With the tragic death of an 18-year old apprentice due to an avoidable scaffolding collapse last week in Sydney, the focus again is on workplace safety. Although this was a construction site, sign installers are regular users of scaffolding, scissor lifts, cherry-pickers, cranes and other forms of height access, so it’s timely to look again at safety.
An increasing amount of scaffolding and fencing has wide format-printed mesh attached to it, which serves as both a screening/containment safety barrier in the event of falling objects, and also when printed, an advertising medium or streetscape visual improver while renovation work is conducted.
However, wind-capture must be considered where large areas of mesh are installed. Safe Work Australia in its General Guide for Scaffolds states: “For example, the extra wind loading on the scaffold should be considered when selecting a screening material and the framework supporting a screen must be able to support loads resulting from the screen.”
Wind is a factor in many signage installation failures, most horrifically in 2013 when a sudden gust brought down the brick wall of a Grocon construction site on Swanston Street, Melbourne. The wall had an advertising hoarding attached to it made by Aussie Signs Pty Ltd and, at 3.2 metres this was 70cm higher than the 2.5 metre wall itself. It caught the gust, acting like a sail and brought the wall down on three young Melburnians, killing them all.
|Tullamarine freeway (photo ABC)|
More recently, in January this year, we saw the dashcam footage of a huge freeway sign coming down on top of a car, again in Melbourne. This resulted in a major audit of all freeway signs installed throughout Victoria, and their susceptibility to collapse in high winds.
Because of this, and also the risk to installers themselves, Work Safe Victoria has an excellent downloadable checklist for all outdoor sign installers here: https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/exterior-sign-erection-and-installation-checklist, which includes proximity to power lines, poles, harnessing etc.
We could lose Aluminium Composite Panels over safety
With the debate over ACP panels with flammable polyethylene cores running hot, importers and resellers of this material need to be acutely aware of how their product, printed or not, is going to be used. It absolutely should not be used as cladding on tall buildings – only the more expensive fire-resistant grade can be used as cladding. Aussie Signs were hit with a $250,000 fine and the sub-contracted installer a $7,000 penalty over the Swanston Street collapse – imagine the cost of a whole tall building going up in flames, to the company who supplied the wrong ACP material? London’s Grenfell Tower disaster is still fresh in people’s minds.
The risk of ACP being totally banned as an import is very real if Labor win government this year and carry through their threat. This is through no fault of the composite material itself, but is most definitely the fault of project managers, building contractors and those charged with inspecting and certifying that new-builds are compliant with fire regulations. ASGA is conducting a series of state-by-state meetings to address the issue and prevent the sign industry being ‘caught in the net’ of construction industry shortcomings.
Safety, whether public or employee, can not ever be a secondary issue. With the weakening of union power in Australia, coupled with the construction boom, safety issues have obviously slipped. That the Opal Tower at Sydney’s Olympic Park, for example, could ever have been certified as fit for habitation is a matter still under investigation. It took three months of remedial works before apartment owners could move back in, with (as of March) over 100 apartments still needing work.
With proper attention, training and knowledge of issues that affect sign installations, we can be a very safe industry. Secondary use of what we produce can be an issue – for example near where I live a wire fence covered with mesh-printed signage has fallen over three times in high wind because the weight used to ballast the fence is puny and nowhere near heavy enough. All it takes is for a child to be riding their bike underneath when this happens and the result is another tragedy.
It’s all avoidable – yes we must make workplaces safe for all employees but we have an obligation to the general public too. It’s so often just a case of common sense and someone having the guts to say ‘that’s not on – it’s unsafe.’