Health and safety ad­vice

Wher­ever you look round the world con­struc­tion and min­ing have al­ways been two of the most dan­ger­ous in­dus­tries in which to work.

Earthmovers & Excavators - - Contents - Ricky French re­ports

One of the most fa­mous pho­to­graphs in the world – Lunch atop a skyscraper – shows a group of work­ers causally eat­ing their lunch strad­dling a girder that formed the steel­work of 30 Rock­e­feller Plaza, 69 storeys above the pave­ment in Man­hat­tan.

Al­though the photo was staged it still says a lot about the evolv­ing na­ture of at­ti­tudes to­wards safety. More re­cent pho­tos dur­ing the 1980s and even into the 1990s de­pict con­struc­tion work­ers get­ting about shirt­less and hel­met­less; some­thing un­think­able now in the era of site in­duc­tions and red, green, blue and orange cards.

There’s no doubt unions have played a big part in pro­mot­ing safety and im­prov­ing the chances of work­ers re­turn­ing home to their fam­i­lies each night, while also en­sur­ing em­ploy­ees are well com­pen­sated for putting their lives on the line. But busi­ness own­ers also de­serve ac­co­lades for recog­nis­ing that a safe work­site is a pro­duc­tive work­site. Driv­ing down the lost time in­jury fre­quency rate means more jobs com­pleted on time and to bud­get, not to men­tion that fact that no boss wants any worker to get hurt at work.

There is, how­ever, much work still to do. The Aus­tralian Work Health and Strat­egy 2012–2022

iden­ti­fied the con­struc­tion in­dus­try as a na­tional pri­or­ity to re­duce the num­ber and rate of fa­tal­i­ties and se­ri­ous claims.

Worker fa­tal­i­ties are still high, at 3.0 per 100,000 work­ers. Over the last five years the con­struc­tion in­dus­try has rated third in both num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties and num­ber of com­pen­sa­tion claims. The good news is that things have im­proved even over the last 10 years, when the fa­tal­ity rate was 4.8 per 100,000.

Jobs in­volv­ing earth­mov­ing or min­ing equip­ment re­main es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous. Taken as a subindus­try, heavy and civil en­gi­neer­ing con­struc­tion recorded the high­est fa­tal­ity rate (5.7 per

100,000) and high­est se­ri­ous claim fre­quency rate (13.4 claims per mil­lion hours worked), mak­ing up nearly one third of all claims. 24 work­ers in min­ing and con­struc­tion have been killed so far this year.

WATCH THE WHEELS

The is­sue of ve­hi­cle safety has once again come to the fore, with the main causes of fa­tal­i­ties in heavy and civil en­gi­neer­ing con­struc­tion be­ing ei­ther hit by a mov­ing ob­ject or be­ing in­volved in a ve­hi­cle in­ci­dent. Across Aus­tralia as a whole, ve­hi­cle in­ci­dents still make up around one third of all work­place fa­tal­i­ties.

One cur­rent area of con­cern for the con­struc­tion in­dus­try is the dan­ger posed by ve­hi­cle load­ing cranes (VLCs). Work­place Health and Safety Queens­land are cur­rently in the mid­dle of a blitz on VLCs, in the wake of three

deaths. With as­sis­tance from the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor a state-spe­cific in­spec­tion re­quire­ment will be in­tro­duced in Queens­land to en­sure the state’s 10,000-plus VLCs are safe and free of de­fects.

Pow­ered mo­bile plant con­tin­ues to ex­pose work­ers to a high risk of in­jury or death due to their weight, power and mov­ing parts. Typ­i­cally, in­ci­dents oc­cur as a re­sult of ei­ther the plant over­turn­ing, ob­jects fall­ing on the op­er­a­tor, the op­er­a­tor be­ing ejected, the plant col­lid­ing with a per­son or ob­ject, or be­cause of me­chan­i­cal fail­ure.

WorkCover Queens­land notes that peo­ple work­ing around mo­bile plant may also be ex­posed to “ex­ces­sive noise and vi­bra­tion, haz­ardous fumes, fall haz­ards while ac­cess­ing or evac­u­at­ing the plant, and mus­cu­loskele­tal haz­ards.”

On the topic of state reg­u­la­tion, just last month the NSW govern­ment launched an ini­tia­tive to re­duce work-re­lated deaths by

30 per cent, as well as in­juries and ill­nesses by 50 per cent within five years. This Work Health and Safety Roadmap for NSW 2022 pol­icy an­nounce­ment co­in­cided with a $3.2 mil­lion work­place safety aware­ness cam­paign.

“With NSW in the mid­dle of the big­gest road and rail con­struc­tion boom in the coun­try’s his­tory we need to con­tinue to fo­cus on keep­ing our work­ers safe,” NSW govern­ment min­is­ter for bet­ter reg­u­la­tion, Matt Kean, ex­plains.

You would think that the ever-in­creas­ing num­ber and scale of heavy con­struc­tion projects co­in­cides with higher in­ci­dences of con­struc­tion worker in­jury, but the sta­tis­tics ap­pear to show that with in­creased le­gal safety re­quire­ments and vig­i­lance on­site this does not have to be so.

In the 14 years from 2003 to 2016, 3,414 work­ers lost their lives in work-re­lated in­ci­dents. In 2016, there were 182 worker fa­tal­i­ties, equat­ing to a fa­tal­ity rate of 1.5 fa­tal­i­ties per 100,000 work­ers – the low­est rate since the se­ries be­gan in 2003.

The na­tional WH&S land­scape is chang­ing and high risk in­dus­tries are ac­tu­ally lead­ing the way for other in­dus­tries in Aus­tralia. Chain of Re­spon­si­bil­ity laws have been tight­ened this year so that su­per­vi­sors, mid­dle-man­agers and oth­ers in your busi­nesses’ sup­ply chain can now be pros­e­cuted if they are found to have en­cour­aged a driver to work while fa­tigued, to speed or to drive in breach of load or di­men­sion re­quire­ments.

Above: 63,230 se­ri­ous in­juries were re­ported in the five years from 2008-9 to 2012-13

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