Safest way is the best way, say builders

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Steven Moore, left, and Geoff Kalsbeek. Photo: Danielle Nohra

AFTER witnessing multiple workplace accidents and personally experiencing too many close calls themselves, Steven Moore and Geoff Kalsbeek decided to band together to change the culture of safety in the building industry. 

“On August 4, 2016, there was a fatal accident on a construction project in the Canberra region,” says Steven, 53, of Queanbeyan.

“Less than two months later on October 27, a 16-year-old apprentice fell seven metres on another project in the local area. 

“These incidents had a profound effect on our team, so much so that we decided we were going to do something about it.”

Three years ago, the two men headed up SiteSafe360 to create an app on workplace safety and coming up on November 27 they’ll host a free forum called “CBR Workplace Safety Forum”. 

The forum, which is a passion project for Steven and Geoff, will see people like Patrizia Cassanti talk about losing her 18-year-old son in a Sydney workplace accident and Canberra local Jayson Bush will talk about his traumatic workplace accident, where he was alone for two hours, and with broken bones and a punctured lung, was unable to call for help. 

It’ll also host a talk from a construction manager and a local barrister, who discusses how new Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations affect directors, managers and employees. 

Geoff, 54, of Jerrabomberra, says the forum is a small step towards cultural change in the industry. 

“Stuff that’s happening today, shouldn’t be happening,” says Geoff who, as a steel fixer and business owner, has seen a number of incidents over his 34 years in the industry.

“I’ve seen a couple of really serious incidents over the last four years and it has an effect on the guys.”

Geoff even had to bring in someone to provide his workers with psychological help after one particular incident. 

“To see these guys break down in tears affected me more than I thought it would,” says Geoff, which is why Steven and he have come together to develop a strategy to change what they perceive are the flaws in the safety culture of the common workplace.

Steve, who met Geoff in the late ‘80s when he started to work for him as a steel fixer before transitioning into a managerial position in the oil, gas and mining industry in WA, says they want to teach young kids how to identify hazards. 

“[When I came back to Canberra] there seemed to be a lot more corners being cut in here and Sydney, and buildings were going up fast. I’ve never seen anything being built so fast, it’s out of control,” he says. 

While Steve says the construction industry here is very efficient, he doesn’t want the need for quick timelines to take away from the safety of workers. 

“Your risks go up when there’s multiple trades working on top of each other,” he says. 

“[Because of this] construction sites are ever-changing and can be perfectly safe one minute and then something changes. 

“You’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head. For the seasoned professional, they’re used to it but the young fellas just don’t know what they’re looking for.” 

The goal for Geoff and Steve is to say these are the problems and here are a whole range of solutions.

“Every incident has a hazard associated with it. We focus on minimising the hazard on any site,” Steve says. 

“If we can make everybody aware of the hazards then we’re going to minimise the incidents.”

A lot of incidents occur when there’s a lack of knowledge, according to Steve, who says some workers are worried about reporting things to their boss because they think they might get in trouble. 

While every company pushes safety, Geoff agrees with Steve and says: “I’ve seen my guys turn around and do something they shouldn’t do. The reason they usually do it is because they think it’s helping me out. They worry I’ll says: ‘Why aren’t you doing the work?’ and push through and keep going.”

But Geoff says employees need to understand that it will only make things worse. 

There’s also a number of unregulated trades that Geoff and Steve say aren’t backed with the same comprehensive safety training that some of the “high-end” trades are. 

“We want to make everybody a safety advocate,” Geoff says.

“We just want to get it into everybody’s heads that the safest way is the best way.”

They’re calling on workers to not take shortcuts, not push their limits and not to take on anything they can’t handle. 

It’s also about leaders, managers and owners, in any industry, to not ask workers to do anything they can’t and to make sure staff are trained in what they’re supposed to be doing, too. 

“It’s the simple things of making sure they put their hard hat on or their goggles,” Geoff says. 

“When I was younger I used the grinder and got a spark in my eye. The young fellas shouldn’t be learning the hard way, they should be learning from our experience.

“They might think they’re saving a couple of seconds but they don’t understand the implications of not following a safety protocol.

“We’re aware that accidents do happen, some accidents are unavoidable, but we want to minimise them as much as possible.”

“CBR Workplace Safety Forum”, The Tradies, Dickson, 12pm-2pm, Wednesday, November 27. Book via eventbrite.com

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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