WorkSafe unaware of failed Christchurch roadworks audits

WorkSafe unaware of failed Christchurch roadworks audits
Photo credit: Getty Images

By Phil Pennington for RNZ

The Crown work safety watchdog says it was not aware of roadworks audits failed by a major contractor, but would not expect to be made aware.

Three audits in early and late April rated Downer's traffic management at roadworks outside Canterbury University "dangerous/high risk".

It had to stop work briefly and fix them, though they recurred. Downer told RNZ students stealing road signs was the biggest problem.

Around the same time, WorkSafe accepted an enforceable undertaking from Downer - and also from McConnell Dowell Constructors - to contribute almost $1.7 million to improving roadwork safety, especially for cyclists.

In turn, WorkSafe in early April withdrew health and safety charges against the two companies over the death of 19-year-old cyclist Fyfa Dawson at unsafe roadworks in Christchurch in 2019.

RNZ asked WorkSafe if it had checked up on any audits done of Downer roadworks traffic management anywhere, prior to accepting the enforceable undertaking in late March.

WorkSafe head of specialist interventions Dr Catherine Gardner said in a statement:

"WorkSafe wasn't aware of the [Ilam Rd] audits you mention and wouldn't expect to be made aware, unless through a health and safety concern notification or through the course of an investigation."

Downer was legally responsible to eliminate or minimise risks at its worksites, she said.

The company, the university, the city council that did the audit and Downer's subcontractor Nova "appear to have identified risks and are working to eliminate or minimise them" at the Ilam Road water main project, Gardner said.

Downer made commitments in the Dawson case worth just over $1m.

Gardner said there was close monitoring over the conditions in any undertaking, and if Downer did not comply then WorkSafe could take legal proceedings for both the original charges and any breach of the undertaking.

"Enforceable undertakings ... aren't a soft approach. They provide a restorative justice approach.

"The costs associated with the undertaking will promote progressively higher standards of health and safety ... and will achieve key deliveries across the wider construction industries, and vulnerable road users."

It was not accurate to report WorkSafe had "dropped" the prosecution or done a "deal", she said.