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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What was overlooked during Budget week

Last week the Australian media was dominated by discussions on the Federal Budget and it being the precursor to a Federal Election in May 2019. But there were several actions in the few scheduled days of Parliament which relate to occupational health and safety (OHS). Below is a summary of some of them.

Labour Hire

In support of the Morrison Government Budget, Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations, Kelly O’Dwyer, issued a media release stating that in response to Migrant Workers Taskforce Report, the Government (should it be re-elected, in reality) will establish:

“….a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme to ensure compliance and transparency in the labour hire industry in high-risk sectors;”

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Government Department gets an enforceable undertaking following a workplace death

Yesterday (April 4, 2019) SafeWorkSA dropped charges against the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) over breaches of the workplace health and safety legislations that contributed to the death of 54-year-old Debra Summers, in exchange for an Enforceable Undertaking (EU). This move had been flagged earlier noting that it was unusual to accept an EU when a workplace fatality had occurred.

SafeWorkSA’s Executive Director, Martyn Campbell, spoke exclusively with SafetyAtWorkBlog earlier this week to provide more context to the acceptance of the EU. He has spoken to the Summers family in the preparation of the EU and said that some of the request of the family have been incorporated. He also outlined the circumstances of Debra Summers’ death:

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Young worker’s death increases OHS pressure on State and Federal governments

This week an 18-year-old construction worker died in a scaffold collapse on a New South Wales construction site. The occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator has instigated an investigation into Christopher Cassaniti’s death and the serious injury of a work colleague in the same incident, as well as an inspection of scaffolding throughout the State.

An excellent podcast on the incident and the OHS context is available at Triple J’s Hack podcast.

In May 2019 Australia has a general election and, following yesterday’s Budget announcement, Australian politicians are in campaign mode. That might seem irrelevant to the workplace death of a young man but the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Brendan O’Connor, was interviewed the day after Cassaniti’s death by Triple J’s Hack program. The discussion eventually reached Industrial Manslaughter laws.

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Good, but very limited, advice on workplace mental health

Member magazines, those magazines included in a professional’s membership, are an important source of information. Members of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, for instance, receive the RoyalAuto magazine which is really the primary source of information on changes to road rules. Most occupational health and safety (OHS) associations have internal magazines for a similarly targeted audience. Australian accountants have the In The Black magazine.

Recently In The Black published an article about mental health at work titled “Get smart with mental health”. No background to the author, Helen Hawkes, was provided and no references were included for the data used to support statements about the importance of the mental health. Context and sources are important to all articles but arguably moreso for member magazines and, especially, for professionals like accountants who can have a major impact on how OHS is managed.

Much of the information in the article would be familiar to OHS professionals – Return on Investment, the cost of Presenteeism as a percentage of payroll…. What is almost entirely missing is advice on how to prevent mental ill-health from occurring in the first place, and there is no mention of any of the OHS guidance in this area published by Safe Work Australia.

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