Issue 202 - SafetyNet Journal 202Welcome to SafetyNet 202. In this edition we have the usual wide variety of news items from Victoria and around the world.
Another Victorian worker killedA 58-year old woman died on a farm on the afternoon of October 27, after being hit by a tractor with a forklift attachment carrying a load in Towong, east of Wodonga. 11 people have died in incidents involving tractors on Victorian farms since the start of 2009, and in the past year, tractor accidents have injured or killed more Victorians than any other piece of farm machinery. Most of these incidents have involved tractors rolling or tipping over; and people being run over by tractors.
WorkSafe is carrying out a 12 month state-wide campaign targeting the most common causes of death and serious injury on Victoria's farms - including tractor safety. Inspectors have issued more than 200 safety improvement notices since the start of the campaign.
This latest fatality means that there have been 19 work fatalities in Victoria this year (20 if the death of the council worker when his tractor rolled over on the side of the road is included).
Burden on company directors 'too high'And while Australian workers and their families continue to bear the bulk of the burden of workplace injury, disease and death, company directors are complaining about the burden of legislation on them. According to a survey released last week by the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the burden of laws imposing personal liability on directors is 'stifling business decision-making'. More than 64 per cent of the 623 directors surveyed said they were seriously concerned about being subject to criminal and civil penalties as a director.
Australian Institute of Company Directors Media Release.
Full report Impact of legislation on Directors [pdf]
Another employer group, the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) has announced it will lobby the Federal Government about the Work Health & Safety Bill being 'unworkable and unfair' for employers. It is concerned that the NSW government may make substantive changes to the Bill, such as retaining the union right to prosecute, saying that unions should not have this right: 'Firstly, because they are not objective parties and secondly, because they lack the training of authorised inspectors and the regulator.' The AMMA also claims the bill gives unions 'back door entry' to workplaces in situations where they do not have this right under the Fair Work Act.
Glen Barber, HSR of the YearAs announced in the last SafetyNet Journal, the WorkSafe Victoria Awards 2010 dinner was held on Thursday night, 28 October. Glen Barber, CFMEU Mining and Energy member, was nominated HSR of the Year, with Dave Jones, an AEAV member receiving a 'highly commended'. Check out SafetyNet's interview with Glen . View all the finalists and recipients and check out the videos on the WorkSafe's awards website.
Asbestos newsAsbestos Week: November 22- 26
Asbestos Awareness Week is coming up – participate by attending one of the many free and informative events being held in Melbourne and elsewhere. These include a session for young workers, the VTHC inaugural Asbestos lecture, Commemoration services, an education-focussed seminar and a community event. If you can't attend any of these events, then do something at your workplace. Go to this page on the site to check out the events.
A national approach to asbestos getting closer
News broke last week that the Federal Government is going to deliver one of the fundamental demands in the National Declaration, developed and agreed to earlier this year at a national summit of unions, academics and asbestos support and advocacy groups. The government announced the establishment of a national review into asbestos in acknowledgement of Australia's high rate of asbestos-related disease. The review will assess current activities in asbestos management and research, and make recommendations to develop a national strategic plan to improve asbestos awareness, management and removal.
Federal Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said the review, to be headed by ACTU assistant secretary Geoff Fary, will assess current asbestos-management methods and research and make recommendations for the development of a national strategic plan. 'It's time that we took a long-term, strategic approach to these important issues,' said the minister. ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence and President Ged Kearney welcomed the establishment of the review. Assisting Geoff Fary will be an advisory group of persons active in asbestos issues, including Paul Bastian (AMWU), Professor Nico Zandwijk (Asbestos Diseases Research Institute), and Tanya Segelov (Turner and Freeman Lawyers, and lawyer for Bernie Banton).
DEEWR Media Release.
ACTU Media Release.
WorkSafe Victoria prosecutes unlicensed removalist
A Geelong man who was caught by a WorkSafe inspector doing unlicensed asbestos removal has been convicted and fined $35,400. Though not holding a license, Joshua Luke Marshall, operating as Affordable Demolitions and Asbestos Removals, told two separate homeowners he was licensed by WorkSafe to carry out asbestos removal work. In addition, WorkSafe found the standard of Marshall's work was totally unacceptable, putting the public at risk. In the first instance, Marshall was halfway through the job when a WorkSafe inspector arrived at the property in response to an anonymous complaint. The inspector found there were no barriers in place to protect the rest of the house from dust or airborne fibres, the truck being loaded-up with material wasn't covered, and there were no signs to alert people to the removal work. Further, neither Marshall, nor the person working with him, was wearing the required personal protective equipment.
Executive Director for Health and Safety, Ian Forsyth recommended that anyone hiring someone to carry out any asbestos removal work should make sure they see their licence or get in touch with WorkSafe to check they're licensed. 'Don't just take their word for it,' Mr Forsyth said. Even better, check out the VTHC List of Removalists: all of the companies listed not only have WorkSafe licences, but have also signed an agreement with the VTHC covering issues such as training, insurance and much more.
WorkSafe Media Release.
Ask RenataI am the chair of our OH&S committee. The issue of burnout and staff wellness has been raised and I am unsure where this fits into OHS and what the committee is able to do in the organisation.
Staff burnout is certainly an OHS issue – the question is "Why are the members of staff being 'burnt out'?"
Is it that they are working long hours (fatigue) or that the shifts are not 'friendly' (eg family friendly), or is the workload too high, or is the work very stressful (are there issues of violence, for example, or other stressors?), are there issues of bullying and/or harassment at the workplace? Is the workplace noisy? Are the workers being exposed to hazardous substances?
All of these factors, which are covered under OHS legislation, could be contributing to staff burnout, and all of them are factors the employer must address. The committee's role may be to identify which are present in the workplace and come up with controls to recommend to the employer to implement to eliminate the hazard or risk, or minimise if not practicable to eliminate. This is the employer's duty under OHS legislation. For more information on each of these factors, go to the Hazards section of the website.
With regards to 'wellness' - this is NOT necessarily an OHS issue, but there are work-related factors that can influence this broad 'concept' of employee wellness, that could also be addressed by the committee - eg:
- facilities at the workplace (eg lunchroom, etc)
- availability of healthy food
- sedentary work
- shift arrangements and hours of work
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.
Bullying newsVic Premier: government considering specific offence of bullying
Victoria's Premier, John Brumby, last week announced that his Labour government will investigate creating a new specific offence of bullying, to ensure serious perpetrators are adequately punished and the rights of victims protected. The Government has asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) to assess the adequacy of existing laws and identify gaps to ensure the most serious cases of bullying had appropriate laws and sanctions. While not specifically singling out workplace bullying, Mr Brumby said 'Bullying in an insidious crime which can have the most damaging ramifications for individuals. Our Government is determined to take action on bullying, because all Victorians deserve to go about their lives free from bullying.'
The government has said the review will include consultation with the community, police and stakeholders in the legal system – the VTHC expects that this will include unions.
Premier's Media Release. More information on Bullying.
Bullying rife in Queensland too
In the latest quarterly report from the Queensland Workplace Rights Ombudsman, Commissioner Don Brown said workplace bullying remains rife in that state because managers lack 'true conviction' to stamp it out. Mr Brown said his office had received complaints from eight separate employees at the same business over a two-year period, but senior management responded poorly and even targeted the victims, investigating them for an alleged work deficiency, but not ever dealing with the alleged bully. Mr Brown said, 'The business in question had well enunciated bullying and harassment policies as well as methods in place to ensure staff were aware of them. The theory was excellent, the practice poor. This seems not uncommon.'
Our experience in Victoria is disturbingly similar, with WorkSafe's initial response in investigating bullying complaints is to check whether the employer has a policy in place, and if not, issue a notice requiring that one be developed. This is often followed by a requirement for 'training'.
Stress an on-going problemAnother recent survey, this time done in Tasmania, illustrates that the problem of stress in the workplace is on-going and serious. David O'Byrne, the state's Workplace Relations Minister released figures on October 24 showing stress continues to be one of the main causes of workplace injuries in Tasmania. Of the 9,273 injuries recorded in 2009, 372 were caused by mental stress. 'On a national level, statistics show that more than three million people in Australia experience depression, anxiety or related alcohol and drug problems each year,' Mr O'Byrne said. 'Each year, undiagnosed depression in the workplace costs $4.3 billion in lost productivity.'
WorkCover Tasmania has responded with a research project based at the University of Tasmania, which focuses on mental health in small to medium enterprises. The Business in Mind project http://www.businessinmind.edu.au/, launched in 2008, recently released a DVD and resource kit to assist small and medium business owners and managers to recognise the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, and manage mental health in the workplace.
Read more: Media release.
Bank workers facing abuse from angry customersAccording to the Finance Sector Union, recent announcements and decisions by our banks have made life at the coalface difficult for their members as an angry public seek to vent their frustrations. Secretary Leon Carter said people had hurled abuse and even objects at bank staff in the two days following the CBA's announcement it was raising its interest rates way beyond the Reserve Bank increase. The union says it is not acceptable that their members 'cop the abuse' for something over which they have no control. In a media release, the union says that the massive multi-million dollar bonuses paid to executives of the major banks are fuelling a grab for profits at the expense of workers and consumers hit by rises in interest rates, bank fees and charges. While the FSU is continuing its Better Banking Charter campaign, it has also set up a webpage to capture what customers are saying and doing in response to the banks' decisions.
November 24 – Go Home On Time DayThe Australia Institute, an independent 'think tank', is calling on all Australian workers to go home on time on 24 November. It says that 'time poverty' and overwork are damaging workers' mental and physical health. According to the Institute's executive director Dr Richard Denniss, Go Home on Time Day aims to raise awareness of the extent of overwork in Australia and the important workplace, health and social consequences it has. Dr Denniss said, 'Overwork comes at a cost to... our families and our health.'
Only one in five Australians are working the hours they want to work, according to new research by the Institute. This year's survey (conducted for Go Home On Time Day) has found that half of all survey respondents wanted to work fewer hours than they had worked in the previous week. For those working overtime, four in five (81 per cent) wanted to work less, while 60 per cent of part-time workers wanted to work more hours. The new research report, Long time, no see: the impact of time poverty on Australian workers, was released this week.
Last year's report on unpaid overtime Something for Nothing – unpaid overtime in Australia found that one in four Australians report needing to go to the doctor but don't go, being 'too busy', while one in two don't spend as much time as they would like with their family because of work. Work also prevents us from getting enough exercise, eating healthy meals, and other things that contribute to our wellbeing.
Australia Institute Media Release Read more about Go Home On Time Day.
ACTU calls for support for jockey fundOn the occasion of Australia's biggest horse race the Melbourne Cup, the ACTU has called on State Governments to contribute to the National Jockeys Trust - a fund to support injured jockeys and the bereaved families of jockeys killed on the track. State Governments – who take in more than $600 million direct from racing in tax revenue – contribute nothing to the Trust.
Jockeys have the most dangerous land-based job in Australia, with fatality statistics over the last 25 years confirming they are the group of workers most likely to be killed at work – one or two are killed every year. 'Australia's $5 billion racing industry depends entirely on 840 jockeys who take extreme personal risks every time they race,' said ACTU President Ged Kearney, 'Every year at least half a dozen jockeys are injured so badly they can't return to racing and several of those are permanently disabling injuries like quadriplegia or brain injury. Yet jockeys don't have many of the conditions and protections enjoyed by other Australian workers.'
In addition to this, jockeys' work is insecure, with no guarantee of work from week to week and regular time out for injury; and mostly low-paid, with average incomes around $40,000 a year. Many don't have superannuation or private health insurance, and state-based workers' compensation systems are mostly inadequate for meeting injured jockeys' medical and living costs.
Read more ACTU Media Release. Go to the National Jockeys Trust website to made a tax deductible donatation and take 'Email your Racing Minister' action.
Victorian country racecourses to get safety upgrades
The Deputy Premier and Minister for Racing Rob Hulls last week announced more than $822,000 in racing and safety upgrades for Seymour, Kilmore and Yarra Valley racecourses, including $600,000 to drought proof the track at Seymour. 'Kilmore Racing Club will receive $164,000 for four projects to fund essential racing infrastructure and safety improvements for this well-loved racetrack,' Mr Hulls said.
Minister's Media Release.
International Union newsNew Hazards Magazine available
The November edition of the UK magazine Hazards contains a special report on occupational voice loss. The feature has links to 'Speak Up! A Checklist for safety reps' and the Hazards 'Work Hoarse' guide.
UK workers face same issues as us
Stress, bullying and harassment, back strains, slips, trips and falls, and overwork top the list of workers' safety concerns, according to new TUC research. The UK's peak union body's 2010 survey [pdf http://www.tuc.org.uk/extras/safetyrepssurvey2010.pdf] of safety reps found stress is by far the most common health and safety problem at work, with nearly two thirds (62 per cent) putting it in the top five problems faced by the workers they represent. More than a quarter of reps (27 per cent) pick out stress as the hazard at work that most concerns them. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned that spending cuts, job insecurity and escalating workloads could all make a bad problem worse. 'Stress can be caused by heavy workloads, cuts in staffing, long hours and bullying. The economic crisis and redundancies have created more anxiety about job security, and as the spending cuts begin to bite and even more jobs start to go, stress at work is bound to increase,' he said. 'Unions and employers must work together to combat stress at work as it can have a devastating impact on workers and a damaging cost on businesses.' Bullying and harassment was the second most common OHS concern for reps this year, with more than a third (37 per cent) listing it in the top five - almost double the proportion (20 per cent) which cited bullying as an issue in 2008. Back strains are the third most frequently mentioned (33 per cent) hazard. Overwork, listed separately to stress for the first time this year, is the fifth most likely hazard to be identified as a major concern with more than one in four (29 per cent) of safety reps listing it as one their top five issues. TUC news release.
The TUC is highlighting (Risks 481) that the savage spending cuts of 35 per cent to the HSE by the conservative government which mean fewer inspections and prosecutions will have a dire effect on workplaces, with six construction deaths the week the cuts were announced.
London protest in support of Ark Tribe
Ark Tribe, the SA safety rep with the Australian construction union CFMEU who faces jail for refusing to face an interrogation by the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), is getting international support. UK construction safety campaigners organised a protest outside the Australian High Commission in London to protest the victimisation of a union rep who is being prosecuted after making a stand on site safety. The 2 November event was in support of The London protest and was timed to take place hours ahead of Ark's sentencing hearing in Adelaide – which was then postponed to November 24. The ABCC had demanded Arc name those who attended a union meeting about terrible health and safety conditions on a site. Ark faces up to six months in jail for defending trade union rights. The UK event was backed by organisations including the Construction Safety Campaign, the Blacklist Support Group and the Hazards Campaign. 'Don't Jail Ark!' campaign.
Leukaemia associated with formaldehyde higher in professionalsA recent US meta-analysis of earlier research has identified a stronger association between formaldehyde, a Group 1 carcinogen, and leukaemia in professionals than in industry workers. Workers in the plastics, garment, tannery, wood-working industries, plus anatomists, chemical workers, wood-industry workers, embalmers, and pathologists are those most likely to be exposed.
The results showed workers exposed to formaldehyde had an increased risk of leukaemia, particularly myeloid (a type of white blood cell) leukaemia, but no increased risk of other types of cancer. The researchers also found the 'relative risk' for professional workers was nearly twice that of industry workers, and have called for further studies..
Formaldehyde and Leukaemia: An Updated Meta-Analysis and Evaluation of Bias [abstract] . Erika Schwilk, et al, USA, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 52, Issue 9, September 2010.
Noise, Chemicals and Hearing LossA new Spanish study has shown that the presence of chemical contaminants can interact with noise and modify, for good or for bad, the way in which work-related hearing loss, the most common occupational disease in Europe, manifests itself. 'Workers exposed to noise in the presence of metalworking fluids exhibit a delay in hearing alteration in comparison with those exposed only to noise at the same intensity. However, those exposed to noise in the presence of welding fumes experience increased hearing alteration,' says Juan Carlos Conte, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Zaragoza. The effect could be due not only to the interaction between the two hazards, but also the effectiveness of PPE. Read more: Science Daily, 4 October 2010.
Fate of silver and titanium dioxide nanoparticlesBecause of the antibacterial properties of silver nanoparticles, these are now used in more than 200 consumer products, including clothing and cosmetics. Now researchers analysing sewer sludge have found the first evidence that silver leaching from these consumer products transforms into silver sulphide nanoparticles in wastewater treatment plants. The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, has provided scientists with important new information about the life cycle of these nanomaterials. Based on a 2009 Environmental Protection Agency study of publicly-owned wastewater treatment facilities, Michael Hochella and his colleagues at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University knew that all these facilities had silver in their sludge. However, identifying and characterising tiny particles among myriad organic compounds presented a daunting challenge, but using complex techniques the researchers were able to identify the nanoparticles. Hochella said that this work underscores some of the complexity in studying environmental effects of nanoparticles: 'What we start with is not what ends up in nature.' While their identification is a positive advance, at this stage their environmental impact remains unknown.
Also finding their way into waterways through treated sewage effluent are titanium dioxide nanoparticles (nTiO2) - products coated in titanium dioxide nanoparticles (nTiO2) shine pure white, and so since the 1990s manufacturers have added the chemicals to a wide range of consumer products, such as cosmetics, paints, sunscreens, and even foods. In a new study, also in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers April Gu and Carla Cherchi of Northeastern University in Boston have reported that this nanomaterial can stress photosynthetic organisms, which could lead to the disruption of nitrogen and carbon cycles in aquatic ecosystems.
Source: Chemical & Engineering News, 21 September 2010
Warning on nailgunsEleven people have been injured in nail gun incidents across Melbourne since the start of May, including five in September. Two of the 11 injured had five-centimetre nails lodge in their head, while another pulled out a nail that entered near his eye. This rash of incidents has prompted Ambulance Victoria to issue a warning. Ambulance Victoria Media Release
Useful MaterialsAt the end of this year's WorkSafe Week, WorkSafe has made available for downloading from its website all of its presentations, tools and checklists.
Preventing slips, trips and falls at work – a checklist designed to help employers meet their legal obligations to manage risks associated with slips, trips and falls.
Two updated asbestos information publications:
Removing asbestos before demolition or refurbishement - provides advice about identifying and removing fixed or installed asbestos before demolition or refurbishment work is carried out in a workplace, or on plant or machinery.
Asbestos-contaminated soil - provides advice for any person (including employers, removalists and commercial contractors) inspecting, removing, transporting or disposing of asbestos-contaminated soil.
'Be careful' – cynical approach to safetyThe Melbourne Magistrates' Court this week convicted and fined a Melbourne business owner, Mr Wing Cheong Chan, as a result of the death of a worker on domestic construction site. Mr Chan had control of the workplace but failed to ensure it was safe for workers – he simply warned them to 'be careful'. Mr Chan was fined just $30,000.
The employee, who was a casual, died from his injuries in June 2008 after falling more than three metres through a hole on a first level floor to the ground floor. A number of holes in the first floor of the house had been cut out by an electrical contractor to thread electrical cables through. While some holes were covered and secured, other holes were uncovered. Mr Chan, as the primary contractor, had primary responsibility, and said Mr Forsyth, 'could have eliminated or reduced the risks by preventing workers from coming on site unless each hole was covered or at least cordoned off. He could have barricaded off any areas or rooms where any holes weren't covered.' WorkSafe Media Release.
Education Department prosecutedWorkSafe Victoria has prosecuted the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) after two secondary school students were injured in metalwork classes in 2005. The department pleaded guilty in the Melbourne County Court, and was convicted and fined a total of $60,000.
In 2005, a Year 10 student at Kangaroo Flat Secondary College (now Bendigo South West Secondary College) and a Year 9 student at Kyneton Secondary College both suffered serious finger injuries while using inadequately guarded pedestal grinders in metalwork classes.
In April this year, as a result of another incident, the DEECD agreed to an enforceable undertaking with WorkSafe, which is a legal agreement, requiring it to audit all equipment in Victorian woodwork, metalwork and automotive secondary school classrooms by the end of the year – including equipment like planers, grinders and drills. Equipment which isn't safe will be removed from use immediately or repaired, and all equipment will be recorded on a central register.
WorkSafe Media Release.
Arthurs Seat chairlift company fine appealedThe conviction imposed on the company that ran the Arthurs Seat chairlift is still in place despite a Court of Appeal decision reducing the fine from $110,000 to $60,000. The company was prosecuted after a chair on the ride came loose and crashed into the back of another, breaking the legs of an elderly woman. Read more WorkSafe media release.
USA: BP and Halliburton knew of dangersThe startling conclusion reached by the US presidential commission investigating the BP oil spill on what contributed to the deadly 20 April drilling explosion is that the cement used to seal the bottom of the well was faulty. It also concluded that both cement contractor Halliburton and BP knew it.
Although commission investigator Fred Bartlit did not identify the cement failure as the sole or even the main cause of the disaster, he made it clear that the accident would have been avoided had the cement done its job. In a letter to the commission, Bartlit said the cement mixture used on the well did not meet industry standards, and failed three out of four laboratory tests before the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Halliburton, which was hired by BP to cement the well, learned of those failures in February, and informed BP on 8 March. However, both firms chose to go ahead with the nitrogen foam cement mixture that was supposed to secure the bottom of the well. Although a fourth test, performed in April, did indicate the cement would hold, BP did not have the results of that test before 19 April, when it ordered work crews to begin pumping cement into the well. The subsequent failure of the cement allowed highly pressured oil and gas to enter the drill hole and spew upward from the 18,000-foot-deep well. The blowout preventer that sits on top of the well also failed.
Eleven workers were killed, and close to 200 million gallons ended up in the Gulf of Mexico in the following weeks. In an internal investigation, BP found that faulty cement was one of the major contributors to the disaster, though they ultimately pointed the finger at Halliburton. In public testimony, Halliburton has said 'BP's flawed well design and poor operations' caused the disaster.
Source: Risks 481 New York Times . FairWarnings . Courthouse News. Hazards page on BP's safety record .
India: Woman killed at Nokia facilityIn a horrifying incident on Oct 31 evening at Nokia's manufacturing facility in Sriperumbudur, a 22-year-old woman died after her neck was crushed inside a machine. Furthermore, technicians refused to switch the machine off even when she was bleeding through her nose and mouth, writhing in pain for over 20 minutes. After the young woman, Ambiga, was taken to hospital, the shift manager told the others to get back to work, saying, 'She is alright.' Ambiga's agitated fellow workers gathered at the hospital where she was brought for treatment, accusing management of not taking steps to rectify a 'sensor' that had not been working for the past six months, despite their repeated pleas. Ambiga, from a poor family who depended on her wages, died from her injuries before her family reached her.
Committee for Asian Women (CAW)
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