Death is not just another cost of doing business

By Mick Buchan

Today we commemorated Workers’ Memorial Day. All around the world, people pause to remember the workers who’ve died in the course of just doing their job.

Workplace deaths take more lives than wars. And while they’re almost always referred to by companies and our politicians as horrible ‘accidents’, the truth is that in most cases there is nothing accidental about it. Because the biggest cause of workplace deaths in in place long before a project even starts.

Cheap bidding and predatory tendering at the beginning of a project set in motion a chain of events that lead directly to corner cutting, poor oversight, and ultimately deaths and injuries.

We’re sick of hearing from corporations about how safety is their number one priority. It’s simply untrue. Money is their number one priority, as it is with every aspect of big business these days. We all know that.

It’s a numbers game. If the cost of insurance and indemnity is less than the cost of providing a safe workplace, then the decision’s been made.

In the past 12 months we’ve seen 7 construction industry deaths and a disgraceful number of catastrophic injuries. They barely even rate the news any more.

A few weeks ago on an MC Construction job in Joondalup. A worker fell nearly 6 meters off a scaffold and landed on his head. He received 6 hours of emergency surgery, but he still can feel or move his legs and has minimal movement in his arms. His life, and the life of his family, will never be the same.

Another worker is lucky to be alive after falling from a roof at the Multiplex WA Museum site last week. He landed on a concrete floor and smashed his leg and shoulder and ribs. He’s still in hospital.

And I saw with dismay the handing down of a $250,000 fine for the death of a worker on the Telfer Mine site. He was killed because he was operating equipment that didn’t meet Australian safety standards. If his equipment had been compliant he would still be alive. It’s as simple as that.

But we all know how little a $250,000 fine is in the scope of a major gold and copper mine. The cost of replacing a single piece of non-compliant plant is likely to be more than that.

And we’re in an environment where enormous companies with monopolistic power are demanding that local contractors deliver more and more for less and less or lose their contracts. So the occasional death or injury becomes just one more cost of doing business.

That will never change unless there are real consequences for the people making those decisions. We will only see change when employers and company directors are sent to prison for killing workers.

Cheap bids cost lives. And our society needs to hold the people making the decisions to account.

If a worker never gets to go home to their family because of negligence and indifference, then their boss shouldn’t get to go home either.

Mick Buchan is State Secretary of the CFMEU in Western Australia

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