Workplace accidents are never positive incidents for those involved. They can have dire consequences in terms of the health and well-being of workers and create the risk of massive built, environmental and economic damages.
However, when an accident occurs and no one is harmed, the outcome is as close to positive as can be achieved under the circumstances. When those involved offer to use the incident as an example of poor practices and encourage education to eliminate a repeat incident, that is as encouraging an outcome can be.
An accident involving major Australian construction companies John Holland and Thiess serves as a prime example of this kind of best-case response to a workplace incident. The incident involved two concrete panels of 11.3 tonnes falling from a contractor’s truck on the Eastlink tollway in Ringwood.
The two companies, who were developing sound barriers in a joint venture project, subcontracted the transporters.
Instead of prosecution by WorkSafe Victoria, both major construction companies will offer what is known as an enforceable undertaking, with each spending $225,000 to research ‘best-practice for contractor engagement and management.’
Both John Holland and Thiess admit to a failure in providing and maintaining a safe system but, according the occupational health and safety authority’s deputy chief executive Ian Forsyth, the handling and outcome of the incident may have long-term benefits.
“The money we would have expected to have been imposed as a fine will go directly toward a safety outcome with a practical application,” says Forsyth. “A significant part of the application of workplace health and safety is not just applying what the law says about basic obligations, but what is also ‘reasonably practicable.’”
The research will aim to promote awareness by exploring the areas of the selection, engagement, monitoring and management of specialist contractors. If the research costs are less than $225,000, the excess funds will be donated to Monash University’s Institute of Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research.
“What we’ve achieved in this case is getting two major companies to pay for research that may have application elsewhere,” says Forsyth.
While no workplace accident is encouraged, learning from incidents and promoting positive action as a result of them is the only way to truly learn from these industry mistakes.