Issue 204 - SafetyNet Journal 204
Welcome to SafetyNet 204 - arriving early this week! Expect a short edition next week as the VTHC will be closing down for the holiday season on Friday December 17.
Model regulations released for public comment
Safe Work Australia agreed at its 2 December meeting to release the model WHS Regulations package for public comment for a four month period commencing Tuesday 7 December 2010 to Monday 4 April 2011. The package includes the first set of model WHS Regulations, Codes of Practice and Issues Papers. A Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement will also be released as part of this package in approximately two weeks time.
The union movement will be submitting detailed comment, and we encourage health and safety reps and workers interested in OHS to also submit comment. In order to assist with this, we will be preparing materials on specific issues/regulations (for example, asbestos, workplace amenities, and so on) and will make these available on the OHS Reps@Work website in the new year.
The draft documents are now available to download from the SafeWork website. For more information on the Model legislation, go to this page on the website.
Two more workplace deaths
A council worker who was hit by a car on November 24 while working on a nature strip at Kennington Park Drive, Endeavour Hills, has died in hospital. The 54-year-old man had stopped his truck and was going to work on a leak. Because this worker was killed on a public road, it will not be included in the official WorkSafe statistics, but rather in Victoria's road toll (as was an earlier fatality this year).
The second death in just two weeks is that of a 46 year-old truck driver at Gannawarra, near Kerang. He was crushed when a semitrailer tipped onto its side while it was being unloaded. WorkSafe Victoria inspectors have attended the scene and the incident is under investigation. WorkSafe's Executive Director for health and safety, Ian Forsyth, said this year's 'tragic, unacceptable' death toll should prompt all workplaces to 'proceed with caution' and 'take extra safety measures' in the weeks before Christmas. These fatalities bring the total of workplaces deaths to 25, but the 'official' number is 23.
WorkSafe Media Release
NUW: worker's horrific death
In August this year, Sarel Singh, 34, was killed instantly when he was sucked into a machine and decapitated while working at a Baiada poultry processing plant. Tim Kennedy, from the union covering the poultry workers, the National Union of Workers, has said that such a death was horrific and unbelievable in today's day and age. The union has general concerns about the workers at Baiada, in particular the contract workers. WorkSafe Victoria has now cited the company over the contract worker's death. WorkSafe has also said that the entire meat and poultry industry is now under review.
Lateline had previously revealed that the company was under investigation by Fair Work Australia over claims of unlawful and unethical treatment of its workforce, the majority of which are migrants.
ABC Lateline Report
I am an elected health and safety rep. I've just been elected and understand that Victoria will be adopting a new Act, regulations and Codes of Practice. Will I still be a rep under the new Act?
Yes, under the transitional arrangements, elected health and safety reps will continue to be recognised as reps under the new harmonised OHS legislation. More details, including information on training, will be available through this journal and on the website in the New Year, so keep checking.
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.
Asbestos fund loan finalised
On December 7 the Federal and NSW governments signed off on a $320m loan facility to underpin the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund (AICF) as promised in November 2009, with each party contributing $160m. The loan will ensure payments to victims of asbestos-related diseases and their families. Without the loan the AICF's funds were likely to run out in 12 months time, meaning victims would have been at risk of not receiving the full compensation owed. The impact of recent global financial crisis on James Hardie meant that the company missing two payments to the fund. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said that the loan agreement "in no way overrides" the company's moral or legal obligation to continue making contributions.
Queensland children exposed to asbestos
It appears that there has been a massive spike in asbestos incidents reports by Queensland state schools as the Education Department faces more compensation claims due to staff exposure. The Courier Mail reports that a register at one school reveals at least 57 children were potentially exposed this year to asbestos debris – asbestos in friable form. Education Queensland has been unable to give a statewide figure for the number of children who have their names on asbestos-related school registers, saying the information is not kept centrally. There have also been 98 temporary closures of classrooms, playgrounds and other state school sites recorded in the past six weeks or so, comparable to the rate of closures for all of last year.
Cuba: asbestos lobby strengthens footing in trade unions
The International Federation of Chrysotile Asbestos Workers (FICAT) held a conference in Havana on 26 and 27 October 2010 whose clear agenda was to oppose an asbestos ban on the pretext that the warnings about millions of asbestos victims are just a needless scare! This pro-asbestos stance is backed by Cuba's official central labour body and by members of the Athens-based World Federation of Trade Unions. Read more
Hotels with Heart campaign
The Victorian branch of the LHMU, the Hospitality Union, is running a general 'Hotels with Heart – Respect Melbourne Hotel Workers' campaign for room attendants employed by the larger hotels. The union is urging the hotels to set realistic workloads for room attendants who most often find that in order to clean the rooms to the required standard means working unpaid overtime and putting their health and safety at risk. The workers are continually at risk of sprain and strain injuries and stress. Go to the Hotels with Heart website to find out more information (including a very informative video) and to sign the petition specifically asking the Hilton chain to pay the unpaid wages it owes its workers.
Meanwhile, in the US - Hotel chain accused
US Trade Union, UNITE-HERE, has accused the Hyatt Corporation of having the worst safety record in the hotel industry. It cites a peer-reviewed academic study published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine [abstract] that puts Hyatt last among the 50 hotels studied. This prompted Hyatt housekeepers at twelve hotels in eight different cities to simultaneously file injury complaints a few weeks ago with the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). The union cites public records submitted by the hotels that indicate a 50 percent higher injury rate than the rest of industry. The union reports that OSHA logs recorded 750 injuries at 12 Hyatt properties between 2007 and 2009. According to the union: 'At some Hyatt hotels, room attendants clean as many as 30 rooms a day, nearly double what is commonly required in the industry. This workload leaves room attendants as little as 15 minutes to clean a room - that's 15 minutes to make beds, scrub and clean the toilet bowl, bathtub and all bathroom surfaces, dust, vacuum, empty the trash, change linens - among other things.' The union stresses that most of the injuries are caused by the dull, boring and routine repetitive motion performed each day of each week and of each month, which is exacerbated when it's required to be done quickly. The OSHA complaint suggested remedies recommended by leading health and safety experts and based on the latest ergonomic studies. According to the union, these recommendations included: fitted sheets to reduce the number of times that women must lift 100-plus pound mattresses to tuck sheets; long-handled mops and dusters, so workers do not have to get down on their hands and knees to clean the floors or climb bathtubs to reach high surfaces; and reasonable room quotas, so women no longer have to rush to finish rooms, risking slips and falls.
Union blog Source: Risks 484
Winning our Rights: Union Community Summer School
A launch and public forum is being held at the Victorian Trades Hall (cnr Lygon and Victoria Sts, Carlton South) on December 10 & 11, the main theme of which is 'Building unions that that fight for a better world, not just a better deal'. Winning our Rights is for active unionists and workers concerned with these vital issues. It is a chance to learn from past struggles and develop practical proposals to strengthen left and progressive collaboration. Speakers include VTHC Secretary Brian Boyd, ETU Vic Branch Secretary Dean Mighell, Greens MHR for Melbourne, Adam Brandt, and many more.
Definition of 'nanomaterial'
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has contributed to the consultation from the European Commission on a proposal for a definition of the term 'nanomaterial' that the Commission intends to use as an overarching, broadly applicable reference term for any European Union communication or legislation addressing nanomaterials. That definition will therefore have to be adapted for each piece of legislation where it would be needed. The ETUC considers that the definition should cover all nanomaterials and in particular others with a size smaller than 1 nanometre (nm) such as fullerenes.
Read more: ETUC News
Safe Sunscreen Guide
Friends of the Earth has released a new season safe sunscreen guide. FoE says that using sunscreen is an important preventative measure to help reduce the risk of skin cancer, but no-one wants to use sunscreens that may make sun damage worse. FoE's 2010-2011 Safe Sunscreen Guide enables consumers to make an informed sunscreen choice and to avoid high risk nano-sunscreens. The guide also includes secondary sunscreens (moisturisers, anti-ageing creams and mineral foundations). FoE has found that 47 of 140 brands surveyed are now free of manufactured nanoparticles, including trusted brands such as the Cancer Council's. Every child care centre in Australia will receive a copy of the Safe Sunscreen Guide this year, highlighting the importance of labelling and safety testing nano-sunscreens for child health and safety.
FoE is offering to post free copies – email your name and postal address to FoE or leave a message at (03) 9024 3404. FoE is also encouraging people to email Health Minister Nicola Roxon to voice support for mandatory labelling and safety testing of all nano-ingredients used in sunscreen.
Email Nicola Roxon, cc Catherine King and Senator Kim Carr
Nano and climate change
Friends of the Earth groups in the United States, Europe and Australia have released a detailed new report that evaluates the green claims made by the nanotech industry. FoE makes the point that not only has industry has promised much but delivered little, in many applications the use of nanotechnology will come at a climate cost, because of the huge amounts of energy it takes to make nanoparticles.
The report also reveals that, despite their green rhetoric, governments in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are funding nanotechnology research to find and extract more oil and gas. The petrochemical industry suggests that by using nanotechnology, the amount of oil that can be extracted from known reserves could be doubled. This has very clear greenhouse gas implications.
Of Safety and Quad Bikes
In Australia over the past ten years, an average of 13 people per year have been killed on quad bikes. Partly because of this a TransTasman Quad Bike safety committee was created by the regulators last year. Dr Yossi Berger, the AWU's National OHS Coordinator and someone well-known and respected in OHS circles, has been, until recently, a member of this committee. However, he has just resigned. He explains his reasons to the broader OHS community in Of stunning, short-lived cactus flowers and quad bikes on the SafetyAtWork blog.
Of great concern to him is that the committee's recommendations are likely to focus on user and community education and training, helmets and accessories, rather than the root cause of the fatalities and incidents: the inherent danger of these machines and their 'proneness to roll-over'.
TWU Safe Rates campaign paying off
The Transport Workers Union has welcomed the Federal Government's release of a discussion paper looking at safety, pay and conditions in the road transport sector and sees it as great progress in its campaign to achieve safe rates for its members. The Safe Rates Safe Roads discussion paper, released on November 26 by Parliamentary secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations, Senator Jacinta Collins, discusses remuneration and safety in the industry and calls for comments from the wider community. Transport Workers Union national secretary, Tony Sheldon, said that with 330 people killed on the nation's roads each year in truck crashes, it was right that the government put forward a proposal to make the roads safer. 'This is the chance owner-drivers and employee drivers have been waiting for – they have seen the government commit to reducing pressure on drivers and they are ready to act,' Mr Sheldon said. The union is urging its members to submit comment, either directly to government or by sending in comment through the TWU website http://www.twu.com.au/submission/ which will then be included in the TWU submission.
TWU Media Release. Safe Rates Safe Roads discussion paper
International Union news
Deadly jeans sandblasting must end
The Solidarity Committee of Denim Sandblasting Labourers of Turkey and the Clean Clothes Campaign, supported by dozens of trade unions and labour-rights NGOs, demanded that jeans brands stop selling sandblasted jeans, and encouraged governments to investigate an importation ban. The call was launched at a press conference in the Turkish city of Istanbul on November 27. While sandblasted jeans may be fashionable and lucrative for companies, sandblasting operators working in the countries where most of our garments are produced - such as Bangladesh, China, Mexico, Egypt, and others - contract an acute form of silicosis. Just in Turkey there have been 46 registered cases of former sandblasting operators who succumbed to sandblasting-related silicosis until the practice was banned by the government in March 2009. The number is probably much higher than the registered cases. Recently, jeans producer Levi-Strauss and fashion giant Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) announced they will stop selling sandblasted jeans. While such positive signals are encouraging, showing that the industry is ready to act on this issue, further pressure is still needed.
Read more and sign up to the online appeal at Killer Jeans.
Working Conditions Survey: work is adversely affecting the health of 25% of European workers
The first results of the fifth European Working Conditions Survey were presented in Brussels November 16 & 17 by the Dublin-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound). 43,816 workers active in 34 European countries were surveyed. While 84% of workers in the European Union report that they are satisfied or even very satisfied with their working conditions, 25% of them still feel that their work is adversely affecting their health. Likewise, although 90% of European workers consider that they are well informed about the risks to their health and safety, 25% of them feel that their health and safety are threatened in the conduct of their work. All these indicators vary according to the position occupied in the social division of labour: 'blue collar' workers are more likely to consider their health to be at risk and affected by their work than clerical workers.
Read more: ETUC news.
Health workers at risk from hazardous drugs
Researchers in the US have found hazardous drugs used to treat cancer patients are contaminating workplaces and placing an estimated 8 million health-care workers at risk of exposure. According to the researchers, these antineoplastic drugs are being used with increasing frequency. The study involved 68 workers who handled antineoplastic drugs at work and 53 non-exposed controls from three hospital-based cancer centres. For six weeks the participants answered questions on health, work history and PPE use, and documented 'drug-handling events'. During this time, the researchers took surface-wipe, fixed-location and air samples in nursing areas and pharmacies at each site.
Overall there were 9762 reported handling events, 3282 of which involved one of the five antineoplastic drugs the researchers focused on. Approximately 60 per cent of 143 surface-wipe samples detected at least one antineoplastic drug, and 32 per cent of the samples detected more than one. They were also detected in urine samples from three of the exposed workers.The researchers said the results suggested a breakdown in the safe handling of discarded drugs or contaminated equipment or a lack of sufficient cleaning and confirmed findings from other published studies that contamination is generally widespread.
Thomas Connor, et al, USA. Evaluation of Antineoplastic Drug Exposure of Health Care Workers at Three University-Based US Cancer Centers [abstract]. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 52, Issue 10, October 2010.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity – NICNAS Report
The report A Scientific Review of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Identifying Key Research Needs [pdf ] prepared by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) and the Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health (OCSEH) has now been finalised. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is a term used to describe a condition presenting as a complex array of symptoms linked to low level exposure to chemicals. The report was commissioned by the OCSEH due to the uncertainty about the event(s) and the underlying biological mechanisms leading to symptoms, which has hampered the development of a clinical basis for the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with MCS. The report concluded that there is a need for research into biological mechanisms underpinning MCS. It recommends targeted research into a number of potential modes of action as priorities:
- Immunological variables;
- Respiratory disorder/neurogenic inflammation;
- Limbic kindling/neural sensitisation and psychological factors;
- Elevated nitric oxide, peroxynitrite and NMDA receptor activity;
- Altered xenobiotic metabolism.
- Standardising diagnostic criteria that are acceptable to, and utilised by, clinical and scientific groups;
- Determining the prevalence of MCS in the community, for both self-reported cases and those that are medically diagnosed;
- Exploring initiating/triggering agents/events and modes of action in MCS through the use of well designed and conducted blinded challenge tests and longitudinal studies of illness course;
- Determining and documenting effective treatment/management protocols for MCS based on long-term therapeutic alliances and individual self-management
UK employers pay just 3% of work asthma costs
According to new research, more than 3,000 people develop asthma in the UK because of their work conditions but the state and the individual share the costs, with employers picking up just 3 per cent of the bill. The thousands of new cases of occupational asthma diagnosed every year are mostly in people working with insulation, paints, flour, foam, carpentry and adhesives. The health system and the patient bear the costs burden. The researchers concluded about 49 per cent of the lifetime costs of occupational asthma are borne by the individual, 48 per cent by the state and just 3 per cent by the employer. The team, which included experts from the University of Birmingham, said: 'The cost to society of occupational asthma in the UK is high. Given that the number of newly-diagnosed cases is likely to be underestimated by at least one-third, these costs may be as large as £95-£135 million (A$151 – 215million).' They added: 'Approaches to reduce the burden of occupational asthma have a strong economic justification. However, the economic burden falls on the state and the individual, not on the employer. The incentive for employers to act is thus weak.'
Co-author Professor Jon Ayres, of Birmingham University's Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said that there is scope for huge savings to be made if steps are taken to reduce the levels of exposure to agents which cause workplace asthma. 'The findings also suggest that the employer should bear more responsibility for establishing approaches to disease reduction by introduction of appropriate exposure control interventions and changes in work processes,' he said. A November report from Hazards revealed employers were guilty of this kind of 'cost-shifting' for all occupational injuries and diseases. In Australia, similar results were reported in a Productivity Commission report.
Jon Ayres and others. Costs of occupational asthma in the UK, Thorax, Online First, 25 November 2010. doi: 10.1136/thx.2010.136762 [abstract]. Dangerous li(v)es, Hazards, November 2010 Source: Risks 485
NT Regulator's failings contributed to oil spill
The Federal Government's Borthwick report [pdf ] into the Montara disaster has concluded that the Northern Territory Department of Resources (NTDR) 'soft' stance on health and safety was partly to blame for the third largest oil spill in Australia's history. In late 2009, for more than 10 weeks, oil and gas flowed unchecked into the Timor Sea, off the northwest coast of Australia, following a blowout on the Montara Wellhead Platform, which was operated by PTTEP Australasia (Ashmore Cartier) Pty Ltd (PTTEPAA).
The report identifies PTTEPAA's multiple failings: the company's well-construction standards were 'at best ambiguous and open to different interpretations….The company's systems and processes were so deficient and its key personnel so lacking in basic competence, that the blowout can properly be said to have been an event waiting to occur.' The inquiry also found the NT regulator failed to appropriately administer the licence area where the blowout occurred, and was thought of by PTTEPAA as having a 'soft touch'.
From WorkSafe Victoria:
Pouring a Driveway - A step by step guide to help concreters choose the right tools when pouring a driveway.
Building a timber deck - A step by step guide to help carpenters choose the right tools when building a timber deck.
Installing 150mm SDI sub-mains for new electrical switchboard - A step by step guide to help electricians choose the right tools when installing 150mm² SDI sub-mains for a new electrical switchboard.
More information about Asbestos – an information sheet providing information about the risks and requirements of working with or removing asbestos, and where to get further advice.
From the NSW Mental Health Coordination Council
A new resource to improve work health and safety in community mental health: Working Safe Toolkit, which provides practical guidance to the mental health and non-government sector on safe practices for home visiting and establishing policies for safe systems of work. NSW WorkCover has commended the council for developing the resource.
From WorkCover WA A guide for employers, workers, safety and health representatives and committees: Understanding the safety and health needs of your workplace: Older workers and safety [pdf]
Couple prosecuted after death of 18 yr old worker
A husband and wife manufacturing partnership were sentenced on Wednesday following the death of an 18 year-old worker at a Thomastown cardboard packaging factory in February 2009. The young man was killed when he was dragged into an exposed roller on a machine that printed and stacked cardboard. Gary Reid trading as Advanced Cartons was convicted and fined $60,000. Cheryl Reid, trading as Advanced Cartons also charged, was not convicted. They were placed on good behaviour undertakings which require them to complete a managers' safety training course.
'This was a young man at the start of his life, whose death could easily have been prevented if his workplace had stopped to consider his safety,' WorkSafe's Executive Director for Health and Safety Ian Forsyth said. 'Following his death, guards and an interlocking system were installed on the machine at a cost of around $6,000. Tragically, this is the price that could have saved this young man's life,' he said.
WorkSafe Media Release
EU: Information for Cleaning Workers
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has produced specific information for cleaning workers. The Agency says that cleaning is a generic job, carried out in all industry groups and all workplaces. In Europe, as in Australia, women make up the great majority of cleaners and many are migrant workers. The work is often temporary, with irregular working times and hours. Cleaning workers face a number of hazards and risks, including:
exposure to dangerous substances, including biological agents than can lead to asthma, allergies, and bloodborne infectionsnoise and vibration
slips, trips, and falls, particularly during 'wet work'
electrical hazards from work equipment
risks of musculoskeletal disorders
lone working, work-related stress, violence, and bullying
irregular working time and patterns.
France proposes new cancer classification for formaldehyde
The French government has submitted a proposal to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) requesting that the classification of formaldehyde be upgraded to a category one carcinogen. If France's request is accepted by the Member State Committee (MSC) for consideration, a public consultation could start by the end of the year or early 2011 - although the process can take longer, the agency notes. It is estimated that over a million European workers are exposed to formaldehyde. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has recently determined that the carcinogen classification for formaldehyde be upgraded from probable human carcinogen (Category 2A) to known human carcinogen (Category 1). It is used widely in Australia in many industries including:
forensic/hospital mortuaries and pathology laboratories
funeral (embalming) industry
leather and fur tanning
India: Anniversary of the Bhopal disaster
December 3rd marked the 26th anniversary of the world's worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, India when a gas leak at the Union Carbide killed 3,000 people in a single night and has tens of thousands since. The Indian media reports that victims continue to be plagued with a number of problems that have still not been resolved over the past 26 years. Many are still suffering the effects of the gas, and many have not received compensation.
Indian Express online, Feature on the disaster
As the survivors of the disaster were preparing to mourn their dead and
continue fighting for their rights, the workers and health activists
from Asia were gearing up to fight the Quebec government (Canada) and
its powerful asbestos industry from exporting more asbestos deaths to