Category: OHS Management

safety culture, ohs melbourne, ohs consulting, whs, occupational health and safety, health and safety, ohs

Safety Culture – Where to Next?

Safety Culture

In 1993 the UK Health and Safety Commission defined safety culture as:

“The safety culture of an organisation is the product of individual and group values, attitudes,Perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management. Organisations with a positive safety culture are characterised by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.”

This definition of Safety Culture has been widely accepted in Australia ever since and was recently cited in the SIA’s Core Body of Knowledge publication in October 2014.

However, the effectiveness of ‘safety culture’ within organisations with regards to the reduction of workplace accidents and injuries has continued to come under the spotlight in recent times.

At an event focusing on OHS I attended recently a university professor at RMIT stated that ‘safety culture is not something that exists or is something that prevents accidents, organisations must work on fixing organisational and management procedures – if they act on this they will fix the problem.’

Another professor, Patrick Hudson has a more positive view on safety culture and in a recent virtual seminar for Safe Work Australia he likens organisational culture to a game of snakes and ladders—we can climb up but also slide down.

He outlines the key components in distinguishing if an organisation has a healthy safety culture is whether it is proactive or reactive with regards to its OHS management and its senior leadership.

He also states that ‘climbing the ladder’ is harder that company’s think but the good news is that his never encountered a companies that wants to go down the ladder and if companies do get up to the top everybody benefits.

Peter’s full virtual seminar can be viewed here on the Safe Work Australia website:

My own opinion as an OHS consultant working day in day out with businesses to improve their OHS Management across all levels is that the development of a safety culture is not a quick fix and is certainly a difficult area to focus our efforts on while still offering justifiable value for money for any business within any industry.

Whatever you opinions are on safety culture and its effectiveness within organisations at the moment this is an area where I will be watching with keen interest in the coming year as the debates surrounding the topic continue.

Posted by: Cathal Uniacke –

swms, ohs, ohs melbourne, ohs consulting, whs, occupational health and safety, health and safety, ohs

Current State & Use of SWMS

swms-preview - Copy

The Safety Institute of Australia (SIA), with support of RMIT University conducted a seminar on safety in the construction industry. As with last year’s event Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) dominated the conversation. The frustrations expressed by the crowd were the same as last year – SWMS are demanded for tasks they are not legally required for, they are too big and complex, they are rarely read, they are rarely reviewed and they are written only in English.

It seemed that the audience was waiting for a directive from government on SWMS but the seminar had no speakers from OHS/WHS regulators.

There is little evidence at the moment that SWMS work as intended for non-high risk work although research done recently by Paul Breslin, HSE Manager at Brookfield Multiplex indicates that when SWMS are workable and effective workers like to use them.

The audience also heard how while SWMS are being used for within the construction sector for almost ‘everything’ other sectors with high risk works like manufacturing seem less bound up by SWMS and more on traditional SOP’s for a range of activities. This indicates that the significance of SWMS in construction is high but not a big issue outside of the sector explaining the lack of attention by the regulator.

There has been some voice for moving the current focus of safety in the construction industry away from SWMS and onto the hierarchy of control. This was not discussed at the recent SIA seminar.

Change on the issue of SWMS will only occur when people say no to the demand for SWMS outside their original design and legislative requirement.

The lack of change on the SWMS issue, particularly in Victoria, is a result of everyone waiting for someone else to take the lead on the issue, and no one is.  It is possible that Victoria is feeling uncertain, wayward and leaderless given that its Government has chosen to miss the boat on OHS/WHS harmonisation.

Posted By: Cathal Uniacke –

responsibility, principle contractors, ohs, whs, occupational health and safety, health and safety, ohs

Responsibility of Principal Contractors


Should or shouldn’t principal contractors take responsibility of their sub-contractors?

I have worked professionally in Ireland, USA, UK and Australia and the debate over whether or not principal contractors should take responsibility for their chosen sub-contractors has raged on wherever I went.

I attended a Safety Institute of Australia forum at RMIT university campus in Melbourne at the end of last year where the topic of principal contractor responsibility was on the discussion agenda.

Barry Sherriff, OHS lawyer and partner at Norton Rose Fulbright spoke briefly with regards to principal contractors perceived onus that they must supervise sub-contractors “just because you can supervise doesn’t mean you have too….., you are allowed to rely on that contractor to work safely according to recent court decisions in WA and VIC”

It was apparent to me when listening to Barry and the other guest speakers on the day that the interpretation around whether or not principal contractors are responsible for supervising their sub-contractors has shifted to the side of the principals being allowed to rely on their sub-contractors.

So how do you rely on a sub-contractor? A principal contractor can start by ensuring their chosen sub-contractor can provide:

  • Detailed, specific and accurate Safe Work Method Statements for high risk work tasks.
  • Ensuring the SWMS are reviewed when substantial changes to work practices occur.

Also, honestly consider questions like:

  • Are they up to it?
  • Can they develop safe systems of work?
  • Can they implement the safe systems of work?

If not the responsibility must be removed from them as if the principal contractor dives in to take charge mid-way through contracts the principle contractor must wear it in the event of things going south.

One thing that can be established is that sub-contractors are going to need to get on board the OHS management train if they want to be considered as serious contenders for standalone work packages in the coming future.

Posted By: Cathal Uniacke –

liability, accident, ohs melbourne, ohs consulting

The Liability Bomb


The question of liability is passed between developers, principle builders, managers, contractors and employees like a bomb with a rapidly burning fuse.

Merely ‘passing the buck’ won’t carry much weight in the event of an investigation by the workplace safety watchdog in any Australian state.

Persons in Control of Businesses or Undertakings (PCBU’s can include developers, principle builders, businesses responsible for work premises and others) must be aware that it is not as simple as pointing a finger or ‘passing the buck’ if an accident resulting in injury that occurs at their undertaking is investigated by the workplace safety watchdog. PCBU’s should be aware that they can never completely hold themselves harmless in the eyes of the watchdog.

However, with an effective and well managed Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) management system that clearly identifies the responsibilities of principle builders, senior managers, contractors and employees and requests contractor’s commitments towards OHS in the form of OHS management plans, OHS policies and Safe Work Method Statements.

PCBU’s while never holding themselves harmless can certainly go a long way to sharing the liability of adverse events during sub-contracted parts of their undertaking (project/production cycle) by justifiably obtaining the sub-contractors written commitment to conducting their works safely.

Also, it has been proven that clearly identifying roles, responsibilities and sub-contractor OHS requirements prior to the commencement of any physical works on site notably increases the awareness of OHS requirements and commitments to safe work practices on all levels.

Therefore the liability bomb may never even go off leaving all parties from developer to worker unharmed.

Posted By: Cathal Uniacke –

ohs, safety, consultant

Moving goalposts mid game frustrates all


The Construction Industry is a competitive one. A large project can be a lot like a game of footy with teams consisting of managers, tradesmen and labourers competing and working together to achieve a common goal.

All games need rules and in games rules are monitored and enforced by umpires. In the construction Industry workplace law and standards outline the rules and it is the turn of the safety professional to play the role of umpires in monitoring and enforcing the laws and standards.

However, safety professionals have a different challenge to that of footy umpires as time and time again due to lack of effective communication at the commencement of the game (project) not every team (contractor) is aware of the rules (laws and standards) expected of them until the game has kicked off.

As a result time and time again, safety professionals are seen by contractors as nuisances that move the goalposts (change the rules) after the game (project) has started.

The culture in the construction industry must change so all teams (contractors) know where the goalposts (rules) are before the game (project) starts so safety professionals are not continually seen by contractors as unfair rule changers after the game has already started.

Posted By: Cathal Uniacke –

safety, ohs, ohs consultant

4 Reasons Businesses Invest in OHS




It may come as warm and welcome information that in the current Australian business world of high insurance premiums, active and aggressive workplace safety watchdogs and militant and uncompromising worker unions the number one reason our OHS consulting services have been utilised by businesses is the business owners and managers desire to keep their employees and persons under their control safe when at work and ensure they return home to their families and loved ones in the same condition as they left.

Pro-Active Workplace Safety Enforcement Body

Australia and in particular Victoria where we conduct majority of our consulting is home to a very proactive workplace safety enforcement body, Worksafe. In times of high employment, job creation and job growth an efficient and effective workplace watchdog is paramount.

However, as an employer the outcomes of OHS related enforcement notices, fines and court action against businesses can be extremely detrimental to ongoing business, growth and development and can leave a lasting black mark against any business.

Injury Claims Resulting in Increased Insurance Premiums

In business protecting the downside is of key importance. Insurance cover against potential financial losses due to property damage, theft, legal proceedings or worker injury claims is essential.

However lodging insurance claims and in particular worker injury claims which are known to spiral upwards in costs and continue for long periods can have knock on effects with regards to future insurance premiums paid by businesses.

This is due to algorithms being created by the insurance companies for each claim and tagged to the claimant (business). As a business grows so too do the algorithms/s meaning the businesses insurance premium also increases.

Threat of Industrial Action by Unions

Australia and in particular Victoria where we conduct most of our consulting is home to some of the most militant and uncompromising unions. Unions can at times when they are not being heard look to pick holes and find gaps in businesses operating procedures and service equipment with regards to OHS and use these instances of ‘non-compliance’ as political leverage in an attempt to be better heard.

It is important that businesses commence works and maintain works while keeping up with all OHS procedures during operations and maintaining all plant and equipment required during services so to reduce the likelihood of unions focusing on OHS related holes or gaps in their business operations and causing what are sometimes unnecessary delays.

For smart businesses it’s not about the costs of effective OHS management systems and procedures, it’s about the costs of not having effective OHS management and procedures.

 Posted By: Cathal Uniacke –