The Salvemini court saga illustrates many problems with prosecutions, justice and care

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Sometimes when there is a procedural or organisational blockage, an opportunity or potential solution appears out of the blue. A South Australian Supreme Court decision on 3 October 2012 (not yet available online) may be just such a case.

Almost seven years ago Jack Salvemini was working on a shark fishing boat in the Great Australian Bight when he became entangled in a net being winched and was, according to various reports, either strangled or crushed to death. SafeWorkSA prosecuted the company running the boat, Jean Bryant Fishing and the skipper of the boat, Arthur Markellos.  Both were found guilty of breaching the occupational health and safety laws in effect at that time.

The company was fined $A71,000 from a maximum fine of $A100,000. Markellos was fined $A17,000. Arguments and appeals have continued on over this case since the original prosecution in the Industrial Magistrate’s Court in November 2010. (This judgement also provides the best level of detail of the fatality and its impact on all parties including Arthur Markellos)

Following the Supreme Court decision, Jack’s father, Lee, said he would like to talk with the Attorney-General to discuss what more can be done on his quest for justice. Later in the evening South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, commented on the case and offered to meet the family. There is a political element to the Premier’s offer as it makes an important point about the Work Health and Safety Bill currently stalled in the SA Parliament. Continue reading “The Salvemini court saga illustrates many problems with prosecutions, justice and care”

Insurance may diminish a director’s commitment to their positive OHS duty

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Neil Foster of the University of Newcastle is known to SafetyAtWorkBlog for his work looking at the legal liabilities of company directors and officers.  Recently Foster released a paper called “You can’t do that! Directors insuring against criminal WHS penalties” which provides an additional legal context to an earlier blog article.

Foster acknowledges that

“…provisions of the criminal law imposing personal liability for company breach of workplace health and safety provisions provide one of the strongest ‘drivers’ for company officers to use due diligence to see to the implementation of company safety policies.”

and asks

“… what if the officer knows all along that, should they be subject to such a penalty, the company, or an insurance policy, will come to the rescue?”

This is a concern that relates to insurance policies or indemnities that are being offered in some industrial sectors.  Insurance could dilute the diligence of officers and directors on a range of matters including workplace safety. Continue reading “Insurance may diminish a director’s commitment to their positive OHS duty”

More safety indemnities offered but with similar limitations

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In August-September 2012 a media release was circulated in Australia promoting an

“…an Australian industry first – leading construction & mining workplace safety provider RIS offers to indemnify operators against non compliance prosecution.”

This may be a first for RoofSafe Industrial Safety (RIS) but not for Australia.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on a smaller but similar system that originated in the automotive repair industry.

RIS’ Syncron system has several steps to compliance

  • Safety Audit
  • Assessment and Priorities
  • Coordinated actions aimed at maximum cost savings
  • Indemnification
  • Ongoing Monitoring and Continuous Improvement

It seems to be popular in the mining sector, according to the RIS website and clearly, from the media release, RIS is expanding its application from its fallprotection base into construction.

Indemnification

There are lots of issues of concern in the media release, if not in the Syncron system itself.  The indemnification is of particular concern and although these sorts of safety management systems are apparently cleared through legal advisers they need a great deal of explanation in order for businesses to feel comfortable.

One of the potential traps of these systems is that indemnification only exists when the assessment and management system is followed absolutely, as highlighted below.  Although the advisory resources exist outside the customer’s business, checking and monitoring still comes from the customer and adequate resources are required.

The legalese through all Syncron brochures and statements needs forensic analysis.   Continue reading “More safety indemnities offered but with similar limitations”

Momentum increases for tangible action on workplace bullying

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According to the Canberra Times, a company board has been served with an improvement notice over inadequate attention to workplace bullying claims in a retirement home.  The ABC television program, 7.30, has followed up workplace bullying claims aired earlier this month with a further case on 25 September 2012 with savage criticism of WorkSafe Victoria’s actions in the case.

The Australian Government has completed the public hearings of its Parliamentary Inquiry into workplace bullying.  Bullying is everywhere but little seems to be happening to address the various elements and deficiencies of the regulatory system.

On 21 September 2012 the WorkSafe ACT Commissioner warned about inaction on workplace bullying:

“If bullying has not occurred, then a properly conducted investigation should find that… If, on the other hand, an independent investigation substantiates the allegations, then the employer will be in a position to act to protect their workers from any ongoing threat to their health and safety.” Continue reading “Momentum increases for tangible action on workplace bullying”

Lessons for Australia from UK assault on OHS red tape

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The chase for government and corporate effectiveness and productivity increases through cutting “red tape” has, historically, had dubious longterm benefits. The attack on the red tape of occupational health and safety (OHS) has been brutal in the United Kingdom and has occurred with an unforgiving, and misguided, tabloid media.  Some in the UK media have been pointing out the government’s strategic folly, the latest is Russell Lynch in the Evening Standard.

On 20 September 2012, Lynch brutally described the UK situation:

“Safer businesses are more productive, not least because of the management time taken up when some poor sod has to be scraped off the floor. And let’s not forget inspections focus on occupational health as well, meaning employees have more chance of working without developing illnesses.”

The sad part of this statement is that productivity advantage of safer businesses has been known by governments for some time but that the wave of red tape attacks was politically stronger.

Some Australian States are on an extreme austerity drive even though the Australian economy is nowhere near as troubled as that of the United Kingdom.  These strategies usually call for across-the-board percentage reductions in costs.  This generality is a major problem as productivity and cost-effectiveness of specific organisations is not considered.  Untargeted cuts penalise the successful and the inefficient – the current experience of the Health and Safety Executive. Continue reading “Lessons for Australia from UK assault on OHS red tape”