SafeWork NSW Audit Highlights Legacy Headache

The perils of legacy technology for government are well known, but in the case of SafeWork NSW they could ultimately lead to a referral to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), the state’s corruption watchdog.

SafeWork NSW’s use of an information management system which is over 20 years old and approaching its end of life have been highlighted in a scathing report by the NSW Auditor-General.

It found that the agency “is constrained by its primary information management system.”

The lack of proactive use of data was blamed for a delay of around eight years to actively and sufficiently respond to the emerging work health and safety risk of respirable crystalline silica - which, like asbestos, causes fatal lung diseases – in manufactured stone. 

The risk was known internationally by at least 2010, but SafeWork NSW did not begin to actively respond until 2018-19.  Prior to that, its response was limited to a small inspection program in 2017.  The delay in response was due to a focus on reporting activities rather than outcomes, the Auditor-General found.

Legislation has been passed to ban the use, supply and manufacture of all engineered stone in NSW from 1 July 2024.

SafeWork NSW “lacks an effective strategic and data-driven approach to respond to emerging risks - such as exposure to respirable crystalline silica, to which it was slow to respond. It operates in silos with limited collaboration between teams, and it cannot demonstrate that it is making consistent and effective decisions to address non-compliance and workplace health and safety risks.“

Concerns were raised over the purchase of a UK manufactured air-monitoring device, Air XS, which cost $A18,500 per device. An initial contract worth $A200,000 in May 2019 ballooned to a final cost of $A1.34m.

“The process of procuring a ‘research partner’ to develop the Air XS device was flawed, in that there was non-compliance with procurement obligations and inadequate record-keeping,” the report notes.

"Only as a result of the audit office raising these issues with the head of SafeWork NSW did SafeWork NSW undertake to enter into discussions with the CSIRO to conduct further testing of the real-time silica monitoring device," the report said.

Potential maladministration due to "significant flaws in procurement, project governance and risk management" led both the audit office and the customer service department to refer the matter to ICAC.

According to the report “SafeWork NSW lacks an effective strategic and data-driven approach to respond to emerging risks and make risk-based decisions. ​ This is due to constraints in its primary information management system, which is over 20 years old and approaching its end of life. ​

“The system has data quality issues and lacks the functionality to efficiently extract and analyze data. ​ As a result, SafeWork NSW cannot use its extensive and detailed data proactively to identify and assess risks, measure performance, and strategically target its activities.​“

“There is evidence indicating that SafeWork NSW works in silos, with limited communication, collaboration, and awareness of activities across functions.

The Audit It also found there was ineffective use of available data.

“SafeWork NSW has collected more than 20 years' worth of work health and safety data within its Workplace Services Management System (WSMS). This data has the potential to provide important detailed insight to support SafeWork NSW’s strategic planning and reporting processes.

“However, the wider strategic use of the system is hindered by its age and data quality issues. The system is not governed by a centralised quality assurance process. No single data custodian was identified during the audit and a data governance committee was only recently established by SafeWork NSW. Inconsistencies in data entry mean manual searches of the system are sometimes needed in order to identify relevant case data for analysis and reporting.”

Although it acknowledged that a data science function has recently been established to improve data analysis. ​

The full report is available Here.