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Chief Executive Officer’s year in review

Photo of ​Michelle Baxter, CEO, Safe Work Australia​​Michelle Baxter, CEO, Safe Work Australia

This year will mark the 10th anniversary of Safe Work Australia.

Safe Work Australia was established as an independent statutory agency in 2009 to develop national policy relating to WHS and workers’ compensation.

Work-related fatalities, injury and illness have a devastating impact on workers and their families and the community. In 2018, 145 workers were killed at work and each year over 100,000 are compensated for a serious work-related injury or illness. More than half a million Australians sustain work-related injury or disease annually at a significant economic cost. The broader impact on workers, their families and society as a whole is estimated to be far greater.

I am proud to have led the agency over the past six years supporting the important work of Safe Work Australia Members. I know our work is having an impact as Australia continues to experience a decrease in workplace fatalities and injuries. Positively, in the past decade we have seen work-related fatality rates drop by over 50 per cent.

We still have work to do and I look forward to continuing to drive improvements in WHS policy and compensation arrangements and ultimately creating healthier, safer and more productive workplaces.

Strategic policy development and advice

In 2018–19, we commenced work to implement the agreed response to the mid-term review of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 (the Australian Strategy), including information sharing, performance measurement, and research into ‘at risk’ workers and occupational violence.

We also developed the National Return to Work Strategy 2020–2030. The Strategy sets out a ten-year plan for national action to improve return to work outcomes for workers with a work-related injury or illness.

We finalised the technical review, approval and publication of 13 model Codes of Practice (model Codes). This brings to a close a significant body of work to ensure all model Codes in the WHS framework remain accurate and up to date. The model Codes help duty holders to keep their workers and others safe by providing practical advice on how to eliminate or minimise WHS risk arising out of their work. By publishing the varied model Codes we also help the jurisdictions to regulate critical aspects of workplace safety including the storage and labelling of hazardous chemicals, management of electrical risks, asbestos management and removal, management of noise and hearing loss prevention, spray painting and powder coating, the safe design of structures, managing and preventing falls, and demolition and excavation work.

We have published a range of guidance materials to assist workers and duty holders to strengthen WHS arrangements at their workplaces including, officer duty fact sheets, a guide to worker representation and participation, a fact sheet on endometriosis in the workplace and a guide on the storage and handling of chemicals.

Helping duty holders to manage the risks of working in heat was also a focus this year. During the hot Australian summer the agency released a Virtual Seminar where WHS experts explored the key issues of heat and work injury. The seminar was accompanied by four short videos with real business scenarios covering topics such as risk management, safe design, physically demanding work and heat within an indoor environment.

We also progressed national policy and strategies to improve workers’ compensation arrangements and return to work outcomes. Consultation was conducted on return to work strategies to understand implications to workers, informing our policy development processes.

Consultation and engagement

Collaboration and consultation remains a key focus of Safe Work Australia.

This year, we worked with independent reviewer, Marie Boland, to review the model WHS laws to ensure they are operating as intended. The agency supported Marie Boland in finalising and publishing the Review of the model WHS laws: final report, followed by the release of a consultation regulation impact statement (RIS) relating to the recommendations of the Review. The information gathered through the consultation will be collated and analysed to inform a decision RIS to be provided to WHS ministers in late 2019.

In August 2018, we developed a consultation RIS on the workplace exposure standards framework under the model WHS laws. We consulted on the regulatory impact and the best way of implementing an update to the framework.

We continue to work with our stakeholders, jurisdictions and international counterparts to collaborate on information and knowledge of WHS and workers’ compensation. We have participated in significant international engagements such as the G20 Occupational Safety and Health Expert Network, the United Nations Sub-Committee of Experts for the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (UNSCEGHS), the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work and hosting visiting delegations from New Zealand and Taiwan.

Robust evidence and research

Safe Work Australia’s evidence and research functions play a vital role in building, maintaining and promoting the evidence base around WHS and workers’ compensation policy and practice in Australia.

Safe Work Australia holds and maintains the national data for work-related fatalities and workers’ compensation claims. Through our research and analysis, we are understanding trends and gaining insights into the future of work and the evolution of Australian workplaces.

In 2018–19, we delivered a range of evidence-based products and research, publishing five major statistical reports. Interest in our data continues to grow—our most popular publication, Key work health and safety statistics, Australia 2018, received over 33,000 page views in 2018–19 (almost double that of 2017–18).

We will continue our strong focus on developing evidence-informed policy drawing on our national data collections and key statistical reports.

Raising awareness

The agency has continued to deliver high quality communication initiatives. Our 2018 National Safe Work Month campaign ‘A moment is all it takes’ included an online campaign kit with posters, flyers, graphics and promotion through social media, magazine, television and radio placements. The National Safe Work Month webpages were viewed over 99,000 times. Over half of those that responded to our evaluation survey said they knew more about WHS after participating in the National Safe Work Month initiative.

Safe Work Australia broadcast 10 seminars on best practice initiatives in WHS on topics including silica, heat and work injury and work-related psychological health and safety.

Looking to the future

Our forward agenda is already in sharp focus and the agency is primed to progress key WHS and workers’ compensation initiatives.

In late 2019, a decision RIS will be prepared on the Review of the model WHS laws. WHS ministers will also consider their response to the Review Report, and the agency is ready and equipped to implement ministers’ decisions on their preferred recommendations.

Further into the future, we will be working on some large-scale projects that will provide guidance and advice to the jurisdictions on best practice WHS and workers’ compensation.

Work will continue on the National Return to Work Strategy 2020–2030. The Strategy was endorsed by WHS ministers and is due to take effect in January 2020.

We will build a new National Work Health and Safety Prosecutions Database. This new database will give policy makers access to aggregated, detailed information on WHS prosecutions and resulting penalties. It will also enable more detailed research, analysis and reporting on prosecutions.

An emerging trend in Australia that must be addressed is the new cases of accelerated silicosis, a preventable occupational lung disease occurring in workers as a result of exposure to silica dust. Safe Work Australia has already taken steps to implement an occupational lung diseases work plan which builds on our commitment to make such diseases an area of focus over the next phase of the Australian Strategy. We are progressing a range of initiatives spanning data and research through to guidance and education for duty holders; all targeted at better understanding and minimising the risk of occupational lung disease in this country.

Our goal is for all Australians to work in a safe and healthy work environment. We are all responsible for WHS at our workplace. Through a collaborative effort I know we can all make a positive contribution to change and ensure that the rate of work-related injury and illness continues to improve into the future.

Michelle Baxter, signature

Michelle Baxter
Chief Executive Officer
Safe Work Australia