TEENAGE apprentice Christopher Cassaniti was crushed to death when scaffolding collapsed on a Sydney building site in April last year, just months after a state government agency raised "grave concerns" with regulators about safety on the site.
A few weeks later another worker was killed after his head got stuck in machinery, on the same day as a construction worker fell eight metres from scaffolding and another suffered serious injuries when he was hit in the head by a steel pipe.
These are just two of the 162 workplace deaths in Australia last year, up from 144 the year before.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 500,000 people suffer workplace injuries or illnesses every year.
The Herald's opinion:Safety is a never-ending struggle in building industry
The latest Census data reveals the construction industry has the highest work-related injury or illness rate.
SafeWork NSW is the state watchdog tasked with policing workplace safety. A job, the nation's peak building union says is not being done well enough on some Hunter building sites.
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electrical Union (CFMEU) organisers have supplied a host of pictures and videos revealing alarming breaches of safety regulations on building sites across the Hunter, and claim it's only a matter of time before someone is killed or seriously injured.
When the Newcastle Herald went to SafeWork NSW in February with detailed questions about the issue, the regulator appeared genuinely keen to address the concern.
It was hardly surprising as in the same week the Berejiklian government announced proposed changes to the Work Heath and Safety Act so employers who put workers at risk of serious injury or death will face tougher fines and jail. The changes include a new offence of "gross negligence".
When in response to my 11 detailed questions, a SafeWork NSW spokeswoman requested a postcode range for the geographical area I was asking about so a search could be conducted of the regulator's database, I knew we were on the same page.
No one should die at work.
Questions about how many SafeWork NSW inspectors work in the Hunter and how many inspections they did last year, how many prohibition and improvement notices were issued and what other regulatory action was taken against builders breaking the law were of course in the public interest.
We all have a right to know.
Confirmed when SafeWork responded telling me there was a lot of data in the request and it needed more time to finalise the response.
The next afternoon when the spokeswoman asked for a chat to get a "better idea of what the story is going to be about", I agreed.
In a recent class for student journalists at the University of Newcastle, I stressed the importance of being fair.
The main, or any, subject of a story should know, in advance, what will be in the story.
This is not about seeking their permission, but in the interests of fairness they should never feel surprised when they read the story. They can feel angry or annoyed, even outraged, but they shouldn't feel surprised.
So despite the fact that I thought those 11 detailed questions spelt it out quite clearly, I called the SafeWork NSW spokeswoman and elaborated further.
Among other things I told her there was some criticism of the watchdog for not doing enough to crackdown on rogue builders who were putting workers at risk.
The conversation ended politely.
Then two hours later I received the much-anticipated response. Four lines that said absolutely nothing except that SafeWork NSW inspectors had made 200 'visits' to Hunter building sites last year.
From 11 questions, there was four lines of government public relations speak designed to say nothing and avoid the issue.
Journalists unfortunately deal with this frustration every day. Gone was the detailed data that was taking some time to put together. Gone too was any concern about worker safety.
It was replaced with something that had been cleansed by a long line of senior bureaucrats paid far too much tax payer money to whitewash anything remotely controversial.
Welcome to a world where governments and government agencies simply do what they like, immune from questioning, cloaked in secrecy, with the people they govern told to cop it, whether you like it or not.
In the face of increasing attempts to suppress information, the Newcastle Herald was one of many news outlets last year to join an unprecedented campaign to defend growing threats to freedom of the press in Australia.
Rather than comment honestly, and allow public debate about important issues like Australians dying needlessly at work, the government goes into silent mode. Save any embarrassment about SafeWork NSW's lax regulation or under resourcing of inspectors.
Uncovering these issues on behalf of the public's need for information is the point of the Your Right to Know campaign.
The secrecy is no joke.
Just ask Patrizia and Rob Cassaniti, who have bravely taken up the fight for improved worker safety and tougher penalties for negligent employers following the death of their 18-year-old son Christopher who tragically never came home from work.