The OHS investigation process into the deaths of installers of insulation in Australia has led to charges being laid against Arrow Property Maintenance Pty Ltd.
On 28 June 2010, Queensland’s Department of Justice and Attorney-General has charged the company with breaches of both the Electrical Safety Act 2002 and the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 following an extensive investigation into the fatal electrocution of a 16-year-old teenage insulation installer in Stanwell in 2009.
The charges relate to unsafe electrical work and unsafely working at height during the installation of fibreglass insulation.
Interestingly the Department has also mentioned in its media release (not yet available online) a separate prosecution under the Electrical Safety Act 2002 that is strengthened by it also being an
“… alleged breach of a Ministerial Notice issued on 1 November 2009 prohibiting use of metal or any other form of conductive fasteners to attach insulation to the ceiling structure of Queensland buildings.” (link added)
There was no injury or death in the case against Central Insulation Agency where it is alleged that Andrew Hyndman
“..permitted use of electrically-conductive metal fasteners to secure insulation in a ceiling of a Narangba home last year after this practice had been prohibited.”
The imposition of the Ministerial Notice is issued under the Electrical Safety legislation and is rarely applied in so quick a manner. However the circumstances that existed in October and November 2009 demanded swift political and safety action.
Both cases will be heard in Queensland in August 2010
One element of consideration in issuing any safety advice, such as a safety alert, is the process of communication. There will always be a time delay in the communication of a safety alert. The notice can be marked urgent but should the implementation of that advice be expected to be urgent also?
Usually alerts are communicated throughout particular industries by trade union bulletins, safety professionals and industry associations as well as the daily media but, at least in that last example, there are editorial concerns and unless there is a political scandal or community outrage, even workplace fatalities are rarely given the prominence that they deserve. Safety alerts are hardly ever reported.
Public notices in newspapers are the usual communication method but with declining readership of newspapers, how can one be sure that the important safety information is reaching the intended targets?
Government communications in this changing media world are facing particularly difficult challenges as there are legislative imperatives to some of the safety information distributed. Government communicators are battling other news to gain attention with information that could be life-saving. The advertising industry is facing similar challenges but at least it promotes goods and services that someone wants. OHS regulators need to give (often) dull information the social significance that it demands – a much greater challenge.