House painters are competing against law breaking "cowboys" who often shave thousands of dollars off quotes by not following safety regulations, industry leaders say.

Master Painters Association of New Zealand Bay of Plenty president Riki Nelson said since new rules were introduced around scaffolding, which was a huge cost to companies, it had created a problem in the house repaint side of the industry.

Everybody was compliant on the new build residential side but "we are finding people are significantly winning jobs because they were two to three thousand dollars cheaper than the other contractor in the repaint and rework area".

That was where most of the breaches occurred and there were people doing jobs for cash and companies flying under the radar, he said.

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It was a common complaint among association members who felt disgruntled, Mr Nelson said, and they often took photographic evidence of their competitors working with no scaffolding, which was forwarded to WorkSafe.

"That is their livelihood as well as their employees and they pay a lot of money for compliance and it's the legal framework we all have to operate under."

Unfortunately, the majority of homeowners took the lowest quote, he said and pleaded ignorance to the health and safety laws.

The Master Painters Association recognised it was an issue industry wide and was working on an education programme with WorkSafe and hoped to get other organisations on board including ACC, Mr Nelson said.

The Bay of Plenty had about 35 members registered with the association.

AAA Master Painters Tauranga owner Ron Bare said he was competing against guys who would do jobs on the cheap.

"We haven't put up our rates on painting but the cost of scaffolding has impacted on our business and doubled the price of some jobs."

Elderly people were most at risk of getting ripped off by those not following the law, he said.

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"The older people on fixed incomes are the ones getting hit hard because they want to maintain their property and when you tell them the cost of that it's 'jeepers'.

"They can't afford it so a cowboy will come in and do a cheap, quick job and rip them off.

"That is how it goes."

WorkSafe construction and manufacturing programme manager Marcus Nalter said it sympathised and "part of our role is to level that playing field".

However, the industry was not shy in reporting incidences, he said.

"Our freephone number gets regular calls by concerned tradies dobbing people in and we do follow that up and make sure they have the right equipment in place.

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"It's not going to go away overnight but there is certainly a commitment to drive that down."

The level of activity WorkSafe has had in "this area over three years is quite significant".

It visited construction sites and "where we have seen unsafe behaviour and practices we then used a range of enforcement tools we have available".

A big focus had also been on education, producing a toolkit booklet, meeting industry face-to-face, road show events, expos and working alongside industry with trade associations, he said.

"We recognise you don't just crack this nut by one single approach you have to have a multi-faceted approach using all different levers."

Bay Scaffolding owner Alan Mark said he had gone from two employees to five and about nine new scaffolding companies that he knew of had started up in the Bay of Plenty over the past few years.

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People had come on board with the new regulations and he was busy most of the time, he said.