Safety a shared responsibility

Michael Bailey headshot

TCCI Chief Executive Michael Bailey

The most important reasons for workplace safety are people getting home safely, just like the advertisements portray.

And all good Tasmanian businesses know the importance of good Work, Health & Safety practices.

Providing a safe workplace, with all the required processes, training and procedures, is a critical requirement of modern business.

Because all businesses, which employ people, however large or small, develop major connections with their staff.

Keeping people safe is the aim of all Tasmanian industries, particularly ones that carry inherent dangers, for example in mining or construction.

And the best businesses foster a “partnership” between staff and management to ensure that workplace safety standards are both set and maintained.

However, I believe that the lack of application of the concept of mutual responsibility is a major downfall in the interpretation of the Work Health and Safety Act.

Let me give you a real example … this is not unique, because we hear similar stories all too often.

One of our members has an established, expensive and compliant WHS system in their workplace.

They can show that their system and regular training of staff fulfils the requirements under the Act properly and professionally.

This business had a worker undertake a maintenance task in a fashion that was clearly contrary to their processes and the training that the staff member had received. The staff member was unfortunately hurt.

The business did the right thing and reported the incident to WorkSafe immediately and undertook an investigation.

It was established that the worker knew what he was doing was wrong, that it was against the training he had received and against the process that he had signed. But the business was still prosecuted by WorkSafe.

Yes you heard me right, the business was fined.

How the heck is this fair? The business has done everything in their power to provide a safe workplace. The worker was in the wrong and yet the business was fined.

It begs the question, from a regulation point of view, what was the point in undertaking the long and expensive WHS journey in the first place.

If the outcome was always going to be a fine against the business, why bother?

The reason we bother is that the vast majority of businesses and business owners want to have safe workplaces.

But under the act is the capacity for the regulator to proceed against a worker if it is determined that they were at fault.

Guess how many times this has happened in Tasmania … has it ever?

You guessed it… not once (according to the regulator itself).

I recently asked SafeWork Australia’s Maree Boland (currently undertaking a review into the Act) how many times had a worker been prosecuted rather than a business, nationally.

She told me that to the best of her knowledge, in each jurisdiction around the country, it had happened only twice.

And the fines were for horrible hazing situations including where a worker was set on fire.

I am completely sick of businesses being held responsible for every action of their employees regardless of the worker’s mutual responsibility at work.

It is time for workers to be held to account if they do not follow established, and fairly trained, processes and procedures.

When a business provides a complementary WHS system, proper training and refreshers, they should be protected under the act if a worker does not comply.

The TCCI strongly supports the WHS principals and we are striving to ensure that all workers return home at the end of the day safe and unhurt.

But it must be clear that the worker has a role in this aim too.

By TCCI Chief Executive Michael Bailey

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