Secretary's Report

Miner story about the major implications of safety talk

What does `Safety talk’ sound like? 

Since we spoke to members in the last edition of the TPAV Journal, Victoria Police has released its new Safety Strategy. I was proud to attend the launch on behalf of our members. 

We must give credit where it is due. When an organization `plans’ to act on safety it has a better chance of taking effect.

Todd Russell, one of the three miners trapped in the Beaconsfield Mine for two weeks after it collapsed in 2006, nearly a kilometer below the surface, was the event’s keynote speaker. He was an apt choice. 

Listening to his unique and insightful perspective about what it was like to be trapped, the desperate measures the men employed to survive and their stoic attitude throughout the ordeal was in equal parts confronting and inspiring.  

I am sure that inside that conference room, filled with police members of all ranks and experience, each and every one of us was imagining ourselves in the position of those trapped miners, covered by rocks, isolated and terrified by the unknown.

Todd’s story was compelling too for another reason. 

He spoke about how the cause of the disaster was often likened to a small earthquake, a naturally occurring disaster. Todd disagreed, saying the warnings of he and fellow miners about structural weaknesses and safety concerns were not heeded by management.   

He talked about how too many ‘crown pillars’, the structural elements of a mine that keep it from collapsing, had been removed.  The mine was “groaning” before the collapse, a final audible warning of what was to come.

“If you remove too many of the pillars in this room what do you think will happen?” he asked the assembly of police. 

It was a stark and simple analogy that immediately resonated.

It is hard to understand how the voices of workers calling out safety concerns are often ignored or overlooked in workplaces. The consequences can be catastrophic and irreversible.

People at the coal face of a situation instinctively know what is unsafe. They call out safety.

It can sound like whinging or whining, sometimes it sounds like cynicism. But, this is what safety talk sounds like in a big ealizedion.

But sometimes safety talk stops because people feel like those that should be listening have stopped, at times because the task seems unfixable or the solution too difficult to implement. At times, good people, workers and managers alike, can stop talking safety or turn a blind eye to risks just to keep things moving.

Policing is a lot like mining.  It’s risky, the ground is always shifting, and those doing the work always see the warning signs first.

Our members are often heard engaging in `safety talk’, talking about risks and problems that impede them from doing the job they are employed to do. 

“We don’t have enough people at this station…. As a 251 I never have a partner rostered…We don’t get enough training… There are never enough back up units rostered to meet demand…. We don’t have the right equipment to safely get the job done…Don’t bother reporting resource issues on HR Assist because nothing will change...”

Have you heard this sort of safety talk in your police workplace?  Have you seen corners cut because safety talk has become white noise? I know that we have. 

For me, Todd’s experience simply affirms why we should never stop talking safety simply because the problem is big or because people have stopped listening. The consequences of doing nothing can only be ealized in the aftermath of tragedy.

In the course of our job people get hurt. It might be dramatic and catastrophic like an assault or injury at a scene, or gradual and slow like mental health injury.  

If you are one of our members entrusted with the privilege of supervising or managing others, you should never stop listening or allow safety talk to become white noise.  Reinforce the crown pillars before they buckle.

We will keep on talking up the issues that need to be fixed in policing on your behalf, but each of us must also be accountable in our respective roles in the workplace as well. Make no mistake, the most important part of any safety strategy or plan is to make sure safety talk happens and that people listen and act when it does.      

Police Assistance Line

For the first time last month I rang a local police station and was met with a new greeting message advising me that non-urgent crime reports could be dealt with at PAL – The Police Assistance Line. 

Victoria is one of the last states to implement this feature of policing and the PAL certainly has the potential to reduce some of the non-urgent calls that have been received and dealt with at watch- houses across Victoria for decades. 

It’s undeniable, the community wants greater and more timely access to police and in a modern age, PAL can improve our service and complement police responses, if done well. 

I recently visited the PAL located in Ballarat and spoke with some of our 32 members who will work there to oversight call taking and provide essential police experience to call takers and call makers. That, in our opinion, is pivotal to the initial and ongoing success of the initiative. 

On witnessing the PAL in action, it was immediately clear to me how important the operational experiences of our members proved to be during call taking, and how important it will continue to be for the longevity of the model should it be embraced by the community. 

I am confident that with Police as a well-resourced part of PAL it will be a success that takes us forward.  We are interested to hear from our members about their experiences in using PAL to ensure your feedback influences its future.

A member assaulted is a Victim of Crime

Over recent years The Police Association has been instrumental in bringing about real legislative change to the way that offenders who harm police are dealt with by the courts.  The introduction of ramming legislation, advocated for by TPAV, along with the amendments to minimum sentencing legislation are recent examples of our efforts on behalf of members.  It often frustrates us to hear of cases where courts express a different view about the impact of offending on police because of the work that we do, our experience, or our training. 

As police, we are sometimes reluctant to tell an open court about the impact that criminal offending has had on us as victims.  We understand that it can be difficult to show the court (and offenders) the true and often damaging impact of their behaviour. This is as important a part of the sentencing process as the legislative reform we’ve led.

The Police Association strongly encourages its members to complete Victim Impact statements when they are the victim of an assault at work, and have it completed by the first mention hearing. 

Statements from victims resonate with courts. They impact sentencing decisions.

As Association members, but also as informants, we should always seek to include statements on a brief as we would for any victim of crime.

As supervisors, we should always seek to have them included when we check briefs. 

As prosecutors, we should always ensure they are presented to the court.

And as victims of crime, we should demand to be heard like any other victim of crime has the right to be.

Enterprise Bargaining and the State budget

By the time you receive this edition of the TPAV Journal, we will have commenced Enterprise Bargaining with Victoria Police on your behalf.  Our current agreement ends in November and our police and PSO members are due for pay rises as adequate reward for the difficult and demanding work that you do.  

In the wake of the release of the May state budget, we continued to hear in the media references to the government’s rigid 2% ceiling on public sector pay rises. I don’t have to tell you that this doesn’t cut the mustard for TPAV members.  

Effectively, the current offer from the State Government of 2% is lower than the latest increase to the minimum wage. The Fair Work Commission recently determined 3% as a fair and reasonable wage increase after considering a broad range of economic factors. This begs the question about how the Treasurer has arrived at 2% as being appropriate for public sector workers, including police? We’ll certainly raise this curious anomaly during our negotiations.

It is essential, particularly in this environment, that we all get behind TPAV’s claim that counters this offer.  Only as a strong and united collective will we see the best possible outcomes for our entire membership.   

On a more positive note, the Budget papers outline $4.0 million that will fund the `Provisional Acceptance Model’ for police. This reform, which will commence on June 17, is the culmination of a three-year campaign by The Association. 

The budget also allocates $11 million for reforms to our super scheme, which are expected to come into operation mid-year after the necessary legislation is amended.  

Both of these reforms, led by our Association, highlight the importance and value of our advocacy on behalf of you, our police and PSO members.

A Final Word

Late last month we felt compelled to speak out and defend our CIRT members, who were maligned in the court of public opinion for nothing more than doing the difficult and dangerous job they’re tasked to do.

Someone needs to stand up for members when they’re unfairly hung out to dry. That someone is us. We will continue to do it and we will continue to publicly call out and condemn politicians who rush to publicly prejudge our members because it suits their agenda.