Media Releases

'Damning' SafeWork SA review released, SA workers call for government action

January 25, 2023

Today the South Australian Government has released the independent 'root and branch' review of SafeWork SA, conducted by John Merritt, former head of WorkSafe Victoria.

The State Government has immediately adopted some of the recommendations, and others will be subject to consultation before any changes are legislated.

Identifying a litany of failures, the report urges the government to ensure SafeWork SA publicly and courageously pursue a mission of seeing fewer people hurt and killed at work.

SafeWork SA’s job is to proactively improve safety; by investigating and responding to reports of safety issues, and by prosecuting those who breach workplace safety law. The Merritt report shows that SafeWork SA is failing on all fronts, stating "the excessive internal focus appears to have come at the expense of the organisation focusing on the health and safety outcomes in the state."

The report also recommends a greater role for unions and workers in ensuring workplace safety including the ability to launch private civil cases if SafeWork SA fails to act.

Key Issues:

  • On average, a worker dies every month in SA. SafeWork SA's focus is not currently on pursuing a mission of seeing fewer people hurt and/or killed at work.
  • Poor internal culture has driven away staff, degrading SafeWork SA's capacity and In 2022 SafeWork SA conducted 71% fewer worksite inspections than they did in 2018 (SafeWork SA Activity Reports).
  • SafeWork SA is poor at proactively identifying and addressing risk. Last year Return to Work SA recorded over 13,000 workplace injuries in SA, however SafeWork SA only achieved 1 conviction aimed at proactively preventing injuries occurring at a worksite.
  • Health & Safety Reps are left to fend for themselves, receiving insufficient support from SafeWork SA.
  • SafeWork SA lacks transparency when engaging with workers, unions and businesses. They regularly fail to respond when workers report safety issues, the number of investigations to address safety risks is reducing year on year, and there is no mechanism to get them to explain why.
  • SafeWork SA's lack of transparency and accountability led the Merritt Report to recommend establishing a tripartite Oversight and Advisory Council (SWOAC).

"There is a lot of detail in this report to work through, but it is clearly damning. SafeWork SA is failing, and it is the workers and businesses of South Australia who are paying the price."

"The people most affected by SafeWork SA's failures are workers who have sustained injuries on the job that could and should have been prevented. Workers who are crying out for help that they aren’t receiving, and the families of the workers who have died who deserve justice."

"Workers are the experts in their workplace, they've got a pretty good idea if something is safe and when it’s not. So when they ask for help to resolve a safety issue, they should be listened to and get the support they need. But this hasn't been happening,"

"SafeWork SA weaponise "confidentiality" to avoid scrutiny; from workers, unions and businesses. This can't be allowed to continue."

"If SafeWork SA fails to act on protecting workers' safety or deliver justice for a worker’s death, they have nowhere else to go. Workers and their families need somewhere else to turn when SafeWork SA fails."

"Workers are relying on the government to act, to lead real reform that helps them rectify safety issues before someone is injured, or worse. We've got the chance to lead real reform in workplace safety that will save lives, and we're committed to working with the government to create a system that keeps people safe at work.”