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Ms Ann Sherry, Chair of Safe Work Australia, outlines key aspects of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-22 and why it is so important.

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Ms Sherry calls business leaders and governments to action to improve work health and safety outcomes and emphasises the links between good work health and safety and productivity.

Who is this presentation for?

This presentation is for leaders, managers, governments and workers; and all those who want to contribute to creating healthy, safe and productive working lives for Australian workers.

About the presenter

Ms Sherry is the Chair of Safe Work Australia and the CEO of Carnival Australia.

As well as her executive role, Ms Sherry holds a number of non‐executive roles and is a Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Before this, Ms Sherry held executive roles in the banking sector. In 2001 Ms Sherry was awarded a Centenary Medal by the Australian Government for her work in providing banking services to disadvantaged communities.

Ms Sherry was formerly the First Assistant Secretary of the Office of the Status of Women advising the Prime Minister on policies and programmes to improve the status of women and was Australia’s representative to the United Nations forums on human rights and women’s rights.

In 2004, Ms Sherry was awarded an Order of Australia and in 2011, Ms Sherry was listed in the FTSE 100 Women in Leadership. In 2013, Ms Sherry was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by Macquarie University.

 

TRANSCRIPT

KEYNOTE ADDRESS: AUSTRALIAN STRATEGY – PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES

Virtual Seminar Series October 2014

Ann Sherry, Chair, Safe Work Australia

Opening

This morning, the Commonwealth Minister for Employment, Senator the Honourable Eric Abetz, opened this Virtual Seminar Series. I would like to thank him for his words and encouragement of this innovative and ground-breaking event.

Hello. I’m Ann Sherry, the Chair of Safe Work Australia. That’s the national body whose job it is to develop policy to improve work health and safety and workers’ compensation arrangements across Australia.

I’d like to add my welcome and invite you to become involved in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022 – Virtual Seminar Series. You can view the material at any time which suits your schedule.

History of Australian Strategies

Australia has a long and proud history of bipartisan support for workplace health and safety which importantly has been underpinned by strong employer and employee backing. I’m gratified that our success in developing and implementing national strategies in this area has been internationally applauded and emulated.

It began in the 1990s when the need for a national platform to drive improvements in workplace health and safety was recognised. Concern about the number of Australian workers being killed, injured or becoming ill resulted in the National Occupational Health and Safety Improvement Framework. This provided a national "roadmap" for action.

It was followed in 2002 by a ten year National OH&S Strategy which sharpened our focus and established national priorities and targets.

In 2009 Safe Work Australia – an independent Australian Government statutory body of which I am the current Chair – was established. Safe Work Australia represents a genuine partnership between governments, unions and industry working together towards the goal of reducing death, injury and illness in the workplace.

Safe Work Australia developed the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022 which was endorsed by all Australia’s Workplace Relations Ministers, the ACTU, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Australian Strategy "wheel" diagram

The Australian Strategy is designed to drive national activities which collectively will bring about improvements in work health and safety. It’s aimed at regulators, industry, unions and other organisations so they in turn can influence the work and workplaces across Australia. It’s deliberately sufficiently broad and high-level so all of those groups can undertake activities that are relevant for them, and which contribute to the desired outcomes.

The Vision of the Australian Strategy is healthy, safe and productive working lives for all Australians.

Vision Healthy, safe and productive working lives

To get to that vision, we identified four broad outcomes we want to reach by 2022. Page 2 of 6

We want to see less work-related death, injury and illness.

For this to happen we need to reduce workers’ exposure to hazards and risks. This can be achieved if we really eliminate or minimise their exposure – not just by relying on personal protective equipment, but by designing out the risks from the beginning.

We will also need the infrastructure to support this. This means effective modern laws, and an education system that provides everyone – workers, business owners and the regulators – with the knowledge and skills they need. And finally, we need timely and reliable national research and data that tells us where to put our efforts.

The Australian Strategy targets help focus national attention on the human costs of workplace incidents. By 2022 we hope there will be

 a reduction of at least 20 percent in the number of worker deaths due to injury,

 a reduction of at least 30 percent in the incidence rate of claims resulting in one or more weeks off work, and

 a reduction of at least 30 percent again, in the incidence rate of claims for musculoskeletal disorders resulting in one or more weeks off work – still the most common workplace claim.

To achieve the vision and these targets we will need concerted and integrated effort.

Seven key Action Areas were chosen that are collectively most likely to lead us towards these outcomes.

Healthy and Safe by Design

The first Action Area is Healthy and safe by design. Our goal is to eliminate or minimise hazards during the design phase. Imagine what we could achieve if buildings, machinery and our systems of work were designed from the start to be inherently safe. This is where innovative thinking - creative design solutions can have a big impact.

Supply chains and networks

The Australian Strategy recognises the tremendous influence people within supply chains and networks have to improve work health and safety. Recently this was the focus of a G20 Taskforce on Employment meeting held in Australia. We want to see Australian companies use their commercial relationships to improve work health and safety not only for their own workers, but for others in the chain, including those in foreign countries.

Health and safety capabilities

Where, when and how work is being done is changing as are the workplace risks. Everyone, whatever their role in the organisation, should have the skills and knowledge to do their work safely. Business expects workplace inspectors and advisors to be up to the job and able to give them the right advice. Australia therefore needs a training and education system that both employers and workers trust to give them the appropriate skills.

Research and evaluation

Safe Work Australia’s data and research program is helping us measure Australia’s performance and provides an evidence base for our national policies. We need to know where the greatest workplace hazards are, which workers are most at risk and, most importantly, what interventions work to eliminate or reduce exposures to hazards and risks.

Government

While all of us understand the impact of government policy on business, their considerable purchasing power also drives change, for better or worse. As a business leader I notice how governments as employers manage their workplace risks and their people and if they’re doing what they urge the private sector to do. Page 3 of 6

Leadership and culture

I was pleased one of the two Action Areas chosen as a theme for this Virtual Seminar Series was Leadership and culture. I know the importance of engaging our communities on these issues so they expect, they demand people come home from work safe and healthy each and every day.

Leaders routinely manage a range of business risks. In the same way many organisations are now showing what they’re doing to be ‘green’ - they also need to show what they’re doing for their workers’ health and safety. As the Chair of Safe Work Australia, a CEO, and a board member I know organisational leaders can have a significant impact on improving work health and safety as well as improving the bottom line.

We must be constantly alert to the old risks and on the lookout for the ones we might not be expecting. To know what they are we must ask the right and sometimes hard questions, and keep asking them until we get answers.

We need to collect the right data to have the useful metrics – ones that will tell us what to watch for and whether or not we’re getting it right. I know what gets measured, gets noticed by business leaders and investors. So it’s important for all of us to have accurate and timely information about the organisation’s work health and safety performance.

Across Australia, I think companies need to improve quality and consistency of the information about their work health and safety which guide their decisions. I encourage companies to include accurate information in annual reports. It’s important for the community and investors to know you are managing some of the most critical business risks – your people’s safety.

In order to listen to people and to hear difficult and uncomfortable truths about our organisations, we need a culture that fosters consultation and collaboration and learning.

Where that communication is effective, and when work health and safety is given priority in all work processes and decisions, people’s safety will improve.

I also strongly believe that good communication brings opportunities for innovation and improved productivity. We will make sure the link between work health and safety and productivity is strongly emphasised during the Virtual Seminar Series.

Of course, we all know leaders can come in many forms — from board members to the local health and safety representative. This month we will hear from a range of speakers who will explore how good or poor leadership influences health and safety.

Responsive and effective regulatory framework

Responsive and effective regulation is another focus during this Virtual Seminar Series.

The regulatory framework – the legislation, and policies and practice – must be responsive and effective. And the relationships between regulators and all who have a stake in work health and safety need to be constructive, transparent and accountable.

In developing regulation, governments need to think about the significance of the hazard they want to address. Regulations, and the way they’re enforced, both need to be in proportion to the risk involved.

Businesses want a level playing field. They want to know the regulator will be fair and consistent, and know about the risks in their industry. They want to know the regulator will take into account their company’s circumstances.

Workers, business and the community all expect the law will be clear about the standards of protection that are required and what will happen to both employers and workers if these obligations are not met.

During the seminar we will be exploring what’s an effective and responsive regulatory framework, what businesses need and expect and what the regulators expect from businesses in return. Page 4 of 6

In the last few years Australia has moved towards nationally consistent work health and safety laws which have now been adopted in seven of the nine jurisdictions.

Businesses, especially small business, need simple, clear information about what’s required of them. At the same time, some big organisations would prefer flexibility rather than a prescriptive approach.

Regulators and policy makers need to be able to support both ends of the spectrum – providing simplicity for small business who, for a range of reasons. may struggle with Government requirements, including work health and safety, while allowing bigger organisations the flexibility to go further than the minimum where they have the capacity and maturity to do so.

And of course, all the regulators themselves are operating in an environment where they are all trying to do more with less, meaning they can’t always provide as much support and guidance as they would like to or as business needs. This is where industry associations and unions play a vital role to help workplaces meet their obligations.

Progress

Fatalities

During the last ten years there has been a drop in the number of people being killed at work. In 2003, 259 people died as a result of a work-related injury. By 2013, that had reduced to 191 – although this is still far too many.

Injuries & Illness

In addition to the deaths caused by workplace injuries, each year we estimate 2000 or more workers die and many thousands more become seriously ill as result of exposure to carcinogens or other hazardous substances – sometimes years or decades later. While most of us are all too aware of the risks from asbestos, what is less well known is that a disturbingly large number of hazardous chemicals are still routinely used or produced in workplaces. This is therefore justifiably a continuing focus for Safe Work Australia’s work.

The numbers of people who become ill or are seriously injured due to work is steadily falling however. As a result of tougher requirements around their use, and even bans of some particularly hazardous chemicals, workplace exposure to them is decreasing. These restrictions should mean in the next few decades we will see fewer Australian workers succumbing to work-related cancers and other illnesses.

In 2006, the ABS work-related injuries survey indicated over 689,000 workers reported they had experienced a work-related injury or were diagnosed with a work-related illness. In the most recent survey by the ABS in 2010, despite a nearly 10% increase in the workforce, the numbers of workers who report they were injured or became ill from work was down to just over 638 000 – a 16% decrease.

For a range of reasons – because people are self-employed therefore not eligible, or choose not to make a claim – our workers’ compensation data doesn’t pick up all of these cases. Nevertheless, it gives us very reliable data about the trends in serious injuries and illnesses for those people who were eligible for workers’ compensation.

In the last decade, we’ve seen a steady decrease in workers’ compensation claims for injuries and illnesses, from just over 16 claims per 1000 employees in 2001 to just under 12 per 1000 in 2011 – a 27% drop.

Priority Work-Related Disorders

Under the current and previous Strategies, some disorders were chosen as ‘priorities’. These were based on their severe consequences, numbers of workers they affected and whether there are known prevention options. Between 2001 and 2011, the numbers of workers suffering work-related musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory diseases like asthma, and contact dermatitis, all fell. Unfortunately, three disorder groups did not display a clear trend either up or down; these were: mental disorders; noise-induced hearing loss; and occupational cancers. Page 5 of 6

Priority Industries

In the Virtual Seminar Series, we will be paying particular attention to two industry sectors where disturbingly high numbers of workers are killed or seriously injured each year – Agriculture and Road Transport. By prioritising them, we can focus attention and activities on identifying the causes of death, injury and illness and on working to find and implement solutions.

The numbers of deaths in these industries are way out of proportion to their size. Last year, 191 Australians died at work. 40 of the deceased workers were employed in agriculture and services to Agriculture and 39 were employed in road transport. These two sectors account for less than 5% of the Australian workforce, yet account for 41% of all Australian workers killed in 2013.

These figures are truly appalling.

The injury rates in those sectors are also of great concern. Over the past ten years, road transport and agricultural workers were injured at almost twice the rate of other Australian workers.

The good news though is the concerted effort made in these priority industry sectors has seen some improvement. During the Virtual Seminar Series you’ll hear about some initiatives that are happening in these sectors. Even if you don’t work in them you will find these presentations informative.

Finally, we must not forget the actual dollar cost of poor work health and safety. In 2008–09 the total economic cost of work-related deaths, injury and illness was estimated to be $60.6 billion. This estimate represents cost to individuals, the community and businesses and is one we would all like to see reduced.

Challenges

There are many challenges in the decades ahead which will need to be faced by business, governments and our communities that directly or indirectly impact on health and safety at work.

The significant structural changes to the Australian economy as a result of regional and global pressures are obvious to most of us – the widely reported loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector, slowdowns in demand for minerals, increased farm ownership by multinational corporations, and demand for service sector employees are some indications of what might lie ahead.

Australian businesses increasingly operate in a global and highly competitive marketplace, where the same work may be done more cheaply offshore. Our customers expect Australian products and services to be good quality and cheap or they may choose to source them overseas. At the same time, not every country shares, or believes they can afford, the value we place on workers’ safety. So Australian businesses are not always competing on a level playing field.

Australian governments and businesses have an important role in applying sustained pressure through global and local supply chains to improve the work health and safety of workers everywhere, not just in Australia, so the cost of products or services are not subsidised by substandard worker health and safety.

Australia needs to continue to embrace the opportunities for innovation, safety and productivity that new technologies can present. These are fundamentally changing how and where we work. They’re allowing us to work from home or on the road, as independent contractors instead of employees, and to do old tasks in new, more efficient, and hopefully safer ways.

There are economic and social pressures for increased workforce participation. This participation is one of the key pillars of national productivity and economic prosperity, as well as improving individual wellbeing and making our society more inclusive. New groups are coming into the workforce or having a higher profile – working mothers, people from different cultures, with disabilities, older workers and an increasingly international workforce – and this is to be applauded. Page 6 of 6

We know that well-designed work is good for people and good for business. A challenge for Australia is to ensure, in the face of economic pressures, there are opportunities for everyone to have and remain in work, including people with disabilities, and workers who become ill or injured.

To support this greater inclusiveness, jobs need to be well designed to suit this more diverse working population. What makes ‘good work’ and how this can be best achieved is a current focus for Safe Work Australia.

Significant improvements in work health and safety have been made over the preceding decades. To bring about further improvement we need to tackle collectively the more difficult and complex issues. Traditionally we’ve dealt with risks in isolation, one at a time. In real workplaces hazards and risks interact with each other, people bring to work their individual vulnerabilities and strengths and there are usually competing demands for limited resources. In part, this is why I think leadership is so important. We must have the courage to deal with the hard and complex issues – to keep asking the difficult questions and to resolutely focus on making work health and safety a key consideration in business decisions. I’m pleased the seminars will explore the pivotal role leaders play to keep us focused on the hard but worthwhile issues.

A good leader can ensure their organisation builds a strong reporting culture about all its risks, including health and safety – one that tells them honestly where the hard problems remain.

To know that, organisations need accurate and timely data. We will be telling you about how pioneering Australian companies are reporting their work health and safety performance in their annual reports - allowing the community and investors to know how they’re managing some of the most critical business risks — their people’s safety.

A good leader will ensure early intervention is the norm if someone is hurt at their workplace. If a worker needs time off work they will insist their organisation has effective processes in place so that worker can return to work early and safely, because good work, and being in a supportive workplace, is so important for their recovery.

There’s a continuum between work health and safety and workers’ compensation and rehabilitation where each informs and drives the other.

But an artificial divide between work health and safety and workers’ compensation still exists in some governments’ policy, with considerable differences between systems and entitlements across Australia. We and our governments must increase our efforts to build more effective and efficient workers’ compensation systems and reduce inequitable differences when workers are harmed.

Conclusion

Attitudes have changed since visionary nineteenth century reformers began to legislate to protect workers. We have better knowledge, systems, tools, and governments, business and workers are working together to make a difference – and we now are seeing the results.

I understand what drives business – why business owners get out of bed every morning and work as hard as they do. They want to make a go of their enterprise, to make a living for their families and to keep their employees in jobs. Without that passion, the Australian economy would grind to a halt. But we also have obligations to keep our people safe when they’re at work. And good business decisions and good work health and safety should go hand in hand.

Stay tuned over the next month as we explore the themes in this Virtual Seminar Series.

To register for updates or for more information, visit the Safe Work Australia website.

Thank you.

[End of Transcript]


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