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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2019 Week 11 Hansard (Tuesday, 24 September 2019) . . Page.. 3743 ..

Asbestos-containing materials remain present in a substantial proportion of buildings in the ACT due to its widespread use prior to 2003. If undisturbed, these materials do not pose a significant risk to health. However, asbestos fibres may become airborne if asbestos-containing materials are improperly handled, and exposure to these can cause serious diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Amendments to the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 that commenced in July 2019 have enhanced protection for workers who may carry out minor or routine maintenance work on asbestos-containing materials by mandating the relevant training. This has helped to ensure that the people doing this work are trained in how to do so safely, reducing potential exposure to asbestos fibres.

In 2017 the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s Centre for Construction Work Health and Safety Research was engaged by the ACT government to independently assess the construction industry’s work safety culture. The study confirmed that workers play an important role in driving WHS improvements. However, the quality and effectiveness of formal consultation mechanisms was found to be variable. In some instances consultation was perceived to be a one-way communication of information that was focused on getting workers to sign off safe work method statements and procedure documents.

In response to these findings, a tripartite ministerial advisory committee recommended that the law be changed to ensure that health and safety representatives and health and safety committees in the construction sector are appropriately trained and actively involved in safety discussions and decisions. New arrangements for large construction contracts were consequently legislated and commenced on 1 January 2019. The changes enhance collaboration between workers and their representatives by mandating consultation on the establishment of work groups as well as for the election and training of health and safety representatives and health and safety committees.

The ACT public sector employs more than 22,000 people in Canberra. As their employer, the government has a duty of care to provide healthy and safe workplaces. In March 2019 the territory took over responsibility for managing past and future workers compensation claims for ACT government employees. Consequently, it is currently providing medical, allied health and rehabilitation services to over 1,500 injured workers. These services have been specially designed to help injured people recover from injury sooner and to return to safe work as quickly as possible.

The public sector work health and safety strategy 2019-22 was launched in February 2019 and sets the direction for the ACT government’s approach to improving the work health, safety and wellbeing of the public sector workforce. To deliver the strategy, officials are focusing on improving safety performance through a structured approach to work safety systems and audits, a focus on safety leadership and the development of positive performance indicators. In addition, they are managing risks to our workforce through the delivery of a suite of programs, including a mental health strategy to prevent harm from psychosocial injury or illness, the promotion of mental health support for people with mental health conditions and an occupational violence strategy.

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