Workplace Health & Safety In Australia Essay

Question:

Discuss about the Workplace Health and Safety in Australia.

Answer:

The Safe Work Australia is the statutory body of the Australian government established under the Safe Work Act Australia 2008, which endeavours to improve work health and safety and compensation of workers in Australia. The companies irrespective of industrial type are to abide by the laws and policies laid down by the act (safeworkaustralia.gov.au, 2017). The workers engaged at construction company in particular are prone of accidents and even deaths due to unsafe working conditions maintained by their employers. According to an international daily, one such death took place at Kenoss Contractors, Canberra when an employer called Michael Booth was electrocuted to death when his tipper touched low hanging electrical cables over the site he was deputed at. The company tried to hinder the investigation and tried to alter the attendance records of Booth. ACT Work Safe Commissioner Mark McCabe penalised the company huge fine of $ 1.1 million, which was probably the highest penalty in the history of Australia. The court observed gross lack of safety measures and breach of Occupational Health and Safety. The ACT Work Safe Commissioner further warned the companies in Australia to ensure safe working conditions of their workers. The case became a milestone in the history of workplace health and safety in companies in Australia (abc.net.au, 2017).

The workplaces like construction sites of Kennos Contractors, Australia are often characterised by lack of safety and presence of hazardous environment. The hazardous situations in the construction sites can happen due to slips, trips, lying of debris and uneven walking conditions. The workers often meet accidents due to tripping over equipments and excavated materials falling over them from above due to lack of security measures while demolishing standing structures like buildings (Zhang et al., 2013). The materials and unstable structures often cause accidents when they get misplaced and fall on workers. Workers also fall seriously sick and even die due to coming in contact with poisonous and explosive gases. The vehicles and wires often cause death of workers who encounter them suddenly. The blocked paths due to debris, gases and other materials often prevent escape and movement of injured workers and result in the death of those workers. The management of the construction companies often do not arrange for first aids and safety measures, thus causing the heath conditions of workers deteriorate which sometimes even cause death of injured workers (Dagan & Isaac, 2015).


According to Taylor (2015), the construction site of Kenoss Contractors where Michael Booth was working was characterised by several serious hazards and breach of basic safety measures. The site had high-tension electric wires which had electricity running through them even during the work went on in the construction site. The contractor did not employ any supervisor to look into the safety of the workers. There was no safety sign to alert workers about the active wires and the authorities of Kenoss Contractors managed the access to the site poorly. There were no locks and the compound appeared to have been designed as a dump yard of debris (Hardison et al., 2014). The workers were warned not to visit the site and there was no explanation of Mr Booth’s employment at the highly unsafe site. The Industrial Magistrate Ms Lorraine Walker pointed out that the safety precautions from the side of the management of Kenoss Contractors could have abated the death of Mr Booth. She in her statement further pointed out that the hazardous conditions at the site were sufficient to cause injury or even casualty. The situation at the site revealed gross breach of Safe Work Australia Act 2008 and OHS (business.gov.au, 2017).

According to the Industrial Magistrate Ms Walker, the breach in safety and Occupational Health and Safety could have avoided the fatality of Mr Booth using precautionary measures. There were hanging wires over the site, which were active even during the commencement of work at the site. The authorities and the engineers deployed to supervise the work at the site should have turned the wires off before the commencement of the work (Grow, 2017). The company should have employed supervisors to supervise the safety measures at the site. The wires should have been flagged with red or any other appropriate colour to warn workers maintain distance. The Model WHS Act mandates the companies to employ safety officers at the sites to ensure safe working conditions of the workers. Kenoss Contractors should have employed safety officer at the site in accordance to this act. The company should have maintained proper accessibility and maintenance at the site. These precautionary measures according to Model WHS Act could have helped in avoiding the accident, which killed Mr Booth (Zhang, Boukamp & Teizer, 2015).


According to the news by a leading Australian daily, the workplace where the accident that took the life of Michael Booth happened was characterised by hazardous working conditions. Michael Booth was employed at a resurfacing project under Kenoss Contractors on March 2012. The work place environment was extremely unsafe and the company did not follow the Model WHS Act (canberratimes.com.au, 2017). The act mandates the employers to ensure safe working conditions and protect the employees from accidents. The tip truck, which Booth was driving, came very close or in direct contact with the high-tension electrical lines hanging over the site. This contact resulted in huge flow of current strong enough to deflate the heavy tyres of tip trucks and leaving burnt marks on the road (Demirkesen & Arditi, 2015). Michael Booth, in order to save his life jumped off the truck, collapsed and died. Ms Walker, the Industrial Magistrate reported that the safety officer of the company was the son of the general manager and did not possess the required qualifications to function as a safety officer. The management of Kenoss attempted to tamper with evidence to obstruct the legal procedures by modifying the attendance records of Mr Booth. The magistrate acknowledged a huge penalty of AU$ 1.1 million to the company, which went into liquidation. The court issued a very strong message to the companies and warned them against breaching the OHS laws (safeworkaustralia.gov.au, 2017).

The Safe Work Australia resolved the issue by penalising Kenoss Contractors with a fine of AU$ 1.1 million. Safe Work Australia lays down clear model codes to be followed by companies carrying out construction works like construction of buildings and pathways. Regulation 297 mandates the companies engaged in construction business and employing people at construction sites to identify the sources of probable accidents on the site like naked wire and debris. It is the responsibility of the employers to eliminate the hazardous source to the extent possible. The employer if fails to eliminate the risks should at least take steps to minimise the hazards. The top management of the company should also supervise the hazardous sources regularly to ensure that the hazards are under control and take measures to ensure that the hazards stay within the control of the company (Wachter & Yorio, 2014). Chapter 3 of Safe Work Australia under Safe Work Australia Act 2008 provides codes of practices construction companies should follow to ensure security of their workers at the sites. The chapter directs the companies to recognise the possible sources of accidents and risks to the lives and well-being of the workers. The employers should employ techniques to find out the risks those can be caused due to the hazards (Matthews et al., 2014). The construction company owners are required to implement control measures to reduce the hazards and maintain this control. Industrial Magistrate Lorraine Walker announced the verdict of the penalty on the company, which had gone into insolvency by then. The industrial magistrate went to investigate the safety situations at the site and discovered that the safety laws were not followed. The verdict became a historical case in workplace safety and health in Australia. The magistrate warned the construction company to follow the safety laws (Chan et al., 2016).


The construction company Kenoss Contractors could have managed the workplace safety and health of the workers in a different way to ensure their safety. First, the top management should have employed a professional safety officer with appropriate qualification and experience to study the risk factors in its construction sites. Second, the safety officer should have assessed the seriousness of the risk factors and the graveness of accidents they are capable of causing. The safety officer should have prepared reports regarding the safety conditions at the site as per Safe Work Australia’s model codes of practices pertaining to the construction sector (Choudhry, 2014). Third, he should have presented the report to the higher management and advised them on the safety measures that could be taken to minimise those risk factors, if their total elimination is not possible. The safety officers and the engineer in charges should have ensured control of hazardous situation like deactivating live wires hanging overhead before employees start their work. They should have stopped Mr Booth who sub-contractor from entering the site just as they had inhibited their own employees from entering the site. Taking these steps could have saved the life of Mr Booth (Zhou, Goh & Li, 2015).

I would have looked into the safety and security of the workers had I worked in the site of Kenoss Contractors. First, I would have treated both the workers under the payroll of Kenoss and the subcontractors like Mr Booth in the similar way. I would have followed the laws under Safe Work Australia and identified the hazardous factors, which were capable of causing accidents at the construction sites. Then I would have prepared and maintained a report on the hazards and their likely threats to the security of the workers (Hardison et al., 2014). Then I would have presented the same before the higher management and advised them on the safety, which according to the OHS laws they should take. The next step would have been to conduct a survey of the construction site. This would have made it possible to study the hazards to the security of the workers like heaps of debris obstructing the ways for smooth movement of workers in case of accidents. The next step would have been to remove the debris and clear the ways. The wires would have been tested and marked red to warn the workers to stay away from them while working at the site. A very effective step that I would have taken to ensure the safety of the workers riding trucks and bulldozers would have been deactivating the live wires when the work starts on the site. This would prevent workers from meeting with accidents, suffering injuries or even meeting with death on coming in contact with the wires (Chan et al., 2016). The wires would have been marked in red to warn the workers driving trucks to stay away from them to avoid accidents. I would have used machines to demolish buildings and completely mechanise the process to ensure no accidents caused to workers due to falling of demolition debris on them. A very crucial step would have been training the employees of all hierarchies on work place health and safety. This would have enabled them to take precautionary measures in case of accidents, which would help in saving lives of injured workers.


Workplace health and safety have become important aspects of the workplaces in all industries in Australia including the construction industry. Kenoss did not follow the directives on employee safety at their sites. This slackness of Kenoss resulted in the death of Mr Booth, subcontractor. The company tried to tamper evidences but remained unsuccessful. The magistrate court penalised the firm with a fine of AU $ 1.1 million but the company went into dissolution. It can be recommended to the construction companies in Australia that they should follow the policies like Model Codes of Practices laid down by the Safe Work Australia and Workplace Health and Safety, Australia. It can be recommended that the apex management bodies should frame safety policies in accordance with these safety laws. This would ensure safety and security of the workers on sites. This would ensure higher safety of workers, which would reduce accidents, and resultant loss of productivity. This would ultimately promote higher productivity by enabling more accurate execution of projects. Thus, following of safety laws would ensure higher revenue generation in the construction companies due to more appropriate execution of the projects according to the requirements of the customers.

References:

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