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12 March 1991 - Current

Page 3185
15 October 2020
COUNCIL Condolences Ingrid Stitt

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (11:23): I move, by leave:

That this house:

(1) notes that Thursday, 15 October 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Victoria’s most profound industrial disaster, the West Gate Bridge collapse, which occurred at 11.50 am on Thursday, 15 October 1970;

(2) expresses:

(a) deep grief for the 35 workers who lost their lives and the 18 who were seriously injured;

(b) gratitude to the frontline emergency workers who attended the scene;

(c) appreciation for the heroic acts of workers and others who survived and assisted in the rescue efforts;

(d) sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed or injured in this tragic accident and stands with those who survived and continue to fight for the rights of workers to a healthy and safe workplace;

(3) acknowledges that the West Gate Bridge collapse was a turning point for workplace safety in the state of Victoria;

(4) recognises:

(a) the ongoing efforts of many who survived that day in campaigning for groundbreaking occupational health and safety laws;

(b) our occupational health and safety laws play a critical part in ensuring that these large-scale industrial tragedies do not happen again; and

(c) we must recommit to doing all that we can to ensure that Victorian workers come home safe at the end of each day.

Today marks 50 years since Victoria’s worst workplace disaster, the West Gate Bridge collapse. Like many people from Melbourne’s west, I use the bridge often. It is an iconic and much-needed link between Melbourne’s east and west and connects our city to the rest of the state. Today we remember and reflect upon its tragic past. We remember the 35 men who lost their lives and the 18 who were seriously injured when the bridge collapsed 50 years ago today—innocent workers who were killed or injured simply going about their work or having their lunch in the huts below.

At 11.50 am on 15 October 1970, the unthinkable happened. Witnesses speak of an eerie pinging noise and seeing the metal girders turn a strange shade of blue. The giant structure suddenly gave way and more than 2000 tonnes of steel and concrete plummeted to the ground. It is hard to fathom the devastation, the carnage, what would have been going through the minds of the workers who survived, and what the emergency workers and first responders who first attended the scene would have witnessed. In just moments 35 men were killed. They were husbands, fathers and sons who never returned home to their loved ones, and many of the workers who did survive carried the emotional scars for years.

The West Gate Bridge collapse has paved the way for major changes to workplace health and safety laws in Victoria. I want to acknowledge that a number of the survivors went on to become activists and union leaders who have advocated tirelessly for stronger safety laws in the decades since the disaster. In fact many of the measures initially put into practice on the West Gate Bridge project when the work recommenced in 1972 later became law that the Labor government, led by John Cain, introduced in the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act in 1985. Important pillars were introduced that have stood the test of time: the right to a safe workplace for every Victorian worker, consultation with workers about safety in their workplaces and identifying and mitigating safety risks. The act also established the state’s first independent health and safety regulator, which today we know as WorkSafe Victoria.

Sadly, while we reflect upon the biggest industrial disaster in our recent history, we must also recognise that workplace tragedies continue to occur on our worksites. So far this year, eight construction workers have died on site—another eight families left behind mourning their lives. Across our state, 56 workers have lost their lives this year, and as we embark on the next wave of iconic infrastructure projects in our state we must never compromise on workplace safety. It is our collective responsibility to make sure that we are prioritising health and safety every single day so that workers can come home safe every single day. We owe it to the memories of the men who lost their lives on the bridge to reflect upon and learn from this tragedy to ensure that no Victorian worker or no Victorian families have to endure a tragedy like the West Gate Bridge collapse. Today we remember those who lost their lives. We also commit to never losing sight of how dangerous going to work can be, and why it is so critical to constantly renew our commitment to safety in every Victorian workplace. Today we honour the dead, and we recommit ourselves to fight for the living.