Master Builders ACT calls for dedicated safety hotline to report unsafe practices

Master Builders ACT is calling for a dedicated work safety hotline to report unsafe practices at building sites.Master Builders ACT is calling for a dedicated work safety hotline to report unsafe practices at building sites. Photo: Erin Jonasson

Canberra’s peak building and construction body is calling for a dedicated work safety hotline to report unsafe practices at building sites.

But the territory’s work safety commissioner believes WorkSafe ACT’s recent incorporation within Access Canberra might erase the need for a specific telephone service.

Master Builders ACT executive director Kirk Coningham said a more dedicated hotline would help empower Canberrans both inside and outside the industry to report safety issues while arming inspectors with vital information.

“Our members will make every effort to note [problems] themselves so, they’ll go and talk to the people involved, but it’s also good to be able to pass this to the authorities so they can respond quickly,” he said.

“The capacity to give them a call, to register a safety concern, helps them to be much more focused and targeted with their safety activities, especially if it’s something that’s imminently dangerous.”

Mr Coningham said a substantial shift in safety culture within the building industry over the past few years had paved the way for further change.

He said WorkSafety ACT’s move to Access Canberra late last year had helped “opened its doors to our industry”.

“Across our industry, most people are really concerned about safety and most of them, the vast majority, are very pleased to have anyone suggest something that might improve the safety of their site,” he said. 

“Everyone on a site has to be empowered and accountable for safety. We’ve shifted that culture now so the most junior first year apprentice … can feel confident to walk on to a site and say, ‘hang on, stop, that’s not safe’.”

Work safety commissioner Mark McCabe said WorkSafe ACT’s incorporation within Access Canberra might erase the need for a dedicated hotline for workplace safety concerns. 

He said the structural change meant safety issues were now reported to Access Canberra’s 24-hour telephone rather than directly to WorkSafe ACT – a change which took place in December.

He said early figures suggested the switch had vastly improved response times because Access Canberra could respond to calls faster, as well as refer serious issues reported after hours to on-call safety inspectors.

“I absolutely encourage people to report these issues to us,” he said.

“I think it’s better encompassed within the [current] service. The advantage of having that through a broader phone service is you get more resources so, there’s less chance of being held up waiting for calls to be answered.”

Mr McCabe said there were also more inspectors on the road throughout the day, allowing officials to respond to some incidents within 15 minutes or less.

“I think we’ve really improved the service over the last six months,” he said. “We have a much faster response time.”

Meanwhile, Mr Coningham believed there was scope to share information about near misses or fatalities at workplaces throughout the industry faster. 

“This is to make sure we have that communication right across the sector … so we can make sure that everyone knows what’s happened, what could have happened and how to fix it – and to do so really quickly,” he said.

“Lessons that potentially cost lives and limbs, fingers and toes, are far too important to delay. Today’s near miss must be swiftly converted into tomorrow’s smart safety measure.”

Mr  McCabe said he “absolutely” supported the faster distribution of information about serious incidents within the building and construction industry.

He said WorkSafe ACT was also working to improve how it relayed safety messages to the broader community.

Access Canberra can be reached on 13 22 81.