The Work Health and Safety Act 2020 has been set to take effect in Western Australia this year, introducing industrial manslaughter as a crime and prompting all WA business sectors to take a more proactive approach to safety.
The Act, passed through the Legislative Assembly on 3 November 2020, will bring WA in line with New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania as a participant of the harmonised work health and safety (WHS) regime.
At its core, the Act shifts accountability back into the hands of corporations when it comes to safety, meaning a lack of awareness or direct control of hazards will no longer be a defence in the case of a fatality.
Corporations, directors and management will need to be more proactive in ensuring that contractors and workers are conducting works safely.
The new legislation will also classify harm to include psychological injury as well as physical injury.
Churchill senior manager Rodney Nelson said WA was catching up with the other states that adopted the harmonised safety regime from up to 10 years ago including in Queensland, which introduced industrial manslaughter following the Dream World tragedy in 2016.
Churchill manager Frank Daly said under the previous system it was challenging to prosecute someone for inaction, while the new system put a strong responsibility on corporations and their management to understand and assess risks.
It empowered managers, contractors and employees to manage those risks and to make sure the right people were involved in the decision-making throughout, he said.
The trigger for reform
Mr Daly said unfortunately major incidents were often the push companies needed to undertake safety reform.
However, when the harmonised safety regime was finally passed in November it triggered many more companies, particularly within the resources sector, to proactively consider procedural and cultural reform using a preventative approach.
“Safety has always been a priority for Churchill clients, but the legislative change has prompted a renewed focus on reviewing health and safety from a cultural perspective for many,” Mr Daly said.
Mr Nelson said the process of working on safety strategies with its clients was generally positive as safety was a value held by the organisations and individuals.
“Our process with clients begins with a cultural assessment using a behavioural event interview technique, which really uncovers the unseen issues and root causes of gaps in safety management,” he said.
“Sometimes it can be quite confronting for a client as it may reveal things they don’t want to hear, but it can also be quite a powerful driver for change, and a great way for companies to receive genuine and insightful input form their workers.”
Mr Nelson said one client within the mining industry had experienced a workplace fatality before approaching Churchill for support.
“One of the ways executives show a commitment to safety is actually going out into the field and talking to the workers,” he said.
“We undertook an assessment with this client and identified when a member of leadership visited the site, they would predominantly discuss production and cost factors when having conversations with the workers.
“After the procedural review, the global CEO in particular changed their behaviour and no longer discussed production during site visits.
"Instead, they would exclusively undertake risk assessments and safety discussions with the workers when visiting the site, to indicate this was the number one priority and focus for senior leadership.
“Touch wood, since then there has not been another fatality and safety incident rates have improved significantly as the culture has improved over time.”
Mr Nelson said Churchill always worked with its clients following assessments to implement a revised strategy by introducing a tailored combination of new systems, processes, technologies or coaching.
Achieving cultural change
Mr Nelson said an example of sustained, organisational change was the organisation-wide adoption of a new safety app by one of its clients and its contractors.
“Being an electricity provider, public safety is naturally a major concern for our client who recognised the need to shift from manual, paper-based processes to more efficient, digital reporting that allowed hazards to be identified and resolved swiftly,” he said.
“We designed an app that allowed that to happen and just as importantly ensured the workforce responsible for day-to-day hazard identification saw value in the app.
“We turned that process around within 12 months from an uptake of about 10 people to about 400 people, including the contract workforce.”
Mr Daly said the key to successful change was ensuring organisational processes and behaviours continually supported the change and individuals at the base level understood the value the change was creating.
“If someone on the field is entering data, they need to see that cause and effect. They need to see a change, reaction, feedback or result from their effort in providing that information, demonstrating their actions and diligence leads to a benefit or some positive difference.
“You really need to develop and embed these feedback loops to sustain cultural change and create value for you workers and business,” Mr Daly said.
For support with your company’s health and safety strategy, contact Churchill. Visit www.churchill.com.au