Issue 183 - SafetyNet Journal 183Welcome to SafetyNet 183. There have several issues in the media that bring home the importance of good OHS regulation and practice - and the tragedy when these are not in place. What's the VTHC perspective? Read on...
AsbestosTradepersons Still at Risk of Asbestos Exposure – SafeWork report
Safe Work Australia this week released the report Asbestos Exposure and Compliance Study of Construction and Maintenance Workers. The study looked at the current levels of awareness, worker compliance with legislation, the attitudes of workers and exposure levels to asbestos in construction and maintenance workers.
The study found that while most tradespersons were aware of the potential health risks of asbestos, this high level of general awareness is not accompanied by the knowledge of how to recognise asbestos or control the risks when working with it. Though tradies believe they can identify asbestos materials, in practice their ability to reliably identify them was limited. This was generally because their identification skills were insufficient, asbestos registers were often absent or inaccurate and few premises had labelling of materials or areas containing asbestos. Almost all tradespeople surveyed thought they could protect themselves from the risk of asbestos, but the overall level of compliance with safety procedures was much lower than was estimated by these workers.
In addition, the report found that there was inappropriate disposal of asbestos and contaminated materials.
Tom Phillips, Chair of SafeWork said, "It is concerning that although tradespeople have a high level of awareness and confidence in being able to protect themselves, this is not matched with the use of necessary safety precautions when working with asbestos."
SafeWork Media Release
MUA workers down tools over asbestos safety breach
Members of the Maritime Workers Union who have been shifting asbestos to Barrow Island for the Gorgon gas project are refusing to return to work until their safety is guaranteed. Workers were exposed to fibres from pellets dug up and transported from Barrow Island (Chevron). The Maritime Union of Australia is demanding an inquiry after laboratory tests confirmed workers had been exposed to asbestos while working on the $43 billion Gorgon project on the island. The alarm was raised when a Mermaid worker observed pieces of debris on pallets that appeared to be asbestos.
Source: MUA News
Scientists slam Canada's asbestos trade
Over a hundred prominent scientists in 28 countries have challenged Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who embarked on a trade mission to India on 31 January, to stop Quebec's export of asbestos to the developing world. The assault on Canada's deadly trade came ahead of the mission to India, a key export market for Canada's asbestos. A letter from the scientists notes that Quebec uses virtually none of the asbestos it mines and that its own health experts oppose the government's asbestos policy and have shown that in Quebec itself, it has been impossible to use any asbestos safely. The scientists say this shows a disturbing double standard that brings dishonour on Quebec's international reputation. On arriving in India, the Quebec leader was met by protests organised by unions and health activists. 'It will be remembered as an act of barbarism in the history of industrial development where asbestos was knowingly allowed to be used, and where workers were knowingly subjected to it,' Gopal Krishna of the Ban Asbestos Network India told a Mumbai press conference.
Read more Risks 442
Bullying and discriminationCommunity outraged at workplace bullying
A serious problem well-known to reps and unions came to the public's attention last week, when an employer, his company and three workers were fined a total of $335,000 in the tragic case of workplace bullying which directly led to the suicide of a 19 yr old worker, Brodie Panlock. The men were charged and pleaded guilty in Dec 2009 (SafetyNet 180). Brodie was subjected to bullying and demeaning behaviour by her colleagues and her employer, Marc Luis da Cruz, was aware of it and allowed it to continue. The tragedy is not only that Ms Panlock didn't speak up, but that her employer failed in his legal duty to provide and maintain a safe and healthy workplace. Melbourne Magistrate Peter Lauritsen said the working environment at Hawthorn's Café Vamp was poisonous and the persistent bullying of Ms Panlock was in the worst category, yet nothing was done to stop it.
WorkSafe Media Release ; The Age editorial and Article
The recent draft Productivity Commission Report (see SafetyNet 182) made the point that even though 2.5 million Australians experienced some aspect of bullying during their working lives, no jurisdiction specifically regulates stress or bullying. Despite representations from unions and promises from a previous minister it would be a code of practice, Victoria has a guidance note only. The lack of regulation in this area is not being addressed in the current program to harmonise OHS laws nationally.
The Minister for WorkCover, Mr Tim Holding, has responded to the case by announcing that the Brumby Government will step up an education, awareness and enforcement campaign aimed at stamping out bullying in Victorian workplaces. He refers to a new 'Respect at Work' campaign which will include a renewed focus on bullying from WorkSafe Inspectors. He said, 'the Government and WorkSafe will join forces with workers, employers, unions, industry groups and community organisations in implementing the campaign.' (Ministerial Media Release) It appears that the number of bullying complaints to WorkSafe has increased by threefold since the sentencing of Brodie's employer and fellow workers.
Brian Boyd, VTHC Secretary, welcomed the prosecution, but said the 'Respect at Work' campaign needs to make up lost ground. Bullying was an issue that unions have continually sought more action on. (Media Release)
Council agrees to enforceable undertaking following bullying incident
In another bullying case, Macedon Ranges Shire Council has entered in to a court-enforceable undertaking to develop a comprehensive anti-bullying strategy which will help workers and other councils across Victoria. The Council was charged with breaching Section 76 of the OHS Act - Prohibition on discrimination. The charges were withdrawn once the Council agreed to the enforceable undertaking.
Macedon Ranges Shire's enforceable undertaking follows incidents in 2006 in which a council employee was allegedly bullied by a manager. Systems in place to prevent bullying and provide for it to be addressed did not do so. The AIRC had found that the bullied employee was sacked for having raised an OHS issue. Through the terms of the enforceable undertaking, WorkSafe requires the council to make a range of safety improvements. These include engaging a WorkSafe-approved independent consultant to train all employees in identifying, preventing and managing workplace bullying, on-going refresher training, ensuring all managerial staff are accountable for OHS and return to work outcomes, training for community stakeholders, information sessions for other councils in the region, and an industry magazine article outlining its safety failings.
WorkSafe Media Release
NSW bullying victim awarded $500,000
A female bar worker in Sydney who developed a severe psychological condition after being subjected to "sustained intimidation, bullying and harassment" by her supervisor has been awarded more than $500,000 in damages.
Even though the Peakhurst Bowling & Recreation Club admitted liability for psychologically harming the 52-year-old woman, Justice Leonard Levy of the NSW District Court said that in determining damages it was relevant to deal with the circumstances that resulted in her claim. A psychiatric assessment found the worker now suffered from a serious and chronic generalised anxiety disorder with panic and agoraphobia plus features of post-traumatic stress disorder. She has distracting skin rashes, sleeplessness and recurrent nightmares, is significantly depressed and has exhibited persistent avoidance behaviour.
Justice Levy found that though the woman had intended to work until she was 65 or more, it was now "most unlikely" that she would return to paid employment because of her "disabling and ongoing psychiatric problems". The amount awarded to her included $117,000 for past loss of earning capacity and $12,870 for past lost super; $334,305 for future loss of earning capacity and $36,773 for future super.
Source: Workplace Express
What do I do if a member of my DWG has come to me with a bullying complaint?
The first thing is to offer your member support. Organise a quiet place to go through the complaint, gathering as much information as possible: who is the alleged perpetrator, incidents when he/she believes he/she was bullied, whether there were any witnesses, any other adverse outcomes (such as not being treated fairly), and so on. Check with the person that they want the matter to be taken further… explain that the first step may be to survey other members in the DWG to find out whether anyone else has had further experiences. Check whether your workplace has a bullying policy and procedure in place (there should be!) as a first step. If you feel you are able to, raise the matter with your employer and request the workplace procedure be implemented. Contact your union for more advice. Read more on Bullying
Ask Renata – if you have any ohs related questions, why don't you send me an email? Click on the Ask Renata on 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.
Fewer cabin crew – union concern on safetyThe Flight Attendants' Association has warned that safety standards will suffer as a result of a move to reduce the number of cabin crew on Australian aircraft. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority is moving to change the ratio of flight attendants to passengers from one to 36 to one to 50 for planes that can seat between 36 and 216. This would allow a cabin crew member to be removed on certain planes. While airlines have been pushing for this for a number of years, the union's international division secretary Michael Mijatov said, "In an emergency situation - by definition - in our view it would mean that passengers are placed at a greater risk. But it seems that commercial considerations are of paramount importance." A CASA spokesman said no changes would be made that would compromise safety in any way. He said, "Airlines will only be able to operate at the proposed ratio of one cabin crew member for every 50 passenger seats after they submit a detailed plan to CASA, which will show how safety will be maintained, especially during aircraft evacuations."
Source: The Australian
Government insulation scheme in crisisFollowing the death of another young insulation worker in Queensland, the fourth since the Federal government introduced the Home Insulation Program last year, the scheme is in crisis. After the third death in December last year, the Queensland government, followed by the other states, introduced compulsory training, but this has not prevented further tragedy.
The federal opposition has been attacking the Minister responsible, Peter Garrett, demanding that the Prime Minister sack him. The pressure on the minister grew when it was revealed that he and his department had received numerous warnings about the risks associated with installing the insulation.
But the Coalition is exploiting these tragic deaths to score political points against the Federal Government's economic stimulus program. ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the focus should be 'on prosecuting employers that have failed to provide a safe workplace and preventing any more deaths or injuries by improving safety and training standards, not a political attack.' When the Coalition was in government it blocked many improvements to workplace safety, including opposing industrial manslaughter laws in the Australian Capital Territory. Workplace safety is of the highest priority for unions. Ms Burrow said, "That's why the ACTU and the union movement have privately and publicly warned about inadequate safety and training associated with the insulation program, and renewed calls for it to be halted until it can be proved that tighter standards are in place to protect workers."
One of the major problems is the extremely popular scheme quickly soaked up all the available contractors in the industry, and this opened the way for fly-by-night contractors and opportunists with no experience. These companies employed unskilled and untrained workers. Recent media reports suggest that the three Queensland insulation companies whose staff were electrocuted while carrying out work under the federal government's environmental rebate scheme may face workplace charges. A Senate Inquiry into the scheme is being held in Melbourne.
Read more: ACTU Media Releases Deaths off young workers show Home Insulation Program needs much tighter safety and training Let's focus on improving safety among insulation employers The Brisbane Times
NanotechnologyProposed regulatory package for industrial nanomaterials
At the end of 2009, the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) initiated a stakeholder consultation process and issued a Discussion paper which proposed a regulatory package for industrial nanomaterials, both for new chemicals and for nano forms of 'existing' chemicals. The consultation period ended on February 12, 2010 and is now closed. The VTHC is concerned that the proposal does not go far enough, and there are also some fundamental problems with the definition of nanomaterials. Read more
New EU cosmetics regulation tackles nanomaterials
Nanomaterials used in cosmetics will need to be defined, assessed and labelled under a new EU cosmetics regulation. It was adopted by legislators in March and replaces a 1976 directive. In addition, the new rules strengthen controls on the use of carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) substances in cosmetics. The new CMR controls will apply from December 2010. Cosmetic products containing nanomaterials must be notified to the European Commission from January 2013. The European cosmetics industry association, COLIPA, welcomed the new regulation's "clear legal scope" and simplified administrative procedures. Consumer group BEUC welcomed requirements for nanomaterials in cosmetic products to be labelled. In the mean time, the European Commission is consulting until 31 January on the safety of dichloromethane and chloroacetamide when used in cosmetics. In addition, it held consultations on climbazole used in cosmetics until 12 February.
Silver is a potent nerve cell toxicant
A new study, by Powers et al titled: Silver impairs neurodevelopment: studies in PC12 cells, ( Environmental Health Perspectives), has found that silver has the potential to cause problems with nerve cell development at concentrations five times less than that of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a known nerve cell toxicant. The results provide evidence that silver can kill developing nerve cells and is even more potent than currently known neurotoxicants (substances that can harm or kill nerve and/or brain cells). The findings add more concern on the widespread and increasing use of silver in consumer products. Silver is a good antiseptic agent and is added to some products to reduce the growth of disease-causing microbes - it is usually in the form of silver nanoparticles. The recent and tremendous increases in the use of silver means there is a higher risk of human exposure to the metal. While it takes a relatively high amount of silver to cause illness or death in adults, it can pass from a mother to her foetus, creating concern that developing cells may be particularly vulnerable to silver's effects and that exposure at such an early stage may lead to neural development disorders in the children. During the new study, the researchers exposed rat nerve cells to various concentrations of silver and observed its effects on DNA synthesis, protein synthesis, cell growth and other parameters.
In addition, the cells' responses to silver varied dramatically – from subtle effects to death – across doses and developmental stages of the cells, making conclusions of what dose is "safe" very difficult to ascertain.
Environmental Health News, 21 January 2010
Union News - InternationalUSA: Training alone is never enough
A detailed review by the US government's occupational health research body NIOSH and researchers from Canada's Institute for Work and Health (IWH) has confirmed that health and safety training at work is a good thing, but will only result in safer, healthier workplaces if there is management commitment and worker involvement. The report concluded investment in training results in positive changes in worker knowledge and skills, attitudes, and behaviour. 'However, this research revealed that training as a lone intervention has not been demonstrated to have an impact on reducing injuries or symptoms,' Carol Merry Stephenson, chief of the NIOSH training research and evaluation branch, notes. 'For training to be effective in preventing occupational injuries and illness, it also requires management commitment and investment and worker involvement in a comprehensive hazard identification and risk management programme.' Government-backed research in the UK concluded trade union safety rep training is an effective approach. 'The findings provide powerful evidence of the extent to which trade union training supports workplace activities and achievements of health and safety representatives,' it noted, adding 'it is likely that training does not simply support the continued existence of such achievement, but acts as a stimulus for their initiation and development.'
NIOSH Science Blog. A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Training & Education for the Protection of Workers.
Thailand: Railway workers under attack for refusing to drive unsafe trains
A few months ago, railway workers in Thailand went on strike, refusing to drive unsafe trains following a fatal crash. The employer's response was to sack six union officials and to sue the union for damages. The State Railway Workers Union and its global union federation, the ITF, have called for an international campaign to protest these decisions, to urge the company to stop fighting against the union and instead to "build a new safety culture in the Thai railways with the workers and the union where whistle-blowers are not penalised." But the Thai Transport Minister is pushing the railway to continue pursuing its case against the union in court. There is now an international campaign to stop this and if enough workers from around the world send a loud and clear message to the Thai government supporting the union and opposing the court case.
LabourStart has a campaign in six languages with more to come – do your bit, sign up.
Unions fight for fairness
Not OHS related, but the UK's TUC has lent its support, together with dozens of other charities, faith groups and community organisations, to the Robin Hood Tax campaign. The campaign is calling on the leaders of the UK's political parties to support a global tax on the banks to help repair the human damage caused by the global economic crisis, protect public services at home, fight poverty abroad and help foot the bill for climate change. The video to promote the campaign, which you can see by going to the above site, has been made by Richard Curtis and Bill Nighy, and features a banker being put on the spot about the tax proposal. It's very clever.
Arthritis risk increased by standing still and climbing stairsA US study has found that women workers required to stand for more than two hours at a time and men who regularly climb stairs are more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis. The researchers said the risk of standing was associated with a steady loading of the knee, while stair climbing "pointed to repeated rotational loading of the knee as an important risk factor". They concluded that job designs should avoid "repeated rotational loading of the knee equivalent to body weight, sudden axial loading, and extreme flexion."
Long-Term Exposure and Health-Related Quality of Life Among Patients With Occupational Rhinitis [abstract] . Thomas E Bernard, et al, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 52, Number 1, January 2010.
SafeWork releases three new reportsThree new reports have been released by Safe Work Australia:
National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance Report: Exposure to Direct Sunlight and the Provision of Sun Exposure Controls in Australian Workplaces.
The study found that the likelihood of being exposed to a high level of direct sunlight were higher in male workers, smaller-sized workplaces and workers in the agricultural, forestry and fishing, construction and cultural, recreational and personal services industries. Workers in the health and community services and education industries were less likely to have access to sunglasses, protective clothing and hats.
Mr Tom Phillips, SafeWork Australia chair, said, "With the estimation that around 200 melanomas and 34 000 non melanoma skin cancers per year are caused by occupational exposures in Australia, it is important that employers and employees realise that we all have responsibilities to reduce the risk of injury and health, which includes reducing skin exposure."
Media Release and Report
National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance Report: Noise Exposure and the Provision of Noise Control Measures in Australian Workplaces
Findings of the study include:
- Between 28 and 32 per cent of the Australian workforce are likely to work in an environment where they are exposed to non-trivial loud noise.
- Male workers were more likely to report exposure to loud noise than female workers.
- Young workers were more likely to report exposure to loud noise than older workers.
- Workers who worked at night were more likely to report exposure to loud noise than workers who worked during the day.
- The main industries in which workers reported exposure to loud noise were manufacturing and construction.
- Only 44 per cent of exposed workers reported that engineering or isolation controls were in place, while 18 per cent said NO controls at all were used
- Engineering and isolation controls, training, administrative controls and PPE noise controls were provided together in only 16% of workplaces where workers were exposed to loud noise.
- The types of control measures provided in a workplace were affected by industry, occupation and the number of workers.
The report confirms union concerns with plans to reduce the national model noise regulations to nothing more than the exposure standard of 85dBA over 8hours, meaning that all else will end up in codes or guidance…
Media release and Report
Compendium of Workers' Compensation Statistics Australia 2007-08
The Compendium sets out the statistics from all the jurisdictions.
The reports can be found online at www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au
Useful MaterialsFrom WorkSafe Victoria
- Emergency management - Developing a plan for a small organisation - this is updated Guidance Note which includes advice about bushfire danger ratings (eg Code Red).
- New Training video: Lock Out Tag Out - Machinery and equipment isolation for food manufacturing operators The video provides information on isolation procedures for machinery and equipment in manufacturing, and can be used by employers as a staff training resource on isolation procedures.
- Guidance Note: Electrical work in lift installations provides duty holders, including building owners, facility managers, consultants, lift maintenance companies, employers and employees, with certain information on how to safely carry out electrical work in lift installations.
- Supervision on construction sites poster - This poster clarifies supervision roles and responsibilities on a construction site.
From the UK's HSE Work related stress - Together we can tackle the causes
Contractor fined $42,500 for workplace fallMartin McLean Engineering Pty Ltd, a maintenance contractor, has been fined $42,500 after December 2007 incident where a worker fell nearly three metres from a work platform and suffered serious head injuries. The company had been contracted in 2007 by Southlink International Pty Ltd to provide labour and engineering expertise on a steel works project. WorkSafe's investigation found the platform had no handrails, harnesses had not been used because of insufficient restraint points, and the worker had not been provided with adequate training and supervision.
Southlink was also prosecuted over the incident and fined $17,500. Southlink's sole director faced five charges, but these were later withdrawn after he entered into an enforceable undertaking to ensure the health and safety of employees and contractors, and to publish an article detailing the circumstances that caused the incident.
Inadequate safety systems for chemicals results in prosecution and big fine
Fireproof clothing business, Flame Safe Fabric Specialists Pty Ltd, has been fined $135,000 in the Shepparton Magistrates Court after a worker suffered corrosive chemical burns to the face - only six weeks after a chemical splash caused another worker to become blind in one eye.
In the first incident a worker lost sight in one eye after the handle of a bucket holding chemical liquid broke, causing liquid to splash into his eye. The worker was not wearing eye-protection and the safety glasses provided to him were not fully enclosed. The incident was not notified to WorkSafe, as required under the OHS Act.
The second incident happened when the handle on a dipper (used to take samples) made from a metal rod attached with gaffer tape broke. This caused some of the mixture to splash into another worker's face, burning him and numbing the inside of his mouth.
WorkSafe found the company did not have systems in place to isolate workers from dangerous substances, failed to provide workers with adequate protective equipment, and provided predominantly verbal training on safely handling and moving hazardous substances. In addition, there were no adequate first aid facilities at the workplace.
WorkSafe media release
Unlicensed forklift driver lucky to be alive; company prosecuted
Eliott Engineering Pty. Ltd, a Kilsyth business specialising in medium to heavy metal fabrication, has been prosecuted and fined $60,000 plus costs after a worker was trapped under the forklift he was operating when it tipped over. His foot was crushed and eventually had to be amputated. The worker had never held a forklift license. The court found the company had failed to provide safe systems of work in respect to fork-lift operations in that it failed to: implement procedures for recording and verifying who held fork-lift licences and ensure that only licensed employees operate fork-lifts; ensure that fork-lift drivers wore seat belts; install seat belt interlocks on all fork-lifts; and train drivers in the operation of the type fork-lifts used at the workplace.
Source: WorkSafe Media Release