OHS Compliance Drops in ACT Construction

A reduction in Worksafe inspectors has been blamed for a significant fall in OHS compliance by construction firms in the Australian Capital Territory.

A recent study revealed that just 35 per cent of inspected businesses complied with health and safety laws in 2011-12, compared with 54 per cent in 2009-10. This is a serious deterioration on previous years’ outcomes.

The poor result has highlighted the policy changes by government that meant reduced number of inspectors policing worksites. According to the Canberra Times, WorkSafe ACT and its preceding agencies lost half of their inspectors over the past seven years, at a time Canberra was undergoing a construction boom. Only 34 qualified inspectors now supervise construction sites, down from 68 in 2004-05.

ACT’s Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations have agreed that poor compliance across industry is a deep concern for the government. But there is not much they can do when the construction industry operates on razor thin margins and there is a culture of cost cutting. 

This view that compliance with OHS laws is a cost to business and an unnecessary bit of red tape is unfortunately still prevelant in certain industries. Under the new harmonised OHS laws directors, owners and executives of businesses are now seen as officers of the company and as such are liable personally for huge fines and even jail time if there is an incident or injury to a worker on their watch. The days of treating these occurances as somehow “part of doing business” are over. Have been for some time.

Across the country we can see examples where the courts are prepared to apply the law and fine companies and the individuals involved. There are big financial penalties being levied against officers of an organisation for poor OHS compliance; and on increasing basis. 

What is needed is an improvement in the culture of occupational health and safety in workplaces. Employers must treat the safety of their workers as a matter of real importance.

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Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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