Issue 201 - SafetyNet Journal 201Welcome to SafetyNet 201: after an extremely busy week organising the OHS Reps Conference, this edition is a shorter one - but we hope you all enjoy it anyway.
VTHC Reps conference a successThe OHS reps' conference held this Wednesday October 27 at the new Melbourne Convention Centre at South Wharf. While we haven't yet finalised the registration numbers, early indications are that almost 1500 reps, committee members and so on in attendance to celebrate 25 years of representation.
Conference attendees heard about what things were like in OHS prior to the introduction of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Victoria in 1985, the sorts of changes that have occurred in workplaces since that time, and what we've got to look forward to in the next 25 years. The event was mc'd by Secretary of the Maritime Workers' Union, Kevin Bracken. WorkSafe's new Executive Director of Health and Safety, Ian Forsyth, addressed the conference. He spoke not only of Victoria's past achievements, but also the challenges of the future, and how WorkSafe sees that future. He finished by telling the reps: 'You and your colleagues are vital to the OHS standing that Victoria has in the national arena, and you're vital to Victoria's ambitions for the future. Your contribution has helped deliver the safest workplaces in our States history and set a benchmark for all Australia and for that workers of Victoria thank you.'
There were two panel discussions prior after morning tea. In the first, Looking Towards a National OHS Approach, the conference first heard from Ivanka Debevic, Principal Legal Officer with Safe Work Australia's Model Legislation Unit. This was followed by the different Victorian perspectives on how the national harmonisation process is progressing: Tracey Browne, Manager, OHS Policy and Membership Services with the Australian Industry Group kicked off, followed by David Moody, Acting Director, Health and Safety Reform Branch, WorkSafe, and finally Cathy Butcher, Coordinator of the VHTC OHS Unit.
In the second panel discussion, Continuing Bernie Banton's Legacy, the Ongoing Battle with Asbestos, Deborah Vallance, who chaired the panel, pointed out that although the import and use of asbestos was banned in Australia in 2003, asbestos is everywhere around us still: in our workplaces, schools, hospitals and homes. In June of this year, the union movement has developed a strategy which to achieve an asbestos free Australia ( read more). Speakers on the panel were Joy Barrett (State School Teachers Union, WA); Dr Yossi Berger (OHS Coordinator, AWU), Vicki Hamilton (Coordinator, GARDS) and Professor Ian Olver (Chief Executive, Cancer Council of Australia)
Delegates were asked to send a letter to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, urging her to establish an independent national agency to both raise public awareness of the issue and co-ordinate the removal of asbestos materials.
Presentations from the Conference will be available on the OHS Reps @ Work website over the next few weeks.
Victoria's WorkSafe Week AwardsThe Victorian WorkSafe Awards were announced at the WorkSafe dinner, held last night. The most important award for unions is the one which recognises the work done by elected health and safety representatives. The four finalists were:
- Dave Jones – an ambulance officer in East Gippsland;
- Glen Barber – from Loy Yang Power in Traralgon;
- Keni Navusolo – based in Barnawartha North with Woolstar: and
- Marten Kelders - employed by Heidelberg Graphic Equipment.
Dave Jones was Highly Commended.
Other winners of Award last night were:
- GHD Pty Ltd - Best OHS Management System
- Tenix Pty Ltd - Best OHS Solution in Construction and Utilities (Coliban Water Highly Commended)
- Bendigo Health - Best OHS Solution in Public Sector and Community Services
- Freshbins Pty Ltd - Best OHS Solution in Manufacturing, Logistics and Agriculture
- Kooka Brotha's - Small Business Award
Read more on the WorkSafe website.
Ask RenataI have been a rep for many years and I am concerned at the lack of help we get from Worksafe. Could you please tell me how much protection I have under the OH&S Act 2004 and how much protection under Section 76 of the OHS Act?
Well.... it pains me to say that while the Act is very clear that it is against the law to discriminate or harm a worker, whether he/she is an elected rep, a member of the OHS committee, or simply someone who has raised an OHS issue with his/her employer.. the reality is that this happens all the time. WorkSafe has not yet had a successful prosecution against an employer for breaching Section 76 of the 2004 Act, but we can hope that this will change soon. The other avenue for reps and workers is to seek redress under the relatively new Section 78A. This should be easier as this is a civil action. However, the VTHC believes that there have been no cases to date.
This was quite an issue of discussion at our conference this week, where reps made it very clear that harassment and bullying are very serious and growing problems in their workplaces. The VTHC, together with our affiliates will continue to take this matter up with WorkSafe, as health and safety reps are at the 'coal face' and deserve protection and real support from WorkSafe and the government.
If you have any OHS related queries or questions, send in an email through the Ask Renata function on the website . You'll get an answer within a couple working days at the latest.
Another Victorian worker diesA council worker was killed last Wednesday morning in a tractor rollover in the Yarra Ranges. He was slashing grass on the side of Belfast Road in Mooroolbark, east of Melbourne. Yarra Ranges Shire chief executive Glenn Patterson said the council would investigate how the man died. However, WorkSafe spokesman Michael Birt said WorkSafe would not investigate as the incident was being treated as a traffic accident. The VTHC is flabbergasted by this logic – while the rollover may have occurred at the side of a road, it is a stretch to classify is a 'traffic accident' and not a workplace fatality. This worker's death brings the number of fatalities in Victoria to 19 - although the official number remains 18.
According to Safe Work Australia's latest report [pdf] the 'official' number of work-related fatalities in Australia is falling: 177 in 2008/09 to 124 in the last financial year. However, Labor Senator Doug Cameron last week criticised Safe Work Australia reports (see Senate Estimates [pdf]) for understating the number of deaths in Australian workplaces. That work-related road fatalities are not officially counted adds to the underestimation.
Just before 7am last Thursday morning, paramedics were called to a construction site in St Kilda Road, St Kilda, after reports a man was in cardiac arrest. The man was dead when paramedics arrived. Early media reports said he was found in a construction pit, but that the circumstances surrounding the man's death were unknown. Police were called to the site and Work Safe was notified. It appears the death was a suicide, and so not a work-related fatality. However workers who arrived on site will have received a shock.
Asbestos Week: November 22- 26There are lots of activities being organised around Australia for national Asbestos Awareness Week. In Victoria we've already got a number of free activities planned, in partnership with unions, asbestos support and advocacy groups, and labour law firms.
The events planned so far include:
At the Bella Union Bar, Trades Hall (Cnr Lygon and Victoria St, Carlton South),
- Monday November 22, 10am for 10.30am: launch of the week's activities with a media release and event jointly presented by the VTHC and Slater & Gordon Lawyers: Young Workers and Asbestos exposure.
- Tuesday November 23, 6pm for 6.30pm: Inaugural VTHC Asbestos Lecture Australia and the Global Asbestos Industry Jock McCulloch, Professor of History, RMIT, author and International expert.
- Wednesday November 24: 11am ADSVIC/AISS Commemoration Service. BMW Edge, Federation Square, followed by CFMEU BBQ on the banks of the Yarra
- Thursday November 25, 4.30 - 6.30pm: Education sector forum - Asbestos and schools: Towards a State Strategy AEU 112 Trennery Cres, Abbotsford
- Friday November 26, two events, both beginning at 11am:
- ADSVIC/AISS Community event, 11am, South Melbourne Community Centre, Corner Park St and Ferrars Place. Raising community awareness, and answering questions. Panel includes medical, legal and support group activists.
- GARDS Asbestos Awareness Day event: 11am, Rose Garden, Morwell. Highlighting and raising awareness of asbestos and its effects on families and the community. Free BBQ lunch provided by the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council
GARDS latest newsletter now online
The latest newsletter [pdf] of the Gippsland Asbestos Related Diseases Support group is now available online from their website. In a great piece of news, in the newsletter GARDS announces that the organisation has received a further three years' funding from WorkSafe which will enable it to continue the work it does in the community.
Harmonisation of OHS legislation latest newsNSW Premier Kristina Kenneally's letter to the Prime Minister regarding NSW wanting to maintain union right to prosecute and reverse onus of proof ( SafetyNete 200) has re-ignited a union campaign to fight to maintain workers' rights in that state. Unions NSW took out a large newspaper advertisement this week, the next stage of that state's "Don't Risk Second Rate Safety" campaign. Secretary of Unions NSW, Mark Lennon says the prime objective of the ad campaign is to convince Ms Gillard to accept Ms Keneally's request. 'Business wants the prime minister to put process before policy," Mr Lennon said. 'A policy that doesn't adopt the highest possible safety standards for working people is a flawed process. Union-initiated prosecutions and the reverse onus provision have served workers well and shouldn't be thrown on the scrap heap just to keep federal policy neat and tidy.' NSW Campaign
Practitioners in the OHS arena have also been made aware this week that the release of the draft regulations, priority codes and Regulatory Impact Statement will no longer be around 10 November 2010 as earlier projected. It's believed that the release will now be sometime in December, although the release date will depend on when the WRMC meets next, as it will need to 'sign off' on the documents.
MUA: Beware behaviour based safety programsThe Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has launched a new training program training their members to recognise behaviour-based safety (BBS) systems and warn them they blame workers for incidents and sideline accident prevention. The problem with such programs is that the focus is on changing workers' behaviour, rather than addressing hazards at the source. David Gerke of the Workers Health Centre in Lidcombe, NSW has produced a factsheet: Critique of behaviour based safety systems August 2010 [pdf] for the MUA. If you want to know more about BBS programs and the problems we have with them, go to this section of the OHS Reps @ Work website and download the kit developed for OHS reps and workplace delegates.
Tas doctors and nurses face violent abuseTasmanian's Department of Health and Human Services annual report has found that doctors and nurses are enduring violent attacks from angry patients. Bullying and harassment involving health staff and patients is also increasing. Figures released two weeks show the number of workers compensation claims from state health workers who have been injured by aggressive behaviour has increased by more than 50 per cent to 49 claims last financial year.
The Mercury Read more on Violence in the Workplace
White Ribbon Day - Not 1 moreA reminder that this year's White Ribbon Day will be on November 25: a day seeking to raise awareness of the impact of family violence. In Australia each year, about 60 women and 20 children die as a result of family violence. The VTHC and unions including the ASU and the ETU are among the event's sponsors, as well as Victoria Police and the MFB, and we are asking people to support the event which will be held at Federation Square again this year. More details in the next edition of SafetyNet, or contact the VTHC Women's Officer, Jennifer O'Donnell Pirisi or Wil Stracke at the ASU. Check out the YouTube video on last year's event, held in Federation Square.
International Union newsChile: Mine rescue exposes safety shortfall
As reported in the last edition of SafetyNet, though the world celebrated the release of 33 trapped miners in Chile, unions were already pointing to the decades of neglect of workplace safety and demanding better laws. Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, a billionaire businessman at the head of a right-wing, pro-business, anti-regulation government, has pledged there will be no impunity for mine owners and has commissioned an enquiry that will report findings by 22 November. The global mining unions' federation ICEM now says 'the very make-up of that commission explains just one of the structural deficiencies inherent in Chilean mine safety: no trade union representatives will be involved. Chile's mining unions say the government for decades has been unwilling to engage in tripartite dialogue to improve mine safety, telling workers' representatives their job is to negotiate over economic issues, not to participate on health and safety matters.' According to ICEM: 'The unions say government officials and mine industrial representatives have consistently refused initiatives to discuss ratification of ILO Convention 176, the Safety and Health in Mines Convention, because it would dislodge strict industry-government control.' ICEM concludes: 'The 33 miners in Chile are now safe and together with their families. But exactly how they came to be at death's door, and whether or not the Chilean government will make corrective structural changes in mine safety, remains an open question.'
ICEM news report. Sustainlabour.
Europe and nanotechnology rules
A new guide from the European Trade Union Institute's (ETUI) health and safety research arm (HESA) spells out Europe's need for better nanotechnology regulation. HESA is critical of the European Union's nanotechnology strategy, which it says is concerned primarily with 'catching up' with the US and Asia on nano production. It says the health risks posed by the commercial use of nanomaterials have only recently come onto the European Commission's agenda - but adds the Commission has not so far seen a need for specific legislation to govern nanotechnologies. This is a view not shared by either the European Parliament or the European trade union movement. The report's author, ETUI researcher Aída Ponce, combines a detailed survey of European policy in the area with an exploration of the ethical and social issues surrounding nanotechnologies.
ETUI publication notice. The EU approach to regulating nanotechnology, Aída María Ponce Del Castillo, ETUI, 2010. ISSN 1994-4446. 10 euros.
Ambulance Officers at riskRecent research done with 342 Melbourne paramedics has found that over 10 per cent of them suffer severe or extremely severe depression, with a further 12 per cent with moderate levels of depression. Long shifts and high pressure in their work are putting them at risk. The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Organisational Psychology, also showed that paramedics had high levels of anxiety, stress and fatigue. One of the researchers, Associate Professor Andrew Francis, of RMIT University, said occupational demands and shiftwork explained the findings for paramedics, even when compared to a group of nurses on night shift.
Source: The Age
Australians increasingly working outside officeOnline research this month of a representative sample of 2034 working Australians, aged over 18, from across Australia in metropolitan and regional areas has found that almost a half of Australian workers are doing more work outside the office now than they were five years ago. The research was conducted by Pure Profile for Telstra. Almost 80 per cent of workers surveyed said they would take up the option of working outside the workplace, if their employer offered it along with a fast, reliable mobile broadband network. But only 60 per cent of employers surveyed said they allowed staff to work outside the office, with some of the others saying they wouldn't trust their employees to work hard enough. Telstra executive director Rebekah O'Flaherty said the trend 'shows we could well be witnessing a cultural shift in the way we work.'
Farm machine guarding concernsWorkSafe Victoria inspectors have issued more than 200 safety improvement notices in the first three months of a year-long statewide farm safety campaign, targeting the most common causes of death and serious injury on farms. A breakdown of notices issued from July 1 to the end of September found that more than half were issued for safety issues around plant and equipment. According to WorkSafe's Executive Director (Health and Safety), Ian Forsyth, this was one of the biggest causes of workplace injury and death.
WorkSafe Media Release
Useful MaterialsFrom WorkSafe Victoria
- Bullying guides and other publications - WorkSafe has published a number of guides on the prevention of workplace bullying, including questions to ask investigators, sample policies, case studies and a Powerpoint presentation.
- Health and safety in construction procurement - A handbook for the public sector New guidance launched during WorkSafe week, this handbook provides practical guidance to practical guidance to practitioners in state government, local government, statutory authorities and other agencies who procure, commission, manage and maintain government building and civil construction projects.
- Restarting concrete boom pumps - This Alert highlights the risks involved when pouring concrete from concrete pumping equipment that has been left idle.
- Elevating work platform overturns - This Alert highlights the precautions that need to be taken when working with elevating work platforms on construction sites.
From Queensland: resources as part of their SafeWork week. The resources include information and downloaded videos on a range of topics - including MSDs, the adoption of WSVs Injury hot spots and a series of 10 minute training packages on a variety of topics including asbestos.
Convictions after young worker electrocutedTwo companies and a director were convicted last week over a 2008 incident when a 21 year-old worker on a building site was electrocuted by overhead powerlines. The incident occurred despite warnings from the network electricity supplier to the company responsible for the site, Hometec Industries Pty Ltd, and director Carmine Salvatore.
Hometec and Mr Salvatore were convicted in the Melbourne Magistrate's Court and fined $30,000 and $20,000 respectively. Roofing and installation company CSR Building Products Limited was also convicted and ordered to pay $12,500 to the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) at Monash University, for failing adequately train and supervise workers installing the roofing.
WorkSafe's Executive Director for Health and Safety Ian Forsyth said the incident had occurred due to a number of failures in a chain of responsibility. "Hometec and its director were warned about the no-go zone by the electricity supplier and ordered to stop construction work, yet they failed to do so. CSR Building Products had a responsibility to make sure their contractors could do their job safely - which they failed to uphold. And the worker's direct employer, Mark Watson, had an obligation to make sure the construction site was safe by performing a job safety analysis which considered risks including powerlines.
"None of these parties managed to fulfil their responsibilities. The upshot of all of this is that a young worker suffered debilitating injuries with long recovery times," Mr Forsyth said.
WorkSafe Media Release
From the UK's HSEA number of new pages and publications on Vibration:
- WORRIED ABOUT YOUR HANDS? for advice aimed at employees such as 'Am I at risk?' 'What are the signs?' 'How do I protect myself?'
- ADVICE FOR EMPLOYERS - for information about the health effects of hand-arm vibration at work and other issues
- KEY FACTS, including 'Hand-arm vibration syndrome caused by work is preventable, however the damage is permanent'.
- WHOLE-BODY VIBRATION - Find out what causes whole-body vibration and how to prevent it.
- VIBRATION CALCULATORS
The HSE's Hand-arm Vibration exposure calculator and associated guidance to assist in calculating exposures for hand-arm vibration.
The HSE's Whole-body vibration exposure calculator and associated guidance to daily vibration exposure that an employee is subjected to, allowing the employee to analyse the risk, and an employer to meet health and safety requirements
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