One of Australia’s largest business lobbying and training groups has hit back at claims it knowingly sent a young apprentice to an unsafe workplace about which it had serious safety concerns.
Xi Lei (Dillon) Wu, a 20-year-old engineering apprentice, was employed by Ai Group and was on a placement at Melbourne-based tanker manufacturer Marshall Lethlean when he died on-site on 4 October.
According to a report by the ABC, Ai Group Training Services (AiGTS) had carried out a safety audit on Marshall Lethlean just a month before Mr Wu was deployed to the company, which identified a number of serious safety concerns.
The report suggested Ai Group had uncovered “11 high-priority safety hazards”, which it presented to the company, but Mr Wu’s placement went ahead nevertheless.
According to the ABC, Mr Wu died alone while working in a confined space, having been overcome by fumes.
But Ai Group hit back at the assertion it knowingly placed Mr Wu in an unsafe environment.
“The suggestion that AiGTS knowingly placed an apprentice in an unsafe workplace is incorrect,” it said in a statement provided to My Business.
“All host employers sign agreements with AiGTS, which specifically require the host employer to ensure apprentices are supervised and monitored during their engagement. All hosts are required to follow clear AiGTS safety guidelines restricting apprentices being engaged in hazardous work, including confined spaces.
“Ai Group is deeply saddened by the tragic death.”
It also denied the ABC’s assertion that it had not been in contact with Mr Wu’s family.
“The ABC report suggests that Ai Group’s only contact with the family was to send them flowers. In fact, AiGTS expressed condolences to each family member on the day of the incident and several AiGTS staff members also attended Dillon’s funeral,” it said.
The company suggested that it too was waiting for answers and said that “as the host employer, only Marshall Lethlean Industries can comment on the circumstances and advise the family and us [as to] what occurred and why”.
“AiGTS has very limited information relating to the circumstances of Dillon’s passing. We have sought this information from Marshall Lethlean Industries; however, it has not been forthcoming.
“AiGTS cannot force an explanation from Marshall Lethlean Industries; as a result we are unable to supply any further detail to Dillon’s family or the media.”
It added: “AiGTS is concerned not to cause further distress and grief to Dillon’s family.”
Ai Group said it is “very committed to our apprentice program and safety is of paramount importance to us”, but because an investigation is still underway by SafeWork Victoria, it could not comment any further.
Comment has been sought from Marshall Lethlean.
The ABC reported that it received a brief statement from the company, in which it said it was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the incident.
“There is an ongoing investigation into this matter by WorkSafe Victoria. The company is fully cooperating with this process and will continue to do so,” Marshall Lethlean general manager John Zhang was reported as saying.
“It is also conducting its own enquiries into the circumstances surrounding the accident as part of its ongoing safety management process. As such, it is not in a position to comment on the causes of the accident at this stage.”
A spokesperson for SafeWork Victoria said “WorkSafe can confirm it is investigating the death of Mr Wu. As the investigation is continuing it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
The news broke just a day after an unrelated accident claimed the life of a man working at a Victorian power plant operated by EnergyAustralia.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.
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