16 August 2019

WorkSafe ACT to become an independent entity in major shake-up

| Lachlan Roberts
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Ms Stephen-Smith believes the legislation will enhance the independence, transparency, accountability and scrutiny of WorkSafe ACT. Photo: George Tsotsos.

WorkSafe ACT is set to become an independent entity to sharpen its enforcement of work health and safety laws 10 months after an independent review called for a major shake-up of the workplace safety watchdog.

ACT Minister for Employment and Workplace Safety Rachel Stephen-Smith presented a bill into the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday (15 August) to establish an independent Office of the Work Health and Safety Commissioner.

Ms Stephen-Smith’s bill will see a new entity established as the Office of the Work Health and Safety Commissioner but will continue to trade as WorkSafe ACT, with the regulator’s functions to now sit with the Work Health and Safety Commissioner.

WorkSafe ACT was folded into Access Canberra in 2015, which according to the independent review, had seen the number of improvement notices handed out by inspectors drop by 75 per cent.

The review, which made a total of 27 recommendations to strengthen WorkSafe ACT’s independence, said its key recommendation was to establish WorkSafe ACT as a separate and independent entity.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the Bill represents a significant step in ensuring the best practice regulation of work health and safety and believes the legislation will enhance the independence, transparency, accountability and scrutiny of WorkSafe ACT.

“The Bill will set the foundations to ensure that our regulator is best set up to continue to support the safety of workers now and into the future,” she said.

“This Bill creates a governance structure for the regulator that will deliver a clear, independent and well-informed strategic approach to the activities of the Office with appropriate oversight and accountability.”

Ms Stephen-Smith said the legislation also raises the transparency and accountability of WorkSafe through new reporting requirements and the development of a compliance and enforcement policy.

“This will increase transparency about the way in which the Office carries out its compliance and enforcement activities, including its aims, approach, tools and guidance material,” she said.

UnionsACT secretary Alex White, who has campaigned strongly for reform over what it sees as a lack of enforcement authority at Worksafe ACT, hopes WorkSafe’s independence will see immediate improvements.

“UnionsACT welcomes the introduction of reforms to improve Worksafe, after many years of highlighting its shortcomings,” Mr White said.

“Since 2015, we’ve had the ludicrous situation where the dog licensing and motorboat licensing regulator was also responsible for the workplace safety of hundreds of thousands of working people.

“The ACT continues to be one of the worst-performing jurisdictions when it comes to worker safety, and the reforms introduced by the Labor Government shows they’re listening to the concerns raised by working people.

“The establishment of a fully independent Work Safety Regulator should see immediate improvements in WorkSafe ACT’s ability to enforce the law and reduce workplace injuries.”

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