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Ted Leeson: Recognition well-timed and deserved
TED LEESON’S had quite a career, helping thousands improve the safety at their workplaces .
Last week he retired from the public sector, with more than 40 years in the service and almost all as a CPSU Member.
Workplace Health and Safety is the cornerstone of his career, and his work to improve the lives of public sector workers recently saw him receive an award.
Last month he was endowed with the Best Individual Contribution to Work Health and Safety for 2014 in the WorkSafe Tasmania Awards. “I was very pleased with that recognition but indeed there are a whole lot of people that contributed to the great results we’ve achieve in the public service. It’s absolutely wonderful to see what I’ve helped put in place bear fruit,” Ted said.
Ted was the principal WHS consultant in the WHS Unit within the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
“I had the absolute privilege of conducting a gap analysis or a full Work Health and Safety audit for every Agency. In doing that I’ve travelled the state, interviewed a large number of managers and senior managers to identify where they might be able to improve their WHS performance. A lot of the things identified in these interviews had never been picked up before. An important factor was having the managers and supervisors trained in WHS so they knew what their role was in this area. Without them doing the right thing it all folds. As a worker if you raise a concern with your manager or supervisor, and it’s not dealt with properly, the worker might not bother raising issues again.”
“From my perspective, a huge part of my work over the years, particularly at Workplace Standards, was to help people resolve difficulties in their workplace, whether it was about industrial relations, long service leave, dangerous good, rehabilitation and compensation.”
There’s no doubt Ted’s work has made a huge contribution to the conditions of many a public sector worker. The most dramatic change in safety in the workplace he witnessed was in 1995.
“Up until then we’d had 20,000 workers compensation claims every year in Tasmania for the previous 10 years. In 1995 because of legislative changes, the number of claims dropped by half in five years to around 10,000 and it then plateaued at 10,000 for about 10 years. In the last two years it’s come down to under 9000. The year before last was 8,800 or thereabouts. This year, although the figure hasn’t been announced yet, it’s less than 8000. There’s been an even more significant drop in the state service, in terms of serious claims per 1000 employees.
“From being the government in Australia with the absolute worst performance in Work Health and Safety, according to the figures, we are now up there with the rest of them. We still have a way to go because we still need to catch up with the improvements we should’ve made, so we can be exemplars of good WHS practice along with other self-insuring employers, who are well in front.”
For Ted, knowing that more people can go to work and go home safe is a reward in itself, especially after dealing with serious industrial accidents during his career.
“When I was managing the Workers’ Compensation Rehabilitation and Advisory Service I was dealing with a whole range of people whose lives were destroyed, and just seeing the shock and horror that such incidents can cause them is awful. I’ve spoken with many people who’ve suffered a back injury, and it’s absolutely destroyed their lives.”
Ted said it was often the case that psychological injuries, due to their nature, were much harder to accept and it was often more difficult to help people deal with. “Once workers get to a point that they’ve got a claim, we’re actually on the back foot. I’ve encouraged Heads of Agencies to do whatever they possibly can to avoid those claims. Often by 55 days in, it’s almost impossible for someone to return to work and the personal toll is horrendous, not only for those individuals but for those around them – the family, the work colleagues. It’s a huge cost to bear in personal lives.”
Ted’s had a fantastic insight into high risk areas right across the state service when he was auditing.
“Whether it’s watching a particular animal for a fortnight somewhere in Tasmania, up in the plane watching eagles or out in a fire truck, working in the hospital or rescuing a child from a violent family situation, there is such a range of scenarios that State Servants are involved in. Whether it’s Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Family Violence services, with Correctional Officers at the prison or police out on the job, we have to continue to do the best we can to improve safety in those areas, we can’t accept the fact that people get injured at work.”
“One thing I can say, after being right across the state service is that we, in Tasmania are very lucky to have such a large group of dedicated people to do, not just the work they’re doing but also to serve Tasmania.”
His work has branched further than the public sector too.
“In the last three years I’ve been chairman of the Tasmanian Branch of the Safety Institute of Australia, during that time we’ve had more activity in our state than any other, and we’ve increased our membership and our activities in North and the North-West.” Ted also worked with the Australian Army most of his adult life. He introduced the Tasmanian acronym ‘SAFE’ to Army and in 2005 ArmySAFE was launched to improve the safety conditions. This was just before he headed off to Iraq for 7 months where he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal by the United States for ‘exceptional meritorious service in a combat operation’ for his effort in organising training for the Iraqi Security Forces.
Congratulations to Ted, a dedicated Member and hard worker whose work has impacted on countless Tasmanians and their families. Ted’s now joins our Retired Member ranks. He still plans to work with the Army on improving safety conditions.