OF THE THREE most dangerous industries in Australia today, road transport tops the list, followed by agriculture and construction. But when statistics are dissected, agriculture is potentially the most dangerous business to be involved in.
In the first three months of 2016, ten farm workers were killed in industrial accidents in Australia. This follows 22 fatalities nationally in 2015.
According to the latest report of fatalities issued by Safe Work Australia in March 2016, in the top three, transport, postal and warehousing has had 18 deaths year-to-date, agriculture 10 and construction 4. The figure includes workers and bystanders, indicating that workplace health and safety in agriculture — from small farming operations to enormous properties covering large tracts of land — is all encompassing.
More importantly, when dissected further to define the actual industry of the employer, transport, postal and warehousing rates equal with agriculture, forestry and fishing with eight worker deaths, while construction remains at four.
This makes a statement: farm worker deaths relative to transportation issues are a significant factor.
Workplace compliance is a minefield that must be negotiated with care. Being well-intentioned is not a defence for a business, and expectations of ‘staff using basic common-sense’ is not a quick way out when an employee is injured on the job.
There is also a complacency factor within long-standing businesses that have never experienced a problem — and then an ‘incident’ happens.
There is no such thing as an ‘accident’ under workplace health and safety laws — there are only ‘incidents’, and they can cost dearly any business that fails to take compliance seriously.
And it all comes under Criminal Law.
Training must be provided in all cases before new employees commence their first day of work.
The natural supposition is that only very large companies can afford to maintain workplace health and safety departments — they have the financial strength that allows them to employ the right people to understand and assess the legislation as it relates to that particular business.
Alternatively, small to medium enterprises argue they cannot afford specialists simply to understand and comply with the legislation — yet the law says they must not only know it, but abide by it to the letter.
While many business owners contend that no-one can be expected to know it all, the Principal of Advanced Safety Systems of Australia and New Zealand (ASSA), Errol Taylor, offers some sage advice: “If you don’t get it right, there are massive penalties: $3 million for businesses, $600,000 and/or five years jail for directors and managers, and $300,000 and/or five years jail for workers.
“In the transport industry in Adelaide recently, a company director who failed to repair a truck was jailed for 12 years for industrial manslaughter,” he warned advisedly.
More importantly, agriculture is defined as a “business,” and as such, comes under that particular nomenclature where workplace health and safety is concerned.
ASSA began operations in 1997 as a signage manufacturer, quickly progressing into major signage that was often mounted on and within high-rise properties and buildings.
“The fact that we were working on large building projects meant we were not allowed onto construction sites without being WHS compliant,” he said. “It is the law.”
Taylor said that as a major safety signage manufacturer and supplier, the onus was on the company to implement its own workplace health and safety system. Yet, like many other SMEs, the enormous cost involved was often considered insurmountable.
“It is not a valid argument under the law that being oblivious of the legislation could be perceived as ‘understandable’ because of the enormous costs in having the right people provide the right advice,” he added.
“We realised there was an enormous gap in the market for a system to assist all businesses — not just SMEs — to develop their own WHS policies and comply with the law,” he said.
ASSA set about developing a system that not only satisfied its own needs, but would be all-encompassing, simply by the fact that we were dealing with a broad cross-section of businesses and entities, including government departments, colleges and hospitals.
“We found ourselves advising other small businesses who were ‘in the same boat’.”
“This led us to the inevitable conclusion that everybody must be safety-conscious, and that’s what we set-out to develop,” he said. (Click here).
“Owners of small to medium enterprises simply cannot study and comprehend the entire legislation, so we condensed and converted the legalese, bureaucratic jargon and legislation that is necessary for individual businesses to operate under into concise, understandable sections.”
In the beginning, the ASSA Workplace Health and Safety Compliance System consisted of a printed manual amounting to about 1,000 pages collated into hard-covered binders.
This grew to some 2,500 pages that rendered the manual cumbersome — but change was imminent.
“The 2014 edition was the last of the printed versions,” Errol Taylor said.
“After 15 years and many millions of dollars in developmental costs — outlays that most businesses, especially SMEs, cannot afford — the ASSA Workplace Compliance System went online.
“Anyone with an internet connection can now have a safe workplace without the enormous and often unaffordable set-up costs.
“And while WHS compliance is a major component of the program, it also takes into account industrial relations, itself a big issue for business owners.
He quips: “We refer to it as the ‘google of compliance’.
“There’s an on-screen version and a printer version — and it’s completely user-friendly. It not only tells what to do, but when to do it.”
Taylor says that it’s absolutely dangerous for businesses not to be compliant.
And that includes all businesses involved in agriculture.
“Courts view an out-of-date system in the same context as having no system at all.
“Likewise, businesses must have a culture of safety,” he adds. “Not only to comply with the law; it must be by choice, and must flow from management down to the shop floor.”
He said that over the formative years of the program’s development, new staff were employed within ASSA to fill positions pertaining to their actual expertise in pertinent sectors of workplace health and safety.
“We have an obligation to stay abreast of changes in WHS and IR legislation — which is constantly being changed and upgraded.
“My company is about allowing businesses owners to get on with their core business, safe in the knowledge that they have access to a completely up-to-date WHS compliance system incorporating all relevant aspects of industrial relations.
“The benefits are many,” he said. “It has been a multi-million dollar system to develop, yet the prices are commensurate with the needs of individual businesses,” he adds.
“Member subscribers have access to the complete system, whether they need to use it or not, and only pay for what they need.
“The monthly membership fee is scaled in relation to the size of the business and number of employees. And it includes online induction and training courses, safe work procedures and policies.
“It’s comprehensive, affordable, user-friendly, and ultimately, it is required by law.”
Taylor said that the beauty of the ASSA system is that it’s spread over thousands of customers.
The list of customers using it includes some of the most common, and popular, household names in Australia.
ASSA’s managing director, Dane Taylor, notes that the system covers multiple jurisdictions, not only in Australia, but has been expanded into New Zealand.
He raises the point of the various railway gauges in Australia, and talks of ‘harmonising’, whereby regardless of the jurisdiction, the ASSA system is statutorily compliant in a user-friendly way.
“Again, it’s a legal obligation.
“New Zealand Rugby was the first entity in that nation to embrace the ASSA system, and this is now used by the All Blacks, Small Blacks and various feeder teams.”
“After the Pyke River mine disaster in New Zealand, ‘harmonising’ has now become law in the island nation; thus again, the functionality will be across all jurisdictions.
“That will extend further as the ASSA system extends further into Papua-New Guinea, the Pacific Islands and Asia,” Dane Taylor added.
Errol Taylor said that the system has been built around all their clients based on feedback from the coalface.
“It is then comprehensively compiled, written and tested by a full in-house IT team.
“The list of businesses is far-reaching, with the system now being able to assist farmers with on-property safety compliance.”
“Its unambiguous objective is to protect the business owner, with the over-riding aim of providing a safe working environment which, by law, the employer must provide,” he said.
“It’s an off-the-shelf WHS compliance turn-key system, and includes an internet usage policy.
“Each user business is provided with a two-member support team, from initial start-up through to ongoing support,” he said
“The overall aim is protection for everybody,” Dane Taylor adds. “Everybody has a right to workplace safety.
“It’s all about competency testing from the outset — from the moment a new employee sets foot in the premises.
“And it clearly establishes that under law, if it’s not documented, it does not exist.
“Essentially, a worker cannot be disciplined unless instructed in writing that the particular behaviour or act is not tolerated.”
Errol Taylor said ASSA is the only WHS compliance provider offering content in a systematic way and incorporating functionality in an ever-changing minefield of compliance.
“Yes, it is a minefield,” he said.
“But without compliance, it can have financial and emotional repercussions across the board.
“It’s about avoidance at all cost.”