The Royal Commission report into the so-called ‘botched pink batts rollout’ is due to be handed down next week. According to Alan Austin, who presented a sworn statement and followed the public hearings closely, the Commissioner has failed to allow public presentation of evidence in several crucial areas.
Pink batts Royal Commission submission: Part Four
A dangerous industry criminally unregulated through the Howard years
This is part four of Alan's submission (edited only slightly for format).
Deficient regulation of the insulation industry
Seven reasons were cited above (in the second article in this series) why the home insulation program (HIP) turned out to be one of the most effective national stimulus programs implemented anywhere in the world, if not the most effective.
Unfortunately, the sixth item was soon discovered to be problematic:
'6. Being well-established in all states, the industry was already regulated with safety, training, inspection and rectification procedures and documentation in place.'
It was found that the self-regulation regime bequeathed to the new Rudd Government by previous state and federal governments was, except in South Australia, grossly deficient.
As Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes observed:
'Prior to the HIP, the home insulation sector had no mandated training or skill requirements, training levels and barriers to new entrants. At the inception of the HIP, South Australia was the only State with licensing requirements for insulation installers.'
'The Commonwealth had no regulatory powers to enforce compliance with any laws. However, it could deregister an installer from the HIP if they breached guidelines.' 
As these deficiencies became apparent, the government’s actions included the following:
- early March 2009, DEWHA advertised for a risk assessment consultant;
- 13 March, DEWHA retained Minter Ellison Consultants to develop a risk matrix;
- 20 March 2009, insulation industry consultation meeting convened to form three working groups – training, technical compliance and regional delivery;
- 23 March 2009, risk identification workshop held to provide briefing on project issues and risks, review outcomes of preliminary analysis and decide next steps;
- April 2009, Energy Efficient Homes Package technical safety workshop held;
- 3 April 2009, training workshop convened to deal with industry entry level and requirements for the experience and training of supervisors;
- 7-9 April 2009, feedback received on Minter Ellison’s HIP Risk Register;
- 9 April 2009, the Risk Register finalised;
- 30 April 2009, first industry training meeting;
- 6 May 2009, CPSISC retained by DEEWR to develop materials for recognised training providers to train installers in all states;
- 7 May 2009, Risk Register updated to deal with incorrectly installed product and corrective action to ensure state programs had robust compliance arrangements;
- 8 May 2009, the Project Control Group met and amended the Competency Requirements and Terms and Conditions related to supervision;
- 1 June 2009, Version 2 of Energy Efficient Homes Package Program Guidelines released, with eligibility and compliance details for homeowners and installers;
- 9 June 2009, the Installer Provider Register was opened;
- 16 June 2009, Minter Ellison proposed a project management health check be undertaken with Ms Coaldrake to complete;
- 24 June 2009, the Risk Register was updated to include reference to unsafe incorrectly installed product leads to fire/damage;
- 29 June 2009, Installer Provider Register launched; insulation industry consultation held to deal with suppliers without training and qualifications;
- 29 June 2009, first HIP Installer Advice issued. Topics included updating registration details online and provision of guidelines to householders;
- July 2009, registered installers allocated a unique Energy Home Package number;
- 1 July 2009, Installer Provider Register established; first version released of requirements for Installer Provider registration;
- 15 July 2009, second Installer Advice issued. Topics included information displayed on the Installer Provider Register and insurance certificates of currency;
- 22 July 2009, third Installer Advice issued. Topics included claims for payment, training availability and the ‘SkillsInfo’ website;
- 31 July 2009, Risk Register updated again to cover unsafe or incorrectly installed product leads to fire/damage, injury or death;
- 4 August 2009, CPSISC provided DEWHA with copy of final training products and the Ceiling Insulation – Construction Industry Pocket Book;
- 6 August 2009, fourth Installer Advice issued. Topics included registration conditions, non-compliance risks and program guidelines for households;
- 7 August 2009, manufacturer’s meeting held to discuss product demand;
- 10 August 2009, roof inspections commenced;
- 12 August 2009, pocket book available for download from the Internet with warning concerning foil insulation electrical safety. It stated in bold red writing ‘Warning: the practice of RFLs to ceiling joists poses a high risk of electrocution’;
- mid August, Electrical Safety Office (ESO) senior management met and agreed to extend compliance audits and undertake electrical safety program in Queensland;
- mid August 2009, ESO amended its insulation audit tool to include a question relating to foil insulation. This alerted inspectors to the additional safety concerns;
- 24 August 2009, fifth Installer Advice issued. Topics included partial installation of ceiling insulation, availability of some materials and program take up;
- 27 August 2009, compliance database operational;
- 27 August 2009, sixth Installer Advice issued with updated information;
- 27 August 2009, Risk Register updated again;
- 1 September 2009, release of second version of Competency requirements for registration on the Installer Provider Register;
- 1 September 2009, release of Version 3 of Energy Efficient Homes Package, Home Insulation Program, Program Guidelines;
- 1 September, Version 2 of the Installer competency requirements also released;
- Sept 2009, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) retained to provide audit and compliance service;
- 2 September 2009, seventh Installer Advice issued. Topics included physical site inspection, training qualifications and increased compliance and audit checks;
- 19 September 2009, ESO conducted an Insulation Installer presentation, including a PowerPoint presentation dealing with staples through electrical cable with foil;
- 10 September 2009, ESO conducted an Insulation Installer talk to 18 participants;
- 11 September, eighth Installer Advice issued. Topics included pricing table in the new program guidelines, physical site inspection and how to lodge a complaint;
- 21 September 2009, desktop audits commenced by PwC;
- 29 September 2009, ninth Installer Advice issued. Topics included safety issues with down light clearances and requirements of a supervisor;
- 29 September, PwC commenced roof inspection regime conducted through UGL Services. This sought to complete 11,000 random and targeted roof inspections;
- 1 October 2009, Risk Register updated again. Reference to ‘unsafe or incorrectly installed product leads to fire/damage’ was included.
- 9 October 2009, tenth Installer Advice issued. Topics included audit program roll-out, site inspections and work order forms.
Plus many other actions not listed. (This list is drawn primarily from the report of Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes, 4 July 2013. )
These were all proactive preventative measures, taken before the first fatality on 14 October 2009. Clearly the government was aware of dangers inherent in the industry and the state of under-regulation it had inherited.
Questions this list raises include:
- Why was an established industry with a history of fires and accidents worldwide, including in Australia, so poorly regulated when the GFC hit in 2008?
- Why were training resources so inadequate?
- Why was the frenzy of new regulations, procedures and training guidelines necessary at all?
- Why were they not already in place?
The Rudd Government did nothing to make roof cavities more dangerous or render Australian workers less amenable to training. All it did was increase installation volume.
Regulations which ensure safety and honesty when a hundred houses per month are insulated should not need to be different from those for a thousand houses or ten thousand.
The Government in office when the GFC hit appears to have acted swiftly and effectively under great time pressures to ameliorate the safety risks as they became known through 2009.
The Government from 1996 to 2007, when the industry was expanding significantly, in contrast, appears to have failed to monitor and deal with these risks. It did not even provide a record of injuries and deaths which occurred in the industry during that period.
You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing. Coming soon: Part Five: dramatic reduction in workplace fatalities during the pink batts scheme.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License