Work Health and Safety in the ACT
Inquiry into Compliance with Work Health and Safety in the ACT
Researched and Prepared by: Jarrod Gutsa, Lovegrove & Cotton.
“Getting home safely is a right that everyone should expect” Sadly “this cannot be guaranteed for workers in the ACT’s construction industry, where each year one in every forty workers can expect to have an injury which results in them being off work for at least a week.”
The above is the opening statement from the ‘Getting Home Safely – Inquiry into Compliance with Work Health and Safety Requirements in the ACT’s Construction Industry’ (report). The report has identified a culture that needs to dramatically change in regards to safety. The ACT currently has a serious injury rate in the construction
industry that is 31% higher than the national average. This is not due to insufficient regulatory rules and procedures but rather a culture focused
primarily on delivering projects on time and within budget at the expense of safety.
Historically the construction industry in Australia has been epitomized by the “She’ll be right” attitude. The ‘Getting Home Safe’ report calls for a seismic shift in this type of thinking. Safety
has become a top priority in other related industries such as mining due to the high-risk nature inherit in the industry. Construction is far from immune from these risks and in reality mirrors many
The report identified “a can-do culture of tough men working in a tough job who pride themselves on their achievements in getting the job done in a tight timeframe.” Furthermore there seemed “to be a nonchalance about work health and safety dangers and a desire to avoid anything that might be seen as weak or ‘sissy’”. While the report provided that this mind set is in some regards admirable that workers pride themselves in their work, the culture must still develop so that it is in
kilter with contemporary Australian values.
The inquiry provided various strategies to help address safety problems in the construction sector. These strategies call for a concerted effort from all actors within the industry including: the ACT Government, the Unions, WorkSafe ACT, construction companies and individuals within the companies.
Change from within
All individuals within a company must be safety conscious and risk attune for a company to effectively run as a safe work place. The report provides: “Everyone – senior managers, middle managers, leading hands, foremen and the workers themselves – must recognize and value the benefits of a safe worksite and accept their role in achieving that end.” This shift in thinking of ‘safety first’ must become endemic within the culture of a work place and permeate all facets of the work place from the leading hands to the CEO in the head office. Safety in a work place should not be viewed as a burden but rather be second nature in how people carry out their tasks.
- Visible commitment to safety by management
- Workforce participation and ownership of safety problems and solutions
- Trust between workers and management
- Good communications
- A competent workforce.”
In order to achieve a healthy safety culture from within, the change needs to be lead from the top. The senior personnel of a company must lead by example and set systems in place to ensure that there is a safe work environment.
The Government is in a prime position as a major purchaser of construction services to help engineer a safe work place. The Report urges the ACT government to use its tender process to only allow contractors with good health and safety records being allocated work. This would give a distinct advantage to construction companies that have a strong safety focus. Thus this tactic simultaneously provides a carrot and a stick approach to a construction company’s lifeline – ‘work in’.
In light of the report WorkSafe ACT have ‘upped the ante’ in regards to safety. They have conducted surprise site visits across the ACT. WorkSafe has warned that there will be more surprise visits in the lead up to Christmas as safety should be a number one priority. Further to WorkSafe’s site inspections CFMEU also closed two sites earlier this week due to asbestos safety concerns.
Construction workers like any other worker have the right to be safe at work. A safety first mentality will go a long way to achieving this. The vernacular in the industry must change from “She’ll be right mate” to “safety first and Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)”. The report is telling in its analysis of safety on construction sites yet there are positives, as the report identified that there is a willingness in many companies to institute more rigorous safety methods & procedures, just a lack of knowledge in the ‘how’.
Lovegrove & Cotton can assist construction companies with generating safety procedures and policies that are compliant with the relevant State and Federal laws and regulations. Do not hesitate
to contact the firm via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 03 9600 4077 if you have any queries concerning this
Furthermore click here to access the full report and view the 28 recommendations contained therein.
Construction Industry’, 23 November 2012, Australian Capital Territory Government, p. 6.
Construction Industry’, 23 November 2012, Australian Capital Territory Government, p. 7.