Unions welcome independent review of work health and safety oversight

Ian Bushnell 25 May 2018

A review of work safety compliance is overdue, says UnionsACT.

UnionsACT has welcomed the Government’s ‘overdue’ announcement of an independent review of WorkSafe ACT and the ACT’s work safety compliance and enforcement policies.

The Government said the review, to be led by Dr Claire Noone of Nous Group, would consider:

  • the approach to safety compliance and enforcement detailed in WorkSafe ACT’s Compliance Framework;
  • the appropriateness and effectiveness of WorkSafe ACT’s governance structure, including the roles, legislative responsibilities and functions of the Work Safety Commissioner, the Regulator and relevant Ministers;
  • the appropriateness and effectiveness of WorkSafe ACT’s organisational structure, including consideration of its independence and operational effectiveness in its current status as a business unit within Access Canberra; and
  • the ACT’s collection, use and analysis of data and the impact and effectiveness of information sharing within Access Canberra and across government to drive work safety compliance and enforcement activities.

Dr Noone, who recently chaired Victoria’s Independent Review of Worksafe Compliance and Enforcement, will report to Ministers in September 2018.

UnionsACT said that since WorkSafe’s merger into Access Canberra, the work safety regulator had been forced to prioritise ineffective education programs at the expense of workplace inspections and other compliance activities.

The result was a regulator unwilling to enforce penalties, and unwilling to undertake prosecutions, it said.

UnionsACT said the ACT was the second most dangerous jurisdiction to work in Australia and was the most dangerous place to be a construction worker, or a worker in the electricity and gas sector, healthcare, social assistance sector, retail or arts and recreation (which includes clubs and the casino).

Since 2013-14, injuries had increased by 4 per cent, from 3459 to 3585, it said.

UnionsACT secretary Alex White said WorkSafe needed to be demerged from Access Canberra and established as a stand-alone, independent agency that proactively enforced work safety laws.

“Unions will work cooperatively with the independent review, and we hope that the findings and recommendations will result in stronger laws and safer workplaces,” he said.

Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations Rachel Stephen-Smith said the review would be the first broad one of its kind of the ACT’s work health and safety compliance and enforcement arrangements since the adoption of national model work health and safety legislation in 2011.

“It will take account of existing sector-specific work and other analysis, including the 2012 Getting Home Safely review of construction industry safety, RMIT University’s 2017 stocktake of the industry’s health and safety culture, and subsequent work by the Work Safety Council to develop a construction industry safety strategy,” she said.

Minister for Regulatory Services Gordon Ramsay said stakeholder input would be critical to understanding the experiences of everybody in the current system and he urged workers, businesses, unions and employer representatives to engage in the review process.

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