Wayward golf balls endangering staff at the ACT's emergency service headquarters caused a farcical bureaucratic nightmare involving years of frustrated negotiations, failed fence building, and the development of a "golf ball mitigation policy".
The state-of-the-art new Emergency Services Agency headquarters was completed in 2010 at Fairbairn, near the Canberra Airport, replacing the old centre in Curtin.
Despite years of planning and a price tag of $75 million, staff at the new ESA nerve centre encountered an unexpected hazard.
Wayward golfers playing on a hole at the adjoining Fairbairn Golf Club were hitting shots dangerously close to the ESA workshop and support staff.
The problem potentially put workers at risk of serious injury, but bureaucratic wrangling and failed solutions meant it took almost four years to find a permanent fix.
Negotiations between four parties who had a hand in the golf ball conundrum – the ESA, the Canberra Airport Group, Defence, and the Fairbairn Golf Club – became bogged down, causing lengthy delays.
A 6m-high fence was constructed along the fairway to try to shield staff, but it was not the saviour the ESA had hoped for, with golf balls continuing to rain down on the headquarters.
After three years without resolution, ESA staff developed a document titled the "Golf Ball Mitigation Policy".
The policy included advising staff to conduct "visual risk assessments" – or checks for golfers playing on the hole – before going into the danger zones.
"If any players are visible on the golf course this represents an increased risk and access to these areas should be postponed," the policy advised.
It also urged staff to avoid "exposed areas" unless absolutely necessary and recommended:
"If practical, two members are to attend at all times, with one member to act as a spotter while the other completes the work activity."
"All incidents of golf ball strikes or near misses need to be reported using the Accident Incident Report Form."
Eventually, a work safety red flag, known as a provisional improvement notice, was issued to help prompt a resolution.
The Fairbairn Golf Club later agreed to reconstruct the hole to change the direction of shots, permanently solving the problem.
When asked why it had taken so long sort out the wayward golf ball problem, an ESA spokesman said:
"A number of measures were taken to deal with the issue and each took time.
"This included constructing a fence along part of the fairway adjoining ESA premises, engaging the Fairbairn Golf Club and Canberra Airport Group in discussion for options to eliminate the risk."
The United Firefighters Union said it was fortunate the issue now appeared to be resolved.
But UFU ACT branch secretary David Livingstone said the slow response was concerning.
"That it has taken over five years to find a solution to this dangerous situation tells us a lot about the management of safety issues in the ESA," ACT branch secretary David Livingstone said.
"We will continue to argue for safer workplaces for our members, and to highlight the need for more competent management of safety issues than has been on display in this matter."