Issue 184 - SafetyNet Journal 184Welcome to Edition 184 of SafetyNet, the online OHS journal of the Victorian Trades Hall Council. This week we are asking everyone to take some action to ensure that all Victorian workers who suffer work-related stress will continue to have access to the Workers Compensation scheme: proposed changes to the Act could exclude huge numbers of stress claims from the system.
Activities for repsKeeping our rights under Workers Comp: email a letter to Victorian politicians
There are a number of important changes being made to Victoria's Workers Compensation legislation. The Victorian Trades Hall Council has major concerns over some of these amendments, specifically:
- Excluding the vast majority of stress injuries from compensation;
- Removing mandatory employer obligations from the Return to Work provisions;
- Removing injured workers from benefits if they move interstate;
- Taking injured workers off benefits if they resign their employment; and
- Lowering the drink or drug driving threshold to reduce or exclude injured workers from benefits
More tragedy in the workplace
A 26 yr old man was killed while operating an electric press at a factory in Bayswater North on Friday February 26th. WorkSafe is investigating the circumstances of the incident, including whether the man suffered an electric shock. The man was found by workmates at about 11.30am. WorkSafe placed improvement notices on the machine he was operating and a similar one next to it.
WorkSafe Media Release
In the second fatality in the past two weeks, a man died on Sunday evening after rolling his tractor on the Bruarong Track at Yackandandah while moving bee hives, in Victoria's northeast. This brings the state's fatalities in 2010 to five, compared to seven to the same time in 2009. Another man in his 70's was killed on a property near Donald when he was run over several times by his tractor. He was not found until several days after the incident.
The director of WorkSafe's Manufacturing, Logistics and Agriculture division, Ross Pilkington, said these incidents were a warning to tractor operators and the people who employed them. "Tractors are the single greatest contributor to workplace deaths in regional Victoria accounting for five lives in 2009. With two deaths already in 2010, it is essential that tractor safety is a high priority. They are large and powerful and when something goes wrong, exceptionally dangerous."
A major issue in regional areas is that people often work on their own or in isolated areas where it is hard to raise the alarm if something goes wrong.
WorkSafe Media Release
Senate rejects Greens' calls for Industrial Manslaughter
In a response to the deaths of four young workers killed while installing roof insulation, the Australian Greens, led by Senator Bob Brown last Thursday sought to introduce strong national industrial manslaughter laws into the Senate. Despite claims of manslaughter levelled at the Federal Government Tony Abbott, the Opposition did not support the motion, with only the five Greens senators, Family First Senator Steven Fielding and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon in support. The ALP also voted against it. Construction workers and their unions have criticised the major political parties for turning their backs on workers. "If the tragic deaths of four young insulation workers have highlighted anything at all it the need for the toughest possible occupational health and safety laws and industry regulations in Australia," said CFMEU Construction National Secretary, Dave Noonan.
CFMEU Media Release
International Women's Day – March 8
ACTU to release report on pay equity
Even though the then Arbitration Commission made a ruling in 1972 that women performing the same work as men were to receive the same pay, the pay gap between men and women has been growing. The concept of equal pay for equal work is supposedly enshrined in legislation – but this week the ACTU Executive endorsed a report that reveals that in 2009, women in full-time jobs were paid just 82.5 per cent of men's pay - less than they were in 1985. Despite the fact that women are now more likely to be university graduates than men, they earn $2000 a year less when they start work and continue to fall behind from then on in wages and superannuation. The pay equity issue is likely to be a major union campaign priority for 2010, involving both a community and a political campaign calling for significant government intervention. The Age
The Victorian Trades Hall Council is calling on the Victorian Government to lift its game in 2010 with respect to working women. "Working women in Victoria still face less pay and more stress and bullying in the lead up to International Women's Day 2010", said Brian Boyd, Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary on the eve of International Women's Day. "Victorian women earn on average $223 per week less than men. While in the community services sector, which constitutes more than 80% women, workers are paid around $15,000 per year less than their local and state government counterparts." VTHC media release
Get involved – participate in the Anna Stewart Memorial Project
The VTHC is again running the Anna Stewart Memorial Project this year, for the 26th year. The project is a memorial to Anna Stewart to a leading trade unionist who worked for women's employment rights. The project seeks to facilitate the greater involvement of women in the trade union movement and to encourage women to stand for office or to seek jobs within trade unions; to encourage the integration of women into union structures by increasing the opportunity for involvement; to promote greater awareness within unions of the particular needs of female members and the important contribution women can make to their development and growth; to promote women's understanding of the day to day operations of individual unions and to further their knowledge of collective activities of groups of unions and State and National Peak Councils; and to facilitate a greater understanding of the industrial issues confronting women in both blue and white collar occupations with a view to bridging the gaps which often exist between workers in these areas. There will be two intakes this year: first intake: Monday 3 May - Friday 14 May; second intake: Monday 11 October - Friday 22 October 2010. If you are interested, contact the VTHC Women's Officer Jennifer O'Donnell-Pirisi, email firstname.lastname@example.org
New VTHC Training Unit program
The timetable for courses to the end of September is now on the website, so check out what's coming up and organise your registration now. Don't forget that elected reps and deputies are entitled to attend a Refresher course every year (on paid leave with the employer also paying the course fees and any reasonable associated expenses). It's important to attend as there's so much happening with the harmonisation of OHS nationally. VTHC OHS Training Unit Program
Can you advise whether a HSR can refuse to get trained, and if so, what are the implications? I understand they can't issue improvement notices without the training, which makes sense since you have to know which part of the Act has been breached.
Under our current Act, an elected representative is entitled to exercise all of his her rights (including issuing PINs and Ceaseworks, etc) from the moment they are elected, irrespective of whether he or she has attended the training. The rep has a RIGHT not a DUTY to attend training, although my advice to any rep is that it's a very important thing to do and they should seek to attend the course of their choice as soon as they are elected.
The issue of not being able to issue PINs or Ceaseworks until they have been trained is a provision that is currently in the national Model OHS Act – a provision we do not agree with. The current plan is to implement the Model Act (and Model Regulations) in January 2012. Until that time, our current OHS Act applies.
Asbestos deaths in Mexico controversyThe death toll from mesothelioma, a rare cancer almost always caused by asbestos exposure, is rising rapidly in Mexico, a major market for Canada's exports of the mineral, and could be as high as 500 a year and up to an extra 1000 from other asbestos-related conditions. The researchers, from the Mexican Institute of Social Security, published the mortality estimate in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Industrial Medicine. They said the major type of asbestos used in Mexico was chrysotile imported from Canada. They called the asbestos trade a "deplorable example of the manner in which dangerous industries are being deliberately exported to Mexico and less industrialized countries." Developing countries use asbestos as an additive to strengthen cement.
The researchers found many Mexican workers aren't aware of the dangers posed by asbestos. The report concluded that a ban was the only way "to prevent the epidemic clearly shown using national mortality data."
Critics of the asbestos industry say the Mexican findings call into question the federal and Quebec governments' view that the mineral can be used with little risk, and suggest an even higher health toll because Canada exports it to many other countries.
Read more: The Globe and Mail
Builder's widow awarded record settlementQueensland WorkCover has awarded a landmark six-figure to a widow after her construction worker husband died at 43 from skin cancer. Rohan Crotty had four young sons aged five and under. Though a carpenter and plasterer by trade, he became a union organiser in the past few years, helping to campaign for sun awareness programs on building sites. The payout signals a warning to industry and employers that skin cancer prevention must be taken more seriously in the sunshine state. Victorian employers should also heed the message.
Read more Sunlight - Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation
Conference: Stop the ViolenceThursday 20 May 2010, ANF Conference Centre, 540 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne
Workplace violence is one of today's most serious occupational hazards, which can have dire effects on the productivity of organisations and on the physical and psychological well-being of employees. This conference, run by the Australian Nursing Federation, aims to provide an insight into the differences and commonalities found within healthcare settings dealing with violence and aggression, and the actions being implemented to address this unacceptable situation.
Themes explored in this year's program will include:
- Aggression in Aged Care;
- Managing the Violent Patient in ED
- Partnerships between Victoria Police and Healthcare facilities
- Preventing Occupational Violence through environmental design
The keynote speaker at this conference is Professor Gerry Farrell Latrobe University. The conference is not limited to ANF members, and is of interest to nurses, midwives, care workers, OHS Managers, HSRs and Human Resource Managers.
Nanotechnology - National emerging technology framework plannedThe Rudd government has unveiled plans to set up a comprehensive national framework which it claims will facilitate the safe development of new technologies, such as nanotechnology and biotechnology. $38.2 million has been allocated to the 'National Enabling Technologies Strategy' , released on February 22. "Technologies like nanotechnology and biotechnology have enormous potential, but we can only realise that potential with the community's support," said innovation minister, Senator Kim Carr. "Health, safety and environmental protection are paramount for the government. This strategy is about ensuring we meet the highest standards while at the same time maximising opportunities to develop these cutting-edge technologies." A stakeholder advisory council will advise on the strategy's implementation, while an expert forum for enabling technologies will monitor emerging trends.
The VTHC, through our OHS and website officer Renata Musolino, participated in early discussions on the development of the strategy, voicing concerns that the technology is fast outpacing our ability to regulate it. "We suspect that many workers are already potentially being exposed to engineered nano materials, and not only are they not aware of this, but probably their employer isn't either," she said. "We urgently need regulation that is specific to nano materials to ensure that workers and others are not put at risk."
Read more Nanotechnology
Researchers lax about nanomaterial handling
According to a new international survey of research laboratories by a team of Spanish researchers, as many as one-quarter of researchers handling nanomaterials do not use any lab protection measures, such as fume hoods, and half do not use masks or respirators to prevent inhalation of particles. "We don't know a lot about the consequences of long-term exposure to nanoparticles," comments Kristen Kulinowski, director of external affairs at Rice University's Centre for Biological & Environmental Nanotechnology and director of the International Council on Nanotechnology. Consequently, much of the available guidance for handling nanomaterials safely focuses on minimising exposure. "It sounds like that message has not gotten down to the research community," Kulinowski says. The research team, led by Jesus Santamaria of the Nanoscience Institute of Aragon at the University of Zaragoza, used a Web of Science literature search for keywords such as "nanoparticle" and "nanotube" to identify researchers working with nanomaterials. Two thousand researchers were contacted, and 240 completed the survey.
Of those, 95% were from universities or other institutional research labs. Approximately 35% of the respondents were laboratory principal investigators. The rest were other researchers in the groups. The results demonstrated that among researchers who were aware that their materials could become airborne, 21% used "no special protection" in the lab and 30% used no personal protective equipment when handling nanomaterials.
The survey results are not surprising to representatives of the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, who have observed similar results in field studies they conduct to evaluate methods to determine exposure to airborne particles, says Charles L. Geraci Jr., coordinator of NIOSH's Nanotechnology Research Centre. NIOSH has developed a twopronged approach for assessing nanoparticle exposure that includes both general particle counters and filter-based sampling coupled with chemical and microscopic analysis to determine the identity of particles
Chemical & Engineering News, 8 February 2010
Union News - InternationalBelgian train staff strike after fatal crash
Train workers in southern Belgium went on spontaneous strike in protest against what they believe were dangerous working practices immediately after two commuter trains crashed at Halle, just outside Brussels, killing 18 people. The strike was widely followed and led to widespread disruption to train services in southern Belgium. It follows what train workers have described as deteriorating working conditions, which they said could lead to accidents such as the one at Halle. An investigation into the cause of the train collision is under way, amid suggestions that one train may have missed a red signal although officials have said it is too early to confirm the cause of the crash and a system failure may have been to blame. One of the two drivers was among those killed and dozens of people were injured.
The true cost of a Valentine's gift
The US National Labor Committee launched a campaign for St Valentine's Day to protest about the death of over 2,000 Indian workers, including children who have contracted silicosis while grinding gemstones-heart shaped agate pendants and ornaments, earrings, bracelets for export to countries like the United States. Adult workers earn as little as 17½ cents an hour to do one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and according to the campaign, thirty percent of all gemstone grinders will die of silicosis, as well as six to ten percent of their non-working neighbours and family members who are also exposed to the silica dust. When poor workers borrow money from the 'traders'-who supply the raw stone and control the manufacturing and export of the gemstones-they become 'bonded labour.' If a worker dies, his wife is expected to pick up the work, and their children. Silicosis is totally preventable, but without proper safeguards, over time it becomes fatal, however as the campaign points out, there are easily affordable alternatives. The introduction of simple technologies, a wet grinding process in combination with exhaust ventilation systems can drastically reduce exposure to the deadly silica dust. The Report [pdf]
How clean is your PPE?Employers often expect workers to share their PPE, and this causes some concern for these workers – concern that has been shown to be well-founded. US Researchers warn that 'reusable, communal personal protective equipment' such as gloves, hard hats, respirators and earmuffs can harbour and spread infectious agents from worker to worker - particularly as there are few guidelines on what is 'clean'.
"Equipment used to protect workers... is likely to become contaminated in the course of its use and can become thereby a source of secondary contamination," say Doctors Greg Sirianni and Jonathan Borak from New Haven and Yale Universities. "In addition, the spread of infectious agents from worker to worker may be abetted by shared use of PPE."
So ensuring the cleanliness of workplace protective clothing and equipment is critical in preventing 'foreseeable adverse health effects', they say. It is common sense and sound public health practice to limit 'intimate exposures', particularly as 'cleanliness' is not well-defined – putting workers at risk. While some level of workplace cleanliness is required under most OHS law, they say 'clean' does not mean 'pristine' in many workplaces. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect that 'clean' implies at least a relative absence of dirt and contamination.
The researchers say employer and employee groups, equipment manufacturers and regulators must work together to develop a 'single set of consensus standards'.
How Clean Is "Clean"? Regulations and Standards for Workplace Clothing and Personal Protective Equipment. Dr Greg Sirianni & Dr Jonathan Borak, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 52, Number 2, February 2010.
Pesticides link to leukaemia in farmersA French study released on 5 February at a symposium organized by cancer charity Ligue contre le Cancer has revealed a link between farmers' exposure to pesticides and a type of blood cancer. Farmers exposed to pesticides develop 100 to 1,000 times more abnormal cells which may then develop into follicular lymphoma, report the authors of a study of 144 farmers. Recently, French farmers have successfully sued chemical companies for cancer and Parkinson's disease that resulted from their occupational use of pesticides - an issue as widespread as it is under-reported. A cereal farmer with 100,000 hectares of land in the Vosges region, Dominque Marchal was the first farmer to have his leukemia associated with his daily pesticide use.
Read more and on the study (in French)
Link between birth defect and agricultural chemical Atrazine
The findings from a recent study will demonstrate a link between the birth defect gastroschisis and the agricultural chemical atrazine. Gastroschisis is a type of inherited congenital abdominal wall defect in which the intestines, and sometimes other organs, develop outside the foetal abdomen through an opening in the abdominal wall. The incidence of gastroschisis is on the rise, increasing two to four times in the last 30 years.
Researchers from the University of Washington (Seattle), aware of a higher than normal number of cases in Eastern Washington. speculated that this increase could be due to environmental exposures in that area. According to Dr. Sarah Waller, one of the study's authors, "Our state has about two times the national average number of cases of gastroschisis. The life expectancy for foetuses with this diagnosis is better than 90 percent; however it requires delivery at a tertiary care centre with immediate neonatal intervention, which often separates families and can cause serious financial and emotional stress."
During the new study, the researchers investigated all cases of live born infants with gastroschisis during the period of 1987-2006. They matched birth certificates with U.S. Geological Survey databases of agricultural spraying. The chemicals atrazine, nitrates, and 2,4- dichlorophenoxyacetic acid were examined. Of the 805 cases and 3616 controls in the study, gastroschisis occurred more frequently among infants whose mothers live less than 25 km from the site of high surface water contamination with atrazine. No risk was associated with the other chemicals reviewed in the study. Furthermore, the risk of gastroschisis increased for women who conceived in the spring (March through May), when chemical use is more prevalent.
Science Daily, 7 February 2010
Useful MaterialsFrom WorkSafe Victoria:
- Compliance kit for disability services In additions, WorkSafe has recently created a new web page for the Disability Services area
- Sellsafe – a guide to supplying used machinery and equipment. This program was originally a CD program, but due to its popularity with the target audience, it will now be available online in HTML. SellSafe forms part of the 2008/09 Plant Project Plan by the Strategic Programs and Support Division. Industry groups were consulted in its development (eg Landmark Operations Limited, Elders Rural Services, Australian Worker's Union).
Two new Victorian electrical safety regulations have been released.
- The Electricity Safety (Installations) Regulations 2009 [pdf] prescribe the methods to be followed and quality of material required for electrical installations.
- The Electricity Safety (Management) Regulations 2009 [pdf] provide the requirements and procedures of electricity safety management schemes.
From the ACT: a new page on Bullying. The page has a range of resources including what's been labelled 'an essential guide' and posters
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) Revised Draft Report – Identifying Research Needs [pdf] and Summary of revisions [pdf] The report examines a number of issues including definition of MCS; discussion of what MCS is; possible mechanisms for MCS; and research needs. NICNAS is seeking comment [pdf] on the revised report by March 25.
- Priority Existing Chemical Assessment Report No 31 on Sodium Cyanide released March 4. The assessment makes recommendations for better management of risks to the environment, including recommendations on compliance with best practice principles for the transport of sodium cyanide, and the adoption by regulators and gold mine operators of a framework approach to minimise the risks to wildlife at tailings storage and heap leach facilities.
WorkSafe Victoria releases half-year financial figuresWorkSafe Victoria this week released its half-yearly results, improving its financial position with a solid increase in its performance from insurance operations and a record reduction in workplace injuries (as measured by compensation claims). WorkSafe's performance from insurance operation (PFIO) – the key measure of the scheme's financial performance – rose to $288m for the half year compared with $168m at the same time in 2008-09, showing it has 'weathered' the global financial crisis.
The Chair of WorkSafe, Ms Elana Rubin said while the financial results and the reduced injury rate, pointed to a financially sound and well-managed workers compensation system, reduced hours worked during the economic downturn may have helped cut the injury claims rate. Ms Rubin warned however, that this was not the time to be complacent, as the scheme faces many challenges – including continuing to provide leadership in the move to uniform OHS laws, the implementation of the Accident Compensation Act reforms, and addressing the growing concerns regarding common law plaintiff legal costs and lodgements. "While injury rates dropped there has also been a significant increase in work-related deaths with 14 work related fatalities reported between June and the end of December and five more since then. This is a shockingly high number and requires broad community involvement if it is to be reduced. Our system is set up to encourage prevention, enforce the law and support those who have been hurt, but the obligation begins in every workplace to ensure employers, managers, supervisors and workers do what they can to build safer workplaces."
WorkSafe Media Release
Supervision blitz on construction sites
Too many injuries on construction sites are due to poor supervision. The director of WorkSafe's Construction and Utilities Program, Chris Webb, said, "Whether you're a principal contractor, site supervisor, contractor or tradesperson, everyone has a role to play in site safety. All parties must understand their safety responsibilities and those of others involved in a construction project."
The spotlight on site supervision is on now with WorkSafe inspectors visiting construction sites, as part of the ongoing 'Back to Basics' campaign. In addition, WorkSafe has developed a poster outlining safety responsibilities of the key players on sites. This can be downloaded from the site or ordered from WorkSafe's Advisory Service by calling 1800 136 089.
WorkSafe's program in Portland
Ahead of WorkSafe's safety inspection program in Portland from 22 to 26 March, a briefing breakfast will be held on Thursday 11 March. WorkSafe's free breakfast briefing for small businesses in Portland will provide information on what safety inspectors will be looking for when they come to the town as part of the Safe Towns program.
Advice will be provided on:
- Health and safety - what businesses can do to help prevent injuries or fatalities and how they can make sure that they are complying with the law.
- Return to work - what businesses can expect if a WorkSafe Return to Work (RTW) inspector visits.
- WorkSafe Injury Insurance and Premium - an overview will be provided.
McCain Foods fined $145,000 following amputationMcCain Foods (Australia) Pty. Ltd. was fined $145,000 in the Ballarat County Court after admitting to health and safety failings, in circumstances which echo an earlier breach by the company. This conviction followed a 2007 incident where a maintenance fitter's left thumb was amputated while working on a machine which peels and cleans potatoes on the company's French Fries potato line.
Two fitters and an electrician were attempting to fix the broken machine, believing it to be isolated through its control switches - when it was actually on a manual setting. When one of the fitters put his hand in the machine to loosen a chain, the machine started up, amputating his left thumb.
This conviction echoes an earlier one in 2008 for which McCain's was fined $75,000, when a pizza shredder at the same plant unexpectedly started while a maintenance mechanic was working on it, causing skin and flesh on one of his fingers to be removed. Prior to the 2008 conviction, McCain Foods was also prosecuted for workplace health and safety failings in 1983, 1986, 1991, 2002 and 2003.
WorkSafe media release
Asian Regional Report: Highly Hazardous Pesticide UseFollowing interviews on pesticide use with over 1,300 peasant farmers and agricultural workers from eight Asian countries, Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific released its report Communities in Peril: Asian Regional Report on Community Monitoring of Highly Hazardous Pesticide Use at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum. The study, which was conducted in collaboration with local partner organizations, revealed that 66% of pesticide active ingredients used on vegetables, cotton, paddy rice, and other crops are highly hazardous according to PAN International classification criteria.
"Exposure to these pesticides puts communities at high risk of developing severe permanent health problems such as endocrine disruption, which can be caused at low doses of exposure to certain pesticides," said Bella Whittle, coordinator of the project and author of the report. "It is especially distressing that the most vulnerable populations, such as women and children, the sick and malnourished, and the elderly are disproportionately affected and cannot escape the sources of exposure." Several pesticides found in the Asian countries have been banned in other areas of the world, even the countries that house the agrochemical companies' headquarters. For instance, paraquat is banned in Europe.
Media Release The report can be downloaded from this page.
Chinese workers poisoned in a Nokia and Apple supplier plant
A hundred-odd employees at Wintek, the world's leading producer of touch screens, fell ill after their plant decided to clean the screens with N-hexane, a known neurotoxin. 44 are still undergoing hospital treatment, reported Chinese state television. The poisoning occurred in a factory located in Suzhou City, about a hundred kilometres from the commercial capital, Shanghai. The company is a supplier to Nokia and Apple.
Read more HESA News
Turkey: coal mine blast kills 13, 18 hospitalised
13 workers were killed and 18 hospitalised after an explosion in a mine in Balikesir province last week. According to the company, forty-six people were working in the mine when a pocket of methane caught fire at a depth of 820 feet (76 metres) Four survivors were in a critical condition. Seventeen people were reportedly killed in the same mine in a 2006 accident.
Explosions and cave-ins are not uncommon in Turkey, particularly in privately-run mines where compliance with safety regulations is often minimal. In December of last year, 19 workers were killed when a coal mine in Bursa province in the northwest caved in after the miners set off some dynamite.