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 However, the NPCAA has withdrawn support of the National Code because it is now outdated – and in fact conflicts – with the revised AS 3850.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

  • Sarah, the only way construction is going to improve its safety and productivity is to measure performance. Precast is an example of the changing nature of construction. This can be positive as I suggest in this extract from the pre-read material prepared for a recent lecture to year 3 construction undergraduates; 'The performance of construction projects is increasingly becoming similar to the factory floor in industrialised industries where the effectiveness all of the prior design, planning, procurement and management systems are demonstrated and played out. As more construction fabrication moves off-site the more real this analogy becomes. These trends will define construction’s future and the success of its many players.' The point I am making here is that improving construction outcomes across the board will now need to trace back to the pre-construction inputs of designers and the many consultants that organise and procure projects. The growing pre-build market will need to achieve much greater alignment with the new, and increasingly assembly only work-faces on-site that will result. Fabrication on-site will soon require a business case to be made as to why it is needed. This then enables the spot light to shift to on-site and to contractors who have the direct and 'anticipated' role of receiving advanced off-site manufactures and assembling them safely on-site. I am proposing the introduction of a Construction Delivery Effectiveness index that equally weights efficient on-site assembly workforce inputs and Injury occurrences. The goal is to to set a measurable framework to lower the construction industry's LTIs from 17 to 4 over the next 5 years. This is only possible if these measures are made from on-site.

  • Sarah, thank you for your thoughts on this issue. They are exceptionally logical and sensible. The key problem in my view is that we have an industry that 'thinks' and acts illogically and very irrationally. Most times when defective building work is discovered, be it 'slab heave' or poor drainage on site, the 'builder' will blame the owner. If it is non-conforming, dangerous cladding, cabling, asbestos, etc. everyone will blame others – building surveyor the builder, who will blame the engineer and the VBA often says it is everyone's fault – and therefore NO-ONE'S FAULT. Yes, absurdly nonsensical! The owner who had nothing whatever to do with 'building' and in many cases is barred from even visiting their own property! In the case of the young German backpacker who fell 13 storeys to her death on a construction site in Perth (10 October 2016), Gerry Hanssen, developer Hanssen's Managing Director blamed the young woman for her death. He said that she had been 'inducted' and the blame for her death was with her. Hanssen said: “It was just an impulsive decision. She was fully inducted. She knew what she was doing." Clearly she did not commit suicide. To suggest that this accident was her fault is ludicrous. We have young, unskilled workers placed in high risk work sites, with insufficient training and supervision. This is the real cause. Most of these workers, classified as 'unskilled' and in fact often rightly determined as having few skills, are a cheaper source of labour – this case illustrates the now ever more frequent fatal outcomes. Incredibly, after this woman's death, work continued on the site! This just more evidence of an industry driven by profit, with no regard for people's lives.

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