Interview: ABC National OH&S Advisor,
Peter Clancy: 10th March 2003
Peter Clancy is the National OH&S Advisor at ABC
(for all Divisions (13) including those concerned
with publishing and broadcasting Television, Radio,
New Media and Enterprises). Peter is also on
the Screen Production Safety Review Committee that
is currently reviewing and updating the main media
industry safety document Occupational Risk Management
in the Australian Film and Television Industry
Draft National Safety Guidelines.
sits down with Greg Tingle to discuss what ABC is
doing to keep ahead of the pack on OH&S concerns.
What parts of the OH&S jurisdiction most affects
you and your staff at the ABC?
The ABC is a Commonwealth Statutory Authority. We
are primarily under Commonwealth legislation and that
legislation lacks the extensive personal and corporations
sanctions and fines that exist, say, in the recent
What this means in practice is that it is hard to
use the big stick approach to get managers
and employees to comply with legislation, regulations,
codes of practice and the like. It means having use
your influence alone, to manage the inter-divisional
relationships, in order to achieve good safety outcomes
for the ABC. It means working hard, as I am presently
doing to have OH&S KPIs put into the job plans
of managers and other staff so that they can be measured
against them in their annual assessments. This may
become even more critical given that there is a very
recent view in legal circles that State legislation
in all states and territories in which the ABC operates
in Australia, might very well apply to the ABC. This
raises a whole new set of challenges, given the extra
a micro level, the effect of new technology on say,
newsgathering and editing (journalists and crews)
brings new roles, new systems of work, new hazards
being identified , new controls having to be put in
place. Roles of Journalists for example, are changing.
They are multi-skilling across a number of mediums
(Radio, TV, Internet / Intranet / New Media). Some
journalists embrace those changes and some resist
those changes. Managers have to be able to safely
manage those changes. Journalists also work in a variety
of contexts - in the office, in the field, overseas,
in hostile environments, often under limited direct
supervision. - so its a moot point as to what
parts of the OH&S jurisdiction most affects me
and the ABC staff . Another big area of hazards and
potential risks to all ABC employees is in the
area of Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS)
through poor posture, poor workstation design / ergonomics,
poor systems of work including too few breaks with
too long hours as well as poor management controls
to minimize the risk.
is worthwhile noting that the ABC is currently seeking
to upgrade the level of OH&S knowledge that exists
throughout the ABC both in its operational and in
its support services. One of those areas of knowledge
targeted is ergonomics and safe systems of work.
What areas do you see room for improvement in the
There needs to be one set of rules nationally for
all Australians instead of multiple jurisdictions.
At present there are varying levels of proof and sanctions
and in some states e.g. Victoria was recently
attempting to introduce the charge of industrial
manslaughter. Jurisdictions take very different
approaches to the law and its enforcement.
- Employers need to ensure that they are doing the
right thing on a daily basis. There is always the
temptation for management throughout Australian businesses
to try save on costs by not properly assessing and
controlling OH&S risks.
What type of issues come up most often for both office
based, and field based journalists and TV presenters?
Different contexts throw up very different types of
risks as well as those common to all.. Sometimes managers
and employees dont embrace the need to properly
identify, assess, control as well as monitor and review
those OH&S risks. Risk assessment is very important
and often it needs to be done by the very people who
may be injured i.e. dynamic risk assessment
for example a (non-ABC) journalist was recently
knocked down and injured by a police horse at a protest
the risk if possible - If you can cover an event e.g.
a bushfire from long range, rather than being right
in the middle of it, then that is a much safer approach.
If you choose to have staff go closer to a fire then
ensure that there is a safe system of work in place,
including risk assessments, Personal Protective Equipment
(PPE) and training.
long distances and working alone in regional Australia
is another set of risks for some ABC employees.
and crews in hostile environments may be tempted
to take risks to get a story. Often they may be relying
on imperfect information and sometimes have been lucky
that that no one got hurt. Other (non-ABC) journalists
in Afghanistan have not been so lucky some deaths
have recently been working towards superior risk assessment
in hostile environments (e.g. war zones). This is
very important that this be done properly to minimize
the exposure to serious injury and death. Its
important to remember that although the ABC has a
fixed budget and is basically a non-profit making
organization, it does need to spend money to ensure
the safety of our staff. And we do. [It is worth noting
that subsequent to this interview, that ABC journalists
and crews were pulled out of Baghdad to eliminate
their risk of death and injury. Unfortunately, about
a week later a camera person Paul Moran was intentionally
killed in Northern Iraq by a suicide bomber driving
a taxi near him.]
journalists will work long hours it is still
part of the industry ethos if a story needs
to be finished by a deadline, it gets done.
Management needs to remind staff to look after themselves
e.g. tell staff to work reasonable hours, have regular
breaks and stretches. On occasion, ABC will do a buy-out.
This means we will build in a percentage, say 25%
into their salary, for the extra time and effort a
certain project will take. This also sets a cap
on the expectation as to the amount of overtime that
they could be expected to do on a regular basis and
so provides a disincentive to work excessive overtime.
What new measures have you employed, if any, given
the recent survey that MEAA reported, on levels of
stress at News Limited, and does the ABC have these
type of problems?
The survey has not been brought to my attention by
the MEAA and I am very much of the opinion that journalists
alone do not own stress. The ABC has carried out its
own survey in the past and monitors its health through
the Employee Assistance Program statistics.
stress is certainly part of the media business and
is of particular importance, given strict deadlines
for some tasks e.g. news on the hour. Some staff thrive
on varying levels of stress. But too much stress
i.e. beyond individual tolerance is not a good thing.
In our organization, we do more than lip service
to issues like stress, and we encourage our employees
to have balance between work and family and have operational
policies on that area of employees lives. We
also encourage them to manage their work and not to
do everything at the last minute.
do acknowledge that stress is a very real issue in
the media business. The amount of stressors that exists
varies from department to department and from individual
ABC does, where it can, offer flexible working hours,
working from home, flexible returns to work from maternity
leave to assist employees to obtain and maintain that
balance. There is now more flexibility than ever before
in the ABC. Ideas as to flexibility are discussed
and sometimes attempted if they are do-able.
The flexible working hours have been well received.
If you do a proper analysis for a flexible proposal
you often find that there are flexibilities that do
exist and both parties may benefit form such an agreed
ABC has an Employee Assistance Program
run by Corpsych. It is there to assist,
employees, managers and their families to deal the
challenges that life throws at us all. They can provide
a toolkit of skills to help employees
deal with stress and other issues. It is annually
used by approximately 6.4 % of staff.
Staff and immediate family members can have at least
3 free visits to a trained psychologist. Some may
be referred on to other professional help providers
if need be.
example, the EAP was promoted to staff and their families
when the ABC sent employees to Timor in the crisis.
It allows employees and their families to anonymously
access help. When the ABC recently did a culture
survey using Corpsych , EAP usage increased,
perhaps because of the increased exposure to Corpsych.
staff correspondence with Corpsych is totally confidential.
However, statistics are provided to the ABC and these
can be used to assess the general health of the ABC
as well as providing access to figures broken down
by Division or staff type. We can look
for hot spots in the ABC whether this is in a general
location or identifies specific problem descriptions
(types) and their linkage to specific roles. The ABC
does a pretty good job of managing stress, in a stressful
The ABC being a Government regulated authority is
in somewhat of a unique position, compared to other
networks what does this mean as far as policy
being implemented, and the potential of future OH&S
issues going legal?
We are covered by ComCare, being a Commonwealth Government
Organisation. As mentioned previously, both National
and State OH&S laws may have application to the
ABC. Further, given that the ABC has a very good reputation
for accuracy, lack of bias, seeking out the truth
without fear or favor and being a good corporate citizen,
that also needs to reflected in its own safe systems
What main concerns do you have with ABCs OH&S
We need to keep ensuring staff have a high level of
awareness of policies and procedures. Our Human
Resources division is largely responsible for communicating
the information throughout the organization.
There are still some gaps in the policy mix and we
are working at developing not only policies but safe
systems of work. Safe systems of work need to be developed
locally to fit staff and managers in their
there is still too much gray operationally
- At the moment it is still up to individuals to do
the right thing rather than specific and identified
management and staff responsibilities and accountabilities
being the norm. We are attempting to address that
there is still too much silo-like activity
different Divisions and groups acting in isolation
rather than through integration. For example, the
Property Department will look after their section,
HR its section and Procurement its section. The risk
is then that things fall between the cracks and resources
are not always used efficiently. This has been
targeted for change through the recent development
of an OH&S strategy to improve the ABCs
OH&S Management System.
ABC has OH&S in its induction programs, when new
staff join the organization and when contractors and
visitors come onto our sites.
as a result of some stalking incidents, the war and
the threat of terrorism is now more highly visible
in the organization.
are becoming more pro active and we also building
upon our relationship with our regulator, Comcare.
We are getting more staff thinking that prevention
is better than cure. There are more formal but practical
risk assessments being done than ever before. We still
have a long way to go.
uses an audit tool SafetyMap that
was used in 2002 to audit NewsCaff in NSW; Production
Resources in Victoria; Radio in Queensland. These
have identified areas of improvement that are needed
and these have been included in the OH&S strategy
we were developing.
What parts of Comcares policy do you believe
Unions electing Health and Safety Representatives.(HSRs).
Fewer than 40% of employees are in the union at present.
Unions actual run the elections yet represent less
than 40% of staff. Often they cannot find HSRs
to cover our Designated Work Groups (DWGs). This part
of the system needs changes to the legislation.
the Commonwealth legislations lack of bite
through personal responsibility and accountability
is a serious flaw. It needs to move closer to, say,
the NSW model.
If you could change anything about the OH&S guidelines,
what would it be?
The law needs to be more hard-hitting. If the
policy is not being complied to, the person responsible
needs to be identified, all the way up to Director
level. If there is serious non-compliance, those
responsible should be able to be fined and jailed.
In your many years in the media business, what is
the worst case of OH&S you have seen or heard
We have had a death in Sydney. We had a cameraman
fall off the top of a stationary vehicles roof,
when it was hit from behind by another vehicle. [We
have now just had another death of a cameraman in
Iraq.] However, a bad OOS injury is not a pretty sight.
Is stress in the workplace a big problem at ABC, and
what is ABC doing about it?
As outlined elsewhere.
Do you have an opinion you would like share regarding
the possibility of employees faking, or overstating
stress in the workplace?
Stress in the media business like in other businesses
can be very real. Of course the opportunity
is always there for someone to fake it, which is why
investigation is so important to workers compensation
claims. EAP statistics can also help to identify systemic
areas of stress in the organization, although the
presenting symptoms may not always be the real problem
e.g. home life may be the real problem. The EAP can
assist employees and their families wherever the stress
might raise its head.
a different vein, the ABC has in some traineeship
interviews used personality type questions to attempt
to identify if there is an alignment between the culture
of the ABC and the personality and aspirations of
the applicant / interviewee. Ideally the
organization and the employee should be a good fit.
However, these sorts of tests are the exception and
not the rule in the ABC.
What else would you like to make public knowledge
on OH&S in relation to ABC?
The ABC is raising the bar on OH&S
performance in our many and varied workplaces.
We have carried out a number of steps, like internal
audits, and are now attempting to fill the gaps in
our OH&S Management System. Risk assessment
is a growing area of activity across a range of tasks.
are now doing an OH&S Module in the ABCs
Frontline Management Initiative (FMI) which is better
equipping our managers to manage OH&S in a very
busy business with finite resources. This is a beginning
not the end.
the pointy end we are risk assessing
hostile environments including bio-chemical, chemical
and radiation weapons we dont send
Journalists to Bagdad without proper training and
equipment. If the situation gets too heavy over there,
we will our crews back out. We try to ensure that
plans are in place for each eventuality in a hostile
environment including a loss of communication (satellite
phones) e.g. the Americans jamming the satellites
for military advantage.
are in place for dynamic risk assessment to monitor
the danger to crews in hostile environments e.g. We
need more than one person signing off a risk assessment
if they want someone to stay in Baghdad. There is
a comprehensive checklist with a scoring system, and
if the risks are too high, staff are directed to leave
the danger zone. Staff are comprehensively educated
as to the hazards, and the Management shall make the
safety decisions by following a strict procedure.
The story is secondary to staff safety. We would rather
they come back to Australia alive.
sum up, the ABC is a good employer to 4,500 people.
It also engages many contractors and also has many
visitors to its sites every year. It also participates
in its own and others public events e.g jjj
Unearhed and the RAS Sydney
Easter Show are just two examples of many.
better address the risks that exist in its day to
day activities the ABC is presently in the process
of becoming much more systematic in the areas of Risk
Management and OH&S. As you can imagine the challenge
in such a diverse set of ABC workplaces is large and
requires the application of multiple resources. Already
the ABC has won an Award in the Risk Management field
as well as in the Training field. It wouldnt
surprise me if it won a major OH&S Award within
the next 5 years. The ABC survives as a robust institution,
and being a survivor, with the ABCs internal
and external operating environment, is not an accident!
Broadcasting Corporation official website
Man Australia: ABC Profile
ABC Journalist dies in Iraq on the 23rd March 2003
journalist mourned - The Age - 25th March 2003