WorkSafe head to deliver report card at Safety in Action

Thursday, 17 March, 2005

Determined to lead a more transparent WorkSafe Victoria, Executive Director John Merritt promises to bare all in his March 21 keynote address to delegates at the Safety in Action Conference.

Merritt said the regulator is accountable to the community and will present a frank assessment of WorkSafe's performance and his plans to further improve the way it relates to industry.

"As the regulator we have taken the findings of last year's review of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to heart," he said.

"It highlights three key recommendations: the need for more constructive guidance, greater transparency and increased accountability.

"Ultimately, it's about being more effective.

"WorkSafe is working toward development of published compliance codes and other guidance material containing more practical information about what compliance looks like. This guidance will also be referred to by inspectors during workplace inspections.

"For specific contraventions identified by inspectors, examples or options of practical ways to comply will be provided, along with the broader published guidance material."

The new OHS Act has provisions that will mean employers who follow published WorkSafe compliance codes will automatically be considered compliant.

"Employers don't want to just be told to read the standard or hire a consultant - they want options on exactly how they can comply and they want that advice to be consistent from inspector to inspector," Merritt said.

Victoria's new Occupational Health and Safety Act provides protection for inspectors who offer workable options and advice to employers. The new laws also mean that employers following published WorkSafe codes will automatically be considered compliant.

Merritt said the added depth of involvement in the implementation of safety standards will not see a return to the prescriptive approach of the 1980s.

"Many organisations have very good ideas when it comes to developing safety solutions," he said. "Nobody wants to go back to the days of mandating a single prescriptive approach."

Merritt's second objective, increased transparency, also applies to the entire organisation but will have the most impact on enforcement activities.

WorkSafe will continue to make guidelines for prosecution freely available and in future documents such as much of the Inspector's Manual will be made available along with industry programs.

Finally, WorkSafe has committed to becoming more accountable. It will continue surveying employers and will now publish the results on the internet. Significantly, WorkSafe is establishing an internal review process.

"Employers and workers who believed the inspector 'got it wrong' in relation to improvement or prohibition notices, or even deciding that no action was warranted, had to take the matter to the Magistrates Court," Merritt said.

"Under the new process, decisions will be reviewed by a person with senior status in WorkSafe, without lawyers or high costs, and have it settled quickly.

"We don't feel the need to go harder in terms of enforcement. We want to maintain the current levels, but we're also interested in increasing workplace capability by better equipping employers to improve safety standards.

"Certainly, it's important that there's a sense that there are consequences for people who don't do the right thing, but I think that's well accepted now.

"For this reason, we don't send out inspectors at random. If we're in a workplace, we're probably there because of a high rate of claims or you're in an industry sector that's having trouble or dealing with a common mechanism of injury.

"Otherwise, it's because we are acting on one of the 60,000 calls we get from the public every year to alert us of an unsafe situation."

WorkSafe's transformation program corresponds with Victoria's new Occupational Health and Safety Act, most of which comes into force this July.

The good news, according to Merritt, is that the Act and WorkSafe are pushing for greater clarity in what is undeniably a high-stakes arena for employers and workers alike.

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