yamaha and Honda have both advised their dealers that if the ACCC safety recommendations and safety standard become law, they will
“….. be force[d] to cease selling utility ATVs in Australia” (Yamaha)
“… withdraw from the ATV market in Australia.” (Honda)
One of the major influencers on occupational health and safety (OHS) management in Australian has been Andrew Hopkins. His influence comes from a combination of being outside the formal OHS profession and establishing a platform that is inclusive of information from a range of sources. In short he is a sociologist.
Hopkins’ latest book has just been released. “Organising for Safety – How structure creates culture” is a radical departure to his previous books about organisational culture. Here Hopkins questions whether cultural change is the gradual spreading of new ideas and instead proposes that
“… the culture of an organisation is determined to a large extent by its organisational structure.” Page 1
He also mentions power, a concept rarely discussed in OHS and almost entirely left to exist in sociology (Oh, the need for more Humanities study!). Power pops up in Human Resources but not to the same extent.
Hopkins also refers to, and creates, organisational charts that were in place at the time of a disaster and then to the reorganised structures after the disasters. Hopkins discusses how those new structures are in direct response to the new understanding of risk from the CEOs and Boards.
On April 6 2018 Australia’s Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert released the report into Quad Bike safety prepared by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC). The report makes unsurprising safety recommendations, many of these have been coming for years. The surprise is the Minister’s decision to begin another round of consultation:
“The Government is inviting stakeholders to review and comment on the ACCC’s recommended safety standard.”
The previous paragraph in the Minister’s press statement acknowledged:
“Extensive consultation has been undertaken including with technical experts, farmers, the recreational and tourism sector, consumer groups, health and medical experts, industry and government bodies. The majority of stakeholders support a new mandatory safety standard. The ACCC’s report highlights how these safety measures including installing an operator protection device can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of injuries, particularly from rollover incidents”
An indication of the level of “extensive consultation” can be seen through the process the ACCC has been running since at least November 2017. The only possible reason for this extraordinary decision is the political desire to release the ACCC report prior to the Federal Election, only just announced as occurring on May 18, 2019.