Paving the way for bitumen safety

The Be Bitumen Safe online training platform aims to prevent work site accidents, for operators working with hot bitumen.

Developed by the Australian Flexible Pavement Association, the Be Bitumen Safe online training platform is being implemented by Main Roads Western Australia to ensure the safety of operators and bystanders from projects involving bitumen.

Throughout his time as the Director of Term Contracts at Main Roads Western Australia (Main Roads WA), Domenic Palumbo has seen an increase of road construction related injuries within the sector.

“In Main Roads WA we see quite a lot of safety issues across the industry. After undertaking an analysis, I found that, over a 24-month period, there were about 2600 incidents, which were largely reported by contractors,” he says. “A closer look at these reports shows the frequency rate has actually increased over that period.”

In order to reduce this frequency rate, the Australian Flexible Pavement Association (AfPA) has launched the Be Bitumen Safe industry skill card and online training program, with the full support of Main Roads WA. The training program provides education and instruction for all personnel who come within 15 metres of hot bituminous materials and asphalt at any time.

The training has been developed for participants to complete the course on both mobile and personal computer platforms and can be completed offline. Upon completion of the program, participants will gain a greater understanding of the basics of bitumen, safety culture, first aid and identifying risks and hazards related to hot bitumen and asphalt.

Palumbo says Main Roads WA identified the potential of the training course following discussions with AfPA.

“When AfPA first approached us on the subject and told us that its members had committed to the training for the safety of their employees, we simply took it on board and said that we would like to align with this vision,” he says.

“Training is always a great opportunity to improve on the situation. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to investigate 2600 incidents. But if we are able to reduce this figure, then that is a significant volume of resources saved.”

Modern causes

During his analysis of work-related incidents, Palumbo says he was able to identify shared causes between cases.

“When we looked at these incidents, we have assessed that a third of these accidents were simply down to somebody doing the wrong thing at the wrong time,” he says.

He also observes that external pressures, as well as the modern requirements of the industry can, in some cases, contribute to hazardous behaviour being undertaken.

“I believe that workloads are slightly increasing every year, so workers are expected to do a little more than they have done previously, which can create pressure on contractors to complete projects quicker,” Palumbo says.

“Also, about 30 years ago, there were lifelong, skilled workers in the industry. Generally, these workers started in a job and retired doing that job. That is no longer the case, meaning that workers may be engaging in work with limited experience and training.”

Palumbo also believes that increased congestion and traffic volumes have been a contributing factor to creating a “recipe for things to get worse.”

An encouraging foundation

So far, the Be Bitumen Safe online training program has been completed by 342 individuals, including 128 from Main Roads WA. Palumbo says he is impressed with the participants’ support for the course so far.

“In my view, that is a great uptake. I think the main driver for the training is to introduce some formality. Putting this training in place helps to support these formal mitigation measures. It will help to take bystanders out of harm’s way, and it puts required personnel on a structured process, particularly if they are new to the industry,” he says.

“With representatives from the Public Transport Authority of Western Australia and companies such as WA Stabilising having completed the training course, it’s a boost for road, building and maintenance projects in the state,” he adds.

Apart from greater workplace safety, Palumbo says another beneficial outcome of the training course would be better personnel retention – something that’s been a challenge for the local industry.

“With the difficulty to find workers in Western Australia, the last thing a contractor would want to do is to take any of their staff out of the equation, even for a short period of time. So, whenever we have a chance to deter a high risk incident, that is meaningful,” he says.

The Be Bitumen Safe course will be mandatory for operators who want to work on major projects throughout Western Australia. There has also been a planned expansion of the course to be rolled out across other states and territories.

Palumbo says amendments to the mandates are possible, following further analysis and feedback from the training program.

“We started with the first stage of the training, which was focused more on safety. We have discussed potential outcomes for the program in the future. If we think that a lack of training on the technical side is still an issue, then we may look to mandate that as well,” he concludes.

For more information on AfPA’s online training, visit:

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