A series of recent safety issues on a variety of construction sites around Australia is a harsh reminder to workers that they must stand up for safety standards at work, especially when their employer is unwilling to do so.
In NSW this month, two serious workplace accidents on Sydney Metro work sites landed one worker in hospital and could have killed dozens of workers had it happened 20 minutes earlier.
An escalator on a construction site at Martin Place fell four floors and crashed through a wall, narrowly missing a number of workers.
“If it had’ve happened 20 minutes earlier we’re probably talking about fatalities,” said ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks.
At the Pitt Street Metro site, a hoist operator also fell 9 metres.
“He’s got significant pelvic and leg injuries and he’s currently in hospital as we speak,” Mr Hicks said.
On a residential construction site in Walkerville, Adelaide, an electrician died while working on a meter box at the site, run by Metricon Homes.
“We’ve got to remember that these cases are not statistics, there are people with loved ones and those people deserve to come to work and go home safe,” said CEPU SA State Secretary John Adley.
Union action on safety
CEPU SA members this month shut down a major transmission line project on the Eyre peninsula to protect workers.
Multi-national construction contractor Downer have been awarded a contract on the $300-million 270 km Eyre Link project to build a transmission line from Cultana to Port Lincoln, via Yadnarie
Workers shut down the project due to appalling health and safety. Workers were forced to share personal protective equipment while working 40 metres from the ground.
As well as forcing workers to share PPE there were limited first aid capabilities, communications or an emergency response plan, meaning a safety incident could leave workers with little means of seeking emergency services assistance.
A COVID outbreak led to the closure of one of the workers’ camps, but despite this, access to hand-washing facilities on worksites was rare, and accommodation was filled with dirt and dust.
The constant presence of dirt and dust on site and in the camps also means increased exposure to silicosis, an incurable lung disease, due to the presence of respirable crystalline silica.
The CEPU called on ElectraNet SA and the South Australian Government to investigate. Safework SA have also visited the site.
Due to the union’s industrial action, and some media that publicly exposed the company, Downer agreed to rectify some of the concerns raised by the union.
Downer is now conducting airborne testing and samples of the gravel have been taken for testing at ALS Global Laboratory for the presence of silica. Dust reduction methods have been promised, such as watering of walkways, bi-weekly cleaning of rooms and door mats ordered for each room. They have claimed they ordered new harnesses so workers don’t have to share PPE.
However, weeks after the industrial action, many changes are still yet to actually happen.
The union has still not seen evidence of the promised room cleaning. Rooms are still coated in dirt and dust and sometimes mould.
“Sometimes there are hidden dangers that are harder to get immediate action on, like the risk of silicosis. We need to be vigilant in demanding safe workplaces, even when the employer isn’t responding with the level of urgency we need,” said CEPU SA organiser Jason Lailey.
“The Union will be visiting camps next week to make sure that those promised changes have actually been put in place. If they haven’t, we’ll shut them down again,” he said.
Safety alerts for unsafe equipment
Last week two safety notices were issued about failing equipment that could endanger workers and the community. Please familiarise yourself with these alerts and share them with your workplaces.
No job is worth putting yourself in harm’s way. If your workplace is unsafe, contact your employer and the union immediately. Safety is union business.