Safety only for the Rich and Powerful
We see today that safety is only for the strong, wealthy and powerful (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-25/victorian-junkyard-woman-sentenced-to-jail-over-death/10746110?pfmredir=sm). If you run a small business and can’t afford safety or lack competence in safety, or are isolated in the bush, watch out – you’re off to gaol. If you are a mega corporation, well connected and can buy a QC or SC, you’ll never go to gaol. You can afford safety, even any big fine, just pass it on to shareholders.
Yes, it is very sad that people die at work. Yes, this 72 year old woman obviously ran a junk yard for 40 years that was an ad hoc collection of ‘make do’, ‘can do’ and ‘it will do’ ways of selling junk. Yes, she was obviously ignorant of workplace safety basics. Yes, you could get a bargain from this 72 year old at a menagerie of mess 174 kilometres from Melbourne, if you could find it. Probably her work practices had not changed since she started in 1979. But what is the real message in this story? What lessons and learnings are here for her, for us and for Safety? What will change in health and safety for this 72 year old serving time in gaol? Having worked in gaols, I’ll tell you now – nothing!
If you are a corporate behemoth, you will never go to gaol regardless of how many people are killed on site.
Of course, her work practices were probably atrocious but I bet they had worked for her for 40 years. When you run a struggling junk yard business making a bare few dollars, safety is expensive and would probably put you out of business. I’m sure there were probably Officeworks SWMS on a shelf somewhere in her messy shed/office anyway.
I have lived in country and outback for many years and on isolated properties just like this one and in Australia we reward those who ‘have a go’, ‘make do’ and have a ‘can do’ attitude. ‘Can do’ is one of the mantras for many tier one organisations. The Australian frontier spirit is about ‘can do’. It’s built into the Australian Legend we celebrate every Anzac Day (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_folklore; https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2008/09/the-australian-legend-fifty-years-on/ ). We even have a Prime Minister who constantly spruiks the jingoistic ideology of ‘having a go’! (https://www.afr.com/news/transcript-of-new-prime-minister-scott-morrisons-first-press-conference-20180824-h14h1a ).
It is clear from the story that the fine and court costs alone will put this woman out of business, that’s the end of her joys in life, love of ‘treasures’ and hoarding ‘junk’. But if you sit in an ivory tower on the 44th floor of a skyscraper in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane, you have nothing to worry about with Due Diligence (https://safetyrisk.net/due-diligence-workshop-2021-february-2019/ ). You can afford safety!
Have a read sometime of Greg Smith’s work (https://www.waylandlegal.com.au/blog) and see what happens in safety prosecutions and case law. Or better still read Paper Safe (https://safetyrisk.net/paper-safe/ ) or come to the Due Diligence Workshop (https://safetyrisk.net/due-diligence-workshop-2021-february-2019/ ) if you want a taste of reality in safety. Find out where the fear is and that most of what is practiced in safety doesn’t work anyway. All the checklists, mantras, matrices, pyramids and bureaucracy that are undertaken in ritual performance don’t invoke safety nor protect you in court should you be unlucky anyway. But if you are splash for cash, you have little to fear.
Do some research, who with money, power or position ever goes to gaol for a workplace fatality? What happened to the executives in BP? Texas City? Pike River? Do any of these colossal fines and threats of prosecution change the culture of safety at work? The answer to these questions obviously depends on your wealth, power and position. This is the message in this story.
So, where is the government and regulator in the educative space? When you can’t afford safety and are isolated in some small country town or farm in the middle of nowhere, and you don’t know any better, what does a gaol sentence serve? And if we only dish out gaol sentences to the small time bumblers, what do we learn? What does it say about an industry that crusades on principles that only have meaning if you can afford it? How many more country businesses out there do the same every day but are just lucky? I know of many.