30 October 2018

Worksafe ACT faces shake-up after review finds regulator needs more independence

| Ian Bushnell
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The ACT Government has given in-principle support to the recommendations of the review of work safety compliance infrastructure, policies and procedures.

The ACT’s work safety regulator is in for a shake-up to strengthen its independence and sharpen its enforcement of work health and safety laws following the release of the findings of an independent review today.

The ACT Government has given in-principle support to the recommendations of the review of work safety compliance infrastructure, policies and procedures, including a structural reform to Worksafe ACT to ensure its independence.

UnionsACT, which has campaigned strongly for reform over what it sees as a lack of teeth at Worksafe ACT, said the Government should now review the leadership team at the regulator, which needed to be an independent statutory authority.

The Government commissioned a comprehensive review of the compliance and enforcement framework in May 2018 – the first since the ACT adopted national model work health and safety laws in 2011.

Undertaken by Nous Group and involving extensive stakeholder consultation and research into best practice in work health and safety compliance and enforcement, the final report released today (Tuesday, 30 October) makes 27 recommendations aimed at strengthening the Government’s framework for enforcing work health and safety laws in the ACT.

Key recommendations include the need for a change to the organisational structure to support the independence of the regulator and greater clarity about the roles of the regulator and Work Safety Commissioner.

The report says that there should be more clarity and consistency in the work health and safety compliance framework and supporting documents, and better and more strategic use of data.

It also points to deficiencies and barriers at Worksafe ACT, saying that there needs to be more capability, collaboration and engagement within the regulator.

UnionsACT said the review confirmed its belief that the amalgamation of Worksafe into Access Canberra was to the detriment of workers’ safety.

It said Worksafe ACT should be restructured into an independent statutory authority that puts compliance with work safety laws, and keeping workers safe, as its primary goal.

The review confirmed UnionsACT’s concerns that Access Canberra had interfered with the operations and activities of Worksafe inspectors and the Work Safety Commissioner, including through the inappropriate application of policies and frameworks.

Unions ACT secretary Alex White said the review exposed and disproved claims by the senior leadership of Access Canberra that there was ‘nothing to see’ when it came to work safety regulation in the ACT.

“The head of Access Canberra and his executive team must take responsibility for the botched work safety regulation, confusion and failure to prevent injuries. It would be appropriate for the Minister for Regulatory Services to review the failure of leadership and administration that the review has revealed.

“UnionsACT is still considering the detail of the review, but the recommendation to establish Worksafe as an independent regulatory authority is essential to ensure work safety laws are properly enforced in Canberra.

“The ACT is Australia’s second most dangerous place to work, with more than 3,500 serious injuries every year.”

Minister for Employment and Workplace Safety Rachel Stephen-Smith said that while improvements in recent years had delivered a 20 per cent reduction in lost-time injuries since 2010-11, best practice in work health and safety was constantly evolving.

She said any change to the structure of WorkSafe resulting from this Review would require consultation with WorkSafe staff, unions and other key stakeholders.

“I would like to acknowledge the commitment of all inspectors, policy officers, regulators, unions, employer representatives and other stakeholders who work each day to support safety in workplaces and work sites across the ACT,” she said.

“Over the coming months, the Government will work to ensure that the changes made will support the safety of workers now and into the future.”

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