David Tuddenham, Safety Officer for the Victoria Branch of the Electrical Trades Union, has 23 years’ experience in the electrical industry, working on the tools as an electrician (HSR) and leading a safety team at Ford Geelong. Here, David talks about his experiences in coming from manufacturing to highlighting the need for properly lit evacuation exits on construction sites.
The first time I entered the Wonthaggi desalination site, what struck me above all else was that lighting was a real problem, and one that the principal contractor was trying to ignore.
Sorting this problem out successfully was in many ways the culmination of more than 20 years of working on safety issues, in a whole range of roles. When I started with the ETU, one of the first jobs I completed was to review the Temporary Wiring course content against current standards. This process took me a couple of weeks. By the time I’d finished, I was impressed by the amount of detail that the course contained.
Never throw safety in the too-hard basket
I then started to complete site walks on various construction sites, and saw that a lot of the temporary wiring and lighting on those sites didn’t comply with the Union/Australian standards.
The fact that an emergency lighting system is used to help the occupants of a building exit safely during an emergency was a major concern. I started to develop Safety Alerts, and spoke about this topic regularly in ETU OH&S committee meetings.
There did not seem to me to be any consistent approach to lighting on construction sites. My experience of enforcing lighting standards at Ford helped, but I could see that it’s easier to conform to those standards when you’re in a factory environment that stays the same, rather than on a building site.
So the problem of emergency lighting is harder in construction than manufacturing. But that’s no excuse for wishing it away – and certainly not when workers’ safety is at stake.
Breakthrough at Wonthaggi
The Wonthaggi desalination plant ended up being the site where lighting was debated. The builder ended up calling in WorkSafe, to dispute a cease-work over evacuation lighting.
Not only did the desal site have little natural light during daytime; work also continued around the clock. I spent many days working with the builder and WorkSafe, and by the end of the job, we came up with a model that I believe should be adopted across the construction industry.
To this end, it was discussed at the Foundations Of Safety meeting. Out of that discussion, a subcommittee was formed to develop guidance material that will clarify the requirements for emergency lighting and exit signage on designated emergency evacuation routes on construction sites.