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Confidential complaints and incident reporting

19 January 2023

Worker safety is dependent on good risk management, starting with the proactive identification of hazards.

This can only occur in an environment where workers are confident that speaking up about safety is welcomed by the organisation they work for.

Encouraging workers to report safety matters, without fear of adverse consequences, demonstrates a culture of safety and is a hallmark of a high-reliability organisation (HRO). In this sense, HROs welcome what might be called ‘bad news’, as they see it as an opportunity to learn, improve, and prevent future incidents.

It is critical that workers and organisations in the resources industry have a clear understanding of how they can raise safety issues.

At a recent public hearing in the Queensland Parliament’s Transport and Resources Committee’s inquiry into coal mining industry safety, a reference was made to an ‘anonymous hotline’ administered by Resources Safety and Health Queensland (RSHQ).

The reference to the term ‘anonymous hotline’ has led to confusion and comments by industry personnel that they were unaware that a hotline existed.

RSHQ administers a confidential complaints system, which anyone can use if they have information that safety and health laws are being broken at a resources workplace, or that the workplace is dangerous. The Queensland Mines Inspectorate has always maintained a confidential complaints system, where any person may report these matters confidentially to a mines inspector..

From 2018-19 to date, the Queensland Mines Inspectorate received 297 complaints relating to Queensland coal mines – primarily from coal mine workers and relating to worker safety. Of these, 67 (22.5 per cent) resulted in compliance action, such as issuing a directive requiring action by mine management to reduce risk to workers.

This system has not previously been described as an ‘anonymous hotline’ and this terminology may cause confusion about the nature and purpose of incident reporting and confidential complaints, which this bulletin seeks to clarify.

Workers can also make confidential complaints to RSHQ if they believe that concerns they have raised within their organisation about safety are not being treated appropriately, or if they believe they are being subjected to adverse treatment in their workplace for raising safety concerns.

What can workers do if they are aware of hazards or dangers at site?

If you see something on a mine site or relating to mining operations that does not look right, you should report it to your supervisor or according to your site’s reporting process.

When can you make a confidential complaint to a mines inspector?

You can contact a mines inspector to make a confidential complaint, for the following reasons:

  • you think that someone is breaking a safety and health law
  • after raising an issue at your workplace, you believe:
    • it is not being dealt with appropriately
    • you have been subjected to mistreatment because you raised the issue
  • you feel that raising the matter in your workplace may place you in jeopardy or expose you to harm
  • you feel that a dangerous situation exists in your workplace.

What should employers/managers do?

Employers should:

  • encourage and incentivise workers to report hazards or dangers at site by creating an environment that makes reporting easy and in which workers feel safe to report
  • address safety issues raised by workers to ensure they are adequately controlled
  • publicise in the workplace the outcomes of reporting and investigations to the workforce, to provide workers with confidence about the reporting process and demonstrate the value the site places on incident reporting
  • publicise in the workplace the ways in which workers can raise safety issues and explain the process for how safety reports are treated
  • publicise in the workplace the confidential complaints system.

The evidence is clear that when an industry or an organisation is focused on identifying the early warning signs of future catastrophes, the encouragement of incident reporting is critical.

It is in everyone’s interest, and therefore is everybody’s job, to report events or conditions that highlight when hazards are poorly controlled. According to risk management expert Professor James Reason, ‘a safety culture is a reporting culture in which people are prepared to report errors, near misses, unsafe conditions, inappropriate procedures, and any other concerns they may have about safety.’

Further information can be found on our website, here.

Last updated: 19 Jan 2023