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Tradie warrior comes out of retirement to fight for workplace safety

Retired mechanical fitter Neil Byrne is fighting for workplace safetyA lifelong mechanical fitter has come out of retirement to help lead a UnionsWA fight for better workplace safety in the face of more than $4 million in proposed government cuts to WorkSafe.
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The proposed government cuts include the loss of funding for 10 WorkSafe inspectors who investigate workplace accidents.

Neil Byrne, 80, said that he had been motivated to come out of retirement to make a stand in keeping workers safe.

“Over my working life as a mechanical fitter in the power industry, I’ve witnessed work injuries and fatalities that should not have happened,” he said.

Mr Byrne remembered a fatality at the old East Perth power station where a painter was electrocuted by 66,000 kilovolts.

“There was a huge flash and a ball of fire and that was the end of him. His charred body couldn’t be touched it was so hot,” he said.

It was incidents like that which inspired Mr Byrne to become a champion for safety during his 35 years as a tradie and another 12 working for the metalworkers union in education and health and safety.

His early campaigning work led to the original establishment of WorkSafe.

“These WorkSafe staff have not yet been made redundant – if we act now we can overturn this terrible decision,” Mr Byrne said.

UnionsWA and Save Our Services, a community campaign led by public sector unions, will present a petition to state parliament on Thursday.

The petition calls on the Barnett Government to overturn the planned cuts.

Secretary UnionsWA, Meredith Hammat, said the campaign focused on ensuring people returned home from work safely.

“When family members go to work, we expect them to come home,” she said.

“A cut of $4.1 million to the WorkSafe budget threatens their safety.”

Ms Hammat said the cuts sent the wrong message to workplaces in WA.

“Many of these are in high risk industries like agriculture, transportation, construction and resources,” she said.

The campaign also includes videos, letterbox drops and door-knocking in marginal electorates held by the Barnett Government.

“Every injury and every work fatality should be a reminder that the government gives a low priority to work health and safety,” the UnionsWA secretary said.

Ms Hammat said promised reforms to work health and safety laws, begun in 2008, had been delayed by government incompetence.

“Now the government proposes to cut the number of inspectors responsible for investigating breaches of our laws,” she said.

The online petition can be found here. Follow WAtoday on Twitter

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