Court decision shows Comcare’s failure to regulate workplace safety
21st May 2015
A recent court decision on workplace safety against a major Comcare licensee is evidence that the federal scheme is failing its core responsibility of regulating workplace safety, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.
In the decision, construction giant John Holland (one of a series of national companies overseen by Comcare) was fined $110,000 for a worker suffering a head laceration when a bridge fell on him while working at the Brisbane Airport Link. Another case, in which a worker was crushed to death just months earlier at the same worksite, is still being pursued by Comcare.
Comcare currently covers 33 companies which operate on a national basis, including Australia Post, Telstra and the Commonwealth Bank. Federal Minister for Employment Senator Eric Abetz recently introduced legislation in a bid to expand Comcare to allow more businesses into the Scheme, including those currently covered under well-functioning state-based workers’ compensation schemes.
ALA National President Andrew Stone today said that these incidents showed Comcare had clearly failed in its regulatory role, and that the scheme could not be allowed to expand until it demonstrated that it could successfully carry out its existing regulatory responsibilities.
“There are too many cases like this which clearly show Comcare has a patchy record on workplace safety enforcement and oversight,” Mr Stone said.
“This court ruling shows that the Comcare scheme has put workers’ lives at risk by failing to enforce occupational health and safety regulations in the limited number of workplaces for which it has responsibility.”
“In the case, it was noted that John Holland had breached the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 Act a number of times already,” Mr Stone said.
“This case concerns a worker who had a bridge fall on his head. Months earlier, a person on the same worksite was crushed to death. That case is yet to be resolved.”
“It must be asked: where was Comcare in preventing these breaches?” Mr Stone said.
“If Comcare is struggling to adequately regulate worker safety across only 33 companies, why on earth would you put more workers from across the country at risk by allowing employers to leave well-funded and well-administered state-based schemes to join Comcare’s poorly-functioning regulatory arrangements?” Mr Stone said.
Mr Stone said that the government’s plan to expand Comcare’s workplace safety advisory role was a disaster waiting to happen, given its demonstrated inability to regulate safety in the workplaces for which it is currently responsible.
“Sadly, it is cases like this that we continue to warn Senator Abetz about, yet none of the three pieces of legislation introduced by the Senator relating to Comcare address these deficiencies,” Mr Stone said.
“Instead, Senator Abetz wants to further expand a poorly functioning scheme that has an appalling safety record and open up that Scheme to even more businesses across the country.”
“Any expansion of Comcare has the potential to put the safety of even more workers at risk, but Senator Abetz is continuing to ignore those concerns,” Mr Stone said.
“As the ALA has repeatedly stated, Senator Abetz’s proposed changes will result in a hit to the Budget bottom line and they also pose a very real risk to the safety of workers in the scheme,” Mr Stone said.
Mr Stone said that Comcare reported 13 workplace fatalities in its 2014 annual report, illustrating the ever-present physical safety risks that are present in many workplaces under Comcare’s mandate.
“Senator Abetz is very good at highlighting isolated, minority examples of questionable claims as a justification for his proposed changes, yet he repeatedly fails to acknowledge cases such as this that highlight the very real safety risks that come with the Comcare scheme,” Mr Stone said.
“We hope Senator Abetz will play close attention to this recent decision and realise he has the priorities wrong when it comes to seeking to reform the Comcare scheme.”