20 October 2023

WorkSafe ACT says it won't stop cracking down on residential builders and repeat offenders

| Lizzie Waymouth
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Residential construction at Denman Prospect

Residential construction sites in Denman Prospect were specifically targeted by WorkSafe ACT in 2022. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

WorkSafe ACT has issued another warning to repeat offenders in the residential construction industry after finding some businesses are consistently failing to comply with workplace health and safety regulations.

ACT Work Health and Safety Commissioner Jacqueline Agius said the regulator contacted repeat offenders informing them of the crackdown on non-compliance, and she was concerned by the response.

“It is clear to me that some builders in the ACT do not understand their WHS obligations. I want to remind businesses that it is their duty to ensure the health and safety of their workers,” Ms Agius said.

“Continued non-compliance will not be tolerated. I will now be focusing on investigating and prosecuting identified repeat offenders that are continuously failing to keep their workers safe.”

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According to its annual report, WorkSafe ACT inspectors visited 868 residential construction sites in the last financial year and issued 44 infringement notices, 1002 improvement notices and 430 prohibition notices.

Most visits were concentrated in Whitlam, Taylor, Strathnairn and Denman Prospect.

In October 2022, WorkSafe ACT conducted a saturation campaign in Whitlam, which involved visiting 51 sites. During this campaign, inspectors issued 24 prohibition notices and 78 improvement notices.

It said a “wide-ranging” number of breaches were identified during these checks, which included failure to control fixtures, fittings or plant at workplaces; electrical risks; scaffolding; site security; risk of falls from heights; and housekeeping and amenities.

“Disappointingly, despite repeated enforcement notices and engagement with WorkSafe ACT Inspectors, we have seen little change in safety behaviours and recurrent non-compliance by a number of residential construction businesses,” WorkSafe ACT said in a statement.

In 2022-23, 20 businesses were issued between 17 and 83 enforcement notices. These included prohibition, infringement and improvement notices for various offences, including high-risk activities such as working at heights and scaffolding non-compliance.

“Despite being issued with several enforcement notices on multiple occasions, some businesses have been repeatedly non-compliant with work health and safety laws,” WorkSafe ACT said.

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Master Builders ACT’s CEO Michael Hopkins said repeat offenders can have a significant impact on the construction industry.

“It is important that every employer and worker on a residential building site make safety their number one priority,” he said.

“People who show repeated and blatant disregard for safety laws have no place in our industry and only make it harder for the many reputable companies who exemplify workplace safety.”

WorkSafe ACT conducted nearly 2500 workplace inspections, 54 per cent of which (just over 1300) related to the construction industry. These inspections were a mix of responses to complaints or incidents received by WorkSafe ACT or as part of proactive compliance campaigns across all industries.

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These unsafe employers need to be exposed, so workers know to avoid working for them and can thus keep themselves safe. Naming and shaming might also reduce the unsafe practices, as these employers need workers to conduct their business.

I don’t understand why we put often young workers at risk, by not highlighting those who would risk their health and welfare. Injuries cost us all in terms of harm done and compensation, not to mention potential long term damage to a human being.

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