A string of assessment errors and too much haste led to the death of two workers at a remote Pilbara construction camp that was smashed by a cyclone.
Kitchenhand Debra Till, 47, and excavator operator Craig Raabe, 42, died from their injuries in March 2007 after Tropical Cyclone George crashed through transportable accommodation units that housed workers for the Fortescue Metals Group project.
The West Australian Coroner’s Court heard during an inquest in December that the Shire of East Pilbara’s then-building surveyor didn’t understand what the co-ordinates he was given meant but relied solely on them, even though he’d been told the camp would be built about 90km inland from Port Hedland and 15km northeast of Wodgina.
The coordinates were entered into a computer but the location was visually picked out on a wall map – with the surveyor incorrectly determining the site was in a rural area with low cyclone risk.
It was in fact in a region prone to cyclones.
The transportable buildings were therefore of an inadequate standard, an error that was not identified until after the cyclone had devastated the camp.
Coroner Ros Fogliani said in findings handed down on Thursday that the inquest highlighted the dangers of construction compliance failures combined with expediency.
“Rail Camp 1 was a substantial project and it beggars belief that persons responsible for the design, building and licence approval kept making, essentially, the same error regarding the wind region,” she said.
“Over the entire timeline of the project, there were numerous occasions when the wind region error could, and should, have been identified.
“On each such occasion, through inattention, the error was not identified.
“That there may have been time pressures are not an adequate excuse for that inattention.”
In handing down her recommendation, Ms Fogliani said there was still no readily accessible method by which a local government authority or building surveyor could ascertain the “smoothed coastline” – an idealised outline with small irregularities removed – from which the measurement to calculate the correct wind region is taken.
She suggested the Australian Building Codes Board look into making a large-scale map that shows the smoothed coastline and delineated wind regions available on the internet.