Up to 12 new safety inspectors will be brought on as a matter of urgency, dodgy builders will be named and shamed and on-the-spot fines will be introduced in an attempt to urgently rebuild a safety culture across Canberra’s construction industry.
In the longer term, industry performance across all aspects of health and safety will be considered as part of their construction record when tendering for new jobs and more emphasis will be placed on training and practical safety culture rather than paperwork.
In an immediately response to the ACT's inquiry into work and health safety, the Government has also committed to working with industry and unions to achieve a 35 per cent reduction in the serious injury rate by 2016 in order to bring it from almost double the national average to the national average or better.
Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations, Simon Corbell on Monday issued the 95-page report "Getting Home Safely" containing 28 recommendations which call for a complete overhaul of safety training, enforcement and culture.
The inquiry was called by Mr Corbell in July, following the fourth workplace death in the ACT in under a year – and a record number of serious accidents across construction.
He said the Government would issue a full response to the report in February, but given the urgent need for action, would commit immediately to seven of the 28 recommendations including spending up to $2 million in the next ACT Budget hiring twelve new ACT Work Safety inspectors to help enforce health and safety laws on worksites.
Apart from committing to the 35 per cent reduction in serious injuries, the ACT Government would also increase the number of work health and safety matters for which on the spot fines could be issued to both construction companies and their employees.
In line with Labor’s election promise it would appoint an Industrial Magistrates Court.
It would better coordinate ACT Planning and Land Authority building inspectors and WorkSafe inspectors in the field to target specific concerns on worksites and to link their enforcement and demerit point systems.
An “active certification” approach in government procurement would mean a contractor’s safety records would be investigated when it was competing for government projects and the ACT would work with other jurisdictions to establish a national registration scheme for engineers and for engineers working on ACT Government projects to demonstrate their current registration.
Mr Corbell said he would also convene a meeting of the ACT Work Safety Council to discuss the findings of the report and agree on steps for implementation.
“It is crucial, now we have this report, that we bring all relevant parties together, to get industry, union and government agreement on how to implement the inquiries recommendations and a strong commitment to build a safer workplace,” he said.
Other recommendations include beefing up industry training, site induction, safety mentoring, the eradication of sham contracting and that ACT WorkSafe should have one or two qualified legal staff to work solely on prosecutions.
All construction industry work and safety performance should be reviewed by 2016.
The inquiry’s chair Lynelle Briggs said there was no single reason contributing to the ACT’s shocking and distressing safety history but there was no arguing it was the worst performer in the nation..
“The industry itself is surprisingly accepting of workplace injuries with health and safety sometimes regarded as an add-on cost in a competitive industry where there is enormous pressure to complete work according to the program quickly, on time and on budget,” Ms Briggs said.
“The ACT’s Work Safety regulator is under-resourced for the enforcement task that it has to do and until recently has worked under a soft penalty regime which has not been sufficient to frighten the cowboys out of this industry”.
She warned the construction industry needed to “own” the problem.
“It has the power to fix the situation but it needs to change its practices if the serious injury rate is to go down. It needs to take the lead in the reforms that we propose and to drive them forward rather than to see accidents as a by-product of a dangerous industry” Ms Briggs said
“Profit cannot come before safety anymore.”