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Grant Cunningham wins first AWU Yossi Berger Award

January 30, 2020

The inaugural Yossi Berger Safety Award has been presented to Grant Cunningham, an AWU delegate at Liberty Primary Steel in Whyalla, South Australia. The award was presented by National Secretary Daniel Walton, and South Australian Branch Secretary Peter Lamps at the work site.

“At the AWU, nothing is more important to us than ensuring our members get home safely to their families at the end of the working day,” said Daniel.

“We are very proud to give the inaugural Yossi Berger Award to Grant and his team for their hard work in improving worker safety at Liberty Steel. Their collective efforts have led to the elimination of a major hazard and created a much safer workplace for our members.”

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton, Grant Cunningham,
and AWU South Australian Branch Secretary Peter Lamps

The award is named in honour of long-time AWU National OHS Officer Yossi Berger, who campaigned tirelessly for workplace health and safety throughout his career and helped shape the standards still seen on many worksites today. Yossi passed away in December 2017.

An AWU member for over 15 years, Grant first became a delegate in 2016. He worked at the Rolling Mill as an operator, until a workplace industry removed him from the floor. “I was put in the office and given a special projects role to upgrade some things that happened around in the mill,” Grant says.

It was the start of some site-wide changes. “We had a third incident where the bar went straight over the humpy, and I was given the role to sort this out. I proposed a plan to move the humpy from the west side of the inspected shed to the east and build a new cover. That was a massive success and took them out of the line of fire.”

Grant’s nomination form specifies a number of key improvements to worksite safety, including a new design for storing heavy cobble chain, which minimises human interaction and constructing a steel barrier to protect the Finishing End Crane.

“I went into a couple of pulpits, where they cut cold steel,” Grant remembers. “The decibel reading was at 112, and the highest safety rating is 89. We got it down to 57 decibels with soundproofing.”

“They’re stupid little things – like a big shed that people operate a wheel in that didn’t have any door. So we made up these big new doors so they don’t have to get wet. We don’t have to be like dinosaurs when we’re out working.”

“They definitely improved morale.”

As well as multiple improvements to machinery and conditions, there has been a huge recruitment for safety officers. Numbers rose from 6 to 22, almost four per shift. “When we have safety meetings, the room is full. Everyone is invigorated because they get a say. They go back to their area and inform people.”

With these changes, Grant opened a new line of communication between workers on-site and the management team. Rather than just speaking on behalf of his workmates, Grant inspired them to come forward and speak out, which has changed the way workplace safety is viewed as a whole.

“This has created an atmosphere at Steel Products, where the workers feel encouraged to bring thoughts and ideas of improvement to management, and have the confidence that they will be treated seriously and with respect,” Peter Lamps wrote when nominating Grant on behalf of the South Australian branch.

The team at Rolling Mill

Liberty Steel has also recognised Grant’s efforts at Rolling Mill, and he was nominated for the Liberty Primary Steel Chairman’s Award for outstanding efforts in safety.

Grant’s experience gave him a unique point of view, and served as a strong reminder to management of the risks on-site. “By living and go through this incident that happened in the inspection bed, I gave them power through the negotiation and consultation phase, and now they do get a say,” he says. “Management took that into consideration. I think that’s empowered them to be able to speak now.”

Grant paid tribute to the power of unionism and of everyone working together. He says the credit goes to his fellow mill workers, management staff, and the AWU, who supported and carried out his recommendations. The improvements on the site would never have gone ahead without their assistance.

“It definitely was a team effort from Shane Karger, Richard Cass, Mark Watford, Neil Simon – without them, I wouldn’t have been successful. I’ve only been the frontrunner of instigating. I’ve just been the voice of the people to initiate getting the work done to management.”

Grant also gave a special thanks to his former organiser. “Scott Martin helped me throughout my injury and after, with my transition into the office. We had meetings with Mark Watford and upper management, so a big thanks to Scott.”

While he may have been awarded the trophy, in Grant’s eyes, the Yossi Berger award recognises the collective efforts of all workers at Rolling Mill. “It’s a team win, it’s not myself,” he says.

“I’d rather be at the back of the line than the front of the line.”

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