WestConnex work stops after emergency system fails

Friday, 27 July, 2018

WestConnex work stops after emergency system fails

The emergency evacuation system has failed on the WestConnex motorway project, with work halted until the problem is fixed.

More than 150 workers on the $16.8 billion WestConnex project in Sydney have downed tools and called in the safety regulator after emergency sirens in the tunnels failed to sound during an evacuation drill.

The failure of the audio alarms — which notify workers of the need to evacuate during an emergency — came just days after an inspection of emergency response points in the eastbound tunnel found at least two were not operational.

SafeWork NSW inspectors have been called to the site, which is the largest infrastructure project in the country, to investigate the breaches and concerns from workers over management’s “bandaid solution” of cutting lights in the tunnels to indicate an evacuation.

Electrical Trades Union NSW Secretary Dave McKinley said more than 150 electricians and plumbers involved in the fit-out of the tunnels remained at safety muster points outside the tunnel while they awaited a resolution.

“Workers are deeply concerned that despite being a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project the basic emergency safety systems simply aren’t working,” McKinley said.

“For workers who are operating in tunnels, far underground, the importance of a working audio alarm to warn them of an emergency and the need to evacuate is absolutely essential.

“The fact that this follows the discovery last week that at least two emergency response points — where workers report incidents and seek assistance if there is an accident or injury — were not working makes it clear that there is a systemic problem with how safety is being managed on this project.

“The NSW Government is spending billions of taxpayer dollars on this project and they have a responsibility to ensure the construction is taking place in a safe and lawful manner, but instead it appears safety is coming second as the project is rushed.

“Our members are demanding that the NSW Government take responsibility for their infrastructure project, with an independent review of safety systems across the board, ensuring the WestConnex project can continue in a way that doesn’t risk the lives and wellbeing of the workers constructing it.”

ETU Construction Organiser Fred Barbin, who responded to the site following calls from concerned members, hit out at management’s proposed solution for the non-working alarms, which is to cut power to the tunnel lights in an emergency.

“Not only is cutting lighting in a tunnel dangerous, a demonstration of this solution revealed that it also cut power to the main access doors to the tunnel, meaning in a major incident the evacuation of workers and arrival of emergency first responders would be delayed,” he said.

“This kind of bandaid solution to a major safety issue would be unacceptable on a suburban building site, let alone the biggest infrastructure project in the country.”

Image credit: ©aradaphotography/Dollar Photo Club

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