Insulation action as deaths go through the roof

SAFETY HEAT  Insulation workers have died making home "greener".

SAFETY HEAT Union warnings on unsafe contractors proved deadly accurate.

On 24 November, a 19-year-old died from heat stress, the day after working in the suffocating heat of a ceiling cavity in a home in Sydney, Australia. It was the first day on the job for the teenager, who was installing insulation.

On 18 November, a 16-year-old worker died when he was electrocuted installing ceiling insulation in Rockhampton, Queensland. A month earlier, on 14 October, a 25-year-old man was electrocuted and a 19-year-old female working with him was seriously injured in Brisbane.

The on-the-job dangers that came with the Australian government’s high profile home insulation scheme were not unanticipated. The Energy Efficient Homes Package has been dogged by safety concerns since the rebate began in July, with accusations of inexperienced and unscrupulous operators rushing to cash in on the scheme. Unions had called for the scheme to be halted, until the shortcomings with training of workers and licensing of operators were addressed.

Australia’s federal government responded this week, announcing the introduction of new training and skill requirements and measures to name-and-shame sub-standard contractors. The move came the day after national union centre ACTU renewed its action call.
Environment minister Peter Garrett said: “There is no room in this programme for people that aren’t prepared to abide by the rules and who put the safety of their employees or householders at risk.” He added: “This program is helping households reduce their impact on the environment while supporting and creating jobs at a critical time.

“However, there have been some examples of dodgy work practices as well as some tragic incidents that have taken place and which remain under investigation.

“While we have already boosted safety standards under this programme…  we believe that mandatory training or minimum skill requirements combined with formal risk assessments and enhanced training materials is now the best way to ensure we maximise safety for householders and installers.”

Unions have been strongly supportive of the green initiatives in the government’s stimulus package, but had been adamant it must mean the creation of good rather than any jobs.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow said: “The insulation programme is an important part of the government’s stimulus package and will lead to tangible reductions of household energy costs and carbon emissions. It has already supported tens of thousands of jobs and by its end in two years, more than 2 million houses will have been fitted with insulation.”

She added: “Unions have always supported the scheme, but we have become concerned by recent reports of accidental deaths during the installation of ceiling insulation. Following discussions with the government, we have suspended our call for the program to be halted. Provided there is substantial improvement in safety standards and risk assessment, better training, and a bigger role for qualified tradespeople, the programme should go ahead.”

The union leader said the work of contractors under the programme must be properly policed with strict compliance to the new standards announced by the minister. “Any recently installed insulation that does not meet acceptable standards of quality, workmanship or safety to the public also needs to be re-examined, she said: “Shonky operators who put lives at risk also need to be driven out of the industry, and the government’s proposed name and shame register will help achieve this.”

The government  confirmed it was making changes to its audit and compliance programme “to ensure that the process to kick dodgy installers off the register was sped up.”

Federal environment minister Peter Garrett said: “With revised terms and conditions allowing naming and shaming of deregistered installers, the industry is well and truly on notice — break the rules and you can expect swift, decisive and public action aside from any potential legal consequences you may face.”

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