At this point, we’ve all seen the video where Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, attended a factory as part of a media tour, and began to weld a beam after taking his mask off. It was a painful thing for anyone with experience in trades to see; here was the leader of Australia risking serious injury, apparently out of ignorance for safety best practice.
And yet, perhaps out of complacency or overconfidence, Morrison’s behaviour isn’t that uncommon, even among the most experienced tradies in Australia. Far too often people that should know better can end up taking risks because they aren’t using the proper safety equipment. You shouldn’t go into an environment where there was a risk of an explosion without an adequate HV switching suit, you wouldn’t work at heights without appropriate harnesses, and you shouldn’t be doing electrical work without the appropriate protections and precautions against arc flashes and similar events.
To this day, more than half of serious workplace-related injury claims involve tradies – including electricians. With tradies accounting for around one-third of the nation’s workplace, this is a big demographic at risk.
The danger from the environments with which they work will never be zero. It is inherently risk-filled work. For example, electricians often work in environments where an arc flash is a risk. Arc flashes have temperatures that are hotter than the sun, and even with specific protective equipment, can cause a great deal of damage to a person. However, while the risk can never be completely eliminated, it needs to be minimised to the most extreme degree possible.
So, what can tradies and their employers do to better encourage safety in the workplace?
The first thing that any tradie should do to protect themselves is wear the correct equipment, and, if there are signs of damage to their suits, masks, and boots, to replace them. The safety equipment has been specially designed for specific circumstances and is the best protection if something should go wrong.
Beyond diligence with equipment, the other safety best practices that should be followed include:

– SWMS documents for the work site. The SWMS document is critical for identifying potential risks and outlining the best response to those risks. It motivates the entire team behind safety best practices.

– Stay educated. Regular refresher courses at TAFE, for everyone in the trades, is a good idea, both as a reminder of best practices, and a way of staying informed to any changes, as health & safety recommendations and regulations do change over time.

– Refuse to take on jobs that you’re not licensed for. There is always the temptation to try to job on and help a client, customer, or co-worker with a task, but if you’re not properly qualified and practiced in the task, then you could end up risking yourself and those around you – watch Prime Minister Morrison’s efforts to weld again. He claimed that he had experience in welding, and clearly felt comfortable with it, but without the proper license he put himself at extreme risk.

Australia offers a positive and worker-focused regulatory environment that aims to protect tradies. However, that will be for naught if the businesses and tradies themselves are not diligent in protecting themselves. Safety is, simply, not something to be complacent about.