From the silent voice of death come the soundest lessons in life

EMPLOYER OF THE YEAR ....

                             AND THE WINNER IS ...

                                                          What the ...?

2 JANUARY 2008 - ANDREA MADELEY

The 2007 SafeWork Awards were presented during a rather exceptional gala dinner held at the Adelaide Convention Centre on the 2nd November 2007.

I have to say, I could count on one finger how many times I've been out to any kind of formal function in the last few years.  Since my son's death I've become rather recluse in terms of social interaction, but I was keen to see what an event like this entailed - how it would be conducted ... and very importantly, who the winners would be.  

First of all - the venue was marvellous.  The food ... well given that I don't often adorn restaurants, I felt totally spoiled with such divine offerings.  It was done really well and there was an absolute buzz in the air as everyone gathered in the foyer for pre-dinner drinks and a chat.  I'd guess there would have been close to 1000 people and I could see Michele Patterson running around making sure everything ran like clockwork.  She captained the ship with great pride - clearly this was an important evening to the team who take charge of safety in the workplace.

The master of ceremonies for the evening was none other than the gorgeous Rosanna Mangiarelli from Adelaide's Channel 7 (Today Tonight).  The Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister Michael Wright was of course there to say a few words and also partake in the awards presentations.  Yes, I guess this was it...the people here were to represent the safest workplaces in our state.  

The Lifetime Achievement Award for Occupational Health and Safety went to the late Jack Watkins.  His role in raising awareness of the dangers of working with asbestos had been set in stone here tonight.  How tragic that he died before being able to accept this great honour.  From what I could gather, he was an icon - very highly respected.  I didn't know that man...but I sure would have liked to.

The Best Workplace Health and Safety Management System Award was taken out by Santos Ltd. Okay - I will say here that I had a slightly odd feeling in my stomach when I heard this name read out for reasons I will explain shortly.  Having said that - I accept that when a company makes great headway in implementing better OHS systems where injuries are reduced by a substantial 45% - there certainly deserves to be recognition for that.  

Another award I found worthy of note was the Best Solution to an Identified Workplace Health and Safety Issue - this was awarded to OneSteel for a rather ingenious design of a portable stand that allowed the safe manoeuvring of a massive steel hook to be positioned without safety issues.  The video footage was shown of the 120kg hook being placed on the stand by a crane.  Footage like this allows us to see just how dangerous some industry is.  Everything is exaggerated in size and weight ... that hook, Lord if that mother rolled or fell ... and so a great example of some forward thinking.  

The two awards I was most interested in were the Best Workplace Health and Safety Practices in Small Business and Employer of the Year.

I don't know how many entrants were in each category but one day soon I'm going to see if I can find out.  An Adelaide restaurant took out the small business award - Vino Ristorante.  It's a great testament to a small business with all the pressure that comes with running small business that this employer placed enough value on his workers to keep them (and the customers) safe from harm.  

Like I said, I don't know how many entrants there were - it's a shame more of them were not mentioned.  Small Business by far outnumbers the large and medium sized.  This is really where I would love to see some extra recognition.    

Now the big one - Employer of the Year - and you could have knocked me over with a feather when they announced that the decision came down to the wire and there would be joint winners - The Hardy Wine Company and Santos Ltd.

Wow...is this the same Santos Ltd that is, at this very moment, fighting hand tooth and nail in our industrial courts on a technicality relating to charges laid against them under Section 19's Duty of care?  Hmmm, I do believe this 'would' be the same company.  

I found it really difficult to comprehend that a company could be in the midst of charges laid by this very department and the Crown's legal office - with charges of negligence...a failure to maintain a safe work environment and be awarded the top honour in Occupational Health and Safety?

The bar plummeted to the ground at that moment.  Isn't the whole idea of this awards system to recognise a truly brilliant safety culture with astounding records of safety over a period of time?  Does this safety culture not also encompass the mind-set of the management who make the decision to either load up lawyers with money in order to fight charges - or not?

Are they guilty of negligence - of failing their duty of care?  Oh truly - who knows.  We'll need to wait a while on that because there's been enough money thrown at a 'loop hole' in the wording of S19 all the way to the Supreme Court.  The company (in conjunction with Diemould Tooling) has appealed the decision made by the 5 senior magistrates in the Industrial Court...so obviously they're not taking 'no' for an answer.  

It never ceases to amaze me - the mind-set of people that claim to be noble in their intention and yet actions always speak louder than words.  If you want to get off any criminal charge, find a good lawyer that can make it go away via a loop hole.  

There's more though...and perhaps this is a case of 'let bygones be bygones' but I suspect there's be a family or two out there who might still have some very fresh and raw memories of burying one of their own as a result of this company's negligence.  It was only in 2003 that Santos Ltd. were found guilty of breaches to the OHS&W Act - a man died and another suffered serious burns in an explosion.

Could you imagine the furore if Father of the Year was a convicted drunk driver who had killed a child - and was fighting a technicality in the courts on another drink driving charge?  Or if we had an Australian of the Year awarded to a suspected terrorist?  Indeed...only in the world of big business can we be so quickly placated ... where the wrongs that cause death and heartache are forgotten like they never happened.

I sat in stunned silence.  Maybe I am just cynical and bitter these days.  It was time for me to go home.  

My sincere thanks to the organisers for their kind invitation to what surely is a wonderful celebration of achievement.  I just think someone got it very wrong where it most counted.  There should only have been one winner for Employer of the Year.

Also - I was a little disappointed that there was no mention or a moment of thought to the workers who have either lost their life or suffered serious injuries during the course of their employment.  It didn't need to be long winded or depressing, just acknowledgement for those who have paid such a terrible price for job.



RECOGNISING HIGH ACHIEVERS IN THE WORKPLACE