The powers of South Australia's workplace safety inspectors puts them at “significant risk of corruption, including bribery and coercion”, according to an ICAC lawyer.

Commissioner Bruce Lander has held a hearing to outline ICAC's public evaluation of the regulatory arm of SafeWork SA.

Mr Lander said the evaluation was undertaken in response to a series of complaints and reports about the ICAC.

“The totality of the complaints and reports led me to think that it has become necessary to consider the wider context in which SafeWork SA conducts its business and, in particular, how it guards against the risks of corruption, misconduct and maladministration,” Mr Lander said.

SA’s new Liberal Government pledged during its election campaign to hold open ICAC hearings.

Counsel Assisting the commissioner, Holly Stanley, said SafeWork SA’s inspectors have two roles: to both help workplaces comply with the law and to enforce the law.

“Once on site, an inspector has near unfettered power to ensure compliance, including inspecting and examining any aspect of the workplace, conducting tests, making recordings or requesting interviews with those at the workplace who must comply with that request,” Ms Stanley said.

Individual inspectors can be called on to prosecute cases, which can result in fines of up to $3 million for corporations, and terms of imprisonment of up to five years.

“An inspector may, in the course of their duties, investigate contraventions of the act by right-of-entry permit holders, whilst at the same time working with unions as a stakeholder in the overall desire to protect workers health and safety,” she said.

“In practice, this means that the highly discretionary powers given to an individual inspector are often used in circumstances where there are competing pressures and vested interests at play.

“It is generally accepted, where such a significant regulatory powers are invested in individuals, and where the consequences of a regulatory decision can be significant for both businesses and workers, those individuals are at significant risk of corruption, including bribery and coercion.

“It is therefore important that those risks are acknowledged and properly managed.”

Mr Lander said the rest of the inquiry would be conducted in public, and called on the public to make submissions.