NSW follows Victoria’s lead on construction industry safety code 1


Tower CraneIn 2012, the Victorian Government introduced a construction industry compliance code intended to control industrial relations in that industry sector.  Significantly, this Code included specific work health and safety (WHS) obligations. On 6 December 2012. the New South Wales Government, led by the Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell proposed a similar code with exactly the same WHS obligations.

In Premier O’Farrell’s media release, the Minister for Industrial Relations Mike Baird made no mention of the WHS obligations.  The statement focuses on containing wages, controlling potential cost blowouts on infrastructure projects and, without mention it by name, productivity.  Minister Baird missed a golden opportunity to argue both the economic and moral positions; an opportunity that was not missed by the Victorian Minister for Finance Robert Clark when he announced his State’s construction compliance code in July 2012.

The head of Victoria’s Construction Compliance Code Unit, Nigel Hadgkiss, has repeatedly stated his commitment to safety improvements through the Code process and substantial work has been devoted to developing a template for the Health and Safety Management Plan required under the Code, and similarly under the proposed New South Wales Code.

O’Farrell and Baird have commenced a consultation process on the NSW draft code over the Christmas New Year period, a period in which much of the construction industry closes down.  This consultation schedule has been applied in other occupational health and safety processes by State OHS authorities and the Federal Government but to do so for the construction industry is particularly unfair.

Also it is difficult to believe that the consultation is being offered for any other reason that simply saying that consultation occurred.  It is highly unlikely that after this period, the Code will be very different from the draft currently on offer, particularly when on can expect multi-state construction companies to call for uniformity between New South Wales and Victoria on the basis of productivity benefits and red tape reduction.

International construction company LendLease has already indicated it’s attitude to Victoria’s Code.  According to one newspaper article in October 2012:

“The Lend Lease deal [with the CFMEU] is the first real test of the new regime, which unions have attacked as ”anti-worker” and union bashing. The deal includes numerous restrictions on the use of labour that are meant to be forbidden.

They include dictating the minimum rates of pay employees of subcontractors receive and also by requiring that the use of labour hire and contractors be ”not in any way be designed to undermine the job security” of Lend Lease staff.

The deal gives greater access for union officials to building sites than is allowed under the Baillieu code while unions also have to be consulted about labour hire providers – which is also forbidden.”

This situation still has not been resolved in Victoria and until it is, the authority of the Compliance Code is questionable.  New South Wales is likely to face the same questions.

It is early in the New South Wales process and it will be fascinating to read the industry submissions on the draft Code.  These will likely hint at the political colours of many of the construction industry companies but of more relevance to this blog, one may be able to perceive which companies understand the safety needs and challenges of their industry and which submit the platitudes of whichever international safety consultancy they have contracted.  Any mention of Zero Harm should have the submission marked return to sender.

Kevin Jones

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