It is clear that the construction industry will continue to be a focus of Australian workplace health and safety regulators in coming months.

Current initiatives in the construction industry

Last Friday, both WorkSafe Victoria and Safe Work Australia announced initiatives in relation to increased regulation of the construction industry.

Safe Work Australia announced its major themes for the years ahead, which include continuing with the harmonisation of OHS laws and regulations. It also confirmed that it would now take steps to declare a National Code of Practice for the Prevention of Falls in Housing Construction. This will further expand the suite of declared documents affecting construction. These documents provide a set of guidance material critical for determining industry best practice.

Meanwhile, WorkSafe Victoria has announced that it will commence a targeted campaign (a ‘blitz’) in relation to supervision at construction sites.

In announcing its campaign the director of WorkSafe’s Construction and Utilities Program, Chris Webb, said:

Whether you’re a principal contractor, site supervisor, contractor or tradesperson, everyone has a role to play in site safety. All parties must understand their safety responsibilities and those of others involved in a construction project.

What to expect

It is clear that in the coming months WorkSafe will be directing Inspectors to visit construction sites across Victoria, with a particular focus on the adequacy of supervision arrangements.

As part of the campaign WorkSafe Victoria has released a poster,1 which outlines WorkSafe's interpretation of the key safety responsibilities on construction sites. The poster indicates that principal contractors have ‘the primary responsibility for safety on site’, highlighting an intention to target principal contractors.

Where WorkSafe Inspectors attend at a site as part of the safety 'blitz' and form the opinion that a person is not meeting their safety obligations, enforcement action (such as issuing improvement or prohibition notices) is likely to be taken.

Employers should be aware of their right to have a decision of an Inspector reviewed if they believe it is incorrect.

Your safety obligations in the construction industry

The obligation to supervise the safe conduct of work arises under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Act) and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 (Regulations),2 in particular Part 5.1 of the Regulations, which regulates construction work.

For significant construction projects, compliance with these obligations can be a complex task that will be affected by a range of factors, including:

  • the number of parties involved in performing the works
  • the contractual relationships between the parties
  • the practical arrangements on site, and
  • the knowledge and expertise of the parties.

What to do

To ensure you are prepared for the upcoming ‘blitz’, you should consider the following issues:

  1. Do you have evidence to hand which can be provided to Inspectors showing adequate supervision arrangements for construction projects? If not, it would be prudent compile these materials in advance of any inspection.
  2. Has a contact person been nominated to deal with any WorkSafe visit and liaise with the inspectorate?
  3. There is a legal process available for challenging the validity of statutory notices which have been issued to duty holders. Accessing this jurisdiction will require employers to promptly identify any areas of concern and commence the appeal process. Appeals must be commenced within 14 days of a notice being issued. Internal or external legal teams should be involved in the review procedure as early as possible to ensure statutory deadlines are met.