Backing the transformation plan

17 Feb 2020

Brett Murray

[Reproduced with permission from the 10 February 2020 edition of Safeguard Update.]


Government leadership will be critical to the success of the newly released Construction Accord Transformation Plan, Site Safe chief executive Brett Murray believes.

The three-year action plan, developed by a multi-party team chaired by Minister for Building and Construction Jenny Salesa, provides defined targets and timelines across six key areas, to underpin the objectives of last year's pan-industry Construction Sector Accord.

Murray is pleased with the overall package but says industry will be looking to government to provide strong leadership. "The fact is, the government is a big procurer of building services, so they do need to lead by example. I want to be seeing government departments walking the talk on this one, because if they don't it will just be another case of do as we say, not as we do."

He says the six work streams in the plan - leadership, business performance, people development, health, safety and wellbeing, regulatory environment, and procurement and risk - are all inter-connected and affect one another, but believes procurement is the pivotal issue; the success of the plan as a whole, he says, may depend on getting this part right.

"When it boils down to it, the industry suffers from a lack of trust. Everyone is working on tight margins and a lot of the risks get pushed down the supply chain. The further down the supply chain you get, the less influence you have, but the more you're impacted by the risks - both financial and in the safety space. It's critical we have contracts that look for good outcomes for all parties - clients and builders."

He believes the plan has the potential to make a big difference and is hopeful that several new initiatives - including improving job security, fostering safer and more supportive work environments, and establishing better career pathways - will help address the industry's long-standing image problem and make it a more attractive employment option.

Safety concerns, boom and bust cycles, and the hard physical nature of construction work make it difficult for many in the sector to attract and retain good apprentices, Murray says, and as a result there is a lot of reliance on labour hire, particularly in vertical construction.

"Labour hire companies obviously do their best to ensure their people are trained, but there is a lot of throughput.

Murray says Site Safe trains about 75,000 workers every year, and almost half of those are doing their foundational training for the first time.

Having a large portion of the workforce that is new to the industry has obvious safety implications, he says, and he is pleased that the action plan will work with ITOs to make construction a more attractive career choice, from both the safety and financial perspectives.

The action plan intends to have a mental health strategy in place by June this year. Site Safe has been a leader in identifying mental health and suicide risk as critical issues for the construction sector, so Murray is particularly pleased to see mental wellbeing initiatives included in the plan. However he cautions that Mates in Construction, a suicide prevention programme developed in Australia that is to be rolled out across the local industry, should not be seen as a panacea.

"It's an important piece in the mental health jigsaw but it's not the whole puzzle. The programme is site-based, so the challenge is, how do we address the guys on small residential sites? We have to look at other resources for the one, two and three-man bands, especially in the regions, because our [2019] suicide study found owner-operators were a third more likely to be at risk."

Addressing the sector's mental health issues will be a challenge, he says, "but it's a good challenge to be having, in that we're actually starting to think about it."

The plan will also be developing and rolling out client health and safety leadership training in a similar timeframe, mid-2020. Next year the health, safety and wellbeing focus will be on promoting safety in design, and developing a standardised prequalification framework.

Overall, Murray says the best part of the new plan is having a coalition of government and industry. "It's a big step forward from what we've had in the past. But if we don't fix the procurement and supply chain issues, everything that flows on from that across the rest of the programme will struggle."

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