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Keeping Fence Post Turtles Safe

Not too long ago, I heard that some farmers have a term for our political leaders and some managers in senior roles (both in Government and business). They call them Fence Post Turtles. “When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a 'fence post turtle'. You know she didn't get up there by herself, she doesn't belong up there, she doesn't know what to do while she's up there, and you just wonder what kind of dumb bugger put her up there to begin with.”

There’s usually plenty of flapping limbs to make it look like something is happening, but the action is really only producing more and more spin, whilst the main body of the problem remains unchanged. They spend most of their time sitting on the fence, but when they finally get traction with an initiative, we all wish they hadn’t because of the mess it makes. Examples are plentiful (Qld Health payroll or fraud cases, Carbon and Mining Taxes, border control, any number of green initiatives – sorry, I digress). I just wonder why the turtles can’t see their predicament and ask for help? The problem is, when they finally do, they call on the other turtles in the pond, who aren’t in a position to help either.

Why am I writing a special edition about this? Well, as of the 1st of January, Qld and most other states will have a harmonisation of OH&S laws. Most business leaders would be quick to agree that a simplified, uniform system is beneficial and well overdue, and should be welcomed whole heartedly. The problem is that whilst the legislation has been open for consultation (interpretation: discussed between OH&S people and businesses and government inspectors’ et al who usually have a vested interest in certain outcomes whilst escaping responsibility themselves), businesses are required to be compliant in two weeks time (not including Christmas holidays). As I was unsure of the impact on our business, I did some research, only to end up more confused the more people I talked to or texts I read. To save you, our valued customers, some of the pain, here are some of the findings. (If you know more, please give me a call or email):

  1. The size of the stick has increased. Penalties have increased substantially.
  2. Who can be hit with the stick has increased. You (a Manager, Business Owner, and employee) is responsible for anyone who is conducting work or present in your “workplace”.
  3. At the same time, WHSO’s (Workplace Health and Safety Officers) are no longer required. Instead, the “Senior Officer” is now the ultimate safety expert (another hat that it is assumed all business owners/managers can wear competently because, well, they run a business), and required to seek guidance from consultants, union representatives and others with WHS Entry Permits (who are advisors only, that is, not liable for any recommendations (or lack thereof), and have no cost benefit accountability).
  4. There is no grace period, and businesses must keep informed and act immediately on any OH&S risks. However, there is no obligation on legislators to distribute or make materials available. An example of where this comes unstuck is that if you go to the Qld Government’s own website and try to download the new Workplace Health & Safety Act 2011, you will find that it is password protected…
  5. Licensing for Earth Moving Equipment and particular cranes (including Gantry cranes) is no longer required. However, you (machine owner or person who allows someone to operate the machine) is now required to ensure the competency of the operator. Is that saying past operators were incompetent and that the issuers of the licenses who do so for a living knew less about this than you now need to?
  6. I tried to get a response from Crane Training Providers on what these new rules mean. Each business now “has to make a determination on whether each lift needs a Safe Work Method Statement or a certified Dogman to supervise the lift”. The “good” news is that the 5 day Dogmans course has a $1,000 rebate available until July 2012 paid by the Qld Disaster Recovery Fund, meaning you only pay about $2-300 per person. (Yes, that’s right, somehow it’s related to and funded by last years Qld disasters…). I guess someone forgot to Budget. No, silly me, it comes from that bottomless pot of Government money.
  7. Working from Heights requirements will cease to exist. They have now been replaced with a requirement to manage the risk of people falling, and apply to all businesses (not just construction). With no height specified or other guidelines, this now covers falling off a chair or any other object.
  8. More inspections and registers are required. All pallet racking will require regular inspection. We checked with our Racking provider how common a problem falling racking was, and we could not find one single reported injury from racking falling except for at the time it was hit. Having racking checked for static safety will therefore not improve safety one bit. An all workplaces constructed prior to 2004 must now have an Asbestos Register and Management Plan.
  9. There are no OH&S materials such as Manuals, Training courses etc available, because the laws are still being formulated. So the Safety Industry has nothing they can assist businesses with and don’t themselves know what to do to ensure we comply in two weeks time.


So in summary, the changes really are all about increased administration duties and passing on responsibility to people other than those in the safety industry or the person who actually gets injured. I couldn’t find anything that actually improved the safety or well being of our people (that’s up to us to find/develop). The legislation is now open to individual interpretation by each business depending on the specific dangers present and individuals’ opinions on what is the “safest” solution (I’m sure that after the fact an inspector could tell you what you did wrong). There is no Common Sense Provision. If I walk into a wall because I wasn’t looking where I was going, I can blame whoever was involved in putting it there, or didn’t stop me from doing so. And here I always thought that maybe I should have looked at where I was going.

All that’s been created is another legal mine field for businesses and more costs to help fund the safety industry and justify growing bureaucracies. It reminds me a bit of a debtor I’ve been chasing for over a year. He can’t spell or string a coherent sentence together, but thinks he knows his rights and is familiar with loopholes in avoiding payment because there are many avenues available for him to dodge his responsibilities. Now the same environment has been mirrored and made available to anyone who gets injured at work. Our Fence Post Turtles can sit on their posts and look down at us, probably thinking we got what we deserved for not doing anything to bring them back to the herd. Are businesses surrounded by incompetence? Surely it can’t just be me that’s confused and missing something? Feel free to help me out in these unchartered waters. Or if you feel strongly enough about this and want to make a difference, forward to all your friends.

As always, Onwards and Upwards!

Fred Carlsson