Issue 198 - SafetyNet Journal 198The OHS Units welcomes subscribers to the 198th edition of the OHS Unit's SafetyNet journal. In this edition there's the latest news in research, union activity and WorkSafe activities. Remember to register for the OHS Reps Conference.
Another worker diesYesterday afternoon the VTHC received the tragic news that another Victorian worker was killed. The worker died after falling approximately 18 metres from a boom lift at a Wheelers Hill primary school construction site. Initial WorkSafe investigations suggest the boom lift was being operated by the worker on a temporary track, when the ground gave way on one side of the machine, causing him to fall to the ground. There have now been 18 fatalities in Victoria this year.
WorkSafe Media Release
Reps conference: Celebrating 25 yearsRegistrations have begun to come in for the VTHC OHS Reps conference, which is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the OHS Act and the right of workers to elect OHS Representatives. The event is taking place during WorkSafe Week on Wednesday October 27th, and will celebrate the work of thousands of OHS Representatives who have contributed to safe and healthy working conditions for Victorians since then.
Specific 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.
Remember that 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).
More information including how to register, a registration form and details on how to contact us.
WorkSafe releases updated guidance on reps' right to training
WorkSafe's HSR support area has just released an updated guide on the training entitlements of health and safety reps and deputies. This is particularly handy given many reps will be alerting their employer that they will be attending our conference.
No specific 'Ask Renata' this edition – but if you have any questions regarding the Conference, your right to attend it or any other OHS related matter, you contact me using the Ask Renata facility. You'll get an answer within a couple working days at the latest.
WorkSafe Week Award finalistsAnother eagerly awaited event which happens during WorkSafe Week is the announcement of the WorkSafe Awards. This year the four finalists for Health and Safety Rep of the year are:
Dave Jones [Ambulance Victoria (East Gippsland)]. Dave has made a name for himself as a HSR amongst the tight-knit ambulance community - not only in Gippsland, but across the state. He represents fifty fellow paramedics and ambulance community officers in Lakes Entrance, Orbost, Cann River and Mallacoota.
Glen Barber [Loy Yang Power (Traralgon)]. Glen has spent 34 years on the job at Loy Yang. Like most of his workmates, he's seen a lot of changes in that time. Since being elected Health and Safety Representative in 2003, many of those changes have been inspired by Glen, which is great news for his safety and that of his workmates.
Keni Navusolo [Woolstar Pty Ltd (Barnawartha North)]. Keni has worked at Woolstar for 8 years and although an HSR for not even two years, he has been instrumental in driving safety improvements from the floor. His persistence and skill in negotiating in often difficult circumstances has resulted in substantial wins for worker safety on site.
Marten Kelders [Heidelberg Graphic Equipment Limited (Melbourne)]. As a Health and Safety representative for the last eight years at Heidelberg Graphic Equipment Limited Marten has played a key role in helping to improve safety for him and his fellow workmates and now it has paid off.
Bullying: union looks to courts as alternativeAs we are all aware, the tragic case of the young woman who suicided as a direct result of the bullying and harassment she suffered at work has led to a record number of workers contacting WorkSafe. Unfortunately for many of these workers, many of them elected reps, WorkSafe's response has too often been unsatisfactory and done little to assist or resolve the problem.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's forestry and furnishing products division, as a direct result of the recent case of bullying against one of its delegates and an 'avalanche' of complaints after this, is pursuing an alternative strategy to end the bullying of its members. It has announced that it will be seeking to include a clause in all future enterprise agreements to ensure that companies act quickly on bullying complaints and carry out fair, proper and impartial investigations. The clause will also demand that employers provide 'adequate support' to victims, keep records of meetings, and develop anti-bullying policy and training. The union's state and assistant national secretary Leo Skourdoumbis said WorkSafe Victoria and the Fair Work Ombudsman had not done enough about bullying, with cases often 'put into the too-hard basket'.
Read more: The Age Victorian union to use courts to end bullying ; Workplace bullying case 'worst ever seen' ; Public apology to bullying victim
Patient-handling injuries costing millionsWorkSafe has released a media release, as part of its most recent campaign on 'muscle and bone injuries', highlighting the high cost, both in $$ and pain, of patient-handling injuries. WorkSafe says that lifting and moving patients is causing hundreds of Victorian workers to suffer painful yet preventable muscle and bone injuries every year. In the year to June 2010, over 1,500 Victorian aged care and hospital workers made workers' compensation claims for muscle and bone injuries - most commonly caused by lifting and moving patients, and pushing and pulling patient trolleys and equipment. In the same year, over $82 million was spent on costs associated with these injuries including treatment, rehabilitation, and lost wages.
However, once again, WorkSafe's media release implies that these injuries are the result of workers taking risks by putting their patients first, or even worse, by taking 'shortcuts' and not following 'correct manual handling procedures'.
In response to the media release, Kathy Chrisfield, OH&S Unit Coordinator with the Victorian Branch of the Australian Nursing Federation said, "the impression (given) that nurses or midwives are to blame for their injuries is unhelpful and misleading. It is the responsibility of employers to provide safe and healthy workplaces under the OHS Act." Ms Chrisfield said, "Blaming the worker does not address the cause of these incidents, in particular lack of staffing, lack of maintained equipment (where it exists at all), and inadequate design of new and existing facilities to enable implementation of controls to prevent these issues occurring, as well as a lack of consultation with employees in order to determine what is appropriate."
Ms Chrisfield wanted to make another clarification: "The Media release refers to the ANF's ground-breaking No Lift, No Injury campaign, but suggests that it was about risk avoidance. This is incorrect: the emphasis of the campaign is, and continues to be on the the elimination of the risk at the source, and not simple 'avoidance'."
Sources: WorkSafe Media Release ANF Media Release More information on Sprains and strains
Asbestos newsILO re-iterates position on asbestos
A statement from a United Nations body confirming its desire to see the end of asbestos use worldwide is the 'death knoll' for a substance which claims one life every five minutes around the clock, the global union confederation ITUC has said.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) this week warned in an official position statement that industry lobbyists pushing asbestos around the world must not claim to have ILO support. ITUC General Secretary, and previous President of the ACTU, Sharan Burrow said the ILO statement provides welcome support for the global union campaign to see a ban on asbestos worldwide and a just transition to safer, better jobs for displaced asbestos workers. 'ILO has confirmed that it wants to see the elimination of asbestos use worldwide, full stop,' she said. 'Coming on the heels of calls for a global ban on asbestos use from major scientific(2) , medical(3) and occupational health(4) groups, this sounds the death knoll for the deadly fibre and a fatal blow for the asbestos pushers.'
The ILO statement comes at a time the asbestos industry is pressing hard for an expansion of chrysotile (white) asbestos production and sales. All forms of asbestos except for chrysotile are already prohibited worldwide. Industry lobby group the 'Chrysotile Institute', which takes a lead in the global promotion of asbestos exports, routinely cites ILO documents and claims they are supportive of its case for continued asbestos use.
Read more Green Jobs Safe Jobs ILO sounds the 'death knell for asbestos'
Asbestos is everywhere, even in The Lodge
The media has reported that while the Prime Minister's official residence, The Lodge, was unoccupied over the past eight weeks, workers removed asbestos from its basement. Julia Gillard did not move in after taking over from Kevin Rudd and has still not done so. The asbestos was removed over three days in mid-August at a cost of $25,000. A spokesperson from the PM's office said that further work is being carried out to 'meet occupational health and safety and other building standards'. The Lodge, which was built 83 years ago, was only intended to be a temporary residence for the sitting Prime Minister. However land reserved for a permanent home has never been used.
Source: The Herald Sun
Qld support group gets increase in funding
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has announced funding through Queensland Health of $533,000 over three years to the Queensland Asbestos Related Disease Support Society (QARDSS). The funding will enable QARDSS to employ a full-time social worker and two support workers to support people affected by asbestos-related diseases. In the past two decades, the rate of Queenslanders diagnosed with mesothelioma has almost tripled, while mortality rates have more than doubled from 0.9 per 100,000 in 1982-86, to 2.5 per 100,000 in 2001.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald QARDSS website
Newcastle wharfies down tools over safetyOn September 6 waterside workers in Newcastle refused to lift the loads off the Glebe Arrow vessel pre-slung with Chinese wire ropes. Glen Williams, MUA organiser reported the ropes were not marked and therefore unable to be referenced against any of the certificates. 'So members refused to use them,' he said. AMSA informed Glen that provided the slings are marked and can be referenced to the certificates and if slings have been inspected then they can be used. Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith immediately warned other branches that any slings that can't be matched to certification must not be utilised.
Read more: MUA Media Release
Union survey on women in the professionsThe Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia (APESMA), has released its annual survey on Women in the professions – The State of Play [pdf], which can be downloaded from their website. The survey asked women in the technical professions a range of questions around working conditions and attitudes. The union said the responses 'provided some real insight into the difficulties professional women face in male-dominated professions like engineering and the sciences, where cultural issues are still a real barrier to progression and pay equity'. The views of 1100 professional women were canvassed, and the union found that nearly 40 per cent had been bullied at work, nearly 20 per cent had experienced sexual harassment, and 38 per cent had encountered discrimination.
APESMA Professional Women's Network Media Release
International Union newsTUC resources for reps
Britain's Trade Union Congress (the equivalent of the ACTU) has put together a number of leaflets, guides and forms to help reps do 'what you do best - keep the workplace safe and healthy'. All the TUC materials are now in the one spot on their website.
Sand-blasting jeans to stop: Thousands of lives saved
The International, Textile, Garment & Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) has welcomed the public announcement made by Levi's and H&M last week of their decision to stop the practice of sand-blasting in their worldwide production of jeans. "It is THE correct decision if we wish to protect the health of workers. H&M and Levi's – who feature among the world leaders in jeans – going down this path shows an attitude of corporate social responsibility in this field" said Patrick Itschert, General Secretary of the ITGLWF.
Studies have established the link between sandblasting and silicosis; one of the worst lung diseases. In Turkey alone, since 2005, more than 50 workers have died from this incurable illness, contracted in jeans factories. The campaign led by the workers, their unions, doctors and civil organisations resulted in the Turkish Government introducing a law in April 2009 prohibiting this procedure. Unfortunately several companies then simply moved their production to other countries where legislation was less restrictive such as Egypt, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan among others.
Two years ago, the ITGLWF urgently requested that the use of free silica in the denim process be eliminated worldwide. Since then, the ITGLWF has been leading a public awareness campaign highlighting the life-threatening dangers in the process which consists of projecting fine sand with compressed air to cause an abrasive effect on the denim; the result is jeans which are softer to the touch and faded in certain places: a "fashionable" look.
ITGLWF Media Release
USA: Explosion hits strikebreaking uranium plant
A US uranium processing plant that shipped in replacement workers after locking out its union workforce has suffered an explosion. Workers at the uranium enrichment facility in Metropolis, Illinois have been locked out for two months after contract negotiations broke down over owner Honeywell's demand that workers give up their retiree health care coverage and pension plans. The union workers say cancer and other occupational diseases linked to the firm make the benefits doubly important. Concerns have been raised by local community members and union officials that replacement workers at the Honeywell facility cannot safely operate the plant since they have no site-specific experience in this unique type of conversion facility.
Two weeks ago, nuclear regulators allowed Honeywell to start up core production at the facility, a procedure which had been shutdown for over two months due to concerns about the training of replacement workers. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission delayed reopening the plant for several days after questions were raised about the unusually high levels of uranium that were appearing in the urine tests of several nuclear workers. The following day, a hydrogen explosion rocked the plant. The blast shook the ground in front of the plant and could be heard a mile away, according to local reports. Union spokesperson John Paul Smith said those who worked at the plant for decades reported very minor explosions had occurred, but no explosion of such a magnitude that it could be heard outside of the plant. Honeywell's long history of safety violations, the poor training of replacement workers at the Metropolis facility, and now the hydrogen explosion, have led local workers and community members to call on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to shut down production until the contract dispute can be resolved.
Source: Risks 473
CDC Report: Human Exposure to Environmental ChemicalsCentres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – an initiative through the US government's Department for Human Health and Services, has released the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. The report is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the exposure of the US population to chemicals in the environment. CDC measured 212 chemicals in people's blood or urine; 75 of which had never before been measured in the US population. Most, if not all, of the chemicals are also present in the Australian environment, but there is no similar survey done here.
Study confirms cancer risk of crystalline silicaThe lung cancer carcinogenicity of crystalline silica dust remains the subject of discussion. Much of the evidence is based on occupational cohort studies and population-based case–control studies. A group of Dutch researchers undertook this study in order to assess associations between male lung cancer risk and silica exposure in a population-based cohort study.
The researchers conducted a study of 55–69 yr old men from the Netherlands Cohort Study, which included self-reported, life-time job histories. Job titles were linked to the occupational groups of the external Finnish Job Exposure Matrix (FINJEM), including probability and level of silica exposure, each for specific time periods. 1667 incident lung cancer cases with known silica exposure status (210 exposed) were available after 11.3 years of follow-up. When the results were adjusted for smoking and other confounders, the researchers found elevated risks for both exposure duration and cumulative exposure. Adjustment for asbestos exposure slightly increased the risk.
The researchers concluded that this study corroborates the classification of crystalline silica as a lung carcinogen. Associations could not be explained by smoking or by asbestos exposure.
Occupational exposure to silica and lung cancer risk in the Netherlands [abstract] Liesbeth Preller, Linda M C van den Bosch, Piet A van den Brandt, T Kauppinen, Alexandra Goldbohm Occup Environ Med 2010;67:657-663 doi:10.1136/oem.2009.046326
Melton small businesses pulled up on 200 safety breachesOver 200 health and safety breaches were discovered at small businesses in Melton during a five-day campaign by WorkSafe Victoria inspectors in August. WorkSafe has said that over the coming weeks, inspectors will be returning to the area to check the breaches have been remedied and improvement notices complied with. Inspectors visited 206 workplaces in early August, as part of WorkSafe's 'Safer Work Zones' campaign, and issued a total of 203 improvement notices, which required workplaces to make improvements on health and safety issues ranging from storage of dangerous goods to securing storage racking.
WorkSafe media release
Safe Work Australia newsMonthly fatality report
Safe Work Australia (SWA) has released the monthly notified fatalities report for May, which provides a national summary of work-related traumatic fatalities that were notifiable to Australian work health and safety jurisdictions. As well as providing an estimate of the numbers of work-related deaths, the report also includes details of the types of incident involved; the industry of the workplace at which the fatalities occurred; and the industry of the decedent's employer. In May 2010 there were 12 work-related fatalities notified to Australian work health and safety jurisdictions: 10 male workers and 2 male bystanders. Over the period 1 July 2009 to 31 May 2010 there were a total of 118 work-related notified fatalities: including 16 bystanders. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector accounted for the most deaths, with 27, followed by the construction and transport/storage industries (17 each), manufacturing workplaces (14) and mining (6).
It should be noted that there is no single source of information that captures all work-related deaths in Australia, but that SWA produces several reports that provide information on the circumstances of work-related deaths in Australia.
May monthly report [pdf]
Update of HSIS
Safe Work Australia has announced it is about to update the Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS) online database to reflect changes in Europe's 31st Adaptation to Technical Progress to recent EU Directive. The update comprised of a total of 456 entries of which there are 92 amendments to existing entries, 360 new entries and 4 deletions. Safe Work anticipates all changes will be finalised by end of November 2010. View the full list of the schedule of changes for the HSIS online database update.
Queensland OHS exemptions for rural workers to endUp until now, rural property workers in Queensland have been exempt from some parts of the OHS legislation, but the exemptions will end this month. Queensland WHS director Dr Simon Blackwood said the removal ensured rural workers will get the required training, education, certification and licensing. WHS Queensland has produced new materials for the sector:
- A new Rural Chemicals Guide [pdf] with information on herbicides, pesticides, hazardous substances, dangerous goods, flammable liquids, and agricultural and veterinary medicines
- A guide to Working safely in confined spaces [pdf] highlighting the new requirements and providing useful tools and information.
SA government releases report on public-sector safetyThe South Australian Government has pointed to the changing nature of the workforce as giving rise to new physical and psychosocial risks in the public sector. The report [pdf], which assesses South Australia's public-sector safety record from 2007 to 2010, outlines a strategy for the next five years. It found that injury claims are at the lowest level on record, described "integration of safety into management" as a core public sector value, and singled out "effective leadership" as having positively contributed to the improvement. However, it warns of "emerging health and safety risks" that are linked to "changing workforce characteristics, changing work and workplace factors".
Tasmania to introduce tougher mining lawsThe Tasmanian Workplace Relations Minister has foreshadowed the Government will be introducing stronger mine safety laws after another damning coroner's report following a mining fatality. Coroner Rodney Chandler found Cornwall Coal Company and Workplace Standards Tasmania were to blame for the death of Adrian Hayes in October 2000. The Coroner also criticised the State Government's failure to implement mine specific safety legislation, despite a coronial recommendation made two and a half years ago.
The Minister, David O'Byrne, said 'Following Cabinet approval (of the new laws), I hope to be able to table legislation in the Parliament this year.' The Minister said the proposed legislation has taken into consideration the proposed national legislation, recommendations from two inquests and a Legislative Council Select Committee report.
Minister's Media Release
Useful MaterialsWorkSafe Victoria's website has a new 'look', having been revamped (again!) over the past few weeks. Thankfully, there does not seem to have been a complete change to their urls, and so, hopefully, links on the OHS Reps website won't all need to be changed. New materials that have been placed on the WorkSafe site:
- Back up on the website after some amendments, a guide: Guarding metal cutting guillotines
- Coveralls used for asbestos removal - This new Alert warns of the dangers of wearing unsuitable disposable coveralls for asbestos removal work.
- An updated guide on the training entitlements of health and safety reps and deputies
- an alert Electrical power for swing stages after scaffold and electrical contractors were found to be connecting swing-stages to unsuitable switchboards
From WorkSafe Western Australia - In preparation for summer, a new bulletin Working safely in hot conditions [pdf] reminding employers that the duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment in which workers are not exposed to hazards applies to any risk to safety and health, including illness from working in heat. The bulletin provides practical advice on actions and measures to take to prevent or minimise the likelihood of heat illness
WorkSafe slams Visy safety systems after forklift collisionVictorian workplaces are being warned to lift their game on traffic management following the prosecution of a national packing company after a worker was struck by a forklift. Visy Packaging Pty Ltd was last week convicted in the Wodonga Magistrates' Court and placed on an adjourned undertaking for 12 months. As a special condition, the company was ordered to pay $112,500 to Melbourne University's Marie Tehan Medical Fund.
The prosecution comes only two months after national company Swire Cold Storage was convicted and fined following an incident where a forklift was driven into the path of a worker operating a pallet mover. 'On average, three people are seriously injured by forklifts every week in Victorian workplaces, a totally unacceptable situation,' WorkSafe's Manufacturing and Logistics Director Ross Pilkington said.
WorkSafe Media Release
Visy also fined $100,000 for leak
In an unrelated prosecution, Visy has been fined $100,000 over a toxic chemical leak in Reservoir that sent 14 people to hospital. A truck driver, a subcontractor for Omega Chemicals, was delivering sodium hypochlorite to Visy's Rd paper factory when the incident occurred in December 2008. The contractor was delivering 18,000 litres of sodium hypochlorite, used in bleach, to the factory, but rather than pumping it into its designated tank, he began accidentally pumping it into one containing poly aluminium chloride. The mistake sparked a chemical reaction, sending toxic chlorine gas across the site. The court heard the incident would not have occurred if Visy had had locks on inlet valves.
Visy pleaded guilty to permitting an environmental hazard and has now installed padlocks and secured the keys.
Enforceable undertaking for Dept of Sustainability & EnvironmentFollowing an explosion which injured an employee, the Department of Sustainability has agreed to accept an enforceable undertaking as an alternative to prosecution. The incident, which occurred in 2009, resulted in a worker sustaining second degree burns when the tank in which he had been asked to fix a leak exploded when he began to weld it. The 400-litre tank usually held a mix of diesel and unleaded fuel, but had no gauge and appeared empty.
WorkSafe's investigation found a number of failings, including that that the tank contained residue fuel; the worker, who had insufficient qualifications and experience to carry out this particular task and had received no specific safety instructions on the job; there was no supervision; the JSA did not address the risk.
Under the enforceable undertaking the Department agreed to appoint a full-time regional workplace health and safety (RWHS) leader (estimated to cost between $400,000 and $500,000 over two years); invest $60,000 in dangerous goods training and $60,000 in safety training for managers and supervisors; and publicise its failings in a WorkSafe alert, its annual report, and on its website.
Source: OHS Alert
Queensland installation fatality: employer pleads guiltyThe employers of a teenage insulation installer who was electrocuted in central Queensland have pleaded guilty to breaching safety laws. The 16 year old worker died while installing fibreglass insulation in the ceiling of a house at Stanwell in November last year. This was one of four deaths linked to the Federal Government's home insulation scheme that was scrapped in February. Richard and Christopher Jackson, of Arrow Property Maintenance, were charged with breaching the Electrical Safety Authority Act and the Workplace Health and Safety Act. The Rockhampton Magistrates Court heard a pre-existing defect in the wiring of the house and the failure of the company to ensure a safe workplace caused the teenager's death. The employer could face up to $759,000 in fines.
Source: ABC Online
SA: prosecution following death from use of wrong toolA South Australian company has been ordered to pay more than $150,000 in fines and compensation, after a worker was killed in January 2008 after the wrong tool was used for a 'straightforward task'. Workers on a Weatherford Drilling International Pty Ltd oil rig were attempting to unscrew an installation tool from a length of joint. As the power tong usually used was set for a different sized shaft, they used a manual tong instead. An assistant driller placed himself between the tong and the derrick leg and tried to manually clamp the shaft. A release of built-up energy caused the tong to swing suddenly, crushing him to death.
Chile: trapped miners jobless, but with a 1000 offersSan Esteban Mining, the company employing the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped since August 5, has pursued bankruptcy protection since the collapse and has claimed it can't afford to pay them – not even for digging themselves out! But two dozen companies with operations in Chile have made more than 1,000 job offers to the trapped miners and their 317 co-workers this week. Many of 1,188 jobs offered have been posted on a government labor ministry web site. Mining industry companies have interviewed about 200 of the miners who are not trapped at a hotel in the regional capital of Copiapo, and say they will wait for the trapped miners to be rescued and interview them as well. This will mean many of these miners will be able to work for companies with much better records than that of the struggling San Esteban Mining Company.
Read more: The New York Times