Politicians are always talking about removing the “Red Tape” so business can just get on with what they do and create more jobs, a bigger economy and grow the country. For many, Safety “Red Tape” falls into this category, apparently, it’s already too hard to run a business, surely business owners don’t need to keep people safe as well, we don’t need to change the rules business can just do the right thing, can’t they?

While I don’t believe any Australian state has quite got the mix exactly right in their Legislation and Regulations (perhaps one day we will harmonise) I actually think we have a pretty balanced system. The truth is that it’s easy to be compliant in Australia with that safety “Red Tape”, we see it every day with our clients and other businesses we work with, doing the right thing isn’t hard, figuring out how iCloud works is much harder. So I think the real question is why isn’t every business compliant?

WorkSafe WA recently revealed that it had charged Hanssen Pty Ltd with OSH breaches identified during its investigation into the October 2016 death of German working holiday visa holder Marianka Heumann, 27, at the Concerto Apartments project in Perth. 

The backpacker worker fell 13 floors through a pressurisation shaft at the Hanssen construction site. 

It did not charge the employer in relation to the fatality. 

Hanssen was recently fined for allowing an unqualified worker to oversee high-risk tilt-up construction work, which led to a 3.8-tonne concrete panel falling into a car park. It was fined for similar offences in 2009, and issued a related improvement notice in 2011. 

Several months ago, Hanssen and its managers were fined a total of more than $100,000 for preventing union officials from investigating suspected safety breaches after the backpacker was killed, and in 2003 it was ordered to adopt a union agreement with safety provisions after it ignored more than 20 WorkSafe improvement notices. 

I think the problem has two parts, one is our viewpoint and the other is what are we willing to do about it.

Our viewpoint needs to change and here’s a comparison that will make you think.

Since 1971, 10 innocent lives have been lost to terrorist activities inside Australia. Since 9/11 Australia has spent an undisclosed (upwards of 30 to 50 billion dollars) amount of money and even more importantly we have changed, increased/decreased or modified the laws that are there to protect our civil rights and freedoms all in the name of preventing terrorism. You might be shocked if you read more about what we have given up in the name of this cause. All things being equal though I think most Australians would say, fine, I feel safer, it’s all good, it was worth doing.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the total deaths from workplace fatalities since 1971 but from 2003 to 2016 there have been 3,414 deaths at work in Australia. Just let that sink in for a moment. In those 13 years, 3,414 Australians have died simply while going about their job. Surely there has been a royal commission, a new government department, we must be spending billions a year to sort this out right? Wrong, we wouldn’t want any more of that safety “Red Tape” that might get in the way of progress and business.

Now just imagine if 3,414 Australians had have died from terrorism in the last 16 years?

The question is what are you willing to do about changing that number? How much money would you spend? What laws would you change?

The truth is if every business followed the rules now, met their current legal obligations, that number would be dramatically lower, at least halved.

So why do we let companies like Hanssen get away with repeated breaches and give them a slap on the wrist? They aren’t the only company out there like this, there are many that put profit before safety, or even worse don’t even consider safety in the first place.

The regulators need real teeth. Businesses need to know that if they don’t do the right thing they can go to prison or be fined millions of dollars. Currently, in Australia no Director or CEO has ever gone to prison, no company or individual has been fined the maximum penalty in any state and really nothing has changed, nothing except that 3,414 families changed forever because a loved one did not come home from work. Everyone needs to take workplace safety as seriously as we have terrorism.

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