SafeWork NSW acknowledges the findings and accepts all of the 11 recommendations in the special report to Parliament under sections 26 and 31 of the Ombudsman Act 1974; Investigation into actions taken by SafeWork NSW Inspectors in relation to Blue Mountains City Council workplaces.
As the Ombudsman notes, the potential danger of asbestos is extremely significant. As the NSW Work Health and Safety regulator, SafeWork NSW takes its responsibility in ensuring the safety of workplaces seriously and endeavours to achieve the highest standards in this regard. SafeWork NSW apologises that the compliance activity and some of its processes were not up to the standard expected of a best practice regulator. SafeWork NSW acknowledges the substantial work being done by Blue Mountains City Council to manage asbestos safely in its workplaces and will continue to work with the Council in pursuing a collaborative working relationship.
The Ombudsman has previously noted that the work undertaken by Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities (HACA) in implementing the State’s first State-Wide Asbestos Plan has resulted in NSW now being recognised in Australia as having a best practice approach to managing asbestos. The findings and recommendations of the Ombudsman in this special report however identify areas where SafeWork can improve its performance as a regulator. SafeWork NSW welcomes these opportunities and has already commenced the following processes to implement them.
- As part of SafeWork NSW’s continuous improvement programs, a new Inspector Practice Note with supporting policies and procedures on the operation of section 162 of the Act will be in place from September 2020. This Note will provide targeted guidance for all Inspectors for this priority area.
- Enhanced training programs have been developed to ensure there are clear policies and training provided to all Inspectors and management who hold Inspector Authorities. A Continuing Professional Development (ICPD) program will build and enhance inspectorate capability and enable exemplary regulatory services by planning, designing, developing and delivering an end-to-end program for inspectors. This program has commenced. A specific training program for section 162 commences on 21 September 2020 with completion expected by December 2020.
- A quality assurance program to ensure consistency in SafeWork’s regulatory processes is being developed, with a view to implementation across all operational areas of SafeWork by mid-2021.
- A Business Intelligence Improvement Program will provide Inspectors with access to improved data and guidance materials in the field via their mobile devices.
- A comprehensive review of SafeWork’s existing guidance material is being undertaken to address the matters raised specifically in the recommendations and the report. The review and updates of existing guidance are scheduled to be completed by mid-2021, with the development of ‘Conflict of Interest Strategic Plans’ prioritised for completion by December 2020.
In regard to the Ombudsman’s recommendations for regulatory reform, SafeWork NSW notes that the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) is part of a national model law regime. As such a proposal to amend section 162 of the model law will be listed for consideration at the next national meeting of Work Health and Safety Ministers.
SafeWork NSW is committed to continuous improvement in the way it conducts its regulatory functions and thanks the Ombudsman for identifying specific opportunities in which to do this.