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Union bid to bring in new heatwave building code

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New extreme-weather codes for private building sites could be applied early next year after a teenage apprentice nearly lost his life working during the recent heatwave.

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The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union SA has called on building and business groups to help develop extreme hot-weather codes after 17-year-old Travis Mellor collapsed at a domestic building site in Magill when temperatures soared to 41 degrees last Wednesday.

CFMEU SA state secretary Aaron Cartledge said he was contacting SA’s key building and workers association to meet early next year to set out extreme-heat guidelines for private building jobs.

The Civil Contractors Federation, Housing Industry Association, Master Builders Association and Business SA have been, or will be, contacted by the CFMEU to ensure extreme-weather guidelines similar to those for commercial work are applied to domestic building sites.

The CFMEU has already confirmed it will meet with SafeWork SA to develop a new extreme-weather code.

“We’re simply asking for them to have a robust heat policy in place,” Cartledge said.

“Early in the year, particularly if we’re going to get some of these big heatwaves, then we’re going to continue to push for a [extreme heat] code.”

The call for new guidelines was triggered by the hospitalisation of Mellor, who spent several days in a coma at Royal Adelaide Hospital after his organs began to shut down from exposure to the extreme heat.

Mellor, who is understood to have come out of his coma late last week, remains in hospital.

Cartledge said on domestic work sites it was up to the boss’s discretion whether workers should down-tools when temperatures hit 37 degrees.

“If you don’t have these guidelines in place and it’s too hard for them to knock off when it hits 37 degrees, if it’s too hard then supply some air-conditioning, areas to cool down, plenty of cold drinks and water.

“And if they’re getting giddy and want to go home, don’t get on someone’s case.”

He said competition, contract arrangements and pressure to finish a job forced many domestic tradesmen to work through extreme heat, causing injury numbers to “spike” during the summer.

“It’s a major issue this time of year,” he said.

“They’re tired, they’re fatigued and that’s how they get injured and it has a spike on other injuries.”

A prohibition notice over the incident, which prevents the company from carrying out any work, has already been issued by SafeWork SA to Mellor’s boss.

Under South Australia’s work health and safety legislation Division 2, General Working Conditions, a business must make sure their workers are not at any risk of extreme heat or cold.

The maximum penalty for an individual is $6000 and $30,000 for a body corporate.

Work health and safety laws specify that work conditions must be free of risks.

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