Tragic worksite death ignites calls for heat safety overhaul

By Jarrod
4 Min Read

Thousands of blue-collar workers marched on Parliament House last week after extreme heat claimed the life of a Queensland tradie on the job.

Around 6500 Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union (CFMEU) members swapped their tools for picket signs last Thursday in Brisbane’s CBD before sending a message to state parliament.

With a chorus of voices chanting “Stand up, fight back”, protestors demanded a standardised heat stress code for high-risk workers following the tragic death of Daniel Sa’u last December on the state’s Cross River Rail project. 

Mr Sa’u was found deceased in his car after leaving a work site in Salisbury on December 28, with the union claiming he had symptoms of heat stroke.

According to CFMEU state secretary Michael Ravbar, the young fathers’ tragic death was the result of ongoing neglect from site safety officials, claiming more than 25 other workers had been hospitalised for heat stress since Christmas.

“Queensland workers have had a gutful of watching their mates being taken off sites in an ambulance,” said Mr Ravbar.

“The consequences for this inaction have been deadly. Workers have been left at the mercy of bad builders and cowboy civil construction companies who care only about productivity and profits.”

Officials repeatedly ignored safety warnings 

Despite claims from a Cross River Rail authority spokesman that health and safety were taken “extremely seriously” on-site, contractors CPB refused to implement heat safety procedures requested by Health and Safety Representatives in September last year. 

“CPB has clearly learned nothing from the numerous safety incidents over the past few years. They continue to treat workers like numbers on a spreadsheet – with deadly consequences,” said Mr Ravbar.

“2023 was the hottest year on record, yet the contractor on Queensland’s biggest civil construction project still doesn’t have a proper heat management plan for its workers.”

As a result, significant parts of the Rail project were shut down in January when workers walked off-site in protest, prompting what Mr Ravdar called “threats and intimidation tactics” from the contractor. 

But the problem around heat safety is larger than just one contractor. Unions have been crying out for an industry-wide code of practice to prevent and manage heat stress since it was first recommended by the Queensland coroner eight years ago, but the government has refused to act. 

Mr Ravbar claimed workers had repeatedly been met with delays and denial from safety inspectors that “is putting a foreign contractor ahead of the safety of Queenslanders”.

“As usual, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland is missing in action, leaving workers to fend for themselves in a taxpayer-funded death trap.”

With protestors now back on the job, Mr Ravbar said workers had sent both the company and the government a clear message and called for the immediate resignation of current work industrial relations minister Grace Grace. 

“More lives will be lost if Minister Grace Grace remains in charge of the regulator,” he said.

“She is the worst industrial relations minister Queensland has ever seen. She should resign immediately or be sacked.”

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By Jarrod
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.