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Report on performance

Outcome 1

The protection of the health, safety and welfare at work of workers covered by the Comcare scheme through education, assurance and enforcement

The objectives of program 1.1—OHS Act regulation— were:

  • to improve health outcomes for workers at work
  • to reduce the extent of harm experienced by workers at work
  • to improve the level of compliance with the occupational health and safety obligations
  • to ensure that workplaces manage risks to the health, safety and welfare of workers and that there is an appropriate response to reported health and safety incidents.

Comcare set out to:

  • work in partnership with employers and employees to create safe and healthy workplaces
  • regulate effectively and cooperatively
  • develop tailored solutions to improve safety outcomes
  • make decisions that are transparent, accountable, consistent and proportionate
  • take action on outcomes from the Minister’s review of the Comcare scheme as it relates to occupational health and safety
  • prepare to implement nationally harmonised occupational health and safety arrangements in the Commonwealth jurisdiction.

Comcare planned to do this by providing employers with information, education and practical workplace advice to help them meet their duty of care, developing and implementing policy, and undertaking assurance and enforcement action.

Table 1: Performance results for Program 1.1

PBS key performance indicators 2009–10 target 2009–10 achievement 2010–11 target 2010–11 achievement 2010–11 variation
Number of compensable fatalities per 100 000 FTE 0 3.5 0 0.5 +0.5
% reduction in the number of compensable injuries involving 1 week time off work per 1 000 FTE (baseline is the period 2000–01 to 2002–03) 32% 28% 36% 26% –10 percentage points

Variance explanation

The National Occupational Health and Safety Strategy 2002–2012 (National OHS Strategy) set a target requiring a 20 per cent reduction in the incidence of work-related fatalities. The Commission went further by setting a zero target for work-related injury fatalities across the scheme.

The scheme has failed to meet the zero deaths target each year since its introduction in 2001–02. It is likely that this target will remain difficult to achieve in the future as the number of deaths can fluctuate from year to year, often irrespective of any prevention activities. However, workplace deaths are unacceptable and Comcare therefore continues to strive for a target of zero each year.

Two death claims were accepted during 2010–11. Both of these deaths occurred prior to 2010–11.

While not included in the measures under the National OHS Strategy, Comcare received 24 notifiable fatalities—of these six were scheme employees and 18 were non-employees. Comcare initiated a range of investigations into these fatalities to improve workplace safety systems and controls.

The National OHS Strategy also set a target requiring a 40 per cent reduction in the incidence of work–related injury. The Commission went further by extending the national incidence target to include occupational disease.

In 2010–11, the scheme recorded 8.9 claims per 1000 FTE employees—a 26 per cent improvement since 2001–02. This resulted in the Commission’s reduction target of 7.8 claims per 1000 FTE employees not being achieved. To have achieved this target, a 36 per cent reduction since 2001–02 was required by 30 June 2011.

Refer to Appendix III for information about Comcare’s assurance and enforcement action in 2010–11 including details of notices, proceedings and undertakings.

Using proactive interventions and collaboration to improve safety and prevent injury and illness

In 2010–11 Comcare launched itsRegulation Policy. This policy was developed to articulate the stronger preventative focus on the health, wellbeing and safety experience of workers. It also identifies the regulatory philosophy which Comcare operates within; highlighted by a commitment to working in partnership with workers, their employers, unions and approved rehabilitation providers to reduce the incidence and cost of workplace injury and disease. Comcare’s regulatory approach is characterised by a continuum of available measures ranging from encouraging better practice through partnerships and collaboration, to education, audit, assurance and enforcement activities. This regulatory approach is made real through an annual Work Health and Safety Plan which is co-designed with employers and employee groups, and makes clear those areas of risk or opportunity that Comcare will focus its effort on.

With a considerable focus on prevention, Comcare uses proactive campaigns to improve worker health as well as targeting improved safety within organisations and to prevent injury and illness associated with particular risks. Traditional OHS regulation focused on physical safety controls. Comcare has been realigning its capability to create inspectorate and campaign programs that actively encourages worker health, improves workplace cultures (including leadership cultures), improves return to work performance, and builds in safety controls at the front-end of major projects. As an example, during 2010–11, Comcare targeted the growing impact of psychological injury claims by conducting a proactive campaign into bullying and harassment in the workplace. Data had indicated that bullying and harassment was growing as a proportion of psychological injury claims. Working collaboratively with a range of stakeholders and experts, bullying prevention audits were undertaken and guidance material developed. Due to a well designed audit tool and practical, easy to use guidance material, employers have been able to identify risks and tailor programs to meet their specific business needs and prevent bullying in the workplace.

To further improve safety and prevent injury and illness within the scheme, Comcare seeks to collaborate with particular organisations. Comcare has applied a range of compliance tools to shift behaviour and commitment towards stronger and more robust safety systems. Through this approach Comcare has offered a combination of regulatory methods including education, site inspections, audits, and court-based action. For example, Comcare has been working with Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) to monitor and improve their safety systems and processes. In February 2011 Comcare conducted safety audits at Casey Station in the Antarctic to test AAD’s systems in the field. Work now continues with AAD to improve compliance with legislation and provide better safety outcomes for workers in the Antarctic.

Our commitment to improving the health and safety of workers in the scheme plus contributing to government policy commitments to remote areas, is evident in Comcare’s preventative inspections at a range of Federal workplaces such as, Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean Territories. The purpose of these visits was to foster positive working relationship with the Commonwealth Departments and the federal workers and their representatives who live and work in this remote part of Australia. A core component of this work was to ensure these workers are not ‘falling through regulatory gaps’ caused by lack of coverage by various regulators. The focus of these inspections has been on identifying areas where safety can be improved by assessing workplaces and systems of work. Discussions following inspections have afforded information and guidance to workers and their managers, empowering them to make changes to improve the safety of their workplace.

A unique feature of Comcare’s proactive regulatory approach is in dealing with a safety event, inspectors react to and treat that event. Proactive inspections may be initiated nationally at other sites to verify compliance to prevent similar events nationally. This approach is assisting and in some cases forcing employers investment in safety systems nationally; thereby improving worker safety across the board rather than specific to one locality.

Proactive inspections of Commonwealth workplaces have tripled Comcare’s interaction with employers, employees and employee representatives in the workplaces we administer, creating a more positive and inclusive approach to worker health and safety. Employers are reporting high satisfaction levels with this service and improvements nationally in their safety systems and outcomes.