Comcare has launched an investigation into concerns about workplace health and safety at ACT police's Traffic Operations Centre in Belconnen after the building was badly damaged by the January hailstorm and subsequent rain events.
While the Lathlain St premises is owned by the ACT government, a quirk of workplace laws means that Worksafe ACT is unable to investigate because the police using the building are federal employees.
Compliance officers with Comcare are conducting an inspection regarding issues raised about the building, the body confirmed yesterday.
Comcare has functions and powers under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, which include regulatory functions and powers for compliance and enforcement.
Under the WHS Act, the "persons who conduct a business or undertaking" has a duty to ensure the health and safety of workers engaged by that person "while the workers are at work in the business or undertaking".
Compliance inspections would follow to ensure that any identified risks are rectified.
The Australian Federal Police Association, which represents all federal officers including ACT police engaged under the AFP's so-called Outcome Two, has been a strident critic of the building's safety and appropriateness for several years.
AFPA president Alex Caruana said that the association toured the TOC in March, and the conditions were "appalling".
"We have been talking about this matter for a quite a while now. Hopefully, the Comcare investigation will see a positive resolution to the issue," he said.
"It must be hard being a police officer working out of the Traffic Operation Centre
"It is disgusting that the building was in such a state of disrepair, and it's a miracle that someone hasn't been injured as a result of the neglect.
"With the ACT election rapidly approaching, we are lobbying all political parties to work towards a new Traffic Operations Centre."
The ACT Liberals have strongly supported the association on this issue, with the Liberals' police spokesperson Giulia Jones describing the building as a "complete mess", "not fit for purpose" and "a workplace safety timebomb".
Police officers have been reluctant to raise the building's ongoing issues with their most senior officers, the union said, because they could be seen to be breaking ranks.
Among the issues raised have been exposure to electrical hazards, multiple trip and slip hazards, water leaks and pooling of water in the workplace, and fire safety problems.
Such is the extent of water ingress to the building, someone has placed a sign on an upstairs toilet advising visitors to "bring your own umbrella".
"The state of the building is atrocious, with poor maintenance clearly on display and conditions that are unacceptable and potentially hazardous," the association said in its report to an ACT Legislative Assembly standing committee in June this year.
The emergency management and planning area, which adjoins the Traffic Operations undercover garage, had to be temporarily abandoned by staff earlier this year after water cascaded inside, resulting in electrical hazards in that section of the building.
Inside the centre, a team of specialist technicians work on installing electrical components such as lightbars and police radios. When it rains, the technicians have to work around the pools of water.
Unlike the Emergency Services Agency's firefighters and ambulance officers who are ACT government employees, the ACT's police officers are basically federal contractors and this denies them access to the support provided by ACT Worksafe.
Another key issue with the cramped centre is the constant exposure by officers to the so-called "fatal vehicles" sitting in the open holding yard.
With only one secure vehicular access in and out of the garage and its holding yard, officers constantly drive past the smashed and torn vehicles which have been involved in fatal collisions and still have bits and pieces of body matter in them.
Aside from the biohazards, there is a concern that constantly sighting the vehicles every day on their way to and from the building may create a post-traumatic stress disorder trigger for those officers who attended those incidents and may have had to help extricate people from the wreckage, and counsel the grieving families involved.
The ongoing issues with the centre have been known internally for years but shifting the officers and support staff is problematic given the need for office space and abundant undercover garaging.
The Justice and Community Safety directorate, which has oversight, is understood to have investigated alternative locations for Traffic Operations in various locations around Canberra, including within the airport precinct and at Hume, where there are potentially secure, hangar-sized warehouses which could appropriately garage the dozens of vehicles in the fleet, screen off the "fatal vehicles", and accommodate some 60 traffic officers.