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Nishi has 'red flag' for work safety

Date

Emma Macdonald

The construction site of Nishi apartments at Acton.

The construction site of Nishi apartments at Acton. Photo: Colleen Petch

Work may be almost complete on the up-scale and environmentally conscious, $550 million Nishi apartment, commercial and office block complex in Civic, but the development has been beset by an ''unacceptable'' number of safety issues, according to ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe.

Mr McCabe said the site, developed by the Molonglo Group, and subcontracted for building to Ply Proprietary Limited - formerly part of the PBS Property Group - had been ''red flagged'' by the regulator, which had issued nine formal notices to the company - the most recent of which was immediately after Jayson Bush's 6.5-metre fall last month.

The accident - in which the 21-year-old fell down a ventilation shaft and broke his back, five ribs and punctured a lung - is now the subject of a separate investigation by WorkSafe ACT's serious investigation team that could result in legal action. The prohibition notice relating to this accident was lifted on Tuesday.

Work on the six-Green-star-rated commercial complex - which includes office space for the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and legal firm Clayton Utz - is due to be completed before Christmas, while the residential apartments are scheduled to finish by April.

Mr McCabe said WorkSafe ACT had serious concerns about safety at the site over recent months, and had issued two prohibition notices to the subcontractor undertaking formwork.

Meanwhile, six improvement notices were issued across the Nishi site in September over issues ranging from unsafe access, electrical concerns, fork-lift operation, edge protection, formwork and one in relation to the construction company's own incident investigation procedures.

The principal contractor, Ply, which split from PBS in May, had itself reported seven ''notifiable incidents'' at the site to WorkSafe. These are necessary in the event of a worker requiring treatment at a hospital or in the case of certain ''near misses''. These incidents included a worker breaking his arm, another rolling his ankle and a third sustaining a minor burn.

There were also notifications regarding falling objects and one for a concrete pump failure.

The failure occurred in July when the blocked pump exploded and shot aggregate chunks across the building site and down onto the streets below.

Mr McCabe said the Nishi site had received ''way too many'' visits from the regulator.

''While Nishi is a very complex site … I am surprised at how many site visits we have been forced to make.''

''Absolutely there is a red flag over that development and we would expect to continue to attend it periodically to see what is going on.''

He also warned there would be further surprise visits as well as increased scrutiny on Ply elsewhere in the ACT.

''When a construction company has a lot of issues on one site, we need to examine whether these extend to its other sites as well,'' he said.

Under new tough penalties for safety breaches and negligence in the construction industry introduced this year, the Director of Public Prosecutions could pursue fines of up to $3 million for a company and $600,000 or five years' jail for a senior executive, if they were proved to have been negligent in the case of an actual or potential serious threat to a worker's safety.

Ply chief executive David Murphy said the company took any WorkSafe notifications seriously and had notified the regulator of safety issues in a number of instances.

''I would make the point that the six improvement notifications were all issued on one day in a 2½-year time frame,'' Mr Murphy said.

He also noted the two prohibition notifications had gone directly to the formwork subcontractor and not to Ply and they had been lifted within 24 hours.

''I am not saying it is acceptable [to have any notifications],'' Mr Murphy said.

''Everybody strives to have a perfect safety record, but for the duration of the project and the amount of hours worked, and the ongoing visits by WorkSafe, all of those notifications were issued on one visit.

The Molonglo Group said yesterday that it took ''site safety extremely seriously'' and monitored all safety issues regularly with Ply. ''The injury to Jayson Bush was a shock for us all and we are happy that he is recovering at home and wish him a speedy recovery,'' a spokesman said.

The Molonglo Group did not have any ongoing safety concerns with the Nishi site ''any more so than the concerns we would have at any of our work sites. Safety remains of paramount importance and we will never knowingly compromise the safety of any persons on any of our sites.''

The spokesman noted that Ply had a certified and compliant safety management system in place and representatives from both Ply and the Molonglo Group met on site most days where safety and safety culture were discussed. The Molonglo Group would continue to work with Ply on future developments.

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