Three Dead Construction Workers in Four Days! 10

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Monday, October 17th, 2016
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In Brisbane, two construction workers have died a terrible death, crushed by a nine-tonne concrete panel. They had no means of escape as the panel crashed down, caught at the bottom of a pit, with no emergency exit and nowhere to run.

The panels were being erected without a safe work method statement. Elementary precautions were absent. In fact, anyone wanting to design a way to kill people could simply follow this procedure.

Their workmates saw them die. The horror will never leave them. They will carry the image and memory of this disaster until their own dying day.

Their families have lost a dad, a husband a brother or sister.

Four days later, on the other side of the country in the Perth CBD, a 27-year-old woman fell 13 floors to her death. She was standing on a bucket applying silicone to the joints of a precast panel, but must have been too close to the edge.

The builder instructed work to continue. Concrete was poured, other work kept going. Some workers on site didn’t even realise that one of them had fallen to their death.

She was a tourist from Germany on a working holiday visa. The visa is designed to allow young backpackers to earn a few dollars doing fruit picking or bar work as they made their way around the country. It’s supposed to be a “cultural exchange” between the home country and Australia.

Somewhere in Germany, a family is paying a terrible price for this “cultural exchange.”

The construction company, Hanssen, is on record saying that around 50 per cent of the construction workers on its sites are backpackers. They are paid low wages and are mostly untrained and inexperienced in construction – one of the most high-risk industries in Australia and around the world.

The company’s managing director, Gerry Hanssen, has sought to blame the victim, claiming she should have been wearing a harness. He needs to have a good hard look at himself. Putting an untrained inexperienced worker in a high risk job is never acceptable.

The CFMEU had been to the site and raised numerous issues in the months and weeks leading up to the tragedy. Hanssen had refused to cooperate with the union and deal with safety breaches. Indeed, he has since said workers need to take responsibility for their own safety.

Where is the government in all of this?

Construction workers increasingly and justifiably regard government safety inspectors with thinly disguised contempt. Some inspectors try their best to bring safety and order to this dangerous industry, but the mantra of ‘light touch’ regulation has captured the dim imagination of the senior safety bureaucrats. Precious few of these highly paid managers, who the community fund in the expectation they will enforce government safety laws in the workplace, have ever experienced the reality of dangerous, high risk work.

The Federal Safety Commission (FSC) illustrates this point. The ‘tick and flick’ accreditation scheme administered by this agency has had little or no impact on safety.

John Holland are still accredited, despite seven convictions for breaching safety laws, four fatalities and a number of accidents that have left people maimed for life. What is the point of this the FSC when offenders like John Holland continue to get accreditation under schemes that are supposed to protect workers health and safety, and the fines levied are immaterial to their corporate balance sheet?

The FSC is set up under the same laws that established the Australian Building and Construction Commission, now the Fair Work Building Commission, which prosecutes workers and unions for strikes, bargaining breaches and right of entry matters. This body has dozens of prosecutions on foot against the CFMEU and its officials.

It receives $35 million per annum in government funding and churns out a relentless ream of media releases trumpeting these proceedings.

The federal government wants to pass laws giving the ABCC more powers and increasing fines on workers and unions.

Gerry Hanssen is a strong supporter of these laws, and of the Liberal Party. He does a fair bit of fundraising for the WA Branch, apparently.

The Turnbull Government seemingly has no plans to do anything about the sort of atrocities we’ve seen in the last few days. Nothing at all.

When Turnbull and Cash talk about “restoring the rule of law to the construction industry,” they’re not talking about justice for Humberto Leite, Ashley Morris or Marianka Heumann. In fact, they’ve been completely silent about these tragedies, preferring to continue their dishonest smear campaign against construction workers and their unions.

That tells you everything you need to know about their priorites.

The Turnbull government’s only plan is to re-establish an organisation that persecutes the CFMEU, the union which wants to do something about the carnage in our industry.

The Turnbull government allows property barons to employ a large number of people on a raft of visas that ultimately cost them less than skilled and experienced local workers. They allow them to cut corners on safety as they takes advantage of these workers’ inexperience. They gift them laws so they can put a stop to any obstructive union official who wants to insist on the enforcement of safety laws.

These are laws which impose will impose massive penalties on workers and unions for taking industrial action or failing to fill in the right paperwork to access sites. All of this means less safety for workers; fatalities increased the last time the ABCC was in place.

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Discussions
10
  1. Anne Paten

    I commend you for highlighting the reality for those who work in the construction industry. There are many parallels between the outcomes for workers and consumers. In short, the lives of those in both groups, those who construct buildings and those who provide the funding for all our buildings. Injuries and deaths of workers are of no account to Government and Business, and injuries, deaths and enormous financial loss for hundreds of thousands of consumers are also of no account.
    The silence of Governments everywhere the collaborative role of government agencies in supporting profiteering over people is the normal strategy. Likewise, the 'blame the victim' is the norm – be it workers, as in this case of the unskilled backpacker working in Perth – or consumers who are blamed when they go through the nightmare of their building disaster, in the hundreds of thousands every year.
    Unions who represent workers, and those who are seeking reform within the industry need to unite with consumers. Then we can all speak with the one voice – for fairness, safety and the lives of all Australians. Let's do it!

  2. Stirling Withcombe

    They can't selectively spruik about being "safety experts" only when it suits them. Stand up and take account for your failings too CFMEU

  3. John cole

    Why isn't labor saying more about these tradgetys.

  4. Rene Pantlitz

    Shouldn't happen in this day and age shame shame shame

  5. Max Lian

    The mob I used to work for, BlueS…. Steel, had a "zero harm" policy. Safety was their number one priority. As a white collar worker, I found the frequent safety audits and stop for safety meetings annoying. They interrupted my day. It seemed over the top. It was a nuisance.

    But it was worth it. Injuries were infrequent, prevented, of course, by safety procedures that were put in place as a direct result of those safety meetings, audits, toolbox talks etc. On the rare occasion that a serious incident occurred, all our sites would hold safety meetings. On the even rarer occasion of a death, the whole company would STOP.

    In hindsight, I was so very, very lucky to work for a company that cared for its workers.

  6. James

    If Hanssen's practices are as described, that is deplorable, but it's hard to know if it's true given the rhetoric that follows these assertions. By the end of the article, it's nothing but a militant campaign against the ABCC… what does that have to do with the sadly deceased and their bereaved families?

    The focus should be a combined effort between government, unions, principal contractors and workers to eradicate unsafe practices. But Noonan's priority appears to be blaming others and advertising his company (the CFMEU).

  7. Peter Close

    More wise words from the CFMEU leader. Courier mail today has a story on a union delegate being persecuted for doing his job on another unsafe site. A thug they call him well these builders are MURDERERS.

  8. Les Williams

    The criminality of large construction companies and their corporate buddies, including banks, goes unchecked. There will be some serious questions that will need serious answers with the tragedy that recently occurred in Brisbane. Consumers, industry small business and employees have become invisible. The 3 deaths Dave has mentioned should never have occurred. I have had the misfortune to witness two on-site deaths and Dave is right – it never leaves you. We must ensure that people who are tragically killed on site or because of losing money does not happen in vain. I have been advocating a joint approach to these problems for a while. Consumer and small industry business issues are linked.

  9. David Chandler

    Dave, like you I believe accidents such as these should be a thing of the past. And I share your sadness and anger over these deaths. In over 40 years of direct construction engagement I have had this experience once. The blame game does not work when these tragedy's happen. Construction in this day and age should be far less chaotic and unproductive. I observe construction being performed on projects across the country. I regularly see safety faults that should not be happening. Both workers and the public are placed at risk. At times I wonder what Worksafe agencies do.

    And I believe that the time has long passed for the opaque reporting practices they employ to become fully transparent. Everyone has the right to know about root-cause and the actions taken in every instance. Better use of a hotline to report issues should be encouraged. Everyone has a responsibility to act safely and look out for co-workers. They should feel able to voice concerns. Equally I do not believe any worker is directed to work unsafely. But I am not naive enough to believe that unsafe situations are created where workers either unwittingly or wittingly go along. I see safety as a Quality Assurance issue, not an industrial one. Construction is not made safer by thinking that safe work should not be bracketed with quality management systems and compliance. It is really time the organisers of construction worked this out. The rule of law should be well and truely applied for safety and other breaches. But any suggestion that these tragic deaths are a reason to push back on the ABCC legislation is inappropriate. The legislation is flawed and needs to be re-worked.

  10. Don

    Could you please enlighten me as to why we are loosing worker more now than back ten years ago .My thought on it is lack of training in which unions were giving projects aloud to run projects with EBAS signed and a poor support work place safety ,as the work has to be done so they employ untrained workers ,this has got to stop ,we can not have more of our fellow works not returning home to there families ./