The Old Chestnut. The Home Installation Scheme
The old chestnut I am referring to is: if there is a choice between a stuff up and a conspiracy, it is normally a stuff up.
In the case of the Installation Scheme and the furore from the press I am not so sure.
How valid are the criticisms of the Federal Government in its “Haste” to roll out the Stimulus Package?
On July 4th 2013 the Queensland coroner handed down his findings into the deaths of Matthew Fuller, Mitchell Sweeney and Rueben Barnes.
There had been a number of enquiries about the scheme after the deaths.
They included those by the Auditor General of the Commonwealth, the CSIRO, and by a senior public servant, Alan Hawke.
On page 9 of his review Hawke stated:
The Commonwealth placed a high reliance on state and territory regulatory authorities to carry out their responsibilities effectively in occupational health and safety (OH&S), product compliance and complaints handling.
Working in ceiling spaces is inherently risky. Safety and fire concerns regarding insulation pre-date the HIP. Industry told of earlier attempts to develop training packages with the states. Of the 1000 targeted inspections of foil insulation in Queensland, around 20 per cent were found to have pre-existing electrical safety issues. Although concrete data is difficult to come by, over 80 fires per year were associated with insulation before the start of the program. These numbers are in the context of 50,000 to 75,000 retrofit insulation installations per year.
The HIP took the Commonwealth into construction industry operations where it had little expertise. Program delivery mechanisms, which required innovative approaches, were developed and rolled out in very short timeframes.
Any objective assessment of the HIP will conclude that, despite the safety, quality and compliance concerns, there were solid achievements against the program objectives. At the time the program closed on 19 February 2010, over one million homes had been insulated. Many low income households participated, with the prospect of significant savings on energy bills in years to come.
So he highlights that each State and Territory is responsible for Occupational Health and Safety. He also points out that 20% of homes were found to have Pre existing electrical issues.
As a Police Constable in England in another career, many years ago I had the unenviable task of telling people that their loved ones had died. I well remember one post mortem I had to attend where a 27 year old man had been electrocuted. He was cleaning a truck with a steam cleaning machine which was just using the pump. The electrical plug was poorly wired and the earth was touching the active so when wearing canvas shoes the current went to ground through him and the water he was standing in. A sad, sad loss, which could have been avoided by good preventative electrical maintenance.
In the 1990’s I was a trainer in OH&S at one of the Melbourne TAFE institutes. Much of the work I did was on the premises of the people I was training, so part of the course was an audit of the factory or working environment.
I always found many safety hazards, but the people I was training were always reluctant to report the faults because they feared for their employment.
This highlights another hoary old chestnut, that between employer and their workers or if you like in a modern day parlance, Unions and employers.
The real question is acceptance of responsibility for the obligations society places on the employer and employee to keep everyone safe at work.
You see it is everyone’s responsibility. Not just the employer.
So let us review the latest furore that has already gone on about the Home Insulation Scheme and the three deaths in Queensland.
Instead of talking about some falsehoods which have been perpetrated in the Main Stream Media let us look at the facts.
Before we start it is interesting to read the first part of the Coroner’s report, which states on page 5 of 108:
“The Coroners Act 2003 provides in s. 28 an inquest may be held into a reportable death if the coroner investigating the death is satisfied it is in the public interest to hold the inquest. I originally decided not to hold an inquest due to the number of investigations, which have already occurred into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the deceased. However, pursuant to s. 27(1) of the Coroners Act 2003 the Attorney General and Minister for Justice directed that I hold an inquest into the death of Matthew James Fuller. As I result, I decided to hold a joint inquest to include the other two young men who also died whilst installing insulation as part of the Federal Government, Home Insulation Program (‘HIP’).”
The first electrocution occurred on 14 October 2009, Matthew Fuller, a 25 year old male. He was installing foil insulation.
The person he worked for was Christopher John McKay who was an Electrician by trade. He was the person charged with an offence under section 27 of the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (Queensland Legislation).
His plea was guilty. He was placed on a $2000 good behaviour bond – the date of the court decision was 4 Feb 2011.
The firm (QHI Insulation Pty Ltd) that he worked for was also charged under S27 of the Electrical Safety Act 2002 and they entered a Plea of guilty. They were fined $100,000. Date of Court decision was 4 Feb 2011.
Second death and prosecution (Arrow)
The second death occurred on 18 November 2009 and this was Rueben Barnes a 16 year old male. He was installing fibreglass insulation.
Arrow Property Maintenance, Rueben’s employer, was charged under s28 of the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 – also s30 of the Electrical Safety Act 2002.
A guilty plea was entered. Under the WHS Act they were fined $25,000 and under the ES Act $100,000.
The date of the court decision was 17 Sep 2010.
In this case there was a pre existing electrical fault in the roof which had existed for at least 10 years.
Third death and prosecution. (Titan)
The third Queensland death occurred on 4th Feb 2010 and this was Mitchell Sweeney, a 22 year old working for Titan Industries installing foil insulation.
Titan Industries Pty Ltd was charged under s27 of the Electrical Safety Act 2002. The defendant pleaded guilty on the second day of the trial. They were fined $100,000. The date of the court decision was 30th August 2011.
The object of this review into the facts is not to apportion blame but to show that in workplaces there is an obligation to have a safe place of work. That obligation rests on everyone who attends that workplace.
As you can see from the fines imposed, the State takes a dim view of people who do not comply with this responsibility. It is the same in every State and Territory.
Please note the dates of the relevant acts of the Queensland Parliament. Their workplace Health and Safety Act was passed in 1995 and their Electrical Safety Act in 2002 – in the time of the Keating Federal Government and the Howard Government respectively. So should John Howard be responsible for the Electrical Safety Act not stopping these deaths and Paul Keating for the Health and Safety Act not stopping these deaths? Of course not, that is nonsense, just like it is now for the opposition trying to apportion blame to the Federal Government under Kevin Rudd.
It should be noted however that in our Commonwealth, the States are responsible for OH&S law.
Let’s look at some more facts.
In Queensland people go to court all the time for breaches of OH&S law. 5 years of court cases can be viewed here
In the first half of 2012 there were 17 fatalities. From January to March a State Labor Government was in place and from April to June a State LNP Government was in place.
In 2012 Australian work related fatalities decreased as a proportion by 42%. (See page 7 of this document)
As all of the reports into the Home Insulation Scheme show, safety depends on effective training.
It’s really a bit rich for the Liberal Party to try and hold any high moral ground given that they have ripped $300 million out of TAFE training in Victoria, yet it appears that the Liberal Government is also cutting TAFE funding in NSW, The Liberal National Party in Queensland is also having funding cuts.
Of course when you delve into it, these cuts are to privatise the training system and diminish the power of unions to demand safe working conditions.
The stimulus package of Feb 2009 created 534,500 jobs in 2010. (Source ABS 6265.0)
The HIP insulated 1.1 million homes.
My personal condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims above, it is a disgrace that their deaths have been made the subject of political opportunism.