Television exposé of children at risk on roof insulation worksite

On 16 February 2010, I was interviewed by Channel 7 television in Melbourne over 20 minutes of footage they had received that showed unacceptable work practices at a domestic site in Cranbourne.

Emails from friends told me that my words and face were used in promotional ads by the TV program. At the time of writing this, I have not seen the ads and I have no idea what words of mine they will use in the program to be broadcast this evening, 17 February 2010. [Video now available online]

Today Tonight has video of  two men who are installing fibreglass insulation into a domestic roof space after having made an entry by removing some roof tiles.  The men were employed to undertake the work by a company that has registered with the Australian Government for the task.  The workers are equipped with face masks, gloves and coveralls.  No fall protection was provided.

The video was taken by a neighbour and submitted to Today Tonight.  The mechanics of this are unknown to me and whether the program paid for the footage, I don’t know.

The insulation safety issue is hot in Australia at the moment so there is no surprise that a current affairs program would be interested.  The clincher though was that, during the installation work, the children of the homeowner climbed up the workers’ ladder on to the roof and spent about 15 minutes wandering around.  The oldest child was around 12.  The youngest was around three, a toddler.  This child got on the roof by being handed to a worker from the ladder.  The worker then carried the child to the apex of the roof and sat it down.

When asked by the reporter my opinion of the video, I stressed that it was unacceptable for the children to be on the roof while work was being undertaken.  The workers had a legislative responsibility to not put others at risk from their work activity and should not have allowed the children to be there at all.

The reporter repeatedly asked what I thought about the children not wearing similar protective equipment to the workers.  I said that the issue was that the children should not be in the workplace and particularly one at that height.  I considered the risk of falling to be unacceptable.

The eldest child is seen early in the video unpacking the bags of fibreglass batts without supervision.  The labeling on the packaging is minimal and could not be read clearly from the small vision I was viewing.  The reporter said that the fibreglass insulation was bought from the black market or from overseas.  I had never heard of a black market in this product but was aware that the Federal Government’s Insulation scheme had created a demand for insulation materials that was hard to satisfy.

She also said that the workers and children were being exposed to formaldehyde from the insulation.  I said I was unaware of that type of hazard.  After filming, it became clear that they had spoken to, or at least read an article about, Warrick Batt who says that some imported insulation materials have high levels of formaldehyde.

A Senate inquiry into the Government’s insulation scheme held hearings in Melbourne today where the issue of formaldehyde in batts was raised.  Reporters have also asked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd over the matter.

The reporter mentioned to me the nationality of the homeowner and the fact that he had only been in Australia for a year.  Both facts are irrelevant to the safety issues in the video.

She also said that the insulation company owner was open about his employees’ work practices and that the workers had only one day of training for the job.  Prior to being registered to participate in the insulation scheme, the owner was in marketing.

I said that clearly, the training provided was inadequate as the workers seemed to be unaware that children should have been excluded from a workplace, particularly on top of an unprotected roof.

The reporter asked me about the level of OHS inspections in workplaces.  I was able to quote the statistic that WorkSafe Victoria undertakes 40,000 visits each year, a statistic that had been quoted in media articles related to workplace bullying and the suicide of Brodie Panlock.  She asked if that was enough, to which I replied, “It is never enough”.

WorkSafe Victoria is aware of the existence of the footage but Channel 7 is hanging on until the report is broadcast before handing it over.  That is the reality of television production though not ideal.

The filming of unsafe work practices and the provision of the film to a media outlet instead of raising the unsafe work practices with the workers or homeowner at the time, or immediately contacting the OHS regulator on their hotline, or even calling the Police, is not something that I would do.

The closer it gets to transmission time the more nervous I get about which words of mine the program chooses to use.  I knew from media training that one had to consider one’s words before speaking and noted when the audio recording began and finished before expressing other opinions unrelated to the video I saw.

It is exciting to be on television and talking about issues on which one is knowledgeable and comfortable with but it is discomfiting being out of control of one’s own words.  I hope my trust is rewarded.

At no time was I asked to keep the interview confidential and the safety issue has been promoted by Channel 7 since 7pm last night, hence I am free to write this blog article.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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