Belated action after Oz insulation deaths

POORLY INSULATED An Australian government programme to insulate homes led to deaths after unscrupulous operators took deadly shortcuts.

POORLY INSULATED A government programme to insulate homes led to deaths after unscrupulous operators were left to take deadly shortcuts, ACTU's Sharan Burrow said.

The Australian government has ordered a huge safety audit of every home that was fitted with foil insulation as part of a nationwide green homes plan. The insulation programme, which forms part of a government economic stimulus package, was suspended after it was linked to a number of worker electrocutions and heat exhaustion deaths.

The Energy Efficient Homes Package has been dogged by safety concerns since the rebate began in July 2009, with unions warning inexperienced and unscrupulous operators were rushing to cash in on the scheme. National union federation ACTU called in November 2009 for the scheme to be halted, until the shortcomings with training of workers and licensing of operators were addressed. The union demand came after three deaths, but was withdrawn after government assurances that new procedures would protect workers.       

However, the electrocution of another young worker last week shows the new procedures were not sufficient, said ACTU president Sharan Burrow. “The Home Insulation Program has not been up to scratch and four young Australians have paid for its failings with their lives. From the outset, unions have called for improved safety standards, better training to ensure workers are able to identify risks such as faulty wiring, and a bigger role for qualified tradespeople such as electricians to oversee the work.

“Any recently installed insulation that does not meet acceptable standards of quality, workmanship or safety to the public needs to be re-examined. Shonky operators that have put lives at risk and ripped off the taxpayer should be prosecuted and driven out of the industry.”

Ms Burrow added: “Unions recognise that this and other federal government stimulus and infrastructure investment programmes are important to save jobs and help the economy recover from the Global Financial Crisis. But unions have said from the outset that businesses that get stimulus funding from the government must respect the rights of their workers, provide adequate training and ensure a safe workplace.”

The national insulation programme was a key plank of the Rudd government’s environmental strategy, and offered rebates to householders who wanted to conserve energy. But the metallic foil used in older houses has already killed four workers who were installing it, the most recent incident coming last week when a 25-year-old contractor was electrocuted in the roof of a home in far north Queensland.

It is believed the metallic foil came into contact with electricity cables, making the roof cavity live. An interim government survey has suggested there could also be a risk to some householders after the system is installed.

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