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Getting the balance right: Regulating occupational health and safety planning and coordination in the Australian construction industry

Helen Lingard (School of Property, Construction and Project Management, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia)
Amanda Warmerdam (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia)
Salman Shooshtarian (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 2 April 2019

Issue publication date: 20 May 2019

Abstract

Purpose

In Australia, national harmonisation of occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation was pursued through the development of model Work Health and Safety legislation. The model Work Health and Safety Regulations specify that construction works above a threshold cost of AU$250,000 are deemed to be construction projects requiring the appointment of a principal contractor with duties relating to OHS planning and coordination. The purpose of this paper is to explore the effectiveness of the monetary threshold as a suitable trigger for specific OHS planning and coordination duties.

Design/methodology/approach

Interviews were conducted with 46 Australian construction industry stakeholders, including union representatives, employer groups, construction firm representatives and regulators, as well as four international construction OHS experts, to explore perceptions about the effectiveness of the monetary threshold. Two construction scenarios were also modelled to test for variability in operation of the threshold by geographical location of works and design conditions.

Findings

The monetary threshold was perceived to be subject to two forms of capture problem, reflecting inadvertent capture of low risk works or failure to capture high risk works. Organisations were also reported to deliberately split contracts to avoid capture by the threshold. The cost-estimate modelling revealed inequalities and variation in the operation of the monetary threshold by geographic location and design specification.

Practical implications

The analysis suggests that limitations inherent in the use of a monetary threshold to trigger duties relating to OHS planning and coordination in construction works. Opportunities to use more sophisticated risk-based mechanisms are considered.

Originality/value

The study explores a fundamental challenge of risk-based OHS regulation, i.e., how to ensure that workers’ health and safety are adequately protected without creating an unnecessarily high regulatory burden. The research provides evidence that using a monetary value as a proxy measure for OHS risk in construction projects may be problematic.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Safe Work Australia for the financial support for this study. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Safe Work Australia.

Citation

Lingard, H., Warmerdam, A. and Shooshtarian, S. (2019), "Getting the balance right: Regulating occupational health and safety planning and coordination in the Australian construction industry", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 26 No. 4, pp. 599-617. https://doi.org/10.1108/ECAM-02-2018-0086

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited