As the labour market tightens, the risk of dodgy tickets is growing, and regulators say they are cracking down on questionable qualifications.
Fake competency certificates, bogus paramedic qualifications, forged national police clearances and a fraudulent mining engineering degree are among a spate of dodgy qualifications caught by Australian safety regulators in recent years, prompting a warning that employers need to do more to catch fraud.
The warning highlights the importance for employers to check and verify qualifications, particularly in a tight labour market, where skills are in high demand and large workforces are mobilised at speed.
But while it is the employer’s role to ensure anyone working on site is suitably qualified, it is not always easy to ensure tickets or qualifications provided by employees or contractors are real.
“When you have hundreds or ever thousands of workers entering your site to perform work, you need to know they are appropriately qualified, licensed and inducted,” says Ben Borin, Head of INX Sitepass for Australian software company INX.
“We have clients who might go from 2,000 contractors to 20,000 over the years, and every one of those has to have a different set of tickets and licences or verification of training. There are also seasonal fluctuations in workforces as well as staffing adjustments based on specific projects that would introduce a sweep of changes to the types of qualifications required.
“You can’t begin to verify and manage that volume of information without an appropriate system.”
Western Australia’s safety regulator, WorkSafe, recently issued an alert for employers after recording an uptick in falsified certificates and credentials in the emergency response and underground mining sectors.
Examples include fake certificates of competency for underground supervisors, as well as tickets that should allow someone to operate heavy machinery, drive a forklift or work at heights.
Similar warnings have been levelled by the Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety, while recent changes to workplace safety laws across Australia have put the onus on corporate leaders to be more proactive about their systems and processes to mitigate risk.
And those risks are considerable.
Last year an Australian water truck driver narrowly escaped death after rolling the truck he was not qualified to operate. In NSW, a first-aid officer was banned for life for posing as a paramedic despite holding no qualifications while in another company, the occupational health and safety officer was found to have faked his qualifications for the role.
So, what are the risks for employers who require qualified personnel for complex or dangerous roles?
In most sectors, employers are obliged to check that employees and contractors have the right qualifications for their roles, are competent to be on site and operating any equipment and are compliant with all safety protocols.
Failure to do so can expose the company and company directors to penalties, with occasional exceptions. Employers might be able to avoid prosecution if they can demonstrate they have kept comprehensive records of employee credentials.
“For companies with a large permanent or contracted workforce, the best protection is to have an integrated software system that consolidates your workforce information in one place,” Mr Borin says.
“You need to track certificates and licences and ensure expiries are managed and addressed, as well as keeping the database updated as new training or qualifications are achieved.
“The bad news is that some companies only see the value of having this information in one place when disaster strikes, and they are suddenly trawling through different databases or even Excel spreadsheets to try to identify who was trained, when and in what qualification.”
How can companies consolidate their records?
The INX Sitepass platform, which houses thousand of registered companies across Australia, is one option, and is used to track contractor and staff compliance, ensuring they are insured, qualified and understand the processes, risks and hazards on site.
This becomes particularly important when managing subcontractors or sole traders who might lack any internal systems of their own.
The system includes document workflows to track, review and verify all documents, creating a compliance trail that can be used to demonstrate that all care has been taken.
For qualifications with expiry dates, it provides advance notification, reducing the work needed to chase and update records.
“We are seeing the direction of workplace legislation moving towards the expectation that companies bear the responsibility for ensuring anyone on their sites — contractor or staff — is appropriately qualified for the work they do there,” Mr Borin says.