ETU Media Releases

ETU Media Releases

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Apprentice electrician rushed to hospital following serious fall at Barangaroo construction site

Paul Lister - Thursday, May 05, 2016

A first-year electrical apprentice has been rushed to Royal North Shore Hospital following a fall of approximately five metres at the Barangaroo construction site in Darling Harbour.

The incident occurred shortly after 8am today when the apprentice fell through a temporary floor cover over one of the service risers.

The apprentice, employed by the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) Group Training company and working for Stowe Australia, was being supervised by another apprentice at the time of the fall. This second apprentice raised the alarm.

Officials from the Electrical Trades Union attended the site immediately following the incident and have already identified a number of other safety breaches, including workers being exposed to live electrical cables.

The builder, Lend Lease, has moved to stop all riser work in tower three until a review of the electrical contractor Stowe Australia has been undertaken.

ETU organiser Stewart Edward said that the apprentice suffered leg and back injuries.

“From what we know so far, the apprentice appears to have suffered leg and back injuries after calling approximately five metres,” Mr Edward said.

“He was treated on the scene by ambulance paramedics and has been transported to Royal North Shore Hospital.

“Thankfully, his injuries do not appear to be critical.

“Today’s incident is the latest in a string of safety breaches on the Barangaroo site, including some that have resulted in workers losing their lives.

“Both Stowe Australia and NECA Group Training have a legal responsibility to provide a safe work environment.

“If it is found that they have breached their responsibilities it could lead to prosecution of both organisations, which is something we will be looking at very closely.”

The union informed SafeWork NSW, with inspectors attending the scene to carry out their own investigation.

“This incident could easily have ended with a tragic outcome,” Mr Edward said.

“The ETU will be pursuing this matter to ensure that this kind of incident does not occur again.”

Union raises safety concerns after electrical worker dies following fall from ladder on Sydney construction site

Paul Lister - Monday, July 27, 2015

A 62 year old electrical worker has died in hospital of his injuries just days after falling from an extension ladder while working on a construction site in Kensington Street, Chippendale.

The Electrical Trades Union said building work on the site had stopped following the worker’s fall on Wednesday afternoon, with WorkCover NSW issuing prohibition notices in relation to all ladders on the site.

The injured man suffered serious head injuries when he struck the ground, and despite being transported to hospital he later passed away.

ETU spokesman Dave McKinley said union officials had visited the site on at least two occasions prior to the fatal fall, raising a range of safety concerns including in relation to work at heights.

Mr McKinley said that while the deceased man was employed through a labour hire company, workplace health and safety legislation places the ultimate duty of care for providing a safe working environment on builder Rapid Construction and principal electrical contractor Ozlect Electrical.

“From our initial investigations, it appears there have been multiple safety breaches on this construction site that may have directly contributed to this man’s tragic death,” he said.

“Despite previous visits by union officials who highlighted serious safety concerns, including in relation to work carried out at heights, there appears to have been no safe work method statements in place and faulty equipment, including ladders, in use.

“Investigations are ongoing, however a site-wide safety audit conducted following this accident revealed what appear to be systemic failures to implement safe systems of work.

“All work on the project has halted, and safety regulator WorkCover NSW has issued prohibition notices in relation to all ladders on site.

“There are serious questions that still need to be answered by the builder and electrical contractor to explain how this tragic accident was able to occur.

“It is shocking that dozens of workers still die on Australian construction sites every year due to accidents that are easily avoidable if safe work practices are made a priority.”

Electricians stop work on $1 billion Lend Lease convention centre project after potentially fatal safety breach

Paul Lister - Saturday, November 22, 2014

A potentially fatal electrical safety breach during construction of the International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour has led to more than 40 electricians refusing to carry out non-emergency work.

All electrical workers on the site — employees of major electrical contractors Stowe Australia and Fredon — yesterday voted to halt work following a meeting of the safety committee, where they indicated they had no confidence in the ability of builder Lend Lease to provide a safe workplace.

The decision follows an incident where an electrician had “locked out” a switchboard, ensuring a circuit remained off while electrical work was carried out.

When the electricians finished work for the day, a Lend Lease foreman allegedly ordered another worker to use an angle grinder to cut off the padlock and restore power to the circuit. The following morning an electrical worker was just moments from being electrocuted when he recommenced work on what he believed was still a de-energised circuit.

The Electrical Trades Union said the incident, a clear breach of basic safety precautions, had almost led to the fourth fatality on a Sydney construction site in less than a fortnight.

“It is an industry standard that electricians use special padlocks to ‘lock out’ switch boards and other electrical equipment, preventing power from being restored to circuits that are currently being worked on,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“These large padlocks include a written warning explaining that the circuit is locked out, with only the electrician that installed the lock authorised to remove it, for obvious safety reasons.

“It is extremely concerning that a Lend Lease foreman would deliberately breach this procedure by ordering a worker to cut the lock off and restore power, with no warning to electricians that this had taken place.”

Mr Butler said workers were also concerned that it had taken almost a week for Lend Lease to report the incident to WorkCover NSW, and that the safety regulator had said it would not be investigating the breach.

“The union is demanding that both Lend Lease and WorkCover NSW conduct a thorough investigation of how basic safety practices were suspended, putting lives at risk,” he said.

“Lend Lease is currently responsible for several major construction sites across Sydney, including Barangaroo, with workers complaining of systemic safety issues across these projects.

“In this case, an essential and long-standing safety practice — an electrician ‘locking out’ a circuit that was currently undergoing work — was completely disregarded, putting lives at risk.

As a result electrical workers have been left with no choice but to halt work and only respond to emergencies until Lend Lease can ensure their safety.

“It really shouldn’t be too much to ask that basic safety practices be undertaken to ensure every worker is able to return home safely to their family each night.”

Warning issued to outdoor workers as mercury soars

Paul Lister - Friday, November 21, 2014

The Electrical Trades Union has issued a health warning to outdoor workers across NSW due to the serious risk of heat related illnesses as extreme temperatures look set to continue for several days.

The notice reminds workers of the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and highlights the health and safety requirements for managing work in high temperatures.

These requirements include a mandatory stop to work when temperatures exceed 38 degrees, with a risk assessment then undertaken to determine if it is safe to continue work. Such work should be limited to fault repairs, emergency situations, or the finalisation of current work, with no new work commencing.

For temperatures between 28 degrees and 38 degrees, a minimum 15 minute break per hour worked and regular intakes of cool water are required to manage heat risks.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said extreme temperatures, particularly over a sustained number of days, risk overloading the natural cooling mechanisms of the human body.

“Extreme heat can cause a range of health problems, from the uncomfortable to the potentially deadly,” Mr Butler said.

“With sustained high temperatures over several days, exceeding 40 degrees in some areas, it is essential that people working outdoors are aware of appropriate measures to manage the heat.

“Our union has produced a detailed policy for working in heat, while individual employers should have a heat management policy in place and WorkCover NSW also has a code of practice for managing hot work environments.”

The union said possible health effects faced by outdoor workers include heat rashes, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and in the most extreme cases heat stroke.

“Heat exhaustion is related to a rapid loss of body fluids, with those workers unable to have enough to drink or those suffering from illnesses such as diarrhoea at particular risk,” Mr Butler said.

“It is essential to keep an eye out for workmates, with warning signs including pale and clammy skin, thirst, fatigue, tiredness, nausea and vomiting.

“Heat stroke, which can be potentially fatal, is more likely when high temperatures are combined with high humidity, with symptoms including flushing, hot dry skin, headache, drowsiness, convulsions, delirium and even collapse.

“Workers and their employers should take appropriate action to manage the risk, with regular breaks, the consumption of cool water, and an immediate halt to work when the mercury is above 38.

“When assessing the risk it is also essential to be aware that thermal radiation from the sun, and high humidity, both exacerbate the risk posed by hot temperatures.

Noraville: Ausgrid workers fear asbestos exposure at depot

Paul Lister - Monday, August 18, 2014

Energy workers on the Central Coast fear they have been exposed to asbestos fibres after contamination tests carried out by a specialist hygienist confirmed the presence of the deadly substance at the Ausgrid depot in Noraville.

Electrical Trades Union spokesman Mark Buttigieg said it was believed that the asbestos fibres were disturbed during the process of transferring equipment from the soon-to-be retired Noraville depot to a new Ausgrid facility at Ourimbah.

“What we believe has happened is that a number of boxes have been disturbed during the move between depots, resulting in airborne asbestos fibres being detected at the Noraville depot,” Mr Buttigieg said.

“The union immediately advised all members not to enter the Noraville depot until further testing can take place and required remedial work is carried out.

“We are also advising members not to go anywhere near the new stores depot at Ourimbah, as this is where the material that is suspected of being contaminated has been transported to.

“What is most disturbing is that the workers did not find out about the contamination and potential exposure from management, but from a contractor.

“It was not until management were confronted that they admitted a positive result to airborne asbestos had been received.

“All it takes is a single fibre to become lodged in a person’s lungs and that person could face a long and painful death from mesothelioma – a cancer caused only by asbestos.

“Given the serious nature of airborne asbestos, the ETU would have expected management to act swiftly to notify the local workforce of the test results.

“It is very disappointing that they had to find out through other means.

“We are continuing to work with management to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to fix this situation and we have advised any members that were in the vicinity to complete a record of potential exposure to asbestos.”

ETU Calls on NSW Government to act over Mr Fluffy asbestos

Paul Lister - Friday, August 08, 2014

The NSW Government is being urged to immediately implement a plan to locate, identify and remediate homes containing Mr Fluffy asbestos fibre to rotect residents and tradespeople following the death of a Canberra electrician this week.

John Jorritsma, an electrician who was exposed to asbestos while crawling through the roof spaces of Mr Fluffy homes, died on Wednesday from Mesothelioma, an incurable cancer caused solely by asbestos exposure.

The Electrical Trades Union said that while millions was spent remediating properties in the ACT that contained the Mr Fluffy product — made of highly-dangerous loose asbestos fibres that were pumped into the roof — the NSW Government had never acted.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said he feared electricians and other tradespeople were continuing to be exposed to the loose asbestos fibres that were also used in Queanbeyan and other parts of the State’s south-east.

“Mr Jorritsma’s tragic death is a stark reminder of the dangers of asbestos, in particular to tradespeople,” Mr Butler said.

“The loose asbestos fibres used by Mr Fluffy are the most dangerous form of this deadly substance, easily becoming airborne where they are inhaled and lodge in the lungs.

“With an unknown number of houses in NSW still containing this insulation product — and no warning notices or information for tradespeople working on those properties — I have no doubt that without government action more tradespeople will suffer Mr Jorritsma’s fate.”

Mr Butler called on the NSW Government to end decades of inertia and take immediate action to address the Mr Fluffy issue.

“It has been known for decades that this product is deadly, and that it is still in many NSW homes, yet there has been no action to proactively identify the properties, provide warnings for residents and tradespeople, and to remove the risk,” he said.

“If the NSW Government continues to sit on its hands, more people will be exposed to asbestos and more lives will be cut short.”

Defibrillator rollout welcomed, but year-long delay following worker’s death criticised

Paul Lister - Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Electrical Trades Union has welcomed a decision by Essential Energy to commence a rollout of 186 portable defibrillators at work depots and offices across New South Wales.

The union said the devices, which will be taken on the road by crews as they carry out maintenance and repair work on the electricity poles and wires, had the potential to save lives in a dangerous industry.

ETU NSW Secretary Steve Butler said the union had been campaigning for defibrillators to  become a core safety item on all electricity network trucks following the tragic death of Essential Energy worker Trevor Tooze on the mid-North Coast in September last year.

“Trevor was working on an upgrade of high-voltage power lines when an electric shock stopped his heart,” Mr Butler said.

“His colleagues performed CPR, but because of the remoteness of the work site it took more than half an hour for an ambulance to arrive.

“The first thing paramedics did was place a defibrillator on him, but unfortunately it had already been too long, and they were unable to resuscitate him.

“A portable defibrillator on his work truck would have allowed treatment within minutes, which research shows would have greatly increased his chances of survival.”

Mr Butler said the union had commissioned independent research showing that portable defibrillators could make the difference between life and death, as well as meeting with former Energy Minister Chris Hartcher and lobbying power companies to act.

“Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy were quick to act, procuring and deploying an additional 135 defibrillator units for their field staff last year,” he said.

“Despite having the largest network area — totaling more than 200,000 kilometres of power lines across the state — Essential Energy instead chose to conduct a small trial in one part of the state, delaying their rollout for more than six months.

“Regional power workers are at a greater risk of preventable death caused by electric shocks because many of their work sites are in remote areas, far from medical assistance.”

Mr Butler said the union was continuing its campaign on the issue, saying that to deliver the highest level of protection there should be a portable defibrillator on every electricity truck.

Endeavour Energy loses third FWC case over drug and alcohol testing

Paul Lister - Monday, January 20, 2014

NSW Government-owned electricity network company Endeavour Energy has lost a third legal attempt to force staff to undergo urine tests for drug and alcohol use in a legal battle that will have major implications for a range of industries including mining, transport and aviation.

The Electrical Trades Union said the decision confirmed two previous court rulings, including by the full bench of Fair Work Australia, that found the use of urine test was “unjust and unreasonable” because it could detect drug use from days earlier, rather than more recent use that could lead to impairment at work.

Endeavour Energy launched the latest legal action in October last year, with the matter heard in the Fair Work Commission in December. The company was attempting to vary the original decision, which required the use of oral testing, with urine based testing.

ETU NSW deputy secretary Neville Betts said the decision, handed down late last week, highlighted that the role of drug and alcohol testing in the workplace should be about identifying potential impairment, rather than disciplining staff for private actions taken in their own time.

“This is the third time the courts have ruled in favour of the ETU on this issue, despite Endeavour Energy spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to force urine testing on their staff,” Mr Betts said.

“In this latest case they attempted to use a licensing technicality to overturn the previous decisions and bring in their preferred urine testing model.

“This most recent decision absolutely cements this legal precent that has wide-ranging ramifications not only for the electricity sector, but for every industry that carries out drug and alcohol testing, in particular mining, aviation, transport and emergency services.

“In recent years drug testing of employees has become increasingly common, both in the public sector and private enterprise, which is why making sure the practice is done as fairly as possible is so important.

“While oral testing accurately identifies recent drug use, where an individual may be impaired in their abilities, urine tests unfairly monitor workers’ private lives by potentially showing a positive result even where a substance may have been used many days prior, in a private capacity.

“After three legal battles, and three losses, the ETU is calling on Endeavour Energy and the NSW Government to finally accept the court’s decision and rule out the use of taxpayers money on further appeals.”

A full copy of the FWC decision can be found here.

ETU calls for defibrillator on every truck to save lives

Paul Lister - Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The NSW Government has been urged to facilitate a state-wide roll out of defibrillators across the publicly-owned electricity network following several preventable deaths and near-misses in recent years.

The Electrical Trades Union has met with NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher to present him with detailed, independent research that has found portable defibrillators provide an effective, affordable, reliable opportunity to prevent accidental deaths among the thousands of workers who carry out dangerous maintenance and repair work, often on live wires.

The union has also asked the Minister to convene an industry taskforce to develop a consistent approach to the roll out of defibrillators in all four publicly-owned companies in the electricity sector.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the campaign had been given greater urgency following the death of electrical worker Trevor Tooze on September 2, while workin  g on the mid-North Coast.

“Trevor was an experienced Essential Energy employee, working on an upgrade of high-voltage power lines, when an electric shock stopped his heart,” Mr Butler said.

“His colleagues performed CPR until an ambulance arrived, but because of the remoteness of the work site it took more than half an hour for help to get there.

“The first thing the paramedics did was place a defibrillator on him, but unfortunately it had been too long, and they were unable to resuscitate him.

“A portable defibrillator on his work truck would have allowed him to receive treatment within minutes, which the expert research says would have greatly increased his chances of survival.”

Mr Butler said while some companies are trialling a small number of defibrillators in the field, the ETU is campaigning for a broader roll out and a more consistent approach across the entire sector.

“Our industry has seen several preventable workplace deaths from cardiac arrest in recent years, with the remote nature of much of our work drastically reducing the chances of survival,” he said.

“Because we are often working on live power lines, including high voltage cables, workers in our industry are at substantially higher risk than most people in the Australian community.

“Electricity is the sixth biggest workplace killer in Australia, and even a small shock can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

“But unlike other workplace accidents, quick action and access to a portable defibrillator provides the chance to prevent these deaths, with colleagues actually able to bring a co-worker back to life.

“With each machine costing as little as $3000 to install, we believe it is a tiny price to pay to potentially save a life.”

The ETU commissioned independent, detailed research, which found that installing defibrillators on electricity network trucks is not only practical and affordable, it offers the potential to reduce deaths in the electricity industry.

“We know that defibrillators have the potential to save lives, which is why we are calling for them to be installed on each and every work truck across the network,” Mr Butler said.

“Most importantly, we want a consistent approach across the sector, so all workers have additional protection from the danger of electric shock, not just those at certain companies.”

A full copy of the independent report commissioned by the ETU can be downloaded here.

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