White Card Update: SA Unions concerned about Exploitation of Teenage Workers

We have in the past discussed the vulnerability of young workers in the construction industry and the importance that they are appropriately trained and supervised. Now the SA unions and parents of teenage workers are concerned about the exploitation of teenage workers who are simply working over the school holidays to make some extra pocket money.

This is of particular concern in SA and Tasmania because these states lack the child labour laws that are present in other states which stop these young people from being exploited by their employers because of their naivety and inexperience.

In addition there are concerns that young workers are more easily bullied and tend to keep quiet about the bullying.

The Young Workers Legal Service in South Australia is inundated every year will calls from parents concerned about these youth employment issues.

Some of the issues include bullying, sexual harassment, underpayment of wages and unfair dismissal. There are now calls for specific laws to be developed for workers who are under 18.

When it comes to the construction industry, most of the concern lies around the fact that young workers in this industry aren’t given the training and supervision that they need to work safely while engaging in such high-risk work.

Quite often young workers will be asked to complete tasks which they have not be specifically trained to undertake and because of their shyness and fear to ask, they attempt to undertake the task and end up being injured and in some circumstances even killed.

Firstly before hiring young people to work on a construction site, it is vital to ensure that they have completed general construction industry safety training. This training known as The White Card course will familiarise these young workers with the hazards that lie on construction sites so that they will be better equipped to handle the risks associated with these hazards if and when they come across them on site.

Training is the foundation upon which employers can build an attitude of safety among workers. Any worker who enters into the construction industry must first undergo safety training, according to Australian legislation including teenage workers who are working casually on site.

More than just fulfilling a mandatory legal requirement, safety induction training also lays the foundation of safety knowledge which workers will utilise every time they step onto a construction site.

When a young worker steps onto a construction site, chances are they are not familiar with hazards associated with the machinery, equipment, general environment, work processes etc. which makes them vulnerable to injury and their inexperience could place others on site at risk as well.

In addition to ensuring that each young worker is in possession of a White Card, employers must also ensure that these young people receive additional site specific training as well as additional training relating to the tasks they are given. No matter how much training these young workers are given, it is still important to ensure that they are being adequately supervised.

Importance of Safety near Power lines and Electricity

WorkCover NSW is once again reminding workers to be cautious when working with electricity and near power lines, an issue that is particularly relevant for those in the construction industry.

The warning from WorkCover NSW came after a recent analysis showed that there were 2 people who were electrocuted in the last 12 months and 14 people suffered electric shocks – that’s 16 incidents in a 12 month period between August 2012 and August 2013 involving electrical hazards.

WorkCover NSW highlighted one instance of a worker installing air conditioning when the wiring which was still energised caused him to receive an electric shock. The man died shortly afterwards in hospital.

The second incident cited by WorkCover NSW involved a plasterer attempting to install a ceiling fan when he cut through energised wiring by mistake and received an electric shock. In addition to the shock he also subsequently fell 2.4 metres off the ladder he had been working on causing additional injuries.

According to WorkSafe, working with or near electrical installations can be dangerous making it necessary for workers as well as employers to take the necessary precautions and always use licensed electricians for all electrical installation work.

It is important to remember that although all electrical situations are different, there are basic control measures that can be undertaken to improve electrical safety. WorkSafe reiterated the importance of testing before touching, a simple but commonly overlooked step in electrical safety.

Workers must remember to de-energise before starting work by identifying and isolating the source of electricity and locking and tagging the switch.

WorkSafe also reminded workers to regularly test and tag equipment especially in certain conditions including those which involve exposing electrical equipment to moisture, heat vibration, mechanical damage, corrosive chemicals and dust.

It is also particularly important to take into consideration any nearby over head or underground power lines to avoid getting electric shock or arc flash burns. Workers, equipment, material and plant should be kept at a safe distance from overhead and underground electric lines.

WorkSafe also warned businesses that if they fail to implement the necessary safety controls to protect workers, they will be prosecuted. Under workplace health and safety laws employers must provide workers with a safety system of work and that includes preventing them from being shocked or electrocuted while conducting their work.

In another incident a company was fined after 2 of its workers received electric shocks while unloading construction materials underneath live power lines. This is just the type of incident which can occur when sites controllers don’t implement the necessary safety measures on site to keep everyone safe. The 2 men involved almost lost their lives but luckily managed to survive the shock, the next time they may not be so lucky.

While the alert is regarding all work near or with electricity, the last incident also highlights the importance of ensuring that everyone who visits a construction site, even material delivery workers are trained on general construction safety training in the form of the federally mandated White Card. Even casual visitors like these 2 are going to be exposed to the hazards presented by construction work and need to know how to remain safe and avoid becoming a liability to others on site – this is the purpose of the White Card.

Canberra Road Site accused of being Dangerous by Unions

A Canberra road construction site has been accused of being dangerous by the local building union following an incident involving a piece of heavy machinery which was knocked off alignment after hitting into a solid rock.

Although no one was injured in the incident, the union has accused the principal contractor of having a bad safety record because 2 similar incidents apparently took place last year in November and December. The union has accused the principal contractor of neglecting worker safety and says that the site is an accident waiting to happen.

The contractor, Fulton Hogan has defended its safety record, citing its 500,000 man hours worked without injury. The project is an 11,5km four-lane parkway which will link the Federal and Monaro highways. The project started a year ago and is expected to reach completion in 2016.

According to the ACT’s Work Safety Commissioner, Mark McCabe the accident happened when a pile driving machine was being used next to a bridge joining 2 roads one morning when it hit solid rock and fell off alignment. No injuries were reported. Investigators apparently visited the site and determined that there was no danger to the workers.

The CFMEU ACT however doesn’t seem to agree and says that the use of the equipment has the potential to endanger the lives of those workers around it, even those not involved in its operation.

Dean Hall of the CFMEU said that the safety problems on the site were vast and that the principal contractor was doing all they could to “hide incidents and dangerous near misses”.

Last year vehicles on the site apparently rolled over on 2 separate occasions and a traffic controller working on the project had been struck by a car while performing her duties. Hall attributes the lack of injuries on the site thus far to pure luck. He says that sooner or later someone is going to get killed.

Hall also accused Fulton Hogan of hiding accidents from the public by surrounding it with big trucks. The company however has defended its actions saying that it is because of its safety procedures that the incident last week did not result in an injury. The firm has reaffirmed its commitment to keeping staff, customers, visitors, subcontractors, suppliers and the general public safe at all times. Of course in order to remain safe on any construction site, workers must, regardless of experience or job being undertaken, complete mandatory safety training first.

Without the mandated White Card general construction industry induction course there cannot be a safe site because workers who aren’t trained, don’t know what to expect when it comes to hazards on a construction site and therefore pose a threat to everyone on site including themselves.

To find out more about Construction Site safety and the need for the White Card, visit our homepage today!


Abbott Government Vows to Go Ahead with Workplace Law Amendments

The Abbott government has recently vowed to move ahead with plans to alter the country’s workplace laws which would see unions facing difficulties entering workplaces.

In addition to being kept off work sites, the government is also planning on imposing limits on the ability of unions to receive large payment deals on new resource projects, according to employment minister Eric Abetz.

According to reports in the media, a government bill is to be introduced in the autumn parliamentary session to remove the current rights of unions to enter into workplaces at their will. While the unions have condemned these plans and claim that they will have an adverse effect on workplace safety, the government believes the current rights of the unions are too “excessive”.

According to Abetz, the bill will be consistent with the Coalition government’s pre-election workplace policy. He said the government would also seek to remove the provisions that currently make the lunch rooms of work places the common meeting place for union rep visits.

Under the amendments the changes implemented last year which allowed unions to access remote workplaces will also be scrapped.

According to Senator Abetz the amendments come following a decision by The Fair Work Commission which revealed that members of the construction union had been abusing their rights and entering a number of projects in South Australia, deliberately and regularly misusing their power and taking advantage of right of entry laws. These “right of entry” laws would be changed to make them more in line with what Julia Gillard proposed during the 2007 election. They would now be more defined and stipulate who can enter and mandate that there be a genuine reason for doing so.

Despite the current government’s confidence in the move, it has been opposed by the Greens, implying that they may battle to get the changes passed by the Senate. However Abetz said it was important because the right of entry laws was becoming too costly to businesses and was negatively impacting on workplace productivity.

The new proposed bull would also strip unions of their power to delay the start of new projects. It would also address the issue of unions supposedly getting high wages for refusing to up to greenfield agreements. Now businesses can take their proposed greenfield agreement to the commission for approval if it has not been completed in 3 months.

Obviously the unions are opposed to the changes which they say will negatively impact workplace safety because employers will be given the freedom to do as they please on worksites without the fear of getting caught. The CFMEU said if the amendments are passed we can expect workplace injuries to increase as most employers value profit and productivity over worker safety.





Avoiding Injury from Falling Objects

On a construction site the actions of one person have far reaching repercussions and affect one or many other workers. Also the inaction of members of the industry can also have negative consequences for workers. As a worker on a construction site you are often at the mercy of one or many co-workers or employer and vice versa, your actions also affect them.

One of the hazards associated with this is that of falling objects – when a worker drops an object from above it may very likely injure or even kill someone below or a workers neglect may result in building materials or equipment falling from one level to the next, injuring people below. Even people in the adjacent areas are at risk. That is why principal contractors must manage these risks effectively.

An incident which took place recently is an example of what can happen if these hazards are’nt addressed. A worker on a construction site in Camperdown, inner Sydney has died after being hit by a number of metal beams.

The incident has attracted alot of attention not just because a worker was fatally injured but because just 2 weeks earlier the CFMEU had made accusations that safety at the Sydney construction site was neglected.

The accident which took place on a renovation project within the former headquarters of the New South Wales Nurses Association, happened just before midday when a 22 year old worker was hit by falling metal beams. The worker sustained injuries to his head and chest and tragically died on the scene.

This incident is particularly eye opening because it highlights the importance of addressing safety issues immediately. This incident could have been avoided if those in control of safety on the site had heeded the warnings of the union, only 2 weeks prior. On a hazardous construction site, proactive safety measures are necessary to avoid incidents. This site was obviously guilty of a number of safety failings and was shut down at Easter because of these safety concerns.

The workers involved in the incident had only been working at the company for about a week and was in Oz on a holiday work VISA. The CFMEU expressed its anger that warnings to the company about safety had been ignored which directly led to the death of the worker.

The incident happened as builders were digging at the bottom of the building and one of the slabs collapsed.

Even if hazards are addressed before work begins, employers should still review safety every so often to ensure that controls are still effective to address hazards and to ensure no new hazards have arisen which threaten worker’s safety.

Every employer has a responsibility to provide workers with a safe work environment and safe system of work, this includes prevention of free falling objects and where fall prevention is not possible a system to arrest falling objects before it can cause injury to workers.




Defining “Safety” in Construction

I was recently asked by someone a question which led me to question my own ideas about safety, the question, “what is safety”, the answer I found to be much more complex than I had originally thought.

The question got me thinking, not only about what the word “safety” means by what it implies to me to personally in the context of the work environment.

For me safety as it relates to the construction environment is a complex matter which involves all departments, tradespeople and workers as well as all entities involved in the construction project, from client to employer, principal contractor to casual labourer.

Helen Keller once said: “Safety is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature,  nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

Many people think safety and danger go hand in hand, you cant have one without some form of the other, so using this logic naturally a construction site full of potential danger will require a level of safety to overcome these dangers. Being or “feeling” safe is the condition of being protected from this danger, risk or injury. Obviously where there is danger (on a construction site this comes in the form of hazards), safety must arise to bring about this “condition of protection from danger”.

But implementing this “protection” or “safety” is a process which requires a systematic approach taking into consideration all the factors on the construction site.

While most of the responsibility for safety is held by the employer, the construction worker, regardless of position or trade must also ensure that they do their part towards safety on site. Firstly each worker must complete the construction induction training, commonly referred to as The White Card.

According to Workplace Health and Safety Legislation you must be in possession of your white card before beginning any work on a construction site in Oz, no matter your trade.

The White Card Course is mandatory for anyone entering into a career or even just a temporary job on a construction site. This training does not involve costly and time consuming training in a classroom type environment, most people just complete the White Card Course online and receive their White Card in the mail.

The course is nationally recognised, so safety across all states is unified and improved. Workers are also able to work across borders and in any state they choose in Oz.

While we are all born with some sense of self preservation we cannot simply rely on our common sense to remain safe on a construction site. There are certain hazards that we may not be familiar with and there are tried and tested methods of overcoming these hazards – that is what the White Card Course teaches, how to work safely in the construction environment.


Workers, Go Home on Time!

Research conducted by The Australia Institute recently found that more than 50 per cent of the workers surveyed were dissatisfied with their working hours.

According to the study workers are either unhappy with the number of hours they work or unhappy because of an inability to get work or working too few hours to be able to support themselves and families.

The study’s focus was on the experiences of the “overworked” and those who are “underworked” in July 2013.

Workers that are fully employed seem to often be unhappy with the number of hours they work which results in them feeling overworked and dissatisfied. According to Kate Carnell, CEO of beyondblue, the organisation co-conducting the study, there is something very wrong in Australian workplaces because employees are working longer and longer but productivity does not reflect this because it is not increasing.

The study also found that the number of workers unhappy with their working hours has increased this year as compared to last year. Unfortunately the current labour environment is creating high levels of stress, depression and poor sleep patterns for many Aussies. This also has serious, negative consequences on worker’s lives, health, family and relationships.

The study included 1400 respondents, 800 of which were involved in paid work. A quarter of those overworked workers who were interviewed also experienced anxiety. The research also showed that 3.3 million “overworked” Australians also experience loss of sleep. Half of all Australian workers also wish they had more free time to spend with their families.

Many employees are suffering from financial insecurity because of unpredictable working hours which is beyond their control. Insufficient working hours are another problem plaguing Australian workers who revealed that involuntary time out of work was demoralising.

This excerpt from an article on ProbonoAustralian.com.au explains more about the research:

Early findings of the research paper Hard to get a break?, to be released in the lead-up to Go Home on Time Day on November 20, focus on the experiences of the “overworked” (those who would like to work fewer hours) and the “underworked” (for example, those struggling to enter the workforce or those who want to work more hours) and was based on an online survey conducted in July.

The findings revealed 50 per cent of Australians who are overworked would like to spend more time with their family.

Source: http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2013/09/millions-aussies-lose-sleep-over-work#sthash.Qhel22if.dpuf

Carnell, CEO of beyondblue also explained that workers who are constantly under pressure to produce and forced to work extra hours to do so, are stressed which leads to depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety are both serious issues which require attention, because while much attention is given to the physical health and wellbeing of workers, their mental wellbeing is just as important and also impacts on their overall health. Mental health issues affect workers, the employer and business, worker’s friends, family and community.

The post goes on to explain:

“Depression costs Australian businesses $12.3 billion every year through absenteeism, reduced productivity and staff turnover. So business owners need to wake up to the fact that poor work/life balance takes its toll on both their employees and their businesses.”

Dr Richard Denniss, Executive Director of The Australia Institute, said Go Home on Time Day was a light-hearted way to start a serious conversation.

“When so many people say work – either too much or not enough – is making them anxious then it’s clearly a conversation that needs to be had,” he said.

“Managers see first-hand how productivity is affected when workers feel stressed or anxious. That’s why we’re encouraging businesses to participate.”

Read more at: http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2013/09/millions-aussies-lose-sleep-over-work#sthash.Qhel22if.dpuf



Working Safely Around Heavy Machinery

A workman on a construction site in Perth was trapped under his machinery and had to be rescued by emergency services. The man sustained injuries as a result of the incident, however the full extent of his injuries have not yet been revealed.

Read what happened according to a post on Perthnow.com.au

922800A WORKMAN who was trapped under machinery has been freed and is being airlifted to Perth for treatment.

The worker was trapped under machinery at Coolup, about 100km south of Perth.

A DFES spokesman said the man had been freed from under the machinery and would be airlifted to Perth for treatment.

The helicopter landed at RPH just after 1pm.

St John Ambulance received the call for help just after 10am today.

Firefighters from Mandurah and volunteer Fire and Rescue Service firefighters from Pinjarra and Waroona attended the accident scene.

The extent of the man’s injuries is not yet known.

Read more at: http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/injured-worker-trapped-under-machinery-in-south-west/story-fnhocxo3-1226720121021

One of the most common hazards associated with machinery on construction sites is caught between and struck-by injuries. Caught between injuries occur when workers are caught between the machinery and something else or 2 pieces of machinery. Sometimes workers become trapped in the cab of the heavy machinery after an incident occurs and is unable to escape with outside assistance. Often workers can become pinned by machinery and are unable to move or are seriously injured as a result.

Struck-by injuries are another common cause of injuries involving heavy machinery. Workers are commonly struck by machinery and moving vehicles on construction sites and there are various measures that need to be implemented to avoid these events.

Machinery that has unguarded moving parts or that is not lockedout during maintenance; heavy equipment that tips over and working between moving materials and immovable structures, vehicles, or equipment are just some of the working conditions that contribute to caught between hazards.

Virtually every site uses machinery that has moving or rotating parts or that requires maintenance or repair at some point during construction. If machinery is not adequately guarded or de-energized during maintenance or repair, injuries from caught- between hazards may result. Injuries that may occur range from amputations and fractures to fatalities.

Operators also need to be aware that they or other workers on site can be trapped and crushed under heavy equipment that tips, especially if they are thrown from the equipment.

Another hazard that you need to be aware of involves being pinned between equipment and a solid object, such as a wall or another piece of equipment or between materials being stacked or stored and a solid object. Workers could also be pinned between shoring and construction materials in a trench. Some of the types of injuries that can result include multiple broken bones, asphyxiation and/or death.

These types of hazards and the prevalence with which they occur highlight the need for general construction safety training. This general safety training in Oz should take the form of the White Card Course. For more information on how to complete the course online visit our homepage.

Heading for a safety incident? Look out for the Warning Signs

There are a number of hazards associated with construction work and those responsible for a site’s safety need to ensure none of these hazards slip through the cracks. It is easy to become overwhelmed with safety when you consider the sheer quantity of hazards presented by work on a construction site but a systematic and consistent approach to safety issues can mean the difference between a safe site and an unsafe one.

Site safety is everyone’s responsibility, not only employers. By looking out for certain warning signs, employers and employees can avoid an incident before it occurs.

The first thing that usually signals a decline in safety standards is a drop in productivity. Unfortunately many employers incorrectly assume that safety comes at the cost of productivity but this could not be further from the truth. Safety in actual fact enhances productivity, when productivity drops – it may indicate a need for a review of safety standards as well as attention to productivity. This is usually because whenworkers begin to get injured, ill and stressed they will spend more time off work, it will become harder to meet deadlines and eventually productivity will be negatively affected on the site. Ultimately a drop in productivity on a site will result in a financial loss.So it is in everyone’s best interest to address this issue.

Another indication that you need to review your safety is when workers start showing or talking about dissatisfaction with their job. This is often due to them having to risk their health and safety for an employer who clearly does not care about their wellbeing as much as they should. Workers in this situation will most likely become unproductive or less productive and the entire site will suffer and the construction project will suffer.

Also workers will probably seek work elsewhere and the company will suffer from a high attrition rate. High attrition rates are costly because it means replacing, training and supervising new workers.

You start receiving fines and notices. If your business is constantly being issued fines because of safety breaches there is definitely something wrong, even one fine is too many. You need to review your safety procedures and perhaps retrain employees on site specific safety. Also be proactive, do not wait for an incident to occur before correcting work processes.

In my opinion the best way to look out for safety issues is not difficult and doesn’t take reading between the lines, the best and most straight forward way is… to listen to workers.

Employers must communicate effectively about safety to their workers as this will foster a culture of safety on site. Whenever these requirements are neglected or ignored, you will notice safety standards begin to drop and incidents begin to occur, usually starting small and culminating in an incident either resulting in serious injury or a fatality.

Employers need to develop a 2 way communication system, that means not only instructing workers on safety matters but listening to their opinions as well and taking what they say into consideration.


Thieves Rob Construction Site of Explosives

3Site security is important for a number of reasons but one of them is so that dangerous materials kept on site, often needed in construction work, doesn’t get into the wrong hands.

This is what happened on a construction site in Queensland when thieves broke into a construction site and stole explosives being used on the construction of a tunnel.

It is also important that construction sites are secured for the protection of workers and members of the public.

Police are still hunting for criminals who stole explosives and 2 detonators from the Legacy Way tunnel construction site. The theft took place earlier this month between 9:15p and 11pm.

The Queensland Police Service is currently investigating but this incident is a reminder to site controllers about the need for proper security and access control onto sites, not only to deter theft but also to protect workers and members of the public.

Some unauthorised visitors to the site, such as children will probably not be familiar with the dangers on a construction site and have no understanding of the risks that they may be exposed to once they have entered a site. They can easily be injured or even killed from a multitude of hazards which they aren’t aware of and even less qualified to handle. Fencing is one of the most effective ways of restricting unauthorised entry to a construction site when hazards are present that can endanger workers and members of the public.