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.