Kate Cole

Kate Cole

Kate Cole

Occupational Health and Hygiene Manager,

Sydney Metro, Recipient of a Winston Churchill Fellowship, 2016

My academic achievements

Bachelor of Science - Biotechnology

Master of Environmental Engineering Management

Master of Science, Occupational Hygiene Practice

Churchill Fellowship Title

Investigating best practice to prevent illness and disease in tunnel construction workers

Why I chose this topic

Australia is in the midst of an infrastructure boom, planning to tunnel further in the next 7 years than we have in the past two decades. Tunnel construction represents a vital part of building Australia’s infrastructure and services. However, it brings many chronic health hazards that present significant risks that require effective control, such as silica dust exposure.

In comparison to the general construction industry, tunnel construction workers have an increased risk of developing silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), adverse respiratory symptoms, decline in lung function at double the rate of heavy smokers, asthma, general airflow limitation, and lung cancer, and thus represent a high-risk work group.

This Churchill Fellowship seeks to define international best practice in preserving the health of these workers and apply those learnings to Australian tunnelling. The aim is to ensure that we deliver world class infrastructure without it being at the expense of the health of thousands of Australian tunnel construction workers. 

How my Churchill Fellowship relates to my work

A key part of Sydney Metro’s Health and Safety Strategic Plan is to drive continual improvement to enhance our health and safety performance. As part of that process, many of the findings and recommendations from the Churchill Fellowship are in the process of being implemented across the Sydney Metro program. The Fellowship was an invaluable piece of research to enable further improvements to push the boundaries of “good practice” to “best practice” across Australia’s largest public transport infrastructure project.

Challenges in my area of research

One of the largest challenges for occupational health is raising awareness of health risks and the importance of controlling chronic health hazards such as silica dust. As the health effects may not be immediately evident, it can result in a relatively low level of awareness of the insidious health effects that develop years after exposure.  While this Fellowship sought to understand best practices in the control of those health risks, it also aims to raise awareness of the importance of implementing a systematic approach to health, just like safety.