Issue 197 - SafetyNet Journal 197Welcome to the 197th edition of the OHS Unit's SafetyNet journal. Read about the latest national OHS developments as well as what's been going on in the state and elsewhere.
Reps conference: Celebrating 25 years
And looking forward to the Challenges of the next 25!This year marks the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the OHS Act and the right of workers to elect OHS Representatives. Our annual conference will celebrate the work of thousands of OHS Representatives who have contributed to safe and healthy working conditions for Victorians since the introduction of the first Victorian OHS Act 25 years ago.
Topics to be covered include asbestos, bullying and manual handling risks. These are all major workplace hazards that continue to affect the health and safety of Victorian workers.
All OHS Representatives are entitled to paid leave to attend the conference. Make sure you request leave before 13 October (you must give your employer 14 days notice). Deputy reps and committee members are also welcome to attend.
To register: contact your union or download the registration form [which will be available on the OHS Reps @ Work website late next week]. If you have any queries, contact either your union or Trades Hall on 9659 3570 or email Larissa
Another two fatalities
There have been another two fatalities in Victoria – making it 17 so far this year. The first fatality occurred last Tuesday afternoon at a grain handling facility in North Shore, a Geelong suburb. WorkSafe is investigating. It appears the man fell from a grain storage bunker (not a silo) while securing a cover about 8m above the ground.
The fatality followed another serious incident on the same day also in Geelong, where a man was crushed by the house he was re-stumping. He was trapped until rescued by SES volunteers and flown to hospital in Melbourne.
The Director of WorkSafe's Manufacturing, Logistics and Agriculture Division, Ross Pilkington, said such incidents were preventable because they could be foreseen. 'As in virtually all fatalities, the person who dies or is badly hurt was doing a routine task - that's why employers and workers must have a clear understanding of the potential risks in their industry and apply measures to control them. It is rare for a death or serious injury to occur where it could not be prevented.'
The second fatality occurred this Tuesday afternoon at a vehicle rental company on Footscray Road in West Melbourne, when a large plastic water tank fell on a man. It appears the worker was killed while helping a member of the public move the 22,000 litre capacity tank. WorkSafe is investigating the incident.
Following this fatality, Ross Pilkington said, 'If you're moving large items by hand without any kind of backup safety system in place, you're putting yourself at risk.' He added that WorkSafe wants workers to 'put in a bit of extra time to plan how they're going to do a job, carry it out according to that plan, and stay safe.' While this is true, it must be remembered that it is the employer who has the duty to ensure that there are safe systems of work in place, and that employees are provided with appropriate training and supervision to allow them to carry out their work safely.
WorkSafe Media Release
Regulator's 'report card'
Just the day before this latest fatality, WorkSafe released its annual report, proudly noting that Victoria had its lowest ever injury rate in the past financial year. WorkSafe Chair, Elana Rubin, said the number of claims per thousand workers continued its downward trend finishing 2009-10 at 10.54 claims per 1000 workers compared with 10.8 claims per 1000 in 2008-09. While the injury rate is still above WorkSafe's target of 8.35 claims per 1000, it is the lowest on record. Ms Rubin said that while Victoria's workplaces had 'never been safer', there were still too many workers being killed at work: there were 26 fatalities in the year 2009-10, the same number as in the previous year.
WorkSafe Media Release
Asbestosis deaths double in 10yrsSafe Work Australia has published the first report on Asbestos-related Disease Indicators August 2010 [pdf]. It notes that in this report, only mesothelioma and asbestosis have been used to indicate the extent of asbestos-caused disease in Australia. The report has found that in the 10 years ending 2008, the number of deaths attributed to asbestosis has more than doubled, while deaths from mesothelioma have grown 50%. The number of overall asbestosis deaths is increasing steadily, (109 in 2008 compared to 43 in 1998).
Death is not usually due to the disease itself, but due to other serious conditions the disease triggers. Of the 109 deaths in 2008, 64% recorded asbestosis along with three or more other causes of death. Deaths attributed to asbestosis could be "more prevalent" than the data suggests, the report said.
Overall mesothelioma deaths rose to 628 in 2008 from 416 in 1997. The number of new mesothelioma cases diagnosed trended downward to 579 in 2006 from its 649 peak in 2003, after having jumped from 156 back in 1982. The report has confirmed that occupational exposure is changing. New cases are more likely to be the result of exposure to asbestos from the renovation or demolition of buildings, rather than from the production process from activities such mining asbestos, manufacturing products containing asbestos or using these products in construction. Men continue to be more likely than women to contract the disease, accounting for an average of 86% of new cases since 1982, the report found.
TV drama on James Hardie story
FremantleMedia Australia is developing a new drama series around the James Hardie asbestos saga. The building materials company becane even more notorious when it became the centre of a landmark decision with campaigner Bernie Banton becoming the public face of the David v Goliath battle. He died in 2007. An ABC spokeswoman said the project was "in development at this stage and is yet to be commissioned".
James Hardie receives 135 new asbestos claims James Hardie has released its consolidated financial statements for the June 2010 quarter, showing it received 135 new asbestos-related claims. According to the figures, the company's total asbestos liability for 30 June 2010 was A$1747.1m (down from A$1768m at 31 March 2010). Hardie settled 100 claims in the June quarter at a cost of $20.2 million (each settled claim cost, on average, $189,553).
James Hardie is required by a funding agreement to provide long-term funding to the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund, which provides compensation for Australian-related personal injuries for which certain former subsidiary companies of James Hardie is found liable.
Increased awareness, and cost, in Queensland schoolsMedia reports over the past few days have revealed that temporary closures and evacuations of schools in Queensland because of asbestos risk have jumped this year, with 137 recorded before August 24. A total of only 103 were recorded last year.
One school was forced to throw out valuable classroom and office equipment, including 17 computers, five servers, five televisions, 11 overhead projectors, three data projectors, a scanner, photocopier, a fax machine and various other items including teacher resources because of potential asbestos contamination earlier this year. The bill came to almost $90,000. Queensland Secondary Principals Association president Norm Fuller said some of the removals were costly but it was far better than putting students' health at risk.
Source: Courier Mail
WHO Factsheet on Asbestos
The World Health Organisation has issued a Factsheet on the Elimination of Asbestos-related disease. Currently, about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. According to the most recent WHO estimates, more than 107 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from exposure at work. WHO, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization and with other intergovernmental organizations and civil society, works with countries towards elimination of asbestos-related diseases by, for example, recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos.
WHO Fact Sheet Asbestos: elimination of asbestos-related diseases
Asbestos mine gets $3.5m from Quebec government
The Quebec government will guarantee a $3.5 million (A$3.8m) line of credit for one of Canada's last asbestos mines. This will now allow the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec to reopen and resume exports of chrysotile asbestos for the next month. The company hopes that in this time it can attract private investors in order to secure a $58million (A$61m) loan from the provincial government.
According to the mine's supporters, the money will create 400 direct and 1,000 indirect jobs, and allow the mine to remain open for another 25 years. Owner and president Bernard Coulombe insists that the production and use of chrysotile are safe saying the mine 'needs to meet an international demand for the mineral.'
The Canadian Cancer Society and doctors across Quebec and Canada have lobbied the Quebec government urging it to not support the production of asbestos by lending money to the mine. 'It accounts for about 90,000 deaths each year,' said André Beaulieu, spokesperson for Quebec's branch of the Canadian Cancer Society. Beaulieu is also calling for a global ban on the production of asbestos in all its forms. More than 50 countries, including Australia, have totally banned all forms of asbestos production and mining, but Canada continues to permit the mining of chrysotile fibres, mainly for export.
Source CBS News
Can a manager be elected as an HSR?
Strictly speaking, any employee who is a member of the Designated Work Group (DWG) has the right to put their name forward to be elected as the DWG's HSR. So, unless the manager is an owner of the company, he/she is an employee and so as a DWG member is entitled to stand as health and safety rep.
HOWEVER, IF the manager is the person TO WHOM OHS issues must be taken for resolution (as per Section 73 of the Act), then that person CANNOT be the health and safety rep. So, in most cases, the manager at the workplace or of the DWG cannot be the elected rep.
Further, even if a manager were to put him/herself up for election, it would be better for the the members of the DWG vote for one of their fellow workers to represent them, rather than the manager, who might find him/herself in a difficult situation should there be unresolved OHS matters that might need further action, such as issuing a PIN. Take a look at this page which outlines the role of the HSR.
If you have any OHS related queries, then Ask Renata - make sure you put in your correct email address and a phone number, and you'll get a response within a couple working days at the latest.
Equal pay day – 65 Days in the Red
From the time girls start earning pocket money to the time women retire they are paid less than men. Equal Pay Day 2010 marks all the extra days each year it takes women to catch up to men's annual earnings. Women earn 18% less than men on average. This year it will take an extra 65 days to make up that pay, starting from the end of the financial year (30 June 2010). Therefore this year's Equal Pay Day is September 4, and women around Australia are being asked to wear something red to mark it. Next year it could take even longer. In the 2009 – 2010 financial year, average weekly ordinary time earnings were:
Pay Gap $239.30 (2008 – 2009 this was $216.90)
The VTHC held a morning tea this morning, with guest speakers Ms Jill McCabe, Director, Office of Women's Policy, Bronwyn Halfpenny, VTHC Industrial Campaign Officer, and Ms Morag Loh, an author and equal pay activist from the 1960's.
Nano and the federal election
Just prior to our recent federal election, the Australian Greens pledged their support for a national, mandatory and publicly available register of all nanomaterials in commercial use. This has been a past call from the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the (now defunct) Australian Nano Business Forum, which was previously the nano-industry peak body. Denmark and France have stated their intention to introduce similar registers.
Unfortunately, on Radio National's The World Today program, the then Innovation Minister Kim Carr ruled out Labor support for a register, citing nano's economic potential. However, in a late response to a Friends of the Earth (FOE)'s election policy questionnaire, the Labor Party indicated its willingness to consider such a proposal, although it rejected calls for mandatory labelling of nano-ingredients and other initiatives generally supported by the ACTU and a number of NGOs, including Friends of the Earth (FOE).
Despite their past stated commitment to building public trust in nanotechnology oversight, the Liberals and the National Party failed to answer a federal election policy questionnaire sent by FOE. It will be interesting to see what happens 'in this space' once we know what government we have.
Walk to Work Day
Gearing up to National Walk to Work Day? Remember the annual event run by the Pedestrian Council of Australia as part of a longer-term strategy to help improve the health and wellbeing of Australian workers is coming up on
Friday 1 October.
Individuals who pledge to participate this year can go into the draw for some wonderful prizes, including one of two walking holidays to New Zealand or Tasmania. Or sign up as a Walking Workplace and receive tips on how to make the most of walking in your workplace.
For more information, and to pledge your participation, visit the Walk to Work website
International Union news
Bangladesh: strike continuesAn unprecedented industrial campaign by workers in the garment industry that saw the monthly minimum wage increased from US$25 to US$43 is continuing. Millions of workers are still on strike demanding the minimum wage be increased to US$73 a month, as well as improvements in a series of other conditions. In response, the factory owners are laying off thousands of workers, while the government has enacted laws to stop street demonstrations, and is arresting hundreds of organisers.
Bangladeshi unions need international solidarity. Read more and send a message of solidarity
Action on Toxic Chemicals: Benefits for Workers and the Environment
Wouldn't it be better for workers and the environment if we just used safer substances and processes in the first place?
There must be new legislative and policy measures to prevent exposure to toxic chemicals and that can deliver benefits for workers and the community, a new US report 'Preventing toxic exposures: Workplace lessons in safer alternatives' has concluded. The report calls for a comprehensive, proactive federal chemicals management policy to identify toxic chemicals before they are used commercially and to require the use of safer alternatives. It adds that while binding rules are formulated, there should be a push to promote safer alternatives.
'Instead of waiting until a hazardous chemical has been released into the workplace and the environment, we should prevent the hazard by replacing or redesigning the materials, processes, and practices involved with it. This is a different way of doing business, which has economic as well as health benefits' notes Holly Brown-Williams of the University of California Berkeley's Health Research for Action centre and co-author of the report.
The report points out: '…we often fail to consider the special circumstances of workers' chemical use: limited freedom to choose the products they use and much higher exposure over a working lifetime. By developing separate solutions for the workplace and the community, we also risk increasing hazards for one group while protecting another… And, importantly, we waste the rich knowledge and experience that workers, community members, and labour [union] and environmental advocates can contribute to more holistic solutions.'
Read more: SustainLabour International Labour Foundation For Sustainable Development News Release Full article by Rory O'Neill and Preventing Toxic Exposures: Workplace Lessons In Safer Alternatives Report [pdf]
Teens underestimate hazards of work
A US research team has found that working adolescents underestimate the dangers associated with work, thus increasing the potential likelihood of injury. The research team examined hazardous task recognition among 858 teens working in the retail or service industry, using data from a nationally representative cross-sectional telephone survey conducted in 2003.
When asked they identified tasks involving hot surfaces, sharp knives, working at heights, work with blood and body fluids, and driving. Just over 13 per cent considered at least one of their tasks as hazardous. However, only 1.5 per cent of those doing tasks such as operating power equipment and using chemicals thought these were hazardous. Not one worker regarded using forklift or other hoisting equipment as dangerous.
The team concluded that emphasis needed to be placed on eliminating or reducing hazards in the workplace, and at the same time improving young workers' recognition of the hazardous nature of many of the tasks they perform.
Vladutiu CJ, Rauscher KJ, Runyan CW, et al. Hazardous task recognition among US adolescents working in the retail or service industry. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 2010; 53: 686-692.[abstract]
Muscle and bone injuries cost Victoria a billion
WorkSafe has this week launched a major advertising campaign to challenge the perception that musculoskeletal injuries are only suffered by people in jobs that involve heavy lifting. Based on compensation figures, treating workers for injuries which would 'cost little or nothing to prevent' has cost the community $956 million in the last year. Debilitating injuries are not suffered only by those whose jobs involve heavy lifting, but also workers in child care, retail, hospitality and many other sectors where lifting isn't necessarily involved.
"Injuries to the muscles, tissue, nerves and bones account for more than half of all workplace injuries in Victoria, but they are often overshadowed because there's no 'blood on the floor'", WorkSafe's Strategic Programs Director Trevor Martin said. "Lifting a box, climbing a step-ladder or navigating a slippery surface at work might not set off alarm bells for most of us – but tasks like these cause over 17,000 Victorian workers painful muscle and bone injuries every year. They're the most preventable, because in many cases, simply cleaning up a spill on the floor or providing some lifting equipment eliminates the risk," he said.
"Victoria has had Manual Handling regulations, in more or less the same form, since 1989. In our view the major reason that the level of MSD injuries is still so high is that few workplaces properly implement these regulations," said VTHC OHS Information Officer Renata Musolino.
WorkSafe Media Release More information on Strains and Sprains The Manual Handling chapter of the OHS Regulations.
Occupational Licenses updateThe Occupational Licensing National Law Bill 2010 was introduced to the Victorian Legislative Assembly and passed its first reading on 10 August. Victoria is the host jurisdiction for the National Licensing System (NLS) legislation. Following the passing of the legislation in Victoria, all remaining states and territories will pass legislation that makes the Victorian legislation law in their jurisdiction. To progress this national initiative the bill must now also pass the second reading in the Victorian Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. The bill [pdf] can be viewed or downloaded from the Victorian legislation and parliamentary documents website
National OHS laws update
Safe Work Australia's Strategic Issues Group (SIG) met on August 19 & 20 to further progress work on the draft regulations. The work is on track to release the exposure draft of the model Work Health and Safety Regulations and priority model Codes of Practices for public comment towards in November 2010.
Model WHS Regulations will be drafted for specific areas including:
- authorisations-registration and licences, for example, asbestos removal and high risk work
- workplaces-facilities, first aid, personal protective equipment, emergency plans
- major hazards: chemicals, asbestos, inorganic lead, labelling and safety data sheets
- other hazard: plant, manual tasks, noise, work at heights, remote and isolated work, confined spaces,
- construction work, and
- occupational diving.
Model priority Codes of Practices will be drafted for specific areas including:
- managing work health and safety risks
- work environment and facilities
- hazardous chemicals - labelling and safety data sheets
- other hazards-plant, manual tasks, noise, work at heights and confined spaces, and
- construction hazards.
Additional Codes of Practice will be drafted for specific areas including traffic management, fatigue and first aid, and hazardous work-diving, abrasive blasting, logging, welding and spray painting.
Noise-induced hearing loss – SWA publication
Safe Work Australia Chief Executive Officer, Mr Rex Hoy, last week launched the Occupational noise-induced hearing loss in Australia: overcoming barriers to effective noise control and hearing loss [pdf] publication at the Hearing Awareness Expo, run by the ACT Deafness Resource Centre.
The research on the control of workplace noise exposure and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss, undertaken by SWA undertook the research for this publication, confirms that occupational noise-induced hearing loss is a significant health and economic problem in Australia. From July 2002 to June 2007 there were approximately 16 500 workers' compensation claims for industrial deafness involving permanent impairment due to noise.
Occupational noise-induced hearing loss continues to be a problem among Australian workers, despite the fact that each Australian jurisdiction has regulations for exposure to occupational noise. Industrial deafness can cost employers nearly $2000 per worker per year. The report authors stress that employers in noisy industries should supply ear plugs and other PPE only as a "last resort", and must first investigate ways to reduce noise at its source.
Mr Hoy said, 'It is important that we continue research into this area in an effort to reduce exposure to excessive occupational noise, which can be associated with many adverse effects besides loss of hearing. It has also been linked to annoyance and fatigue and to serious health conditions such as hypertension. Proper workplace and equipment design and adequate management practices can control occupational noise levels and workers' exposure, thereby reducing the risk of hearing loss and other adverse outcomes.'
SWA Media Release [pdf]
From WorkSafe Victoria: A Crane inspection alert after concerns were raised over the authenticity of some records of major inspections. WorkSafe warns that crane owners are required by law to conduct regular major inspections of cranes, and must ensure they only engage qualified persons to conduct inspections; keep a record of all details of the persons engaged to undertake the work, including supervising engineers and their contractors; and ensure reports are signed and authorised.
From WorkSafe Western Australia: A new code of practice Man Overboard: Prevention and response [pdf] for the commercial fishing industry. The code outlines ways to address the risks associated with accidental falls from commercial fishing vessels and covers both the prevention of falls and the emergency responses if a man overboard incident occurs.
Company convicted following forklift death
A company and it co-director were last week convicted in the Melbourne Magistrate's Court and fined almost $200,000 over a preventable workplace fatality in October 2008 that involved a 'deplorable' lack of medical attention. Magistrate Andrew Capell ruled that mitigation over the offences had to play a secondary role to penalties for the death. The magistrate also said that the company and its co-director, Gunther Mayr, had been warned over dangers in their forklift operations.
After a forklift reversed over the worker's foot, he fell and struck the back of his head. Though he declined advice to see a doctor, rested and then returned to work, he began to bleed from the nose. When the co-director's wife saw this, she left to call a doctor. The worker was taken to hospital, but died.
The company pleaded guilty to charges including failing to have an adequate system for loading and unloading deliveries and an adequate traffic management system, a charge to which Mayr also pleaded guilty. The company was convicted and fined $163,500, with $8200 costs. Mayr was fined $20,000, without conviction, with $8200 costs.
Source: The Age WorkSafe media release Read more on Forklift safety
$450,000 fine for 'avoidable' excavator death
In another prosecution last week, Nationwide Towing and Transport Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $450,000 in the Melbourne County Court over the avoidable death of a 30 year-old worker at Narre Warren in 2007. The man was trying to drive a 20 tonne steel-tracked excavator off a steel-decked trailer when the excavator slipped and fell to the ground, killing him. WorkSafe's investigation found the trailer was too narrow to support the excavator, the method of unloading was unsafe, and the surface of the steel-decked trailer didn't provide enough grip, increasing the risk of the excavator slipping when the trailer was tilted.
'This workplace fatality was entirely avoidable. The equipment provided by the company to do the job wasn't appropriate, and the worker hadn't been trained to identify the risks,' WorkSafe's Acting Executive Director for Health and Safety Marlo Baragwanath said. She added that the death was even more tragic because it echoed a similar situation which had occurred less than two years earlier, where no-one was hurt.
WorkSafe Media Release
SA: Company and boss fined over fatal factory blast
A SA munitions factory and its chief operating officer were fined close to the state's maximum penalty over a 2006 fatal explosion in Gladstone that killed three workers and injured two others. The company, Quin Investments, and the boss Nik Kuzub were both found guilty of failing to maintain a safe workplace.
The magistrate found the employers totally failed their obligations and stored items unsafely around the factory. The court fined both parties $95,000, just under the maximum $100,000 fine that applied at the time. They were also ordered to pay legal costs of SafeWork SA and the maximum compensation of $40,000 to the victims' families. Both defendants have lodged appeals against their convictions.
Source: ABC Online
Chile: 33 miners trapped miner alive
Thirty-three Chilean miners trapped underground following a cave-in on August 5 are all alive. Until they sent a message tied to a drill, it had been thought that most, if not all, had been killed in the collapse. While families are overjoyed, authorities have said it will take months to get the trapped miners out of the San Jose mine. Rescuers are having to bore a large enough hole through solid rock. In the meantime they are sending plastic tubes down the narrow hole with food, hydration gels and communications equipment. The miners were seven kilometres inside the winding mine and about 700 metres vertically underground. Since the initial contact, they have been moved to a drier and cooler site which is 300m deeper inside the mine. This is because some of the men had developed fungal infections and body sores from the hot, dank conditions in their original location.
Serious mining accidents are rare in Chile, but according to the government, there have been a series of mishaps at the mine owned by local private company Compania Minera San Esteban Primera and 16 workers have been killed there in recent years.
BP agrees to pay fines over Texas explosion
Before the Gulf oil disaster, BP had already been prosecuted for the March 2005 explosion at its unsafe Texas City refinery, which killed 15 workers and injured 170. In September 2005, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited BP for $21 million, and BP paid the fine and entered into an agreement with OSHA under which the company would identify and correct safety problems. But when OSHA conducted a follow-up investigation in 2009, it found that the company had "failed to live up to several extremely important terms of that agreement." OSHA then issued failure-to-abate citations to the tune of $50.6 million, plus $30.7 million for 439 new wilful violations it identified.
BP had originally disputed almost all of the 709 violations – but two weeks ago agreed to pay the full $50.6 million and to immediately start improving safety at the Texas City refinery, including an investment of at least US$500 million on safety efforts. Perhaps it decided it was best to just pay up and shut up following the scrutiny it is now under after the Gulf disaster.
Source: The Pump Handle blog
Workers say safety most important workplace issue85 percent of US workers rank workplace safety first in importance among labor standards, even ahead of family and maternity leave, minimum wage, paid sick days, overtime pay and the right to join a union, according to a new study from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The study, Public Attitudes Towards and Experiences with Workplace Safety [pdf], draws on dozens of surveys and polls conducted by NORC, one of the US's leading academic survey operations, think tanks and public opinion firms.
Despite widespread public concern about workplace safety, the study also found that the media and the public tend to pay closest attention to safety issues when disastrous workplace accidents occur. Even during those tragedies, the fate of workers is often overlooked, such as during the recent oil well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. 'Workplace safety is too often ignored or accidents taken for granted,' said Tom W. Smith, director of NORC's General Social Survey (GSS). 'It is striking that coverage in the media and public opinion polls has virtually ignored the 11 workers killed by the blowout and destruction of the drilling platform…focussing on the environmental disaster.' Yet, he notes, 'if optimal safety had been maintained, not only would the lives of the 11 workers been saved, but the whole environmental disaster would have been averted.'
Public Welfare Foundation News release