Building industry apprentices receive electric shocks

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 24 November, 2022 - 12:30
Incidents & prosecutions
South Australia

Two building industry apprentices in South Australia recently received electric shocks in separate incidents in October after safe clearance distances to overhead powerlines were not maintained.

The two incidents – together with a number of other others – prompted SafeWork SA to urge builders and contractors to prioritise safety over busy workloads as they scramble to complete projects before the looming Christmas shutdown.

There were 39 notifiable construction industry incidents reported to SafeWork SA between 1 October and 14 November: primarily electric shocks falls from ladders and lacerations to hands caused by tools including nail guns.

The 39 incidents represent a 20 per cent increase in near misses and serious injuries compared with the average weekly incident rate for the first nine months of 2021.

They also led to 12 workers being hospitalised.

The building industry traditionally closes for about three weeks from just before Christmas until mid-January.

“Heavy workloads and tight timelines are no excuse for corner cutting, especially when it impacts safety,” said SafeWork SA executive director, Martyn Campbell.

“Everyone enjoys the chance to take some time off over Christmas so it is vital that we stay safe in the busy weeks before the break.”

The construction industry accounts for about 16 per cent of worker fatalities nationally, and figures released by Safe Work Australia show there were 24 construction industry deaths in 2021, down from 36 in 2020.

Construction was recently identified by Safe Work Australia – together with transport and agriculture – as among the three ‘priority industries’ in its latest Work-related traumatic injury fatalities Australia report.

The residential construction industry in South Australia has been booming as a result of building approvals reaching record levels in 2021.

However, critical supply shortages for materials such as structural timber during the COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays and cost blowouts to many projects, placing pressure on construction businesses.

“The lead up to the festive period presents various pressures at work, and the break can be a particularly difficult time for some due to other social reasons,’ said South Australia Construction Safety Alliance chair Lex Hanegraaf.

“Please take the time to look after yourself, and also keep an eye out for other people around you.”

Construction workers are also six times more likely to die from suicide than from an accident at work and young construction workers are three times more likely to die from suicide than other young Australians.

MATES in Construction case manager Patrick Kukla said November was a stressful time for the industry as pressure mounted to complete projects.

“We see long work hours, tight deadlines, difficult budgets, and work-life balance gets pushed aside,” he said.

“The common reaction is to feel cornered, pressured, stressed, tired, and feeling like a bit of a passenger in your own life.”