CONSTRUCTION sites across the Hunter will be subject to unannounced checks by the industry watchdog this week following a recent string of safety breaches identified by workers and union officials.
Australian Community Media revealed in April the dark side of the Hunter's billion dollar construction boom that insiders claim is "masking a tragedy waiting to happen" as builders repeatedly flout safety rules.
Inspectors began their "high-visibility safety checks" across the region on Tuesday.
The new blitz, announced by Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson, is part of a crackdown to ensure the safety of workers across the building sector.
"We're kicking off a crackdown on high-risk harms on construction sites across the Newcastle region," Mr Anderson said.
"SafeWork will show zero tolerance for workers or the public being put at risk of serious or fatal injuries through unsafe practices, and heavy on-the-spot fines will be handed out to anyone doing the wrong thing."
Inspectors will focus on working from heights, electrical safety, falling objects, amenities, work plans and the prevention of respiratory diseases such as silicosis, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
They will also be checking sites have appropriate COVID-19 measures in place to protect workers.
Companies face on-the-spot fines of $3600 and $720 for individuals found to be putting workers' safety at risk through inadequate fall from heights protection, or for those who undertake work without appropriate licences.
The blitz comes as Hunter-based Landmark Roofing was fined $400,000 in the NSW District Court last week for a safety breach that led to the death of 20-year-old Brayden Asser, who fell six metres through a roof at Mayfield West, in 2018.
It's understood the company plans to appeal.
The nation's peak building union said the construction industry needs to be driven as much by safety concerns as it is by money. Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) organiser Mark Cross said some operators across the Hunter were not placing "anywhere near enough emphasis on safety".
The Newcastle Herald has been supplied this year with a host of pictures and videos exposing safety breaches and raising questions about the state of safety on some sites.
The construction industry consistently rates as one of the worst in Australia for workplace fatalities, with 31 construction workers killed on average every year for the five years to 2018.
A drop in workplace safety inspections and prosecutions has seen SafeWork NSW come under fire for its approach to keeping workers safe.
NSW government figures show SafeWork NSW completed 12,349 inspections and other compliance activities for the 10 months to November last year.
This compares to 42,582 workplace safety "interactions" including inspections completed in the 2017/18 financial year.