23/04/2008 - 22:00

Safety plan could cost

23/04/2008 - 22:00

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Residential builders may soon have an increased responsibility for the health and safety of their civil contractors, according to two new sets of regulations set to be adopted by the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection.

Safety plan could cost

Residential builders may soon have an increased responsibility for the health and safety of their civil contractors, according to two new sets of regulations set to be adopted by the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection.

Under the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, the regulations have been in force for the civil and commercial construction sector since January, but may apply to residential builders in Western Australia later this year.

The regulations would require building companies to develop a safety management plan for all of their contractors where ‘high risk’ construction work is involved.

This covers demolition work or sites above two metres in height, and would apply to all sub-contractors, including plasterers, painters and bricklayers.

In addition, builders would have to provide extra protection, such as internal scaffolding, for workers on sites above two metres in height.

Master Builders Association WA director Michael McLean said estimates showed the new regulations could impose an extra cost of up to $20,000 for a single house, which would be passed on to the end consumer.

“One thing that is not factored in is the impact of some of the new safety measures on the cost of construction,” Mr McLean said.

“We’ve requested a meeting with WorkSafe to discuss the issue because we’re concerned about the impact from a cost perspective, and whether the measures will be meaningful in the residential sector.”

Mr McLean said extra safety measures, such as scaffolding, would incur significant costs.

“Single storey residential homes generally have a ceiling height of 2.4 metres, which means the builder will have to provide internal scaffolding, or alternative protection like beanbags,” he said.

“Very few builders would appreciate what is entailed, and those that do are very concerned about how to implement the provisions in a meaningful way.”

Alcock Brown-Neaves Group – the second largest residential builder in WA – is putting together its own submission to government outlining some concerns with the proposed regulations.  

ABN Group managing director Dale Alcock said he believed self-regulation and a full-time safety consultant had been sufficient for the company to manage on-site risk.

“Our view is there is no additional protection required, in terms of legislation. It is more an educational issue,” he said.

“We train around 325 apprentices and that’s a lot of young people coming through who will have a far greater understanding of safety requirements than those who were self-taught.”

Mr Alcock said the requirement for extra protection for employees working at height was likely to be counter-productive and cost prohibitive.

“You can never eliminate risk, but by doing this you’ll keep workers in the at-risk area for longer,” he said.

“Additionally, you could have a blasé approach develop, because people are less concerned [about working at height] due to the extra protection offered.”

Mr Alcock said more detailed statistics on worker injuries were needed to justify the new regulations.

Under the current system used to collect data on workers’ compensation claims, there is no distinction between residential building and commercial construction, or between single and multiple storey buildings.

“This should be about the cost benefit, and there needs to be an analysis of the injury data, to see whether we need this,” Mr Alcock said.

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