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Construction industry scramble prompts safety warning

Original article published by SafeWork SA

Builders and contractors are being urged to prioritise safety over busy workloads as they scramble to complete projects before the looming Christmas shutdown.

The SafeWork SA warning follows two notifiable dangerous incidents in the past few weeks where single prop formwork systems have collapsed during a concrete pour.

Two building industry apprentices also received electric shocks in separate incidents in October after safe clearance distances to overhead powerlines were not maintained.

There were 39 notifiable construction industry incidents reported to SafeWork SA between 1 October and 14 November, primarily electric shocks, falls from ladders and lacerations to hands caused by tools including nail guns.

The 39 incidents represent a 20 per cent increase in near misses and serious injuries compared with the average weekly incident rate for the first nine months of 2021.

They also led to 12 workers being hospitalised.

The building industry traditionally closes for about three weeks from just before Christmas until mid-January.

Construction businesses have been scrambling to reduce backlogs and finish projects before the break.

SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said safety at work affects workers, their families, businesses and the wider community.

‘Heavy workloads and tight timelines are no excuse for corner cutting, especially when it impacts safety,’ he said.

‘Everyone enjoys the chance to take some time off over Christmas so it is vital that we stay safe in the busy weeks before the break.’

The construction industry accounts for about 16 per cent of worker fatalities nationally.

Figures released by Safe Work Australia this month show there were 24 construction industry deaths in 2021, down from 36 in 2020.

Construction was last week identified by Safe Work Australia – together with transport and agriculture – as among three ‘priority industries’ in its latest Work-related traumatic injury fatalities Australia report.

The residential construction industry in South Australia has been booming as a result of building approvals reaching record levels in 2021.

However, critical supply shortages for materials such as structural timber during the COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays and cost blowouts to many projects, placing pressure on construction businesses.

South Australia Construction Safety Alliance chair Lex Hanegraaf said the lead-up to Christmas caused additional challenges, along with statistically high rates of incidents.

‘The lead up to the festive period presents various pressures at work, and the break can be a particularly difficult time for some due to other social reasons,’ he said.

‘Please take the time to look after yourself, and also keep an eye out for other people around you.’

Construction workers are also six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work and young construction workers are three times more likely to die from suicide than other young Australians.

MATES in Construction has been supporting the mental health of workers in the construction and allied industries in South Australia since 2012.

MATES in Construction case manager Patrick Kukla said November was a stressful time for the industry as pressure mounted to complete projects.

‘We see long work hours, tight deadlines, difficult budgets, and work-life balance gets pushed aside,’ he said.

‘The common reaction is to feel cornered, pressured, stressed, tired, and feeling like a bit of a passenger in your own life.’

MATES in Construction is running a campaign across November with some tips to help workers manage stress through the busy period.

The tips in the campaign are designed to help construction workers take time out to think about options and avoid actions that might cause them further stress.

MATES in Construction also has a free 24/7 helpline that gives stressed workers the opportunity to speak about their issues and improve mental health.

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