Issue 205 - Safety Net Journal 205
Welcome to the last edition of SafetyNet for 2010.
Holiday closedownThe VTHC OHS Unit will be closing down for the holiday period Friday December 17, and re-opening Monday January 24. If you have an OHS issue you need information and advice on, contact your union or your OHS Regulator (in Victoria, contact WorkSafe Victoria's Advisory Line on 03 9641 1444 or 1800 136 089)
A very Bella Christmas
The Bella Union, a fabulous supporter of SafetyNet, who have provided tickets to their many great shows in 2010, are holding a great pre-Christmas event. They say: "Christmas is a special time at Bella Union: a time for loving, a time for togetherness, a time for disassembling Christmas carols wholesale and rearranging them in strange Frankenstein shapes."
Come along to
A Very Bella Christmas on Thursday December 23rd, at 8pm and enjoy the wonderful talents of a huge number of performers, including Casey Bennetto and Mike McLeish (Keating!) - the cost is very reasonable at $15 or $20 at the door. The Bella Union is in the 'Old Building' at the Trades Hall, corner Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton South.
More information and to book
Sun safety at work
With the summer coming on, it must be remembered that outdoor workers have a high risk of getting skin cancer if they are exposed to ultraviolet radiation for extended periods of time. Workplaces and employers that employ outdoor workers should develop and implement sun protection measures such as:
providing and maintaining clothing and equipment to protect outdoor workers from the sun
setting up systems of work to reduce the amount of time workers spend in the sun
providing information, training and supervision in consultation with employees regarding prevention and early detection of skin cancer.
More information on Sunlight and UV Radiation.
It's impossibly hot and stuffy in our office and we're getting headaches. It seems even worse after having a couple of weeks off. What are the rules about temperature in offices?
Complaints about air-conditioning and heating in offices are very common - it is either too hot or too cold; the temperature varies drastically through the day; the draughts are terrible; etc. It's not only the temperature that affects how people feel, but also the humidity levels and air movement. There are no regulations specifying standards for minimum temperatures in the workplace, humidity or air-flow in Victoria.
However, both the employer and the occupier of a workplace have a duty of care under the
Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004 to provide as far as practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health - and therefore should be doing something about unsatisfactory air-conditioning or heating. The employer also has the duty to monitor conditions at the workplace - this includes temperature. The Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and environment states: "Optimum comfort for sedentary work is between 20°C and 26°C, depending on the time of year and clothing worn."
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. Over the holiday close down, Renata will be checking the queries every few days, so keep the questions coming in.
$1.5 million Asbestos Innovation Fund launched
The Minister of Jobs and Workplace Relations, Senator Chris Evans, this week announced a new $1.5 million Asbestos Innovation Fund which will sponsor programs and research to prevent and better manage asbestos exposure, as well as improve treatment for asbestos-disease sufferers. 'It is a sad reality that asbestos has touched, and continues to touch the lives of many ordinary Australians. Tackling the threat of asbestos diseases in Australia will require action and collaboration on all levels,' Senator Evans said. 'And it will require new research into better treatments for those Australians suffering from exposure to asbestos, and their families.'
Fund will be underwritten by Comcare as part of its role to improve the management of the Commonwealth's common law asbestos responsibilities, and Comcare will work with Safe Work Australia and other Commonwealth agencies with an interest in asbestos-related diseases to ensure that any new programs and research under the Innovation Fund complement other programs already underway. Comcare will shortly call for proposals to be considered for funding under the Asbestos Innovation Fund.
Read more: Media Release
BAC urges Canadian Government to end exporting deadly fibre
Ban Asbestos Canada (BAS), which represents workers from across Canada, has issued a statement expressing their solidarity with the Delegation from Asia Solidarity recently visiting Canada. The statement says:
We call on the Canadian government to end all exports of asbestos to south Asia, Mexico, and the global south. We condemn efforts to expand and reopen the Jeffrey mine in Quebec. Tonnes of exported Quebec asbestos will kill tens of thousands of workers around the world.
We call on Premier Charest of Quebec to reject the asbestos industry demands for $58 million of Quebec taxpayer funds to expand their deadly trade. Support for such a project is indefensible and flies in the face of Quebeckers sense of social justice and environmental sustainability. We urge you instead to commit these public funds towards economic development and transition for the affected asbestos workers and their communities in Quebec.
NSW Nurses Union releases report on needlestick injuries
A report just released by the NSW Nurses' Association in conjunction with the University of Newcastle has found that nurses working in remote locations are more likely to sustain injuries from contaminated sharps or needlesticks than city based nurses. Of the 1,301 nurses surveyed, 84 (6.5 per cent), had suffered a sharps, including needlestick, injury (SIN) in the previous 12 months. This increased to 8 per cent for those who normally handled sharps in their principal job. The rate of injury for nurses in remote locations was 16.4 per cent. In terms of clinical practice areas, nurses in emergency rooms (12 per cent) and operating theatres (11 per cent) reported the highest injury rates.
The report recommended healthcare organisations develop a sharps safety culture in high-risk areas, particularly where safety engineered devices could be substituted for implements currently used. Healthcare organisations should designate people or departments to be responsible for sharps-related injuries as this was a critical component of post-exposure management. They should also train and require nurses to use gloves during procedures that had the potential for exposure to blood.
A cross sectional survey of sharps, including needlestick injuries among NSW nurses in 2007 [pdf ]
Of safety and quad bikes – Mark 2
Further to the item on quad bikes in last week's SafetyNet 204, there has been another quad bike workplace fatality. On December 12, a 68-year-old farmer died on a farm at Crooked Brook, south of Bunbury, WA. Reports are that the man was moving cows from one paddock to another. A family member, who went out to search for him when the farmer hadn't returned, found him underneath an upturned quad bike.
Official injury figures from ABS
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has this week released the 2009-10 Work related injuries publication. Of the 12 million people who had worked at some time in the last 12 months, 5.3 per cent (640,700) experienced a work-related injury or illness during that period. Broad data from the publication reveals:
The majority (88 per cent) of the people who experienced a work-related injury or illness continued to work in the job where their injury or illness occurred
The occupation groups with the highest rates of work-related injury or illness were: Labourers (88 per 1,000 employed people), Machinery Operators and Drivers (86 per 1,000), Community and Personal Service Workers (84 per 1,000 employed people) and Technicians and Trades Workers (78 per 1,000).
The most common types of injuries or illnesses sustained were sprains or strains (30 per cent), followed by chronic joint or muscle conditions (18 per cent), and cuts or open wounds (16 per cent).
Of the 640,700 people who experienced a work-related injury in the last 12 months, 388,400, or 61 per cent, received some sort of financial assistance. Of those who received financial assistance, 59 per cent received workers' compensation, 36 per cent did not apply for workers' compensation and 5 per cent applied for and did not receive workers' compensation.
The report clearly demonstrates that for whatever reason, over one third of workers who sustain a work-related injury do not apply for workers' compensation. On a more positive note, the data also showed that the number of people experiencing a work-related injury or illness has declined over the past year. Other figures reveal, alarmingly, almost one third of Australian workers have not received formal training in health and safety risks in the workplace. The ACTU will be doing a more detailed analysis of the figures.
ABS Media Release Report: Work-Related Injuries, Australia, 2009-10 Summary of Findings
Union concern over lack of staffing
Because a specially designed patient ambulance was unavailable, two ambulance officers sustained injuries this week after they were forced to carry a 200kg patient by stretcher. With the assistance of a relative, they were able to place the woman on to a stretcher, but it gave way as they made their way down some steps. One paramedic suffered a rotator cuff injury and the other a back injury.
According to Ambulance Employees Australia state secretary Steve McGhie, the specialist vehicles were being used for non-obese patients and were unavailable to respond to paramedics who needed them. Of the five specialist vehicles in Victoria, three were in rural areas and were staffed by Ambulance Victoria employees, while the other two are in Melbourne and are used by a private company contracted by Ambulance Victoria to transport non-emergency patients. Mr McGhie said the metropolitan heavy-duty ambulances were often used for routine hospital transfers. 'For whatever reason, Ambulance Victoria just refuse(s) to staff it properly,' he said.
Source: The HeraldSun
Both noise and physical work increase risk of heart disease
There was evidence indicating that occupational exposure to physical workload or noise leads to the development of hypertension and risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). On the other hand, vigorous physical activity lessens the risks of the metabolic syndrome (MetS) and CHD. Finnish researchers explored this issue by studying the joint effect of physical workload or noise and MetS on risk of CHD in an 18-year follow-up study of 1502 middle-aged men employed in industry who participated in the second screening for the Helsinki Heart Study but were not treated with gemfibrozil, the trial drug. The Finnish job-exposure matrix FINJEM provided information on occupational exposures. The results of the study were that workload and noise increased CHD risk due to increased blood pressure, glucose or body mass index (BMI), separately or combined. The researchers concluded that occupational exposure to workload or noise modifies CHD risk differently depending on which definition of MetS is used. In the presence of physical workload or noise, hypertension and blood glucose were the best predictors. This confirms the results of a recent US study (see SafetyNet 200 ).
Dual role of physical workload and occupational noise in the association of the metabolic syndrome with risk of coronary heart disease: findings from the Helsinki Heart Study Hanna-Leena Koskinen, Timo Kauppinen, Leena Tenkanen (Abstract Journal of Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oem.2010.057075 Online First)
Violence increases risk of musculoskeletal pain for nursing home workers
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts noted that despite the high prevalences of workplace physical violence and musculoskeletal symptoms among health care workers there had been few studies examining whether the two were related. They surveyed 920 clinical nursing home workers by questionnaire regarding musculoskeletal pain in the low back, shoulders, wrists or hands, and knees. Information was also collected on exposure to physical assaults at work during the preceding three months, other workplace safety features, physical workload and psychosocial work environment. Their results, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, were that almost half of respondents had been assaulted at least once during the period by a resident or resident's visitor.
The prevalence of low back pain increased from 40 per cent among non-assaulted workers to 70 per cent among those assaulted three or more times. The highest risk was found for widespread pain (three or more areas) for workers assaulted three or more times. They found, however, that good workplace safety buffered the effects, so that violence increased the risk of most pains considerably less in a work environment perceived to be safe. The researchers concluded that there is a clear need to address violence as a workplace hazard through practical measures for prevention as well as in future aetiological research on musculoskeletal disorders.
Violence at the workplace increases the risk of musculoskeletal pain among nursing home workers, Helena Miranda, Laura Punnett, Rebecca Gore, Jon Boyer (Abstract Occup Environ Med 2011;68:52-57 doi:10.1136/oem.2009.051474)
Changes to the HSIS
Safe Work Australia has updates the Hazardous Substances Information System online database, with 360 new entries, 92 amendments and four deletions. The update reflects the 31st adaptation of the European Union's Directive on Dangerous Substances, a law aimed at protecting public health and the health of workers who handle hazardous chemicals and other materials.
The SWA amendments do not include updated entries for nickel compounds, as these classifications are currently under reconsideration and legal action in Europe.
Safe Work Australia releases two new reports
Safe Work Australia has released the Comparative Performance Monitoring report and Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities report.
The twelfth edition of the
Comparative Performance Monitoring (CPM) report provides analysis on Australia's work health and safety and workers' compensation outcomes for the 2008-09 year. Safe Work states that the CPM report indicates that the rate of compensated injury fatalities is at its lowest level since the start of the National OHS Strategy 2002-2012 and that they expect that the target of a 20 per cent reduction by 2012 will be achieved. Safe Work Australia Chair, Mr Tom Phillips, said 'While this is a good result, there were still 223 compensated fatalities recorded in Australia for 2008–09 and each year 14 out of every 1000 workers continue to be injured seriously enough to require a week or more off work.'
Safe Work Media Release
The Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities report is the fifth in a series that estimates the number of workers and bystanders killed each year due to work-related injuries. A total of 442 work-related traumatic injury fatalities occurred in Australia during 2007–08, a 6 per cent decrease from the 2006–07 total of 469, but above the five year average of 439. Mr Phillips said, 'All Australians need to focus on safety in the workplace and undertake measures to improve safety standards. These figures reinforce the message that safety should be everybody's number one priority. Any work-related death is one too many. The release of this report shows that while we are making progress in some areas, more can be done to ensure safer workplaces for all Australians.'
Safe Work Media Release
WorkSafe Victoria has issued a Mirvac toolbox talk [pdf] on the safe use of nail guns, following a number of serious incidents involving the power tools during framing work. WorkSafe, said that at least one nail-gun-related injury is reported per fortnight.
Public Transport Safety Victoria has published a draft rail safety toolkit [pdf] for meeting the legislative requirement to ensure, "so far as is reasonably practicable", safety in the rail sector. The PTSV welcomes comment on the draft (comment closes January 31) – Submissions should be in writing and emailed to email@example.com.
Comcare has updated its Guide to preventing slips, trips and falls . The guidelines are to assist employers and supervisors to develop a systematic approach to preventing workplace slips, trips and falls. Includes identification of common hazards, with practical strategies to eliminate and control them.
Employer fined after 10 workers poisoned
MG Mining Services Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to breaches of the OHS Act and has been fined $150,000 for allowing workers to re-enter a mine following blasting work without testing the air quality, resulting in 10 workers suffering carbon monoxide poisoning. Two miners collapsed, overcome by carbon monoxide fumes, and workers who went to assist them were also affected by the fumes. Deputy Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen also found the emergency response that followed was inadequate and exposed others to the toxic atmosphere.
Fosterville Gold Mine Pty Ltd had contracted MG Mining to undertake all underground work at the mine, near Bendigo, and this incident occurred in December 2007. Fosterville Gold Mine Pty Ltd has also been charged over the incident.
Glass industry warned after death
After a second incident involving workers injured by glass went to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, Commissioner Tricia Kavanagh warned glass industry employers they had to be more vigilant about safety or risk large fines. 'Cheap imports of the material are now brought in from China,' she said. 'This availability coincides with a great demand for glass sheeting in building projects, both domestic and commercial. Small corporations have been established to import such goods without any attention to OHS standards. The glass industry in general must be rigorous in the application of safe working systems, especially where there are dangerous materials being handled.' On December 8, glass glazing company 7 Star Glass Pty Ltd was fined $190,000 after a 33 yr old worker was killed in 2007 when a timber crate loaded with 1.43 tonnes of glass sheets trapped him in a shipping container he had been unloading. He had only been in the job for two weeks, and had received no formal training, instruction or supervision on how to unload the glass stored in the shipping container. There had been no risk assessment done and there were no documented safe working procedures. The commissioner rejected the employer's argument his company had no control over the premises where the glass was unloaded and that the worker's death was caused solely by his actions. The company was fined $190,000.
(Hayes v 7 Star Glass Pty Ltd, NSWIR Comm 174 )
Garment Workers Die in Bangladeshi Factory Fire
At least 28 Bangladeshi garment workers have died and dozens more have been injured after a fire broke out on December 14 at a clothing factory Dhaka owned by the Ha-meem group. Some workers suffocated, others jumped to their deaths trying to escape the fire, and others were trampled by workers rushing towards the exits.
It seems at least 2 of the 6 exits were locked, a common occurrence. The Bangladeshi garment industry is notorious for its chronic safety problems, including locked or inaccessible fire escapes and malfunctioning fire equipment, which often lead to fatal accidents, according to Scott Nova of the Worker Rights Consortium, who said labour rights organizations had for years urged US and European clothing brands address the grossly substandard fire and building safety practices of business partners in Bangladesh. Failure to do so has resulted in such tragedies.
The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and other labour rights organisations regularly contact buyers of garments produced by Ha-meem, about violations of freedom of association and other labour standards at the company's factories. When 21 of the company's employees were killed in February of this year, the CCC, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) , the Worker's Rights Consortium (WRC), and the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) made a number of recommendations on measures to eliminate the systemic problems underlying these deadly tragedies. Read more.
Sweden: Firms call for safer toxics laws
A group of Swedish business leaders, academics and environmental organisations have said regulations and incentives are needed to encourage a shift away from toxic chemicals. The call, in a co-signed article in Dagens Industri, the country's largest financial newspaper, says it is a misconception that a lack of technically sound alternatives are the barrier to the transition towards a toxic free world. The article urges the Swedish government to introduce regulations making it profitable to replace hazardous chemicals with alternative solutions.
According to the authors, it is the established traditional firms, which have invested huge amounts in 'old solutions' and have a vested interest in their preservation, that set the rules of the market game. This acts as a block to best available technology and makes it difficult for new, more progressive businesses to enter the market, which legislators then incorrectly interpret as an absence of alternatives. They say in Sweden a carbon dioxide tax is used to reach climate targets and emissions limits, but no equivalent tax tool is used in the case of hazardous chemicals.
ChemSec news report Source: Risks
USA: IKEA charged with labour rights abuses
A major IKEA factory in the US is being accused of serious workers' rights, discrimination and health and safety abuses. Trade union leaders from more than 25 countries protested in front of a new IKEA store in Geneva, Switzerland last week, 'to send a message that they were united against workers' rights abuses' at the wholly IKEA-owned Swedwood plant in Danville, Virginia, USA. Global building and woodworkers' union federation BWI said the action was part of its international campaign to get the Swedish multinational to address serious safety, racial discrimination and other labour rights violations at the plant.
In October, the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Division levied fines against the factory after confirming the findings of a highly critical July safety report by the Machinists' union (IAM). Virginia OSHA found the accident rate at the plant was double that originally reported by the firm. 'Instead of working with us to solve these problems, Swedwood hired an expensive anti-union law firm and is spending substantial amounts of money to maintain an unsafe workplace,' said IAM woodworkers' department director William Street. 'Everyone knows that productivity goes up and costs go down in a safe workplace. Additionally, Swedwood continues to deny us access to educate the Swedwood workers as to their rights to form and join a union.' Ambet Yuson, general secretary of BWI, said: 'We refuse to accept that IKEA's attitude that paved the way for the international expansion of this furniture giant, founded on loyal and sound labour relations, cannot after more than three years be extended to the other side of the Atlantic.' The union organisations are urging consumers and union members to sign up to an online seasonal appeal to IKEA chief executive officer and president, Mikael Ohlsson, calling on the company to address the safety and labour rights violations.
BWI news release. and IKEA Swedwood campaign webpage