Politics before safety in South Australia

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Occupational health and safety (OHS) eyebrows were raised in Australia recently as a State Government suspended the application of three construction-related codes of practice, principally, on the basis that compliance will cost too much.  The decision by South Australia’s Minister for Industrial Relations, John Rau, following a report by the Small Business Commissioner, Mike Sinkunas, illustrates several issues:

  • the SA government is overly influenced by the Housing Industry Association (HIA),
  • small business is being misinformed on how workplace safety works,
  • the application of “reasonably practicable” has been ignored, and
  • the unions and safety profession do not know how to respond.

Continue reading “Politics before safety in South Australia”

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

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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

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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”

SISA has few problems with SafeWorkSA but where are the other submissions?

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In May 2012, the South Australian parliament announced an inquiry into the effectiveness of that State’s workplace safety regulator, SafeWorkSA.  Submissions are being received by the Parliament Committee but, as yet, none are available through the inquiry’s website.

Andrea Madeley of VOID has commented that her organisation has already provided the committee of inquiry with a submission but the only public submission SafetyAtWorkBlog can find is from the Self-Insurers of South Australian Inc (SISA).  Below is the summary of SISA’s submission:

“Should the responsibility for all occupational, health and safety issues remain with SafeWork SA or should some or all of that responsibility be transferred to WorkCover?

SISA members have no fixed views, although if the choice were simply limited to the current separated model and a single massive regulator, we might well opt for the current model as a means to avoid conflicts of interest. If, in the alternate, we are asked ‘Could the quality of OHS regulation and functional delivery be improved?’, we would answer ‘yes, but this cannot be achieved by structural change alone’. We therefore advocate no particular structure (though with a preference against amalgamation) and urge the Committee to concentrate on the quality of what is delivered.

2(a) WorkCover ought to be recognised as having a vital role and interest in improved OHS outcomes.

2(b) Scope exists for improved collaboration between WorkCover and SafeWork SA, especially in the field of data collection, management and use.

2(c) SafeWork SA and WorkCover should look at the self insured employers as resources and force multipliers for their own efforts to reach out to smaller employers.

2(d) Our members have few complaints (and no recent ones we are aware of) about their interactions with SafeWork SA.

2(e) The experience of small and medium size business may be different, however.

3. The OHS profession should have substantial representation on OHS regulatory and advisory bodies.

4(a) The real challenge for SafeWork SA lies in the small and medium size business community.

4(b) The conventional model of the regulator being the initiator of action will always be inadequate for small and medium size business due to the sheer numbers involved compared to the resources available.

4(c) Experience rating of workers compensation premiums has at best limited and delayed effect, and even that is anecdotal and presumptive rather than established as fact.

4(d) South Australia needs to think outside the square of normal regulatory models when considering small business safety. The French CRAM model might offer one such possibility.” [emphasis added]

SISA believes that SafeWorkSA’s performance can be improved but not through structural change.  It would be fascinating to see how SafeWorkSA would change with a new set of work health and safety laws.  From recent comments in the media by SafeWorkSA’s Judith Lovatt it would appear that the organisation is looking forward to them.

SISA clearly understands the separation between the workers compensation and rehabilitation roles of Workcover and the harm prevention and prosecution role of SafeWorkSA.  Too often criticism of the management of workers compensation is aimed at the wrong regulatory agency, a major problem seen recently in the Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying. Continue reading “SISA has few problems with SafeWorkSA but where are the other submissions?”

South Australian WHS laws get closer

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Australian OHS discussion forums have been buzzing with the passing of the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) bill through the South Australian Parliament. SafetyAtWorkBlog has been advised that the WHS Bill has yet to go to Committee stage which then requires a third reading.  Some engaged in South Australian politics still believe the WHS Bill will fail to become law.

However the focus should not only be on the WHS Bill as there were other OHS matters discussed in Parliament on 6 September, such as workplace bullying.

Second Reading

The Second Reading Speech (page 2069) by Russell Wortley on 6 September 2012 includes some comments of note. Below are a couple of extracts:

“There has been a lot of fearmongering about the effects of these laws. I want to assure honourable members that these fears are misguided and, sadly, often based on misinformation from lobby groups with a particular self-interest in seeing this legislation defeated.”

“…if we do not modernise our laws now, the scope of legal workplace safety protections will continue to be limited by the employer/employee relationship and existing ambiguities will remain. Honourable members need to understand that if the bill is not passed, a South Australia worker will have lower standards of safety than other workers in other states and territories across Australia.”

Of particular note is that Wortley tables (pages 2077-2079) the Housing Industry Association‘s table of increased costs from the new WHS laws. Continue reading “South Australian WHS laws get closer”