The following article published by Sunday Morning Herald details the unbearable heat conditions the Canberra light rail project workers endured last week.
Construction workers building Canberra’s light rail network have been forced to work in near-40 degree heat last week, as the construction union pushes for a deal for workers to stop when temperatures reach 37 degrees.
Workers endured temperatures over 39 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday last week on the light rail project, as the government-funded project seeks to prevent further delays to completing the first stage from Gungahlin to the city.
It follows WorkSafe ACT commissioner Greg Jones on Wednesday hitting radio waves urging all businesses and employees to take care of themselves and each other in the extreme temperatures, particularly in construction and other exposed sectors.
Bureau of Meteorology records show Canberra temperatures reached between 39.1 and 40.6 degrees Celsius from 11am to 3.30pm on Wednesday, and 39.1 and 39.5 degrees from 2pm to 3pm on Tuesday last week.
Despite the union’s concerns, WorkSafe ACT said the regulator had not received any complaints about heat exposure for workers on the light rail project, as of 2.30pm on Wednesday.
While there is no enterprise bargaining agreement or territory-level regulations stopping light rail workers working in temperatures that high, the construction union has been pushing for the ACT government to introduce mandatory cut off points at such temperatures.
On many other large construction projects in Canberra, the CFMMEU has reached agreements with construction firms with conditions that work proceed only in the shade at 35 degrees or above, and work stops completely at 37 degrees or higher.
ACT CFMMEU secretary Jason O’Mara said he had been fielding calls from light rail workers and others about employer demands to work in temperatures exceeding 37 degrees in the past two days, and he believed it would continue on Thursday.
Mr O’Mara said the union was particularly concerned about the light rail project, claiming the major contractor on the project, John Holland, was a ‘serial offender’ when it came to forcing workers to endure high temperatures.
He said the union had also been pushing for the territory government to implement work safety regulations along the same lines as union enterprise bargaining agreements, but had had little luck to date.
Early Wednesday afternoon, Mr O’Mara said John Holland had given assurances workers would stop working from 3pm, but he remained concerned that by that time, they would have endured four to five hours of above 35 degree heat.
But he said he did not blame the government or Capital Metro for the situation, instead sheeting home blame to John Holland, saying that they were employing the workers and that you could not blame the client for a contractor’s behaviour.
Mr O’Mara also said a recent coronial inquest in Queensland, regarding the death of worker working in high temperatures, had also reinforced the need for maximum working temperatures to be implemented in the ACT, given the issue applied nationally.
The WorkSafe ACT spokeswoman said all employers were obliged to provide a safe working environment for workers, but it was a matter for each employer to assess the risks of each workplace and activity being undertaken.
“There are a number of measures that can be taken to minimise heat exposure including having regular breaks, rescheduling work to a cooler part of the day, keeping workers hydrated with cool water, workers wearing proper protective clothing,” she said.
“WorkSafe ACT, the Emergency Services Agency and the ACT Health have been providing the community and employers with information about dealing with the current heat wave.”
Questions about the light rail project and working conditions were also put to John Holland, Canberra Metro and Transport Canberra.
Both John Holland and Canberra Metro referred questions to Transport Canberra, which did not respond by deadline on Wednesday.
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