January 30, 2015 | Michael Inman | Courts reporter for The Canberra Times.
Canberra’s sex trade has continued its strong record of compliance with industry specific work safety laws.
But the capital’s 28 registered escort agencies have continued a recent trend of breaching general occupational health and safety laws.
Worker safety in Canberra’s brothels is governed by the Sexual Services Industry Code of Practice, part of the ACT Work Health and Safety Act, which provides a practical guide to protecting the health of sex workers and their clients.
The exhaustive 46-page code spans the mundane to the kinky, from fire safety to the correct cleaning process for sex aids.
Examples include, a recommendation to provide ergonomic beds so workers avoid back and wrist injury from occupational overuse syndrome.
A guide to cleaning bondage equipment says: “Leather equipment, such as whips, should be washed with hot soapy water and dried in the sun, then disinfected with 70 per cent alcohol and not used until they are dry.”
While compliance was strong for industry specific laws last financial year, a number of commercial sex operators fell foul of general occupational health and safety laws.
Figures show 35 improvement notices were issued in 2013-14.
The figure is a drop from the 48 notices issued the previous year, but is still the second highest result of the past five years.
No notices were issued in 2010-11, compared to five in 2009-10 and four in 2011-12.
A Justice and Community Safety Directorate spokesperson said workplace visits were carried out at all commercial premises in 2013-14.
Areas of concern included fire safety, emergency procedures, provision of first aid, material safety data sheets, amenities, slips, trips and falls, electrical equipment test and tag, duress alarms, and hazardous manual tasks.
All notices had been fixed when followed up.
The maximum penalty for failing to comply with an improvement notice is $50,000 for an individual, or $250,000 for a corporation.
ACT Policing confirmed no criminal action had been taken against brothels in the past year.
There are currently 28 escort agencies registered in the ACT.
The figure is up from 25 the previous year, but down from a high of 40 in 2008-09.
WorkSafe ACT commissioner Mark McCabe said inspectors conducted both pre-arranged and unannounced visits to commercial brothels as part of a regular compliance program.
The visits also acted as an opportunity to educate the licensees about their work safety obligations.
“Where necessary, inspectors take appropriate enforcement action to improve standards of compliance where breaches of the legislation are identified,” he said.
“Compliance in the industry is generally high, with individuals and companies showing a high level of awareness of their obligations.
“We’re not that concerned about the number issued because the type of issues were not extremely high risk, not life threatening.”
But Mr McCabe warned WorkSafe could intensify inspections given the spike in notices issued over the past two years.
AIDS Action Council executive director Philippa Mosssaid all work places, irrespective of industry, should be compliant with work safety laws.
The council’s sex worker outreach program (SWOP) cooperates with the Office of Regularity Services and WHS inspectors who attend and inspect brothels.
Ms Moss said the council believed that brothel owners were focused on the health and safety of workers.
“Brothels should not be seen as [existing under] special circumstances, as they are just another work place,” Ms Moss said.
“SWOP encourages Work Safety to treat brothels as any other business.”
But Robbie Swan, of the Eros Association, the national adult retail and entertainment body, said the Canberra industry suffered as it did not self-regulate.
The number of notices would drop if owners formed a professional association, hired a consultant, and adopted a member’s code of practice.
He said in many industries the only way to get a licence was to become a member of a professional association.
Mr Swan said the ACT Government could easily attach the existing code of practice to an organisation.