Hosting the Commonwealth Games is more than a precise exercise in logistics, it also poses unique workplace health and safety challenges.
By the time the opening ceremony of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018) kicks off on the Gold Coast in April, it will have been a decade in the making. The bid was launched in early 2010, awarded in November 2011 and the wheels have been in motion ever since.
The bulk of the venues for the 275 events are located on the Gold Coast, with additional competition venues in Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville. Organisers expect to sell over 12 million tickets and welcome thousands of visitors from around the world. Add in over 1,000 full-time staff, in excess of 45,000 contractors and up to 15,000 volunteers and you’ve got a lot of moving parts.
Events of this size pose specific workplace health and safety (WHS) challenges and the multifaceted operational planning and execution starts years before athletes finalise their training programs and continues long after the medal tally is complete.
Stephen Woolger is Manager Health and Safety, Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC) and is chiefly responsible for overseeing the WHS arrangements for GC2018. He came on board in November 2015 to oversee WHS across 42 functional areas in the planning, construction, delivery and removal phases.
Setting the scene
The 18 competition venues are a mix of new builds and existing structures with temporary additions or overlay builds. Some sites will be repurposed for the duration of the event, including a film studio/sound stages adapted to suit squash, boxing and table tennis events. Every construction element is subject to a tender process, with Woolger evaluating bids from a WHS standpoint.
“Managing workplace health and safety for large international events — particularly sporting events which incorporate a lot of specialised equipment — introduce unique challenges,” Woolger said.
“Many bids for certain types of work activity come from companies involved in previous Commonwealth or Olympic Games, increasing the likelihood of overseas contractor utilisation. We’ll generally appoint a principal contractor to oversee the construction work, and engage specialist subcontractors, some who may be unfamiliar with Australian legislation.
“There are international differences in licensing and equipment certification and sometimes we are trying to make an informed decision at the tender stage without having all the necessary information.
“We’ve created a guide for working with GOLDOC, but occasionally need to go back and seek clarification. In the spirit of facilitating a fair and open tender process, we do what we can to ensure that everyone is aware of their obligations,” Woolger said.
Then there’s the build itself. Woolger said that one of the major struggles lies in applying the existing legislative definitions to a very different build environment — an issue he suggests isn’t limited only to this set of circumstances.
“Legislation basically views a construction as four walls with a floor with a fence around it, yet here we’re dealing with something quite different,” he said.
Take the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre, which will be used for both the swimming and diving competitions. GOLDOC will provide up to an additional 10,000 seats for spectators at Swimming and a further 2,000 for Diving, both of which will convert a community facility into a construction site prior to the completion. Neither fits the ‘four walls and a floor’ description, yet must adhere to specific WHS directives.
“In this scenario, you’ll rarely find a building site that satisfies those definitions. That said, all sorts of developments face that same challenge. I’ve worked in the utilities sector where construction zones can extend for kilometres, which, again, doesn’t strictly align with the description of a ‘construction’. WHS managers need to appreciate the nuances to ensure compliance despite the disparities.
“We are also dealing with an increased number of regulators. There are multiple stakeholders from different jurisdictions overseen by different bodies, so we made sure to involve them from the beginning,” Woolger said.
Developing a solid safety culture is imperative and Woolger thinks GOLDOC does this better than most. The focus is on the people that bring the event to life — from full-time staff and contractors to volunteers who work both front and back of house.
“The safety culture is better at GOLDOC than I’ve seen anywhere, which I put down to two things: 1) we deliberately keep the message simple and 2) everyone wants to put on a good event and that means a safe one, so they’re very accepting of the policies.
“We want everyone to be engaged and enjoy the experience. We’re focused on safety, but intentionally keeping it simple. Volunteers won’t be bogged down with heavily detailed documents, they’ll be equipped with quick guides to assist with hazard identification and training will be provided in conjunction with TAFE Queensland. Some of the volunteer roles can be a bit isolated, such as our fleet drivers, so we’re setting up hubs for them to take breaks, get fed and watered, and to connect with other volunteers. We want them to feel part of the bigger picture,” he said.
Much of the construction activity will take place close to the event with time pressures looming. Overlay build on some the venues will commence late 2017, but most won’t be converted until early 2018. Once the closing ceremony finishes, bump out begins and the transformed venues need to quickly revert to their former state.
“Most construction projects can bear a bit of slippage, but we don’t have that luxury. At this point, it’s all about 4 April, with training commencing late March, but there’s the same amount of pressure for the bump out. There will be fewer people on hand and they’ll be exhausted, so we have to account for those safety challenges when planning,” Woolger said.
Preparing for the Commonwealth Games is an exercise in detailed planning. Combining an international workforce, licensing and certification variations, irregular building conditions, increased regulatory requirements, immovable timelines and an inexperienced army of volunteers creates a unique WHS environment. Luckily, it all appears to be in safe hands.
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