Running with scissors in Parliament

The workplace death of Jorge Castillo-Riffo continues to raise important discussions about occupational health and safety (OHS), responsibility and accountability. The South Australian parliament discussed scissor lifts and OHS on June 6 2019. The criticism of the Coroner was concerning and the debate was a sadly typical political discussion but the issue of improving OHS in construction sites has not been forgotten by some South Australia politicians.

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New workplace safety laws set to pass in South Australia in October

South Australian Independent Member of Parliament, John Darley, has been negotiating on that State’s Work Health and Safety laws for many months.  On 17 October 2012, according to a media release from SA’s Premier Jay Weatherill and Workplace Relations Minister Russell Wortley, Darley agreed to support the passing of the laws after achieving some amendments.  Those amendments involve changes to

  • height limits,
  • duty of care,
  • the right to silence, and
  • the right of entry.

Tammy Franks, a Greens MLC, was able to achieve an expansion of the number of days available for OHS representative training.

A spokesperson for John Darley told SafetyAtWorkBlog that another change was for any WHS codes of practice to undergo a small business impact assessment in consultation with the Small Business Commissioner.  Darley’s spokesperson said that the MP had met with Business SA after it changed its position on the WHS laws.  The amendment above is likely to address the small business concerns that BusinessSA raised in its letter to its members earlier this month.  The flip-flopping of BusinessSA on workplace health and safety laws was always curious and it is likely to put the organisation at a negotiating disadvantage once the laws passed.  It may try to claim a mini-victory through the small business change but the change appears to have occurred due to Darley’s efforts and not through any relationship with the South Australian Government. Continue reading “New workplace safety laws set to pass in South Australia in October”

BusinessSA’s backflip on OHS laws carries short-term gain but long-term risk

Australian business associations have different perspectives on the need to harmonise occupational health and safety laws across Australia but BusinessSA has performed an enormous backflip in only a month on new Work Health and Safety Laws.  In a letter (now a media release) to the industry association’s members, BusinessSA has called on the South Australian Government to defer the laws until a scheduled national review in 2014.  The major points of the letter are discussed below.

Objections to the letter on some of the LinkedIn discussion forums have been voiced by some safety and legal professionals, the principle concern being that all state governments agreed to the initiative of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2008 to harmonise the OHS laws.  Employer groups, unions and OHS regulators have been closely involved in the harmonisation process.  Other parties, including BusinessSA made submissions.  According to the 2008 submission, these were the six key issues:

  • “Self-regulation: The appropriateness of the duty of care, consultative mechanisms, performance-based (as opposed to prescriptive) regulation, and education/training in facilitating an effective (self-regulating) OHS system.
  • Causality and uncertainty: Can, and should, governments attempt to regulate with respect to potential future hazards, given the enormous pace of technological change and uncertainty relating to that change and where causes of Continue reading “BusinessSA’s backflip on OHS laws carries short-term gain but long-term risk”

South Australia’s politicians prepare to grill the OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA

On 19 May 2012, South Australia’s Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (OSRC) announced in the Adelaide Advertiser and inquiry into the operations of SafeWorkSA.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that the inquiry was self-initiated by the committee as a result of no one particular reason.  The Minister for Industrial Relations was apparently unaware of the inquiry and nor was SafeWorkSA.

As the passing of Work Health and Safety laws stall in the Parliament, the politics of safety in South Australia is about to get even messier.

The notification from the OSRC committee lists the inquiry’s terms of reference: Continue reading “South Australia’s politicians prepare to grill the OHS regulator, SafeWorkSA”

South Australia’s postponement of harmonisation shows the political weaknesses of the process

South Australia’s Parliament has delayed the introduction of its Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act until 2012 by postponing debate on the WHS Bill until February 2012.  The instigator for this action was the opposition (Liberal) parliamentarian, Rob Lucas, who SafetyAtWorkBlog has written about previously.

Lucas has issued a media release that states

“The Weatherill Government has continued to ignore the growing concern from industry organisations about the impact on housing affordability and the costs of doing business. Employer groups such as Business SA, the Housing Industry Association, Master Builders Association, Motor Traders Association, Australian Hotels Association, Civil Contractors Federation, Self Insurers of South Australia, and Independent Contractors Australia are all supporting significant amendments to the legislation…..

“It is also now clear there is no prospect of ‘harmonised’ work safety laws operation in all states and territories. Continue reading “South Australia’s postponement of harmonisation shows the political weaknesses of the process”

Politicians are exploiting proposed OHS laws for their own benefit

South Australia’s Industrial Relations Minister, Rob Lucas, stated in the Adelaide Advertiser on 3 October 2011 that

“The Liberal Party has always supported strong work safety laws which protect workers at work sites.”

This may be the case within the limitations of that sentence but the conservative political parties have not always been supportive of the basis for safety management, the creation of evidence through authoritative research.  According to a 2003 submission by the Australian Council of Trade Unions

“After the election of the Liberal/National Coalition in 1996, the Federal Government decided that:

  • the NOHSC budget must be cut by $5.9 million each year;
  • a further 5% cut was imposed across the board; and
  • redundancies had to be covered from within the NOHSC budget.

This represented a cut of $6.6 million (35-40%) to the NOHSC annual budget……

The April 1996 NOHSC decision on allocation of its $14 million budget cut OHS research and information, and education and training. National standards work was also decreased. These areas are central to a national approach to OHS.” [emphasis added]

Around the time of these severe budget cuts Australia had begun moving to a system of national uniformity in OHS.  The impact of this political decision hamstrung the research efforts of NOHSC just as the uniformity momentum was increasing.  As the National Research Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Regulation has written

“A notable development in standard setting in Australia during the 1990s was the movement towards national uniformity in standards in regulations and codes of practice. The process was overseen by the former NOHSC, which in 1991 established a tripartite National Uniformity Taskforce, which identified several key first order priorities for achieving national uniformity: plant, certification of users and operators of industrial equipment; workplace hazardous substances; occupational noise; manual handling; major hazardous facilities; and storage and handling of dangerous goods.

NOHSC developed standards in the first six of these areas, and the jurisdictions were well on the way towards adopting these standards by the end of 1996, although it should be noted that jurisdictions were quite inconsistent in their adoption, particular in choosing whether to implement the standards in regulations or codes of practice, in their drafting styles and, in some cases, the substance of provisions. The national uniformity process was not complete when the Howard government came to power in 1996, and that government first significantly down-sized and then abolished NOHSC, with the result that the move towards national uniformity slowed dramatically after mid-1996.”

Rob Lucas seems to ignore the history of his own party’s decision. Continue reading “Politicians are exploiting proposed OHS laws for their own benefit”

OHS objectors get support from South Australia parliamentarian

The last seven days has seen many of the conservative speakers express concerns or objections to the Australian government’s close-to-completed process for harmonising workplace safety laws.  Although one may not agree with the objections, in most cases there is some ideological sense.  On 15 September 2011, South Australia’s shadow Minister for Industrial Relations (IR), Rob Lucas, launched a broadside attack on the OHS laws but with dubious claims.

Lucas’ media release states that

“There is growing opposition to Labor’s proposed bill from industry and business organisations such as Business SA, Master Builders Association, Housing Industry Association, Motor Trade Association, Self Insurers of SA and the Australian Hotels Association.

“The Liberal Opposition believes this bill is a massive full frontal assault on subcontractors and small business in SA which will lead to significant increases in house prices,” Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Rob Lucas said.

“For example, the HIA have estimated the new laws will increase costs by $12,000 for a single story construction and approximately $20,000 for a double story construction.”

The $A20,000 claim has been used by the HIA in the past in South Australia .  A former (Labor) IR minister, Paul Caica, was confronted by the claim in 2008.  The costs seemed to concern the provision of scaffolding on domestic construction sites for work above two metres but no clarification was made publicly.

In May 2011, SafetyAtWorkBlog investigated the $A20,000 claim.  The claim  was quoted at the time by Rob Lucas in a media statement.  The blog article in May said:

“On looking for the evidence on the potential business costs, an HIA spokesperson has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that no figures were provided by the HIA to the minister for this media statement.  The spokesperson said that the cost figures may have been extracted from earlier submissions to government.” Continue reading “OHS objectors get support from South Australia parliamentarian”