A key lesson for OHS professionals which came out of the Royal
Commission into the Home Insulation Program is that where there are
ongoing concerns about safety – particularly as a result of
commercial pressures – these concerns should be escalated to
senior management and, in some cases, the Board, according to an
international law firm.
In business, there will often be tensions between the need to
meet commercial objectives and achieving a desirable approach to
safety, said Aaron Anderson, occupational, health, safety and
security partner at Norton Rose Fulbright Australia.
"It may not always be within the power or authority of
safety professionals to ensure the right decisions are made,"
"However, one of the lessons from the tragic outcomes of
the program with the loss of four lives is the importance of
ensuring change management incorporates an appropriate reassessment
Anderson, who acted for two families who lost a family member
while performing insulation work as part of the program, observed
that the Commission found that the Commonwealth sacrificed planning
for speed as there was a perceived immutable start date for the
program of 1 July 2009.
"This meant that safety critical controls that were
discussed during the early program development were
compromised," he said.
"These controls included doing away with mandatory
installer training and allowing low barriers to entry for
participants in the program which meant that organisations with no
previous insulation installation experience could register to be an
"As the Commissioner put to one of the witnesses during the
proceeding, one of the problems was the lack of frank and fearless
advice about the true risks of the program to Ministers."
Speaking ahead of a breakfast briefing on the issue, Anderson
said it became apparent very early on during the Royal Commission
proceedings that there was a very real conflict that existed
between meeting the policy objectives of the program.
"On the one hand the program was intended to inject $2.7
billion dollars into the Australian economy in a very short period
of time and this required a rapid roll out of the work," he
"On the other hand, it was estimated that insulation would
be installed in around 2.2 million homes and in order to achieve
this, in light of the knowledge that there would be a large
injection of unskilled workers in to the industry and potentially
unscrupulous businesses, careful planning and appropriate controls
One of the most startling admissions made during the Royal
Commission proceeding was that issues of installer safety was not a
risk to the Commonwealth, but was perceived to be a risk to the
people doing the work and the companies they were working for had
to control the risk, Anderson added.
"This approach resulted in installer safety been omitted
from the Commonwealth's risk register for the program, and this
omission was not brought to the attention of the Minister
responsible for the program delivery," he said.
"This was despite the repeated warnings given to the
Commonwealth about the risk of death or injury to
While the companies who were performing the work had statutory
responsibilities under state and territory work health and safety
laws, and a number of them were prosecuted under those laws, he
said the Commission found that the Commonwealth could not abrogate
its responsibility for identified risk and the omission of
installer safety from the risk register was one of the critical
factors in the less than adequate attention given to the
consideration of safety in the design and rollout of the
The Commission also found that there were failings at senior
management level that contributed to the failure of the project,
and those failings included not providing candid advice to
Ministers on key risk aspects of the program.
"These findings are an important reminder that
responsibility for safety in multi-party arrangements does not fall
on one party alone," said Anderson.
"Organisations must take steps to protect the safety of
people performing work to the extent they can influence or control
"While it seems from the evidence given during the Royal
Commission that the politicians involved were largely kept in the
dark in relation to critical safety information, Boards should
ensure that there are appropriate governance structures in place to
ensure timely and accurate reporting of safety critical information
to them and take steps to verify that they are being properly
informed of that information.
"By doing this, Boards will be in a position to make
informed decisions that ensure safety is not compromised by the
organisation in the pursuit of commercial objectives," he
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