LABOR’S CORE VALUES! REALLY?

The above snippet is taken from South Australian Parliament HANSARD – from our Legislative Council in September 2011.

We agree with Minister Wortley in this comment. The functions of SafeWork SA are of very high importance and the work undertaken needs to be of a very high standard. If that were more the reality, perhaps there would be less wasted life. Of those lives wasted, perhaps with a higher standard of function, we would see less families struggling with frustrating outcomes. Maybe there would be a more normal course of grief and acceptance with a rebuilding of lives rather than people becoming trapped in the injustice of it all.

The Minister goes on to throw kudo’s at SafeWork SA regarding the national targets. Once again we’re asking whether the changes to work related injuries and deaths criteria has created a misleading result. For example, workplace fatalities at face value would appear to have reduced but only when one looks closer it becomes evident that all workers who died in a vehicle are now gone. Yet we’re quite certain that a piece of mobile plant (like a truck or work vehicle) still constitutes a workplace. It’s hard to place much faith in the Minister’s comments because we’d like to know how much of these improvements are actual versus numbers being shifted around.

This week I sat again in Parliament House to hear evidence at the Select Committee On the Lonsdale Based Adelaide Desalination Plant. Reflecting on that now, it’s difficult to see anything even remotely resembling a ‘high standard’ surrounding the SafeWork SA command. If anything, the word dysfunctional comes to mind.

Let’s have a look at what we’ve highlighted so far … you be the judge.

DANIEL MADELEY – HORIZONTAL BORERS

In 2004 the death of 1st year apprentice Daniel Madeley pulled into an old horizontal borer failed to ignite any interest within the department to initiate an audit or any type of industry warnings on ‘entanglement risks’ with machines operating with rotating spindles. The department (then Workplace Services) argued that it did not consider a horizontal borer a high risk piece of plant because there were not enough recorded injuries relating to them on their database.

Even if we overlook that one point, how is it that almost 90 machines were eventually identified as a result of the Coroner’s Inquest and of those that had been found to be operating in an unsafe manner, why had not one inspector identified any of these machines in 6 years? Is it fair to assume that of all the workplaces where these unsafe machines had been identified, not one inspector entered the worksite?

JACK SALVEMINI – COMMERCIAL FISHING SHARK REELS

In November 2005, deckhand Jack Salvemini was killed when he was dragged into a large shark reel on board the fishing vessel, the Jean Bryant. The Jean Bryant was owned by the same people who have interests in several commercial fishing vessels. Just 14 months later, on board another vessel owned by these same directors, the Figtree Bay experienced its own SafeWork SA investigation. Yes, another deckhand was pulled in by a shark reel.

Did SafeWork SA inspect the other vessels owned by the directors of the Jean Bryant at a time around when Jack Salvemini was killed? One would suggest the answer to that question was no given very similar safety breaches existed in both matters.

Both of these cases were prosecuted under the OHS&W Act in the Industrial Courts. The Jean Bryant Pty Ltd spent from May 2009 until August 2010 in front of a Magistrate. The Figtree Bay Pty Ltd offered up an a guilty plea on the 10th March 2011 and was sentenced in April 2011 with a nice little 25% discount with an overall fine of $22,500. Treated as a 1st offence when in reality the same people controlled both vessels.

GLADSTONE EXPLOSION – HOW DID THAT GO SO WRONG?

It has to be a very frightening time right now for the families of the 3 men killed at the munitions factory in Gladstone (South Australia) in April 2006.

This was probably one of the largest scale investigation operations the state has ever seen. Certainly based on information at the time, the operation was resourced well beyond the ‘norm’ and considering how little was left of the worksite, we can appreciate that this was always going to be a tough investigation.

After many years of waiting for this to be behind them, the families of the three men killed now await the news that possibly will see the appealed ‘sentence’ (fine) dramatically reduced. The question as to whether the ’cause’ of the explosion needed to be proven under Section 19’s duty of care is probably something a legal mind can debate but what we know for sure is that it makes for a potentially heartbreaking result.

Here we have yet another example of a long 5 years delay in getting to the end of the prosecution matter. This tragedy needed a solid outcome and once again, for whatever reason that is beyond our understanding, a sound outcome is looking like a pipe dream.

ALLEN O’NEIL – THE ADELAIDE DESALINATION PLANT

VOID went to considerable lengths to highlight the concerns of the families who had been dealt the tragic blow of death as a result of this Government funded project.

On May 31st 2011 VOID gave evidence in front of the Parliamentary Select Committee surrounding a rather lapse process of investigation into the death of Allen O’Neil. Compelling evidence in documentation gained under FOI was presented to the Committee showing discrepancies in reporting / notification and administrative processes, not to mention the progression to an on-site investigation.

SafeWork SA responded to the committee claiming that the department does not necessarily attend every worksite after an injury is reported. No one is suggesting that every sprain, strain and paper cut needs a full blown investigation initiated. However when a worker is placed in a medically induced coma, one might get the hint that this is a fairly serious injury.

One might want to peruse the worksite just to be sure the ‘non-work related’ claims made by the employer are credible. One might want to do that before the employer disposes of all the evidence should that induced coma end tragically. One might think it fairly important to speak to workmates BEFORE the company and its management has had an opportunity to ‘get in their ear’ of the people it pays wages to. One might do those things, but SafeWork SA remains defiant.

UNINVESTIGATED SERIOUS INJURIES – THE ADELAIDE DESALINATION PLANT

On November 15th 2011 a man gave evidence before the Parliamentary Select Committee carefully outlining in some detail his experiences employed as an ‘Advanced Rigger’ at the plant and that awful injury he incurred deep down in tunnel RL32.

We saw several photographs taken of this tunnel – the scene depicted something resembling an industrial rubbish pit.

One of these images had been published in the paper last year. When questioned about the photograph, AdelaideAqua argued that the scene depicted was not common. It was described as an ‘after dinner party’ mess … the mess you have the morning after a big dinner party before its cleaned up. This appeared to be news to the injured worker who worked there. Maybe it was just a very, very long dinner party?

A surprising desperate attempt to save face by a Labor MP sitting on this Committee who commented that the Safety Representative who took the photographs must surely be negligent for not reporting the problem. If there has ever been a repeated theme in relation to this worksite it is that those who rocked the boat got tipped overboard.

It’s true, how is it that of all the people who walked through these menaced danger zones that only such a tiny number speak out? Ahh, that’s very simple or at least it should be. Workers have to pay their mortgages and put food on the table. Select industries congregate in small circles, they have big ears and if you want to work, the mouth remains closed.

To date SafeWork SA has not interviewed this injured worker about this incident that occurred on the 21st February 2010 (where he required 4 days hospitalisation). Neither has SafeWork SA conducted any interview with a co-worker who smashed his shoulder in the same tunnel just 3 weeks later (again requiring hospitalisation).

The department will not be able to argue that it was not aware of ‘this’ injury because it was brought up several times during the public comment on talk back radio and in the print media certainly by September 2010. Still not even a telephone call to these injured workers?

The most tragic detail of all is that this all took place well before Brett Fritsch lost his life.

SOME SOUL SERACHING PLEASE?

If the Labor party genuinely holds a core value in protecting workers’ health and safety then it needs to do some soul searching because so far we are seeing a very different picture.

As for SafeWork SA, to be perfectly honest, if there is even a shred of passion left in that department and its executive members, I’d strongly urge them to make contact with VOID to discuss the points we raise here today. The families deserve answers to their questions and we think maybe a start to mending some of these broken bridges may well be some face to face dialogue.

The ball is in your court Mr Russell.

 

1 Comment
  1. It's me says:

    SafeworkSA = motorbike ashtrays = Labor party

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