Two recent cases illustrate the disastrous consequences of unsafe work practices in an on-hire environment.

One case centres around a 2009 incident, where an on-hire worker's leg was crushed by a 1.7-tonne steel frame while he was dismantling a sinter cooler at BlueScope's Port Kembla steelworks.

Surgical attempts to save his leg were unsuccessful and it was amputated below the knee, leaving the worker with phantom pains, recurrent infections, and an "arthritic, painful and dysfunctional" knee.

The on-hire worker received more than $2.2 million in damages from the main site contractor, Transfield, and Thomas & Coffey, which had been retained to dismantle and relocate the cooler.

(Shortlist subscribers can log in to read the full details of the case here, or sign up for a free trial to take a look.)

The case that I found particularly sad, however, was the story of an on-hire worker whose co-worker attempted to murder him.

At the time, both workers were undertaking a three-and-a-half week customer-service training course with Optus before officially beginning their placements.

I won't pore over the details of the case. Suffice to say, events culminated in an incident where the attacker lured the on-hire worker to the edge of the balcony and attempted to throw him over the edge.

(If you're not a Shortlist subscriber, you can sign up for a free trial here to read the full story.) 

The on-hire worker received nearly $3.9 million in damages from Optus for the personal injury and mental harm he suffered after the incident, which left him chronically and severely disabled.

While the legal consequences for Optus were enormous, this event was literally life changing for the on-hire worker, who was just 20-years-old at the time of the incident.

Justice Stephen Campbell expressed it best when he said the "psychiatric injury is in a near-catastrophic category. His previous hopeful life having been virtually destroyed by the consequences of the attack on him".

"It seems to me that even if he improves to the extent where his life becomes more organised and ordered he would be unlikely to function in anything like a normal way," he said.

When workplace safety is compromised, the monetary and reputational risks can be astronomical, but it's the chance to prevent something like this happening to another worker that should drive both on-hire and host clients' safety efforts.

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