Further details emerge about NBN Katoomba fatality


news A raft of further details have emerged about the second National Broadband Network-related fatality to take place in the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba earlier this month, including photos of the location where the tragic accident took place, as well as some of the circumstances involved.

Early this moth, the NBN company issued a very short statement noting that it had been advised of a “reported fatality” of a contractor working for one of the company’s delivery partners on the NBN network in Katoomba.

Police closed Katoomba’s Station Street at the time for a period, and the Blue Mountains Gazette reported that a man believed to have suffered “head injuries” in what the newspaper called “an industrial accident”. The NBN company expressed its sadness regarding the accident but has withheld any further details from publication.

The Irish Times has since named the worker as being Paul Walsh, a 37-year-old Irishman who was had been living in Australia for about eight years. Walsh’s former sporting club in Ireland had issued a statement stating its sadness about the loss and passing on best wishes to Walsh’s family. It also held a minute’s silence before a match. Walsh is reportedly originally from Rhue in Tubbercurry.

In a statement released yesterday, the Communications Workers Union revealed the worker was killed as the result of a “drilling” accident.

“The worker was employed by Rockfield Contracting which specialises in boring and drilling services,” the union wrote. “Rockfield was in turn a sub-contractor of Visionstream which is one of nbn’s “delivery partners”.”

In photos sent in by a Delimiter reader, several industrial machines can be seen in the area where the accident occurred on that day.

The reader said that there were often a number of workers in Station Street, with the construction work in that location having been under way for about three weeks. The readser had seen what they described as a ditch digging machine, a cable pulling machine, and associated transport vehicles.

The CWU wrote in its statement that the death highlighted the dangers which the union believed were inherent in the workforce model being used on the NBN contract.

“As the CWU has repeatedly pointed out, this pyramid contracting structure leads to those at the bottom of the heap being exposed to the most risk,” the union wrote. “Those risks are both financial and, unfortunately, physical. Small operators at the base of the pyramid face tight margins, while training and supervision – the key to avoiding such accidents – represent costs.”

“So there is a constant pressure to cut corners when it comes to safe procedures and work quality.”

CWU President Shane Murphy called on nbn to ensure that subcontracting companies working on the project delivered a safe system of work for their employees. 

He also pointed to the fact that directional drilling machines such as the one involved in this incident can be operated without any certification. 

“No ticket is required to operate the drilling machine Walsh was working with when he died,” he said. “The CWU urges the Federal Government, nbn and Comcare to ensure there is mandatory training and certification for all workers using drilling machines.”

However, the reader noted that from their observations, the construction crew on Station St appeared to have what he described as a high regard for work safety, with the operator of the ditch digging machine appearing to be “very skilled”. The reader had observed a fairly deep rectangular hole being dug in the area which had been fenced off overnight.

“There appeared to be some technical issues with the cabling operation as work was proceeding very slowly, the cable pulling often coming to abrupt halts over several days. This cabling operation was less than 100m,” they said.

The fatality is believed to be the second such incident to have occurred during the NBN rollout.

In May 2013, a similar incident occurred in the early NBN rollout zone of Kiama in the New South Wales South Coast.

At the time, a 57-year-old man was trapped between two trucks in the town and lost his life. A man was later charged with various offences, including negligent driving and driving with an illicit drug present in their blood.

The NBN is not the only project to have recently suffered fatalities with respect to the process of deploying telecommunications infrastructure in Australia.

For example, in February this year, it was reported that a Telstra worker had tragically died after falling off what is believed to be a mobile phone tower in the Adelaide River area.

Delimiter wishes to express our sincerest condolences to Walsh’s family.


  1. Couple of spelling mistakes, but beyond that, interesting read, and yeah, NBNCo should never have gone with the current contractor model, they should have been the ones at the top hiring the main people doing the work.

    Spelling mistake one: Early this moth (Second paragraph)
    Spelling mistake two: The readser had (Eighth paragraph)

  2. “…NBNCo should never have gone with the current contractor model, they should have been the ones at the top hiring the main people doing the work…”

    Why? Is it not possible for company-employed workers to have similar accidents?

    • It’s entirely possible. The point being made, however, is that without the ‘prime contractors’ clipping their share out of the moneys paid to the contractors doing the actual work, there might be less of a cutthroat approach to bidding, and perhaps a bit more time & effort put into non-financial aspects of the project, such as safety.

      It also would give nbn™ greater ability to emphasise safety requirements, even if attracting financial or temporal costs.

      The real question to be asked: what do the prime contractors bring to the table, for their $billions in fees, that a bunch of competent project managers employed by nbn™ couldn’t deliver for a fraction of the price?

      The answer, of course, is ‘shareholder value’, aka private profit, aka siphoning off a percentage of the cost of Australia’s public-funded infrastructure to line the pockets of people who already have them pretty well lined, thank you very much…

    • @Michael I bet you the level of accountability felt at the top MTM level is far less than if they were more directly employing people (Tragedy aside). There’s several layers between them and those which may or may not have done anything wrong leading to someone dying.

      I will agree though that shit does randomly happen, but one does hope this wasn’t an avoidable instance of that.

    • Accidents will still happen, even with the best governance principles in the world in place. This may or may not even have anything to do with governance and/or management principles. You could be sitting at footpath cafe and have a car plough into you, breaking your legs. Is that the cafe’s fault? Is that the driver’s fault? Is it the council’s fault for granting a footpath cafe permit? Is it the fault of the manufacturer of the chair you’re sitting on? Is it the vehicle manufacturers fault? Did the driver have a heart attack?

      I’m not trying to lessen the importance of the incident, but your risk management plans can only do so much. Unpredictable things sometimes happen, so to try and decide whether or not this is NBN Co’s problem or not, is frankly, over simplifying it.

      None of us even know the full details of what actually happened, so it’s pretty hard to sit behind a keyboard and say ‘it’s NBN’s fault’.

      For all we know it could have been the drilling rig hitting a tough piece of rock, jamming it, snapping the shaft, and flinging it up at the worker. No management plan in the world will overcome every obstacle.

      • As tragic as it is, the simple fact is that accidents happen. In a lott of ways, this isnt much different to the batt’s deaths, which were lack of training to subbies in a self governed industry. Broadly similar to here.

        We all know how negative that turned out to be, and I really hope this doesnt become the same, because it doesnt deserve it. Its just a sad event that hopefully creates change and reduces the chances of it happening again.

  3. “Delimiter wishes to express our sincerest condolences to Walsh’s family.”

    + 1 Renai

  4. Since the accident all work has stopped in Station St the tech told me that they had hit too much rock and they had flicked the problem upstairs. Most of the Nodes In Leura now have power connected, it takes about half a day for 2 guys and a cherrypicker. In Fitzroy St Leura there are 2 nodes about 150m apart.
    Today the node across the road from me had techs pinning out copper pairs onto the frame board in the old copper DA pillar, they had some rolls of copper pair wire and a lot of Fibre in green jackets, this job takes a couple of days, 2 guys. Hope they had some cable records.

  5. 2 fatalities so far? So, just two more until we reach “Pink Batts” and a Royal Commission.

  6. In my real life job, I often look after directional drilling crews. While… “incidents”… are common–and often expensive for the drilling company–fatalities are rare. Very rare. Injuries are also very uncommon, usually of the minor, “annoying” type.

    We haven’t been told what killed the man, so no conclusions are possible yet. “Head injuries” and “industrial accident” are as informative as silence here. How did they happen?

    I do have one comment, that “… the cable pulling often coming to abrupt halts over several days.” would indicate the ground was “dirty”, contaminated with rubbish like old building rubble and the like which would have been back-catching the reamer head on the drill-shaft with the high probability of cutting the cable, thus necessitating re-drilling and replacing the cut cable. This rubble would almost certainly have been noticed and commented on by the drill operator in the drill phase. But was it involved with Mr Walsh’s death?

    I too wish to express my condolences to Mr Walsh’s family.

  7. I have had sources inform me that North Katoomba NBN services will be activated on 18th September 2016, Malcolm promised 25/5mbps by September 2016. Katoomba is one of the few places that’s had his promises delivered the other 85% just miss out.

  8. Why is it so easy to point the finger? Could it just have been an accident? Or was it the fault of Mr Walsh? No one here knowns what really happened but everyone known who to blame!

Comments are closed.