ACT Work Safety inspectors descended on the new Gungahlin suburb on Wednesday morning to target safety breaches in the residential building sector. They were still there by the afternoon and have yet to finalise their tally of notices.
ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said: ‘‘The interim figures alone indicate this has been a very successful intervention today. Our primary goal is to send the message to those builders who are not abiding by the rules that we intend to enforce the law in all parts of the construction industry – not just the higher profile bigger commercial sites.’’
Seven inspectors visited at least 33 sites and spoken to 41 individuals with investigations ongoing.
Seventy improvement notices were issued as well as 18 infringement notices, which incur on-the-spot fines. The fines related largely to a lack of signs, and white card or safety induction procedures not being followed, but also more seriously relate to the checking and tagging of electrical equipment.
Mr McCabe said signage was important because if anyone could not identify a builder on a site, there was no way to report a safety issue. It also created an enormous amount of work for WorkSafe ACT if issues were identified on a site without clear ownership.
Mr McCabe said he was also very concerned about electrical safety procedures, given the electrocution of a fourth-year apprentice at a Kingston Foreshore building site last Thursday.
On Tuesday, inspectors at the Aurora Apartments complex in Kingston issued principal contractor Project Coordination with a prohibition notice in the wake of the electrocution.
The Harrison blitz is the second residential housing blitz in as many months following one in the Molonglo suburb of Wright in December.
Inspectors then checked nearly 40 residential sites and issued one prohibition notice to stop work on a site with unsafe scaffolding. A further 50 improvement notices were issued for less serious safety breaches.
Mr McCabe said he was disturbed to find even more safety breaches in Harrison than in Wright.
‘‘In some ways this vindicates this approach because we continue to catch plenty of wrongdoers,’’ he said.
‘‘The industry has to realise we will not relent and these are not flash-in-the pan visits. We will keep going back again and again until they get the message.’’
He also noted it was unfair for builders doing the right thing to be undercut by those who failed to comply with safety requirements.
Mr McCabe estimated up to $50,000 in fines from the blitz would be passed on to building contractors, or builders themselves in the case of white card infringements.
There were further fines that could be imposed if contractors failed to comply with their improvement notices. He warned that it was likely WorkSafe ACT would be given expanded capacity to issue fines once the ACT government responded formally to the recommendations of the ‘‘Getting Home Safely’’ report into four industrial deaths and a record number of serious workplace injuries in the ACT over the past year.
The response is due in late February.Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union ACT secretary Dean Hall said there was a lot of ‘‘cross-over between commercial construction and residential building workers and if we are ever going to get improvements in building and construction, there needs to be improvements in housing’’.
‘‘Those bad habits they bring in are causing major problems and while there are a lot of good builders who do put safety first, they are at a huge commercial disadvantage and are being undercut by rogue builders.’’
The Housing Industry Association welcomed the blitz.Executive director for the ACT and southern NSW Neil Evans said that while issues around signage and white cards were breaches that were ‘‘not going to directly lead to injury or death’’ the testing and tagging of electrical leads was a concern.
‘‘We have been working closely with Mark on this issue and we will continue to do so with repeated reminders and updates,’’ Mr Evans said.
‘‘We are sure that Work Safe inspectors will continue to do these random audits and we need to get everyone on the same page and there are a lot of people out there who are not doing the correct thing."