13 August 2019

WorkSafe to cement safety requirements with precast concrete panel audit

| Lachlan Roberts
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The site where the 3.7-tonne concrete panel fell on January 30. Photos: George Tsotsos.

WorkSafe ACT inspectors will begin an audit and education program within the construction industry this week to identify current safety operations and practices when using precast concrete panels after a series of safety incidents this year.

Work Safety Commissioner Greg Jones said the audit is in response to a number of incidents that occurred across Canberra earlier this year, including a dangerous accident where a 3.7-tonne concrete panel fell nearly 20 metres crushing a small toilet block and a car in Braddon in late January.

The panel had been temporarily installed at the site of the Yamaroshi apartment complex site at 32 Mort Street, Braddon and was in the process of permanent fixing when it became dislodged and fell. Thankfully, no one was injured.

Mr Jones said the collapse of any concrete panel, even a small one, can have catastrophic consequences for workers and the public.

“From today (13 August), WorkSafe ACT inspectors will commence an audit on a range of ACT worksites assessing all precast panel installation documentation and records as well as conducting a physical assessment of the panel, and where possible, its installation,” Mr Jones said.

“WorkSafe ACT inspectors will check on compliance as well as providing education and advice to workers and site managers on the risks to health and safety during the installation and final prop removal stages.”

While precast concrete panels are becoming more popular in the construction of both commercial and residential buildings due to the speed and efficiency of their installation, Mr Jones said they come with increased risk if not handled correctly.

A construction site at 32 Mort Street, Braddon was cordoned off on January 30 after a concrete panel fell nearly 20 metres.

Mr Jones said the extent of the audit will be driven by the level of compliance found with the first 15 or so site visits and reminded sites that precast concrete panels can only be manufactured, transported, erected and altered by a qualified person.

“The most common issue associated with the use of precast panels is the collapse of the panel during or after their installation,” Mr Jones said. “This is usually as a result of workers not being suitably qualified or licensed to undertake the work or failure to follow site-specific Safe Work Method Statements.”

Minister for Employment and Workplace Safety Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT Government wants to ensure that those working in the construction industry have access to a safe working environment, especially when using precast concrete panels.

“WorkSafe ACT inspectors will provide advice to workers and site managers on the health and safety risks involved to themselves, their colleagues and the public,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“It’s important that workplace management understand the legal obligations they have when their employees engage in high-risk work.

“Outcomes from the audit will assist in the development of future engagement activities and audit processes. A final report will be made available on completion of the audit, allowing the industry to proactively improve their safe work practices when using precast concrete panels.”

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