Chapter three


Death is not a member of our Union, but over the past 12 months he has visited many building jobs.
Unity (Vic.), March 1958.

2, 265 words


A boom begins
During the war, NSW workers had won improved standards of protection from a State Labor government. In the 1950s, the Federation took these laws as the base line for safety across Australia. As ever, the grind was to get regulations enforced. Despite the model legislation from NSW, more than 300 of its building workers met their deaths between 1946 and 1958, while compensated injuries doubled. That was an average of 24 fatalities a year, with the worst years being 1955 and 1956 when 103 died – one every week.[1]

The MLC offices became a focus of injury and for protest. A carpenter who had fallen down a lift well in 1956 was still on crutches a year later.[2] The contractor, Concrete Constructions, had to be heavied into even discussing safety. Its managers refused to show the educational documentary, Bones of Building, on any of its sites. After the carpenter’s fall, the managers said they would not fix the problems until the men returned to work. The unionists stayed out until Concrete Construction gave way, putting on a crew of 50 to spend the weekend making the site more secure. The firm also agreed to employ a full-time first-aid man. Previously, that task had fallen to the storeman who had to scrub his hands free of grease before he could treat open wounds.[3] One demand of the NSW reformers was for one worker on each site to hold a first-aid certificate.[4]

The NSW Building Trades Group (BTG) held its first “Safety Week” in February 1957. On 18 February, the death of the twenty-seven-year old electrician from Wollongong, Ken Giles, spotlighted the need for this campaign. After a period of unemployment, Giles had been on the MLC building for two weeks when he fell 50m. from a narrow beam, tumbling down a lift well. Concrete Constructions had not supplied a safety belt. The men refused to work until the site met the standards in the Act. A meeting of 500 formed a safety committee of seventeen. They also donated £3 each for Giles’s widow and four children. Telecasting the presentation of that £1,500 gave the public an unusual view of worksite activism. The new Branch Secretary “Banjo” Patterson told his members: “The MLC should be the safest building in the world, being built for an insurance company. However, it was only the men on the job who could see that it was made really safe.”[5] In September, another 27-year old from Wollongong, Ken Ford, was moving bricks in a barrow from a hoist when he fell 4m. to his death.[6]

In June 1957, the union had summoned a TV crew to the St Vincent’s hospital site where twelve tons of wet concrete had buckled one of the three supports (toms) into a boomerang shape.[7] News reporting of hazards at work was exceptional. This one got onto television because the novelty of that medium sent camera crews on the lookout for footage which told a story. The print media remained hostile. After the Sydney Morning Herald declined to publish a letter from Patterson refuting allegations by an employer, he advised its editors to “turn to the worker in the building industry for the background … Let them look at our side for a change and make a survey of the work performed by Builders’ Labourers.”[8]

Problems bedeviled the Government Printer’s building in Ultimo. BTG representatives inspected the site and supplied the project managers with a list of faults. When union officials returned to check that the law was being enforced, the contractors called the police to block their entry. Next day, a mass meeting pressured the Master Builders into joining a Consultation Committee.[9]

On Monday, 6 March 1961, the NSW BWIU complained about a breach of safety at Housing Commission flats at Surrey Hills. Yet again, Concrete Constructions did nothing. Four days later, a similar incident killed a man. Work ceased for the day. On the following Monday, the men asked the supervisor to declare one section unsafe. He refused on the grounds that an investigation was due at 10 am: “The starter hooter sounded but no work commenced.” After a two-hour inspection, an Industrial Commissioner recommended fourteen changes to fix up safety. He had found guard-rails and toe-boards missing, openings in the floors, bricks being lifted on open pallets without side-boards, and bricks stacked above the sides of lifting boxes on cranes. He ordered that throwing debris out of windows cease; that loads not traverse over the heads of workers; and that fences be placed around materials stacked close to edges. He also ruled that the men be paid for the time they had stopped that day because of the failure by Concrete Constructions to follow previous directives.[10]

Victoria’s Combined Building Trades Unions had conducted a Safety Month in September 1956, educating members that safety was up to the other bloke. After the accident was too late to “become aware of the faulty gear or the bad way that planks were placed over putlocks or joists.”[11] The 1958 ABLF Council requested the ACTU to push for a national Safety Code.[12] The next Federal Council voted that all scaffolds be made out of Duralumin, no plank to be longer than 12 feet, and not hardwood, so that they were not too heavy to lift. Ladders had to be clear varnished, not painted, since paint concealed cracks.[13]

Tall buildings rarely had external scaffolding all the way up. Most relied on suspended scaffolding. The 24-storey housing tower on Blues Point beside Sydney Harbour was exceptional in 1960-61 because of its design.[14] Around this time, engineers began using slip-forms to construct concrete walls. Civil & Civic erected Sydney’s Australia Square Tower without external scaffolding by building the façade “slightly ahead of the main structure, thus providing a safety barrier”.[15] Modern methods and materials required new regulations. Carpenters on Wentworth Chambers refused to hang by one hand “over the edge of the building like monkeys” while erecting the formwork with the other. A strike won safety nets and later the redesign of external scaffolds.[16] The need for vigilance had not changed. For a scaffold to be considered safe it had to meet five criteria. It had to stand up to the loads put on it; access had be clear; nothing or no one could fall from it; it had to be protected against electrical wiring; and it could not be knocked by passing vehicles. Although falls from buildings and falling materials were the most common dangers, every aspect of construction needed attention. Runs, ramps and gangways were danger spots.

A better ‘ole
Hazards were not confined to heights. Down in the trenches, struts were either not strong enough or there were not enough of them.[17] The foundations being dug for Brisbane’s TB hospital in 1953 had not been timbered. The Branch complained only to find that the Inspector of Scaffolding did not have authority over excavations. The Mines Department did nothing. The foreman labourer was just as useless. A section of one trench collapsed, burying a BL. Even after that incident, the union could not make anyone take responsibility. The Secretary had to contact two cabinet ministers, Mines and Health, to get any movement. During an inspection with officials of the Health Department, some of the men on the job declared they would not work in the trenches if told to do so. Finally, the Hospital Broad took charge of safety. At a Branch Meeting, the militants moved that men refuse to work in areas they considered unsafe. The leadership backed an amendment that, in such circumstances, the men hold a meeting “to consider the matter.”[18] By 1968, a new leadership was taking more initiative. Officials called an Inspector to the State Government Insurance Office (SGIO) site, instructing members not to go down the holes until the shoring met the regulations.[19]

Two Sydney BLs were killed in the city by cave-ins during the first half of 1973. In August, police arrested Branch officials after labourers stopped a job in Darling Pt. to secure the struts needed to make the trenches safe. Union photographs revealed a 5.5m face with no shoring.[20]

When a collapsing trench killed a BL south of Perth in October 1982, the members struck for four days to make the contractor, Hornibrooks, agree to adequate shoring. The company still refused to accept responsibility by not paying for the time the men had stopped. An Arbitration Commissioner ruled that they get their money because their employer had failed to ensure safe conditions.[21]

The hole being dug for the QANTAS offices in Sydney became a pit of contention in 1970. The Carpenters’ rep. observed that none of the Commissioners and judges ruling on their grievances had ever visited the site. He therefore detailed the conditions at a tribunal hearing: a sewer leaked from one side of the excavation; no sun got down to the 30m level, which was seven stories below the street; there were no lifts to get the men up or down; and because the block was wedge-shaped, they were cramped into corners.[22] On top of those circumstances, the work was more than usually hazardous:

We are expected to allow these tremendous panels to swing over our heads and they are made of plywood and steel. Some of these are in the region of 12 square feet, some 15 x 12, and they are a pretty deadly kind of instrument to be hanging over your head. We are in the position that we have to stand under these things as they are coming across us and fix them in position. The crane cannot let go these panels until such time as we have fixed them, so in actual fact we are depending on the crane driver’s accuracy to hold the panel tight so that we can get it fixed before he can let go. There have been a couple of narrow escapes on the job.

Those lucky breaks were in spite of the occasional “panic merchant” among the supervisors who were “a little bit pushy at times”. [23]

Concerns about safety and amenities again overlapped with disputes over wages and hours. The carpenter reported that no one “has been paid the full amount of special rates. We have continually had to badger and pester foremen and leading hands to have our correct payments.”[24] A stoppage over what seemed to the outsider to a petty matter was usually the last straw onto a pile of Award violations.

As the industry expanded, the Queensland Department of Labour had difficulty in appointing qualified inspectors. Its efforts to train scaffolders on the Gold Coast in 1964 was a matter of too little too late.[25] The intricacies of the scaffolding regulations meant that only experienced men could put them into practice. Scaffolders, riggers and dogmen needed to tie elaborate knots such as the double blackwall hitch to join a rope to a hook or tackle; they also had to know that this knot was safe only with its end half-hitched back.[26]

One obstacle to licencing scaffolders was that many labourers had minimal literacy. They knew what to do on site but could not write those knacks down on an examination paper. The NSW Department of Labour adjusted its assessment procedures accordingly, while the Technical College also began granting partial licences.[27] However, its textbook examples did not help. Instructors were slow to surrender the skills that had given them status. Hence, decades after bolts and metal had become the order of the day, the NSW training manual for scaffolders included pages illustrating rope-and-pole work.[28]

The terminology of the regulations derived from ship’s riggers. Its peculiarities confused newcomers and, even more, those whose first language was not English. A labourer assisting a scaffolder needed to know that uprights could be called verticals or standards, and that a puncheon was a short standard. If told to fetch a horizontal, he had to distinguish between braces, bearers, catheads, ledgers, and put-logs (aka putlocks). He had to learn that a “lift” was the distance from ledger to ledger.[29]

For a labourer to progress from helping a scaffolder to being licenced to carry out his tasks took time and persistence. He required a knowledge of the carrying capacities of ropes made from fibre and steel; he needed to train his eye to pick up any weakness in ties and in the timbers. Those abilities came with experience. They were pointless unless the scaffolder had the authority to reject material that did not come up to scratch. That authority relied on personal integrity, support from men on the job, backing by the union and from the occasional DLI official. Technologies operate within relationships of power.

Bones of building
The cinema was to consciousness in the twentieth century what concrete became to construction. The capitalist state banned subversive movies such as Eisenstein’s 1925 Battleship Potemkin, about the 1905 Revolution in Russia. Communists ran film societies to screen material denied commercial release. A breakthrough came in the 1940s when unions got behind the production of propaganda films. In Sydney, the Waterside Workers Federation (WWF) sponsored Indonesia Calling (1946) to support its ban on the shipment of weapons to the Dutch imperialists.

In 1953, the WWF set up its own Film Unit. The BWIU commissioned the Unit to make a film promoting safety, Bones of Building. Actor Leonard Teale narrated this 24-minute dramatised documentary. The story follows Bill Smith after his release from the army, his finding a job as a building worker, and his marriage to Margery. Bill ignores the advice of his union rep on a multi-storey site. When rotten scaffolding gives way, he falls and is permanently disabled.

In the final footage, BWIU Secretary Clancy declares that the unions wanted future buildings “to be free of the ghosts of killed and injured workers, built on foundations of rock, not on the bones and blood of the men who made them.” These sentiments echoed the insights of Charlie Sullivan in the 1920s when he wrote that history was made by “the great and humble army whose sweat and blood are mingled in the concrete and bricks as surely as if the walls were built over a framework of human flesh.”[30]

Launched in March 1956, Bones of Building toured building sites in the mobile projection van funded through the WWF. The BWIU was delighted that

“various jobs have come forward voluntarily with collections after showings for the financing of future working-class films.”[31]

Bones of Building divided the blame for Bill’s injury between his failure to abide by union rules, and the materials supplied by the contractor. The point was that each worker had to do more than look after himself. They needed to take collective responsibility by refusing to work when they considered conditions unsafe.

Around the States
West Australia: For its 1960 Award, the Industrial Court copied most of the other jurisdictions by granting a Multi-Storey allowance of threepence an hour, but rejected the claims for an increase in height money. However, it restricted the number of bricks to be carried in wheelbarrows on scaffolds as a safety measure. The Court required employers to “comply with the provisions of the Inspection of Scaffolding and Gear Act and Regulations,” noting how a similar clause in regard to Health Regulations had had “a salutary effect”. The new rule was aimed at the “country areas where there are no scaffolding inspectors.”[32]

Tasmania: Control of scaffolding remained with the municipalities because the Legislative Council blocked reform. Painters and plasterers worked off temporary supports. The failings extended to the government-run Hydro-Electricity Commission. In 1959, the Supreme Court upheld compensation of ₤5,328 for a linesman. The Chief Justice ruled that, in “failing to provide a close visual inspection”, the HEC had not fulfilled its duty of care. Tasmania licensed its scaffolders in 1962.[33]

Victoria: The 1963 Scaffolding Regulations Committee still left inspection in the hands of municipal building surveyors. The MBA was a retard on safety. The Masters just did not get it. They set up a Safety Centre, but resented action to improve conditions where it mattered, namely, on site. The head of their industrial relations committee alleged that “safety breaches were a means of creating job stoppages, sometimes deliberately created and reported by guess who? With claims for time lost.”[34] If the employers had fixed up their sites, the ABLF would not have been able to hold those stoppages.

Victorian statistics for compensated deaths and injuries throughout the 1960s documented that employers gave unions more reasons than enough to stop jobs over safety. For all sectors of the economy, the death toll at work averaged 50 each year, 70 during travel and 300 more from disease, with 33,000 non-fatal injuries.[35] In 1988, three out of every four of the matters raised at the consultation committee set up under the Victorian Building Industry Agreement (VBIA) concerned safety, and 90% of them were resolved in favour of the unions. For instance, the building unions had to stop jobs to make the employers install full planking over men working beneath riggers or steel fixers.[36]

The most murderous of all incidents on Australian construction site struck ten minutes before noon on 15 October 1970 as workers on the Westgate bridge gathered for lunch. The custom was to position sheds under the roadway to be safe from objects falling over its sides. In seconds, a 120m span gave way, killing 35 men, and disabling others.

With a great gust of wind like a giant’s breath,
It had been their life now it was their death.

Even the Royal Commission had to admit that “the margins of safety for the bridge were inadequate during erection; they would also have been inadequate in the service condition had the bridge been completed.”

For no matter how large, or costly or grand
No bridge is worth more than the life of a man.[37]

Scamped scaffolding allowed objects to fall through onto workers and passers-by. For instance, Victorian official Dick Loughnan had been hit on the head by a brick while preparing the 1901 opening of the Federal Parliament. Ten years later, a brick fell six storeys onto the skull of Jim Whelan, “the Wrecker”. That night, he coughed up blood. Thereafter, he stuffed his bowler hat with wadding. Labourers had worn felt hats to keep off the elements. A few followed Whelan’s lead by padding them.[38] Some merely fashioned skull caps against the dust by knotting the corners of a handkerchief.

Underground miners had been among the first workers to wear helmets, since they provided a place to fit a lamp as well as protection against bumps and falling rock. From 1955, the timber industry Award required that workers in forests wear hard hats.[39] Many workers had encountered helmets during the two world wars. At first, Opera House workers referred to safety helmets as “tin hats”, as they had been called by the troops. The materials became lighter and stronger after research for the military. By 1953, ICI marketed “safety hats” made by impregnating fibre-glass with plastics and a light alloy, to weigh less than 500 gms.[40] The ABLF later stipulated Duralumin, the brand name for an aluminum alloy used in aircraft, with 4% copper and traces of other minerals. Alloys reduced the danger of electrocution with tin.

The National Safety Council promoted the wearing of what it called “hard hats” as protective gear. An article in its November 1954 journal reported that the US construction firm, Braun Transworld, had made them compulsory for its workforce on the Williamstown to Altona pipeline. The company had established a Turtle Club in the US for employees whose lives had been saved by a hard hat. Three Australians were inducted into the Club on 21 January 1955. [41]

The pictorial record of the Snowy scheme tracked the spread of helmets. The earliest photographs showed only felt hats, ethnic caps or berets. By 1954, a few tin hats had appeared, becoming common shortly after. Woolen liners warded off the freeze. Safety helmets were universal during the 1959 inspection by Princess Alexandra.[42]

As buildings went higher, the more the labourers needed safety hats. Office and apartment blocks rose beyond 45m in the late 1950s. Well into the 1960s, helmets remained compulsory only over certain heights, but were not always worn even around the tallest towers. Just before Christmas 1957, a scaffold-clip fell 50m. to pierce Bro. Holmes’s helmet, which saved him from physical injury, though he needed a week off to recover from the shock.[43] Nothing speeded up the acceptance of hard hats among workers more than seeing one of their fellows saved from injury. On a later Altona job, a length of 4” x 3” smashing a helmet, but its wearer’s injuries were so slight that he lost only a few hours from work. His helmet was exhibited on site.[44] Backing such experiences, the NSW Department of Labour and Industry promised to enforce the wearing of helmets from mid-1957.[45]

The provision of helmets became part of wider disputes. For instance, militants conducted a running battle over wages on the parking station in the Sydney Domain in 1959. At one point, the supervisors had to go out to buy rain hats but did not get back with them until 4.10 pm. In the meantime, the company had wanted the men to wear their helmets against the rain. The men pointed out that, unlike a Southwester, the helmet made the water run down their backs. Commissioner Hood told them that they should have turned up their collars.[46] Helmet manufacturers later fitted a gutter to deflect the water. (Brims were pared back on helmets for riggers, engineers and lift-workers.)

Labourers had reasons for resisting helmets. Uncomfortable in humid weather, they gave little protection from the sun or the rain. At the Opera House, the carpenter-editor of the Benelong Bugle welcomed helmets, seeing them as “probably the most important single precautionary measure.” However, by Christmas 1962, he feared that the helmet was “becoming the sacred cow of the safety cult. To create health hazards in the name of safety is an absurdity. When the wearing of safety helmets is compulsory, it becomes a scandal.”[47] He pointed out that a helmet did not shield the whole body. For instance, a brass fitting had slid off the roof, striking a man’s helmet before cutting into his back; he was off work for four days.[48]

Labourers had to learn to fasten their helmets as well as to wear them. In one case, a helmet slipped off one head to crack onto an un-helmeted one.[49] Nor did helmets bestow immortality. On a Monday in March 1961 at the Housing Commission flats at Surrey Hills, Bro. Leone survived being hit on the head by a brick, even though he had not been wearing a helmet. Four days later, on the same site, a falling brick killed Bro. Evans who was wearing his.[50] The penny did not always drop with the brick. The foreman at a three-storey block of flats suffered brain damage from a falling brick. He later explained it had not been necessary for him to wear a helmet because he was the foreman. He felt he had just been unlucky.[51]

Despite the endorsement of safety helmets by public authorities and some unions, the construction industry took nearly 20 years before wearing them became universal. The building unions had to pressure authorities, battle employers and educate their own members. The old-timers and young lairs among Whelan’s wreckers defied organisers over the wearing of helmets.[52] Yet, building workers accepted helmets before the community adopted other safety regulations. For example, seat belts did not become compulsory until the early 1970s, and cyclists continue to protest against compulsory crash helmets. The acceptance of helmets around building sites varied from State to State.

Putting a lid on it
Queensland: When the contractor on the Tax offices in Brisbane issued helmets to his workforce in July 1959, the Branch decided: “Where safety helmets are provided on jobs, our members be instructed to wear same.” Although the rule applied only the multi-storey sites, the union wanted other firms to supply helmets. The Branch recognised that its organisers had to set an example: “our officials be supplied with safety helmets to wear when visiting multi-storey jobs.” The ABLF was ahead of certain BTG affiliates which did not issue safety helmets to their officers for a further nine months.[53] Three years passed from the start of negotiations over helmets to their adoption as a common rule because the employers quibbled over who was going to pay. The ABLF insisted that helmets be at the employers’ expense. The employers offered cash payments instead of helmets to everyone. The unions called for their Awards to spell out that work not proceed until every employee was wearing a helmet. In addition, workers were to be paid for the hours they waited for helmets. In the end, the employers gave way.[54]

NSW: From 1959, the NSW BTG leant on the Labor government to make the Department of Labour enforce its regulations about the wearing of helmets. Implementation waited on more inspectors and action around the jobs. Even on major sites in the CBD, the take-up of helmets was slow and patchy throughout the 1960s. Photographs in the trade journals reveal that Civil & Civic felt no shame about showing men without helmets on the Australia Square Tower as late as 1966. None of the workers in illustrations accompanying a 1968 address to the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association was wearing a helmet. (Those at the front-end of spraying operations had neither goggles nor gloves.) Only one in four of the men on the cover of the February 1969 issue of Building Materials and Equipment had a hard hat.

Tasmania: The island’s MBA agreed to supply helmets on multi-storey sites when hard-hats became compulsory from January 1960, but only around structures over 6m. Tasmania’s joint union Journal published quizzes to stimulate discussion about safety:

Q. If safety helmets are not being worn, who is liable to suffer – the employer or employee?
A. Both. If on a required site the employer has not displayed notices and issued complete safety helmets, he is liable to prosecution. If an employee, who has been issued with a helmet, does not wear it, he will be fined or worse – maybe killed – when a falling object hits him on the head.[55]

After the Secretary of Labour told the MBA that its members had to pay for helmets, a disagreement arose over who should buy the insert replaced for each wearer. The MBA argued that if the workers paid for neither the helmets nor their inserts, they would throw both away. Helmets cost ₤1 15s, and the inserts 7s 6d. The MBA resisted supplying the helmets until the unions agreed that the men buy their own inserts. Again, the workers won.[56]

Much the same pattern of adoption occurred in the other States. The 1960 Award in West Australia made no mention of helmets. Late in 1962, the Victorian MBA accepted that helmets had become a necessity, and bought 3,000 at a discount. By 1972, the Branch made wearing a helmet a condition of employment: “No Helmet. No Start”.[57]

Helmets became show points of struggle. Workers stuck on union insignia and campaign slogans. The custom recalled the fights by earlier generations for the right to wear union badges on the lapels of their coats. From 2006, the Australian Building and Construction Commission deemed those stickers illegal because they intimidated non-unionists. Labourers defied that tin-pot dictatorship. The employers claimed that the adhesive glue in the stickers weakened the Duralium and thus endangered the wearer. This concern was a first for employers’ taking preemptive action to protect workers.

A US construction corporation, Braun Transworld, introduced Australian labourers to colour codes for helmets when it made them compulsory from 1954. Riggers got orange ones with a twin white cross while cement finishers also had orange but with two thin white stripes. This system never took on because of its confusion of stripes, crosses, spots and diamonds. Navvies were stuck with colourless aluminium.[58]

Some US factories used red to identify workers with hearing defects so that everyone knew to take care when passing on information. Another idea was to add phosphorescence so that the helmet glowed in the dark. More relevant to Australian summers was that white reflected the sun’s rays to reduce scalp temperatures by almost 6° C.[59]

From around 1960, helmets in Tasmania were coded with thirteen colours. Labourers wore grey; yellow was for carpenters and blue for plumbers; bricklayers had red and painters pink; riggers got brown; plasterers wore black; electricians sported orange; engineers had green while lift-workers were navy blue. A foreman had the colour of his trade but with a white band. Executives had white.[60]

A different colour code operated around the Opera House. On the observation platform, visitors heard a taped message:

The coloured safety helmets worn by the workmen may intrigue you. The white helmets are worn by carpenters, the red worn by labourers, the yellow by members of the supervising staff, and the green by members of the maintenance staff, and the blue by visitors to the site.

In those days, “the approaching yellow hat was a sign to get busy.” Helmet colours at the Opera House had changed by late 1963 where all the helmets were orange but with a different band of colour for each trade: “Green for carpenters, white for labourers, blue for riggers, red for fitters and lemon for general foremen and office staff.” Foremen and leading hands were

distinguished by a superimposed black band running fore and aft (more aft than fore).

The foremen said that their black ban was to ‘mourn the dearth of good workmen’.

A tradesman observed that “the grey hats remain unalterably the same” on the toffs and politicians.[61] After hats went out of fashion, those higher-ups were known as “the suits”.

Did these codes encounter any of the problems shown in Quentin Tarantino’s 1991 movie, Reservoir Dogs, in which each gangster was to be known only by a colour? The crims all wanted to be Mr Black. No one wanted to be Mr Pink. Before then, hard hats had become a fashion item, picked up by “The Village People”.

Who’s to blame?
Everyone in the building industry became skilled at shifting the blame for the sector’s high rates of injury and disease. The revelatory moments came when top management, on-site supervisors, subbies and unionists turned the searchlight on their own kind.

As processes and materials changed, a consulting engineer had his first experience at pumping concrete in 1960 when he supervised a first-floor slab for a suburban shop in Sydney. A truck delivered the concrete into a hopper, from which compressed air forced the slurry along the hose. At the first attempts, aggregates sprayed across the street, damaging the paint work on cars. When the police arrived they had to investigate harm only to property and not injury to workers or passers-by. The engineer observed that members of his profession were often given no warning when new equipment or methods were to be tried.” Builders argued that an engineer “could reject a result, but had no right to check the soundness of any operation.” That division of irresponsibility put building workers at risk.[62]

On most other concreting jobs, scaffolds had to support the formwork, loads of concrete, machinery and the workers. The MBA magazine in South Australia acknowledged in 1964 that “some contractors have been under the impression that this scaffolding is not subject” to the Inspection Act because it had to support concrete rather than men. The article warned against skimping on props, bracing, base plates and beams. Its author encouraged contractors to get expert advice on how much scaffolding and formwork were needed to support the total weight and stresses. In addition, the MBA advised contractors to keep spreading the concrete while it was being placed, since its build-up over a small area became too heavy even for the best laid formwork.[63] That point was so obvious that anyone who needed to be reminded of it should never have been let near a building site.

The Journal of the Queensland Master Builders in 1970 also ackowledged that carelessness by workers was not the prime cause of injuries:

The tragedy is that many of these accidents could have been avoided. Some may not have happened if the regulations laid down by the Scaffolding Department had been adhered to.

The Journal went on to accuse government inspectors of being “most lenient regarding breaches”. The editor said nothing about corruption. Instead, he recognised that

there are still too many builders who are not following the advice of the inspectors. They are guided in their action by the mistaken belief that rules are made to be broken and that there is a strong correlation between smartness and the number of times regulations can be ignored without getting caught.[64]

Faced with employers this ilk, union campaigns for safety could do little more than hold down the rate of injuries.

A boss takes stock
As chairman and managing-director of the John Holland Construction Group, C. V. Holland had experience of “Safety in Building and Construction”. His speech at the 1971 National Conference on Industrial Safety brushed aside clichés. Instead, he examined the dynamics of capital accumulation, criticised the competence of site managers, and recognised the social and cultural aspects of safety. Unlike many employers, Holland blamed his own kind more than the workers. He pointed to “the ever-increasing demands for shorter construction periods to improve cash-flow.” The mineral boom of the early 1960s would never have happened “if cash flows had been based on the time-honoured concepts of planning, designing and construction schedules.” The new “unduly tight construction schedules” had increased “safety hazards”. Excessive overtime became essential if capital were to turnover at the pace demanded by investors. The result was a working week of 56-60 hours. Exhaustion intensified risk.[65] As an engineer, Holland questioned the competence of his peers. Designers often

lacked practical knowledge of how their structures were built. The “sheer scale” of contemporary projects increased that problem. If safety were not built into the design, it would never be achieved.

Around this time, NSW Industrial Commissioner Burns had made the same point:

It is always a source of wonder that considerations of safety never rise to the surface until the beginning of construction. There is no doubt in my mind that if safety in construction were considered when the building was designed, many of the problems that arise in the building construction industry would be avoided. [66]

Thirty years later, buildings were still being designed to cut construction costs, making them unsafe to erect, and leaving them hazardous to maintain.[67]

New methods with novel materials and machinery challenged anyone striving to reduce the rate of injury on office blocks and at remote mines. Those projects unsettled responsibilities all the way down the line. Holland called for foremen to be trained and licensed for the range of tasks that their workforces had to perform. Many labouring tasks had become “really skilled operations”, yet, “construction carpenters, dog-men, scaffolders, plant operators, crane operators” had gained their skills by working alongside more experienced fellows. The nomadic nature of the builders’ labourers contributed to the incidence of injury. Blokes breezed onto a site for cash only to injure themselves in the first week because no one had told them how to “stack material, even how to wield a shovel.” Management’s failure to communicate with the high proportion of people from non-English-speaking backgrounds added to the harms.[68]

Holland’s speech retains significance because it documented that top management knew the faults in their organisations. The evidence that Holland presented left the employers with no defence. They could not pretend that their critics were being wise after the event. The struggles to win safety also proved how few employers tried to put Holland’s precepts into practice. More rushed to blame workers than to fix the sites.[69]

The gap between speech-making and action applied to Holland’s own projects.[70] In 1983, the company had twice agreed with the ACT Trades and Labour Council on procedures for handling asbestos sheeting. Persistent breaches of those undertakings led to a two-and-a-half week strike at the Bruce Indoor Sports Stadium. The company had put up a large sign: “DANGER Asbestos cutting area * No dry cutting permitted * Wash down slab after use.” Yet, Hollands provided no protective gear.[71] In 1986, a foreman on Hollands in Burwood, Sydney, instructed an apprentice to work on a partly dismantled scaffold in an area over which the safety committee had placed a total ban. The lad fell onto broken glass and debris.[72]

Another firm with a regard for its reputation, Civil & Civic, employed a safety officer, from mid-1968, to travel the country making sure that conditions were safe. Yet, in March 1970, an accident on one of its Brisbane jobs caused the men to go out for three days to win the employment of a licensed scaffolder. The Departmental inspector there was one of the pro-boss types condemned in the Queensland MBA Journal.[73]

Transfield - transgressions
The official history of Transfield boasted that substituting cheap labour for capital equipment had allowed its founders to snatch contracts from its competitors. From its origins in 1956, the firm ignored both safety rules and trade demarcations. A foreman recalled one new arrival who had been sent along as a rigger, but was so frightened “he couldn’t get off the ground.” The labourers who did go aloft put the bolts into transmission towers. To return the complement, Transfield’s boilermakers went up before the scaffolders. Transfield sent men to the top of 200m. television towers without safety belts. Its supervisors claimed that protective gear added to the danger by limiting mobility. One of the linesman told the corporate historian:

The first rule for a rigger is stay alive. He always thinks in terms of safety first. He analyses every problem according to how he can maximise two factors, safety and speed. I must admit that in the beginning with Transfield, we took risks by doing a lot of work that ought to have been done by cranes. We didn’t have the cranes. Once, when we were working on building the soaking pit at the steelworks, the crane just wouldn’t reach to the top of the building to put the steel in place. So my mate and me had to carry a channel 10 feet by 4 feet, up 15 feet, position it, which is usually the crane’s job, and then put it together. On the ground, two men would never do such a thing, but we did it high in the air. Of course, it was dangerous. But we compensated by being extra careful. And we enjoyed the challenge. To do the nearly impossible almost on a daily basis is exciting.[74]

Such misbehaviour did not decline once the company got established. Even Commissioner Cole took Transfield to task in 2004 for its safety violations in Melbourne’s CityLink tunnel.[75] At the same time, the firm was buying fake certificates to bring scabs onto the Sydney tunnel.[76]

Transfield’s co-founder, Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, subsidised the visual arts out of the profits he extracted from his employees. He later confessed to corruption and strong-arm tactics: “We cover this with a veneer of civilisation.” Belgiorno-Nettis differed from his fellow capitalists in acknowledging that, in a class society, each art of civilisation involves acts of barbarism against workers whose creative capacities pay for the patron’s beneficence.[77]

On a Sydney site in the late 1970s, researchers recorded this exchange between a BWIU organiser and the supervisor:

Union official: No scaffolding yet, Joe? I’ve told you mate, no scaffolding no work. Your lift and that hoist – that aren’t legal either.
Site Foreman: [angrily] You make things so bloody difficult. I’m trying to fix all this bloody business up. You don’t give me a chance.
Official: Joe, I’ve told you before, if the job is unsafe, no brickies will work up there. You know there’s been three accidents in Sydney leading to death or very serious damage in the past month.[78]

The foreman’s assumption that the brickies should go on working until he had the “chance” to fix the scaffolding typified the way that the pursuit of profit defined “accident”.

That attitude also explained why 40% of building workers reported a significant injury each year. The NSW government’s Senior Engineer on Construction Safety, John Hempsall, told the 1983 Building Science seminar that “compliance would have dramatically reduced” the incidence (emphasis in original):

The industry … has unique problems and difficult circumstances to overcome. All the safety hazards of primary and secondary industry are to be found on construction sites. We experience the hazards arising from the heat, cold, wet and slippery conditions together with high winds. There are problems associated with temporary electrical installations, excavations, dust, heights, fumes, falling objects and, the worst area of all, the handling of materials.

Hempsall gave chapter and verse of how sloppy, stupid or shonky supervisors contributed to harm around building sites, repeating much of what Holland had said twelve years earlier.

Hempsall presented eight case studies of the failure of supervisors to follow regulations, let alone common sense. Two labourers suffered serious injuries because the “site foreman had neglected to inform the riggers of the dangerous positioning of the bolts in the concrete pads and the danger of standing the columns on these pads.” A bricklayer’s labourer received a fatal electrical shock when preparing mortar in a defective cement mixer; the obligation to maintain that equipment lay with the foreman. In another case of faulty gear, the foreman admitted that “he knew the guard was not attached as it had been broken in transit to the site and he had not had time to secure a replacement.” His defence was that the man who lost three fingers “should have been more careful.”[79]

The MBA continued to heap blame onto sub-contractors. Holland had accused them of being “there to make quick money and couldn’t care less about management, safety or anyone else.”[80] This allegation was an ancient ploy by the major firms of shifting the blame to the spec builder in the suburbs. Abusing sub-contractors has always been a diversion from the offences of the larger builders. Who employed them, if not the contractors? The reputable firms sub-contracted in order to cut costs. Some of the gravest failures came from the sub-sub-contractors, the labour-only outfits.[81] The chase after “quick money” propelled not only the building industry but the entirety of capital accumulation. Hence, it was not enough to write contracts that obliged sub-contractors to conform with safety regulations, not enough to tighten regulations, or to step up surveillance. Overshadowing those adjustments were the competitive pressures on which capitalism operated.[82]

While one or two Masters Builders were being more honest than usual about the faults among employers, a few ABLF officials faced up to weakness in their own ranks. Late in 1967, Queensland Secretary Delaney criticised his members at the University

for their inactivity and lack of cooperation with the organisers … Both organisers constantly visited the site and tidied it up. But, immediately a new job was started, the men allowed the contractor to disregard the Award as far as amenities and safety on jobs was concerned.[83]

In the following April, the situation was no better at the Aspley reservoir where no one told the union office of a serious injury till the next day: “During the course of organiser Dobinson’s investigations, the members on the job would not co-operate and sat dumb when approached for information.” The Crest Hotel was a mess. Throughout July, organiser McCarthy had to go back over and again to stop men endangering themselves. Other jobs were worse and the members’ attitude no better.[84]

The failure of some workers to look out for each other recurs throughout the union’s history. Officials always had to battle against the difficulties from a nomadic membership. The Queensland situation also suggested a weakness in the Branch’s method of work. Organisation had not been education. Education required the men to become active in their own interest. The leadership’s determination to keep control of the Branch encouraged passivity around the jobs.

Conditions on the Opera House were superior to most sites, yet a carpenter listed seven faults common to irresponsible workers:

  1. drilling holes in the safety helmets or not wearing them;
  2. not wearing goggles when grinding steel or chipping concrete;
  3. wearing very thin-soled shoes;
  4. using compressed air to blow dust off your person;
  5. not abiding by rules for using epoxy resin;
  6. dropping things from scaffolds;
  7. lifting heavy objects using your back and not your leg muscles.[85]

Coping with these concerns called for sharing the responsibility between the contractors and the workers. For example, to deal with the third item, the union later required employers to supply protective boots, and to stop its own members from wearing thongs.

The West Australian newsletter in 1974 reminded BLs to look to their own failings:

Too often, ladders are allowed to stand untied, safety rails are not fixed and men take risks in other ways rather than go to a little trouble to protect themselves. This is not always because of the boss’s intimidation (“don’t waste my time”), either. It should not take a bad accident to jolt us into action. You get one life - protect it.

The union could never let up in its effort to educate labourers to protect themselves and each other.[86]

The workplace custom of an initiation ceremony was yet another threat to safety. These assaults on young workers were ritualised and widespread. Such childishness occurred across society, from Masonic Lodges and posh schools to the military and sporting clubs. The ceremonies included sexual humiliation, tests of stamina and binge drinking. The motivations included putting the newcomer “in his place”, or to produce bonding. Union solidarity has nothing to do with tying an apprentice to a column before spraying him all over with concrete. Initiations asserted a version of maleness which denigrated sheilas, pooftas and wogs. As with those discriminations, the abuse of fellow workers made it harder to unite against the boss. The psychological damage from bullying is beyond calculation. On record are the injuries and even deaths from assaults excused as “mucking about”. In the 1960s, the power hoses used for cleaning fascinated the impractical jokers. Two of their fellow workers lost their lives as a result. OHS posters declared: “The man who indulges in horseplay ends up making an ass of himself.”[87]


Jim Young fell eight storeys to his death on the Queensland SGIO site in July 1968. Stoppages began at once around the city as the men walked off for 12 hours. The building unions campaigned for enforcement, which the Department of Labour and the MBA impeded. The unions’ call for safety officers met with “a blank refusal”. The issue remained alive until an inspector determined the situation in favour of the SGIO workers.[88] The Branch Executive welcomed the victory as good in principle because the demands had been accepted by boss. They criticised the conduct of the struggle because the members had not told the office about the problem until the stoppage was under way. Although the rule was that even the smallest dispute had to be notified,[89] the officials were becoming more responsive and flexible to protect their members and to preserve their own authority.

The SGIO dispute happened just in time for Branch officials to raise at the Rockhampton Safety Convention on 29-30 July 1968. One organiser afterwards accused the employers of attending for “the sole reason of pulling the union policy to pieces.” The union delegates got no chance to ask hard questions because all queries had to be submitted in writing and the embarrassing ones were never read out. Secretary Delaney complained that “many pious resolutions had been carried at conventions but were forgotten immediately after.”[90]

Conditions at the SGIO job confirmed Delaney’s assessment. Although the client had charge of the State’s system of workers’ compensation, the safety for its new building was a disgrace. SGIO labourers became even more union-minded after the transfer of their delegate. A few days later, the death of Bro. Harmer led to a further walk-off before all the city’s building workers marched on Parliament House. They went out again on 27 November 1968 to press for safety committees. Most employers either were against their establishment, or insisted on nominating the membership. Early in 1969, the men at SGIO elected their own safety officers.[91]

Another death at the SGIO site in June provoked a third and protracted stoppage. The contractor and the MBA still opposed allowing workers any say in the choice of a safety officer. The men stayed out. The union wanted the firm to be charged with manslaughter. By 30 June, collections on other jobs had brought in $2,000 for the strikers; on Saturdays, the Branch distributed food parcels valued at $15 each. The Commissioner agreed that men should have some say in the selection of their safety officer, and the firm conceded that the job needed cleaning up. Then, a dispute erupted over the sacking of a BL delegate. Job action got him reinstated. When bricks began popping out of walls in February 1970, the BLs refused to work on the SGIO plaza. Concern over safety became a catalyst for rank-and-file control around the sites.[92]

The payment of height money muddied the education of labourers in the battle for safety. The employers argued that they were paying extra for labourers to take risks. In turn, men who got that bonus were less likely to insist on protections. The unions saw multi-storey allowances as a way to improve the weekly wage. When the height allowance was at a flat-rate, it brought the earnings of labourers closer to those of tradesmen. Safety could seem secondary.

Asbestos falls
The unions became active against asbestos fibres as a health hazard in the late 1960s. By then, the use of asbestos sheets in roofing had proved to be “a major cause of fatal and other serious injuries.” The NSW government’s guide to scaffolders spelt out that the underside of an asbestos roof was to be fitted with a safety mesh. Even with a mesh underneath, asbestos roofs were danger spots. If walking across one were unavoidable, workers had to wear sandshoes. In that event, they must follow

the lines of nails or screws in the longitudinal direction of the purlins. The slightest deviation from the purlins or the stepping from one purlin to another may cause the sheathing to fracture and fail without warning, leaving jagged edges.

The NSW regulations insisted on the laying of planks across the purlins and the positioning of walking planks on top of those. Warning notices had to be in place: “DANGER KEEP OFF THIS ROOF”.[93]

Plastic roofing was equally hazardous. A 44-year old painter died after smashing his head from a 5.5m. fall through a plastic skylight. Another painter had fallen through a skylight on that site. Nonetheless, neither the contractor nor the building’s owner had installed a safety mesh. The coroner found death by “misadventure”.[94] In other words, the employer’s negligence had not been intended to kill anyone, just to save money. There are degrees of murder, though not of death.

Harbour views
Management failures of the kind documented by Holland and Hempstall remained in every State. They became more apparent in Sydney because of the pace of its growth and the energising of the NSW Branch. That its members had reason to be militant was demonstrated by two deaths and two serious injuries within four days. At 2.00 pm on Wednesday, 12 April 1972, workers at St Martins Towers found the body of a carpenter who had been missing since 11 am. He had drowned in a lift-well. The crews walked off and decided not to restart until Monday.[95] On the Thursday, a North Sydney carpenter fell nine floors onto scaffolding in a lift well. The workers there also stopped, voting to return in the morning, but only on safety. They took up a collection for the carpenter, which the company matched dollar for dollar.[96]

Then, on the Saturday, out on the Pacific Highway, a worker for Leader Form-Work broke both arms and legs after falling 9m. at a spot without handrails. On the following Monday, the ABLF organiser pulled all workers off that floor until the handrails were erected.[97] Also on the Saturday, a 25-year old plumber was killed on the Concrete Construction job at Centrepoint. When his fellow workers returned on the Monday, they voted to walk off for the day as a mark of respect.[98]

On that Monday, carpenters and labourers stopped work following injuries to two men on slip-form at another Concrete Construction job. Their workmates agreed that they had to take charge of safety for it to be effective. Next morning, they concluded that conditions were still not up to the mark, and so they resumed on safety only. They also decided that while working on safety was there should be no demarcation, which only the BWIU opposed. The meeting elected six safety officers with authority to declare areas black. After smoko, they conducted an inspection and reported back to a meeting at 10 am. A conference with the Company and the MBA agreed that the safety committee continue to have a say in the conduct of the job. Work resumed after lunch.[99]

Getting an injured labourer to medical help is rarely straightforward. Even the partial collapse of a multi-storey building impeded rescue. The Federal Journal pictured this scenario:

Eight floors up, the hustle and bustle of a concrete pour, an awkward vibrator, the hose caught in the reo, a pull and a jerk, it comes free in a rush and a worker has gone backwards over the boxing onto the slab below. He lies still.

From 1981, the West Australian Branch insisted that all jobs using fixed-tower cranes include an evacuation cage with first-aid supplies and a stretcher to move the victim from the incident to the ambulance.[100]

With 300,000 workers on building and construction sites, someone will miss their footing up a ladder or along a scaffold. One task is to minimise the consequences of those wrong moves. Before the 1980s, unions had campaigned for safety rails. Since then, they have insisted on apparatus to check falls. During the 1990s, one workplace fatality in three was still resulted from a fall. The principal cause was working unprotected. Nonetheless, harnesses do not reduce injuries if employers think that they have met their duty of care by splashing a few dollars on some bit of equipment. Marketing claims by their manufacturers add to that presumption. As a result, employers and supervisors fitted labourers with inappropriate equipment. Even so, training with safety gear made labourers more conscious of hazards.[101]

Workers soon learnt the dangers from half-baked Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). For example, five men inside a silo had waist-belts connected to lifelines. When their platform gave way, one labourer slipped through his belt to suffocate in the grain. He should have been issued with a parachute harness, not just a waist-belt. Even if the waist-belt had held him up, it would have concentrated the impact of arresting his fall onto his stomach, risking ruptures.[102] Nor was a parachute harnesses enough to prevent injury. That restraint had to halt its wearer before he hit the ground. Inertia reel-blocks were safe only for short drops, yet they had long leads. In every case, the apparatus needed to be fixed to anchor points which could bear the impact from the weight of a falling body. A PPE is the last resort, not the first option. Best practice is to prevent falls by designing that danger out of the construction process, for instance, to build roofs on the ground before lifting them into place.[103]

These instances illustrate some of the forms through which control by workers limited harms by containing managerial prerogatives. Less obvious is how the relations that labourers build up among themselves on sites affect their safety. For instance, when Alwyn (Alan) Harris was killed jumping [extending] a crane on a Sunday in April 1983, the Victorian Executive contended that “rigging work should always be carried out by a team of men who know each other and their methods of work.” Because of the recession, scratch-teams of “weekend” riggers were chasing Sunday jobs, thereby compounding the dangers.[104]

Opera House
At the Opera House, the sole fatality in its first four years was of an engine driver, off site. Despite this result, there were plenty of injuries - amputated fingers, fractured collar-bones and third-degree burns. When reinforcing-steel crushed the hand of a labourer, Vince Palmer, it did not break any bones but he was off for four days. The nipper, known as “Splinter”, was knocked out when he tripped in the canteen and struck his head on a pole, putting him off for a week. Con Marcantonatos, a BLF co-rep, needed 15 days leave in June after a back injury.[105]

A full-time safety officer operated with two assistants, a carpenter and a rigger. They wore “S” on the sides of their helmets so that newcomers recognised them straight-off, while all workers could speak to any one of them at any time. Workers registered complaints and suggestions in books kept in the meal rooms, the first-aid room and at other offices; the. The Safety Committee conducted two inspections a week with the authority to stop work in hazardous conditions.[106] Workers took responsibility for preventing unsafe actions. The contractors gave priority to rectifying problems, and screened films on-site during working hours. Helmets became obligatory. Injuries still happened because of careless actions: “a ladder insecurely fixed or a board with nails left on the ground, throwing timber from a scaffold or using a grinder without goggles.”[107]

Worker control
Nothing comes out of nothing. The upsurge in the 1970s had a long, if fractured past. The most persistent attempt by labourers to take charge of their jobs had been over the quality of scaffolding. From the ABLF’s foundation in 1910, the members had argued for their organisers to be authorised as inspectors. Denied that endorsement, organisers and delegates took it upon themselves to stop dangerous jobs. A similarly informal expression of worker control came when rank-and-filers refused to clamber over shoddy scaffolds, taking the sack rather than risk their lives. During the revolutionary upsurge at the end of the Great War, Victorian Secretary Mulvogue became the Secretary of the One Big Union which identified safety with job control committees.[108] To head off that movement, capitalists began promoting works councils to contain the appeal of workers’ councils (soviets).

In the main, consultation on site was largely unknown. Foremen appointed safety committees on some jobs in the 1950s. The Victorian Building Industry Agreement of 1956 was the closest to a formal arrangement, though its discussions were conducted among officials, not around the sites.[109] From the start of the Opera House project in the late 1950s, lead contractors encouraged employees to become involved with health and safety.[110]

The key to safety was action on the job backed by the union. Bosses sacked delegates who insisted on safety inspections and standards. Rank-and-file action got most reinstated. Those conflicts often sparked wider campaigns. For instance, sixteen Sydney BLs on a wharf demolition at Circular Quay in 1958 not only had their safety conditions improved, they also won an extra 37s a week and 15 minutes shower-time.[111]

Building workers exerted direct control through disagreements over whether it was raining hard enough to stop work and to receive “wet money”. Although the Awards gave the final say to the employer, labourers still had agree to go out in the rain. From the late 1950s, they realised that breaking a concrete pour strengthened their bargaining hand.[112] Refusing to work in the wet then delivered a knock-out blow, and laid the seed-bed for worker control. Another source was the refusal to work under arrogant foremen.[113]

As the ABLF regained its militancy throughout the 1960s, its activists institutionalised these initiatives. The crunch came during struggles to establish safety committees, and to determine their membership and powers. BLs insisted on electing health and safety delegates with the authority to stop work when conditions were not up to standard. During 1965, Costains in Queensland agreed that a safety officer be elected from the job to check on safety. Nonetheless, the men at Swanbank stopped over the lack of safety and first-aid officers. During a compulsory conference, the contractor promised that “a full-time man would be put on but that they [the BLF] would have to have a conference with the employers to decide who would subsidise the man.”[114]

In February 1969, the NSW BTG refused to work anywhere they considered unsafe. This resolution initiated the “Clean Up the Building Industry” campaign, with the NSW BLF banning free-fall hoists after November.[115] The MBA advised its members to go along with this policy, though they protested at the loss of managerial prerogative.[116] After 176 mishaps on the Citra job on the Warringah Mall, the death of a worker provoked a four-week strike by 209 workers. When they went back, they elected two full-time safety officers, one by the tradesmen and the other from the BLs. In Canberra, on 17 April 1972, BLs on the Citra job in Kingston stopped work at lunchtime over amenities and hazards. The company agreed that the only work be on fixing both. The BLs were paid an extra $4 a day until their delegates agreed that safety was up to scratch.[117]

The NSW Branch pushed a policy of workers on the job having the final say on whether it was safe to proceed. For example, on May Day 1972, a meeting of all grades and trades – again except carpenters - at the Sydney Law Courts elected a safety committee of two BLs, a Boilermaker and an electrician with the right to stop work on unsafe areas. The four were to meet management for an hour each week to monitor the site. Three weeks later, on 22 May, worker control there faced a new test. An engineer declared a crane safe. The riggers insisted on additional beams, refusing to start until they were installed. On 25 May, a 9 am meeting of BLs endorsed the riggers’ decision. In rejecting their assessment, the company proposed that the crane be lifted with two Porta-Powers. If that method did not succeed, they promised to put in the two extra beams. The workers said “No”. The company suggested that the union employ an engineer to give a second opinion, but declined to pay for the advice. The ban remained.[118]

Contesting issues of health and safety or amenities moved past half-day disputes on this or that site. A pattern emerged. BLs civilised their environment at work by taking charge of hour-by-hour operations. Moreover, they upended their relationship with management by influencing investments. That policy followed BTG calls since the 1930s to put more resources into public housing, schools and hospitals rather than into office blocks. From 1969, the Victorians asserted their right to have a say about which buildings they worked on.[119]

By 1973, worker control was challenging the rule of capital at every level in the building industry. Action on sites had grown towards dual power with elected site committees telling the managers who to employ, what to do, and when.[120] In defending the built and natural environments, the ABLF limited the opportunities for profit-taking. The policy of No-Ticket No-Start laid a foundation for an attempt by the NSW Branch to achieve permanency through Union-hall hire.[121] The MBA built its case against the Federation on the disruptions around worker control over amenities and safety. These challenges to Messrs Construction Capital combined to convince the Federal Court in June 1974 to de-register the union.[122]

The apathy of Lord Robens
While BLs were taking charge of their own welfare, governments moved to tame on-site activists. All sides accepted that safety campaigns had not achieved a lasting reduction in the rate of injuries. Each year, unions, public servants and employers promoted Safety Week. The hard yards were in maintaining standards throughout every second of the working day.

In the UK, the Robens Committee concluded in 1972 that the multiplying of regulations had made matters worse. Their wording was often unintelligible to those who had to put them into practice. The result was fatalism, the conviction that “accidents just happened”. Robens put the blame for injuries on to “apathy” among the workers.[123] He did not see that that any indifference resulted from the capitalists’ disciplining of labour by depriving workers of direction over the application of their capacities, thereby alienating them from the purpose of their actions. Robens recommended passing responsibility to people on the site through consultation that gave workers responsibility but not power.[124] A 1981 Government Inquiry in NSW admitted that bosses induced apathy by keeping workers voiceless.[125] An Australian authority of OHS laws, Adrian Brooks, reacted against Robens by any arguing that apathy towards OHS might have been “a justifiably calculated inattention to meaningless requirements and sanctions.”[126]

By concentrating on materials and equipment, the Robens Report increased apathy. His reform package did not confront the adversarial relations between capital and labour. Instead, he assumed a community of interest when the prevalence of harms was proving the opposite. The 1981 NSW Inquiry acknowledged that industrial conflict was the norm but hoped that the class struggle might make an exception for OHS.[127] The author did not see that implementation of a safe workplace challenged capital’s need for speed-ups to lift productivity - that codeword  for profitability.[128]

While the Robens Committee had been sitting, a transformation of global capital knocked the foundation from under its approach. The Report had supposed that consultations would take place within a regulated labour market in a buoyant economy with an effective union movement. Instead, the implementation of his calls for joint responsibility collided with the era of de-regulation. Confronted by a spike in competition, employers cut costs by reducing their expenditure on OHS and compensation.[129]

Between 1972 and 1983, four Australian States followed Robens down the yellow-brick road. In 1985, the Commonwealth established a National Occupational Health and Safety Commission on Robens principles.[130] Ten years later, yet another inquiry found that each improvement had taken up to five years to implement. Even then, its adoption was never uniform. After Queensland replaced its convoluted regulations with Robens-style self-regulation in 1989, employers admitted that they did not know what was expected of them.[131]

Queen st massacre
On the morning of 4 August 1988, supervisors on the Commonwealth Bank building in Queen Street, Brisbane, told a dogman that a slab that he had to secure weighed 2.5 tonnes. In fact, it topped 3.6 tonnes. The ties gave way. The load smashed onto the street, killing a five-year old boy and a couple on their way to the Workers’ Compensation offices.[132] Seven months later, the State Government amended the Construction Safety Act to forbid the lifting of materials while anyone was underneath. Queensland BLF Secretary Greg Simcoe wondered whether the response would have happened at all had the victims been builders’ labourers and not passers-by.[133] The erstwhile leader of the Liberals, Sir William Knox, confirmed Simcoe’s suspicion. Speaking on the amendments in parliament, Knox regretted that accidents caused governments to “over-react”.[134] He was right to say that accidents will happen. In 1985-86, 87 Queensland workers had been killed, 1,549 permanently disabled and 51,236 were unable to work for some time. The level of death and injury in Queensland was more than a matter of luck. As Minister for Labour, Knox had failed to consolidate the twelve Acts governing OHS.[135]

Neither a new Act in 1989, nor an ALP administration, could keep the State’s biggest building firms within the law. The Queenslanders gave their “Rogue of the Year” award for 1991 to Baulderstone Hornibrook on the Mater Hospital. Photographs exposed the absence of planks, handrails and mid-rails.[136] A 1994 survey of 500 Queensland building workers covered by Awards recorded multiple harms. Half had met with an injury in the previous year, with one in eight losing time. Almost half had suffered a serious injury during their working lives; chronic back pain afflicted 40%, and one in five had a hearing loss.[137]

At the start of the 21st century, another spurt in construction meant a shortage of scaffolding. CFMEU Assistant National Secretary Lindsay Fraser listed complaints about imported components:

metal scaffold planks that are not compatible with the system they are sent out with, swivel couplers that fail under light stress, laminated planks that can fail if not properly maintained, full-threaded screw jacks that allow the collars to be disconnected, and hop-up brackets that have poor welds.[138]

If fewer contractors now resorted to packing cases, shoddy steel was no less deadly. The boom also brought on a new bout of ruthlessness to meet schedules. As ever, contractors were in too much of a hurry. The rate of fatalities among builders’ labourers remained four times higher than in the rest of the economy. Falls remained the most frequent cause of on-site deaths.[139]

Joel’s Law
Sixteen-year old Joel Exner started work close to his home on the NSW Central Coast on 13 October 2003. Three days later he fell to his death. Three weeks after that, his employer put three others to work in harnesses which had not been attached to anchorage points. When the authorities fined him $330,000, he slithered into bankruptcy. The death rate on construction work for males aged 15 to 24 was six times higher than the national average. Young workers were more at risk because they were happy to get any job and trusted what their first boss told them. They had no experience of the hazards, or of sticking up for themselves and each other. Some were dead or crippled before they had had the chance to “learn self-reliance, learn their rights, privileges, opportunities, as well as their possibilities.”[140] Joel’s family campaigned to lift levels of compensation and penalties to $1m, a demand backed by 10,000 members of the Construction Division of the CFMEU who marched on State Parliament. Four years passed before the lead contractor, Australand, was fined $178,000 when its profit was over $163m.[141]

Chance and necessity
The preceding pages have gone beyond treating Joel’s death as if it were “an unlooked-for mishap or untoward event which is not expected or designed”, to quote a legal authority from early last century.[142] That definition draws no distinction between the causes behind a specific harm and the source of their totality. To treat that mass of injuries as a scatter of chance events is as preposterous as erasing the circumstances that contribute to each one. By pulverising the pattern of torts into individual cases, legal practitioners make it easier for themselves to ignore the connection between the frequency of harms and the needs of capital.

Although the record shows that a high level of injuries in the construction sector is to be “expected”, that probability does not account for each and every harm. Statistics for fatalities illustrate an element of interplay between chance and necessity. For instance, no BL was killed on-site in New South Wales during April 1973, but two died on the same day in April 1974. The variation within 13 months cannot be attributed to changes in legislation or to new technologies, still less to an overthrow of the labour process. Two deaths within eight hours had been as likely in 1973 as in 1974.

If chance affects the moment when injuries occur, their persistence is not bad luck. Although there is no way of predicting that a worker will fall to his death at a given time or place, the situation facing the entire workforce is not one of chaos. Rather, the sum of injuries testifies to the adversarial processes through which capitals thrive.[143]  Industrial injuries and illnesses are accidents waiting to happen. Chance strikes within the domain of necessity. The timing, manner and place of each injury are contingent. The patterns of their prevalence are determined within the necessities upon capital to expand through speed-ups. Between the particular and the pattern falls the greater likelihood of injuries with every intensification of labour-time.

The definition of “accident” quoted above included “not designed” as one criterion for “accident”. Once again, this approach deflects attention away from the difference between the random and the regime. A contractor does not design a procedure in order to produce an injury. Rather, projects are designed to maximise their profitability. That driver cannot be separated from the level of harms. Moreover, one source of injuries is the reluctance to accept the expense of designing for their elimination.[144]

The number of injuries can be contained by a framework of clear and tight laws, the enforcement of regulations and on-site activism backed by militant union officials. Changes since Joel’s death have weakened all three by increasing the power of employers to prevent workers from defending each other. Following recommendations from the 2002-3 Royal Commission into the industry, the Australian Building and Construction Commission has supplied Messrs Construction Capital with a reserve force of foremen.

[1] Glenn Mitchell, On Strong Foundations, The BWIU and Industrial Relations in the Australian Construction Industry, 1942-1992, Harcourt Brace, Sydney, 1996, pp. 95-96; Builders’ Laborer, September 1959, p. 15.

[2] Builders’ Laborers’ Journal (BLJ), April 1957, p. 1.

[3] BLJ, April 1957, p. 3.

[4] Jack Mundey, Green bans and beyond, Angus & Robertson, Sydney , 1981 p. 32

[5] BLJ, April 1957, p. 3; May 1957, p. 1.

[6] Builders’ Laborer (SA), June 1957, pp. 9-10; BLJ, October 1957, p. 2.

[7] BLJ, July 1957, p. 1.

[8] BLJ, January-February 1958, p. 3; Paul True, “It must be true … it’s in the papers!”, Building Workers and the Press, 160 Years of Anti-Union Propaganda, CFMEU (NSW Branch), Sydney , 1999.

[9] BLJ, April 1957, p. 3.

[10] Industrial Commission of NSW, No. 66 of 1961, Appeal Book, p. 1, Australian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation (ABLF), New South Wales Branch Records, Mitchell Library (ML) MSS 4879, MLK 04269; for a similar battle to enforce DLI instructions, NSW Builders’ Labourer, March 1970, p. 7.

[11] Unity, May 1957, p. 4.

[12] Builders’ Laborer, March 1959, p. 15, and May 1959, p. 6, and August 1959 issue.

[13] ABLF Federal Council, Minutes, 24 November 1959 , Noel Butlin Archives Centre (NBAC), ANU, N130/4.

[14] 101 Commonwealth Arbitration Reports (CAR) (1962) 318 at 323.

[15] Lindie Clark, Finding a Common Interest, The Story of Dick Dusseldorp and Lend Lease, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne , 2002, p. 46.

[16] Tom and Audrey McDonald, Intimate Union , Sharing a revolutionary life, Pluto Press, Sydney , 1998, p. 87.

[17] BLJ, January-February 1958, p. 2, and March 1958, p. 4.

[18] ABLF, Queensland Branch Records, Queensland Executive, 19 January and 16 February 1953 ; Minutes, 21 January and 27 January 1953 , Fryer Library, University of Queensland , QUFL 166; cf. Safety News, March-April 1955, p. 9.

[19] Queensland Executive, 5 August 1968 .

[20] NSW MBA to Industrial Registrar, 24 August 1973 , MLK 04265.

[21] John Matthews, Occupational Health and Safety at Work, Pluto, Sydney , 1995 ed., p. 551.

[22] Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (CC&AC), Transcript of Proceedings, No. 2067 of 1970, 28 September 1970 , pp. 61, and 30 November 1970, p. 108, MLK 04264.

[23] CC&AC, Transcript, 28 September 1970 , pp. 56-7 and 61, ML MLK 04264.

[24] CC&AC, Transcript, p. 56; leaflets in MLK 04263.

[25] Queensland Master Builder (QMB), 16 July 1964 , p. 6; cf. Tasmanian Building Journal, July 1983, pp. 22-26.

[26] Guide for scaffolders, NSW Department of Labour and Industry, Sydney , 1967, pp. 19-20.

[27] Jack Mundey to Jim Delaney, 18 July 1969 , MLK 04262.

[28] Guide for scaffolders, p. 19.

[29] Guide for scaffolders, p. 34; Scaffolding: course notes, Department of Industrial Affairs, Perth , 1972, pp. 10-13.

[30] C. W. Sullivan, Papers, ML, MSS A2886, p. 57.

[31] Lisa Milner, Fighting films: a history of the Waterside Workers’ Federation Film Unit, Pluto, Sydney , 2003, pp. 91-117; the film also toured Victoria in September 1956, Unity, May 1957, p. 4.

[32] Western Australian Industrial Gazette, December 1960, p. 670.

[33] Journal of the Building, Transport and Timber workers’ trades (JBTTT) February 1958, p. 8, October 1959, p. 9.

[34] W. R. H. Keast, Building Victoria : A History of the Master Builders Association of Victoria, MBAV, Melbourne , 1994, p. 190.

[35] Victorian Year Book, 1973, Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, p. 1079.

[36] Weekend Australian, 28-30 January 1989, p. 42.

[37] Builders’ Labourers’ Song Book, Widescope, Melbourne , 1975, pp. 179-81.

[38] Robyn Annear, City Lost and found, Black Inc., Melbourne , 2005, p. 54; for the protection provided by a “bell topper”, see Argus, 4 October 1861 , p. 5a.

[39] Safety News, November-December 1954, p. 4.

[40] Care, October 1954, p. 16; Safety News, May-June 1953, p. 8.

[41] Safety News, Nov.-Dec. 1954, pp. 4-5; Jan.-Feb. 1955, p. 7; May-June 1957, p. 5.

[42] Siobhan McHugh, The Snowy: the people behind the power, A&R, Sydney, 1995, pp. 66, 125 and 134; Elizabeth J. Mattner, Construction Camp Capers: Living in camps on the Snowy scheme, privately printed, Cooma, 1999, p. 21; BLJ, July 1957, p. 4.

[43] BLJ, January-February 1958, p. 4.

[44] Unity, December 1966, p. 12.

[45] BLJ, September 1957, p. 4.

[46] NSW Industrial Commission, Transcript, No. 38 of 1959, 5 March 1959 , pp. 3, 5, 7 and 8, MLK 04269.

[47] Benelong Bugle (BB), December 1962, p. 3.

[48] BB, December 1966, p. 8.

[49] Builder’s Laborer, August 1959, p. 11.

[50] NSW Industrial Commission, Transcript, No. 66 of 1961, MLK 04269.

[51] Builder NSW, June 1983, p. 316.

[52] Annear, A City Lost and Found, p. 203.

[53] Queensland Minutes, 4 August 1959 ; Executive, 20 and 27 June 1960.

[54] Queensland Minutes, 14 February 1961 , Executive, 6 November and 11 December 1961 , 26 March, 18 June, 13 and 20 August 1962 , Minutes, 20 November 1962 .

[55] JBTTT, September 1960, p. 49.

[56] JBTTT, December 1959, p. 7.

[57] Keast, Building Victoria , pp. 178 and 180; Unity, December 1966, p. 12.

[58] Safety News, Nov.-Dec. 1954, p. 5.

[59] Safety News, Nov.-Dec. 1954, p. 6.

[60] Mercury, 27 February 1960 , p. 9.

[61] BB, September 1963, p. 3, May 1964, p. 3, and June 1964, p. 1.

[62] Building Materials and Equipment, March 1968, p. 30.

[63] Builder (SA), 19 June 1964 , p. 17.

[64] Queensland Master Builder, 2 April 1970 , p. 3, and 29 May 1969 , p. 8; cf. Builder NSW, December 1973, pp. 576-82.

[65] National Conference on Industrial Safety – 1971, Proceedings, Department of Labour, AGPS, Canberra , 1973, p. 58.

[66] Quoted H. Cook to L. Boyce, 9 May 1969 , Box MLK 04262.

[67] Australian Safety News, February 1999, p. 46; C. Campion, “The impact of design on contractor health and safety”, Journal of Occupational Health & Safety Australia and New Zealand, 16 (6), December 2000, pp. 501-6.

[68] National Conference, 1971, p. 59.

[69] National Conference, 1971, p. 60.

[70] Builders Labourers’ Federal Journal (BLFJ), November 1980, pp. 14-15.

[71] BLFJ, May 1983, p. 23.

[72] Building Worker, November 1986, p. 3.

[73] Queensland Executive, 16 March 1970 .

[74] Gianfranco Cresciani, Transfield The First Fifty Years, ABC Books, Sydney, 2006, pp. 114, 161-2, and 170.

[75] Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, Final Report, 2003, Volume 15, pp. 30-36.

[76] Report on investigation in to safety certification and training in the NSW construction industry, ICAC, Sydney, 2004, p. 38.

[77] Quoted Cresciani, Transfield, p. 170; Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, Fontana , London , 1970, p. 258.

[78] Quoted Stephen J. Frenkel and Alice Coolican, Unions Against Capitalism? A sociological comparison of the Australian building and metal workers’ unions, George Allen & Unwin, North Sydney , 1984, p. 226.

[79] Builder (NSW), June 1983, pp. 316-8.

[80] National Conference, 1971, p. 59.

[81] Greg Foley, “Construction industry occupational health safety performance overview, Australia 1992-93”, JOH&S ANZ, 13 (1), February 1997, p. 81.

[82] NSW Royal Commission into Productivity in the Building Industry, NSW, Parliamentary Papers, 1992-93, volume XX, Paper 267, pp. 332-431, and volume XXII, Paper 276, Appendices 8.1.6 (Sub-Contractors) and 8.1.7 (Insolvency); Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry (RC), Final Report, AGPS, Canberra, 2003, volume 6, p. 41; RC, Workplace Health and Safety in the Building and Construction Industry, Canberra, 2002, Discussion Paper 7, p. 27; P. Wadick, “Safety culture among subcontractors in the NSW domestic housing industry”, JOHS ANZ, 23 (2), April 2007, pp. 143-52.

[83] Queensland Executive, 18 December 1967 .

[84] Queensland Executive, 13 April 1970 ; Minutes, 21 July 1970 .

[85] BB, August 1964, p. 4.

[86] BL News (WA), 23 September 1974 , p. 6.

[87] Queensland Master Builder, April 1970, p. 12; for a legal perspective on “skylarking” see C. P. Mills, Workers compensation (New South Wales), Butterworths, Sydney, 1969, pp. 161-2.

[88] Queensland Minutes, 23 July 1968 , Queensland Executive, 7 October 1968 .

[89] Queensland Minutes, 15 October 1968 .

[90] Queensland Executive, 5 August 1968 .

[91] Queensland Minutes, 25 November 1968 , Executive, 7 October 1968 , 20 January 1969 .

[92] Queensland Minutes, 24 June 1969 , and Executive, 30 June, 7 July 1969 , and 9 February 1970 .

[93] Safety News, March-April 1955, p. 15; Guide for scaffolders, Department of Labour and Industry, Sydney , 1958, p. 89.

[94] Noni Holmes and Fergus Robinson, OPDU fall protection handbook, OPDU, Melbourne , 1990, p. 7-9; Guide for Scaffolders, p. 106.

[95] NSW organisers’ diary, 12 April 1972 , MLK 04274.

[96] NSW organisers’ diary, 13 April 1972 , MLK 04274.

[97] NSW organisers’ diary, 17 & 18 April 1972, MLK 04274.

[98] NSW organisers’ diary, 17 & 18 April 1972, MLK 04274.

[99] NSW organisers’ diary, 18 & 20 April 1972, MLK 04274

[100] Builders Labourers’ Federal Journal, November 1981, p. 16.

[101] Australian Safety News, February 1999, p. 50.

[102] Holmes and Robinson, OPDU fall protection handbook, p. 35.

[103] ASN, February 1999. p. 48; NSCA’s National Safety, April 2000. pp. 31-37, and November 2000, p. 54.

[104] Victorian Executive, 20 April and 10 May 1983 .

[105] Benelong Bugle (BB), June 1965, p. 10, and July 1966, p. 6

[106] BB, July 1964, p. 9.

[107] BB, August 1964, p. 4.

[108] OBU Herald, February 1919, p. 1.

[109] Frank T. de Vyver, “The Melbourne Building Industry Agreement”, Journal of Industrial Relations (JIR), 1 (1), April 1959, pp. 7-19, and “The Melbourne Building Industry Agreement: A Re-Examination”, JIR, 12 (2), June 1970, pp. 166-81.

[110] BB, April 1964, p. 2; Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, v. 106, Parts II & III, November 1973, p. 11; Sarah Gregson, “Who built the Opera House?”, Anne Watson (ed.), Building a Masterpiece, the Sydney Opera House, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, 2006, pp. 122-35.

[111] BLJ, March 1958, p. 4.

[112] BLJ, September 1957, p. 3; McDonald, Intimate Union, pp. 87-88; NSW Industrial Commission, Transcript, 5 March 1959, p. 2, MLK 04269; Queensland Minutes, 23 July 1968.

[113] For example, Unity, December 1966, p. 9.

[114] Queensland Executive, 10 & 14 May 1965.

[115] Jack Mundey to NSW Labor Council, 20 October 1969 , MLK 04266.

[116] MBA to Mundey, 4 November 1969 , MLK 04265.

[117] NSW organisers’ diary, 17, 24, 25 and 27 April 1972, MLK 04274.

[118] NSW organisers’ diary, 1, 23, 25 and 31 May, 6 June 1972 , MLK 04274.

[119] Victorian Executive, 28 October 1970 , Special 10 November 1970 .

[120] Pete Thomas, Taming the concrete jungle, the builders laborers’ story, NSW Branch of the ABCE&BLF, Sydney, 1973, pp. 31-49; John Wallace and Joe Owens, Workers call the tune at the Opera House, National Workers’ Control Centre, Sydney, 1973.

[121] Commonwealth Conciliation & Arbitration Commission, Transcript, No. 983 of 1973, 29 May 1973, pp. 6 and 11, MLK 04273.

[122] NSW organisers’ diary, 1972, MLK 04274; SMH, 3 October 1972, p. 11a-c, and 23 and 25 May 1973, p. 1 and “Editorial”; Employers’ Review, July 1973, p. 127, November 1973, pp. 217-21, and November 1974, p. 160; Builder NSW, July 1973, pp. 290-94, November 1973, p. 488; Australian, 17 September 1974; Australian Archives, A10146 (2004/00725431) 1973/68; 23 Federal Law Reports (1974) 356.

[123] Safety and health at work, 1970-72, H. M. Stationery Office, London, 1972, Two Volumes, chastised by Adrian Brooks, Guidebook to Australian occupational health & safety laws, CCH Australia, Sydney, 1987 ed., pp. 232-6; “Editorial”, British Medical Journal, 26 August 1967 , pp. 507-8, noted that fatalities in the UK economy had risen from 627 to 701 between 1965 and 1966.

[124] Theo Nichols, Sociology of industrial injury, Mansell, London , 1997, pp. 41 and 52-3; C. Codington, and J. S. Henley, “The Industrial Relations of Injury and Death: Safety Representatives in the Construction Industry”, British Journal of Industrial Relations, XIX (3), November 1981, pp. 297-315; A. S. Brooks, “Flaws of a committee-based participatory system”, JOHS ANZ, 3 (3), June 1987, pp. 224-30.

[125] Report of the NSW Government Commission of Inquiry into Occupational Health and Safety, Sydney, NSW Parliamentary Papers, Fourth Session, 1981, volume 1, p. 121

[126] Brooks, Guidebook, p. 245.

[127] NSW, Parliamentary Papers, 1981, p. 122.

[128] David Peetz, “Hollow Shells: the Link Between Individual Contracting and Productivity Growth”, Journal of Australian Political Economy, 56, December 2005, pp. 32-55.

[129] Claire Mayhew, “Self-employed builders in Australia and the United Kingdom ”, JOH&S ANZ, 13 (3), June 1997, pp. 235-7.

[130] R. Johnstone, “Improving worker safety: reflections on the legal regulation of OHS in the 20th century”, JOH&S ANZ, 15 (6), December 1999, pp. 521-26.

[131] Mayhew, JOH& S ANZ , June 1997, p. 235.

[132] Courier-Mail, 5 August 1988 , pp. 1-5.

[133] Interview, Brisbane , 15 April 2005 .

[134] Queensland , PD, v. 311, 8 March 1989 , p. 3508.

[135] M. Quinlan, “Ocupational health and safety legislation in Queensland and the Queensland trade union movement, Some recent developments”, JOH&S ANZ, 2 (1), February 1986, pp. 14-20; M. Quinlan, T. Farr and J. Payne, “The Queensland Workforce Health and Safety Act: Heralding a new era in prevention or merely symbolic?”, JOH&S ANZ, 5 (3), June 1989, pp. 265-74.

[136] Builders’ Labourer, December 1992, p. 30.

[137] Mayhew, “Self-employed builders etc”, JOHS ANZ, June 1997, p. 232.

[138] Hard Hat, March 2004, p. 15.

[139] R. Trethewy, M. Atkinson and B. Falls, “Improved hazard identification for contractors”, JOHS, ANZ, 16 (6), December 2000, p. 512.

[140] Builders’ Labourers’ News, 24 December 1915 , p. 3.

[141] SMH, 17 October 2003 , p. 5h; “Joel’s Law’, ABC Radio National, Radio Eye” program, 17 July 2004;   In Adelaide, the mother of another young victim set up VOID, Voice of Industrial Deaths, see ; Workplace Tragedy Support Group was launched on 28 April 2007 

[142] quoted J. W. Blair, et al., The Workers’ Compensation Act of 1905: with an explanation of its provisions and cases decided on, Law Book Company of Australasia, Brisbane, 1906, p. xxxii.

[143] Claire James, “Occupational Injury: Accidental or a Reflection of Conflict Between Capital and Labour”, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, 23 (1), March 1987, pp. 47-64; Tom Dwyer, “The Production of Industrial Accidents: A Sociological Approach”, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, 17 (2), July 1981, pp. 59-65.

[144] See note 65 above. The pertinence of design failure in the production of accidents is taken up in the final chapter which interrogates the legal doctrine of “intent” as a necessary condition for crime.

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