Investigations are underway into the specific causes of yet two more recent construction site tragedies.

One occurred at Brisbane’s Eagle Hill Racecourse redevelopment where two workers were killed by a falling panel, and the other in Perth where a worker fell to her death. These follow tragedies in Perth in November last year where three more workers were killed.

The construction industry employs around 10 per cent of all Australian workers. As an industry that handles a variety of heavy materials including steel, concrete, timber, and glass – and one in which workers regularly work at heights, deal with electricity, manage noise and use complicated equipment, this is an industry with safety challenges.

To a degree it explains – but does not excuse – why the industry is tarred with the third highest rate of fatalities in the nation. And it is testament to the fact that many doing the right thing just isn’t good enough, and the reason why every construction site in the country must follow safe work practices.

Consequences of non-compliance

The consequences of not complying with legislation, standards and codes and not following safe practices are nothing short of crippling for the families, friends and workmates of the victims of incidents such as these. Every worker has a right to return from work safely, and it is no wonder the victims’ families are, amidst their grief, demanding answers. While many in the sector do implement safe work practices, what is it going to take for the whole construction industry to take worker safety seriously?

Imperative to comply with revised Standard

In the case of the construction of buildings involving precast and site-cast concrete elements, a thorough understanding of, and compliance with the requirements of parts 1 and 2 of the revised AS 3850 Prefabricated concrete elements (and its implications on safe practices), is imperative.

While the standard applies to the construction of buildings, we are strongly recommending that the relevant parts of the standard be used in civil construction also.

Isn’t there a National Code of Practice?

Yes there is. However, the NPCAA has withdrawn support of the National Code because it is now outdated – and in fact conflicts – with the revised AS 3850. That isn’t to say there is not a lot of good information in the Code, just that some parts are in conflict which potentially causes confusion. And confusion can increase risk.

The NPCAA has been calling on Safe Work Australia to expedite the Code’s review. However, indications are that the review is not likely to take place until late next year. We will be following this up with management of Safe Work Australia. State codes also exist in some states, and these too, are now likely to be out of date and in conflict with the standard. To that extent, we will be urging state authorities to adopt the one, uniform national code when it is revised.

What can industry do now?

There are four things industry can do.

  1. If precast concrete manufacturers are not members of National Precast, they need to be. With everyone involved, we can work together to raise the bar and educate.
  2. If precast manufacturers, builders and engineers haven’t already purchased a copy of both parts of the standard, they should do so now. They are available from SAI Global as AS 3850.1:2015 – Prefabricated concrete elements – General requirements and AS 3850.2:2015 – Prefabricated concrete elements – Building construction.
  3. Some in the industry will know that during August this year, National Precast held seminars for precasters, builders and engineers on the revised standard and its implications on Safety in Design. For those who did not attend, the seminar is now available as a webinar.
  4. All stakeholders should download a copy of the relevant Code of Practice (whilst these might be out of date, they still include some good information):

National Code
Victorian code
Queensland code