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Would you risk your life for your job?

Would you risk your life for your job? In the construction industry, it’s a daily occurrence. Why are high-risk workplaces getting more dangerous, not less?

On 1 March earlier this year, a man was crushed to death when a large metal beam fell on top of him at the Barangaroo Ferry Hub worksite, in Sydney’s CBD. His death is one of nine already this year in the construction industry.

It’s all evidence of a startling rise of physical risk in Australian workplaces, according to a new national survey commissioned by Australian law firm Slater and Gordon.

It found that 42 per cent of those surveyed have agreed to take on an unsafe task at work – with over half of those aged 25 to 34.

More worryingly still, 11.9 per cent said they were forced to do an unsafe task even after expressing reservations about their safety – and in only 21.7 per cent of cases the task was made safer. Some of the reasons given for doing the unsafe task included pressure from their boss and fear that they would lose their job as well as time constraints .

Of those who spoke up, the dangerous task was assigned to someone else in nearly a quarter of cases, while a small number were actually fired for not completing the task..

Almost 44 per cent of people said they had witnessed a colleague agreeing to do an unsafe task, with 59.7 per cent pointing out concerns about a dangerous task to their co-worker or their manager.

Keep up to date: read our round-up of the most important IR stories so far this year.

Workers in harm’s way: Who’s responsible?

Lawyer Meghan Hoare, Slater and Gordon senior workers compensation, released a statement along with the research reiterating that the safety of workers should be the most important priority of employers, but that workers continue to be placed in situations where they are at serious risk.

“These numbers show that Australian employees are still being put in harm’s way in the workplace,” says Hoare.

It’s an argument that has also been made by Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s (CFMEU) NSW secretary Brian Parker, who said in March that there had been an “unacceptable” spike in deaths at building sites in NSW and across Australia. “Every nine minutes there’s been a severe injury to a worker or a death. Already the death tally across the country is running at one per week,” he said.

Parker said that the federal government’s construction watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), was making work sites more dangerous by preventing union organisers from entering them.

“We can make it safer by not having legislation like the ABCC that restricts union and union officials from entering the workplace,” he said. “Where we have got good access to building sites, the statistics show there is a drop in the amount of serious incidents and serious accidents and also deaths in the industry.”

Though annual workplace deaths had been dropping since 2003 (between 2003 and 2014, the rate of work-related injury fatalities fell by 41 per cent) according to Safe Work Australia, the statutory body agreed the number of deaths this year was “unacceptably high”.

SafeWork NSW statistics showed that 60 people died at workplaces during 2015-2016 and they have since launched a $3 million campaign in response to the statistics.

Is it time for you to place WHS top of mind? Here’s our guide to reassessing your current workplace safety policies. 

Can the “Internet of Things” make workplaces safer?

Today, over 88 per cent of Qatar’s 2.6 million inhabitants are foreign born; expats and foreign workers, predominantly in the nation’s booming construction industry. Though relatively isolated from the prominent technology hubs, the sector has leapt ahead when it comes to risk-management technology.

Of course, it’s important to note that conditions at construction sites for the upcoming FIFA world cup have been condemned as “appalling” by Amnesty International, along with other organisations. However there’s also evidence of innovation within the construction industry.

At QDVC, a thriving local construction company, all cranes on site are programmed with 3D anti-collision software.

Using an internet IP address and via a system of tagging machines and equipment – and giving people wearable devices or smartphones, all machinery on-site is armed with anti-collision technology to cut out the risk of workplace accident and injury.

“We’ve been using the solution for seven years,” says Philippe Garnier, corporate plant manager for QDVC “and have not had a single accident or injury in all that time.”

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