Secrets, Lies & Chat

Friday, July 08, 2005

Cross City Tunnel Secrets & Lies

Cross City Tunnel – Sydney Australia
Wednesday 6 July 2005

The recent stories emerging about the Cross City Tunnel still do not reveal much of the true story of events last year. As a friend of a man who worked in the tunnel for several months during 2004, I can report with honesty, that things below ground were apalling, and dangerous to the extreme. My friend told me when he commenced work underground in the tunnel, that it was the most dangerous tunnel job he had ever worked on. Safety was non-existent, in spite of there being 'safety officers' underground. The men attended the obligatory safety courses and once they returned to the job, were told to forget it and get on with it. Many of the workers were from New Zealand and practiced no safety. They seem oblivious to the dangers of the poisonous and dangerous air they were breathing and had no fear of what the exposure they encountered would no doubt do to their health in years to come. When requesting that breathing apparatus be provided that was adequate for the conditions, my friend was told it was too expensive. He changed his face masks up to six times a shift, but still he knew he was breathing in toxic fumes and dust that was detrimental to his health. As in most things, the money was good and he, like many others, suffered through twelve hour shifts to try and get ahead in life.

When the worker was killed, my friend was working on the same shift, but in a different part of the tunnel. The men sat in the tunnel all the hours it took before the body was removed, in respect for a dead workmate. Once the tunnel was closed down and investigations began, I became angrier daily by what I was hearing. Having found out from an acquaintance, who is involved in a workplace in OH&S, the name of one of the WorkCover inspectors handling the investigation, I phoned him anonymously and told him everything that I knew. He assured me that a full investigation would be carried out and that no work would commence until they were satisfied that the tunnel was safe.

I asked how often WorkCover inspectors visited the underground workplace, and was told 'about once a month'. I was horrified and asked how could WorkCover, who sprouted about safety and constantly were seen active above the ground, could allow dangerous work underground to go unchecked. His reply was that there were safety officers underground who were supposedly handling safety issues. I assured him they were not handling any safety issues, and in fact, could rarely be found at the worksite. It seems obvious to me that, as this was a Government job and important to the Government that it was finished on time and below budget, WorkCover stayed away. It was too late by the time they did go underground and find all the dangerous work practices and construction faults, one man had died, and many others were distressed at having been there when the accident happened. What price the life of one man, what price the cost of the many who will in years to come, die from cancers and lung damage?

My friend felt so strongly about the lack of safety after the death of a workmate, that he resigned and vowed he would never work underground again. On hearing a representative of Baulderstones on the radio this morning where he stated that safety was the number one priority in the tunnel, I felt the passion again and I wondered when the true story will be told, when the men who do these jobs will realise that money is not everything, and will speak out. I wait for that day and I wait to see the heads tumble of those in power who allow men to work under these conditions. I add here that WorkCover did not see any work being carried out in that tunnel after the accident, as it was shut down. How opportune for the contractors that their work practices were not witnessed. A few fines and the job started again. Now a man has died on another Government job. When will our Government become honest and show that they care more for the lives of the people who work in those places than they do for how soon construction can be finished and the new tunnels opened to the public. Will they ever have a conscience? I would like to see some of those in power going down underground during a shift, unannounced, and let them see exactly what does go on and the conditions those people work in. Do any of them have the backbone to do it? I doubt it.

Vena McGrath