Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 07 Hansard (Tuesday, 31 July 2018) . . Page.. 2453 ..
As the explanatory statement to the bill points out, the national work health and safety strategy acknowledges that work health and safety improvements are best achieved when health and safety are supported by the organisation’s culture and embedded in policies, procedures and processes. The amendments in this bill are largely focused around improving the safety culture.
One of the outcomes of the Getting Home Safely report was the government commissioned review into the safety culture of Canberra’s construction industry. RMIT University undertook that review and looked in depth at safety in the construction industry. While it did identify positive aspects and improvements that have been occurring in recent years, it also clearly identified shortcomings and significant gaps in the safety culture of the construction industry.
The report made clear that various issues identified in the Getting Home Safely report are still in need of further work. For example, it says the quality, effectiveness and consistency of WHS training needs improvement. This is an issue that changes in this bill will help to address. I am, of course, aware that the changes do not have universal support. The MBA, for example, are not supportive of the changes in the bill. They support the current arrangements, under which organising work groups and electing health and safety representatives is voluntary.
I accept that the proposals in the bill do deviate from the harmonised work health and safety regime, and that they do place extra obligation on contractors in major construction projects. But these are also the projects that have the most serious outcomes when health and safety efforts fail. I think it is acceptable that changes in the bill mandate relatively minor changes to try to improve safety culture and to try to improve communications around safety between workers and employers. The changes in the bill will require improved consultation on major construction projects, with the intention of building the safety culture within the construction industry.
The bill places new obligations on a person conducting a business or undertaking who is the principal contractor for a major construction project. A major construction project is one defined as having a contract price of $5 million or more and it does not include single residential dwelling construction projects. The bill will require the principal contractor to facilitate the election of health and safety representatives and to provide training of health and safety committees.
As the explanatory statement explains, the health and safety representatives play an important part in the workplace. They facilitate the flow of information about health and safety between workers and their employers. They monitor safety actions taken by their employer, investigate workers’ complaints and look into anything that might be a risk to the health and safety of the workers they represent. Trained health and safety representatives are also permitted to direct unsafe work to stop in certain circumstances and can issue provisional improvement notices.
The bill also mandates the relevant training of health and safety representatives. This is valuable, of course, to ensure that the health and safety reps know their responsibilities and can undertake them effectively on behalf of workers. In addition,