Tunnellers on the Forrestfield Airport Link in Perth Australia are working in dangerous conditions, it has been reported.
Reports in both the Australian Sunday Times and Perth Now said that lives of tunnel workers on the project have been put in danger by repeated safety breaches.
Documents obtained by the Sunday Times under Freedom of Information laws revealed that pipes being worked on were not tagged or locked, posing electrocution and other potentially fatal hazards.
The Sunday Times reported that Perth Transport Authority (PTA) officers have recorded multiple breaches, and a failure to take action.
The FOI documents obtained by the Sunday Times paper cover last August to mid-November.
“All breaches were reported to the (head contractor’s) relevant staff including safety officers (but) no adequate corrective and preventative actions have been implemented by personnel,” a PTA officer reported last September.
“The process is designed to isolate all forms of potentially hazardous energy (electricity, water, compressed air, slurry), prevent an accidental release, and ensure the restricted work area remains tightly controlled until works are completed,” a PTA spokesman said.
In another incident the news outlet Perth Now has reported a warning notice was written on a scrap of paper and stuck to a control panel while two workers were inside a 10,000l tank fixing blades on agitators.
forrestfield link warning note
It was photographed by a tunnel boring machine supervisor last year, who has since left after he feared someone would die on the project, Perth Now reported.
Even though the worker reported the incident at the time through the official whistle-blower procedure, he was accidentally named on the paperwork.
The supervisor, who has almost 20 years of tunnelling experience from around the world, said he quit the project because “the safety, quality and whole project itself was so poor I did not want to be a part of it any longer”. “It was extremely bad — the worst I have ever seen,” he told Perth Now.
“There was no other warning, not even a danger tag,” he recalled. “It wasn’t even covering the actual switch. If turned on it would kill them — tear their arms and legs off.” He raised the issue with a superior. “This is how we seem to be isolating,” he wrote in an email seen by Perth Now.
In another email, he wrote: “I feel it needs to be brought to your attention that the process of reporting hazards and incidents is not valued by the workers, whether it be due to actual or perceived issues.
“The general feeling amongst the workers is that if they speak up or place their names on hazard cards, that they will be labelled as trouble makers or their employment on the project will be jeopardised, regardless of their work ethic being at a high standard …It is mind boggling how many workers are coming to me to vent about the failure of the process and it’s difficult for me to continue to attempt to reassure them.
A separate issue was raised by hyperbaric workers in the tunnel, the supervisor told Perth Now.
“The (air) pressure had been dropped on them while they’re working (which meant they could work for longer and required less time in decompression afterwards) and the face (of the ground) started to collapse,” he said.
Salini Impregilo-NRW JV (SI-NRW JV) project director Richard Graham told Perth Now “without further details it is difficult to comment on such an assertion; however we strongly refute their inference.
“Hyperbaric interventions are a very critical and delicate activity which are undertaken with the utmost care and attention to safety. They are carried out to enable the cutter head of a tunnel-boring machine to be maintained when it is under water.”
He said SI-NRW JV was “committed to the safe and successful delivery of this project”. “We have reviewed and optimised our isolation process and retrained our teams. We have also introduced additional checks and controls to the normal tunnelling procedures.
“For the next four to six weeks we have increased supervision during the implementation of the new isolation process, with supervisors and/or safety coordinators required to oversee the procedure.
“Our primary goal is to reach the end of each day with no safety incidents and we do not hesitate to make improvements that are identified to reduce any risks.”
In September a leak was discovered in a cross tunnel passage between the twin-bored tunnels and a sinkhole developed immediately above the site.
In October documents from Perth Public Transport Authority (PTA) director Ross Hamilton suggested that contaminated land issues could add up to AU$320M (£174M) to the cost of the tunnel project, and earlier in 2018, both boring machines were stopped for about eight weeks due to ground disturbances detected in the area.
The AUS$1.86bn (£1.03bn) Forrestfield-Airport Link is jointly funded by the Australian and Western Australian governments and will deliver a new rail service to the eastern suburbs of Perth – with three new stations at Redcliffe, Airport Central and Forrestfield.
The line will spur off the existing Midland Line near Bayswater Station and run to Forrestfield through twin-bored tunnels. In April 2016 the Public Transport Authority awarded the design, construct and maintenance contract to Salini Impregilo and NRW Joint Venture. The project is due to be completed in 2020.