Lessons from the Queensland Insulation Tragedy 1

Monday, September 23rd, 2013
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Now that the findings of the Queensland Coroner into the deaths of three men who worked on the federal government’s home insulation scheme have been released, questions about whether enough has enough been learned to prevent further tragedy are being asked.

Just as Kevin Rudd was just settling back into a short stay in the big seat as Prime Minister, the ruling of the Queensland Coroner investigating the deaths of 25-year-old Matthew Fuller, 16-year-old Rueben Barnes and 22-year-old Mitchell Sweeney were being released.

The three were working for installers under the Rudd government’s economic stimulus package to provide insulation to Queensland homes Each was killed between October 2009 and February 2010.

In all three cases, State Coroner Michael Barnes found the men were electrocuted while installing insulation in roofs where the power had not been cut off from the mains supply, and has referred their supervisors and employers to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Furthermore, in his report, Barnes was scathing not only about the lack of training provided by the contractors involved but also about the overall rush to implement the scheme, which he acknowledged needed to be created and implemented within a short timeframe in order to have its intended impact upon the economy (to counter the effects of the global financial crisis) but said should not have been implemented with such haste so as to risk human life.

Not surprisingly, the federal government is blaming the Queensland government, which in turn insists responsibility lay with the Rudd government.

Former Federal Resources Minister Gary Gray is quoted as saying it was not uncommon to rely on state and territory legislation where the Commonwealth may not have constitutional power to legislate to cover an entire industry.

“In this case, the Commonwealth had limited powers to legislate for specific industry safety requirements and relied on state safety legislation,” he said. “Commonwealth legislation would have duplicated state and territory laws and there was no indication that the existing laws were inadequate to ensure worker safety.”

In his findings, the coroner noted the Federal Government tried to engage with the state government over safety protocol implementation on at least two occasions but did not receive any response.

Regardless of who is to blame, this whole episode represents a failure at all levels of government. Unfortunately, Australians have little reason to be confident episodes such as this will not happen again.

The bottom line is that it is up to individual employers to ensure they are up to date on all health and safety regulations and more importantly, to step up above current requirements for on-site safety and identify risks which their business and/or their contractors may not have previously encountered – which is best done by contacting Workplace Health and Safety and asking for the latest risk register containing any new initiatives announced by civil authorities.

Where death or serious injury are real possibilities, there is no such thing as being too careful. Living with the consequences of injury or death under your ‘watch’ is a terrible burden to bear.

Don’t rely on others for the safety of your team.

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  1. Andrew

    If the houses were wired legally no one could have been electrocuted.