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Inspectors cut as city worksite deaths rise

Date

Emma Macdonald

ACT WorkSafe commissioner Mark McCabe.

ACT WorkSafe commissioner Mark McCabe. Photo: Elesa Lee

WorkSafe ACT has lost half of its safety inspectors in the past decade at a time of peak construction activity in the ACT and a record number of deaths and serious accidents this year.

The ACT government's urgent inquiry into construction industry safety, which was called in August following the death of a fourth construction worker in 10 months, is due to report back next Friday.

The inquiry is tipped to recommend the government urgently increase the number of WorkSafe inspectors, whose job is to monitor building sites for potential safety breaches and shut them down if they are deemed unsafe.

There are just 34 qualified WorkSafe inspectors supervising construction sites and the safety conditions of an estimated 15,000 workers across the ACT, down from 68 almost a decade ago, according to the ACT WorkCover annual report for 2004-05.

The ACT's Work Safety Commissioner, Mark McCabe, who, along with former Public Service Commissioner Lynelle Briggs, conducted the inquiry, said he would not pre-empt its findings.

But he noted the ACT government appointed five inspectors when it merged WorkCover ACT with WorkSafe ACT in 2010.

Mr McCabe made the point that, even with a reduced workforce, WorkSafe had prepared a record 19 possible prosecution cases to go before the Director of Public Prosecutions this year.

WorkSafe had also doubled the number of safety breach notifications since 2010. This year it issued 200 Improvement notices and more than 100 Prohibition notices to companies that failed to comply with safety laws.

But with the ACT's shocking construction site death rate this year now making it the most unsafe jurisdiction in the nation for builders to work in, both building unions and construction bosses have issued separate calls to the inquiry for the dwindling WorkSafe inspector numbers to be addressed as a matter of urgency, noting that they are at the frontline of preventing potential tragedy.

The Master Builders Association's submission to the inquiry said WorkSafe ACT did a ''commendable job with very limited resources''.

''We suggest it is universally recognised that the number of knowledgeable and experienced inspectors needed to oversee compliance is woefully inadequate.''

The MBA suggested that recruitment campaigns to inspector ranks had been unsuccessful, ''possibly because these roles are generally poorly remunerated and potentially highly stressful''.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union blamed successive budget cuts.

The union's ACT secretary, Dean Hall, said inspectors were being stretched too thin with their roles involving managing compliance, policing problem worksites, promoting safety education and preparing prosecution cases.

''At any given time, only a handful of qualified inspectors are out and about in the workplace,'' Mr Hall said.

In its submission, the union said the role of WorkSafe inspectors was paramount to ensuring building companies took their occupational health and safety responsibilities seriously.

''The Building Trade Group believes that WorkSafe does a good job, considering they are under-resourced.

''We believe that, given the present economic situation, WorkSafe's numbers may decline even more.''

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