Tragically, the last two months of 2011 saw the highest number of work-related deaths ever recorded in that period for Victoria. In response, WorkSafe Victoria has pleaded with employers to make safety a top priority across all work sites in 2012.
“If ever there was a reminder of the need to review workplace safety and systems of work, it was the tragic events in the final two months of 2011” says Ian Forsyth, Executive Director of Health and Safety and Deputy Chief Executive of WorkSafe
Forsyth says that in terms of injury rates, Victoria was a safer place to work not only compared with any other time in history but also when compared with other states throughout Australia.
This, however, was overshadowed by a cluster of nine deaths which occurred over the last two months of the year. Such deaths, Forsyth says, represent a ‘stark reminder of where we’ve come from’ and serve as a reminder of the ‘bad old days’.
Of the nine deaths, two occurred on construction sites. One occurred in South Melbourne where a pile drilling rig collapsed and another in Apsley near the South Australian border where a falling tree crushed the cabin of an excavator.
Victoria was has not been the only place to experience significant workplace accidents on construction sites. In December, WorkCover NSW fined three companies over an accident involving serious injuries suffered by a 21 year old man who fell 14 meters off a scaffold at a paper mill. In that incident, safety practices across the entire project were questioned after the man fell through a 430mm gap between the scaffolding and wood chip machine.
Forsyth acknowledges that revisiting and revising past approaches, practices and habits can be challenging. But he stresses that this pales in comparison when dealing with the after-effects of an accident, particularly one involving serious injury or death.
Forsyth says that WorkSafe has upped its efforts to support businesses and workers.
But he warns that the regulator has also increased its efforts on inspection, investigation and prosecution. WorkSafe visits around 40,000 work sites around the state each year. In the second half of 2011, the regulator launched 57 OHS prosecutions – 60% more when compared with the same period in 2010.
“Our message is very clear – don’t wait for an incident or for WorkSafe’s inspectors to knock on the door before reviewing your approach to safety”.