WorkSafe on-the-spot fines having biggest impact

October 2, 2013

by Emma Macdonald, Education Editor for The Canberra Times. October 2, 2013.

The ACT Work Safety inspectorate more than doubled its prohibition, infringement and improvement notices across the construction industry this year and increased site visits and blitzes by almost 15 per cent.

But ACT Work Safety Commission Mark McCabe said the recent introduction of on-the-spot fines of up to $3600 appeared to having the biggest impact on curbing unsafe work practices across the ACT.

The Master Builders Association reported attendance of up to 500 in the public education forums around the new fine regime – greater than any other public education campaign.

Mr McCabe also said there had been considerable interest from the other states as to what effect the new fines were having, with the ACT model potentially being taken up elsewhere in Australia.

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But MBA executive director John Miller said he was hopeful the ACT Government and Work Safety inspectorate would also “focus on some carrot as well as the stick in terms of safety compliance.”

Mr Miller said “to have nearly 500 attend the forums shows clearly these fines have got the attention of industry, but we are also looking for the carrot and urging the government and WorkSafe to improve the education process and provide incentives for the companies which do do well with their safety.”

The new on-the-spot fines for workplace safety breaches were introduced on July 1 in order to raise the profile of safety requirements across the territory but also take some of the pressure off the WorkSafe inspectorate which had no other option other than to prosecute some of the relatively minor offences.

Inspectors are now able to slap a fine of between $720 for an individual and $3600 for a company for safety breaches, including: not notifying WorkSafe ACT of notifiable incidents; not providing first-aid equipment; not providing personal protective equipment; not providing training and instruction on the use of personal protective equipment; not preparing a safe work method statement for high-risk construction work; not ensuring work is carried out in accordance with a safe work method statement; not stopping work if the work is not being carried out in accordance with the safe work method statement; not minimising the risk of collapse of trenches; not preparing a work health and safety management plan; and not ensuring a worker has undergone construction induction training.

According to the latest annual report for ACT Justice and Community Safety,  the construction industry received 1211 site visits from inspectors in the 2012-13 year compared with 1057 in 2011-12. During these visits, 393 improvement notices were issued this year compared with 198 the year before. A further 154 prohibition notices  – or stop work orders – were issued compared with 95 the year before, while 28 infringement notices were issued compared with 3 the year before.

The Cotter Dam enlargement project resulted in WorkSafe making 101 site visits to electricity, gas and water supply worksites this year compared with 3 the year before, but only one improvement notice was recorded despite the increased scrutiny.

While visits to other workplaces in retail, manufacturing, and health and community services rose slightly, the pressure on inspectors to police construction appears to have been accompanied by a decrease in visits to accommodation, cafes and restaurants, transport and storage,  government administration and defence, education and cultural and recreation services.

In total, the 34 Work Safety inspectors made 2148 site visits across Canberra this year  – an increase of 143. Improvement notices increased from 281 to 556, prohibition notices increased from 134 to 177 and infringement notices increased to 29 from 3.

Mr McCabe said he was very much looking to boost his team with 12 new inspectors to be brought on by mid-2014 after the ACT Government delivered an unprecedented $5.7 million in the last ACT Budget to increase WorkSafe’s capacity.

He said the most telling statistic of all was that the ACT had recorded no construction industry deaths in the last 12 months.

“That’s the most important statistic of all.”