Education and conversation are the keys to enhancing workplace security.
More must be carried out to lessen work related deaths, that have grown despite widespread advertising campaigns, say health and security experts. There were 138 work related fatalities from 2010-2011, compared with 124 from 2009-2010, according to Safe Work Australia’s national figures from its annual Notified Fatalities Statistical Report 2011.
In more recent data from the first quarter of the season, New South Wales tops the workplace fatality list with 20 deaths, followed by Western Australia with 4 and Queensland with 11. Victoria has among the records within the state but work deaths jumped there last year to 25, a 25 per cent increase in the preceding year.
Such Sombre amounts along with a spate of highprofile legal cases have led politicians to push for improved worker protection, which is especially needed in the most dangerous industries – forestry, agriculture and fisheries, transportation and mining, building, production and storage. “what we want is actual change in most workplaces so individuals feel confident to speak up about security problems and really, where needed, inform the chief the awful news,” says Minister for Employment and Workplace Relation Bill Shorten.
Because of the gradual harmonisation of health and safety laws across the states, a new ‘Body of Knowledge’ for OH&S professionals, along with the certification of university health and safety classes, the occupational health and safety business has become better understood and regulated. Television advertising has also brought what was once regarded as an expensive, market area of company to the limelight. “The Work Safe adverts actually brought security back to the fore. There’s a sense we’re beginning to focus more on behaviour-based security instead of process – it’s becoming part of a business’s mission statement and values,” says Chris Grant, director of recruiting business at Michael Page.
While advertising campaigns helped raise consciousness, it’s clear many businesses aren’t heeding warning or are receiving poor guidance from carpetbag consultants. Martin Tennant, manager of Safe smart Solutions, who consults to small and medium businesses – the most incidents are reported by which – admits progress in OH & S is more about changing mindsets than marketing or procedure. “Safety takes time but if you’re able to get folks around the shop floor talking about it, fantastic happy wheels things can come of it. We talked to a business in which a forklift truck was used in a warehouse where people interacted in a space. As an effect of our conversations, they recognised the hazard and started talking about placing a hole in the wall or using conveyor belts to raise productivity and decrease the chance of injuries,” describes Tennant.
Many are confused by the changing face of health and safety, which has been further complicated by problems for example intimidation, harassment and stalking, while an increasing number of businesses seem fantastic to clean up their act. “Workplace bullying is really a top-of-mind problem for a lot of Australian employers at present,” says Siobhan Flores-Walsh, a leading workplace, health and safety and employment attorney at law firm Norton Rose.
“This heightened awareness is prompted, at least in part, by the highprofile harassment claims which have featured within the media lately, along with changes to the stalking offence under the Victorian Crimes Act 1958, that was made in response to the Brodie Panlock case,” says Flores-Walsh. Nineteen year – old Panlock committed suicide after months of mental and verbal abuse, including being doused in oil and spat on while employed as a server in Melbourne. Her story started the law passing of Brodie’s Law, making bullying a criminal offence culpable with up to ten years in jail.
Some say the law has done little to enhance workplace health and safety but Flores-Walsh is affirmative. “There seems to have been a consequential rise in the coverage of intimidation and similar actions. What was once tolerated or just endured is currently more prone to be reported and litigated,” she says.
The more this occurs, the better the chance of data improving, says Leo Ruschena, senior lecture at RMIT University, who believes legal action, rather than advertisements, has more impact on company safety policies. One in two WorkSafe Victoria investigations last year led to prosecution or enforcement, the cheapest rate in at least four years.
To change the data you should change the behaviour and that’s achieved by demonstrating it’s importance to mind the rules but also by successful prosecutions. Worksafe is cutting back the amount of prosecutions – that’s basically wrong as we need to do that to enhance safety.” says Ruschena.