CSIRO moves to clarify Area Custodian role

Staff Association representatives recently met with senior management to be briefed on changes to the Area Custodian, previously Laboratory Custodian, procedure.

CSIRO management is planning to improve the consistency of how the role is applied across the organisation by reviewing the current procedure, which is out of date.

A draft intranet page to outline the scope of the Area Custodian role and associated guidance on its function was provided to the Staff Association as part of ongoing consultation and engagement with staff.

An excerpt from the existing Laboratory Safety Procedure with all of the currently available information on the Laboratory Custodian (now Area Custodian) role was also provided.

For context, in this initial stage, CSIRO is aiming to provide:

  • an agreed role statement to clarify the scope of the role for all BUs;
  • a simple framework for appointing custodians (such as criteria for areas requiring a custodian and mechanisms for recognising time commitment);
  • a clear statement on the liability of custodians, perhaps in the form of an indemnity clause; and
  • a standardised issue resolution process.

Relevant resources

What does this mean for Area Custodians?

In previous years, many members have reported that there is significant inconsistencies between how the role is applied and what the expectations of the role are in different workplaces and Business Units. Members have reported that there is often a lack of role clarity, lack of accessible training, confusion around the authority and accountability of Laboratory Custodians to the other areas of CSIRO in which they interact (i.e. HSE & CBIS).

Additionally, who finances and is responsible for Work Health and Safety initiatives, problems with the capacity of Laboratory Custodians to do the role properly in the time available and proper recognition of the work custodians do within the workplace and Business Unit.

From an initial review, CSIRO’s updated procedure is an attempt to address many of these concerns, however the real test will be in the practical application of the procedure across all worksites. The Staff Association has identified some concerns with the procedure in regards to the lack of recognition of Health and Safety Representative (HSR) roles in the workplace.

Currently, CSIRO is investigating whether Area Custodians should be authorised to direct officers to cease unsafe work, a role that is legally reserved for HSRs who have had the relevant training and are covered by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. The Staff Association is continuing to discuss these matters with CSIRO management in an effort to seek a solution to the problem.

What happens next?

CSIRO will be undertaking consultation with all staff on this procedure through Business Unit leaders and CSIRO’s HSE Committee, of which the Staff Association is represented. CSIRO has identified several key issues which currently need to be finalised through ongoing consultation, including:

  • the criteria for areas which require an Area Custodian (should ‘low risk areas’ include an Area Custodian or not);
  • consistency on how time for the role should be allocated (some Business Units provide capability days, while others do not);
  • the process if there is no Area Custodian in areas that require one; and
  • the issue resolution process, should Area Custodians be authorised to cease unsafe work.

How can I have my say?

The Staff Association is asking members to submit feedback so that we can provide CSIRO management with information to improve the application of this procedure.

Many members are currently performing the role of Area Custodian within their workplace or Business Unit and are best placed to comment on challenges and risks of the role. Questions and feedback on the new procedure can be sent to csstaff@cpsu.org.au by 19 April 2019.

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