'a profound reverence for life'
As well as commemorating the lives of Australians lost through a workplace tragedy, the memorial is also a space to reflect on the community's enduring values around work health and safety.
The memorial's design represents 9 values that underpin Australia's work health and safety efforts. These values were important historic drivers of health and safety reform that are still relevant today.
The values are engraved into stainless steel strips that surround the memorial’s stone columns.
Each value is emphasised by a story of sadness or loss that has compelled change within Australian communities, our culture and legislation.
A selection of moving quotes are engraved into the stainless steel strips, which interlock to reinforce the immense consequences of workplace injury and death.
These quotes were distilled from extensive interviews with those who have been directly affected by a workplace incident.
Although one value is highlighted for each state and territory, all values are necessary to achieve Australia’s health and safety objectives and to support productive working lives.
The memorial's overarching value is knowledge. Translating knowledge and research into practice is a cornerstone of effective work health and safety. Education and research are critical to improving how well we prevent illness and injury, both through harnessing professional expertise and through providing appropriate competencies to workers.
'the void in my life'
Australia's approach to work health and safety is built on generations of Australians who have campaigned for workplaces that treat people with dignity and respect. Our legal framework aims to create workplaces that provide people with meaningful jobs in a healthy and safe environment.
Everyone in the workplace, regardless of their position, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
Dignity of work refers to the work process and emphasises the intrinsic value of work and the benefit of having satisfying and meaningful work. Dignity also implies that we are able to influence how our jobs are done, raise concerns about unsafe work practices and be treated like a valued member of a team.
'they chained us up to pull the plough'
People need to do more than just treat and rehabilitate the sick and injured or compensate those who have lost loved ones as a result of work-related accidents, incidents and disease. Sound risk management processes will prevent these from occurring in the first place.
The story of the town of Wittenoom in Western Australia demonstrates the value 'prevention' as well as the overarching value of 'knowledge'. During the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Wittenoom was Australia's only supplier of blue asbestos and eventually became known as the site of Australia's greatest industrial disaster. It wasn't until 1966 that the mine was closed due to growing health concerns from asbestos mining in the area.
Our growing knowledge of the hazards of asbestos from Australian and global research and experience has led to a multitude of legislative changes, a much wider understanding of the dangers within the community, and a shift in the use of the product in the building industry generally. Despite this, however, there are still individuals being affected as a result of the long gestation period for illness to present itself.
'a life cut short'
Everyone has the right to have a say about issues that affect their health and safety at work. Workplaces where employees are able to have a say about work health and safety are safer and better able to control risks.
Adequate and effective worker representation is important across all industries. A strong demonstration of this is the small coal mining town of Moura in Central Queensland. There have been 3 major disasters that have occurred on the mining site since 1975, with dozens killed as a result. All the disasters occurred when the site operated as an underground mine. After 1994, underground mining ceased and the area was operated as an open-cut mine.
Giving workers on site a voice to alert management of possible dangers has led to significant improvements and the introduction of safeguards in work health and safety.
'fear, pain and anguish etched in their tired faces'
Accidents, incidents and disease can be prevented with universal commitment to workplace health and safety.
The ban on smoking in the workplace is a prominent example of the value of employer commitment to their employees. This ban also led to restrictions on smoking in close proximity to building thoroughfares and entrances.
'we can never be complacent'
The spirit of helping and looking out for each other is critical to providing safe workplaces. Teamwork is essential to solving work health and safety issues.
The value of teamwork and helping a mate was illustrated so effectively in the 1975 Lake Illawarra collision with the Tasman Bridge and the subsequent clean up and recovery. The tragedy affected the local community and brought the townspeople together in their grief.
'things happened so quickly'
Australian workplaces bring together people from all over the world – great industrial ventures like the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme played an important part in creating our multicultural society. People bring their diverse backgrounds and experiences to their work. Preventing accidents, incidents and disease requires us to recognise this diversity to ensure we understand and look after the different needs people may have.
The chief engineer of the Snowy Mountains Scheme was instructed to seek workers from overseas to fulfil the immediate need to progress construction on the site. Employment of workers from 32 (mostly European) countries, many of whom had been at war with each other only a few years earlier, had a significant effect on the cultural mix of Australia.
'we came from other lands to start a new life'
Workplaces, equipment and systems of work that are designed to be safe contribute to healthy work environments.
One incident that highlights the need for good design occurred during the construction of Victoria's West Gate Bridge in 1970. Tragically, 35 workers were killed when a large span of the bridge collapsed as a result of poor design and construction methods. The West Gate Bridge Memorial is located near the bridge to commemorate these workers.
'we are all made from flesh and blood'
Family is a key driver for improving workplace health and safety. Historically, it has been a key source of government engagement in the area.
Australia's first factory inspector, Augusta Zadow, was employed to improve working conditions in South Australian factories and shops, particularly for women workers, so they were better able to care for their families.
Augusta became an advocate for women working in clothing factories. She was a major contributor to the establishment of the Working Women's Trades Union in 1890. She was also a delegate to the United Trades and Labour Council of South Australia and spoke in favour of women's suffrage. Following women's enfranchisement in South Australia in 1894, the government of Charles Kingston appointed her as a factory inspector. She inspected factories and monitored working conditions for women and minors.
'I think about her every day'