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Issue #1464      21 July 2010

Death at Appleton Dock

Work at all P&O Automotive and General Stevedoring (POAGS) wharves shut down nationwide in all 15 ports for 24 hours at midday last Thursday after the death of another waterside worker – the third this year, the second at POAGS operations and the third fatality at Appleton Dock in seven years.

A 41-year-old Melbourne waterside worker, Stephen Piper, was crushed to death last week during a pick up and delivery (R&D) operations at Appleton Dock. The man’s name was withheld until his wife and two school age children were contacted.

“The industry is in crisis,” said Paddy Crumlin, national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). “It’s the third fatality on the wharves in five months – and we said last time we lost a worker in March we needed urgent action to overcome the lack of safety on the job.

“How can I assure partners and families, mothers of young families that they need not fear about their husbands going to work in the morning? The fact is that it’s hard to make that promise and it makes me sick to the stomach that that is the truth.”

Mr Crumlin said there was a yawning gap and inadequacies in state and federal safety legislation covering the nation’s wharves, especially in bulk and general operations, after years of neglect and deregulation under the Howard government years.

“We’re not copping inaction,” he said. “The industry’s safety record is appalling. We need national legislation. We need regulation, not guidelines. We need the federal government to intervene. The industry has failed to regulate itself and urgent intervention is now required,” he said.

Since the last two deaths the union has held national stevedoring conferences of workers to examine the safety issues and lobbied the government for national regulations.

The government supported the formation of a Safe Work Australia (SWA) Stevedoring Temporary Advisory Group (TAG) in May with government, employer, union and Safe Work Australia representatives. However the union had called for a strengthening of the current terms of reference of the group before today’s tragedy.

The MUA says that the federal government needs to insist that Safe Work Australia gives the Stevedoring TAG the highest priority and that it be given a deadline of October 2010 to complete its work to ensure that any outcomes are included in the harmonised OHS regulations for implementation by 1 January 2012.

“The government also needs to convene the first meeting of the Safe Work Australia advisory group at the earliest possible time, preferably early next month, and that it is addressed by the Minister or his representative as an indication of the government’s commitment to support improved OHS on the waterfront”, Mr Crumlin said.

The objective is to achieve stevedoring-specific regulation to form part of the national harmonised OH&S regulations.

Meanwhile the union has ensured all workers at Appleton Dock and Melbourne officials are provided counselling. “On behalf of every wharfie and seafarer across the country we extend our sympathies. We will do whatever we can to assist the family in its grief”, Paddy Crumlin said.

“Some co-workers either saw the accident or its aftermath and are not only shocked but angered and frustrated by the general lack of attention to safety on our wharves. A Work Cover investigation and a coronial and other inquiries will follow. But this was a death that could have been avoided with a better safety culture and application of safe working practices,” Crumlin continued.

“Wharfies are constantly reminded about the importance of their work to the national interest, but the national interest doesn’t seem to rate the importance of their lives. It’s a disgrace”.  

Next article – Refuellers to take action

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