Issue 186 - SafetyNet Journal 186Welcome to the 186th edition of the VTHC OHS Unit's SafetyNet e-journal, a day early due to the Easter break.
Activities for repsReport on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
NICNAS has extended the public comment period for the Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) Revised Draft Report – released earlier this month – to April 15. So if you are interested in checking it out and making comment, go to this page on the NICNAS website. Read more on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
Members of my DWG have asked me whether we are supposed to be provided with a staff meal area. At the moment we have been having lunch in the communal area, which means clients and other staff walking in and out and sharing this space. Because of this we have been strongly encouraged to leave the program over breaks, which has its benefits however is not always practical. Some staff live too far away to go home, or choose not to buy lunch, and some staff need to use the facilities like the microwave, fridge, kettle etc. It has been even suggested to us that we drive to a nearby recreation facility and have lunch there. Can you provide some clarification?
An employer has a duty under S21(2)(d) of the OHS Act to provide adequate facilities for the welfare of employees, so far as is reasonably practicable. In addition, the employer has a duty to ensure work procedures are safe and without risks to health. From the little bit of information you've given me, it sounds like the work that you and your fellow workers do is quite stressful, and so having a proper break, away from the 'clients' is an important OHS matter...
The "Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment" sets out what the employer should be providing in terms of facilities. Go to Dining facilities - what must employers provide?
While it's all qualified by 'so far as is reasonably practicable' - this isn't an open qualification and the employer should be making an effort to provide these facilities - see this WorkSafe document: How WorkSafe applies the law in relation to Reasonably Practicable
Ask Renata – if you have any ohs related questions, why don't you send me an email? Click on the Ask Renata and send it in.
Asbestos widow wins High Court insurance battleIn a High Court decision insurer QBE has been ordered to pay an asbestos victim's widow her full entitlement of $365,000, instead of the statutory minimum of $40,000. From 1964 to 1967 her husband had been employed by Pilkington Bros (Australia) Pty Ltd, where he was exposed to asbestos dust from gloves and other products supplied by Wallaby Grip Ltd. When in November 2006 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he commenced proceedings in the NSW Dust Diseases Tribunal against Wallaby Grip and Pilkington's workers' compensation insurer, QBE Insurance (Australia) Pty Ltd, but died several months later. Pilkington and Wallaby Grip were found to have been negligent, and the worker's wife was awarded $365,000.
However, QBE appealed, contending that its liability was limited to the statutory minimum of $40,000 – and that the onus to prove otherwise rested with the widow. The NSW Court of Appeal found in its favour.
The widow took the matter to the High Court, which decided that the worker's wife had an obligation to: prove Pilkington was liable for her husband's injuries; prove it had entered into a contract of insurance with QBE; and establish the extent of her loss. However, she did not bear the onus of establishing whether that loss could be covered by the contract of insurance. Consequently, QBE had to pay the full entitlement.
Source: OHS Alert
Bullying – former unionist calls for greater actionMr Bill Shorten, formerly Federal and Victorian Secretary of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and now Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services, last week described bullying as 'toxic behaviour' that must be considered as harmful as asbestos or toxic chemical, calling for a change in workplace culture to eradicate bullying.
His comments follow SafeWork Australia reporting that more than 4000 complaints of workplace bullying or harassment were reported to state authorities over the last three years. Of these cases, 50 resulted in suicide or attempted suicide. He said that the unprecedented level of fines and the public outrage following the recent successful prosecution of parties involved in the Brodie Panlock case showed that there is a new lack of tolerance for such conduct.
School bullying and injuries cost state millions
Further to the item in the last edition of SafetyNet on the cost of stress in Victorian schools, The Age this week reported that millions of dollars have been paid out to students and teachers who have been bullied or injured in public schools. The state government has paid a total of almost $800,000 to 16 victims of school bullying over the past seven years in damages or out-of-court settlements. Union state president Mary Bluett said teachers were under growing pressure and needed more government support.
Source: The Age
Employers taking up the message
Over 150 people attended the first WorkSafe Victoria seminar on bullying in Melbourne this week. The planned series of seminars across the state will provide guidance for employers, managers and supervisors on what they need to do to prevent and respond to bullying and are part of the Respect at Work campaign. Issues covered in the seminars include identifying risk of workplace bullying and taking steps to deal with problem areas.
WorkSafe's Acting Executive Director for Health and Safety Stan Krpan said the seminar showed that preventing bullying was high on the agenda for workplaces. 'Publicity around WorkSafe's prosecution of Café Vamp in February has opened people's eyes to how destructive and damaging workplace bullying can be – for individuals and organisations. The issue of bullying isn't something that you can just ignore - the longer you leave it, the worse it's going to get. Businesses need to act on bullying behaviour before it becomes repeated – anything else signals that these behaviours are acceptable. Look closely at your workplace for any bullying risks, put a bullying policy in place which responds to these risks, discuss it with staff, and act on it.'
WorkSafe is receiving approximately 30 phone calls a day on workplace bullying, and though the majority of people are seeking advice, about ten per cent are resulting in WorkSafe inspectors going out to the workplace to make further inquiries.
WorkSafe will be running more seminars: Geelong (14 April), Warrnambool (15 April); Bendigo (20 April), Preston (28 April), Ballarat (4 May), Traralgon (11 May), Shepparton (13 May), Mulgrave (18 May), and Mildura (26 May). More information, including how to register. WorkSafe Media Release
Doctors warn Swine flu still a significant riskAccording to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian flu experts have hit back at claims the world overreacted to the swine flu pandemic last year, urging people to remain vigilant about the virus. The federal government has committed to providing more than 5 million free seasonal flu vaccines, including about 2.2 million doses for people in high-risk groups who were otherwise not eligible for a free vaccine.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald Read more Swine Flu
Fatality at Port Botany NSW
A 49-year-old Patrick Stevedores employee was crushed to death while loading containers at Sydney's Port Botany on Sunday night. One month earlier a stevedore was killed on the job in Brisbane. This latest death is the fifth stevedore death in less than four years. The Maritime Union of Australia has blamed the terrible toll on a deteriorating safety culture and 'deregulated performance-based arrangements'. MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said that the incident 'could have been avoided with a better safety culture and application of safe working practices'. He said, 'It is obvious we have a serious deficit in worker welfare on our wharves and yet another tragedy shows that deregulated performance-based arrangements are clearly not working. The need for stronger enforcement and compliance mechanisms is now urgent.'
MUA Media release
NanotechnologyUS EPA Proposes New Use Rule for Multi-walled Carbon Nanotubes
The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) for multi-walled carbon nanotubes under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Under the proposed rule, manufacturers, importers, or processors of the tubes, such as chemical manufacturing and petroleum refineries, could be. If the rule is finalised, anyone intending to manufacture, import, or process multi-walled carbon nanotubes for an activity that is designated as a significant new use would have to notify EPA at least 90 days in advance, giving the agency time to evaluate the intended use and prohibit it, if necessary. The EPA must consider all relevant factors before determining a use of a chemical substance is a significant new use, including:
- projected volume of manufacturing and processing of a chemical substance
- extent to which a use changes the type or form of exposure of human beings or the environment to a chemical substance
- extent to which a use increases the magnitude and duration of exposure of human beings or the environment to a chemical substance, reasonably anticipated manner and methods of manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce, and disposal of a chemical substance
Read more: Environmental Protection News, 5 February 2010
Researchers show nanoparticles can move from mothers to unborn babies
For the first time, researchers have shown that nanoparticles can cross the human placenta, meaning that they could be transferred from mothers to unborn babies. The study showed that plastic nanoparticles up to 240nm in size crossed a human placenta (taken from mothers immediately after giving birth). The study is particularly significant given earlier mice studies showed that nanoparticles can harm the development of the brains and reproductive systems of unborn mice.
Source: Friends of the Earth Read more: Plastic nanoparticles can move from mom to baby through placenta
Nanoparticles used in sunscreens, cosmetics, harm next generation - mice studies
Interesting Nanotech articles in the 'popular' press
Pulitzer-winning US investigative reporter Andrew Schneider, in a three-part series for AOL News, reports on how widely used nanomaterials are, what researchers are learning about potential health risks associated with them – and how disappointingly slow the US regulatory system has been to respond. In Pt 1 Amid Nanotech's Dazzling Promise, Health Risks Grow, Schneider explains that the booming nanotech market holds promise for achieving advances in medicine and food safety, but we don't yet know how our bodies are affected by nanoparticles we inhale, ingest, or spread on our skin – but US (and other) regulators are doing little to respond.
Pt 2 Regulated or Not, Nano-Foods Coming to a Store Near You and Pt 3 Obsession With Nanotech Growth Stymies Regulators - describing the situation in the US, but with many similarities here.
Also: Nano-products are everywhere
In Australia, NICNAS, the Australian government regulator of industrial chemicals, is currently conducting a hazard assessment of carbon nanotubes on behalf of Safe Work Australia, based on published information, to investigate the possibility of assigning a hazard classification for carbon nanotubes. This work is expected to be completed in the April – June quarter of this year. Also expected to be released soon, two reports commissioned by SafeWork Australia: Investigating substitution and modification options to reduce potential hazards associated with engineered nanomaterials and Evaluation of MSDS and labels associated with the use of engineered nanomaterials.
Road workers at risk stop workConstruction workers on the state government's $2.25 billion widening of the Western Ring Road yesterday (Wednesday) stopped work in protest over speeding vehicles, demanding that speed limits on the freeway where they are working be dropped from 80km/hr to 60km/hr.
On Tuesday a truck carrying glass crashed and lost its load at the Tullarmarine exit ramp. While no-one was injured, Ralph Edwards, state president of construction union the CFMEU, said it could easily have been deadly for his members. The union has demanded Roads Minister Tim Pallas follow through on his commitment and reduce speed limits on parts of the Ring Road under construction.
Mr Edwards said that the safety barriers in place were only designed to withstand the impact of small vehicles, not trucks travelling at 100km/h. This is an on-going health and safety issue, and the union wants what is their members' worksite made safe. VicRoads have the ability to reduce speed limits to reduce the risk to workers from crashes. However this is seldom done as the roads authority did not want to upset road users.
Source: The Age
Trucks to converge on Canberra in safe-rates protest
At a Sydney rally last week, Transport Workers Union delegates, representing about 38,000 workers, decided to converge on Capital Hill in June to remind the Government of its own findings on the direct correlation between haulage pay rates and safety in the transport industry. It's expected that hundreds of trucks will converge on Canberra to pressure the Federal Government to fast track the introduction of safe-rates legislation. TWU NSW secretary Wayne Forno said, 'What we're after is a regime of some description where owner-drivers can recover their labour costs and their running costs. At the moment they're at the mercy of the major retailers and the major clients.' A 2008 National Transport Commission report found that economic factors such as incentive-based payment methods encouraged drivers to work long hours and speed. The report recommended the problem be dealt with through government intervention.
Read more on the TWU's Safe Rates campaign
Union News - InternationalBangladesh unions and global union federations are calling for immediate action following the fatal fire on February 25 at the Garib & Garib Sweater Factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh which killed at least 21 workers and injured a further 50.
The Bangladesh National Garments Workers Federation (NGWF) has demanded the immediate arrest, trial and punishment of the owner of Garib & Garib. They further demand arrangement of the payment of Tk. 500,000/ cash to the families of each of the victims of Garib & Garib incident and a joint initiative of buyers, government, BGMEA and factory owner for greater compensation.
The full list of demands and action program can be read here. Solidarity messages can be sent to to the NGWF at firstname.lastname@example.org. The call for compensation has been backed by the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) - read their article and press release and send a solidarity message to email@example.com
Work-related emails cause stressA University of Sydney study has shown that dealing with work-related emails at home is stressful, causes anxiety and can harm family relationships. The study found, however that workers do not consider checking and sending emails from home as being real 'work'. Apparently, some workers check email at night in bed, and as early as 6 am before children woke, so that they could focus on 'real work' in office hours. 'Working from home: New media technology, workplace culture and the changing nature of domesticity' was undertaken by Dr Melissa Gregg from the university's Department of Gender and Cultural Studies. Researchers conducted interviews with 26 information workers from large organisations across different industry groups over three years.
Part-time workers tended to keep email accounts open on official non-work days to 'keep things moving' and avoid 'holding up' full-time workers. 'This study was designed to pick up all that extra work that goes on outside the office, which is generally sold to us as this new freedom to be in touch with work when it suits us,' Dr Gregg said. 'This hidden labour in the home also translates to a significant amount of unpaid work performed by women. It's another factor in the ongoing gender pay gap.'
Source: Workplace OHS
Occupational vibration exposure linked to heart-disease deaths
A Swedish study of nearly 14,000 workers has found a significant association between occupational exposure to vibration and heart disease as a cause of death. The researchers explored the relationship between different vibration levels that workers were exposed to and myocardial infarction (MI - a type of cardiovascular disease), among men who worked at one of two Swedish iron ore mines between 1923 and 1996.
They also considered dust exposure and the number of years each person was employed to calculate "personal cumulative exposure", finding that daily exposure levels varied substantially depending on time period and job title.
The researchers found that exposure to hand/arm vibrations (HAV) significantly increased the risk of MI mortality in those at "working age" (60 years and under), and exposure to whole body vibrations (WBV) and dust increased the risk for MI among all participants. The increased risk estimates indicated an exposure-response relation between MI mortality and WBV, HAV, or dust, respectively. The increased risk attributed to exposure to WBV remained after adjustments for dust exposure.
Mortality from myocardial infarction in relation to exposure to vibration and dust among a cohort of iron-ore miners in Sweden. [abstract] Bodil Björ, et al, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 67, Issue 3, March 2010.
Changing the workplace works best for backs
A study published by the British Medical Journal has found that for people with chronic low back pain to be able to effect an early return to work, changing the workplace is necessary. Injured workers on a program of integrated care which focuses not only on the patient but also the workplace are able to return to work an average of four months earlier than those receiving usual care. Canadian and Dutch researchers sought to evaluate the effectiveness of an integrated care programme in 134 patients with chronic low back pain. All patients were of working age and had been absent from work due to low back pain for at least 12 weeks – on average almost half a year. Patients were randomly assigned to either usual care or integrated care – consisting of adjustments to the workplace and a graded exercise program on moving safely while increasing activity levels. The main aim of the program was to restore occupational functioning and to achieve lasting return to work for patients in their own job or similar work. The usual care group received normal pain treatment with usually little or no workplace involvement. Over the 12-month study period, patients who received integrated care returned to sustainable work after an average of 88 days compared with 208 days for patients receiving usual care, an average reduction of 120 days. The authors conclude: 'This promising systems approach, directed to both the patient and the work environment, could have a great impact on the individual burden of low back pain.'
Ludeke C Lambeek and others. Randomised controlled trial of integrated care to reduce disability from chronic low back pain in working and private life, British Medical Journal, volume 340:c1035, published online 17 March 2010. doi:10.1136/bmj.c1035 [abstract]. Source: Risks 448
Irritable bowel syndrome caused by bad shifts
A study of nurses has found that bad shift patterns can cause classic symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School found those who work shiftwork have changes to their biological clock that result in adverse symptoms, such as abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea. Reported in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, the researchers add that shiftworkers are also more likely to have disturbances in sleep quality. A group of predominantly female nurses with three different work patterns (permanent day shifts, permanent night shifts, and shifts that rotated between day and night) was evaluated. The women who worked rotating shifts had the highest prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms and abdominal pain, independent of sleep quality. Night shift workers also had more symptoms than permanent day shift nurses. The authors write: 'Our findings suggest that nurses participating in shiftwork, particularly those who participate in rotating shiftwork, have a higher prevalence of IBS and abdominal pain. This association is independent of sleep quality.' The paper concludes that 'practising gastroenterologists should be aware of this association and educate patients with IBS on the possible impact of their work schedule on their symptoms.'
University of Michigan news release. Borko Nojkov, Joel H Rubenstein, William D Chey, Willemijntje A Hoogerwerf. The impact of rotating shift work on the prevalence of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in nurses, American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2010; DOI: 10.1038/ajg.2010.48 [abstract]. Emaxhealth.com.
Source: Risks 449
Forklift campaignThe Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWAA) has agreed to launch a coordinated campaign aimed at reducing forklift-related incidents and injuries, with workplace audits of "targeted sites" in the wholesale produce industry expected to commence within weeks. The campaign will highlight the importance of systematically identifying [forklift] hazards in workplaces and implementing sustainable control measures. From 2000 to 2007 more than 7400 work-related injuries in Australia were attributable to forklift trucks, it said.
Read more on Forklift safety
Heavy Vehicle Rollover Prevention Program
VicRoads, in association with the Victorian Road Freight Advisory Council, has released a Heavy Vehicle Rollover Prevention Program. The Program is aimed at educating those involved in the transport industry to help prevent these catastrophic events and provides a framework for industry to use when developing a code of behaviour in addition to providing true-to-life models, PowerPoint presentations and an information video. VicRoads will invite drivers, owner operators, OH&S representatives and any interested parties to be a part of this program, and assist in creating a code of behaviour.
Useful MaterialsFrom WorkSafe Victoria:
Raised tipper trays can be fatal This Alert highlights the dangers of being crushed underneath a raised tipping tray while inspecting components or doing maintenance work (follows several incidents).
Corrosion of underground piping This Alert highlights the need for major hazard facility operators and workers to implement controls to prevent major incidents involving corrosion of underground process piping.
Unloading flat-bed truck trailers – Delivery sites This is a solution to prevent truck drivers falling from flat-bed truck trailers.
Getting in/out of truck cabins – Preventing slips, trips and falls This is a solution to prevent truck drivers slipping or falling when getting into or out of the truck cabin.
Occupational health and safety in exploration delivery This information sheet is designed to assist exploration and mining licence holders prepare surface exploration work plans.
In January NICNAS, the federal regulator for industrial chemicals, released a draft report for public comment on Diethylhexyl Phthalate (DEHP). An Information Sheet on DEHP [pdf] explaining the concerns surrounding this chemical is available on the NICNAS website. Read more on NICNAS activities: NICNAS Matters [pdf]
Abattoir safety failings exposed in parallel prosecutionsTwo abattoirs and their contract cleaning companies have been pursued by WorkSafe Victoria after two cleaners suffered debilitating arm injuries in almost parallel circumstances. WorkSafe has now successfully prosecuted all four companies under the 2004 OHS Act for failings including inadequate staff training and unguarded machinery.
Ararat-based Ararat Abattoirs (Aust). Pty Ltd was this week convicted and fined $20,000, and their service provider Western Contracting (Vic) Pty Ltd convicted and fined $55,000, after a 2008 incident where a contract cleaner's arm was caught in a conveyer as he reached in to retrieve a piece of meat. In February Warrnambool-based Midfield Meat Pty Ltd and Hygiene Control Pty Ltd, were prosecuted following a 2007 incident where a worker's arm was dragged into an unguarded conveyer. Both companies were convicted – Hygiene Control was fined $25,000 and Midfield Meat $35,000.
Both cleaning contractor companies failed to provide training and instruction to staff on how to clean dangerous machinery; and failed enforce procedures to 'lock out and tag out' machines prior to cleaning. Both abattoirs had guarding failures: Ararat Abattoirs' viseration conveyor had removable guards which allowed access to the danger area of the conveyor; and there were small holes on each side of the unguarded Midfield Meat conveyer where cleaners could access hazardous moving parts with their hands
WorkSafe media release and More information on locking out and tagging machinery or equipment.
New UK HSE strain injuries toolA new downloadable tool is now available that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says can help reduce the likelihood of employees suffering from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) of the upper limbs associated with repetitive tasks. The Assessment of Repetitive Tasks (ART) tool, developed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL), can help identify where the significant risks lie, suggest where to focus risk reduction measures and help prioritise improvements, the official safety agencies say. They add that ART is not intended for assessment of risks from screen-based work. Jeremy Ferreira, senior ergonomist at HSL, said: 'Assessing quick repetitive movements of the arms and hands can be more difficult than assessing manual handling operations like heavy lifting. Often actions to reduce MSDs caused by repetitive tasks are incredibly simple, yet are overlooked by employers because the risks are not so readily recognised.' He added: 'The ART tool makes it much easier to determine where the risks lie, and what measures should be taken by employers together with their workforce to reduce the potential for injury.'
HSE news release and ART tool
153 Chinese miners trapped 1000m underground
According to a worker and the media, workers had reported underground water leaks days before a flood coursed through a state-owned coal mine in northern China, where 153 people remain trapped in potentially one of the country's worst mining disasters. 108 miners were lifted to safety when the flood tore through the Wangjjialing mine in Shanxi province Sunday afternoon. There has been no communication with the trapped miners since Sunday. Shanxi province is China's top coal-producing region, and most of the 261 workers thought to have been underground at the time of the accident were migrants, some from as far away as southern Hunan and Guizhou provinces, with no better employment options than the wages offered by the risky mining industry. Over 1,000 workers are tunnelling around the clock to drain away water but appear days away from making any rescue.
China has the world's deadliest coal-mining industry, with more than 2,600 people killed in mine floods, explosions, collapses and other accidents in 2009 alone. This latest disaster is a setback to recent, significant improvements in of China's mining industry safety record.
Sources: China Daily; Reuters, Washington Post