Blue Mountains News

Blue Mountains City Council welcomes SafeWork NSW apology

By Blue Mountains City Council
Posted: 20 Sep 2020
Blue Mountains City Council welcomed SafeWork NSW’s apology this week in regards to its compliance activity that was found, by the NSW Ombudsman last month, to be unlawful or unreasonable.

The SafeWork NSW statement, released on 15 September, said: “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.”

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill said: “I acknowledge the apology from SafeWork NSW and I am pleased that they have mentioned the constructive work Council is doing to manage asbestos in our workplaces.

 

“Although I do note that the recommendation in the Ombudsman’s Report stated that: ‘SafeWork apologise to the Blue Mountains City Council for the way it conducted its compliance activities in 2017-2018 and acknowledge the detrimental impact on Council, staff and ratepayers from its actions.’

 

“The SafeWork NSW statement this week did not acknowledge that detrimental impact on our organisation, Council staff or the community, that was clearly outlined in the Ombudsman’s report,” Mayor Greenhill said.

 

The NSW Ombudsman Michael Barnes released his Final Report on 21 August regarding an investigation into actions taken by SafeWork NSW Inspectors in relation to Blue Mountains City Council workplaces.

The Ombudsman found that six Improvement and Prohibition notices issued by SafeWork in relation to Wentworth Falls Preschool, Heatherbrae House, Springwood Depot and Lawson Carpark between 28 November 2017 and 13 March 2018 were either unlawful or unreasonable.

The report records strong findings and makes significant recommendations that vindicate Council’s complaints. As stated by the Ombudsman, “It is not suggested that BMCC’s practices had no room for improvement or that SafeWork as the regulator should not take action on non-compliance just because it is common. However, the level and type of action taken against BMCC was inconsistent and excessive in light of SafeWorks’ own policy and guidelines, and, as such, was unreasonable and disproportionate”.

The SafeWork NSW statement this week said: “SafeWork NSW takes its responsibility in ensuring the safety of workplaces seriously and endeavours to achieve the highest standards in this regard.”

 

Mayor Greenhill said: “I remain shocked that the independent safety regulator would be the subject of interference, as found in the Ombudsman’s report.”

 

In a letter to the President of the Legislative Council and the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly the Ombudsman stated: "I identified a number of occasions where SafeWork’s compliance notices were issued contrary to law. In particular, on a number of occasions SafeWork Inspectors issued notices without holding the reasonable belief that is required under the legislation. Instead, they issued the notices because they were directed to do so.

“The issues at the heart of this investigation centre on good administrative practice. Employers, workers and the community need to be able to place their trust in a regulator to act lawfully and reasonably, and to provide certainty and consistency in enforcement."

SafeWork NSW said in its statement this week: “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.”

 
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