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Dramatic decline in safety at worksites

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Only one in three ACT workplaces that underwent a safety inspection last financial year passed - a dramatic deterioration on previous years' outcomes.

The poor result has highlighted a policy difference between the government and its new cabinet partner, Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury, who wants the building industry to pay more to help train workers.

Just 35 per cent of inspected businesses complied with health and safety laws in 2011-12, compared with 54 per cent in 2009-10. The government's target was 80 per cent.

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ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said the trend was likely to reflect his inspectors' focus on the construction industry, which has been blighted this year by a record number of serious accidents and deaths.

Mr McCabe and former public service commissioner Lynelle Briggs are expected to report the findings of an inquiry into the industry's practices within a week.

The Canberra Times reported on the weekend that WorkSafe ACT and its preceding agencies lost half of their inspectors over the past seven years, at a time Canberra was undergoing a construction boom.

Only 34 qualified inspectors now supervise construction sites, down from 68 in 2004-05.

Labor frontbencher Simon Corbell, who became the ACT's first Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations Minister last week, said yesterday the result showed why the government had created the new portfolio.

''Poor compliance across industry is a deep concern for the government. My first priority will be to respond to the findings that Mark McCabe and Lynelle Briggs present in the coming weeks.''

Mr Corbell said the government employed five extra inspectors when it merged WorkCover with WorkSafe in 2010.

''But I don't think inspecting capacity on its own will solve this problem. We need to improve the culture of occupational health and safety in all workplaces,'' he said.

''We need to be sure that businesses don't just see it as red tape, and instead treat their safety of their workers as a matter of real importance.''

The Greens campaigned unsuccessfully for more workplace safety funding during the last Assembly.

The minor party went to last month's ACT election pledging to increase a building industry levy from 0.2 per cent of the value of construction projects to 0.3 per cent, to raise more money to train apprentices.

Mr Rattenbury said yesterday the proposed increase was affordable and represented only ''a $1000 increase for a $1 million job''.

''We don't yet have full agreement from the ALP to do that, but we're continuing to look at it.'' ''Hopefully, [Mr McCabe and Ms Briggs'] review creates some momentum for those changes.''

However, Mr Corbell said the government feared a higher levy could undermine construction companies, which are struggling as a result of the slowing economy.

''The government supports an increase in the levy; our issue is about the timing,'' Mr Corbell said.

''We recognise the industry is going through a slower period and there are real pressures on budgets.''

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