Issue 182 - SafetyNet Journal 182This is the year's second edition of SafetyNet - many subscribers were still on leave when 181 was posted, so welcome back to work! As usual, lots has been happening, including much on the OHS harmonisation front. Read all about it.
Activities for repsRenata accidentally sent SafetyNet Journal 181 out twice – we apologise to all our subscribers for any inconvenience!!
Update on National OHS harmonisation
How is the national harmonisation of OHS legislation going? The Workplace Relations Ministers Council (WRMC) on December 11 last year approved the model Work Health and Safety Act which will go to the federal parliament sometime in the first half of this year. The union movement believes the model is unsatisfactory and will provide lower protection for workers if adopted in Victoria. SWA has now moved on to the development of model regulations and codes – and we are fighting tooth and nail to maintain our current standards.
Read more National OHS Laws Update 3
The Parliamentary Library has released a background note that provides a chronology of the move towards national workplace safety and workers compensation systems. It notes that Victoria introduced the first OHS legislation in 1873, and South Australia the first workers comp legislation in 1900. The background note is concise and provides links to relevant pieces of legislation and information.
Where can I get practical advice on doing a risk assessment at my workplace?
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has developed a Risk Assessment Tools database with tools from all over Europe. The database is regularly updated, and risk assessment tools can be searched for in various ways, including by the topic covered, by sector or by country.
The most common risk assessment tools are checklists, which are useful to help identify hazards. Other kinds of risk assessment tools include: guides, guidance documents, handbooks, brochures, questionnaires, and 'interactive tools' (free interactive software, including downloadable applications which are usually sector-specific). There are both generic and risk-specific tools.
Ask Renata – if you have any ohs related questions, why don't you send me an email? Click on the Ask Renata button on the top right hand side of the homepage and send it in. Please note: If you've sent in a query recently but have not received a reply please email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with your original question.
PC draft OHS report – how big is the burden on business and workers?
The Productivity Commission draft report, Performance Benchmarking of Australian Business Regulation: Occupational Health and Safety, released on January 27, identifies differences in "burdens imposed on business" by occupational health and safety (OHS) regulatory regimes across the states, territories and the Commonwealth.
The report was requested by COAG as part of the commitment by all governments to remove unnecessary compliance costs, enhance regulatory consistency and reduce regulatory duplication and overlap. This is despite the findings of the ASCC in 2009 that workers bear much of the cost of workplace injury and illness. In 2005-06 the ASCC estimated that of the total cost of $57.5 billion:
- (only) under four per cent ($2.2 billion) was borne by employers
- 49 per cent ($28.2 billion) was borne by workers and their families
- 47 per cent ($27.1 billion) was borne by the community.
The report found that while 'OHS performance has been improving', as measured by compensation statistics, there are significant differences among regulators. It acknowledges that OHS injuries and illnesses 'tend to be under-reported'. In addition, data based on compensation statistics does not include self-employed or self-insured, and indicators underestimate 'long latency occupational diseases such as musculoskeletal disorders and cancers which can be difficult to attribute to work'.
In terms of psychosocial hazards, the report found this was an increasing area of cost with stress claims increasing (estimates include $14.8bn a year, not including the hidden costs, such as hiring and training employees to replace those who left as a result of workplace stress). 2.5 million Australians experienced some aspect of bullying during their working lives. No jurisdiction specifically regulates stress or bullying, though some jurisdictions have codes/guidance notes.
With regard to consultation, the report found research generally supports the proposition that joint arrangements, such as engaging with trade unions and ensuring trade union representation on health and safety at the workplace drive better health and safety than when employers manage OHS without involvement from employee representatives.
Changes to Victoria's compensation laws will harm workers
There are several decisions in the government's official response to the Final Peter Hanks Report of the Accident Compensation Act 1985 at the end of 2009 that, if passed into law will negatively impact and hurt Victorian workers, said Brian Boyd, Secretary of the VTHC. The most concerning are changes which extend exclusions for psychiatric injuries (including stress). The amendments will mean that a worker who suffers a mental injury caused wholly or predominantly by "management action" will not be entitled to compensation. "Management action" will include, but not be restricted to f14 separate actions which may be taken by management, such as performance appraisals, counselling, training, investigating or suspending workers.
Read more: Brian Boyd on the VTHC website
AsbestosTasmanian report calls for dedicated Asbestos unit
A report [pdf] commissioned by the Tasmanian government last year has recommended the establishment of a dedicated asbestos unit in Workplace Standards. The unit's role would be to drive overall government policy including areas such as long- term removal, training and licensing.
Workplace Relations Minister Lisa Singh said the report, prepared by the Asbestos Steering Committee, provided a "wonderful framework" to shape Government policy relating to asbestos. The report's other recommendations include having specialist asbestos inspectors for each region of the state; mandatory building inspections prior to granting demolition permits; asbestos listing as an essential safety requirement for building maintenance certificates; increased penalties for incorrect removal and disposal of asbestos; and compulsory disclosure of asbestos in residential rental properties, including financial incentives for landlords to remove asbestos.
Australian Workers Union Tasmanian secretary Ian Wakefield said the Government needed to implement all of the report's recommendations. "If the Government picks up these recommendations, we'll certainly be leading the country," he said.
Sources: The Examiner Workplace Relations Minister Media Release
Add your voice to Philippine union campaign to ban asbestos
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) is calling on the international trade union movement to support the TUCP/ALU/BWI campaign for banning asbestos in the Philippines. A proposed law banning import, manufacture, processing or distribution in commerce of asbestos-containing products has been pending with the Philippine Senate Committee on Trade and Commerce since 29 August 2007. You can help: Urge the Philippine Senate to pass the bill banning asbestos by sending a message.
The more asbestos ban is delayed, the more workers, their families and the public are at risk. The Philippine Senate Bill with proposed amendments seeks to minimize the risks of asbestos exposure.
From the UK Health and Safety Executive, as part of their Asbestos: The Hidden Killer Campaign, a HSE Podcast - Behind the scenes. Three apprentice engineers produced a video highlighting asbestos dangers for young people.
NanotechnologyQuestions on nanosilver and the environment
The USA Environmental Protection Agency has been asked to determine how to best regulate a growing class of products containing nanoscale silver particles. There are an increasing number of consumer products containing nanosilver, which has antimicrobial properties. It can be added to plastics - such as food containers, water bottles, shower curtains, and floor coverings - as well as to textiles and building materials including paints, caulks, and adhesives. The agency has jurisdiction because antimicrobials are considered pesticides and therefore fall under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). According to industry groups, little or no leaching of nanosilver will occur from nanosilver products, and therefore exposure to humans and the environment will be minimal. On the other hand, numerous consumer, health, and environmental groups emphasise that nanosilver products have novel properties that can pose different risks to humans and the environment than non-nanoscale forms of silver. Such groups are urging EPA to require the full range of toxicity data for all nanosilver products under its jurisdiction.
Read more: Environmental Science & Technology, 30 November 2009
Meanwhile, in Victoria, 'smart' clothing being spruiked
The availability in Australia of materials potentially containing nanosilver particles looks likely to increase significantly judging by a recent article in The Age: True blue 'smart' fabric more than just a high-tech yarn. Australian work wear company King Gee is using fabric utilising nanotechnology that absorbs body odour and 'is apparently so intelligent that it can also differentiate between a bad smell and a good one.' The fabric may contain nanosilver which kills bacteria/microbes which cause bad smells. The range of 'smart' clothing using nanotechnology includes shirts that roll up their own sleeves and socks that can mend themselves. The potential and very real risks of the new technologies – to workers, to the public and to the environment – are not even mentioned.
Read more on nanotechnology
Nano-materials in construction still limited, unlike expectations and uncertainties
Nano-products in the construction industry might pose new health and safety risks to workers. In the context of the European Social Dialogue, the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) and the European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC) commissioned a report on the availability and performance of nano-materials used in construction.
This report, published last December, is based on a European survey and interviews of architects, employers, workers and workers' representatives in 2009. The outcome of the survey shows that the number of nano-products for the construction sector is relatively small. However, nano-particles are expected to play an important role in material design, development and production for this industry. Nano-products are already found in nearly every part of an average house or building, for example self-cleaning windows and tiles, solar cells for energy supply, wall insulation, flame-retardant doors, windows and cables or optimized concrete structures.
The report notes there is a clear lack of awareness – eg 75% of construction workers and employers are not aware whether they work with nano-materials and indeed, most respondents work with cement or concrete products, coatings and insulation materials. In order to bridge the knowledge gap, the report recommends the precautionary approach, such as registration and notification systems, as well as nano reference values for a select number of high risk work activities.
Read more: European Trade Union Institute News item
Union News - InternationalNZ Unions welcome poisonings probe
The Maritime Union of New Zealand has welcomed new research on nerve disease and the toxic fumigant methyl bromide. Concerns were raised after port workers exposed to the gas developed Motor Neurone disease, with one port town having a rate of the disease 25 times the national average. Maritime Union general secretary Joe Fleetwood said reports of a possible link between methyl bromide and nerve damage, should be sufficient grounds for the suspension of all methyl bromide use while further research is carried out. Canterbury University professor Ian Shaw will undertake the research. But the union wants to know why the government did not act to have methyl bromide thoroughly investigated when these concerns were raised in the past. One of the biggest uses of methyl bromide is to fumigate logs in New Zealand ports and on ships, and waterfront workers and seafarers who were members of the Maritime Union often worked nearby. The Maritime Union and the NZ Council of Trade Unions (CTU) have argued for several years that methyl bromide should be banned. CTU president Helen Kelly said humans should not be exposed to the chemical, which also had a damaging effect on the ozone layer. A European Parliament ban on the use of the chemical takes effect from March this year, and New Zealand should follow its lead, Ms Kelly said.
Union media release
New TUC Guide on family-friendly working
The TUC last week launched its new Guide to family friendly working [pdf], a guide on how to persuade employers of the benefits of introducing family friendly policies at work. The TUC guide says that unions have led the way in calling for more family-friendly working. The issue is an increasingly high priority for unions, with work-life advice now the most popular equality issue that members ask their union rep for guidance on.
See also: Life-Work Balance
British unions welcome official recognition of Workers' Memorial Day
Last week the UK government announced that it would officially recognise International Workers' Memorial Day following widespread support from the public. Welcoming the Government's decision, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "This special day commemorates the many thousands of people who have died as a result of their work and we're pleased the Government has taken the step of recognising it. Workers' Memorial Day has been an important date in the trade union calendar for many years and we look forward to working with ministers to increase its profile."
TUC Media Release TUC Workers Memorial Day webpages Workers Memorial Day in Victoria
American steelworkers call for reform of toxic chemicals law
The United Steelworkers (USW), Learning Disabilities Association, Cancer Institute, and the Pennsylvania Nurses Association last week called for an overhaul of federal toxic chemical law (the Toxic Substances Control Act, 1976) to reduce the level of toxic exposures to workers, families and children. The group said being proactive about testing chemicals and for chemical exposure would not only save lives, but money. "It's not a matter of whether we test toxic chemicals. It's a matter of how we test them. Right now we test them in the bodies of our children, our consumers, our workers, ourselves. It's time to start testing chemicals in the lab, and to take action before anyone is harmed," said USW's director of Health, Safety and the Environment, Mike Wright.
A new report - The Health Case for Reforming Toxic Substances Control Act - shows that if there was a new health-based legislative framework to reduce chronic diseases caused by chemical exposure by 0.1 percent, it would reduce health care costs by, conservatively, US$5 billion a year.
Detergent exposure hard on workers' lungsFindings from two new studies suggest that workers in detergent factories are at increased risk of developing respiratory problems, including asthma, probably from exposure to chemicals contained in detergent. It was first recognised in 1969 that exposure to chemicals in powdered detergent caused job-related asthma. Since then industry has introduced measures for limiting workers' exposure, although outbreaks of occupational asthma still occur.
In the first study, Dr. Frits van Rooy of the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences in Utrecht, The Netherlands, and colleagues note that while workers exposed to detergents in liquid form are not considered to be at risk of these lung problems, their findings suggest that they should be. His team went into a liquid detergent factory of 106 workers, dividing them into three groups according to exposure. Workers in the highest exposure group had four times greater risk of itchy nose and sneezing than the lowest-exposure group, and risk of wheezing was tripled. Blood tests of all the workers showed that 14 percent were sensitised to at least one of the enzymes contained in the detergent; this meant their bodies were hypersensitive to the chemical, putting them at risk of developing an allergy to it.
In a related paper, Dr. Paul Cullinan of Imperial College in London and his colleagues report evidence suggesting that current standards for workplace exposure to powdered detergent chemicals are too high to protect workers from respiratory problems. The chemicals in question are enzymes (used to break down other chemicals, helping remove stains). There are four types of enzymes used in detergents. are proteases, which break down proteins; alpha-amylases, which break down starch; lipases, which break down fat; and cellulases, which break down cellulose, a major component of plants. Cullinan looked at workers in a European detergent factory and found that workers in areas where protease exposure was the highest were at double the risk of lower respiratory disease, while even lower exposures increased the risk of upper respiratory problems. Of concern is that the airborne protease concentrations found to produce these symptoms were well within current regulatory guidelines designed to protect workers' health.
Read more: Reuters Health, 27 November
Useful materials from the regulatorsWorkSafe Victoria
- There are a number of WorkSafe Week presentations now available to download on the WorkSafe website
- Using earthmoving equipment near overhead electrical assets - A handbook for workplaces Construction industry stakeholders were consulted in the development of this handbook, which provides practical advice on how to create a safe working environment when using earthmoving equipment near overhead electrical lines and assets. Using existing No Go Zone publications as its basis, it provides simplified guidance tailored to those who work with earthmoving equipment.
- Storage of flexible intermediate bulk containers This is a solution for storing flexible intermediate containers, developed in response to incidents, workplaces visited and Inspectors consulted to formulate solution.
- Lock Out Tag Out - Machinery and equipment isolation for food manufacturing operators - a training video providing information on isolation procedures for machinery and equipment in manufacturing. The video presents a real-life case study on a incident where a 15 year old boy working at a Victorian food manufacturing workplace had two fingers partially amputated while he cleaned a food packaging machine. The video can be used by employers as a staff training resource on isolation procedures.
From Comcare A Safety Alert on Quad bikes
From the UK's Health and Safety Executive (OHS regulatory authority) two great new pages:
- Load Safety - which demonstrates how secure loads safely on vehicles
- Shattered Lives Campaign site – to prevent injuries from falls from ladders and heights. The site has 'e-tools' for download and use, and also provides advice on how to reduce accidents in a number of industries including food and retail, hospitality, building and maintenance, construction, health services and education.
Manufacturer prosecuted for inadequate informationA County Court judge has convicted and fined Knoxfield company, Jalor Tools Pty Ltd $80,000 after it failed to provide safety information about its products to its customers. Jalor Tools pleaded guilty to two workplace safety charges relating to a router tool (bit) that broke into three pieces one of which struck a woman in the chest, killing her on 21 December 2006.
The woman was the daughter of the owner of an East Bentleigh door manufacturer and was using an industrial router to make the design on the front of a door when the router tool broke. WorkSafe's investigation of the incident found the tool was to be operated at between 6000 and 8000 revolutions per minute although it was actually operating around 15,000 rpm. Judge Phillip Coish said in manufacturing the router tool, Jalor Tools failed to mark it with a maximum operating speed, nor did it provide written information about the safe operating speed.
WorkSafe Media Release
Company in receivership convicted and fined $135,000
Flame Safe Fabric Specialists was a company manufacturing flame resistant cotton textiles; a large proportion of the process involved the use and handling of two corrosive chemicals (designated as Dangerous Goods). The prosecution was the result of two serious incidents in April and May of 2007. In the first incident, a worker lost sight of an eye, which later had to be removed altogether, after a chemical splashed into his eye. In the second incident, another worker was burned on the face, again after being splashed. Investigations by WorkSafe revealed that the employer: did not have a safe system of work in place; did not provide workers with adequate information, instruction and training; did not provide appropriate protective equipment; and had inadequate First Aid facilities. Magistrate Stella Stuthridge commented that the injury to the first victim was exceptionally serious, making him unemployable in any labour industry and that photographs revealed it would have been obvious to anyone that the work processes and environment was unsafe.