Issue 189 - SafetyNet Journal 189Welcome to SafetyNet 189. Read about what's happening with the harmonisation of OHS legislation, the latest prosecutions and much more.
Activities for repsUnion workplaces are safer workplaces – increase in union membership
A lift in union membership in the past year shows working Australians are turning to unions to improve their pay and conditions. New ABS data released this shows there has been a lift in union membership of more than 82,000 workers and the proportion of the workforce in unions has increased from 19% to 20%. Jeff Lawrence, ACTU Secretary, said '[workers] know that being an active member of a union and bargaining collectively is the best way to improve their wages and conditions.' ABS figures now show that the average union member earns $145 a week more than the average worker who is not in a union. While this is a great result for Australian unions given the Global Financial Crisis, perhaps even more important to families is knowing that union workplaces are safer workplaces.
ACTU Media Release
Health and safety and the federal budget
Wayne Swan's budget has allocated an extra $4.4 million over five years to Comcare to enable it to increase OHS prosecutions and fight appeals made to the Federal Court and Fair Work Australia against its decisions. At the same time, the Government expects to receive approximately $4.7 million in penalties imposed on entities as a result of the increased enforcement activities.
Also in the budget, the Government will allocate $41.2 million over two years to insulation workers and employers affected by the cancellation of the home insulation scheme. This will include a $29.7 million training package to help up to 7000 insulation workers find alternative employment. Last week a Queensland employer and its father and son directors were charged over the death of a 25 yr old installation installer, electrocuted in October last year.
The final draft of the model Work Health and Safety Act is also now available on the Safe Work website. Work is progressing on the policy proposals and draft model regulations.
Read about the progress in the harmonisation process: Update 4
At its April 29 meeting SafeWork Australia declared the 'National Code of Practice for the Prevention of Falls in Housing Construction (Housing Falls Code)', to provide persons working at height in the residential housing sector with practical guidance on how to comply with the National Standard for Construction Work until the WHS Act is implemented. The Code will soon be available on the SWA's website and will be accompanied by an explanatory statement on its adoption in each jurisdiction. The Regulatory Impact Statement is available online
SafeWork Australia Communique
Latest fatality is sixth in farming sector
WorkSafe Victoria is inspecting the circumstances surrounding the death of a 33 yr old man on the evening of May 11 at a beef and cropping business near Wyuna. It appears the man had begun to climb a ladder on the side of a 12-15 tonne metal silo full of barley when it toppled over onto him, due to corrosion at its base. WorkSafe Victoria's Acting Executive Director for Health and Safety Stan Krpan said, 'WorkSafe is calling on famers to immediately inspect structures which they may need climb or gain access to – such as windmills, feed bins and fuel tanks – for any signs of corrosion or structural damage. We want farmers to pay particular attention to structures that may be affected by corrosion from things like excess moisture or chemical use.' He said that if there was uncertainty as to the safety of any structure, then it had to be checked by a competent person, such as an engineer. WorkSafe Media Release
OHS Farming Survey The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) is conducting its first nation-wide survey on OHS in the farming sector. ABARE deputy executive director Paul Morris is strongly encouraging farmers to participate, saying, 'It is essential to have accurate information to ensure industry research and development initiatives in this very important area are effectively targeted.'
Asbestos newsItaly: Executives jailed for asbestos deaths
A Sicilian court last week jailed three former executives of a shipbuilding company for negligent homicide after 37 workers died from exposure to asbestos. The sentences ranged from three to seven and a half years for the three Fincantieri executives. The executives also had to pay several million euros in damages to a number of beneficiaries, including a national insurer for workplace accidents that was one of the civil plaintiffs in the case. Prosecutors said Fincantieri continued using asbestos until 1999, three years after the hazardous building material was outlawed in Italy. The 37 workers died from lung cancer, while another 26 suffered from other asbestos-related diseases. 'The danger of asbestos has been known since the 1950s. Nevertheless, Fincantieri failed to take the most basic steps to prevent the inhalation of asbestos dust and fibres,' the prosecutors said in closing arguments quoted by Italian media. The convictions came as a huge trial is under way in the northern city of Turin involving shareholders of a construction company accused of responsibility for the deaths of more than 2,000 Italians from asbestos-related diseases. One of the defendants is Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, former owner of the Swiss group Eternit, who was an important shareholder of the Italian company of the same name. The other is Belgian Jean-Louis Marie Chislain de Cartier de Marchienne who was a minority shareholder and administrator of the Italian company. About 6,000 people have joined in the class action suit, the largest ever on asbestos contamination, which opened in December 2009.
Source: Risks 454 TerraNet.
Quebec town seeks to expand asbestos mining
A group of business co-operatives has raised $2 million to expand mining operations in the Quebec town with the last two asbestos mines in Canada. The money will go toward a $190-million plan to reopen an underground portion of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec, allowing operations to continue there year-round. According to the director of the Caisse Desjardins des Métaux blancs, Alain Boucher, the economic well-being of the region depends on the survival of the mine and the asbestos industry, with more than 1,000 jobs being lost in the region over the past five years. Boucher said the expansion of operations at the Jeffrey Mine would help create or preserve 450 jobs. The owners of the mine and the co-operative of mine workers have contributed $130 million toward the project. Asbestos Mayor Hugues Grimard said the $2 million raised by local businesses will send a clear message that people in the region want this project to go ahead.
If the scheme is successful, it will be a tragedy, not only for the local people but for thousands who will be exposed to the exported asbestos. In 2007 it was found that the area was 'severely contaminated' (CBC News) The Quebec government continues to face international criticism for its continued export of asbestos. Unionized workers and activists in India sought meetings with Quebec's trade mission to their country in February. Activist Gopal Krishna said, 'It's hypocritical for Quebec to ban the use of chrysotile asbestos at home, while selling it to countries in the developing world'
Ask RenataI am health and Safety Rep at my workplace. Our work group has an issue with stress and work load. At least two members have taken some sick leave, others have sleep disturbance and other issues. What process should I follow? I intend to meet with the work Group to discuss the problem. Do I then seek ideas on what they want to change / offer possible solutions to my employer?
I think meeting with the members of your DWG is crucial. What I suggest you do at that meeting is to discuss with them the following:
- what is stress?
- what evidence is there that stress is in fact a hazard at your workplace and that health of staff is being put at risk (eg people having to have sick leave, etc)
- what are the possible stressors at the workplace?
- what are their ideas about changing the systems of work, etc to either eliminate or reduce those stressors?
- putting something together to take to the meeting - have evidence of the problem, a list of stressors and what your DWG suggests/proposes can be done to eliminate/reduce them, etc and an time line to trial the changes.
It should be noted that some stressors are going to be relatively easy to do something about, while others (eg threat of violence or traumatic events) may be more difficult, but not impossible in terms of reducing the potential risk - for example by putting in place procedures.
To assist you to prepare for the meeting, go to the Stress section of the website. Also, the page on How to develop a workplace survey is useful in order to gather information on the potential stressors and extent of problem - the example used is a survey on workload.
If you have an issue or problem you would like some advice on, then Ask Renata. You'll get an answer within a couple working days at the latest.
Health effects of shiftworkThe Occupational Cancer Research Centre and the Institute for Work & Health co-hosted a scientific symposium on the health effects of shift work on April 12, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. The aim was to provide an overview from leading scientific experts on current knowledge on the field, and identify key research gaps. A summary report, presentation slides, Issue Briefing (prepared as background for the symposium) and other information are available to from the symposium website. Presentations include: 'Shift work and sleep disturbance'; 'Shift work and breast cancer: the need for mechanisms'; 'Shift work and adverse health effects: possible biological mechanisms'; 'Night work, night light and cancer: animal evidence'; 'Light at night and health: the Nurses' Health Study cohorts' and much more
Breast cancer link to shiftwork confirmed
According to a new British report, nearly 2,000 women contract breast cancer every year in the UK because they work night shifts. The figure, published by Britain's Health and Safety Executive (HSE), is based on 2005 data and attributes 1,969 new cases of breast cancer and 555 deaths from the disease that year to shiftwork. It says: 'The estimate of nearly 2,000 breast cancer registrations due to shiftwork in our study is 54 per cent of all female occupationally-related cancer registrations.' Professor Andrew Watterson, head of occupational health research at Stirling University, urged HSE last year to act on international evidence confirming the link between breast cancer and shifts
Source: Risks 455 The burden of occupational cancer in Great Britain, research report 800, HSE, 2010 While you were sleeping Hazards magazine, number 106, Summer 2009
Workplace cancers in UK underestimated
The same HSE report also found that thousands of occupational cancers have been missed in official estimates. It puts the number of cancer deaths in 2005 attributable to work at 8,023 - compared to the 6,000 deaths a year HSE defended as a 'best available estimate' until two years ago. The new higher figures, which HSE now concedes 'are likely to be a conservative estimate of the total attributable burden', indicate there were 13,694 cancers caused by work in 2005. According to the TUC's Risks: "The figure is conservative for a host of reasons. The study only considered group 1 and 2a carcinogens, discounting possibles caused by those in the lower 2b category where there is evidence of risk, but not enough suitable studies to establish the link with certainty. HSE's analysis generally relied on large studies, but researchers have pointed out that many smaller workplaces like car repair shops and small scale building work can result in routine and considerable exposures. And the study uses an HSE estimate of the numbers of lung cancers caused by asbestos exposure, which knocks at least 1,000 cancer deaths a year - and possibly more than 3,000 - off more usually cited figures. The occupational risks from certain cancers, for example leukaemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, are virtually dismissed, despite evidence of a significant risk in other countries. In addition, other nations recognise risks from more substances and for cancers at shorter latency periods." Source: Risks 455
Chemicals cause cancer – major US report
In the US, the "President's Cancer Panel" , whose members were appointed by President George Bush, has just released its 2010 report [pdf]. The report confirms as its core finding that chemical exposures are a major factor in human cancer – not a surprising finding. But the report is remarkable because its source is an authoritative and bipartisan body, and because of the strong linkages it makes to the US's failed chemicals policies. The report blames weak laws, lax enforcement and fragmented authority, as well as the existing regulatory presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary. 'Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety,' the report says. It adds: 'Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.'
Activists hope the report will 'accelerate the shift in the way we think about and try to address cancers, from one that has focused almost exclusively on better diagnosis and treatment, to one that seeks to reduce and prevent cancer from developing in the first place.'
The situation in Australia is not dissimilar. We have approximately 38,000 chemicals listed on the Australian Inventory of Industrial Chemicals, of which fewer than 3000 have had any level of assessment. In addition, there are chemicals used for agricultural and veterinary purposes (eg pesticides), chemicals that are poisons and medications.
Source: The Pump Handle
Overtime a risk for heart diseaseA study has found that working overtime creates a 60 per cent higher risk of heart-related problems than not. The 11 year study, part of what is known as the Whitehall Study, followed more than 10,000 British public servants. Finnish Institute of Occupational Health Epidemiologist Marian Virtanen led this particular project, said the risks for those who work just two more hours a day were significant. They found that the association between long hours and coronary heart disease was independent of a range of risk factors including smoking, being overweight or having high cholesterol. The study also found that working overtime was related to type A behaviour pattern (ie, more competitive, tense, time-conscious and generally hostile/aggressive), psychological distress manifested by depression and anxiety, and possibly lack of sufficient sleep, poor diet and little exercise. The association of heart diseases with overtime is likely to result from the eventual deterioration of lifestyle.
The research team says they now need to work out if cutting the number of overtime hours worked would actually reduce the risk of heart disease. The research was published the European Heart Journal.
Sources: ABC online; WorkplaceOHS
Stress risk for women under 50
New Danish research published in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has revealed stress at work can significantly increase the risk of heart disease for women under 50.
Researchers examined 12,116 female nurses aged between 45 and 64 for 15 years. During this period, 580 participants were admitted to hospital with ischaemic heart disease (IHD), including 369 cases of angina and 138 heart attacks. Nurses that reported work pressure to be 'much too high' were almost 50% more likely to develop IHD, compared with those who said their stress was manageable or appropriate. Those who felt work pressure was a 'little too high' had a 25% increased risk of IHD. The results were most pronounced for nurses under the age of 50. 'Even though we were unable to demonstrate a signi?cant age interaction, it seems as if the effect of work pressure has a greater impact on younger nurses,' the authors say. The researchers concluded that the lower risk among the older nurses may be due to other risk factors that become relatively more important with increasing age. Vulnerable workers may have already left work, they added.
Yrsa Andersen Hundrup and others. Psychosocial work environment and risk of ischaemic heart disease in women: the Danish Nurse Cohort Study, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 67, pages 318-322, 2010
Plastic nanoparticles cross placenta barrierA new study, Barrier capacity of human placenta for nanosized materials, has shown that plastic nanoparticles can quickly traverse the human placenta from the mother's side to the developing foetus' side, confirming prior findings from animal studies. The nanoparticles can cross the placenta toward the end of pregnancy when the membrane barrier between mum and foetus is thinner. The growing brain and other organs may be exposed to the particles, for which health effects are unknown. Researchers suggest more study on the toxic effects of nanoparticles is required to understand if the foetus is at risk.
While there is much uncertainty about the toxicity of various nanoparticles, animal and laboratory studies find the airborne materials can pass into the blood from the lungs and into the brain from the nose. So far, lab studies have found the very small materials can affect brain cells, DNA and lung function. Animal studies point to reproductive changes, embryo death and brain and nerve damage.
The placenta acts as both a pipeline for nutrients, and a protective barrier, preventing certain substances from passing through to the foetus. During the study, the authors collected placentas from consenting women immediately after their full-term babies were born and injected with a single dose of a solution containing polystyrene nanoparticles. The results demonstrated that the smaller nanoparticles (50, 80, and 240 nm) appeared on the foetal side of the placenta within 15 minutes after injection, while the larger particles (500 nm) stayed on the maternal side for the six-hour duration of the study.
Environmental Health News, 29 March 2010
Nanoparticles in sunscreens: toxic if accidentally eaten?
A new study has reported that particle size affects the toxicity of zinc oxide, a material widely used in sunscreens. Particles smaller than 100 nanometres, are slightly more toxic to colon cells than conventional zinc oxide. Solid zinc oxide was more toxic than equivalent amounts of soluble zinc, and direct particle to cell contact was required to cause cell death. In the new study, published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, Philip Moos and colleagues note that there is ongoing concern regarding the potential toxicity of nanoparticles of various materials, which may have different physical and chemical properties than larger particles. "Unintended exposure to nano-sized zinc oxide from children accidentally eating sunscreen products is a typical public concern, motivating the study of the effects of nanomaterials in the colon," the researchers note. During their study with cell cultures of colon cells, the researchers compared the effects of zinc oxide nanoparticles to zinc oxide sold as a conventional powder. They discovered that the nanoparticles were twice as toxic to the cells as the larger particles. Although the nominal particle size was 1,000 times larger, the conventional zinc oxide contained a wide range of particle sizes and included material small enough to be considered as nanoparticles. The concentration of nanoparticles that was toxic to the colon cells was equivalent to eating 2 grams of sunscreen. This study used isolated cells to study biochemical effects and did not consider the changes to particles during passage through the digestive tract. The researchers say that further research should be done to determine whether zinc nanoparticle toxicity occurs in laboratory animals and people.
Science Daily, 7 April 2010
Help for council plannersWorkSafe Victoria is developing a series of maps to provide better information to councils, planners and the public about developments near Victoria's Major Hazards Facilities (MHFs): specially licensed sites which contain hazards that can have the potential to cause major incidents in the event of a failure of safety systems. They can include oil refineries and chemical plants some manufacturers and transport and warehouse operators. There are currently 39 licensed MHFs in Victoria. Read more
WorkSafe roadshow begins 12 May
WorkSafe Victoria's annual business roadshow begins 12 May, and will be a 'one stop shop' where businesses can seek advice and be updated on recent or coming developments, including changes to workers compensation, RTW obligations and premiums as well as updates on the national Work Health and Safety Act. WorkSafe staff will be available at the free information sessions to answer questions in an informal setting and provide advice on such topical issues as workplace bullying, musculoskeletal injuries and more.
Read more (including booking details and the locations of the roadshow)
WorkSafe launches 'Trips, slips and falls' campaign in construction sector
Slips, trips and falls on domestic construction sites are costing the community millions of dollars a year in medical costs for injured workers. In the last financial year, treatment costs for roof tilers who had suffered slips, trips or falls in the workplace came to over $1.3 million. $1.1 million was paid out to bricklayers with similar injuries and more than $2 million to carpenters. As a result, WorkSafe Victoria has launched a campaign to reduce the number of domestic construction site injuries. According to Acting Executive Director for Health and Safety Stan Krpan, 'Domestic construction companies have to think much more carefully about safety versus productivity. Losing a worker through a slip or fall will not only mean lost productivity for your business, you'll also have to cover lost labour and maybe even train new workers.'
WorkSafe media release
Router incident Alert - WorkSafe has reissued this Alert highlighting the need for workers to implement controls to prevent major incidents when using a router.
Lathe fatality in NSWWorkCover NSW is investigating an incident at a Condell Park factory in which a 15-year-old apprentice suffered serious injuries, which have subsequently led to his death in hospital. WorkCover began an investigation into the incident on Tuesday last week after the apprentice was taken to Westmead Hospital when his right arm was amputated from the elbow down while working on a lathe at a metal parts factory. "Tragically, this young man has subsequently died from his injuries," said WorkCover OHS Division Manager John Watson. "WorkCover has sent two inspectors to the site and will conduct a thorough investigation into this incident," he said.
Just two weeks ago, as reported in the last edition of SafetyNet, a 26yr old Victorian worker was killed when a metal part flew off a lathe in a Thomastown factory.
Directors prosecuted after cutting corners kills workerTwo company directors with nearly 50 years' construction industry experience were convicted and fined $60,000 each, after cutting corners led to the death of employee Peter Miller. Mr Miller died in 2006 when the partially built floor he was working on collapsed after more than 10 tonnes of building blocks were placed on it. The Geelong County Court also convicted Echuca construction company Permanent Er*ction Constructions Pty Ltd (PEC) and fined it $350,000. Both directors had pleaded not guilty.
PEC and its directors were previously fined in 2008 when they continued construction work after Mr Miller's death, despite WorkSafe issuing a notice prohibiting them from accessing the construction site. They were also fined when a wall collapsed on their construction site in 2006. In total, PEC has now been fined $520,000; and its directors $165,000.
WorkSafe Victoria's Acting Executive Director for Health and Safety Stan Krpan said that Mr Miller's death was preventable – if the company directors had simply recognised they didn't have the appropriate engineering expertise to calculate the weight-bearing load of the floor, and sought specialist advice. The cost of getting such advice would have been relatively small compared with the overall cost of the project.
WorkSafe Media Release
Company fined $130K after worker crushed
A heavy haulage company Redline Towing and Salvage Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $130,000 in the Melbourne County Court, after pleading guilty in relation to an incident where a worker was crushed and killed while loading an elevated work platform onto the trailer of a truck.
The 44 year-old Redline employee had completed a number of heavy haulage deliveries since joining the company in 2002 – yet he had never received training or guidance on how to safely load an elevated work platform (EWP). Mr Krpan said the incident was brought about by lack of appreciation of the danger of the machinery. 'The risks should have been obvious,' he said. 'This is a company which had a safety culture, from the director down, of taking dangerous risks - which considered it acceptable to load an EWP without using a winch cable, and with the driver in the basket.'
Fine tripled on appeal
A health and safety fine which was nearly tripled on appeal sends a clear message to Victorian workplaces about the consequences of needlessly endangering workers, WorkSafe Victoria said. Dandenong company "A Bending Company P/L" was originally convicted and fined $25,000 for a 2008 incident in which a young worker suffered a serious injury to his hand. The 16 year-old worker had no previous experience and minimal training, and the machine had no interlock system to stop it operating if the guard door was open. An appeal of the matter by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the County Court resulted in the company's fine being increased to $70,000, with costs of nearly $3,000.
Stan Krpan said, 'This sends a clear message to Victorian workplaces about what's in store for them if they neglect health and safety. The fact that the Director of Public Prosecutions found the original penalty inadequate, and the increase in the fine on appeal, demonstrates the courts' attitude towards health and safety offences. Workplaces take note – if you needlessly endanger the health and safety of your workers, you're not going to get off lightly.'
WorkSafe Media Release
$60K fine for chemical exposure and poor training
Thornton Engineering Australia Pty Ltd has been fined $60,000 for exposing employees to paint fumes and failing to provide adequate instructions on the safe storage of materials. In July 2008 a WorkSafe inspector found the company's system of work for spray painting fabricated steel products exposed employees to concentrations of epoxy paint vapour above the prescribed exposure limit. There were no written safe operating procedures for handling the paint, and the company's dangerous goods register was out of date: a fine of $45,000 was imposed. In concurrent proceedings, the Court also found that a Thornton Engineering worker who suffered bruised ribs and ligament damage to his right ankle while stacking packs of timber, had not been properly trained in storing the material. A worker was struck by a piece of timber while chocking the stacks in the confined space of a shipping container: a $15,000 fine was imposed. In July 2008 Thornton Engineering was fined $55,000 for failing to comply with 11 WorkSafe Victoria improvement notices.
Global: The State of Child Labour TodayIn 2006, the ILO's second Global Report on Child Labour showed that significant progress was being made in the fight against child labour. Encouraged by the positive trend, the ILO established a visionary target to eliminate child labour in its worst forms by 2016. After four years, the third Global Report paints a different picture: child labour continues to decline, but at a slower pace. The report warns that if countries carry on with business as usual the 2016 target will not be met.
USA: Louisiana oil rig explosion
Many of the media reports covering the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana on April 20 (SafetyNet 188) have focussed on the environmental disaster, neglecting to mention the 11 workers missing, presumed dead. Oil giant BP is facing accusations that it lobbied against new offshore safety rules and breached 'numerous regulations' at the rig. The giant rig sank two days after the explosion. Relatives of the missing workers, in a lawsuit they have lodged, claim rig operator BP and rig owner TransOcean violated 'numerous statutes and regulations' issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the US Coast Guard. BP and TransOcean have aggressively opposed new safety regulations proposed last year by the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling - the proposals were prompted by a study that raised concerns about the safety record of the industry. ' A proposed rule that would have required operators to have their safety programme audited at least once every three years - as opposed to the voluntary self-regulation programme in place at the moment - has been the subject of a coordinated attack by the industry. BP vice president for Gulf of Mexico production, Richard Morrison, in one of 100 plus opposing submissions from the industry, wrote that 'we are not supportive of the extensive, prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule,' arguing that the voluntary programmes 'have been and continue to be very successful.'
Source: Risks 454; Huffington Post.
Russia: 40 still missing in Siberian mine explosion
It is now believed that at least 47 miners were killed in two methane blasts that ripped through a huge underground coal mine in Siberia last Sunday. A criminal investigation has been launched for "breaching safety regulations resulting in the death of at least two people," an official from the local prosecutor's office said. This latest disaster is likely to lead to increased calls for a safety crackdown, according to Lev Puchkov of the Research Institute of Mining, who said that big mine explosions occurred every three to five years in Russia. Critics say the government has done little to follow up on promises to improve mining safety.
Source: ABC online