Coroner calls for temperature threshold to stop outdoor work in extreme heat
A coroner has urged the construction industry to set a temperature level for halting heavy outdoor work in extreme heat in a bid to prevent worker deaths.
The recommendation came as part of the coroner’s ruling into the 2013 death of construction worker Glenn Newport near Roma in Queensland’s southern inland.
The 38-year-old died in an ambulance after collapsing in extremely hot conditions on a coal seam gas (CSG) pipeline construction worksite.
Coroner John Hutton said Mr Newport’s death highlighted “substantial deficiencies” in the way the heavy construction industry managed heat exposure.
Mr Newport’s mother Jenny Newport told the ABC the coroner’s call for changes were “long overdue”.
“Like other families who have lost loved ones from workplace incidents, we will eventually learn to live with the loss of a dearly loved son and brother, and the huge gap left in our lives,” she said.
Enact these recommendations urgently, mother urges
“We hope that lessons are learned and steps taken so that this does not happen again.
“We take some comfort from the recommendations … and in view of predicted ever-increasing temperature change, Queensland construction worksites are obviously vulnerable.
“We ask the Queensland Government to enact these recommendations urgently.”
Mr Newport had been working for McDonnell Dowell, who were contractors to Santos on a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project near Roma.
“I was somewhat startled to learn that there is in effect no industry standard or ‘best practice’ in relation to the management of heat in the heavy construction industry,” the coroner said.
“Mr Newport was an extremely muscular and physically fit man.
‘He was regarded as particularly strong’
“Even among such labourers, he was regarded as particularly strong, and was nicknamed ‘Grievous’ in reference to a robotic character from the Star Wars movies, who was built to resemble a particularly well-muscled human.”
Mr Hutton also called for an industry-wide code of practice to be urgently implemented that included an agreed temperature threshold beyond which outdoor work must stop.
He also called for provisions for work to be completed at night where the daytime temperatures are too high.
“I offer my sincere condolences to the family of Mr Newport who have suffered this tragic loss,” he told the court.
In a statement, Mr Newport’s employer, McConnell Dowell, said it noted the coroner’s findings.
“The company … endorses the coroner’s recommendation for the development of an industry code of practice to guide industry in relation to the prevention and management of heat injury to avoid a similar tragic death occurring,” the statement said.
“McConnell Dowell acknowledges that this has been and continues to be a difficult time for Mr Newport’s family and once again sympathises for their loss.”
Construction workers have previously told the ABC there is a need for heat stress policies to be introduced on Queensland work sites.
In Victoria, the CFMEU’s policy states that when the temperature is expected to reach 35 degrees Celsius, occupational health and safety representatives and management are to discuss ways to minimise heat risks.
The agreement also states that at temperatures near to 35C, workers are to be relocated out of direct sunlight if there is a serious safety risk.
Dr Liz Hanna from the Australian National University said research showed people overestimated the temperatures at which they could function as they would normally.
She said that was a good reason to have a regulated temperature cut-off at which work stops.
“Particularly when people have got motivation to do so – so that could be pressure to finish a job, that could be pressure from colleagues to keep going [like] ‘don’t be a wuss’, employers insisting that it has to be done,” she said.