Chapter Summaries

Part One - Dangers high and low

Chapter 1. 19th century: Free fall

The chapter sketches the deathtraps of an industry unregulated by the state and largely unchecked by organised labour.

Chapter 2. 1900-50: A hard half-century

The chapter documents the rate and range of injuries, the employers' resistance to Scaffolding Acts and to adequate inspection. The Australian Builders' Labourers' Federation battled to overcome these matters while educating a membership with high levels of churn at a time when reinforced concrete presented new hazards.

Chapter 3. 1950-2000: The harder they fall

Injuries boomed along with the economy on high-rises and mining projects. The collapse of Melbourne's Westgate Bridge took 35 lives in 1970. Self-criticism from a handful of employers did nothing to stem the labourers' assault on managerial prerogatives over on-site safety and conditions. That surge of worker control led to the ABLF's deregistration in 1974. By 1990, all States had revised their OHS Acts to place a nominal responsibility on employers to ensure safe workplaces.

Chapter 4. 21st Century: Frameworks for fear

This chapter examines the place of OHS in the ongoing effort to destroy the Construction Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. We interrogate the 2002-3 Royal Commission and the granting to its successor of police powers comparable to those against non-state terrorists. Those laws deprive officials of most rights-of-entry while trumpeting the ability of market forces to reduce injury levels, which remain 2-3 times greater than among the rest of the workforce.

Chapter 5. Hazardous knacks

To understand why the building trade has been the cause of so many deaths and so much disablement, we need to examine the minute-by-minute experiences of categories of labourers. Chapter five presents snapshots of three of the most hazardous forms of labouring - by demolishers, hod-carriers and dogmen. A chronological approach tracks the persistence of Dodgy Bros and accounts for the disappearance both of the hod and of riding the hook. Demolishers and dogmen had the highest number of fatalities. Dust exposed demolishers to respiratory diseases which killed them decades later; hod-carriers also died in falls while survivors limped away with industrial rheumatics.

Part Two - Dirt, disease, and discontent

Chapter 6. Health and diseases

For every labourer killed on sites, nine more die from work-related diseases. This chapter begins by criticising the paucity of research into health and safety, before surveying silicosis, asbestosis, poisons, dermatitis, hearing loss and skeletal damage. The discussion then shifts to provisions for inclement weather and the dilemma of dirt money. We end with yet more resistance from employers to regulating the risks they impose on labourers.

Chapter 7. Amenities

A seventh chapter sketches other aspects of building sites that affect health and safety, from lavatories to hot lunches. The effort to improve amenities will be examined through the provision of sheds, food and water, both hot and cold. The policy of pursuing dirt money and disability allowances to compensate for bad conditions is re-considered. The chapter concludes with five battles to civilise conditions: constructing the national capital at Canberra and the Victorian Electricity Commission in the LaTrobe Valley in the 1920s; the Civil Construction Corps during the First Pacific War; infrastructure for resources projects in Central Queensland, and, finally, high-rises during the 1960s. Although amenities are discussed separately from health and safety, they are connected in practice.

Part Three - Helping hands

Chapter 8. Benefits

This chapter looks at three ways in which labourers have supported each other against the consequences of harms inflicted at work. General comments on relief funds are followed by an account of funeral benefits, and then by provisions for slow or infirm workers.

Chapter 9. Compensation

Early reforms to compensation for injured workers came in two stages. In 1882, New South Wales followed the British parliament by introducing an Employers' Liability Bill. The inadequacies in that approach gave rise to Workers' Compensation Acts after 1900. The change in titles indicated that class pressure was tilting the onus of proof from worker to capitalist. The chapter follows labourers as they fought to improve compensation for the injuries discussed in the preceding chapters, culminating in the 1970s with the winning of average weekly earnings paid as soon as a labourer went off work. The conclusion recounts the resistance by Messrs Construction Capital to paying for their pounds of flesh, abetted by lawyers and insurers.

Part Four - "Killing no murder"

The tenth and final chapter looks beyond the building and construction industry to locate occupational health and safety within the needs of capital as they are advanced through its legal system. More than buildings rise on "a framework of human flesh". So too do the profits of Messrs Construction Capital. The first nine chapters carry our understanding of that process to the level of generalisation. The next step is to conceptualise the evidence by asking how the il-logic that compels capital to expand also requires it to feed off human capacities. The persistence of OHS offences makes sense once located within the dynamics and structures of capitalism. The case proceeds through four phases. The first is a reminder that the harms suffered by workers on-site are a microcosm of the violence that has nourished the accumulation of capital around the globe. The second section integrates the prevalence of workplace injuries with the mechanisms on which capital relies to expand, notably the disciplining of labour-time. A third section documents the class bias in the operation of OHS laws where offences are restricted, prosecutions rare, convictions even more so, and penalties light. The account concludes by showing why "legal reasoning" premised on "contract", "intent", "equality before the law" and "individualism as autonomy" cannot treat OHS violations as "real crimes", as is exemplified in the failure to legislate for industrial manslaughter.