01:26 pm, Friday 5 July, 2013
Michael Barnes, the Queensland State Coroner delivered his findings yesterday at the inquest into the deaths of three young Queensland workers during the Home Insulation Program that was a government initiative during the Global Financial Crisis.
He said that the deaths by electrocution of Reuben Barnes 16, Mitchell Sweeney 22, and Matthew Fuller 25 could be blamed on a “desperate government, sloppy state agencies and careless bosses.”
A fourth young worker in NSW, Marcus Wilson 19, died from heat stroke on the first day that he worked with the program – he was working alone on a roof in 42 degree heat.
The coroner said that the dangers that killed the Queensland workers should have been foreseen and that they had been “failed by their employers, state safety authorities and a flawed federal government program.”
The three Queensland workers that died whilst being employed by the scheme were electrocuted only months apart as they installed insulation in homes.
Mathew Fuller was electrocuted when he drove a metal staple into an electrical wire on October 14 2009, Rueben Barnes died in November 2009 and Mitchell Sweeney died in February 2010.
The workers that died were using metal staples to lay electrically conductive insulation. At the time this practice had already been banned in New Zealand because of the associated risks.
At the height of the program’s operation there were approximately 10,000 installers comprising mostly of low-skilled workers.
One of the employers was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a potential perjury charge and the others to the Justice Department for breaches of the workplace health and safety regulations.
These referrals were separate to the prosecution of the employers that meant each of the three companies concerned was fined more than $100,000 each for electrical safety breaches.
Mr Barnes also said that the regulation authorities in Queensland also did not react at the time with “sufficient urgency or decisiveness” to reports that should have raised the alarm regarding the elevated risk of either death or injury with this program.
He said that because this program was quickly “conceived, designed and implemented” by the Federal Government appropriate safeguards were not put in place.
The key recommendations from the coroner
Over one million homes were insulated prior to the program being terminated in February 2010 because of safety concerns. With his findings the coroner recommended:
- A public safety campaign on the hazards of electric shock
- Action from the state government regarding mandatory requirements for electrical safety switches
- A review into the response by state-based agencies into the home insulation deaths.
What emerges from this inquest is that workers engaged to work in the program were not appropriately trained and were not given the required supervision – two factors that are essential in ensuring that any workplace is safe for the workers that are employed there.
The situation was more complex with this program because the workplace was constantly changing however this signals a need for a comprehensive risk assessment to be completed for every site where workers were undertaking installations.
Risks should have been identified and appropriate control measures implemented before these workers commenced work and in fact if they had participated in these risk assessments they may have been better prepared for the hazards that were present rather than uninformed and working “blind.”
There is no substitute for training and proper supervision at any worksite. When workers are trained they are given the information that they need to ensure that they can perform their work safely and to the satisfaction of their employer.
Supervision by colleagues that have the appropriate training and accreditation is essential to ensure that the training is being followed and that all safety measures are implemented at all times.
However if risk assessments are not conducted at worksites, especially when the worksite is constantly changing, hazards are not recognised and unforseen accidents are likely. If risks are not identified, control measures are not devised and safety will always be compromised.
The SafetyCulture iAuditor app, available for iPhone, iPad and Android, is free and the perfect way of conducting risk assessments wherever they are needed. Check iAuditor out here.
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