Opinion / Nurses speak up for injured workers

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FOR years, being a construction worker in the ACT has been the most dangerous place to work of any jurisdiction in Australia. Nurses regularly see the impact when builders and subcontractors don’t take safety seriously.

Jenny Miragaya , secretary of the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation, ACT Branch.
Jenny Miragaya , secretary of the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation, ACT Branch.

Almost every day in Canberra nurses have to treat seriously injured construction workers in emergency or intensive-care units suffering from broken bones, crushing injuries, strained backs, injuries to eyes and more.

It is every worker’s right to be able to go to work and get home safely. Sadly, despite improvements in recent years, the construction industry in Canberra remains dangerous.

Some may think it odd that the union that represents nurses and midwives would write about construction-worker injuries.

After all, nurses, too, are subject to work health and safety risks, be it the inherent aspects of their job in respect of physical risks associated with manual handling, exposure to toxic substances and gases, infectious agents and blood and body fluids, and physically aggressive patients and their relatives; or the psychological risks associated with excessive workloads and poor staffing and skills mix.

As the voice of Canberra’s nursing profession, the ANMF has been fearless and vocal in defending the safety of nurses. The overwhelming majority of the ACT community supports safety for nurses, and no one seriously suggests that the safety concerns raised by nurses are a myth, or red tape.

The recent tragic death of remote-area nurse Gayle Woodford, in SA, gained national attention and support, with more than 100,000 people signing a petition entitled “Gayle’s Law”, backing better protection for nurses and remote-area healthcare workers.

Concerns raised about nurse safety are treated seriously and with respect by the community.

Yet when construction workers face serious injuries at work, and call for improvements in safety standards, they are demonised and dismissed.

Big business lobby groups, such as the Master Builders Association, dismiss their calls for safety as a “myth” or “crying wolf” and run radio ads calling construction union concerns “dodgy”.

Nurses see first hand the reality of construction injury safety. Each month, nurses see 43 seriously injured construction workers. These injuries are not a myth, they are not red tape and they are not minor or isolated. The vast majority of these injuries were preventable had proper safety precautions been taken.

Workplace safety is everyone’s concern. Employers, employees and governments have an obligation to work co-operatively to build a culture of safety. Ensuring safety at work for working people is the number one priority for the ANMF and every union.

It is therefore unhelpful and counterproductive for lobby groups or politicians to try to undermine the role of unions in promoting workplace safety.

The community would not accept that kind of behaviour and criticism if it were directed at nurses – and nurses will not accept it being targetted at construction workers.

The number of workplace injuries in the ACT is simply too high. Whether it is an assault on a nurse at a hospital or a construction worker injured in a fall, every worker deserves to go to work and get home safely.


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