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Expert 'predicted deaths' at Adelaide desalination plant

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

ADELAIDE desalination plant bosses were warned three years ago that construction deadlines would cause at least three deaths on the site, an inquiry was told yesterday.

Construction safety expert Sab Feleppa told a parliamentary select committee inquiry on safety at the Port Stanvac desalination plant that he had predicted multiple deaths on the project because of "crazy" expectations on the delivery of the plant.

Mr Feleppa told the parliamentary committee he was approached to take on the role of safety manager for the desal project by his then-employer, McConnell Dowell, in late 2008.
"I asked about the scale of the project ... and the response was twice as many people in half the time," he said.

"I responded by telling them: `You're going to kill people, this is crazy'," Mr Feleppa said.
He told the committee he estimated that the time pressures and scale of the project would lead to three deaths.

The death of desalination plant worker Brett Fritsch on July 16, 2010, is central to the investigation. Mr Fritsch died when he was hit by a steel beam.

Other deaths linked to the site include that of 31-year-old steel fixer Allen O'Neil who died on February 15 from injuries sustained when he inhaled diesel at a pipeline work site for the plant, and a truck driver working for contractor Boral who died in a roll-over on Lonsdale Highway on August 20, 2009.

At this stage, Mr O'Neil's death has not been recognised as a workplace accident and the truck driver's accident has been treated as a road death.

Mr Feleppa yesterday told the select committee he recently heard an eyewitness account of what happened in the incident that killed Mr Fritsch that was different to that offered by SafeWork SA.
The safety trainer, now a safety manager on another major State Government infrastructure project, also raised questions with the committee as to why Mr O'Neil's death had not been treated as a workplace accident.

"There seems to be an enormous amount of a lack of safety knowledge at that site ... the guys on the ground do not understand the legislation," he said.

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