Important lessons in WHS and governance for board directors and OHS leaders

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of members. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institue of Health & Safety.
Date: 
Friday, 9 October, 2020 - 12:45
Category: 
Industry news
Location: 
National News

Following the introduction of industrial manslaughter in many Australian jurisdictions and the increase in regulator safety activity (particularly following the Dreamworld fatalities in Queensland), it is more important now than ever to ensure that organisations support their officers to exercise due diligence under safety legislation, according to multinational law firm MinterEllison.

There are range of practical ways this can occur, including conducting officer ‘site walks’ and facilitating discussions for officers with personnel within the business, although the focus is often on reporting and questioning or testing that information (given this is an auditable way of exercising due diligence), said Deanna McMaster, a partner who specialises in safety, employment and industrial relations at MinterEllison.

­“Increasingly officers are being asked to respond to improvement notices explaining how due diligence has been exercised in relation to particular matters and without having a robust system in place that escalates key safety information to boards and executives, this can be difficult to do,” she said.

“One key way to support officers is to provide a form of ‘due diligence’ reporting at regular intervals – this must include lag information but also the proactive steps being taken to manage safety.”

McMaster, who was speaking ahead of the AIHS Visions Conference which will be convened virtually from 10-13 November, also observed that a key outcome from the Banking Royal Commission was to emphasise the importance of Boards getting the ‘right information’ which does not mean ‘more information.’

“While it had a focus on financial matters, this is directly relevant to safety reporting to assist individuals to discharge their personal due diligence obligations,” said McMaster, who added that lessons should also be taken from the coronial inquiry into the Dreamworld fatalities.

“There the Coroner noted that ‘such a culpable culture can exist only when leadership from the Board down are careless in respect of safety’ and observed a lack of auditing in relation to the safety of its operations.

“Again, without proper reporting to officers (when accompanied by a range of other practical due diligence measures) it is difficult to see how a Board can identify trends or flags that safety culture is an issue,” said McMaster.

McMaster will be at the AIHS Visions Conference which will be convened virtually from 10-13 November. The Visions Conference has been run for the past 25 years by the Queensland Division of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety for the benefit of its members and everyone in the Safety Community. For more information call (03) 8336 1995, email visions@aihs.org.au, visit www.visions.org.au or register here.