15 October 1970 - The day that rocked Australia (The West Gate Bridge Disaster)
SAYFA remembers this devastating event in history
On the 15th October 1970 Australia witnessed a tragedy that is still our worst industrial disaster to date. The collapse of the West Gate Bridge took 35 lives. More than 50 years on there are still many people who do not understand how this could happen.
The Ripple Effect
According to reports, as two spans were brought into close proximity it was revealed that there was a gap of approx 10cm. The answer seemed simple enough, use kentledge (concrete ballast cubes that each weighed about 8 tons) to realign the girders. These concrete cubes were going to be placed on the north half span in an attempt to push it down to the same height as the south span. However, it would seem that more weight was used than was approved by the engineer and this caused a buckle in the bridge. On Wednesday 14th October instructions were given to straighten the buckle "without further delay".
The day the bridge came down
Starting at around 8.30 am on the 15th October the task of straightening the buckle began. The removal of a large amount of bolts commenced which caused a significant degree of slippage. It was then suggested that the bolts be re-tightened with an air gun. When the pressure of this caused the bolts to break, the shock reaction of the bolts failing in tension created stress. This resulted in a sliding movement which made many of the of bolt holes disappear, meaning they could not re-bolt the span and it also created more buckling to several other panels of the bridge.
Around 11.00 am that morning the Section Engineer contacted Jack Hindshaw, the Resident Engineer, and advised that things were not going well. Hindshaw arrived on site and was instantly aware that a potentially dangerous situation was imminent and decided to get further advice, making a phone call to Gerit Hardenber, a Senior Representative of WSC Melbourne. The last words that Hindshaw was heard saying were "Shall I get the bods off?" (referring to all the workers). It was then, at 11.50 am, that span 10 -11 collapsed, taking the lives of 35 men, Jack Hindshaw among them.
What were the Royal Commission findings?
After sitting for six months, the Royal Commission found numerous factors came into play which caused the collapse; the design, the construction method and the reckless attempts to fix the construction failure. These findings brought about huge changes for workplace safety and included the introduction of health and safety laws which gave workers involved in safety committees stronger influence.
What can we learn from this tragedy?
We can all take something away from this, whether it be to design a better building, ensure that codes of practice and guidelines are being met or to simply make our workplaces as safe and as compliant as possible.
A tragedy like this should not and must not ever happen again.
Whatever we do take away from this, we should always be aware that our foremost priority must be to provide the safest environment we can for our workers.
But times have changed. Surely we are looking after our workers now.
Sadly there are still too many workplace deaths and injuries which, for the most part, could be prevented.
When carrying out duties at height workers need to be aware that this is classed as high risk work, and that they are particularly vulnerable to injury if they are not using the correct procedures, tools and equipment. Fall protection is an essential part of your duty of care but for those not in the height safety industry it is very difficult to know what systems to select. Even the different terminology, such as fall arrest, fall prevention and fall restraint, can be quite confusing.
On average 26 workplace deaths per year in Australia* can be attributed to injuries as a result of a fall from height. In many cases, lack of effective roof safety systems was the cause. Even more tragic, 30% of deaths are from falls of less than 3 metres. This emphasises the false belief that fall prevention only needs to be in place when you are on top of tall roofs or buildings.
Where to start?
Use our Height Safety Risk Calculator to determine if you are doing all you can to ensure the safety of your workers. In 3 minutes, it will provide a detailed reporting showing your areas of risk including height safety awareness, height safety management and working at height requirements.
So you've ascertained that your buildings need attention. The next step is to contact a reputable height safety specialist.
SAYFA are Australia's leading access and fall protection system design specialists. We can provide you with roof safety solutions specifically designed to suit your buildings and your requirements. We know the law, including all industry Acts, Regulations, Standards and Codes of Practice that relate to work at height.
We have a large network of height safety specialists who can visit your premises, provide comprehensive site audits, and give options on the correct systems that you need on your buildings to be compliant and safe.
In light of new Workplace Manslaughter laws that are coming into force throughout Australia don't put off finding out where you stand and if your buildings are providing the level of safety that your workers deserve.
Contact SAYFA on 1300 301 755 or [email protected] for more information.