Guest Editorial – Glenn Farrell, Executive Director, SafeWork SA
In 2018 the South Australian Independent Commissioner Against Corruption conducted an evaluation of the practices, policies and procedures of the regulatory arm of SafeWork SA. The evaluation resulted in 39 recommendations, including recommendations that inspectors and investigators are provided with body worn cameras for use when attending workplaces.
The Commissioner’s view was that the actions of inspectors are best protected through the use of body worn cameras at all site visits and at any time a statutory power may be exercised.
The implementation of body worn cameras was recommended not as an indication that inspectors cannot be trusted, instead of a means of minimising the risks which are inherent in the role of an inspector.
Besides the recommendation from the Commissioner and the rationale as to why SafeWork SA should use the cameras, SafeWork SA had no intel as to how the body worn cameras worked, what were their limitations and what were the rules around using them.
So instead of accepting the recommendation to implement body worn cameras straight away and for all times an inspector attended a workplace, SafeWork SA initiated a trial to assist with the decision about whether their ongoing use could support the compliance and investigation activities in SafeWork SA.
The planning required to undertake the trial was significant, and included many areas of consideration, including undertaking market research of the best possible model of body worn camera to use, engaging a supplier and ensuring their system met the security requirements of the government.
Consideration of any barriers within the legislation SafeWork SA regulates needed to be undertaken, but this also included consideration of the legislation that regulates the use of listening devices and optical surveillance devices in South Australia.
The governance of the trial was carefully planned, and a Policy, Procedure and user guides were developed to support the trial, however the planning was worth it and provided a clear and structured way for the trial to be conducted.
We now needed Inspectors to participate in the trial. The concept of using body worn cameras was new, and understandably there was some hesitation from inspectors about what would be involved in participating in the trial, so an expression of interest process was conducted.
A group of 14 inspectors were selected following the expression of interest process.
Training for inspectors was provided on the use of the body worn cameras and also the evidence system that supported the collection of footage.
The trial could only be undertaken with the help of the volunteers and I’m grateful to this group who committed their time and provided valued feedback on their experience.
The trial was undertaken for a period of 3 months in late 2020. An initial start date of July 2020 was planned for the trial, however due to the impact of the COVID-19 restrictions on the community and businesses, the start date was delayed until later in the year.
The trial was impacted as a result of the three-day circuit breaker lockdown in Adelaide in November 2020. This also resulted in some longer restrictions, which limited activities performed by SafeWork SA. The use of body worn cameras during the later part of the trial period decreased significantly due to the ongoing restrictions that applied for the remainder of the trial period, however, there was enough information available from the first part of the trial to evaluate.
The evaluation of the trial focused on all elements of the trial, but primarily the feedback from inspectors on their experience and whether the scope of use was appropriate, keeping in mind the trial was undertaken in line with the Commissioner’s recommendation to provide inspectors with body worn cameras for use when attending all workplaces.
The evaluation showed that there were benefits to implementing the use of body worn cameras including:
- protecting the safety of Inspectors and Investigators by reducing the likelihood of aggressive or inappropriate behaviour against them
- to manage and prevent regulatory grooming and capture behaviours.
- value in helping to reduce vexatious complaints and enabling complaints to be easily investigated and resolved by reviewing relevant footage.
The information gathered during the trial was invaluable as it provided insight into the benefits of the body worn cameras but also helped to identify where body worn cameras were of no benefit or were not suitable for use.
Once recommendations were formed from the evaluation, SafeWork SA presented these to our Minister at the time for decision.
A decision was made that to further strengthen SafeWork SA’s compliance and investigation work, SafeWork SA would purchase body worn cameras, to be implemented for use in certain circumstances, including;
- attendance at a workplace in response to a Critical Event
- attendance at a workplace in response to a same day service
- attendance at a workplace where it is known or suggested that the client is aggressive
- attendance at a workplace where there is limited information available about the client
- attendance at a workplace where the Inspector has been appointed to resolve a dispute that arises about the exercise or purported exercise by a work health and safety entry permit holder of a right of entry under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012.
SafeWork SA implemented the use of body worn cameras in these circumstances in September 2023. It is early days in our implementation of body worn cameras, however, there are key functions of the body worn cameras and clear advantages to using body worn cameras in the regulator space, primarily as a tool to support the safety of Inspectors by encouraging safe and mutually respectful interactions when undertaking their work. We are excited to see the benefits as we use them more as part of our normal work.
Operational staff of other regulators operate in a similar style to our inspectors and are open to the same types of interactions SafeWork SA experiences. In most cases, regulators are responding to issues of concern, where views are often different and sometimes emotions are heightened. We would encourage regulators to consider using body worn cameras for their own work.