Conspiracy accusations over rail construction project

On March 17 2019, a community radio program and podcast “The Concrete Gang” broadcast some comments about occupational health and safety (OHS) on a rail construction site in Victoria, Australia, believed to be the Aviation Rd, Laverton site. SafetyAtWorkBlog attempted to factcheck the accusations.

Construction company McConnell Dowell is providing construction services on various sites for the Level Crossing Removal Project. According to The Concrete Gang:

“… McConnell Dowell level crossing removal have had a few dramas out there what we’ve got is we’ve a live train and they’re trying to put a level crossing in while there’s a live train going.  They normally do what we call a shutdown which is an occupation where they shut down the line and they’re lifting concrete beams and build a bridge.  Well McConnell Dowell in their wisdom are trying to do it between 10-minute stops…”

“….the workers on the job have got issues because they’re obviously lifting precast elements over trains and there’s obviously no safety…”

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Insurance over OHS prosecution hits the deterrence effect

In response to proven breaches of occupational health and safety laws, judges usually apply financial penalties to companies and individuals.  These penalties, like all court-ordered punishments are to deter the offenders from re-offending but also to show others the consequences of their actions.  But what if an insurance company would pay for that penalty in return for regular premium payments?  If the offender does not pay the penalty, deterrence is gone.

On 27 June 2013, a company and its director were fined $A200,000 each in relation to workplace incident that resulted in the gruesome death of one man and a near miss for another but the director had taken out a general  insurance policy and the insurance company paid out!!??.  A fine of $A200K awarded but the offender may pay no more than $A10K. Continue reading “Insurance over OHS prosecution hits the deterrence effect”

Grandad’s safety rules remain relevant over 50 years later

A safety colleague showed me an old book about workplace safety that his father had found in a book sale.  It’s called “Safety on the Job” and was produced by the Master Builders Association of Victoria “for free distribution to the Building Trade” around 1959.  The cover mirrors the iconic Australian cartoon from 1933 by Stan Cross.

On the cover is a stamp saying “J Division”.  J Division was part of Melbourne’s Pentridge Jail, the section for:

“Young Offenders Group – Later for long-term with record of good behavior”

The publication is not specifically designed for young workers but there is some excellent information, for the time, included on “standard crane whistles”, explosive power tools regulations and trenching.

Most intriguing is the chapter “Common Sense Suggestions for Managers, Supervisors, Foremen and Safety Officers, etc.”  It is surprising how many of the suggestions remain relevant today.  Perhaps the booklet was trying to generate common sense rather than reflecting it.  Below are the first ten suggestions.

  1. “When you make your daily rounds it is your job to make them a hazard-hunting inspection as well. Continue reading “Grandad’s safety rules remain relevant over 50 years later”

More safety indemnities offered but with similar limitations

In August-September 2012 a media release was circulated in Australia promoting an

“…an Australian industry first – leading construction & mining workplace safety provider RIS offers to indemnify operators against non compliance prosecution.”

This may be a first for RoofSafe Industrial Safety (RIS) but not for Australia.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on a smaller but similar system that originated in the automotive repair industry.

RIS’ Syncron system has several steps to compliance

  • Safety Audit
  • Assessment and Priorities
  • Coordinated actions aimed at maximum cost savings
  • Indemnification
  • Ongoing Monitoring and Continuous Improvement

It seems to be popular in the mining sector, according to the RIS website and clearly, from the media release, RIS is expanding its application from its fallprotection base into construction.


There are lots of issues of concern in the media release, if not in the Syncron system itself.  The indemnification is of particular concern and although these sorts of safety management systems are apparently cleared through legal advisers they need a great deal of explanation in order for businesses to feel comfortable.

One of the potential traps of these systems is that indemnification only exists when the assessment and management system is followed absolutely, as highlighted below.  Although the advisory resources exist outside the customer’s business, checking and monitoring still comes from the customer and adequate resources are required.

The legalese through all Syncron brochures and statements needs forensic analysis.   Continue reading “More safety indemnities offered but with similar limitations”

Small fine of $1250 but important safety lessons

An OHS fine of $A1250 hardly seems newsworthy but several important issues are illustrated by a prosecution in Western Australia on 10 November 2011, particularly, individual responsibility and accountability.

WorkSafe WA has released details of a prosecution against an individual worker over the fall of material from 15 metres towards fellow construction workers.  The media release (not yet available online) says that

“In July 2009, Mr Bell was employed by Perth Rigging Company Pty Ltd on a site at Naval Base where steel roof sections were being placed on concrete silos. He was in charge of arranging how the steel roof sections would be lifted into place.

The first roof section had been placed on one of the silos, and the second section (which was 18 meters long, six metres wide and weighed more than 10 tonnes) was to be lifted onto another of the silos.

Perth Rigging did not have available the necessary rigging equipment to lift this roof section, and the site supervisor offered to obtain this equipment. The offer was accepted, but Mr Bell did not stipulate what rigging equipment was required. Continue reading “Small fine of $1250 but important safety lessons”

Near miss incidents are the best opportunities from which to improve safety

One of the most frustrating parts of being a safety professional is that “near misses” or “near hits” or “close calls”, as some refer to them, are often neglected even when these events are often the best to investigate as no one was directly injured.

The significance of the near miss may be illustrated by a court case and penalty from South Australia on 28 July 2011.  The media release states that Kyren P/L was fined over $A40,000 after a dogbox fell over 30 metres without anyone being injured. (The full court decision is available online)

“In August 2008 at a building site in Coglin St. Adelaide, an attempt to lift a fully-laden work box (known in the industry as a ‘dog box’) to the seventh floor ended catastrophically when the tower crane failed sending the dog box into a 30-metre freefall. It landed in the laneway separating the site from an adjoining business.  A plastic bin beneath was crushed.  Some hoarding was damaged, and there was minor structural damage to the guttering of a neighbouring building which housed a law firm.

The prosecution arose after the investigation determined that two employees of the law firm were at risk of harm because their duties required accessing rubbish bins in the laneway.  However the defendant had failed to declare Continue reading “Near miss incidents are the best opportunities from which to improve safety”

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