50 years on from the Westgate Bridge collapse

Article date
15 October 2020

11.50am 

At precisely this moment fifty years ago, a 2,000 tonne section of the West Gate Bridge came crashing to the ground, killing 35 workers.

15 October 1970 is a black day in the history of our State, but the disaster marked a pivotal turning point in Australia’s approach to workplace safety.

We spoke to Suburban Rail Loop Authority’s Director of Safety, Joe Alderuccio, about how the West Gate Bridge collapse influenced the labour movement and redefined construction and workplace safety.

“There has been a stronger union voice, a stronger voice for workers’ health and safety, and also compensation and support as a result of injuries or workplace fatalities.”

“Even today, there are definitely systems and processes that have evolved as a direct result of the West Gate tragedy,” says Joe.

Joe says lessons learnt from the disaster completely changed how major projects were delivered, but he notes that half a century later, there is still a long way to go.

“The same risks are present now as they were 50 years ago. We need to be continually vigilant and assure ourselves around what we plan, what we design, what we construct and how we construct it.”

On a project of the scale and complexity of Suburban Rail Loop, Joe explains that developing a strong culture of health and safety from the very start, is crucial. 

“Our safety vision is to drive unrivalled health and safety performance by actively pursuing outcomes that safeguard the wellbeing of our people, our partners and the communities in which we work.”

Integrating safety into decision making and communications has been a focus for Joe and his team, ensuring that all staff are able to reflect on how health and safety relates to their role, and how their decisions can impact others. 

“Seemingly simple decisions can potentially have serious implications downstream for workers on the ground, so we need to be mindful of that in everything we do – considering safety at the heart of our decision-making,” he says.  

While construction is planned to begin in 2022, Joe says safety is already front and centre at Suburban Rail Loop Authority, shaping how the organisation develops the project and works with its partners.

“We have an obligation to learn the lessons of the West Gate Tunnel disaster and of modern infrastructure projects happening here and around the world, to ensure that health and safety is part of the conversation from day one.”