Issue 196 - SafetyNet Journal 196Welcome to the latest edition of the VTHC OHS Unit's regular e-journal SafetyNet.
Another fatalityVictoria's workplace fatalities reached 15 when a 34yr old cleaner died on August 12 from head injuries at a Laverton North poultry processing works. Preliminary WorkSafe investigations suggest the worker got caught up on a hook and chain system used for carrying birds around the factory. WorkSafe has again called for employers to be vigilant to ensure machinery guarding is in place and maintained, and workers properly supervised and trained on the safe use of machinery and equipment, with machine guarding remaining the state's biggest workplace safety issue. 'Cleaners being pulled into machinery with exposed moving parts is a real issue – workers are being badly injured and dying. Employers and those with responsibilities for workers need to wake up and start managing the risks.' Those who manage, maintain or own machinery and equipment, must make sure all moving parts that can have contact with any part of the body have approved physical barriers or guards fitted, he said, and that all staff, especially inexperienced workers, need to be trained and carefully supervised in the safe use of machinery and equipment.
WorkSafe Media Release
Ask RenataNo 'Ask Renata' this edition – due to too many deadlines unfortunately. However, make sure that if you have any OHS related queries, you send it in using our Ask Renata facility. You'll get an answer within a couple working days at the latest.
Asia Regional Conference on AsbestosA large number of organisations, including Australian Metalworkers Union, attended the Asia Regional Conference on Asbestos held in Jakarta. On 4th August the participants released a statement urging Canada to stop exporting Chrysotile to Asia. It begins with the statement: "Canada portrays itself as a defender of Human Rights, while continuing to export deadly chrysotile asbestos to Asia".
The Quebec government supports the industry financially, assisting in the opening of a new underground mine. Jeffrey Mine Inc plans to export 200,000 tonnes of asbestos a year from the new underground mine to developing countries for the next 25 to 50 years.
Read the full statement.
Harassment by bosses an alarming problemA South Australian study released last week has shown an alarming pattern of harassment by men in positions of authority against young women employees. In what SA Unions believes to be an Australia first, young women under 30 were surveyed by the South Australian Young Workers Legal Service about instances of sexual harassment in their workplace - and the results are confronting.
Among the case studies and key conclusions:
- Harassers are almost exclusively male bosses, managers, company directors and business owners.
- Harassers are commonly older than their targets - in some cases the age gap was "profound" with harasser's targets the same age as their own children.
- Harasser's access to information about their target can lead to intrusion and even stalking.
- Harassment is sometimes accompanied by mistreatment and abuse such as underpayment of wages, fallacious rumours, pressure to take drugs and unwarranted criticism about work performance.
SA Unions Secretary, Janet Giles says it is a damning indictment of workplace culture and the failure on the part of those in positions of authority who abuse that trust despite the blatantly illegal nature of their behaviour.
Experiences of Sexual Harassment amongst Young Women Workers: An Exploration of Power and Opportunity [pdf] Anne Purdy and Nadine Levy, SA Young Workers Legal Service.
VCOSS OHS EventVCOSS (the Victorian Council of Social Service) and partners are running an interactive forum that will look the impact of the Act in relation to the introduction of a duty of care for officers of organisations, including members of boards. The consequences of non-compliance have the potential to be costly to community organisations. This forum provides an opportunity to hear firsthand about the changes that the new OHS laws will bring as well as network with community sector peers. The event is on Wednesday 8th September, 9.30am - 12.00pm (Registrations open at 8.45am)
Venue: ANZ Pavilion, The Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Cost: $55.00 (includes morning tea)
Read more on the Community OHS website
International Union newsUSA: Metropolis faces deadly work peril
Union members at America's only uranium conversion plant, in Metropolis, Illinois, have erected 42 crosses in memory of workers who died of cancer. Twenty-seven smaller crosses symbolise workers who have survived the disease. Workers at the plant say work-related cancers are a central reason the union is refusing to accept the plant operator's plan to reduce pensions for newly hired workers and health benefits for retirees. A report in the New York Times says the memorial is a fitting backdrop for the contentious labour dispute that has shaken Metropolis, the self-proclaimed hometown of Superman, which sits on the Ohio River at the southern edge of Illinois. On 28 June, Honeywell, the plant operator, locked out its 220 union employees after contract negotiations stalled, accusing the union of refusing to give the company 24 hours' notice of a strike. The union has picketed ever since. 'We deal with hydrofluoric acid,' said Darrell Lillie, president of United Steelworkers Local 7-669, which represents the union workers. 'We make fluorine. This is bad stuff. The least we feel like we could have is good medical benefits when we retire.' The company converts milled uranium into uranium hexafluoride for nuclear reactors. With the union workers locked out, 152 salaried Honeywell employees have been running the plant, alongside contract workers and retirees reemployed by the firm. 'They're trying to bring in old recruits who have been retired and train them to run the plant,' said Jerry Baird, whose restaurant, Diamond Lil's, has been hauling barbecue, lemonade and ice to the picket line. 'If they remember everything, it'll probably run. If they don't, they'll probably kill us all.'
New York Times Source: Risks 469
ITF delegation raises concerns about Mexico's offshore sector
A delegation from the International Transport Workers' Federation Congress last week met Gerson Obed Vega Ibarra, deputy director of the General Office of Exploration and Exploitation of Hydrocarbons at Mexico's Ministry of Energy, to discuss ITF concerns about human rights violations and the lack of a proper health and safety regime in the country's offshore oil and gas sector. ITF concerns were presented to the International Forum on Maritime Offshore Industry held in Mexico City in October last year. In what the delegation says was a positive meeting, it was informed that new structures were being put into place to deal with the current problems of the sector. The energy, labour, maritime and transport ministries would coordinate their activities to improve health and safety at work, along with the development of emergency response training and good labour practices.
Source: ITF News
Employment rights lost during Howard yearsAccording to the most comprehensive analysis yet of the academic literature on the Howard years, the Coalition's changes to IR laws during its 11 years in office from 1996 'undoubtedly' contributed to a shift in the balance of power away from workers and their institutions and towards employers. The power shift was primarily a result of reduced enforceable rights and obligations at work, especially unfair dismissal rights and entitlements attached to anti-social working hours, and the new agreement-making regime, which effectively amounted to an increase in employer options.
The assessment began with a review last year of nearly 300 works of academic research on the impact of the Howard Government's legislative programme since 1996 (not just Work Choices) by a team of six Monash University academics.
The workers most adversely affected were those in low skilled or low paid service jobs; women workers, especially with caring responsibilities; young workers; and those with English as a second language. Their experiences included less employment security; slower growth in real wages compared to national averages; often extended hours for full-timers and inadequate hours for part-timers; less access to training; and less control more generally over working lives and family life.
Though the report was issued just this week, the work was completed in January this year.
Assessing the impact of employment legislation - Australian academics reflect on the impact of the Federal Coalition's labour law program 1996-2007 Chris Arup, Anthony Forsyth, Peter Gahan, Marco Michelotti, Richard Mitchell, Carolyn Sutherland and David Taft, Social Science Research Network.
Firefighters: higher risk of heart diseaseA US study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, has found that exposure to high levels of ultrafine particles (UPs) may contribute to a higher risk coronary heart disease in firefighters. UPs are invisible particles capable of reaching into the smallest air passages in the lungs.
The researchers from the University of Cincinnati measured levels of different sizes of breathable particles during test fires, and found that UPs, measuring less than 0.1 microns, accounted for more than 70% of all particles in all the fires. Levels of UPs were high throughout all stages of fire suppression, not only the 'knockdown' phase (when firefighters work to extinguish the fire or limit its growth) but also during the 'overhaul' phase (when the goal is to prevent the fire from reigniting). They concluded that exposures could be particularly high during the overhaul phase, when firefighters often remove their respiratory protective equipment.
The researchers recommended that use of respiratory protective equipment should be more consistent, especially during the 'overhaul' stage of fire suppression, to reduce firefighters' exposure to ultrafine particles, and possibly lower coronary risk.
Ultrafine Particle Exposure During Fire Suppression-Is It an Important Contributory Factor for Coronary Heart Disease in Firefighters? Baxter, C. Stuart; Ross, Clara Sue; Fabian, Thomas; Borgerson, Jacob L.; Shawon, Jamila; Gandhi, Pravinray D.; Dalton, James M.; Lockey, James E. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine. 52(8):791-796, August 2010.
Suicide and depression higher in doctorsA study on mental health has revealed that those working in medicine have higher levels of suicide and depression than the general public. Beyond Blue commissioned research has found women in the profession are two-and-a-half times more likely to commit suicide than other women; for men the rate is 25 per cent higher.
Associate Professor Michael Baigent from Beyond Blue says it is important to remove the notion that poor self-care is part of a medical career. He says the highly competitive and perfectionist nature of the medical profession are factors.
Professor Baigent was quoted by the ABC as saying, 'It's sad that people in the medical profession put their own health on the backburner because they're so dedicated to their patients, but also I think doctors tend to think that because they diagnose conditions in other people they can diagnose it accurately in themselves. Doctors feel that being depressed themselves is a sign of weakness, but when it comes to their patients they see it as just being an illness like any other illness, which is the way we all talk about it... so they don't apply the same rules to themselves as they do to other people.'
Source: ABC Online
Useful MaterialsFrom WorkSafe Victoria:
- A new Health and Safety Solution which provides advice about guarding woodworking bandsaws - Guarding woodworking bandsaws
- An asbestos alert [pdf] after it was reported that a number of licensed asbestos removalists were using unsuitable, single-layer disposable coveralls during asbestos-removal work.
- A guidance note on interstate construction induction cards for construction workers who want to work in Victoria.
From Safe Work Australia: Issue 4 of The Safe Work Australian [pdf] which includes articles on the progress on the model work health and safety (WHS) Regulations and model priority Codes of Practice and workplace eye injuries.
From the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation:
A safety alert [pdf] due to a "large number of incidents" in which haul trucks passed through or damaged berms while dumping loads at the edges of surface mines.
From SafeWork SA:
A new resource designed to assist employers implement work/life balance measures which will benefit both the business and employees. The website provides information on analysing workforce needs and drafting and implementing a flexibility policy. Work Life Balance website
Mine maintenance contractor fined $475k over deathMine maintenance contractor Silcar Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined $475,000 in the Melbourne County Court last week after one of its workers was crushed to death when a 700kg steel beam fell on him at the Yallourn open cut coal mine in 2006. The incident occurred during routine maintenance on the head pulley of the mine's conveyor used to transport overburden, or unwanted material. Two cables failed while 42-year-old maintenance fitter Richard Gauci was winching the beam into position. The court found the company guilty of failing to provide and maintain safe plant and systems of work and failing to provide information, instruction and training to employees.
The WorkSafe investigation found hand winches and lifting rope on the fixed belt clamp were in poor condition; Silcar had no records to show belt clamps and ropes had been inspected or maintained; and it had failed to put safe systems of work in place for working with fixed belt clamps. The incident occurred because Silcar had failed to consider all the risks, WorkSafe acting hazard management director Rod Gunn said. 'As a maintenance contractor, carrying out high-risk work assessments should be an area of expertise,' he said. He urged employers to make sure plant and equipment were inspected and maintained in a condition suitable for use.
WorkSafe Media Release
Woolworths on 'enforceable undertaking'Large retailer Woolworths has agreed to donate $90,000 to safety research and charity and have the OHS systems at one of its Victorian premises audited by an independent party, after an unsupervised trainee forklift operator was nearly injured in a crash. In a June 2008 incident the trainee was using a reach truck to raise a pallet of boxes onto an eight-metre-high rack at the Wodonga distribution centre (run by Woolworths and its wholly owned subsidiary, Woolstar Pty Ltd), when the mast became caught on another pallet in the rack and boxes fell onto the roof of the vehicle, causing bottles to break and soaking him in olive oil. Luckily he wasn't injured.
WorkSafe found the young worker was unlicensed and unsupervised and that he had been opertating the reach truck without supervision for several weeks. Further, he had been instructed to enter the identification number of a licensed operator into the vehicle's enabling key pad.
In lieu of prosecution, Woolworths and Woolstar offered WorkSafe a joint enforceable undertaking – a proposal accepted by the regulator. In addition to the donation and audit, the company has undertaken to review its systems annually, publish an article on the incident, and run a free safety seminar during WorkSafe Week using this incident as a case study.
Enforceable undertaking following non-compliance with noticesAnother Victorian employer, Quality Food World Pty Ltd has entered into an enforceable undertaking with WorkSafe, when inspectors found that it failed to carry out required actions. In a July 2008 visit to the premises, inspectors issued Improvement notices on two machines on which the guarding mechanisms had been bypassed. A follow up visit found that one notice had been complied with and the second machine decommissioned. However a return visit in February 2009 revealed that the machine's guarding had again been bypassed. Further on this occasion, the company refused to provide the inspector with requested documents.
An enforceable undertaking was agreed to, in which the company commits that it will:
- Consult with employees
- Review its OHS Management System and OHS/Dangerous Goods compliance within 30 days
- Engage an independent consultant to provide assistance and advice in this review
- Provide WorkSafe with a report of the review
- Develop and implement a Corrective Action Plan and provide reports to WorkSafe on a three monthly basis
- Engage an independent person to audit its Action Plan one year after implementation, and then again after another year
- Ensure that its Director and Production Manager attend an OHS course in the food processing sector.
Global: Microelectronics investors demand better standardsA coalition of over 40 European, Australian and US investment groups has condemned abusive workplace conditions in the global electronics supply chain and is demanding improvements. The group, led by Boston Common Asset Management, LLC, Trillium Asset Management Corporation, As You Sow and Domini Social Investments LLC, has told the electronics manufacturers in their portfolios they must ensure better working standards in their supply chain. The investment firms are all members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). The microelectronics sector has been embroiled in a series of health and safety controversies, including a suicide scandal at Foxconn and links to elevated cancers at Samsung and other firms. 'We believe this is a wake-up call for the electronic industry to intensify its efforts to improve working conditions and the quality of life for workers producing their products,' said Steven Heim, managing director of ESG Research and Shareholder Advocacy at Boston Common Asset Management. 'We urge companies, suppliers, governments and investors to focus on building more sustainable supply chains that mitigate risks while building safe and harmonious workplaces.' The statement, with 45 investor signatories, urges the consumer electronics companies in their portfolios such as Apple, Dell, and Hewlett Packard to redouble efforts to strictly monitor the practices of their suppliers to insure safer, less stressful workplace conditions and to promote worker rights.
ICCR news release [pdf] and full statement [pdf]. Good Electronics news release and resources.
US: huge fines proposed following power plant explosionIn February this year, an explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Middletown, Connecticut killed six workers and injured others. Workers had been finishing construction on the natural gas power plant, and natural gas under high pressure was being pumped through new fuel lines to remove debris. Much of this gas was vented into areas where it couldn't disperse properly, and welding was occurring at the same time. Gas contacted an ignition source resulting in the explosion. Last week, OSHA proposed US$16.6 million in penalties for 371 alleged workplace safety violations related to this disaster. Three construction companies and 14 subcontractors were cited. OSHA has cited O&G Industries (the general contractor), Keystone Construction and Maintenance Inc. (which oversaw the gas blow) and Bluewater Energy Services (the plant's startup contractor) for 'performing the gas blow procedure in a way that exposed workers to fire and explosion hazards, including the configuration of the vent pipes in close proximity to scaffolding and other structures, and the failure to remove non-essential personnel from the area,' in addition to other citations.
OSHA News Release S ource: The Pump Handle