Speaker Spotlight: Michael Tooma

25 August 2020

Joining us at Minesafe 2020 is Michael Tooma, Managing Partner, Clyde & Co Australia. We spoke to Michael to shed some light on his presentation titled “The criminalisation of industrial safety laws: from civil liability to industrial manslaughter”.


Q.  What message would you like to highlight to those attending the Minesafe Conference? What do you hope will be the main take away from your presentation?

A.  The debate regarding industrial manslaughter has put the spotlight on industrial safety. While safety offences have been criminal in nature for some time, the use of the term ‘manslaughter” has elicited an emotive reaction and renewed attention at executives and Board levels. That is undoubtedly as positive development that can be harnessed to achieve a step change in safety standards across the industry.

Most conduct, however, will not constitute manslaughter. As such, the focus of regulatory activity will likely remain on improving systems and processes to better protect the safety of workers.

Q.  Will the latest developments in safety soon meet the challenges of current operations? What do you think is the key factor in working towards a zero-risk industry for the future?

A.  The industry has traditionally been a leader in embracing technology as a means for eliminating risks. It is critical that the industry maintain the momentum in that space. Any innovation should have the worker at the centre of the conversation. We need to better understand how work is done and to engage with workers to gain insight on what is needed to enable safe work.

Q.  Our global community has been significantly altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you think has been the main impact of COVID-19 in the resources sector with regards to Health and Safety? Has the pandemic shifted innovations and developments in a different way?

A.  The pandemic has reminded us of the power of isolation as a control and has unleashed the capacity of technology as a solution. It forced us to re-image work. The “that’s how we have always done it” went out the window in seconds and was replaced with “how best can we do this?”. If we can pivot and innovate like that for a pandemic, a safety issue, we can innovate and pivot for every other material safety issue.

Q.  As the mining industry continues to expand and life after the pandemic pushes for more activity to boost the economy, what can we implement now to guarantee a risk-free operation for the expected accelerated work rate?

A.  We need to build workers back into the centre of the safety conversation. Safety is not a bureaucratic or compliance exercise. It is at the heart of how work is done. Safe operations is the objective.

Q.  2020 has been an unpredictable year for Australia and the global mining sector. What do you think Australia should focus on to protect the mining workforce as best as possible? Is this something that can be collectively agreed upon?

A.  The pandemic served as a useful test of the resilience of the industry and economy. While the specific pandemic may not have been predicted, the possibility of a pandemic-led disruption was known and in many global businesses rehearsed through Ebola, SARS and MERS. There will likely to be many disruptions in the future and it is time that the industry develop a standard for building resilience to such disruption.

Q. Mental health is a huge issue within all industries and significantly in the resources sector. What strategies are in place to ensure a healthy workplace culture that supports all employees? Has the pandemic outbreak also accelerated mental health issues within the sector?

A.  Mental health was the sleeper issue during the pandemic. In truth we were experienced a mental health crisis ever before the pandemic began. Social isolation controls adopted in response to the pandemic and a bombardment of negative messages related to the economic and health impact of the pandemic now doubt accentuated that crisis. We are likely to see a tsunami of mental health claims and incidents in the coming months as we begin to transition back to ‘normal operations’. It is most critical than ever that we systematically and holistically address mental health issues in the workplace.

Q.  As the sector continues to change at a rapid rate, what insights do you have for young professionals interested in learning more about health and safety within the sector or for those working for the first time in challenging environments?

A.  Technology will play an important role in safety going forward. From AI to wearable technology, data driven preventative strategies are the future. Young professionals interested in safety should invest in understanding technology and explore how it can be harnessed for better safety outcomes.


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