SafeWork damned by Auditor General, major reform needed

Today’s damning Auditor General report into Safework is an indictment on the organisation’s
conduct for the last decade and must be the trigger for robust reform to give workers a regulator
they can rely upon, Unions NSW said today.

Among the findings, the Auditor General says: “SafeWork NSW and the broader department
took around eight years to actively and sufficiently respond to the emerging work health and
safety risk of silica in manufactured stone.”

The organisation is also panned for promoting “the use of a real-time silica monitoring device
even though the process to develop the device through procuring a research partner was
significantly flawed, and importantly there were known concerns about its efficacy.”

The organisation has been referred to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption
regarding the procurement process.

The report also notes that the regulator does not have a comprehensive performance
measurement and reporting framework, nor does it use data strategically to inform risk-based
decisions and says “it cannot demonstrate that it is making consistent and effective decisions to
address non-compliance and workplace health and safety risks.”

The AG inquiry was triggered by multiple reports into the regulator’s tardiness and timidity. In
one case, SafeWork delayed inspecting a site when a man died after a 23 tonne skip loader
reversed over him despite receiving four separate alerts about the waste management company
before the fatality, including two a month before the tragic event.

Last week the NSW Government resolved to transform SafeWork into a standalone regulator,
following a separate inquiry led by former judge Robert McDougall KC.

Unions NSW said the AG’s report must be the trigger for further reform.

“We have an ineffective regulator presiding over a broken system, and as result, workplaces are
more dangerous than they need to be,” Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Morey said. “Workers
need a hyper-vigilant regulator that will actively keep them safe at work. Instead they have one
that is being referred to ICAC.

“We endorse the Auditor’s recommendation for better reporting, clear KPIs and critically, for an
independent investigation into its procurement practices. But the reform process must go further
to prevent a problem like this emerging again.”

Unions want SafeWork subjected to direct parliamentary oversight. Unions NSW also calls for

  • Worker and union representatives on an independent board of SafeWork NSW to
    formally embed worker perspectives within the regulator.
  • Transparent reporting on how SafeWork NSW assesses its regulatory performance,
    including an investigation into the reasons for its 8-year delay in taking action against the
    dangers of exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
  • Root and branch reform of the broader workplace health and safety system, including
    the role, function and funding of SafeWork.

“Parliamentary scrutiny is critical along with an independent board. Unions are ready and willing
to work with the Government and employers to build a regulator we all can rely upon.

“Last week’s McDougall report scratched the surface of SafeWork’s problems. This week the
Auditor General has blown the lid on its abject negligence.”