The Guardian October 22, 2003

Death of young worker sparks statewide stoppage

by Bob Briton

The death last week of a 16-year-old labourer at a factory 
building site in Sydney's west has caused a NSW-wide shutdown of 
sites being developed by Australand. It has also given new 
impetus to calls for tougher occupational health legislation to 
include jail sentences for industrial manslaughter.

Joel Exner was working on the roof of the building 15 metres 
above the ground when he fell to his death. It was his third day 
on the job.

He had been working for a sub-contractor on the site, but 
principal contractor Australand has admitted in the media that he 
was not wearing a safety harness.

Australand maintains that he was not required by law to wear a 
harness while carrying out the work, a claim that the 
Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) 
spokesperson Phil Davey strongly denies:

"That is utter rubbish and disingenuous in the extreme. I was on 
the site today, 15 metres up; the law says if you are three 
metres up you need a static line harness."

The union also insists that Joel was not given the relevant 
training for the job.

Over one thousand workers have downed tools on all Australand 
projects throughout the state until the CFMEU completes a safety 
audit of the sites. The union expected this to take the rest of 
the week and work would not resume until the sites were given the 
all clear. WorkCover investigators issued several prohib-ition 
notices on the Eastern Creek site where Joel fell.

State Minister for Industrial Relations, John Della Bosca, has 
responded to calls for tougher occupational health and safety 
laws by saying that great strides have already been made. Fines 
of up to $825,000 already exist for negligent bosses and the 
Minister claims he is not opposed to a crime of industrial 
manslaughter with penalties including time in jail being put on 
the statute books.

Mr Della Bosca has clouded the issue with public discussion of 
whether such an offence should be part of the Crimes Act or the 
Occupational Health and Safety Act. Speaking with The Guardian, 
Phil Davey made the union's position clear: ".whether it's under 
OH&S legislation or under the Crimes Act is immaterial to us. 
What we're after is for laws to get on the statute books in one 
form or another so that building workers and other workers in 
heavy industry in this state can have some confidence that if 
terrible things happen, such as happened yesterday, company 
directors can go to jail.

"We feel that if you're a company director and your cost cutting 
or corner cutting results in someone dying, you should go to jail 
in exactly the same way that, if you're a motorist and your 
driving results in someone dying, you go to jail."

Feelings in the industry are running extremely high on this 
issue. The CFMEU office has been inundated with calls from 
workers suggesting an industry-wide stoppage to bring matters to 
a head. While the union is leaving this option open for the 
moment, pressure is building.

CFMEU safety co-ordinator Steve Keenan said last week that the 
death at Eastern Creek was the 45th fatal accident on a 
construction site that he had attended in the past three and a 
half years.

While workers and their unions struggle with the State Government 
for occupational health and safety laws with some teeth, a family 
and a community are left grieving. The teenager's mother, a 
single parent with two other sons, was treated for shock in 
hospital after being told of Joel's death.

Back to index page