The ACT has been plagued by a number of workplace injuries particularly within the construction sector and in fact has the highest injury rate in the country which is why authorities are hoping for increasedfines over workplace accidents under the new national occupational health and safety harmonisation.
At the moment the fines and penalties for workplace fatalities are surprisingly low as compared with other territories. One of the reasons given for this difference is the lack of industrial courts in The ACT to prosecute OH&S offenders.
According to an article on www.worksafetyhub.com.au an accident on a Vic site which results in an injury such as a lost finger could cost as much as $30,000 in fines whereas in the ACT the same amount would be fined for a worker fatality, which is what happened when 3 workplace fatalities occurred in the ACT over the last 10 years. The article goes on to explain:
The ACT, compared to other states and territories, has a really low level of fines relating to industrial manslaughter, safety failures and negligence. Mark McCabe, WorkSafe ACT Commissioner, explained that one of the reasons for the disparity is that the ACT and Tasmania do not have specialised industrial courts that deal with work safety prosecutions. For Mr. McCabe, it is hard to comprehend why a finger in Victoria is worth the same amount as a life in the ACT. It is a shocking comparison when you look at it and it only brings cold comfort to the families of the victims.
WorkSafe ACT Commissioner Mark McCabe was hoping that the ACT court system will soon produce much more substantial fines under the new national occupational health and safety harmonisation. Any company involved can be fined up to $3 million for a serious safety breach. A negligent company director can also be fined separately up to $600,000 or sentenced to be imprisoned for five years. While these penalties were enacted at the start of 2012, they have yet to be tested due to the lag in cases reaching prosecution.
Read the entire article at http://www.worksafetyhub.com.au/blog/entry/act-to-increase-fines-over-losses-in-workplace-accidents
This lack of industrial courts has resulted in quite a hefty backlog in cases including 4 high profile construction industry deaths that happened between 2011 and 2012. To make matters worse, this lack of consequences for workplace safety breaches seems to be affecting the rate of injuries negatively with The ACT recording serious injury rates nearly twice the national average.
According to WorkSafe ACT Commissioner Mark McCabe greater fines will hopefully serve as a deterrent for companies who aren’t fulfilling their OH&S duties and they should feel the pinch of fines which must be paid out of company profits and not by insurance claims.
Another shocking statistic revealed by article’s author is the length of time it takes for a court case to actually conclude. Since WorkSafe’s birth in 2002, most cases they prosecuted in the ACT took more than 6 and half years to complete and only a few were resolved in less than 2 years. Sadly this only prolongs the emotional pain for workers who are the victims of these OH&S failings.