A Victorian WorkSafe inspector finished a safety visit of a Melbourne factory just minutes before a young apprentice died at the site last month.
Dillon Wu is believed to have suffocated while working alone inside a large metal tank at the Marshall Lethlean transport tanker factory in Melbourne’s outer east on October 4.
ABC Investigations has obtained a WorkSafe report from the same day that shows an inspector was on site at Marshall Lethlean from 8:00am to 9:45am.
According to separate WorkSafe records, the 20-year-old died at “about 10am.”
“We can confirm that WorkSafe visited the site on the morning of the fatality in response to a service request about specific health and safety matters,” WorkSafe said in a statement.
“As our investigation into Mr Wu’s death is continuing, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
The report shows the inspector was responding to a complaint from staff about traffic management and safety meetings at the factory.
It says the inspector sought assurances from management that the safety issues would be resolved, and that he intended to return to the factory in three months to observe the company’s progress.
He also viewed a copy of a safety audit report compiled about six weeks earlier by Dillon’s employer, the Australian Industry Group.
An ABC investigation has revealed that Ai Group report catalogued 11 serious safety hazards — including a lack of proper procedures for working in confined spaces.
Despite those concerns being identified in August, Ai Group sent Dillon to Marshall Lethlean for his practical training in September.
He died while working in a confined space.
Ai Group’s chief executive Innes Willox said the safety issues outlined in the report “were not insurmountable”.
“All our indications were and continue to be that it was a safe place of work, but what occurred was a terrible tragedy, the details of which we don’t know,” Mr Willox said.
The ABC understands another Ai Group apprentice was due to begin work at the site a few weeks after Dillon, but withdrew from the program after learning of the death.
Marshall Lethlean has declined requests for an interview.
In the wake of the ABC’s report, the Federal Opposition said it was concerned about whether any Ai Group apprentices were currently deployed at “unsafe workplaces”.
“Labor is very concerned about this incident and whether it reveals a systemic problem with the way Ai Group approaches workplace safety,” Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said.
“Labor calls on [the Government] to undertake an immediate investigation into whether Ai Group has sent any other apprentices into worksites where workplace hazards existed.”
Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations, Kelly O’Dwyer, said the death of Dillon was tragic.
“I understand that WorkSafe Victoria is investigating the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on an ongoing investigation.”
Inspectors revisit troubled factory
Following Dillon’s death, WorkSafe has banned Marshall Lethlean from allowing staff to work in confined spaces.
The ABC has spoken to several Marshall Lethlean workers who say safety procedures have not improved since the incident.
A WorkSafe inspector returned to the factory on October 25 after receiving a complaint from a worker who claimed staff had been told to resume working inside tankers.
Management denied workers had been told to return to work in confined spaces, according to the inspector’s written report.
WorkSafe is now preparing an investigation into the circumstances around Dillon’s death.
In the meantime, Dillon’s family is desperate for information about the incident.
“We only got information from [his] colleagues. But nothing official,” said Dillon’s sister, Xinlei Wu.
“We really want to know what happened that day. From the start to the finish, what happened that day?”
In addition to the profound emotional toll, the family has incurred serious financial hardship in the wake of Dillon’s death.
His parents said they had to cover half the cost of his $30,00 funeral and paid for flights from China for multiple family members to attend.
Dillon’s father, Xiancong Wu, said it was unclear whether the family would be able to access life insurance his son was entitled to through his superannuation because he had no dependents.
“We have to suffer all the consequences, and there is no compensation for us,” he said.
“This is unimaginable. It’s truly unbelievable.”
Ai Group CEO Innes Willox said his organisation was open to speaking to the Wu family about compensation.
“I think it’s a conversation to be had,” he said.
“Our sympathies are very much with the family.”
Ai Group lobbies against industrial manslaughter laws
Dillon’s death comes amid a push for tough criminal penalties for employers whose workers die on the job.
A Senate inquiry last month recommended all states and territories introduce nationally consistent industrial manslaughter offences in workplace health and safety laws.
In May, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced Labor would introduce industrial manslaughter laws if it won this month’s state election.
Last year, the Queensland Government introduced a maximum 20-year prison sentence and a $10 million fine for employers found guilty of industrial manslaughter.
Ai Group has been among the most vocal opponents of the proposed changes to state and territory laws, describing the Queensland legislation as “poorly conceived and unnecessary”.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, which represents workers at Marshall Lethlean, said there is a need for tougher workplace safety regulations.
“That would wake employers up and really take notice about employees’ safety and making sure that they actually take that duty of care that they need to,” AMWU Victorian secretary Tony Mavromatis said.
Mr Willox said it was an inappropriate time to talk about changes to the law.
“This is a terrible tragedy and I wouldn’t like anyone — unions or anyone else — seeking to make some political capital out of this,” he said.
“Let’s just deal with this issue as it stands.”