Builders question greater safety costs, await own review
Executive Director: John Miller. Master Builders Association. Photo: Jay Cronan
Canberra's peak construction body, the Master Builders Association, has agreed it can do more to promote safety on ACT building sites but has questioned whether imposing further costs on business through a series of new levies will actually reduce injuries.
Executive director John Miller warned the levies ''are going to sorely test resources in the industry''.
''In a difficult economic environment, there's only so much industry can absorb,'' he said.
The MBA is still a fortnight away from announcing the findings of its own review into issues highlighted in the independent Getting Home Safely inquiry, chaired by former public service commissioner Lynelle Briggs.
ACT Attorney-General and Workplace Safety Minister Simon Corbell called for the inquiry in July following the fourth workplace death in the ACT in less than a year, and on Tuesday accepted all 28 of its recommendations which range from bringing on 12 new work safety inspectors, introducing an industrial magistrate, increasing on-the-spot fines for safety breaches and naming and shaming sub-standard builders.
Mr Corbell also announced the government would increase the Building and Construction Training Fund levy from 0.2 per cent to 0.3 per cent and has proposed new levies on workers' compensation insurance and occupational health and safety enforcement - in order to help pay for the 12 new inspectors.
He also issued a strong warning to business that it needed to improve its commitment to safety, and questioned what the MBA hoped to achieve through its own separate review of the inquiry findings.
Mr Miller said the MBA was sincere in wanting better safety outcomes in the construction industry and its review, chaired by Major-General Steve Gower, would ensure the MBA was best placed to deliver on the report's recommendations.
''This is part of our demonstration we are fully engaged and committed to the Getting Home Safely report and we are looking specifically at it in terms of recommendations which relate to the MBA and Housing Industry Association,'' Mr Miller said. He said the review would examine some of the statistics gathered in the government inquiry - which used Safe Work Australia data - and which found the ACT had 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 and the territory's rate of serious injury nearly double the national average.
Mr Miller said the MBA was ''not challenging the data but making sure we are comparing apples with apples''.
He noted the industry had not been expecting a rise in the training fund levy and needed to consider whether it would have a positive benefit.
''Sometimes the default position is to go raise more money and do something but we want to make sure that what we are doing thus far has been effective,'' he said. He cited the former federal training guarantee levy as an example of failed policy that crippled some small businesses before it was scrapped.
''Already a lot of businesses are doing it tough and many are hanging on by their fingernails. It's been well documented in the last 12 to 24 months that we've seen businesses go by the by.''
But the Housing Industry Association said the costs imposed by the government's response were minimal and seemed ''quite reasonable'' in the circumstances.
Association regional executive director Neil Evans said he believed the impact of the new workers' compensation levy, capped at 0.015 per cent of declared wages, ''will be quite minor in terms of dollars and I don't think, for an average company, it will be a major issue''.
The HIA had been concerned with recent WorkSafe ACT findings of unsafe electrical practices in residential building sites, and Mr Evans praised Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe for his ''practical and logical approach to reform''.
The HIA was working on producing a set of national housing code of practice guidelines to target safety.
''We believe tools like that, which are specifically designed for each industry, will have better outcomes and lead to safer practices on work sites.''
Opposition workplace safety spokesman Zed Seselja said the Canberra Liberals were in broad support of the inquiry recommendations and were relieved the government had recognised the need to properly resource the office of work safety.
''I've been on the record since the mid-2000s calling for more inspectors,'' Mr Seselja said.
He also said Labor needed to take responsibility for the ''shocking statistics'' presented in the inquiry report.
''They've been in power 11 years so I'd say there has been a clear case of mismanaging this area.''