The human impact of an industrial death is catastrophic and far-reaching. For the families and friends of those individuals killed at work, the terrible and profound human cost and associated consequences they must suffer is life-long.
In addition to written submissions, throughout the inquiry the committee heard verbal testimony from numerous families about the enormous impact caused by the death of their loved one. By setting out direct quotes of their lived experiences, this chapter seeks to build a picture of the immense grief, pain, anger and trauma that an industrial death leaves behind.
The committee acknowledges that given there are approximately 200 industrial deaths in Australia annually it is not possible to recount the circumstances of each individual case. The following quotes are listed in no particular order and have been used to illustrate the intense mental, emotional, physical, financial and long‑lasting impacts that are caused by an industrial death.
Mr Jack Brownlee – killed at work in 2018, aged 21
Mr Dave Brownlee, Jack's father:
I'm here with my wife and also representing my two sons, Mitchell Brownlee and Jack Brownlee. Jack was 21 years old, and he will always be 21 years old. He will never age. He went to work on 21 March and was caught in a trench collapse that covered the boy up to his neck, with one arm free. About 9.30 [am] on that day was the last time they [Jack and his co-worker Charlie Howkins] were seen and they weren't found until 11.30 [am]. They weren't rescued until 2.30 [pm]. In the first two hours, Jack would have had the most horrific time. His mate [Charlie Howkins], Lana [Cormie]'s husband, was dead beside him, metres away. Jack would have been screaming for help, and the other boys were at smoko. They were left on their own. There was no supervision of these boys. There was nothing. At the time, I was at the hospital with my wife, who was suffering severe migraines. We received no phone call from the company until 5.30 [pm] that afternoon.
Beforehand, I had a friend who worked in Geelong. He rang me and informed me. Things were on Facebook about a trench collapse in Ballarat and he thought our son Jack was involved. I raced up there to the site and was met at the roadblock by the police. We weren't allowed in. Jack had just been evacuated, they said, and they were putting him in an induced coma. I was informed by the police that the best thing to do was to hightail down to Melbourne and meet him at the hospital. We still had not heard from the company. We then had to go back to the hospital to get my wife out of hospital, pick up my other son Mitchell and drive down to Melbourne, getting updates along the way, in peak hour traffic… When we arrived at the hospital, Jack had already had his third operation. Every organ in his body was damaged. He was bleeding profusely. They could not stabilise Jack. He was operated on and operated on. They had to take him to ICU to stabilise the boy. His stomach was left open while they tried to stabilise the boy. They couldn't stabilise him. He was getting worse by the minute. He was described by the nurse as the sickest boy in the state. They pumped every drop of blood of his type through his body and it just came out as quickly as it went in.
Mrs Janine Brownlee, Jack's mother:
The hardest thing for us was to leave our son to drive home. The hardest thing was to drive there in the first place, getting updates telling us, 'Hurry up. Your son mightn't make it.' And then the hardest thing was to drive home the next day, leaving our boy at the hospital. That was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do: knowing he was there on his own; leaving my baby there. Those two boys [Jack and Charlie Howkins] just went to work. They should have come home. They were just two boys doing their job. The system needs to change. Things need to change. How we were treated was so wrong.
They say it gets better as it gets along, but it's actually getting worse. The longest Jack was ever away from us up until the incident was 10 days. As the days were getting on, you thought he was on a holiday, and then you start thinking: 'Come on, Jack, you should be coming home now. You should be coming home.' You're all numb. Then, after a couple of weeks, reality hits.
Mr Charlie Howkins – killed at work in 2018, aged 34
Dr Lana Cormie, Charlie's wife:
I am a doctor of veterinary science and I am married to Charlie Howkins, who was a registered building practitioner and worked in civil construction at the time of his death. I am—and we were—parents to two small children: Sophie, who is four, and George, who is one year old. Charlie went to work one day in March , and he never came home. He became just another of the dead bodies which are carried out of a workplace every second day in Australia. Words simply cannot do justice to the devastation which has followed. His death is a result of a failure in the culture, values, systems and laws of our country. What is left in the wake of this failure is our broken family.
What killed my husband? My husband died because our country is not committed to workers' safety. My husband died because company directors are not held accountable for the safety of their workers. Not only this, but they can take out insurance for negligently causing death. He died because workers are not respected and they cannot stand up for what is right for fear of losing their jobs. He died because employers ask what is profitable before what is right. My husband died because the OH&S system foolishly relies on self-regulation. He died because of a toxic work culture which discourages reporting of incidents. He was killed by the inadequate safety framework in our country.
Mr Robert Cunico – killed at work in 2018, aged 60
Ms Ashlea Cunico, Robert's daughter:
My dad lived for almost an hour in the most horrific of conditions while being cradled in the arms of a work colleague before succumbing to his injuries. Despite the efforts made by the first responders and emergency services, his injuries were so catastrophic that he was never going to survive. My father should never have sustained even a paper cut whilst he was on the job, let alone injuries so severe that his life was ended.
My dad was a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, an uncle and a friend to many. He leaves behind a wife of 35 years, three children and five grandchildren—the youngest only being one month old when he died. After the incident that morning, it took almost four hours for our family to be notified of my dad's death when two police officers turned up at my parents' home. My mother was then faced with the unthinkable task of having to ring her three children to tell us of our beloved father's death—one of whom was in Thailand at the time.
Receiving that call was absolutely soul-destroying and unfathomable to say the least...How do you explain to a 12-year-old that his grandfather and best friend is never coming home? What do you say to a five-year-old who says he doesn't want to live anymore, if his Pa can't live?
From that moment on, our lives were shattered. You do not ever have a choice to survive grief…
We will never come to terms with the fact that my dad is gone. An entire future full of dreams and aspirations has been wiped from our lives. We are now forced to travel these journeys without him. This has been made harder to process by the fact that he deserved the right to come home that day. Every Australian deserves the right to come home safe and sound to their loved ones.
Mr Wesley Ballantine – killed at work in 2017, aged 17
Ms Regan Ballantine, Wesley's mother:
You're looking at a woman who, on her own, birthed, raised and buried her son. Nineteen months after my son fell 12 metres to his death through an uncovered opening on a construction site, I am here today in a federal Senate inquiry. The senselessness of his death and the injustices on top of it are so profound that it has become my human duty to have enough care for others that I speak out in the hope that, by sharing with you the story of Wesley's death, it may help inspire you all to take real action and prevent another person from losing their young life and a mother her son.
Mr Luke Murrie – killed at work in 2007, aged 22
Mr Mark Murrie, Luke's father:
Luke was 22 when he was killed. He was killed in an unsafe work environment where inexperienced workers were instructed to do an unsafe lift. The unsafe method was quicker and therefore it was cheaper. There was no meaningful deterrent for the employer to do it safely. He put the dollar before safety. They know they can kill a worker and get away with it—history tells you this. The devastation to the family is horrendous. The employer gets a minor fine and goes home. We get a life sentence…
This does your head in. Since Luke was killed, I have trouble keeping my head on the same page—you go all over the place. That's about it mate. It's just bullshit. All these people went to work; they didn't go to war. They went to work and they're dead.
Mrs Janice Murrie, Luke's mother:
We never got justice for Luke. He was killed. It wasn't an accident; he was killed. It made us feel that his life was worthless or that he wasn't important. So you have to make the punishment fit the crime. We're living with the fact that we will never see our son again. It's 11 years this October, but the directors got a piddling fine. They're off with their families. Good on them! I hope they rot in hell, because they didn't hurt and they knew that it wasn't going to hurt. So you have to make it fact that you can go to jail and you can sit in jail every day and remember why you're sitting there—because you killed someone. If you shot someone with a gun, you'd go to jail because you're a bad person. But if you kill them at the workplace you're not a bad person.
Mr Desmond Kelsh – killed at work in 2002, aged 47
Mrs Patricia Kelsh, Desmond's wife:
My husband Des went to work and never came home. The next time I saw him, he was laid in the morgue and it was my job to identify him. It was then my job to tell our children that their dad was never coming home—ever. These are moments I will remember for the rest of my living life.
Des went to work as normal on that fateful day and was working on the roof with his co-worker. The building shook and imploded, bringing Desie down to his death. His co-worker, thankfully, got thrown over the wall to a safe distance and he lives. From that day to this present time, I have stepped off from the place I was, covered in grief from my husband and our two children, who had just lost one of the most important beings in their lives. Our journey through has been eventful—lawyers and the legal system, justice and then none. I lose faith in a system that fails and continues to fail. It needs to change so there is accountability. It's a moral law.
Mr Gerard Bradley – killed at work in 2015, aged 29
Mr Jon-Paul Bradley, Gerard's brother:
…it's very, very difficult for us given that we're back in Ireland. It's almost like we're detached from the whole situation. Obviously, because it's so painful, I've taken it upon myself to deal with it, to almost keep my mum and dad and my sister and my other brother out of it.
Mr Ben Catanzariti – killed at work in 2012, aged 21
Mrs Kay Catanzariti, Ben's mother:
I'm here today not by choice. I'm here because my son Ben, who was 21 years old—sorry, it's just overwhelming that today has finally come—was killed when a 39-metre, three-tonne concrete boom collapsed and crushed his skull in 2012. You senators have chosen this career to represent the Australian people first and foremost, to listen and protect all Australians and take responsibility for their health and wellbeing in our ever-changing world, and we need to unite regardless of which party we belong to. We are all the same. We are human beings. We have the right to live our lives without fear of going to work and not coming home.
While driving to Canberra to view Ben's body, my 16-year-old son [Jack]—he'd only just turned 16 three weeks before—said to me, 'Mum, how can you believe in God now?' I couldn't give Jack an answer… Unfortunately, to this day, my faith hasn't returned. It's in your hands, senators…
Preparing for today has been mentally, physically and emotionally draining as I'm afraid I've left something out, but I'll keep going regardless because that's what mums do.
To date we have laid out roughly $200,000 in legal fees. If we didn't get that death benefit from his super, we would have had to mortgage our house—we could have lost our house.
Mr Jason Garrels – killed at work in 2012, aged 20
Mrs Lee Garrels, Jason's mother:
My son Jason Garrels aged 20 years was fatally electrocuted on the 27th February 2012 in Clermont, Queensland. My son was employed as a labourer for approx 9 days with Daytona Trading Pty Ltd. As a mother and Registered Nurse (Rural Nurse Educator at the time) I went to assist at the resuscitation not knowing it was my own son. Words cannot describe the impact that it has had on me and my family; I was thrown into a life that was a surreal nightmare, which became my reality.
Mr Michael Garrels, Jason's father:
Jason was electrocuted doing a simple task on a wet and muddy constructions site. The state of the site meant he inhaled water after the fatal shock. This had a big effect on Jason’s chances of resuscitation and also delayed the paramedics in accessing Jason with their equipment. The 4-wheel drive ambulance had to be pushed off site. Given the conditions no one should have been working that day…
This is the loneliest, most isolated and devastating journey any family has to make. The support from government is pitiful and disgusting… The lack of transparency, the isolation, the lack of legal support, no access to government, or very little, the fact you are not classed as a stakeholder, the fact you seem to have no rights in this, the lack of networking amongst other affected families because there is no facility for that, the lack of say in governance, in preventatives, in justice, these are just a very few, the isolation you feel mentally, so many times you feel you’re about to go insane, suicide you feel at times is a real option.
Mr David Colson – killed at work in 2007, aged 24
Mrs Robyn Colson, David's mother:
I'm the mother of David Colson who was killed in a workplace accident in Tasmania in 2007 when he was 24 years old. The boat he was working on sank and he swam for 5½ hours before dying of hypothermia. He was a wonderful person who did not deserve to have his life stolen from him…
Losing a child this way is unlike any other type of grief and it is permanent. A part of our soul is missing. We live a divided life: the time before the workplace accident and the time after.
Mr Max Logan – killed at work in 1999, aged 52
Mrs Edith Logan, Max's wife:
I just wish that those in power could understand the utter heartbreak and desolation that comes with an industrial fatality. Maybe then we will get fairer laws and proper outcomes. My husband's employers were found guilty and fined the sum of $34,000—not much for a man's life. Life has not been easy for me, but I've battled on as we widows do.
Mr Keith Logan, Max's son:
I am the only son of Max Logan, who was tragically killed in a workplace incident at Meadows on 22 November 1999. He was 52. Like others that you will meet today, we are all members of an exclusive club we wish not to be a member of. We all have one thing in common in this room, and that is the total grief of losing a loved one through an accident which could have been avoided…
I miss you, dad. While I was building my life, my dad's life was taken from him for a measly $30 an hour… My dad never saw my first house. He never spent one second as a grandfather. He never slowed down to look forward to retirement. He just never came home from work. People say, 'You'll get over it.' Really? I deal with my dad's death most every day and I'm learning to deal with it. But I will never forget it.
Mr Brian Murphy – killed at work in 2006, aged 34
Mrs Susan Gallina, Brian's sister:
From the time of the accident it was hours before we were notified. I heard it on the radio prior to even knowing that it was him. I heard someone had been injured/killed. When I got the call from my sister, I didn't hear, 'There's been an accident.' I didn't hear 'Something's happened.' I heard, 'Brian is dead'. I don't think that that's something that I've ever been able to come to terms with.
The process of that day then evolved into me going back into a shopping centre where my dad was shopping, crying, trying to find him and eventually locking eyes with him and telling him the news that my brother was dead. We held onto each other as we walked out, confused, without knowing any of the details. We went home and we waited and nobody contacted us. We knew nothing. We didn't know where he was. Where was his body? What was happening to him? Was he dead? I spoke to him the day before, and, between that contact and now, I never saw him. We were never given an opportunity to know where he was or to go and see him or to have any kind of ability to have closure on the fact that, 'No, he actually is gone.' I don't think my mind has ever been able to make the connection of having spoken to him and then just being told he's dead. Nothing else ever occurred in between that.
Mr Matthew Fuller – killed at work in 2009, aged 25
Mr Kevin Fuller, Matthew's father:
The circle of impact of not having safety switches installed in that home was wider than anyone ever imagined. The direct family, friends and acquaintances are obvious, but also think about the impact to the homeowner, the tenant, the people who had to cut Matt out of the roof, the medical people, the people that then worked with him in the hospital for a long time and the electrical safety people. The ripple effect just keeps going. You drop a stone in a pond—just one person that's been severely injured or killed. It keeps going.
Mr Dale Kennedy – killed at work in 2012, aged 20
Mr Daniel Kennedy, Dale's father:
We have been fighting for justice since Dale's death. Our son Dale was fatally electrocuted on 12 December 2012, when he came into contact with a non-compliant cable whilst working in the ceiling in G Block at Bentley Park College in Cairns, North Queensland… Dale was 20. He left behind a devastated family, including a 15-month-old son.
We had to continue with life that was very exhausting and stressful. Dale's shirt was in evidence, yet the inspectors did not take his shirt back to the scene to further measure the points of contact to establish an accurate shock path. They only use their poor, inconclusive testing results from the day of the incident. Dale's host employer, Debbie and I went back with Dale's shirt to the building, and I put on Dale's shirt and established the point of contact. We needed to know the actual shock path, and it should not have been up to the family to do this.
The most concerning thing is that our story is similar to other families across Australia, with lack of prevention, poor investigations, inadequate prosecutions and lack of support for the family. Moving forward, we want industrial deaths to be held in the same regard as other deaths.
Mr Jorge Castillo-Riffo – killed at work in 2014, aged 54
Ms Pam Gurner-Hall, Jorge's partner:
I am the widow of Jorge Castillo-Riffo, who was killed on the new Royal Adelaide Hospital site on 27 November 2014… In my opening statement, I'd like to say that I think it's obvious that you've heard not just from this group of people but from others that the key difference between even an accidental death and a road death is the level of horror that's involved in a workplace accident. There are very few workplace accidents which don't involve some sort of absolute horror. It's something that we as survivors have to manage right from the beginning. It's not just the loss and the terror but the horror as well. Quite often, that's the thing that lingers on for many years, and I'm sure that you've heard that. In talking about how things are dealt with, if a soldier is killed, even in a friendly-fire exercise, there's quite a lot of notice taken and respect given for the fact that that soldier has died in service. But if a worker is killed on a site, the very first reaction of the company—particularly if it's a large corporate company, as it is in the case of my husband's death—is that every system available comes into play to bury the evidence.
Mr Jack Salvemini – killed at work in 2005, aged 36
Mr Lee Salvemini, Jack's father:
My push for an inquest is still ongoing. I don't know how much longer I can go on. I am now 72 years of age. About six or seven years ago my doctor advised me to back off and that it was affecting my health. Two years ago I had a stent put in to unblock my main artery, and I was told that it was stress related. I've got some unanswered questions.
Mr Daniel Madeley – killed at work in 2004, aged 18
Ms Andrea Madeley, Daniel's mother:
We are not talking about grief here. If this were grief, I wouldn't be sitting in front of you. I would have been able to deal with my loss, but instead this system had me hanging for seven years waiting for it to finish its stuff. I got to the end of it and my life was screwed. That's not grief; that's bureaucracy controlling people.
I hear this a lot: 'We'll never be able to give you enough money for what you've lost.' I'll never be a grandmother. You're right: there isn't a dollar amount that will make up for that. It kills me every day.
Mr Glenn Newport – killed at work in 2013, aged 38
Mrs Jennifer Newport, Glenn's mother:
I will tell you a little bit about Glenn. He was a big, athletic construction concrete worker. He'd always been very fit and very keen on lifting weights et cetera right from a very young age, so he knew his capacity. He knew a lot of his own body physiology and stuff like that, so he knew what he could do and what his body was capable of when it was under stress. On the particular day that he died, they were working outside in temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius. They were working out in western Queensland at Roma preparing concrete pads for the big gas pipelines that went up to Gladstone. They were working on black plastic. They were told before they went out, 'Just go slowly and work as you can,' which they did. They didn't do a lot of work because it was just so hot. At one stage, they were perspiring so much that there were pools of sweat on the black plastic, and they couldn't hold their tools because it was so hot and their hands were just wet all the time.
He was taken back to the camp clinic in the early afternoon suffering all the symptoms of severe heat stress—nausea, high temperature, cramps, pins and needles, unsteadiness, and disorientation. He was kept at the clinic for two hours, and then it was closed for the day. Then he was sent from the clinic back to his donga, even though he told them he was still having pins and needles in his hand and that he didn't feel that he was well enough to leave the clinic. He was still unwell and unsteady on his feet. The medical staff did not accompany him or bother to check on him. I think he had to walk about 200 to 400 metres back to his donga unassisted. He was given a mobile phone number to ring if his condition worsened. In other words, he was to self-assess himself when he really was in no state to assess what sort of state he was in. It was well known throughout the camp that to be able to get reception on your mobile you had to walk outside your donga—walk a few metres away. They didn't bother to come and check on him. He collapsed two hours later in his donga and died as he was being transported to hospital.
Only two or three weeks after Glenn's death, the company issued gift presentations—I'm not even sure what they were—to every employee out there because they had reached, I think, 500,000 hours with no lost-time injuries. The company took those lost-time injury levels very, very seriously. It seemed amazing to the employees that they were not acknowledging Glenn's death at all; trying to pretend that he'd somehow done something to himself. Glenn hated drugs and anything like that, and there was no sign of any drugs or anything in his body at the autopsy.