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Substandard safety practices could result in deaths on Australia’s largest civil construction project, a whilstleblower has claimed.

As reported on the ABC’s news web site, a contractor known only as Nick’ (not his real name), has reportedly told the network that poor safety processes could see the National Broadband Network become similar from the viewpoint of the government to the previous government’s ‘pink batts’ home insulation scheme in four installers died during a rollout which was heavily bungled.

According to Nick, a critical area of risk revolves around an unwillingness on the part of the Skybridge, the company he is contracted to for work on the network’s Sky Muster rollout in remote Western Australia, to pay him to take another person with him when attending jobs which often involves working on cattle stations which are hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest town.

He says this meant having to advise the homeowner or an authorised representative of the premises owner to be the rescue person in the event of an emergency.

Where problems occurred, such as becoming entangled in the rope being used for restraint whilst working on the roof, this could result in the installer being potentially reliant upon an elderly person to get him out of trouble – a situation which he said was placing the safety of contractors in jeopardy.

Long hours were also a concern, Nick said, whereby the requirement to drive as many as 1,000 kilometres per day plus spend often three to four hours on the work site meant that he was working on a solo basis for at least fourteen hours per day even before taking meal and rest breaks into account and creating concerns regarding fatigue in respect of long drives.

NBN Co – the government owned agency which is responsible for delivering upon the rollout, said it treated allegations of unsafe practices seriously, as did Regional Communications Minister Fiona Nash.

In addition to safety, Nick said there were issues associated with wastage and poor productivity, which he believed were blowing out the cost associated with some jobs by hundreds of dollars.

Courtesy of a policy on the part of the company to refuse to allow installers to commence work on a job without first providing a quote in cases where they thought the work would take more than two and a half hours, Nick said oftentimes he had driven hundreds of kilometres to jobs only to turn around without having even opened up his toolbox.

Labor’s regional communications spokesperson Stephen Jones said the situation was alarming, and called for an independent inquiry into the Sky Muster aspect of the rollout.

 
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