The Transport Minister of Queensland, Mark Bailey, has demanded a comprehensive “safety reset” at the largest public transport project in the state, the $6.3bn Cross River Rail project, following an accident where a scaffolder fell from scaffolding.
Work on the project came to a halt on Wednesday as thousands of workers united in a walk-off, protesting for improved safety measures. The union action was triggered by an accident on Tuesday that resulted in Nation Kouka, a 54-year-old scaffolder, falling approximately 12 metres at the Dutton Park site of the project.
Kouka is currently in critical condition at Princess Alexandra Hospital.
Bailey stated that the incident has significantly impacted his confidence in the project’s safety measures. “There’s no doubt that this is a wake-up call. We’ve got to take the opportunity to make sure that this is the one and only incident,” he said on Wednesday.
The minister acknowledged the worries of workers and expressed his empathy. He commented, “If I was working on this project, I’d be concerned. No doubt about that.”
Investigations into the incident have been launched by both Queensland police and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.
The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has claimed that this is not an isolated incident, and the project site has seen multiple safety concerns. The union’s state secretary, Michael Ravbar, said that there had been numerous safety incidents, including previous falls and near misses.
More than 300 safety enforcement notices have been issued for the Cross River Rail project, some of which were associated with fines.
Ravbar criticised the handling of the safety issues and demanded Bailey’s resignation over the incident, saying, “Safety-wise, it’s probably the worst I’ve seen in my time, and I’ve been around a bit.”
Bailey countered the union’s allegations, maintaining that he wasn’t aware of any previous employee fall on the project. He said, “This is one of the bigger construction projects across the country so safety issues will come up from time to time. Whenever we’re aware of them, we move to act on them as quickly as we can.”
A spokesperson for the Cross River Rail Authority reinforced the importance of safety at the site and said work would not resume until Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and the onsite contractor deems it appropriate.
The rail project, due for completion in 2026, now faces an uncertain timeline as workers remain off-site and safety inspections take place.