Union claims workers endangered by ‘negligent’ safety watchdog

An electricians union has slammed “unsafe work practices” and “substandard materials” on the Sydney Metro project, which it claims is leaving workers with lingering health concerns.

The Electrical Trades Union accused SafeWork of “dropping the ball” on the ongoing rail project after tradies complained of throat and skin irritation, and that their concerns have been “largely ignored”.

The union claimed workers were told they were not required to wear dust masks when stripping cables, despite the cable manufacturer instructing workers to use respirators to avoid overexposure.

Camera IconElectricians working on the cables for the Sydney Metro have complained of skin and throat irritation, the union said. NSW Government Credit: Supplied

ETU NSW Secretary Allen Hicks said the union had to step in to stop work until an appropriate safe work management plan was implemented to protect workers.

“It’s a disgrace that workers weren’t told they needed appropriate safety gear while handling materials that shed fine particles,” he said.

However, Sydney Metro has slammed the union’s claims and asserted workers had “negligible exposure to hazardous materials” which was well below the workplace standard.

“Safety is Sydney Metro’s top priority,” a spokesperson said in a statement to NCA NewsWire.

The spokesperson said neither the train operator nor its contractor, Systems Connect, were aware of any throat or skin irritation complaints from workers.

Mr Hicks criticised the electrical contractor for failing to follow an adequate safety plan and for failing to advise tradies to wear protective equipment.

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Camera IconElectrical Workers Union national secretary Allen Hicks said workers have been endangered by inadequate safety measures. Credit: Supplied

“Workers’ health and safety have been compromised, all in the name of cost cutting,” he said.

“This is dangerous and negligent. SafeWork was advised of this problem, but as usual, the union had to do the regulator’s job for it.”

SafeWork NSW rejected the union’s claim and pointed out that it had responded to the union’s concerns in a timely manner.

The work safety body noted an occupational hygienist had assessed the cable stripping task on October 19 and confirmed it complied with the procedures in place at the time.

The ETU implemented a stop work action at the site the following night, which continued until October 24 when the parties agreed on additional control measures.

Workers stripping fire-resistant cables will not be required to wear respiratory protective equipment, long sleeve clothing, and clean with a HEPA vacuum.

Work on the project halted on October 21 for updated safety measures, but has now resumed.

Sydney Metro
Camera IconSydney Metro has been plagued by issues throughout the year. NSW Government Credit: Supplied

The electricians union is urging all workers who may have been exposed to the effects of stripping cables to seek medical advice.

It’s the latest setback for the beleaguered Sydney trains system, after months of fighting between the NSW Government and the rail union has left workers and commuters frayed and frustrated.

Earlier this month, the rail union and the NSW government were forced to mediate a dispute in court after negotiations once again broke down.

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