The workplace accident that resulted in the death of a teenage worker in 2009 when he died from heat exposure has finally gained closure following the release of a coroner’s report which found that the company was guilty of safety neglect. The worker was exposed to extreme heat while operating in scouring temperatures without the proper protection which caused his muscles and organs to fail.
According to the coroner the company was to blame because their attitude towards safety was too relaxed. What was even sadder was the fact that the worker was just filling in for a friend when the incident occurred. The young man was just 19 years old at the time and was not familiar with construction safety procedures.
This post on SafetyCulture.com has more:
The coroner at Glebe concluded that because there were no standard procedures for worker safety in hot weather conditions it indicated a casual attitude towards health and safety issues by the employer of the worker.
He went on to say that the worker was not actually meant to be installing the batts but he had agreed to help out by filling in for a friend, which his employer was not aware of yet they profited from the work.
The coroner said that the employer did not have procedures and did not train contractors and contributed to placing the worker “in harms way” without being directly responsible for his death
There are a few points that this incident highlights in terms of occupational health and safety. Firstly why was the worker working in such hot conditions without the appropriate precautions? Construction workers, like all outdoor workers are at a higher risk of suffering from heat related stress. There are certain tasks that should not be done at certain times of the day when the sun is at its peak.The type of clothing and footwear used can also affect workers heat stress. Workers in this state need to continuously replace fluids lost to prevent dehydration and collapse. They should also take breaks in a cool, shaded area and wear loose clothing. Employers should ensure workers have access to cool drinking water on site and they should be allowed to take breaks out of the sun whenever necessary.
Secondly the issue of a lack of training has been raised. The worker and other contractors were not provided with safety training prior to beginning work on the site. Construction workers must undergo general construction training as well as site specific training before beginning work on a construction site. The general induction training or white card must be completed by all construction workers across Oz and the site specific training will familiarise workers with safety relating to the specific hazards present on their site.
Another issue which is of concern is the fact that young and new workers require specific supervision especially because the worker was performing duties that he was not familiar with, in an environment that was threatening to his health. A number of incidents have occurred on Australian sites where apprentice workers were given tasks that they were not sufficiently trained or experienced to perform which resulted in disaster. Workers that are undergoing training or have not undergone training should not be left unattended, especially when undertaking something as dangerous as roof work.
Hopefully the health and safety on Australia’s construction sites have improved since this incident occurred in 2009 however the lessons learnt will always be relevant and a reminder to employers of what can happen if they ignore safety on their sites.