Work­place safety --- then and now!

Back then, most em­ploy­ers had “tool box” meet­ings pe­ri­od­i­cally and be­lieved this gen­er­ally meant the boxes were be­ing ticked re­gard­ing work­place safety.

Australasian Timber - - ASSOCIATIONS -

Just for a mo­ment, wind back the clock 25 years, like in a time tun­nel sce­nario. In my case, back then I had no chil­dren send­ing me an SMS for ur­gent cash to top up their Opal card, or ask­ing for a new iPhone as their last one got mys­te­ri­ously water dam­aged. It would still be quite a re­cent joy­ous mem­ory of when my club, the Par­ra­matta Eels, won their last Grand Fi­nal. I still had enough hair to have a re­spectable fringe that rightly de­manded a de­cent ap­pli­ca­tion of sham­poo, and I could still jog with­out a passersby ask­ing me if I was okay and if maybe I needed to sit down and rest.

OK, it’s not all about my mid­dleaged woes. In­stead, try re­call­ing the way our much-loved tim­ber in­dus­try dealt with work­place health and safety back then. Let’s be hon­est, the first is­sue that comes to mind is that WH&S was not re­ally a sub­ject at the fore­front of busi­nesses then, un­like in­dus­trial re­la­tions, mar­ket­ing or re­source sup­ply.

I re­mem­ber meet­ing slightly quirky old men who spe­cialised in OHS and won­der­ing why they never worked in in­dus­trial re­la­tions or even mar­ket­ing, and mar­vel­ling at how they man­aged to stay awake while talk­ing about is­sues like repet­i­tive strain in­jury with­out fall­ing into a deep sleep, never to awaken again.

I re­call that when I joined TTIA at the be­gin­ning of the 1990s we did not even have a WH&S unit. That’s a far cry from to­day, when our WH&S unit is in con­stant de­mand na­tion­ally by the in­dus­try.

Twenty-five years ago there was no talk of safety man­age­ment sys­tems, no safe op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures for ma­chines or du­ties, no risk as­sess­ments, work­place drug and al­co­hol test­ing or the now fa­mil­iar sight of high-vis jack­ets or vests that these days are seem­ingly on ev­ery in­di­vid­ual in ev­ery work­place across the coun­try.

I re­mem­ber hav­ing count­less run­ning bat­tles with unions on the need for smoke-free work­places af­ter many of my mem­bers were ad­vised by in­sur­ers that a cig­a­rette butt found in a work­place suf­fer­ing fire dam­age would null and void any in­sur­ance claim, as well as en­dan­ger any­one at the work­place.

I vividly re­call in one cal­en­dar year be­com­ing aware that there were more than six fa­tal­i­ties in the in­dus­try and think­ing that things needed to change – that both em­ploy­ees and busi­nesses needed to gen­uinely fo­cus more on work­place safety. It’s an in­dus­try we all love and yes, there are def­i­nite in­her­ent dan­gers, but reg­u­lar fa­tal­i­ties are a hor­ri­ble tragedy worth pre­vent­ing, both for the in­di­vid­ual in­volved and their dis­traught fam­i­lies.

Back then, most em­ploy­ers had v“tool box” meet­ings pe­ri­od­i­cally and be­lieved this gen­er­ally meant the boxes were be­ing ticked re­gard­ing work­place safety. Where safety doc­u­men­ta­tion ex­isted, I can re­call the lay­ers of dust that were of­ten gath­ered on such doc­u­men­ta­tion. Sound fa­mil­iar?

I can re­mem­ber on many oc­ca­sions, safety doc­u­men­ta­tion once pro­duced and bought would never re­ally see the light of day or be prop­erly im­ple­mented.

Mov­ing on, it’s a fact that gov­ern­ments over time have ramped up statu­tory fines and crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion, and this too has placed enor­mous pres­sure on em­ploy­ers to look at their work­place safety regimes. While many may ar­gue that the big stick is ef­fec­tive, a far more proac­tive method of deal­ing with breaches and pros­e­cu­tions has gained favour in the courts, as well as with busi­ness, in the form of en­force­able un­der­tak­ings.

An en­force­able un­der­tak­ing (EU) is an al­ter­na­tive to be­ing pros­e­cuted by the Crown un­der work­place health and safety leg­is­la­tion. If a com­pany de­cides to en­ter into an EU with the gov­ern­ment, the pros­e­cu­tion will be dis­con­tin­ued, but only af­ter the EU is ap­proved, fi­nalised and of­fi­cially signed by both par­ties.

EUs are in place for three years and cover safety with re­spect to the ac­ci­dent, in­dus­try and com­mu­nity. Com­pli­ance with an EU is care­fully mon­i­tored by gov­ern­ment agen­cies around Aus­tralia. If there is a breach of an EU, the pros­e­cu­tion will be recom­menced against the com­pany and a com­pany will ef­fec­tively be back to square one, so com­pa­nies need to en­sure they fully com­ply with the com­mit­ments in their EU.

An EU will al­low a com­pany to de­velop safety in their work­place and avoid de­fend­ing a pros­e­cu­tion and the penal­ties that fol­low. The cost of im­ple­ment­ing an EU is of­ten said to be much higher than de­fend­ing a pros­e­cu­tion and the fi­nal penalty for breach of leg­is­la­tion. In terms of man­ag­ing a pros­e­cu­tion, a com­pany

Tim­ber NSW/TTIA Tim­ber In­dus­try Din­ner

can plead guilty at the first court ap­pear­ance and re­ceive a de­duc­tion from the fi­nal penalty or­dered by the court, al­though each mat­ter needs to be assessed on its own mer­its in terms of how a pros­e­cu­tion is man­aged.

TTIA has been in­volved in man­ag­ing a num­ber EUs for mem­bers and I think it’s a credit to these em­ploy­ers that they are pre­pared to spend twice or more of what they may be pros­e­cuted re­gard­ing a breach to not only im­prove their own safety cul­ture but to also pro­vide an ed­u­ca­tional tool for the in­dus­try so other work­places can ben­e­fit from their safety learn­ing curve. I think it’s pleas­ing that WH&S is now at the fore­front of work­place plan­ning and con­sid­er­a­tion. So, at the risk of be­ing po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect, I think the in­dus­try de­serves con­sid­er­able credit for re­spond­ing to what was once a less than cen­tre stage is­sue go­ing back 20 years and be­yond, to the point to­day where work­place safety in the for­est prod­ucts in­dus­try is world-best prac­tice and a key com­po­nent of run­ning a suc­cess­ful busi­ness in our di­verse in­dus­try

What has all this taught me, apart from the fact that I need less sham­poo than I once did? Some­times it’s bet­ter to look for­ward than back!

“An EU will al­low a com­pany to de­velop safety in their work­place and avoid de­fend­ing a pros­e­cu­tion and the penal­ties that fol­low.”

A re­minder to book your tick­ets for the joint Tim­ber NSW/TTIA con­fer­ence and an­nual din­ner which will be held on 23 Novem­ber at Alan David­son Oval, Syd­ney Park Pavil­ion. The con­fer­ence will run from 1 pm – 4.30 pm fol­lowed by pre din­ner drinks at 6.30 pm and din­ner at 7 pm.

Tick­ets are sell­ing fast - please con­tact the TTIA of­fice on (02) 9264 0011 or by email

Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer TTIA

Brian Beecroft

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