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Safety Differently – what does it mean for the regulator?

Video transcript of the WHS Inspector Forum presentation – Safety Differently – what does it mean for the regulator?.
Presented on 4 December 2020.

Chair: Martyn Campbell. Panellists: Dr David Provan – Forge Works, Justin Napier – Comcare, Bev Smith – Comcare and Dr Drew Rae – Griffith University.


Moderator:

It’s now time to come to our closing panel. And this is all about what it means for work health and safety regulators, bringing together both the theoretical and the practical examples of Safety Differently. And we’ve got Martyn Campbell, who’s our Chair of the Heads of Workplace Safety Authority and Head of WorkSafe South Australia, who’s going to be facilitating and guiding this conversation. I’m going to hand over to you Martyn to do introductions.

Martyn Campbell:

Thanks very much, Andrew. OK, thanks very much, everybody. I’ve got the last session of the last day on a Friday afternoon, I’m assuming there’s at least a couple of us still hanging in. Or maybe you’ve re-logged in, sitting on the deck having a beer or a wine, which is even better, because that’s what I’ll be doing in approximately 50 minutes, I think.

Our panel today is four esteemed individuals, two of them that you’ve already seen yesterday. So we’ve got Dr Drew Rae from Griffith University, and Dr Dave Provan from Forge Works and also of Griffith University, both in the safety science lab, and we’ve got Justin Napier, who is General Manager Comcare, and one of my fellow colleagues on the HWSA group, and also Bev Smith, from Comcare. So welcome to everybody. And we’ll try and wrap up everyone’s questions, so if you do have any outstanding questions, please flick them through on the Q&A list, and I’ll read them as we go through and try and get everything answered.

So I thought I might throw the first question out to Drew, just to lead off from his conversation yesterday, is for us as regulators, how can we contribute to this story of managing Safety Differently, or Safety-II, and maybe what are some of the things that frustrate the process at the moment?

Drew Rae:

Thanks Martyn. That’s not an easy question to start off with. I think one of the useful ways of starting to think about that question might be to separate out the idea of regulators from individual inspectors, understanding that the organisation and the individuals have different amounts of agency in different situations. But I think in common for both is starting to recognise how the types of questions that the regulator and the inspectors ask a business, what impact that has on the way businesses are then able to manage their own safety.

So a simple example of that is that every time a regulator asks for a document, whether it’s formally in the regulator’s requirements, or whether it is an individual inspector goes on to a workplace and asks for that document, that creates a long standing expectation within the business, that that document now has to be a way that work is done. And stories of an inspector can echo for several years after that inspection. There are work sites that have never seen an inspector, but still, they will tell stories of that one time that inspector demanded that they saw the risk assessment. And that’s used as the justification for production of the risk assessment as an ongoing work practice.

So just that understanding of the amount of referent power that a regulator has, that when they ask questions that really does make a difference to the way businesses think about safety, I think is the starting point for any sort of conversation in this space.

Martyn Campbell:

Fantastic. I’m totally hearing you there and on board with that. So I might sort of throw that over to Dave and get your perspective, having come from industry before you got into academia and into Forge Works, what are your thoughts on this?

David Provan:

Yeah, thanks, Martyn. I think when we think about regulators, regulators need to make a decision about are they there to check compliance with an act, or a regulation or legislation? Or are they there to create an outcome in industry, like safety, for example. And if the regulator decides that it wants to create an outcome in industry, as well as the things that it might need to do for compliance with the act, that’s when the regulator starts thinking about education and research.

And one of the things I know that Drew and I have spoken a bit about with safety regulation is some of the safety regulators in this country seem to see things like research as an important part of their role. And why I’m honing in on research a little bit is because I think regulators have a responsibility to regulate in line with the safety science evidence base. So that’s where I think what Safety Differently might mean for regulators. Whether you think philosophically that Safety Differently is the right thing to do, there are things that we know in the safety science research that line up with some aspects of Safety Differently, which don’t exist in the regulations, but I think is really important for regulators to play a role in, in leading industry towards it.

Martyn Campbell:

Fantastic. And I have the benefit of having an hour’s drive to work every day and listen to your podcasts. So for everyone listening in, if you go to the Forge Works website, David and Drew do a podcast, and the topics on there are really interesting, and they actually give you a huge amount of background as to some of the concept themes that we’re talking about over the last couple of days. And yeah, it just, it really sorts of opens and gives you some insights. So, I think I might throw this just in now. So, from a regulator’s perspective, what are your thoughts in relation to how we influenced those sorts of behaviours, and how we can set about on helping organisations who have taken a Safety-II approach?

Justin Napier:

Yeah, thanks, Martyn. That’s a meaty question to start with. So I mean, I think the tension for me, listening to the last couple of days, is between we have an app that’s very prescriptive, that is supported by a whole range of codes and guides, and that generates a particular sort of mindset and a behaviour on the part of the inspectorate. On the other hand, we’ve also got, I think, a vested interest in prevention and safety outcomes.

So, the challenge will be, I think, for us as regulators, to get our people to get broader in their thinking, and less in the prescriptive and more in the outcome space. And how do you do that? That’s the big question. And that’s the question that I’ve been pondering over the last few days.

And then, I don’t want to jump ahead to other questions you might have, but what happens if something goes wrong? Where do we as regulators, inspectors, where do we revert to? Because the safe space for us will be the act and the regs and the codes. And you know, it’s those shades of grey questions that are really hard to sort of ponder and to sort of think through how we might manage those going forward.

Martyn Campbell:

You’re right, it’s one of those wicked questions that’s probably easy to state that question, but a lot more difficult to provide an answer that’s going to satisfy everybody. So I mean, Bev, in relation to your work, where do you, or how do you see that greyness clearing? Is there a clear line, or do the inspectors and in Comcare that you have contact with, are they more prescriptive in their approach?

Bev Smith:

Look, I think it’s an interesting question, because I’ve been looking at, like listening to the content over the last two days in terms of how we might look at our processes and procedures, and how we might go about doing things on the ground to promote practices that are in line with evidence and ensure that work health and safety practices that we’re regulating are evidence-based.

So, I’ve been thinking, because I know that when we go out as inspectors, I’ve been thinking about, well, what evidence do we ask for? Because we don’t want to be promoting this demonstrated safety. We want to be promoting safety at work. And I’ve been thinking back to some of the things I’ve seen, and I’ve seen some really good practices like in terms of risk management, which we have promoted. So you know, rather than doing a risk assessment, the organisation adopted a practice of like a, almost a whiteboarding session with the team at the beginning of work where everybody spoke about what they were doing, they identified the risks together. And they had this whiteboard that they did it on, and that was their safety whiteboard for the day. So, it was a very interactive problem-solving approach between everybody who was actually involved for work that day. And I thought that was a great approach to risk management. I thought it engaged all the workers, and it had everybody’s input, and everybody was clear about what everybody else was doing.

So, I don’t think that regulators themselves are necessarily looking for this prescriptive documentation. I think that that we are very open to looking at alternative approaches that evidence shows delivers safety outcomes. But the tension is how do you do that in a way that enables us to ensure compliance with the Work Health and Safety Act as well. So that’s where I see the sort of tension in terms of as you move to these more interactive processes, how you have governance over that to make sure it is actually happening.

But I think, look, in terms of inspectors on the ground, inspectors know it’s very important to speak to the workers. They’re looking in terms of consultation that happens with workers. So, workers’ engagement in the development in the design of work processes. I mean, I think a lot of us have concerns about the proliferation of documentation. The work health and safety regs are very clear that instruction and training needs to be at a level that workers understand. And no worker understands a 30-page document, particularly if they come from an NESB background, which is what’s happening in a lot of industry now. So we’re not, I don’t think we’re driving a lot of this, or we’re not requiring a lot of this. So I think the challenge will be how we change that impression, but also, again, as Justin said, how we build capability with our inspectors.

Martyn Campbell:

Fantastic. I think there was a there was a question that popped up yesterday which I might frame to Dave and Drew. But it looks at safety management systems that are process orientated, that requires a lot of checks and balances. So I think it’s morphed over the years to create a whole raft of documents and plans and risk assessments and audits and checklists. So as a first step, Dave, where would you see managing safety under a Safety-II process? What would that look like, or where would one start in relation to a decluttered system?

David Provan:

I think what we’ve said and published in the decluttering space is we talk about three C’s for every safety practice in your organisation. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a safety moment, or a safety leadership visit, or I was talking to a mining company last night, and for every single job they do, they have a procedure for every job, they do a JSA for every job, they get a permit for every job, they do a mini risk assessment for every job, they’ve got a long form risk assessment as part of the permit for every job. And there was one or two I think that they were saying they do seven documents before every single task at this mine. And I suppose that’s where we’ve got to in safety management in our organisations.

And so, when we talk about decluttering, that the starting point is, we say, what’s the contribution of each of these things to safety. And to work that out, you’ve actually got to go and actually have a look at how these things are happening and how they’re being used. You know, what things are being ticked and flicked, what things are genuinely helping, like the whiteboard example that Bev just gave.

And then once you know that contribution, you ask yourself how do we know this? Like, how much confidence do we have in this? Is it done to this level of quality every single time it gets done? Or is it just some groups do it well, some groups don’t do it well? And then the third is like this consensus thing. So if you’ve got something that has a high utility or a high value for safety in terms of its contribution, and you’re confident that it’s being used well, then you want everyone to agree with you; the people who have to do it, the safety department, the management department.

So, we say that organisations put every single thing they do in their organisation for safety through these three tests; how much does it contribute? How confident am I that it has that level of contribution? And how much consensus do we have across our organisation that everyone agrees with it?

And if you go one by one, we recently did this with a large oil and gas company, in partnership with the university, we ran this questionnaire, and more than I think 75% of the list of 25 things they do for safety, even the safety professionals said we disagree that 75% of these things add any value for improving the safety risk mitigation of the people doing the work. And that should scare us, that should upset us. And I think as regulators, 75% of the things that you see in an organisation, the organisation themselves believe isn’t adding any value. And that’s the problem that I think we’re all trying to tackle with this Safety Differently. So, I hope that’s in some way answered the question Martyn.

Martyn Campbell:

Yeah, definitely. I think this sort of journey for me started before I came to SafeWork. I mean, I headed up health and safety for a South African mining company, and we were operating in Papua New Guinea. Now 55% of our workforce couldn’t read or write their own language, so having a raft of procedures, like many mining companies do, was completely irrelevant in that situation, because people could only speak the language that they had from their community. And even the languages on site differed between different tribes and cultural groups. So, it really forced us to do things in a different way. And I suppose one of the messages I’ve got from here, the last couple of days, and particularly from Kym and her team, is that there’s still a need for some paperwork, and there’s still a need to have some procedures and documents in place. The challenge is identifying the ones that add value.

Drew Rae:

Martyn if I might jump in for a moment. One of the challenges that I think we face, and I don’t want to sort of over-generalise inspectors here, but it’s certainly a very common view amongst people who are in an inspector position, is an excessive faith in the idea that a document is a form of evidence. So we often see language that almost uses those two things in the same thing, that they talk about evidence, and they talk about having a document, or they talk about an activity, and they talk about the need to have evidence of that activity.

So, there’s this entrenched and widespread belief that if there is a document that is a good form of evidence, and if we could shake that belief, I think we could significantly improve the situation. I think certainly within people working in safety roles within companies, the default expectation is that a document has nothing to do with the way the work is done. You have the way the work is done; you have the document. The document is poor evidence, even signatures on that document don’t mean much. But to an inspector, the document will be accepted as a higher form of proof than a direct statement by a worker. So, a worker says we assess the risk, or the document has a signature on, the inspector will see the document with a signature as a better form of evidence that the risk was assessed than that statement by the regulator.

And I think if we could just start to believe the truth here, that that signature probably had no thought behind it, that signature was probably not even made by the person we think it was made by. And if that is our default assumption, then we can start asking for fewer documents, businesses will be producing fewer documents, relying more on other more reliable forms of evidence about what really happens at work.

Martyn Campbell:

Yes, I agree, that’s more of a focus of having the focus on work that is done, rather than work as imagined, which is generally what people will write in a procedure. So just in relation to that, what are your thoughts in relation to how we operate as regulators and our reliance on documents as evidence, or should we be creating an environment for inspectors to check that work is actually done, by speaking to people on the ground as a sort of expectation?

Bev Smith:

Yeah. And, look, I think if I think if I look at serious incidents, for instance, we don’t necessarily accept – and you see things where it’s worker error, the worker didn’t follow the procedure, therefore, it’s worker faults for the incident. And I think any inspector accepts that. If they get a procedure there that we do talk to workers, we do try and get an understanding of how work is done, and we do try and get an understanding of why there has been a variation from the procedure or work as imagined. And so, we’re looking for those organisational reasons. And it’s not necessarily that we’re looking to push it back in.

What we’re looking for is to get an understanding of why an incident occurred, and what improvements need to be made. And that doesn’t mean another document, it means what improvements need to be made, be there cultural, be there safety, leadership, whatever improvements need to be made to actually – or consultation with workers, because the workers actually weren’t even consulted in the process, or the process was put in place, and I was thinking of processes in the trucking industry where they tried to standardise processes for dropped trailers. And what happened was, you had truck drivers that have been doing the process for years and had been unconsciously competent, unconsciously competent in doing the process. So then when they changed the process to standardise it, they were missing things, and they couldn’t even remember why because their brain was going back into this unconscious competent process.

So we challenged the industry on that, and said these errors, maybe you need to look at your process, and you’ve actually introduced the risk in by trying to standardise something that drivers have actually been doing, a lot of them, competently, unconsciously competently for a long time, and you need to consider the neuro research in this area.

So, I think we do not just rely – I mean, the procedures for us are more about telling us what the organisation says should have happened. And then we look to say, “Well, why didn’t it happen?”. And we’re looking very broadly as to why it didn’t happen. And we’re certainly talking to workers about why it didn’t happen.

Drew Rae:

If you’ll forgive, Bev, though, even that approach is very document centric. It places the documents at the start of the investigation and says this is the default assumption for the way work happens. And if work is different to the documents, yes, we’ll go and investigate that and try to understand why. But often that sort of investigation will come back with the assumption that either we bring work back in line with the documents, or we correct documents, both of which are assuming that the document is intended to be the central guiding way that work happens.

And I think a true reform would be to get away from that document first approach altogether, and say, just let’s look at how work happened. Let’s look at how happy we are with the way work happens. And then as a secondary thing, if work is not happening the way we would like it to happen, should it or shouldn’t it be more supported by different types of documents, where the work is at the centre and the document is second.

Bev Smith:

Sure. But look, probably I was misunderstood there, in the sense that in that scenario, and inspector, if there’s an incident, they will go out to the workplace. So, the first thing they will do is talk to workers. They’ll look at the workplace, they’ll try and understand what happened. So they will be talking to workers, they’ll be looking at the plant and equipment, they’ll be talking to everybody around. So, they get that understanding from the people that were involved in the incident. And the workers play a very important role in it. It’s when they come back to the office, yes, they do, they’ll ask about, OK, what procedures were in place, all of those things. And so, they will ask about that. And that’s where they’re saying, “Well, the workers said this”.

And so, it’s not necessarily being driven by the document. The document is just a piece of evidence that comes into the puzzle to tell us, OK, well, there’s a gap here. And I get your point that there is a risk that it could drive in a certain way. What I’m saying is that inspectors do look more they look broadly at that. They do look at the whole context. I’m not saying that there is not – I mean, one of the things when I’ve been listening over the last two days is I’m thinking there’s a really big development opportunity here for us with our inspectors, I think so, and I think there’s some great questions that I’ve written down in terms of what inspectors can ask when they go out to do inspections, to get a much better understanding about how work is done versus how work is imagined. And how organisations are staying on top of when work is deviating from processes, and understanding why, if it’s not working for the workers. So I’ve been documenting a lot of stuff and questions and thinking, yes, we should be asking that when we go out so that we can really tease out these issues even more.

Drew Rae:

It would make a very interesting performance measure to examine the number of findings and recommendations that refer to documents versus refer to work, and see how that tracks over time. So I think what you’re describing is close to a sort of middle ground between the need to refer to documents and the need to focus on work. But I’m concerned that in practice, that aspiration very quickly comes to the area where we have more certainty. And we have much more certainty and confidence making recommendations that are related to documents than recommendations and findings that aren’t backed down. The ideal for an inspector is something they can point to in the company’s document, and something that they can point to in a standard of good practice. and to show a direct discrepancy between the two, then the inspector is on totally safe ground. No one can challenge what they’re doing. The area of least certainty is where the inspector is pointing to an aspect of work and an aspect of good practice where there is no document saying that it’s good practice, and then trying to suggest that the workplace needs to improve.

Justin Napier:

I might jump in here. The other dimension that this is there are catastrophic hazards across the industry that have prescriptive, and in many cases, legislated controls put in place. Now, that I think, is probably a good thing for those catastrophic hazards. Then you’ve got an industry that’s built around that I think, and this is a behavioural piece, and this is what I was alluding to earlier as well, how do you get this balance right? Because there will be things, there is an Act, there are regulations, there are codes and guides that are absolutely mandated in our industry, that then drives a particular mindset, the training of inspectors, the training of safety professionals, embeds that I think.

The challenge in this space is holding on to those parts that are fundamental but adapting to the decluttering approach. I’m really attracted to that. I think that’s a fascinating concept. But for us as regulators and inspectors, how do we negotiate and move between those two fields? At what point – you know, sometimes there will be things that we have to see and witness and observe, there’s due diligence obligations on organisations, there are a whole range of controls. And yet we’re trying to embed and encourage continuous improvement, better practice, safety outcomes. There are things in Safety Differently that I think a fascinating; the prevention focus, the humanising of safety, the ability to say stop, worker empowerment, consultation. This is fantastic. This is all embedded in the Act. But we also have to revert back to those principles and those foundational requirements on organisations, and that will be the challenge in us moving to a greater adoption or acceptance of Safety Differently.

Martyn Campbell:

I just want to touch on the – there’s a lot of comments coming through in relation to the documentation and paperwork, a lot of people saying as inspectors that they do walk the floor and talk to workers, and a lot of them are saying that they do go the extra mile to get evidence to show that work is done in accordance with the procedure. And others saying that interviews are prevalent. There is an acknowledgement that some parts of the legislation do require things to be documented, such as scaffolding inspections through codes of practice.

And I suppose this is another challenge for us as regulators, is we have a lot of codes of practice and guidance, which tend to indicate that people should be documenting things when the legislation may not necessarily say that it has to. And I think Kim mentioned yesterday that Michael [Tuma 00:29:50] said that there’s nothing in the legislation that requires risk assessments to be documented. And that’s correct, because we’ve looked through that ourselves.

So, I think there’s a lot of acknowledgment that that people are doing the right thing. There was one interesting question there about the split between enforcement and education. And this is something we’ve struggled with at SafeWork SA for a while. So when we had our ICAC evaluation 18 months ago, one of the recommendations was that we have a process for our workplace advisers who don’t have any powers, who go into workplaces to help individuals do the right thing and comply. The ICAC Commissioner said we have to have a formal referral process into the regulator, so that when an adviser goes in and see something that’s wrong, we can refer to the regulator.

Now that actually flies in the face of the way that our advisers work, because they’re not inspectors, they don’t have powers, and it actually gives businesses a lot of comfort, that they’re not going to be given a notice. But it’s actually quite difficult to put into practice. We’ve chewed this over for a year of how we actually do that effectively, that doesn’t diminish the role of an adviser. So, I’m just looking through here to the last few questions. And Andrew, if I’ve missed any, dive in with any themes that have come through, because they’re coming through thick and fast.

But I might just sort of float on from what you said there in relation to our training. And this whole concept of Safety II and Safety Differently and what this means for us as regulators is really meant to start us thinking about what we do, how we deal with it when we come across it. So in relation to the training of inspectors, which you mentioned, how does that pan out? Is there a message that you or Bev have picked up from here, or the Griffiths guys who’ve got a message of how we can tweak our training for inspectors to give them additional skills in relation to this area?

Justin Napier:

Yeah, I haven’t really processed that one fully. But to me, that’s core to any sort of shift that we would make, because I think, I suspect the training embeds this procedural based approach. And yeah, if we are going to move beyond that and start to ask those broader questions, and except that guides and codes and all the documentation may or may not actually achieve the safety outcome as desired, then you bring it back to onboarding, you bring it back to capability within our organisation, you look at training. And what I’m struggling with – I accept that the argument that is being put, and I can see the benefit of the of the approach. But how as regulators can we move? I think it’s a real challenge for us. And I think we’ve got to go back and think at the starting point. What is the mindset of an inspector? How do we empower them? What are the expectations of them? Because I’m sure that the leg frames their view.

And then the other part of this that I think is important, too, is that we don’t operate in a kind of vacuum. We’ve got pressures coming from multiple parties. And if there is a catastrophic incident in a workplace, there’s an expectation on the part of unions, media, families, co-workers, and so on, that there is some retribution as a consequence of that. It’s a criminal jurisdiction, after all, and I think that shapes and frames our thinking too. So how do you operate in that space? And I know, Martyn, you’ve just mentioned the challenges of separating the engagement and the empowerment and the education piece from that other investigation part. And that’s got its own challenges.

Yeah, I mean, look, I’m quite new to this, but what I’ll take out of the last couple of days is a series of really challenging questions that go to the core of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And at the end of the day, and I’ve said to my people, and I presume it happens in other regulators, that prevention is why we’re here. It’s important and good work that we do. And if there’s a better way to achieve the prevention outcome, and I think also embedding organisations that safety culture, that’s the term, I love the concept of a no-brain culture, I love the concept of learning and continuous improvement in organisations, because that will drive better safety outcomes. As a regular we’ve got this dead weight we cart around called legislation and expectation. I haven’t answered your question I know. But that’s for me where we’re at.

Martyn Campbell:

I might sort of float that back to Drew and Dave, and say from the last couple of days, of what you’ve heard, what would be a first easy step for us regulators to think a bit differently in this space, and maybe decluttering own organisations is one thing that we can do fairly easy.

David Provan:

Look, I think, Martyn, if I have a go, and I think it’s a little bit like what Justin just said about the mindset of inspectors, because it is – I’ll link up a couple of comments, and a couple of things in the chat. It is a very hard role, I’ve never done the role as an inspector, and nor do I think I’d be very good at it. You are in a workplace you don’t know, interacting with people you don’t know about work that you’ve never seen before, and equipment you might not know. And you need to try to make some assessments in a pretty quick space of time. And any assessment that you do make is going to be subject to a whole lot of scrutiny by people who weren’t there when you were there doing the inspection. So that’s already a really, really challenging role as the inspector. So then I think how do you set your people up to be successful in that role? And I think that is one question that you will all be asking yourselves all the time.

The second piece of that is like that touch point, like what Drew said, creates a story and a narrative about the regulator inside that organisation. So the narratives that the inspectors are telling when they’re interacting with people on sites, if you could make every inspector make sure they said during every single workplace visit, that “The way that work is done is more important to me than what you show me on a piece of paper”, And every single inspector that had an interaction in the field said that, I think that’s what’s got to happen to change some of this narrative.

When we did the decluttering survey, when we asked people why wouldn’t they declutter their management system, for every one safety professional that said, “I wouldn’t declutter in case I accidentally took something away that was valuable and hurt someone”, there was two people who said, “Well, regardless of whether it hurt someone or not, I wouldn’t declutter because I don’t want to expose ourselves to regulatory non-compliance”. So, it’s almost like double as many safety professionals care more about having all this documentation for the regulator, than they do about protecting their employees. Now, that’s a problem for the workplace health and safety profession. And they have to accept a huge amount of ownership over that. But if you ask, what’s one thing, I think, giving your inspectors and narrative, because that will be a powerful education piece. Every single inspection is a powerful educational opportunity. So, I don’t know if that’s along the lines of what might help, but I try to be as practical as I can, when someone asks for something to do.

Martyn Campbell:

And I think that’s a great start. I mean, if every inspector in all of our agencies can start asking that question, that sends a really strong message that we are focusing on the way work is done, rather than what’s the procedure. OK. Drew, was there anything you want to follow up?

Drew Rae:

A couple of things to follow up on. The first one is, I just want to second what David said there, and emphasise the importance of these very micro transactions that have long tail echoes. It doesn’t have to be – the inspector could be very much focused on frontline work. But what people remember, is the inspector looking at the risk assessment document. So just the sheer power of an inspector being shown a risk assessment and shoving it away and saying, “No, I’m not interested in that I want to see the work”, that sort of story has a lot of power. An inspector asking to see the risk assessment and asking to see the work, people may remember asking to see the risk assessment.

The second thing is something I want to acknowledge in the chat, is people have mentioned sort of this dual role, that you can’t blame the regulators, or the companies or the auditors. It’s a system that reinforces each other. So long as companies do lots of things to manage safety that involve documents, then the regulator is going to have no choice except to pay attention to those things, because that’s how the company is managing the documents. It is how the company’s managing safety. And then the company is going to see the regulator interested in that and keep managing it that way. It’s something that we’ve described before as the ratchet effect, that there’s just these constant opportunities for different parties to add stuff. But it’s very, very hard. It takes consensus from everyone to take stuff away again.

And so, yeah, there’s no easy solution to that one. But I do want to be clear that we’re not just blaming the regulator here. There are many companies that have had very marginal interactions with a regulator, that will still justify why they’re overcrowding this, cluttering their system, by saying, “Oh, it’s because of the regulator. It’s because of the inspectors”, when you know, clearly, that’s not the full story. It’s other pressures, other uncertainties that they have.

The other comment I wanted to make is that the ability to operate in a grey area is something that requires a lot of confidence. And there are different things that we can do that give both safety professionals and inspectors confidence to make grey area judgments. Education is one of those things. People who feel that they are less educated or less familiar than the other people around them, are going to resort to black and white ideas that they can much more easily defend. So when you send someone into a workplace, and they’re engaging with an engineer, when they themselves don’t have a bachelor level qualification, they’re in a position that lacks power.

So one thing that we can do that helps people have that confidence is just to give them that opportunity to advance through education, not just through training. One of the powerful things that they’ve done in the UK is to fight towards – and I don’t think they’ve been 100% successful in this – but giving formal university qualifications to their inspectors, through a sort of hybrid process of in-house training, plus university recognition of that training. That sort of confidence is what empowers people to start exercising their own professional judgement, to start pushing back when they feel pushed, either pushed by the inspectorate or pushed by a company.

The other thing that gives people that confidence is having other people back up their decisions. So immediate frontline supervision of inspectors makes a big difference in inspector behaviours as well. But if they know that when they make a decision that they will get backed up, no matter what that decision is, they’re going to be more confident, both to avoid making some decisions and to make other decisions.

Martyn Campbell:

The concept of university trainings, it’s a challenging one that we’ve been looking at over the last few years. In South Australia, we re-energised our investigation processes, and one of the things we did was bring in a training program that was linked to a university qualification. So, our investigators have a tiered approach, but it results in a postgraduate certificate in investigation through university. So, we’ve had that for nearly two years and it’s working really well for us. But I think it’s the only one around at the moment. And certainly, for the inspector development training programs, that’s not the case. So, it’s something that’s on the radar for the HWSA Training Working Group, which I just sit on. But I think we’re a long way off yet having that sort of level, but it’s not something that we’re ignoring, we’re alive to the fact, it’s just I think it’s going to be a bit challenging, but something that we should definitely aim or aspire towards.

OK. Andrew, is there anything in the chat that’s jumped out to you as needs answering or things or anything that I’ve missed?

Moderator:

I think you’re covering it. You’ve covered it pretty well there, Martyn.

Martyn Campbell:

Right. So, we’ve got a few comments coming through, people saying they sort of agree and disagree. And I can see why. This is one of these dilemmas. As Justin said, we are regulators and we have legislation that we enforce, and there are some things that we do require to be documented. But I think this has opened up our eyes to a different way of working and some different ways we can operate when we’re on site. And I’m trying to think, uni-training is a balancing act. Yes, it is, it’s also quite expensive, which is another limiting factor.

But I think there’s a few people that are recognising or realising that we’re a lot more open to the whole Safety II, Safety Differently concepts, and some of the topics that are within. But I would encourage everyone again to go back to Dave and Drew’s podcast. I think you’re well over the 50-podcast mark now, Dave. So, there’s a lot of content in there for people to listen to and stimulate a bit of thinking.

David Provan:

Thanks, Martyn. I think from memory, Drew, we might even have one on regulation popping out in in a week or two. And just thanks for that, Martyn. If people want to know, it’s called the Safety of Work Podcast, and we ask a question each week, and then we go and find some research papers around it. So if anyone on here wants to shoot through some things that they’d be interested in, in knowing the safety science research around, shoot it through, and we’ll go research it for you, and we’ll record an episode on it.

Martyn Campbell:

Fantastic, thanks Dave. I think we, Andrew, if we might have come to a logical conclusion there, we might wrap up and give people a bit of time in the day.

Moderator:

Terrific. So, we might just gather your final thoughts and gather those from the audience as well, if there’s any particular reflections, any particular insights, any nuggets of gold that you’ve got out of the forum. Caitlin is just putting in a bit of a thumb poll as well, to see how on board you are on the Safety Differently train. So, it’ll say thumb poll, and how far you are, are you still sceptical about this whole safety thing, not quite convinced yet, or are you became more open to the idea? So, feel free to give those a bit of a like, or choose the one that you want. So, we might just go one round around the panel about what stood out to you from the forum before we’ve got some final little nuggets at the end. Martyn?

Martyn Campbell:

OK, so I think for me, it’s really opened the whole dialogue on a different way of thinking for us, seeing what Kym and her team have done in Queensland, and done really well. And the fact that it’s gathering a huge momentum. We’ve already got some large industry organisations in South Australia who are following Kym’s lead and putting Safety Differently processes in place. So I think it’s critical that for me, it’s really sort of stimulate some thinking to go back and think how we can support our inspectors so that they’re aware of this, and putting some strategies in place to help them deal with organisations that are in this area.

Moderator:

Terrific. And then we might go alphabetical order. So, our production team can get them lined up. So, Bev, for you any standouts, reflections from the last few days?

Bev Smith:

Yeah, look, I suppose, having worked in safety for many years, the Safety II articulates, I think, some of the things that I think we already all know. And it’s just bringing that research or that evidence base to things that we see that we see both as work health and safety professionals, but also that the inspectors see and question out in the field. So, I think, as I said, I think we want to promote evidence-based processes into organisations. And I think there’s some opportunity here. I’ve been thinking about, OK, how can we incorporate some of that into our processes to enhance what we already do.

Moderator:

Great. Thanks, Bev. And so alphabetically Dave, you’re next, and someone’s asked, please do the consultation practices that don’t work.

David Provan:

Please, do the – I don’t even know what that –

Moderator:

Are there consultation practices that don’t work that you wanted to expand on? I think that’s maybe the implication of that.

David Provan:

Sorry, I don’t understand the question, sorry. Anyway, sorry, sorry. So I suppose it’s just, it’s pleasing to be on the outside, it’s pleasing to see it has worked, look to the evidence, look to the ideas, look to the future, thinking about how it can play the most impactful role in prevention. And I just think it’s great to see. So that would be my reflection, the engagement in the chat’s been really great. And there’s no silver bullet. Safety Differently is not a silver bullet. It’s hard and it’s complex. And your role as regulators is really hard and complex. But what you do has a huge amount of influence on the way that industry thinks about safety.

Moderator:

Right. Thanks so much Dave. Drew?

Drew Rae:

Andrew, I just want to finish off here by responding to one of the comments in the chat as a sort of broader acknowledgement. There was a comment earlier about whether we seriously expect you to go into a worksite and accept at face value what someone tells you about the way things are happening. And I think underlying all of this is something that we all share, which is a deep concern that work does happen safely. And that we’re as little as possible in that position of having to be the people coming in when there’s been a bad outcome, having to, on behalf of society, punish the wrongdoers in order to set things right again.

But there is a constant thing that we can never fix, which is that we cannot know ever, how work is happening in every place around Australia and New Zealand at any moment. So, lot of that is always going to be hidden to us. And what we need to be careful of is that that’s not something that can ever be fixed. There’s no system we can put in place. There’s no paperwork, there’s no method of investigation. Almost everything that we do is in the form of hard nudges. And so we just need to be aware of rather than trying to create too much certainty, how we’re nudging and what sort of direction we’re nudging in, and just make sure that we’re constantly happy that those nudges are always in the right direction, not nudging towards people to demonstrate safety, rather than to achieve safety.

Moderator:

Terrific. Thank you, Drew. And Justin, final words, comments?

Justin Napier:

Yeah, thanks, Andrew. One of the things I’ve seen in some of the workplaces that we regulate, and we regulate nationally, so we see organisations with dispersed workplaces, and one of the things I’d love to see come out of this, because it’s a problem that we regularly encounter, is a lack of localised common sense, I’ll call it that, and thought, and the same organisation or different workplace somewhere else is doing things in accordance with procedures and the like.

The adoption of pre-thinking, problem solving at a localised workplace is surely a good thing. And you’ve just mentioned nudge; how do we as regulators encourage that practice? Because go at the PCBU, I know someone had a go at the jargon, that we ended at the PCBU, whereas the problem might have been what’s going on the ground. And the adoption of common-sense practice, like it’s been espoused over the last couple of days is probably a good thing. I think there’s scope for us as regulators to move into that space. I am, as a consequence of the last couple of days, very conscious of the decluttering, or the clutter that exists, and there’s some questions that I’ll be asking myself and our group, what we can do in that space. Because I think it is an industry that generates its own jargon, its own logic, its own procedures and behaviours. And sometimes that’s probably counterintuitive, and perhaps not the best thing. So, we do need to be mindful of that. But I thank everyone for being involved, because I think it’s been a stimulating and challenging couple of days, and it’s certainly, I’ve got more questions than answers at this point in time.

Moderator:

Terrific. Well, thanks so much to the panel. And look, it’s sad but true, but we’ve virtually come to the end of our virtual forum.

Page last reviewed: 16 February 2021
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Date printed 02 Dec 2021

https://www.comcare.gov.au/about/forms-publications/transcriptions/safety-differently-what-does-it-mean-for-the-regulator