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Beware The Compliance Armchair Expert

on 14 Oct 2013 7:25 AM
Blog Category: Safety Blog

OHS/WHS Regulations are complex and wide in scope encompassing asbestos, hazardous substances, noise, plant and high risk work. The regulations are supported by compliance codes, guidance notes and Australian Standards which provide specific direction on issues such as storage and handling of dangerous goods; design of ladders, platforms and walkways; electrical testing and tagging; and lighting and ventilation.

At JTA we pride ourselves in keeping up to date with OHS+E/WHS legislation and conduct regular reviews to ensure we keep abreast of regulatory changes. Even with this process in place, it can be a challenge to remember intricate details of regulations, codes and other guidance and to always be confident in interpreting regulations which are unclear on specific issues.

This is rarely more than a temporary inconvenience, as we can either refer to our review documentation (online or via phone) or contact the authorities where we have established excellent contacts over more than 25 years of consultation. We have found that this is time well spent - it is always better to check rather than wing it where compliance standards are concerned.

At times we are confronted by statements on regulations that are clearly incorrect delivered with such confidence that they are awkward to remedy without upsetting the author. We have seen this recently on height safety, asbestos removal procedures, respiratory protection devices and dangerous goods management. In most cases, the incorrect interpretations “err on the side of caution” exaggerating OHS/WHS requirements (e.g. it is illegal to work from a ladder) and don’t create additional risk.

Sometimes the statement or misinterpretation (which may be representing an internal procedure as a regulation) is viewed as an acceptable means of achieving a safety gain– invoking the philosophy of “too much safety is never enough”. This may be an easy retort, quelling debate from the moral “high ground” and short circuiting the full assessment of risks and appropriate controls.

OHS/WHS Regulations provide for the assessment of ‘reasonably practicable’ controls with detailed guidance available on the assessment of what constitutes ‘reasonably practicable’ and the factors to be considered in that analysis. If we accept that the regulations (which are developed in a tripartite environment) represent an acceptable community standard, then it is overstepping the mark for OHS/WHS advisors to misrepresent them based on a personal preference, no matter how well intentioned that advice may be.

Furthermore, these sort of statements can be counterproductive:

  • By locking in responses that siphon resources from projects with a better risk reduction return
  • There may be ethical implications when the advisor stands to benefit, or could be seen to benefit, by over-cooking regulatory requirements
  • There are potentially negative consequences for the image of OHS/WHS where incorrect regulatory advice results in significant extra cost and inconvenience for insignificant or no risk reduction or blatantly non-productive or impracticable control measures.

If there is a safer or preferred approach it should always be communicated however, it needs to be identified as an opinion or an option and not a regulatory requirement. Few people would appreciate their mechanic misrepresenting an inventory of jobs for their car as legal requirements even if they are all a good idea. The great Tom Hafey who coached the AFL team Richmond to 5 grand final appearances always had the greatest patience with armchair experts offering their well-considered advice on coaching techniques and player moves in the pub after the game but he never based his decisions on them. Best to take a leaf from Tommy’s book: beware the armchair expert when it comes to the OHS/WHS regulations, no matter how confident they sound. Take the time to check and get it right.

Read about our OHS/WHS Compliance Audits or Outsourced OHS/WHS service

JTA Health, Safety & Noise Specialists can help you to ensure that you are fully compliant now and in the future. Call us on 1300 856 282 to discuss your particular needs.


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