Bureaucrats knew the former Rudd government’s home insulation program carried a risk of fires, injuries and even deaths, an inquiry has been told.
Bureaucrats devising the pink batts scheme were repeatedly warned installers would die on the job if safety concerns weren’t properly addressed, an inquiry has heard.
One warning even highlighted dangerous installation practices that ultimately killed young Queenslander Matthew Fuller, seven months before his death.
Mr Fuller was one of four men who lost their lives under the former Rudd government program that’s also been blamed for at least one serious injury and hundreds of house fires.
The $20 million royal commission into the botched scheme on Wednesday heard how public servants were aware of serious safety risks before its rollout.
Environment department staffers knew shoddy insulations were likely to result in fires, injuries and even death by mid-March 2009, a month after the scheme’s announcement.
One insulation company specifically warned about the dangers of stapling foil insulation to roof timbers of existing homes in an email sent to senior environment department staffer Beth Brunoro on February 19 2009.
“… we need to heed the experience from New Zealand where three contractors doing this type of work were electrocuted,” the email warned.
Counsel Richard Perry, who is representing the Fuller family at the inquiry, asked Ms Brunoro whether she told her supervisor about the email.
“I can’t be sure,” she replied.
Mr Fuller was essentially stapling foil to roof timbers when he was killed in October 2009, Mr Perry said.
The email was one of many that raised concerns about safety risks inherent in the program.
An email from National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) to former environment minister Peter Garrett’s office on March 9 2009 raised the risk of new installers being ignorant about electrical safety hazards.
On Wednesday the inquiry was also shown a risk assessment document, developed before the scheme’s rollout, that identified the potential for dodgy installers and shonky installations under the program.
Counsel Assisting Keith Wilson asked Ms Brunoro whether it was right to assume from the document that the risk of injury, including death, to installers was likely.
“That’s correct,” she replied.
The inquiry also heard how installers were only given general safety inductions before getting into ceilings.
This was despite Ms Brunoro recommending a five-day course for new installers and the existence of a six-hour training course.
The royal commission, which began in Brisbane on Monday, has already heard how foil insulation was never considered a dangerous choice early on in the pink batts scheme despite the material being linked to the New Zealand deaths.
It’s also been told of how Ms Brunoro and her colleague Mary Wiley-Smith were given just two days to cost the program launched by ex-rime minister Kevin Rudd as a stimulus package.
The inquiry before commissioner Ian Hanger continues.