Killing Worksafe – state government dumbness goes epic.

Worksafe is dead.

Worksafe old adForget the millions spent on building a brand that was recognised immediately across the state.

Forget the strategies that have made Victoria the clear leader among the states on cutting injuries and fatalities for years. (source)

Victoria workplace injury statistics

Worksafe was a brilliant invention. By combining the regulator of workplace safety with the insurer, the economic incentives are all aligned. The company wants to reduce injuries, keep its customers happy and get the ill and injured back to work.

It’s a revolutionary piece of policy-making (mirrored in the design of the Transport Accident Commission, which has helped bring automobile accidents down to their lowest level in history, and among the best in the world.)

A huge part of the job of Worksafe is raising awareness of dangers in workplaces.

This is why Worksafe spent big bucks using proper advertising agencies and sponsors the Western Bulldogs. We are all familiar with its very successful advertising campaigns.

Awareness is enormously important in promoting safety and Worksafe has always used free publicity too. Whenever a prosecution or fatality happened, Worksafe would put out a press release, and papers would report on it.

Worksafe could not prosecute every little business with a safety breach. Amplifying successful prosecutions creates the impression firms face legal risks if they do not focus on safety. Worksafe would also issue a press release whenever a worker was killed or seriously injured at work. This served to keep workplace safety in the news.

But then.

In late 2013, the Hon Gordon Rich-Phillips, minister in charge of Worksafe, must have spotted one of these stories in the newspaper. Was Worksafe “anti-business”? Things changed.

The honourable member is an aviation enthusiast.
The honourable member is an amateur aviation enthusiast.

Since then, Worksafe’s media strategy has transformed.

Worksafe issued 41 press releases in the first part of 2013. They did not stint on death and blood and gore, or big whopping fines.
But 2014 is extremely sanitised.
A change of tune
A change of tune

And it’s not as if there was nothing newsworthy. For example, at a factory owned by the company that makes Kettle chips and CCs, a man was dragged into a conveyor belt and lost his arm above the the elbow. That resulted in a $45,000 fine in February.

The organisation that was a world-leading innovator in public policy is no longer free to run in the best interests of workers and its own insurance scheme. It now dances to the tune of the government.

The Age wrote about the minister’s meddling in March. Advertising contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars have been thrown into jeopardy.

Now new ads have hit the papers with the name Worksafe nowhere to be seen.


“The important work that we do across Victoria is much broader than just safety, so using our legal name – VWA – better reflects all areas of our business” – the press release.

Changing your brand when you’ve spent so much on it will make your organisation less effective.

People are already confused about the difference between the Victorian Workcover Authority and Worksafe. (They are the same. The former is the legal name of the organisation. The latter was an effective brand designed to reinforce the idea the organisation should be more dynamic and less bureaucratic .)

Emasculating this powerful and effective brand will mean more injuries. Workers will suffer, and so will business owners who do the right thing and keep their workplaces safe. They will have to pay higher premiums to cover compensation for the injured and dead.

Worksafe’s creative communications: Spare parts vending machine. [source]
That a good strategy and a powerful brand can be eliminated on a whim of a minister speaks of an anti-intellectual approach in the Coalition party-room. The state government ought to be ashamed.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

5 thoughts on “Killing Worksafe – state government dumbness goes epic.”

  1. I thought I’d copy in the comments made on Reddit, for interest’s sake.


    There must be some reprehensible c*nts out there.

    If one of my workers went home injured I couldn’t live with myself knowing I hadn’t done everything in my power to stop it from happening. One of my waiters got a call mid service that her boyfriend had fallen off a roof at work. He was found unconscious by someone else on site. His boss insisted on not calling an ambulance and driving him to the hospital, telling him to say he was working at home and fell to avoid worksafe.

    Of course he told his boss to get fucked, was threatened with his job, the boss told his workmates that the company would close and they would lose their jobs if he ‘dobbed them in’.

    Fucking cowboys, what’s human life fucking worth?


    Cowboy chippy got apprentices to handle the removal of asbestos. It’d be better to just fess up, state that they don’t have a licence, and get the client to get someone else to remove it. Instead of getting 16 year olds to hammer it out while wearing disposable painting masks…


    That kind of shit just makes me angry.

    Happens all the time mate. Worksafe don’t care and as for the chippy, he is not a cowboy. He is a murderer.


    Worksafe don’t care
    That is bullshit. Maybe the case now, but certainly was not in the past.

    Tip of the iceberg. This is a common occurrence and Worksafe know all about it. The Occupational Health and Safety Act means nothing to Worksafe and The Chief Executive fails to recognize the Principles and Objects of the Act. I have the proof with her signature attached. Perhaps I should go public but I don’t know the formal process. Any Ideas?

    Step one – speak to a lawyer –

    Thanks mate, been through the whole process right up to prosecutor. We have a govt that does not recognize the act. and a regulator that has been instructed to look the other way.

    Hey, there’s a program operating that works!
    Let’s fix it.

    I worry it’s more like. “How many people in Senior Management roles have been injured? That few. Obviously this isn’t needed.”
    The costs of safety are high, and with the changes coming to unemployment benefits, the cost of new workers is going to go down. It’s good for $$$ to break employees and replace them when they are broken.
    As for medical costs of people who are injured… well, Medicare and Bulk Billing is still there… right?

    I get that, hence my sarcasm.

    You mean when they scrapped target 155 six months in?

    Last Wednesday, almost a week ago I sent an email to Worksafe requesting an inspector come to a site in Flemington. The situation is an unsafe workplace due to gravitational hazards and electricity. The hazards are high risk and I have done my risk assessments based on consequential modeling. It is a similar situation to the wall that collapsed opposite 500 Swanston St some time ago only this there are 500 personnel at risk. I provide a comprehensive description of the hazard and I have received an email telling me that my request is being appraised.

    [–]Anthony_John_Abbott 2 points 16 hours ago
    Which sounds entirely correct ?


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