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SA Ombudsman vindicates LRTAV safety complaint

‘National issue’ sees SafeWork SA told to apologise over Mt Gambier saleyard response


The South Australian Ombudsman has recommended the state’s safety watchdog provide a written apology for failing to investigate Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria’s (LRTAV) complaints last year about serious shortfalls at the Mount Gambier saleyards.

Though SafeWork SA (SWSA) was undergoing a departmental transfer at the time, the ombudsman, Wayne Lines, finds the agency “acted in a manner that was wrong within the meaning of section 25(1)(g) of the Ombudsman Act in failing to conduct a thorough investigation”.

It failed to properly consider the issuing of a prohibition notice and closed the file before modifications to a ramp were completed.

The LRTAV came to SWSA with a report alleging unsafe loading and unloading infrastructure at the District Council of Grant-controlled Mount Gambier & District Saleyard in February 2018.

The lack of adequate response saw LRTAV safety committee chairman and immediate past president Mick Debenham to seek an investigation.

Lines also recommends SWSA:

  • review and implement existing policies to ensure that they provide guidance and clarity to SWSA inspectors as to when to issue Improvement Notices and when to issue Prohibition Notices, including a requirement for inspectors to make a record giving reasons for the adequacy of compliance directions
  • stipulate in relevant policies that, where an improvement notice requires an Action Plan, the full implementation, rather than the creation of an Action Plan (or similar requirement), is considered as complying with an Improvement Notice
  • provide training on the policy to relevant staff
  • in collaboration with the Department of Treasury and Finance senior staff, create a new SWSA agency complaint handling policy that fully complies with the Australian Standard, AS/NZS 10002:2014 and with DPC Circular 039 – Complaint Management in the South Australian Public Sector.
  • incorporate into the new SWSA agency complaint handling policy a clear requirement that reasons must be given in writing for a decision made at the conclusion of an investigation of a complaint, or of an agency initiated investigation of a matter.

Read SafeWork NSW’s warning on cattle loading in response to a fatality, here

Debenham acknowledges the ombudsman’s vindication of the LRTAV’s position but remains concerned that the issues raised are a national problem that is failing to be addressed.

He repeats to ATN his comments to Lines on the provisional report that “regulators for safety in the workplace, right across Australia, have no real understanding of handling and particularly loading and unloading of livestock and the hazards and associated risks of this complex task”.

This comes despite the 2015 publication of the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) Guide for Safe Design of Livestock Loading Ramps and Forcing Yards, aimed specifically at helping to address this issue.

“It’s disappointing that we had to go to that stage,” he tells ATN.

“At the end of the day, we just want people to be safe. It’s just unfortunate that sometimes you have to take these steps to try and help your cause.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed with the support we’ve had so far.”

He notes he is in the midst of a national survey of conditions and risks in livestock transport and handling.

The “quite alarming” responses so far have revealed warnings going unheeded and near-misses being described as happening “daily” and “all the time”.

“The unfortunate reality is that we are fortunate that we’ve got such highly skilled people that do our job,” Debenham says.

“It’s the skill level that’s keeping them alive, not the facilities that they are using.”

He also notes that of the 70 injuries requiring medical attention that the survey reveals, only 30 per cent have been reported to WorkSafe authorities.

“It’s something we’ve been trying to get sorted out for a long time but we just never seem to get anywhere because people don’t take it seriously or don’t understand what we’re trying to explain,” he says.

The findings come 18 months after an incident at the council-owned yards, regularly encountered in livestock transport there and elsewhere, when a ramp had no barrier to stop cattle turning around and charging drivers herding them on board trucks.

After a meeting involving representatives of the council, the Livestock & Rural Transporters Association of South Australia (LRTASA), the LRTAV and SWSA following which the council resolved to fix three ramps before July 2018.

Without informing the LRTAV, the SWSA then issued the council with four confidential improvement notices to council staff, including the saleyard management.

Despite SWSA staff reporting all improvement notices had been complied with, a truck driver and LRTVA member was hospitalised following November in an incident at Ramp C.

This led to an LRTVA complaint to SWSA six days later but, despite this and despite being informed that improvements on the ramps had failed to be undertaken, the SWSA lifted a prohibition notice on Ramp C six weeks later.

In its response to the ombudsman’s provisional report, the SWSA cast the problem under the Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act) as one for “persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs), workers, officers and others” primarily and its role being “to enforce compliance with the legislation by assisting duty holders and the public in ensuring safe workplaces for all”, particularly the council.

It went on to downplay the LRTVA’s concerns, stating: “The extension of the LRTA Victoria’s comments […] that the likelihood of harm every time is 100% does not appear to follow the hazard identification and risk management process as outlined above.

“From this understanding. LRTA members would refuse to use any cattle ramp that does not meet the association’s requirements. This is not the intention of a risk management approach to dealing with hazards and risk.

“Further, it is clear that within the industry, there is a significant number of cattle trucks unloaded without incident. It is flawed to determine that the likelihood of harm every time is 100%.”

As the SA Ombudsman was examining SWSA actions, he declined to make recommendations related to other jurisdictions.

Comment has been sought from Grant district council.

The full report can be found here.


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