Progressive report on construction industry culture

An analysis of the safety culture in Australia’s construction industry was launched in October 2021 by a coalition of construction companies under the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce rubric. The Report proposes some interesting and significant changes including capping the working hours to no more than 50 hours and no weekend work. This suggestion is of enormous significance as it challenges the statements of many construction companies of worker safety being their highest priority.

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Lessons for many in the prosecution of Pipecon

The prosecution of Pipecon over two of its workers who died in a trench collapse in March 2018 has opened in Ballarat’s County Court this week. Day one of the plea hearing was reported in the local newspapers and provided details of the circumstances of the events leading up to the deaths of Charlie Howkins and Jack Brownlee.

The investigation of Pipecon generated great bitterness in Ballarat and not only for the Howkins and Brownlee families. There were strong rumours that Pipecon would plead not guilty and argue that their workers were responsible for the trench collapse. Understandably people were angry that the responsibility for the worksite would be transferred to the dead workers.

Several weeks ago, the Court heard that Pipecon would plead guilty to breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act. Those alleged breaches are being presented in the current plea hearing. As the case is being heard in the County Court, in time, additional details of the findings of the Court will be publicly released, as opposed to cases heard in the Magistrates’ Court.

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Mandatory vaccinations without making vaccinations mandatory

In a little over a month, the Australian conversation about mandatory vaccinations at work has changed dramatically. In early August, food processing company SPC was treated suspiciously over its requirements for its workers, customers, and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Recently, the New South Wales Premier, Glady Berejiklian, required vaccinations for workers to move outside of certain residential locations. And today, the Victorian Health Minister, Martin Foley, has all but made vaccinations mandatory for the construction industry.

As Berejiklian has shown, you don’t need to impose mandatory vaccinations to make vaccinations mandatory.

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Reuse of safety photos

I have been told that any image loaded to Twitter becomes the property of Twitter. As a social media user, this type of situation seems common, but I was surprised when an image of unsafe work activities that I took and posted to Twitter appeared as an “Absolute Shocker” in a construction safety newsletter produced by WorkSafe Victoria. I sought more details from WorkSafe on the image’s use.

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Twelve months of work-related deaths

In 2008, prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) advocate, Hilda Palmer wrote about the inadequate estimates of work-related deaths in the United Kingdom. Keeping work-related death confined to traditional categories provides a false understanding of the reality of OHS. Palmer wrote:

“Far from being complacent about the health and safety record in this country, we need to be honest and open, and examine what is really going on”.

Recently, at the 2021 Workers Memorial, a representative of the Victorian Trades Hall read out a list of those who have died at, or due to, work in the last 12 months. It was a list of 47 people. The categories have expanded to include truck incidents, asbestosis, silicosis as well as the more traditional traumatic injuries. Curiously no suicides. A transcripted list of those 47 is below.

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Creating a scaffolding standard that already exists?!

The judgement against GN Residential Construction P/L, part of the Ganellen group, is now publicly available. GN/Ganellen pleaded guilty to work health and safety breaches that lead to the death of a young worker (Christopher Cassaniti) and serious injuries to another worker (Kahled Wehbe), and was fined $900k. The judgement provides much more detail than the media reports at the end of last year, with important information about scaffolding and also a requirement to establish a “Scaffolding Industry Safety Standard Working Group”. The curious part of this latter requirement is that New South Wales has had an industry standard for scaffolding since 2008.

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“exponential increase in mental injuries in the workplace” and other statements in a Victorian Parliament committee

Three years ago, WorkSafe Victoria indicated that it would consider prosecuting farmers for breaches of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. That possibility seems to have disappeared based on the latest Minister for Workplace Safety’s appearance at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC).

Ingrid Stitt‘s appearance centred on questions related to the 2020-21 Budget Estimates and touched on Industrial Manslaughter, gig workers, mental health, and construction and farm safety.


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