The 2010 Safety in Action Conference, organised by Australian Exhibitions & Conferences , will this year feature a presentation by WorkSafe Victoria director, Stan Krpan, on how safety professional should take advantage of the harmonisation of Australia's OHS laws on workplace safety.
During his presentation at the Melbourne Convention Centre, Mr Krpan will offer some pointed suggestions and report on Victoria's progress towards the National OHS Strategy's 2012 targets.
"It's time to convert the energy from the controversy of the harmonisation debate into making better safety outcomes," says Krpan.
Many of those in the audience will be members of peak OHS professional body, the Safety Institute of Australia, which is presenting the Conference, and Mr Krpan says they should be confident that Australians now put a higher value on OHS.
"Now is the time to start preparing for the introduction of the new OHS laws. The indicators are that the economy is recovering and when business begins to invest again, it should be in safe outcomes. This has an enormous impact on attracting the right workers."
Mr Krpan attributes the growing awareness of workplace safety to WorkSafe Victoria's social marketing and repositioning of inspectors' roles. While workplace safety is yet to gather the same media attention as motor vehicle accidents, Mr Krpan says WorkSafe Victoria's advertising campaigns have been effective.
The redefinition of inspectors' roles, which began in 2001, also lowered workplace injuries.
“An inspector is someone who can help and, ultimately, enforce the law. The effectiveness of enforcement by inspectors is gauged by whether people take action in response.
"Hardly any business WorkSafe comes across today is unaware of what we do but, in 2001, the role of the inspector was ambiguous; people didn't even expect us to enforce the law,” says Krpan.
During last years harmonisation debate, some employer groups argued that the threat of prosecution could stifle workplace safety, claims Mr Krpan has denied.
“All courts understand that fixing a problem is not an admission of guilt and it's only ever an issue in a very small number of cases. A regulator may come in after an incident and require action to be taken, but employers should not defer making safety improvements fearing they could jeopardise their legal position," he says.
While Mr Krpan concedes the court system fell outside the scope of OHS harmonisation, the national enforcement and compliance policy based on Victorian Department of Public Prosecution guidelines would bring greater uniformity to the regulators' approach.
He also says the drafts of the 100 or so model regulations that direct specific areas of workplace safety, such as work at heights, will be completed midway through 2010.
Although harmonisation of Australia’s workplace safety laws revealed deep passions in the community, Mr Krpan is optimistic about the timetable for reform.
The Safety in Action Conference will be held by the Safety Institute of from April 20 to 22 at the Melbourne Convention Centre. Mr Krpan will speak on April 22.