When VOID was formed in May 2006, the first department to make contact with the group was the newly formed SafeWork SA (formerly known as Work Place Services).
We met at Parliament House with the then IND MP Nick Xenophon and some of the department's delegates about a week after the media activity on the groups formation to discuss the issues VOID group members were having to cope with.
The immediate problem appeared to be a lack of feedback from the department as to what these families could expect from the system and investigation. It seemed some people had inspectors that made some effort to keep the family updated and others were not so fortunate. Sometimes family members were persistent and sometimes they just couldn't find the strength to keep following up on this kind of things.
The department had concerns of its own - the intrusion into someone's personal grief is not an easy decision to make. The other questions surrounding just 'when' is the right time to make contact were also raised.
The department had a keen desire to correct the issues but dealing with a grieving family was never going to slot in with the one-shoe-fits-all approach. It requires a more personal approach.
At times the best point of contact may not be the next of kin...it may well be a sibling or parent of the deceased worker who is best kept informed - and who can then pass on information to the rest of the family.
We discussed at some length different ways this could be addressed.
One of the first ideas presented by SafeWork SA was to develop an information booklet for families affected by a workplace death. Earlier in 2007 VOID was sent a draft copy of the planned booklet and it looked quite comprehensive and very helpful.
There are now two publications aimed at raising the level of procedure awareness available to families, co workers and employers. SafeWork SA has kindly allowed VOID to include them on this website.
Another thing VOID thought would be of great assistance was a Liaison officer specifically for the purpose of updating and answering questions and advising families with regard to where their case is and how it is progressing through the channels. Our understanding is / was that the department requested funding for such a person but this has never eventuated.
It has become evident that whilst the department has made some effort to improve liaison with families of workers killed in the workplace, the primary issue facing the department is that it must appear neutral in its position. In other words, SafeWork SA can not be seen to be overtly providing information and support to one party over another (the business).
This being the case, VOID sees that true advocacy must come from within our organisation and this will require further negotiations.
Please watch this space for further updates.
Last Update: 16 August 2010