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Rushed concrete pours raise safety alarm

Date

Christopher Knaus

The GDE bridge collapse in 2010 occurred during a concrete pour.

The GDE bridge collapse in 2010 occurred during a concrete pour. Photo: Lannon Harley

Fears of budget blowouts and long delays are pressuring construction companies to ignore dangers during concrete pours, the ACT's work safety watchdog says.

Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe has described concrete pours as a major ''pressure point'' in ACT construction and one of the most dangerous activities in the industry.

Mr McCabe is investigating malpractice in the industry as part of a government inquiry, which was ordered after four deaths on ACT construction sites in less than a year.

The inquiry will be completed later this month, but Mr McCabe said it had already become clear that pressures to lower costs were forcing workers to ignore safety problems in a range of works, including concrete pours.

A pour was stopped midway at an Empire Building Group worksite on Flemington Road in Harrison on Friday after serious safety breaches surrounding site access were discovered.

Truck loads of concrete were turned away from the site, which was likely to cost the company dearly.

There was a dangerous incident during a pour at the Nishi building in New Acton this year. In 2010 the Gungahlin Drive extension bridge collapsed, and in 2008 a slab collapsed on Marcus Clarke Street.

Mr McCabe said there were two factors that made concrete pours particularly dangerous.

Lengthy waiting lists for concreting contractors, created by the surging growth in the ACT's construction sector, made companies reluctant to delay a pour for safety.

Postponing a concrete pour can hold up all other work on a site, putting a huge financial burden on the project, Mr McCabe said.

''Once they're booked in, they've got a bit of momentum about them … companies can, on occasion, be reluctant to hold them because they'll lose their place in the queue,'' he said.

''If someone identifies a problem, there is some disincentive to doing something about it, and that's a bit of a problem.''

He said his inquiry into construction safety had revealed ''enormous'' pressures on ACT companies to meet deadlines.

''That deadline becomes the goal on most projects, and the damages can run into tens of thousands of dollars per day [of delay],'' he said.

''Now, if you lose three weeks on your concrete pour, that's a real problem.''

The Flemington Road site was shut down on Friday, and the company was expected to work frantically to fix the safety issues.

WorkSafe ACT investigators are expected to return to the site today.

Mr McCabe said shutting down sites may present other problems.

The pressure for construction projects to meet deadline was so intense that companies would work lengthy hours to catch up, putting workers at risk.

6 comments

  • It sounds like somebody is putting in unrealistic quotes. Quoting in a free enterprise environment is tough work, but what somebody has to do is to put a value on human life so that such costs can be included in quotes. Governments place a value on human life when they allocate funding for health care and say that for a given budget/expenditure, the loss of X number of lives is acceptable. After all, is it really possible to fund for 100% safety. Safety, ie human life, costs money - that's all there is to it. Find a dollar value for a human life in the construction industry, as the government already does, and companies will be able to quote more accurately, there will be less rushing about, and work will get done more safely with as few lives lost AS POSSIBLE. Apparently, in India and China, and much of the rest of the world, human capital is cheap.

    Commenter
    Wm. Bergmann
    Location
    Gold Coast
    Date and time
    November 05, 2012, 8:50AM
    • The way to solve the problem is to make pouring when you shouldn't more expensive than not pouring by putting place large fines; criminal sanctions against individuals, including the suits off-site pushing the build timetable where personal injury or death occurs; and charging companies for the consequential community costs (such as loss of use of a major roadway while collapses are being cleaned up) of incidents such as the GDE collapse. The onus should be on construction companies to guarantee safety. If there is an accident by definition they have breached that guarantee and should be liable.

      Commenter
      Glenn
      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 9:54AM
      • The formwork (or falsework) failure is obvious to me, as a retired scaffolder. There was a peiood of free-for-all over skill regulation and the multi-skilling,experiment with a mini-construction boom that extended across the construction and engineering industries. Suddenly scaffoilds and formwork were being built and dismantled by people with no gear-handing technique. Bracework in modular scaffolding and formwork that is dropped (bombed), for speed of dismantling, instead of more efficiently passing and stacking, never recovers - once bent they can't be repaired and won't fit anymore. This led to scarcity throughout all the modular systems used, and, sparsely spaced bracing,, and often no bracing at all. Sufficient safety fittings on ties (that attache the falsework to the structure) are often not seen on sites I've seen from the street.over recent decades. Nearly all of the major collapses I've seen in the media appear to be caused by insufficient breacing and tie failuire,,along with an occssional.overloaded platform or a moving mobile scaffold with an illegal occupant on deck. These "accidents" aren't really accidents, they are failures in training and enforcment of scaffolding and formwork regulations, across all scaffolding and falsework product codes.

        Commenter
        icurhuman2
        Date and time
        November 05, 2012, 11:03AM
        • I have read a number of expert reports on the GDE collapse (including the one in the public realm) and none have stated or implied that the rush to make a concrete pour deadline was the cause of the collapse or a major influencing factor. I expect that this s just a nice dramatic local photo to draw your attention but is basically in my view unrelated to the described problem. Basically pours do not proceed until an engineer signs off that they are ready to proceed.

          Unfortunately there are some serious issues wrt registration and licencing of engineers in the ACT (there is none) that need to be addressed. This is especially a problem with formwork signoffs. Until these issues are addressed it might be an idea for builders to at least sight the engineers PI insurace papers.

          Commenter
          Forensics Junkie
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          November 05, 2012, 11:37AM
          • Two things are vital, if we are to eliminate fatalities on construction sites during concrete pours:
            Firstly, no pour can be commenced without engineering inspection to structural standards which must be in place, and unless the engineers, either government or consulting, provide a certificate of safety. Secondly, during the pour phase, the contractors must have separate public liability insurance of $50 million to cover potential costs to the community in the event of an accident which damages public or third party property. That insurance should also cover twenty years of lost income to any family suffering the loss of their breadwinner through resulting death or disability. Insurers to pay those families monthly for the entire 20 years, with all benefits and annual increases taken into account. If you want safe pours, extra regulations and costs similar to above will be necessary. This is not a unionists point of view, quite the opposite. National safety standards need to be in place to regulate all risky aspects of construction. A result cannot be achieved through punitive measures. Just create clear and concise uniform regulations based on potential damages and costs. If developers want lower insurance costs, they must comply with safety regulations and eliminate dangerous practices.

            Commenter
            Colin Spencer
            Location
            Kangaroo Ground Vic
            Date and time
            November 05, 2012, 12:21PM
            • get rid of unions and bring back the ABCC, give them even more power

              Commenter
              Joe
              Date and time
              November 05, 2012, 5:07PM
              Comments are now closed
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