ACT News


ACT the worksite danger capital

The ACT has the worst record for construction site safety in Australia with one in every 40 workers expected to sustain a serious injury on the job each year. The territory's rate of serious injury is nearly double the national average.

The ACT government will issue on Monday the results of its inquiry - led by former Public Service Commissioner Lynelle Briggs and assisted by ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe - into health and safety laws on Canberra's building sites.

The report finds not only does the ACT have the highest proportion of workplace deaths per head of population - with three men dying on construction sites and one painter dying at a private home in the past 12 months, but the rate of serious injuries - or those which require 12 or more weeks off work - is almost double the national average at 9.5 claims for 1000 workers, compared with a national average of 5.2.

In the broader category of injuries requiring at least one or more weeks off work, the ACT has 24.5 claims per 1000 workers, although it is beaten by Tasmania on 25.2 - both coming well ahead of the other states and territories and the national average of 18.7.

''Based on these figures, each year one in every 40 territory construction workers can expect to receive an injury at work that results in them being off work for at least a week, and in some cases, much longer,'' the report says.

''If they work in the industry for 10 years, the odds reduce to a one-in-four chance. On average we can expect every working day one construction worker will sustain such an injury somewhere in Canberra.


''These are not good odds for our children, our partners, relatives or friends to be facing, and they do not provide any comfort for families wishing to see their relatives come home safely,'' it says.

ACT Workplace Safety Minister Simon Corbell commissioned the report in August. He said the issue of death and injury had been a growing concern for him over the past year, and the day he received news of Ben Catanzariti's death in July he phoned Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and received her immediate support to launch a full inquiry.

He noted that while there had been some initial resistance to the inquiry from industry bodies, they had become engaged in the process.

''What is clear from the reviewers is they are appalled at the attitude and culture that exists in far too many workplaces in the territory,'' Mr Corbell said.

The issue was not confined to a few operators, or rogue contractors, and systematic reforms would be required to improve the safety culture across the territory. ''The fact is there is a disproportionate level of accident, injury and death in the ACT, and whatever else is said in the report the truth is we have to face up to this and deal with it.''

While the ACT has less than 1 per cent of building and construction activity in the country, it has recorded four of the 34 industrial deaths which occurred nationally in the past year. Mr Corbell expected the report to contain a call for increased funding for WorkSafe ACT and an increased number of inspectors hired to police standards across the construction industry in particular, but he said ''the issue is not going to be resolved solely through enforcement alone''.

Both the Master Builders Association and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union delivered submissions to the inquiry which called for immediate resourcing to address the ''woeful'' number of WorkSafe inspectors in the field.

Mr McCabe has recently said that while the inspectorate had a total staff of 34, only 10 or so inspectors were on duty across all workplaces - including construction - and that resources were stretched.

Mr Corbell said increasing inspector numbers was one way to address the issue but ''we are only going to reduce injury and death through cultural change in the workplace and that comes down to leadership amongst the construction sector - the industry bodies, the managing directors and company heads … They will need to take the lead if things are going to change.''

''Equally unions and workers must recognise the role they play and strengthen their role in bringing concerns around safety to the attention of managers and to engage in those issues constructively. It is important [safety issues] are not used as proxies for other industrial concerns.''

Professor Andrew Hopkins, the Australian National University industrial disaster and safety expert and an international authority on occupational health and safety, said real reform in the ACT's construction sector would come about if safety experts had more authority in company structures and a direct line to chief executives.

He suggested more inspectors should be given greater powers to crack down on potential safety breaches and that high-profile prosecutions in egregious cases should be pursued to provide the industry with a greater general deterrent.

But he also believed that the bigger companies were generally more responsive to safety concerns and that the ACT's issues related to smaller contractors who were ''largely beyond the law''.

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