A potentially fatal electrical safety breach during construction of the International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour has led to more than 40 electricians refusing to carry out non-emergency work.
All electrical workers on the site — employees of major electrical contractors Stowe Australia and Fredon — yesterday voted to halt work following a meeting of the safety committee, where they indicated they had no confidence in the ability of builder Lend Lease to provide a safe workplace.
The decision follows an incident where an electrician had “locked out” a switchboard, ensuring a circuit remained off while electrical work was carried out.
When the electricians finished work for the day, a Lend Lease foreman allegedly ordered another worker to use an angle grinder to cut off the padlock and restore power to the circuit. The following morning an electrical worker was just moments from being electrocuted when he recommenced work on what he believed was still a de-energised circuit.
The Electrical Trades Union said the incident, a clear breach of basic safety precautions, had almost led to the fourth fatality on a Sydney construction site in less than a fortnight.
“It is an industry standard that electricians use special padlocks to ‘lock out’ switch boards and other electrical equipment, preventing power from being restored to circuits that are currently being worked on,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.
“These large padlocks include a written warning explaining that the circuit is locked out, with only the electrician that installed the lock authorised to remove it, for obvious safety reasons.
“It is extremely concerning that a Lend Lease foreman would deliberately breach this procedure by ordering a worker to cut the lock off and restore power, with no warning to electricians that this had taken place.”
Mr Butler said workers were also concerned that it had taken almost a week for Lend Lease to report the incident to WorkCover NSW, and that the safety regulator had said it would not be investigating the breach.
“The union is demanding that both Lend Lease and WorkCover NSW conduct a thorough investigation of how basic safety practices were suspended, putting lives at risk,” he said.
“Lend Lease is currently responsible for several major construction sites across Sydney, including Barangaroo, with workers complaining of systemic safety issues across these projects.
“In this case, an essential and long-standing safety practice — an electrician ‘locking out’ a circuit that was currently undergoing work — was completely disregarded, putting lives at risk.
As a result electrical workers have been left with no choice but to halt work and only respond to emergencies until Lend Lease can ensure their safety.
“It really shouldn’t be too much to ask that basic safety practices be undertaken to ensure every worker is able to return home safely to their family each night.”