SafeWork SA & Workplace Fatalities

Wednesday 12 April 2017 



The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:20):  I move:

 That the Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation inquire into and report on SafeWork SA prosecutions into South Australian workplace fatalities since 2010, with particular reference to the death of Jorge Castillo-Riffo.

The Greens stood on the steps of Parliament House yesterday at a rally organised by the CFMEU. That rally called for justice for Jorge. We stood in solidarity with the union movement, with family members and friends and colleagues of those who have lost their lives in our workplaces. Among the speakers at the rally was a grieving widow, Pam Gurner-Hall. Pam is a brave woman. For the past two years she has needed that courage and bravery because she has been fighting for justice for Jorge, her dead partner.

 Pam's partner, Jorge Castillo-Riffo, died at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital construction site whilst working in a scissor lift in 2014. He died a horrific death. It is now more than two years since Jorge's death and, until now, all we have heard from the state government and from

Premier Weatherill on this case is crickets.

 I am glad the Premier made clear yesterday that not only will there be a coronial inquest into Jorge's death but indeed the government will take on and inquire into other workplace fatalities and the handling of those fatalities by SafeWork SA. Yesterday we heard the Premier announce a coronial inquest into the death of Jorge. He also announced a review into SafeWork SA's prosecutions, as I noted, and an additional review into what he termed South Australia's workplace laws.

 I suggest that if the state government wants to look into the failure of SafeWork SA to prosecute cases, then perhaps the government should consider supporting this very motion and refer this matter for a parliamentary inquiry. It would be most appropriate for the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation to inquire into not only Jorge's death but into SafeWork SA's prosecutions into workplace fatalities since 2010 so that this matter remains in the public interest and gives the public answers, particularly those nearest and dearest to those who have died.

 The Premier wants a review of workplace laws. SafeWork SA released a discussion paper in November 2016. It conducted a statutory review of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012. The agency is currently drafting a report from this review and will be tabling it to the relevant minister who will table a copy in parliament. I would be interested to know how this differs from the review that the Premier announced yesterday.

 Unfortunately, Jorge Costello-Riffo is not the only one who has lost his life working at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital construction site. Steve Wyatt, an electrical engineer with over 40 years' experience across the building industry, was the second employee to die. His death also involved a scissor lift at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital construction site. His family is still waiting for answers from Hansen Yuncken Leighton Contractors and SRG Building, as is Jorge's widow.

 The SafeWork SA website notes that there were 23 workplace-related fatalities in our state in 2016, with 170 fatalities nationally. I note that in many instances employers are not prosecuted over breaches of workplace safety laws. Indeed, there seems to be a decline in the number of prosecuted cases by SafeWork SA since 2010.

 Safe Work Australia's comparative performance monitoring report provides a comparison of work health and safety and workers compensation schemes in Australia and New Zealand from March 2017. This report has released interesting figures on the number of legal proceedings resulting in a conviction order or agreement in SA, ranging from 40 in 2010-11, 36 in 2011-12, 23 in 2012-13 and 21 in 2013-14, to 17 in 2014-15. There does appear to be a decline in the number of prosecuted cases in South Australia, but is difficult to come to a conclusion and interpret this data to argue whether that can be attributed to improvements in workplace safety and heavy regulation or whether it is simply because these cases are dropped by SafeWork SA.

 To list another case where a workplace fatality did not lead to prosecution, I note also the death of Jacob Porter, a young man, just 21 years of age, who died whilst working at the Costco construction site at Kilburn. I call it a construction site, but as the Costco was about to be opened, many of the things you would associate with a construction site had actually been removed from that site. Jacob was a landscape gardener, and it was reported that he was laying mulch around newly planted trees when he stumbled and fell into the path of a truck travelling on a service road at the Kilburn warehouse construction site on 20 October 2014.

 The CFMEU has noted that safety barriers and speed humps were removed the week before this incident as part of an effort by Costco to appear ready for business. No criminal charges were laid and SafeWork SA has stated that they would not pursue the case because available evidence did not support a prosecution. It is because of cases like these that the Greens today call for a parliamentary inquiry into SafeWork SA's prosecutions, or not, into workplace fatalities since the year 2010.

 Yesterday, the Premier stood on the stairs and gave Jorge Castillo-Riffo's widow, Pam, some comfort. This motion goes much further to making not just those words of comfort spoken on the steps of parliament but the actions that would provide certainty and assurance to all South Australians that we are doing all we can to see that every worker comes home alive at the end of their day. With those few words, I commend the motion to the council.

  Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. S.G. Wade.

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