The Tombstone Imperative

Sketch of the collapse from the inquest files VPRS 24P3 Inquest Deposition Files, unit 120There is a term in aviation safety, called “The Tombstone Imperative”.  Yes, it’s a bit of gallows humour.

The term means that a fault or flaw will not be fixed until the costs of the deaths outweighs the cost of fixing the problem.

Health and Safety laws in Victoria received a massive kick-start 40 years ago today.  35 construction workers lost their lives on 15th October 1970, when, during construction of the West Gate Bridge, span 10-11 collapsed and fell 164 feet.

There are many factors which led to the span collapsing.  If I had to name one, I’d say the rush to get the project finished.  It was running behind.  The rush led to construction management taking decisions which cost lives.

The 35 workers deaths weren’t in vain.  In the words of survivor Tommy Watson

“In those days, we didn’t have legal rights around safety like we do today, we couldn’t get an independent engineer to look at it," he recalls. "It was all on the boss’s say-so and the engineer Jack Hindshaw assured us it was safe. His words were ‘If it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t be here.’ Well, he died and took 34 men with him. I learned from that day, to never, ever take the boss’s word on safety.”