Six months ago, trade unions and occupational health and safety (OHS) advocates protested outside the Ballarat Council offices over the awarding of a construction contract to Pipecon, a company that was prosecuted over the deaths of two workers in a trench collapse several years earlier. Last week, the council decided to upgrade its procurement practices to provide further weight to the OHS performance of tenderers. In effect, it established a new level of “best practice” by local councils in Victoria.
On March 17 2023, the Australian government released the Productivity Commission’s latest 5-year Productivity Inquiry report. At well over a thousand pages, few people are going to read it to the level it deserves. Nor will I, but I have dipped into it and found a couple of important comments that relate directly to the management of occupational health and safety (OHS).
Reading Safe Work Australia’s latest ten-year strategy forced me to think creatively.
SWA’s discussion of Persistent Challenges suggests controls that are almost all at the Administrative Control level – education, awareness, knowledge, training, understanding, support, communication and more. This is after admitting that:
“Injury and fatality rates have fallen significantly over the last decade. However, progress has slowed.”Page 5
How can we increase the use of the Hierarchy of Controls (HoC) in determining safety-related policy? How can we get organisations to progress up the control hierarchy to show others that it is possible to prevent all of the incidents that everyone agrees are preventable? (Refer to WorkSafe Victoria’s Colin Radford for a recent example of this belief:
“Every workplace incident, every injury, every illness, every death is entirely unequivocally preventable.”)
In 2019, the head of SafeWork South Australia, Martyn Campbell, told this blog that he agreed that government departments should be exemplars in occupational health and safety and that “we should be the pinnacle of safety professionalism and leadership”. It should not be a surprise to hear the head of an OHS regulatory agency claim this, but the origin of the question to Campbell stemmed from a review of Victoria’s OHS Act by Chris Maxwell QC in 2004.
Given the recent OHS-related scandals in various jurisdictions, which have often been related to the management of the coronavirus pandemic, it is worth reminding ourselves of the OHS performance standards that Maxwell advocated for all government departments and agencies.
On a chilly night in Ballarat, over a hundred people gathered outside the Town Hall, within which the City Council was meeting, to let the Council know that the awarding of millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money to a local company that admitted to breaching occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and that led to the deaths of two local workers was not acceptable.
The event seem coordinated by the local Trades Hall Council, for the usual inflatable rat and fat cat were next to the ute, which was blasting out protest songs. Almost all the speakers were trade unionists, although one was Andy Meddick from the Animal Justice Party. The protest may not have achieved the changes that many speakers called for, but as is the case with these types of events, Council has given some ground with a likely review of the OHS procurement criteria.
Ballarat City Council has provided a short statement in response to the nine questions put to it about the awarding of a $2 million construction contract to Pipecon, a company that was recently convicted and penalised over the deaths of two of its workers as mentioned in a blog article earlier this week.
A spokesperson for the council wrote:
In November last year, Pipecon was found guilty of breaching its occupational health and safety (OHS) duties concerning the deaths of two of the company’s workers in and from a trench collapse. An offence to which the company pleaded guilty. (Details of the incident and prosecution can be found HERE – search for Pipecon). The Ballarat Council has awarded the company a road construction project valued at over $2 million. Should the Council have done so? How does this decision affect the deterrence message that OHS prosecutions are supposed to generate? What does this say about the criteria used in procuring services?