ACT Construction Safety Officer Speaks Out

Whistleblower slams site safety

The recent attention received by the appauling safety record of ACT construction sites has lead a construction site safety officer to speak out. The worker spoke out about the exploitation of construction workers by employers who are forced to neglect safety in order to receive their pay. The death of concreter Ben Catanzariti has highlighted the loopholes in the industry that are costing lives.

This post by has the full details:

The ACT construction industry is plagued by a culture of silence over dangerous safety breaches, which has seen at least one outspoken safety officer bashed and sent death threats, a whistleblower says.

 And vulnerable construction workers, including dozens of illegal foreign workers, are being pressured to sign off on workplace safety to get their pay cheques, the construction union says.

 The lethal consequences of workplace safety were brought into sharp focus this week, after the death of concreter Ben Catanzariti, 21, who died after being hit by a concrete boom at a Kingston site on the weekend.

 Just days later, a worker fell from scaffolding and speared his leg through a reinforcing bar, and a worker yesterday fell from formwork at a Belconnen site.

 Mr Catanzariti’s death, the fourth since December, sparked an industry-wide audit of the construction industry by the ACT government, with Attorney-General Simon Corbell citing fears that companies are trading off the safety of workers for profits.

 But startling revelations have been made by a former safety officer at the Nishi construction site in New Acton, who wants to lift the code of silence gripping the sector.

 Adam Usher, formerly an electrical leading hand and safety officer for a sub-contracting firm, has told The Canberra Times he regularly received death threats and was repeatedly involved in brawls over reporting safety breaches on the site.

 He has also alleged he witnessed dozens of near-misses that were never dealt with properly, including an incident where a WorkSafe ACT officer was almost hit by a falling reinforcing bar after shutting down the site for safety breaches.

 ”The builders’ representatives repeatedly breached OH&S guidelines and ignored requests made by WorkSafe inspectors,” Mr Usher said. ”The inspectors shut the site down due to the number of non-compliance infractions every time they visited. It’s just like every single site I’ve worked on in Canberra.”

 The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union ACT secretary Dean Hall said there had been numerous complaints about people being victimised as safety representatives.

 The Master Builders Association could not recall any incidents of workers being victimised because they raised safety issues.

 Molonglo Group and PBS had never heard of workers receiving death threats and said it could have been a response from a disgruntled worker.

 They also said the site was very ”safety strict”.

 WorkSafe ACT has visited the Nishi site numerous times in the past six months – more than most in the capital.

 ACT Work Safety commissioner Mark McCabe said in one incident ”there was something we believe thrown at one of our inspectors but we could not prove what had happened or who had done it so we couldn’t do anything about it”.

Read more:

WorkSafe recorded an astonishing 1570 visits to construction sites over the period 2010-2011.This amounted to an average of four a day which means that the industry accounted for approximately 59 per cent of all visits in the ACT. 

The agency reported receiving a number of anonymous tipoffs about safety issues on construction sites in the Act. Presumably due to the danger of being victimised if they follow the appropriate channels.  Unfortunately in a small town, victimisation would make a person’s life miserable and make it difficult for them to get a job.

 People are threatened with raising safety issues because it is believed that there’s going to be a cost to the business and to the worker ultimately. 

An audit has been ordered into the construction safety in ACT, so hopefully soon a solution will be found to the high number of injuries and deaths being experienced.

Posted by Steven Asnicar