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The collapse of more than 500 metres of heavy piping in the airport tunnel early today had been predicted.
Workers on the trouble-plagued Forrestfield-Airport Link say it was lucky no one was in killed when the long section fell from the walls of the tunnel around 4am.
Photos show the brackets holding the slurry pipes failed.
The West Australian can reveal the collapse had been predicted in a warning to the State Government by a former tunnel boring machine supervisor who quit the project over safety concerns.
In a memo to Transport Minister Rita Saffioti and Minister for Industrial Relations Bill Johnston last October, he warned of dangerously deficient pipe brackets among a litany of pressing safety issues.
Construction union boss Mick Buchan said the CFMEU had also spoken out about the brackets, which it claims don’t comply with Australian Standards.
The wife of a current worker said today her husband told her if anyone had been near the pipes at the time they would have been killed.
“It’s just ongoing safety issues because they are so behind on the project that they are just rushing things through,” she said.
She said the worry something was going to happen to her husband was “constant”.
“I've got two kids and the night shift is the hardest time because I don't know if he is going to come home.”
Mr Buchan, whose union got access to the tunnel today, said: “This is yet another near miss. If workers had been in that area of the tunnel they would have been badly hurt or killed.”
The union is demanding the replacement of all brackets in the tunnel.
Salini-Impregilo-NRW JV Project Director Richard Graham said an investigation was under way into what caused the incident.
“No one was near the location and no one was injured in the latest incident,” he said.
“We take any incident on site very seriously and will not resume operations on TBM Sandy until we have completed the investigation and implemented all necessary resulting actions.”
Since tunnelling work started in 2017 the $1.8b project has been beset with setbacks and safety incidents.
A Public Transport Authority spokesman said: “Our contractor is required to ensure that all temporary works and equipment used... are appropriately designed and fit-for-purpose, and meet relevant Australian Standards.
“Early in tunnelling (November 2017), WorkSafe issued SI-NRW JV with an improvement notice to confirm all supporting pipe brackets and frames used for tunnelling were fit-for-purpose and correctly installed.
“In response, SI-NRW JV carried out a review of the brackets in use on the project and a structural engineer confirmed that the design and use of the slurry pipe brackets was compliant.”
Slurry pipes bring slurry in one line and take slurry and dirt out in another. Each empty pipe would weigh approx 400kg per 6m of length, but would be heavier when full of slurry.
“One former worker told the newspaper: “Sometimes you can get hammer in your pipes just like you do in your house taps which can cause the pipes to jump.
“Once one bracket fails it would transfer more load onto the other brackets and so on, though it is not unusual to have hammer in slurry lines so the brackets must be designed to handle hammer in the pipes.”
He said production should have stopped as a safety precaution when the main slurry pump failed shortly before the collapse.
Transport Minister Rita Saffioti tonight said: “The Forrestfield-Airport Link is a challenging project due to the complex terrain in Perth, and I have emphasised to the project team consistently that safety is the number one priority.”
WorkSafe was informed of the latest incident.
This article first appeared on www.perthnow.com.au
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