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'Deeply concerning': Union sounds alarm on falling workplace safety standards

Unions NSW has raised "extremely concerning" falls in workplace safety standards. (Source: AAP, Getty)

A union has flagged concerns about a drop in workplace safety standards in NSW, pointing to multiple factors such as a falling number of inspections, understaffing and less legal action.

In a letter to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said that SafeWork NSW was on track to see a “significant decline” in workplace inspections.

The 2017-18 financial year saw 43,000 inspections, but as at November 2019, the figure had dwindled own to 12,349.

“This substantial drop in activity is extremely concerning,” he said.

Additionally, the number of prosecutions has fallen: where there were 46 prosecutions in 2018, only 10 successful prosecutions have been launched this year.

And though at least 47 NSW workers died at work this year, SafeWork NSW has not pursued a single prison sentence this year, Morey said.

The union secretary also flagged SafeWork NSW understaffing as an issue as it has been revealed that one-in-10 roles at SafeWork NSW are vacant.

“It stands to reason that with fewer people available to inspect workplaces, there will be fewer inspections, and overall, a more lax approach to workplace safety,” Morey said in the letter, asking the Premier to clarify what it would do to ensure safer workplaces.

“Given the importance of this matter could you please advise what actions are being taken to fill these vacant positions to ensure it can properly scrutinise workplace safety and what scrutiny is being applied to SafeWork to see the rate of inspections and prosecutions is commensurate with ensuring a culture of safe workplaces in NSW.”

He also expressed concern that a proposed restructure would see reduced oversight of workplace safety in NSW.

“[The regulator] is clearly already lacking the necessary resources to effectively prosecute offenders and prevent ongoing worker fatalities.”

Yahoo Finance has reached out to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s office for comment.

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