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Address by the Minister for Industrial Relations at the launch of the National seminar on Occupational Health and Safety best practice at the Australian Maritime Museum Sydney



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ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AT THE LAUNCH OF THE NATIONAL SEMINAR ON OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY BEST PRACTICE AT THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM, SYDNEY, 20 NOVEMBER 1992

Unfortunately an average of 500 people die each year from occupational injuries and disease in Australian workplaces.

There are also 200,000 lost time injuries of 5 days or more annually.

The cost to the Australian economy of this loss in production, not to mention the human trauma and suffering caused by it, is in excess of $10 billion annually.

It is interesting to compare this cost with another indicator for lost time at work - industrial disputation. Lost time through industrial accidents and disease runs at about 12 times more than time lost through strikes.

Therefore, as a priority, occupational health and safety certainly commands national attention on a major scale.

The aim of this seminar is to show how - by implementing best practice in occupational health and safety - costs to business can be lowered and safety for life and limb improved.

Worksafe Australia have produced seven case studies which can be used as models for Australian companies embarking on health and safety reform in their workplaces.

As a nation, our major task is to improve our international competitiveness, increase our productive capacity and create more j obs.

The days are gone when a company can ignore the costs of occupational health and safety in the productivity equation.

The Federal Government has instituted a Best Practice Demonstration Program to show that Australian firms are capable of achieving world class productive performance.

Many of the firms selected for the Program are also striving to achieve world best practice in occupational health and safety.

Through Worksafe Australia the Federal Government has pursued at a national level - a co-operative strategy to reduce the severity and incidence of occupational injury and disease.

The strategy aims to deliver an efficient and effective set of nationally uniform legislation and standards, for occupational health and safety by the end of 1993. It is a goal that has bipartisan support.

Industry supports it because it means consistent standards across States and as a consequence, lowered cost of implementation.

CO M M O N WEALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY MICAH

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The trade union movement offers their support because uniform standards mean better protection for their membership.

Uniform standards make both economic and safety sense.

Today's launch of the best practice case studies is intended to encourage and assist companies to improve their occupational health and safety performance.

As I have said, it is no coincidence that three of these companies featured in the studies - Hendersons Automotive, Australian Newsprint Mills (ANM) and Du Pont - have received grants under the Government's Best Practice Demonstration

Program.

In 1985, Hendersons Automotive was operating at 50 per cent efficiency and in danger of closing. This lack of productivity was reflected in its occupational health and safety record.

300 hours per month were lost to injuries and 30 per cent of the workforce sustained a workplace injury each year.

It had to change.

And its starting point was genuine consultation with its workforce with a view to cooperative change.

Improvements in occupational health and safety were undertaken.

The results have been spectacular - a safer working environment and a better place to work.

Hendersons' current lost time injury rate is zero and the company enjoys exempt status under the South Australian workers' compensation scheme.

The cooperative workplace culture developed at Hendersons has delivered many other positives.

Absenteeism has declined to 2.5 per cent per month compared with 8 per cent in 1982.

Labour turnover was 93 per cent in 1983-84 and is now only 9 per cent.

Hendersons is now a thriving exporter competing successfully in the highly competitive car component market.

ANM Boyer benchmarked its occupational health and safety practices with international competitors.

In 1987, management and worker representatives took part in an international study tour.

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The firm trust and cooperation that developed between management and workers acted as a catalyst to wider workplace reform.

New technology was introduced and vital issues for the continued viability of the company tackled.

ANM's lost time injury rate was reduced from 40.4 in 1988 to 7.8 in 1992.

Change isn't easy. It requires vision and commitment from management. But just as importantly, it requires the goodwill of the employees and the support of their unions.

At Stanwell Power Station, both management and workers had to overcome a major psychological barrier - the belief that fatalities were an inevitable outcome of power station construction.

A skills development program was instituted as part of workplace reform at Stanwell. Attitudes about health and safety were fundamentally changed. Half the project has now been completed without a workplace fatality.

Unfortunately at the massive Liquefied Natural Gas project on the North West Shelf, workers died in the early phases of construction. However, thanks to a concerted education and training program, the project was able to work for two and a half years without a lost time injury.

Danum Engineering, a small engineering contractor, now has an enviable occupational health and safety record. This wasn't always the case. The introduction of a safety policy and safety committee has turned lost time injuries from a one in

five chance to a rarity.

At Portland Aluminium, labour turnover, absenteeism and injury rates were high. As well, occupationally-related asthma was a major problem.

A safer working environment was created by removing barriers between managers and workers, instituting an information program using videos and newsletters and adopting a health and lifestyle program.

As a result, workers' compensation claims dropped dramatically from $1.5 million four years ago to $68,000 in 1991-92. In 1989-90 there was a 30 per cent reduction in total injuries.

Du Pont1s Girraween plant has undertaken a process of continuous improvement in its occupational health and safety systems and practices over many years. The site has only experienced two lost time injuries in the last seven years.

It has achieved the National Safety Council of Australia's 5- Star Award every year throughout this period.

While these seven companies are justifiably proud of their achievements, they do not rest on their laurels. The quest

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for continuous improvement is an essential element of best practice.

A key feature of the case study companies has been their capacity to tap the creativity and problem solving capacity of the workforce. It requires a relationship of trust and cooperation and an investment by companies in the development of people.

The decentralisation of the industrial relations system to workplace bargaining is assisting in creating this environment of trust and cooperation at the workplace. In fact, it may well be appropriate for firms and unions to use workplace bargaining as a vehicle to include and improve occupational

health and safety.

I would like to express my thanks to these companies for agreeing to participate in Worksafe Australia's occupational health and safety best practice project. Their willingness to share their occupational health and safety experience will

stimulate many more companies to take a fresh look at how effective occupational health and safety practices can improve their competitive position.

These case studies clearly demonstrate that Australian workplaces can change and are changing. Industry is making progress towards international leadership through consultation and cooperation. Occupational health and safety can make a

real contribution to this process.