ON A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN ADELAIDE

One of the biggest, most awarded and independently certified companies in Australia was engaged to complete reinstatement works for a project. Having heard such great things about the company I had little concern – until I drove past the work site that is. Near the corner of the busiest South Australian intersection, these guys were at work to repair a car park in the median strip with the usual Friday pressure to get it finished by Monday.

What caught my eye was that there was no work area barrier erected to the work site – none, zero, zip, niente! What year am I in? I do a u turn to get this fixed.

I park and walk past several blokes and straight into the middle of the worksite with my hi-vis vest on and ask who the foreman is. I am told, “the guy on the bobcat… do you want me to get him”. “Nah mate, I just need some barriers put up, you know, some flags or something to keep the public out…can you sort it for me?” I replied.

“No can do mate… we don’t use ’em mate…we don’t have ’em mate…we don’t need ’em mate…it’s up to the guys we work for to put ’em up mate… ”

… Really mate?

It was beautiful day, glorious sun, wonderful setting, lush grass. The truckies frolicking beneath the shade of the medium strip plantings with trucks idling out the front of the local shops. Yes it was simply picturesque and I have some time. I need to better observe and learn how such a significant operation with large items of plant can conduct operations without barriers. I’ll just watch for a while…

Our clients safety consultant arrives soon after. Similar things had caught his eye. His arrival almost perfectly coinciding with an older man trying to go THROUGH the work site. The clients consultant has a much keener eye and whistled out to the trespasser, “Mate… go around!”. The obligatory nod to make sure all was understood and around he went through the herd of truckies enjoying the coolabah shade.

Now I’m looking at a man coming out of the shop wearing a butchers apron. He’s fuming, you know the signs, the dude was so upset he was having trouble taking off this knife scabbard. With clenched fists, stomping and blind with anger, he storms around the back of a very large idling truck on site – straight into the middle of the work site!

Work stops. The heads and mouths fly… beautiful day…

Should I Interject? Yeah maybe now may be the time. “Mate, I just had 2 customers ring and tell me they can’t collect their orders because the trucks are parked out front…”

Let’s see if I can help. “Can I make a suggesting and get the trucks parked in the two roads that have been closed off by the work crew?” The guy carrying the shovel just snarls at me and yells, “No!”

Okay, I’ll go back to watching the truckies throwing seed pods at each other then…

Anyway, after much dawdling and grass seed removal, the agitated truckies slowly swing their doors open into traffic and gingerly proceed to sweeping out imaginary floor dust. They then ever so slowly and meticulously adjust air horn cables and straighten air fresheners before they start and warm up their rigs to move them over the kerb and onto the footpath. I’m now thinking to myself, I hope the kerb can handle the load…

Meanwhile back at the circus, the foreman has removed the bobcat bucket and is sweeping up the dirt. The breeze is now gently lifting the choking dust stream and directing it at the Commercial Laundromat just opposite the butcher shop. It always amazes me how the wind changes direction to ensure the neighbours get the full dusting. Let’s time how long it’ll take until this business owner realises his business is imploding. We have time. Even the truckies have gone back to sticking little bits of grass in their mouths. Time to make a call. Right! The Safety man is on the way – great!

Hang on, how about the foreman, sucking in all that dust? There is no windscreen in that machine – he’s not wearing a mask…nor goggles. There are no ear muffs and the dudes on the concrete saw at the other end? There are no goggles there either. I do hope they have ear plugs in…bit hard to see from here…

Ahhh … here is our sub-contractor! Excellent! We have a quick chat. Off he goes to chat his subbies. The outcome are some traffic cones. Okay they’re not as good as bunting or barrier-mesh…or even tape, but hey…they’re better than nothing I suppose.

The ‘Safety Man’ soon arrives and he has a quick chat with us. He has a quick chat with the work crew. A young kid comes across. “you guys gotta sign our JSA” he says. “Do we?”… we both knew the answer to that was “No” but the day was just glorious…

“OK mate… let’s have a look at what you’ve got…” So we see there’s no mention of dust…no mention of public…or barriers.

“Hey, is this it?” – the universal reply follows “It’s to cover their arse.”

“Really? Hey mate, you know what? The real reason you have to conduct risk assessments and have work plans is – wait for it – because people die at work. It’s not about arse covering!”

Hey, he seemed the youngest of the herd so it’s understandable that he might listen to all the old Wethers. Nice white rimmed safety glasses he was sporting though…

Anyway…the ‘Safety Man’ comes back to us. “Well?… they seem pretty angry now? What’s going on?”

“They reckon you’d better do up your vest…” was the response. Okay so that’s how they are going to fix things up? By us standing in a park doing up our vest…? Awesome stuff!

So much for setting industry standards. So much for quality assurance. “Ah…these guys are usually out bush, they’re going to Port Augusta tomorrow. We never set up work barriers, that’s up to the client. It’s not our work site…” Really?

Moments later he mentions that he has to catch a plane and we swap business cards. “Oh? So you’re not actually the ‘Safety Man? You’re the crew manager? ” So now I’m wondering where in earth the ‘Safety Man’ is. “Oh he’s at Gawler, I’ll ring him”… “No problems, we’ll wait for him” … “He’ll be about 20 minutes…” – tic toc tic toc – an hour later!

To enlighten you on the rest of the story is just too tedious but I will tell you that the real safety man was more aggressive than the crew manager. The work crew got angrier… but they did try to hide it better a little better.

All in all we got very little got done. The constant threats to stop the job were made rather than any real offer to rectify the safety defects. And the excuses, oh the excuses! You know the ones; that’s not how we do it, we don’t need to, it’s not our job, not my job, not my problem, I don’t get paid to do that, we don’t have any, it’s in the ruck, it’s at the office, the bobcat window got smashed this morning, the concrete saw had a separate water bottle that needs another bloke to tip water on it as it cuts, But they are wearing ear plugs… you just can’t see them from here (No they didn’t)

The butcher lost business, the Laundromat will wonder why the dirty linen wasn’t clean and the project couldn’t be finished because the machine wouldn’t start…

And to top it all off, this company knows all about workplace fatalities. It’s been there, done that. It knows better.

Bottom line – nothing much has changed. Both bright and stupid men will continue to die at work. Industry forges ahead whilst the topic of safety continue to bury brilliant minds in mountains of bureaucratic forestry while good old ‘common sense’ is lost in the woods.

Arrogance, contempt for authority, protection behind superficial documentation and third party certified systems, choreographed audits and steered onsite inspections are all alive and well here in the land of OHS. They even give each other big public slaps on the backs and great sanctimonious award ceremonies over it all…

So why waste my time if nothing ever gets done? Do I like getting constant abuse and ridicule? Do I want to be constantly bullied and stood over with continuous threats at my livelihood? By my bosses, my workmates, by unions, by Government, by industry? Do I like being angry? No? Then why? Money? Sometimes…

Maybe it’s because I read somewhere, even with all the deception, drudgery and broken dreams, it’s still a beautiful world…

THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE MAY BE NAMELESS BUT THE NARRATIVE IS EASILY IDENTIFIED IN MANY WORKPLACES…

10 Comments
  1. Edith Logan says:

    It amazes me that worksite safety inspections can’t just be done on the spur of the moment. Why give worksites notices of intention to check out safety, thus ensuring that most hazards are ‘covered up’, and back to ‘normal’ after such inspections? Please, Safework SA, do random checks, even if it means employing more inspectors, and shut down all worksites that flaunt safety at work. We all expect that our husbands, partners, all loved ones, should be able to come home every night safely, and the heartbreak that is caused when this doesn’t happen, due to a workplace fatality, never goes away. We presume that the ‘rogue bandits’ get caught out eventually, but how many lives are going to be lost while waiting?

    Edith Logan

    • Admin:AM says:

      Well they keep assuring us that they can do inspections unannounced but what I find troubling is that through industry contacts, we’re hearing something different. We’re being told that companies are still aware when a safety inspector is coming and that there is a level of preparation for this.

      In my opinion there should NEVER be any prior warning that a safety inspector is coming – no exceptions.

  2. Dan says:

    How could you run a poem like the one in the last posting and then run this article?
    Has it ever occurred to anyone following this site to ring or email SafeWork SA to report unsafe worksites or practices?

    Union reps, HSRs, neighbours, and concerned friends and relatives do it every day!

    Why did the author of these pictures email them to VOID and not SafeWork SA? Does VOID issue Prohibition Notices as well? What if someone was killed or hurt at this worksite?

    The Police can’t be at every crime scene; the MFS can’t be at every housefire – and SafeWork SA can’t be at every unsafe workplace – unless such things are reported! Seriously – if you see an assault or a housefire, do you take pictures, put them up on a website and then blame the emergency services for not being there?

    Anyone with half a brain AND a shred of social responsibilty would be on the phone or the email reporting such things to the appropriate authority in a flash.

    • Admin:AM says:

      Oh …I really do wish you had asked me how many times the ‘author’ of this article had attempted direct contact with SafeWork SA and asked them to come and have a look at unsafe examples of work? That would have been a REALLY good question but I get the feeling that you may not have liked the answer very much.

      By the way, the safety issues depicted in these photographs were already in the hands of an independent Safety Representative. These hazards had been remedied (albeit not enthusiastically). Little point in dragging anyone there after issues were sorted right?

      Other than that I think you probably missed the point of the article. That’s a shame.

      (PS. We do have a line of communication open with SafeWork SA when images / information is received here and when there is no safety consultation in progress we will pass that information on.)

      • Charmaine Ferraro says:

        Andrea, keep up the good work! Who cares where the reports are coming from as long as safety breaches are addressed & rectified.
        There is a real culture of no-confidence in Safework SA in general and for VOID to provide another avenue for workers & the public to expose safety breaches is a very good thing as far as I am concerned. Should be more of it and one would expect that swsa would welcome public awareness, and encourage reporting incidents to whom ever we feel will take us seriously.
        Take it from me, Brett’s mum, I have little confidence in ‘the system’. It failed my son and many other workers before him..let’s hope there are no more deaths to come. Their current ad campaign showing a little boy waiting for his daddy to come home from work is a little to close to home and a little to close to Brett being killed at the desal…the public aren’t buying it!
        I worked in the industry for a few months & after complaining to my supervisor that many of my injured clients were from the same workplace with similar injuries and that safety at that particular workplace definately needed attention, I was told to ‘stay out of it, it is political, the government is fully aware of what is happening there’. I couldn’t work with those broken men any longer, tried to get redemptions for them and left that soul-sapping job.
        Little wonder that I have no confidence in the current safety systems especially considering that my Brett was killed on a government project that is now being investigated by a government department..oh, god help me!!
        So I applaud Void for their initiative and proactive attitude to safety…and am humbled by Andrea’s tenacity and sheer guts to take on the ‘big guys’.

        • Admin:AM says:

          Charmaine – thank you for that vote of confidence. Honestly, I could care less what comes from the minds of bureaucratic egoes. It’s that unbearable price of human suffering – the very price you and your family are paying right nowand will pay for a lifetime – that’s the only voice of reason that makes any sense.

  3. SarahM says:

    Why do I get the feeling this ‘Dan’ is an inspector? Why else would he attack mothers who lose their sons to corporate greed? Go on Dan.. Have the guts to admit it. Then get off the computer, in your car and open your eyes.

  4. Julie White says:

    Not sure if it is the same place but just came down Port Road and a little north of South Road there is a lot of road works equipment working without any signs or anything. A young girl just walked her dog out of the area so it looks like people are moving through it without being stopped.

  5. Meg says:

    If you are an inspector Dan – do your Job – you are supposed to have your finger on the pulse and if so you would quickly find out who those companies are that continually flaunt safety regulations. Therefore visit their sites more often and be tough. Keep onto them until they do the right thing. Not just leave safety standards to money hungry, thoughtless companies. This is about living, breathing people with families who do honest to goodness work, this is also Australia, and we look after our people. Earn your salary and get to it and prevent our workers from deadly situations.

  6. Admin:AM says:

    To the caller today who started out by pretending he was someone he wasn’t and who felt the need to try to convince me that this article paints and unfair picture of this industry, grow some bollocks and have the guts to identify yourself and your agenda.

    Deperate for an ID on this author? What for – stand over tactics? Yes indeed – self regulation at its finest.

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Welcome , today is Sunday, September 24, 2017