Issue 206 - Safety Net Journal 206
Welcome to the first edition of SafetyNet for 2011. We're just back, so it's a shorter edition than usual. There will probably be another edition next week, and then things should get back to normal, with the journal coming out on a fortnightly basis.
Historic conviction: discrimination against OHS rep
In a historic and landmark prosecution, Patrick Stevedore Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Asciano, has been found guilty of discriminating against an OHS Representative in Melbourne Magistrates Court. While the company could have been fined an aggregate of up to $750,000 for being found guilty of three charges, the conviction and fine of $180,000, is an important one, being the first successful prosecution of an employer under Section 76 of the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act. The company, which had pleaded not guilty to all counts, has sought a stay of 60 days, and may appeal.
The health and safety rep, a member of the MUA and a long-standing employee of the company at Geelong Port, was suspended, reprimanded and threatened with the sack for raising serious safety issues. In 2007 he had had legitimate concerns regarding the safety of a 'basket lifting' technique for lifting steel loads, a technique the workers thought unsafe, but which a client of Patrick Stevedoring wanted to introduce. The case has received and will continue to receive a great deal of attention.
WorkSafe Media Release MUA Media Release
WorkSafe Victoria guidance: Working Safely on the Waterfront. And from the UK's HSE: Docks website re-launched as Health and safety in ports - the site provides access to guidance on main causes of injury and illness on docks.
Asbestos risks for flood victims and workers
Queensland's Workplace Health and Safety body (WHSQ) and the state's Attorney-General Cameron Dick have warned that homeowners and workers could face an asbestos risk during the flood clean-up, saying that residents in flood-stricken areas must take extra precautions during the clean up when handling construction materials that may contain asbestos. The AG warned that any structure built before 1990 is likely to contain some asbestos materials and suggested it would be best to assume that asbestos is present requiring use of protective gear and keeping the material damp. To date the Victorian government has not issued any such warning – however Victorian flood victims should also be aware that their homes could contain asbestos.
More information on Asbestos
Global: Asbestos deaths toll under-estimated
According to a new study, the number of deaths related to asbestos exposures worldwide has been dramatically under-estimated, as some major asbestos using nations are failing to report any related cancers. A group of experts from Japan, Taiwan and the UK, writing this month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, say their analysis supports a worldwide ban on asbestos production and use. Their study, which claims to be the first to provide a global estimate of unreported cases of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, concludes that for every four to five reported cases of mesothelioma worldwide, at least one case goes unreported. The authors assessed the relationship between country-level asbestos use from 1920 through 1970 and mesothelioma deaths reported between 1994 and 2008 (there is typically a latency period of decades between exposure and development of cancer). Cumulative asbestos use in 89 countries, which accounted for more than 82 per cent of the global population in the year 2000, totalled more than 65 million metric tons during 1920-1970. The United States, Russia, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan led the group in asbestos use, defined as production plus import minus export. For the 56 countries also reporting mesothelioma data, there were approximately 174,300 such deaths during 1994-2008. When the authors extrapolated this finding to the 33 countries not reporting mesothelioma data, they estimated 38,900 additional cases may have occurred in these countries during that same 15-year period. Estimates of asbestos related lung cancer numbers are also based on the mesothelioma figure, so these deaths are likely to have been significantly under-estimated too. 'Our most important finding is the magnitude of unreported mesothelioma in countries that use asbestos at substantial levels but report no cases of the disease,' said study co-author Ken Takahashi of the University of Occupational and Environmental Health in Japan. Such countries include Russia, Kazakstan, China, and India, which rank in the top 15 countries for cumulative asbestos use.
Park E-K, Takahashi K, Hoshuyama T, Cheng T-J, Delgermaa V, and others. Global magnitude of reported and unreported mesothelioma, Environmental Health Perspectives, published online 6 January 2011. doi:10.1289/ehp.1002845 Source: Risks
Is there any legislation / standard relating to the degree of angle of a 'going' or top of each step? eg 90 degrees, right angle to the stair?
There is nothing in OHS legislation specifically on steps and stairs.
However, there are a number of sources providing guidance and information. Steps and stairs should comply with the Building Code of Australia as well as the Australian Standard AS 1657-1992: Fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders - Design, construction and installation. To find out more information on the standard or the guidelines for steps and stairs, go to this page on the website.
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.
Farmers and cancer
A recent US study has found that while agriculture workers have lower overall cancer rates than the general population, they have an increased risk of ovarian or prostate cancer, and farm workers' wives are more prone to breast and uterine cancer. The study examined information from more than 52,000 private pesticide users, more than 32,000 of their spouses and almost 5000 commercial users (eg employees of pest-control or agricultural companies), from two American states. The researchers concluded that the increased rates in certain cancers for males could be linked to exposure to pesticides, viruses, bacteria, fungi, sunlight, dusts and other chemicals. The increased likelihood of breast and uterine cancer among spouses, who are often directly involved in farming-related activities, could be due to hormonal properties in some pesticides.
An Update of Cancer Incidence in the Agricultural Health Study [abstract]. Stella Koutros, et al, US, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 52, Issue 11, November 2010.
Inflexible and stressful work bad for kids
According to a new report, inflexible, stressful and emotionally demanding jobs can undermine parenting confidence and contribute to emotional withdrawal from children. The study, undertaken by UK organisation Demos, found that while educational background has little effect on parenting style, work conditions did have an impact. The think tank polled 1,017 parents and found work impacted negatively on parenting when it was characterised by inflexibility - in terms of hours and culture in the workplace. 'The home front' report found parents in well-paid but highly stressful jobs experienced as much negative impact as those in mundane, low paid and low-skill jobs, because of the lack of choice about working long hours and emotional demands of the workplace. The ability to be creative at work, as well as flexible with hours, had a positive impact on parenting. Kitty Ussher, director of Demos, said: 'Our working lives are inextricably bound up with our home lives and the ability of parents to support their children will be shaped by their freedom to balance care with their responsibilities at work. But work does not have a straightforward relationship with parenting. It's not only the number of hours worked, but also the flexibility of a parent's schedule and the quality of their work that makes a difference to children.'
Demos news release and report, The home front, Demos, January 2011 [or pdf]. Source: Risks
WorkSafe Vic new media campaign hits hard
WorkSafe Victoria's new TV ad campaign, launched on January 2, highlights the impact on families of workplace safety incidents. The state-wide campaign shows a woman and her daughter receiving a knock at the door after a major safety incident at her husband's workplace. WorkSafe's Executive Director for health and safety Ian Forsyth said 'We've taken a tougher line because while death and injury rates are dropping over the long term, the improvement is not happening fast enough - and families, the wider community and businesses are paying the price. In 2010, 23 Victorians didn't come home from work at the end of the day..
WorkSafe Media Release
From WorkSafe Victoria - Safe handling when securing loads on trucks This guidance note provides advice for road transport operators and workers who load and unload trucks and includes information on the safe handling of side-gates, side-curtains and application of restraint lashings and tensioning devices.
- Comcare has released a suite of guidance materials for employers and employees on preventing and managing workplace bullying. The guidance includes policy and risk factor checklists, and a risk management tool.
- The Victorian State Services Authority has also recently released a guide Tackling Bullying [pdf] which it says shows how to respond to bullying when it first occurs and the follow up action to prevent it from happening in the future. It contains a number of resources that can be adapted by an organisation.
Second employer prosecuted in poisoned workers incident
As reported in SafetyNet 205, MG Mining Services Pty Ltd was fined $150,000 in an incident where 10 workers re-entering a mine near Bendigo following blasting work suffered carbon monoxide poisoning. There had been no testing of the air quality. Fosterville Gold Mine Pty Ltd, which had contracted MG Mining to undertake all underground work at the mine, was also prosecuted. Like MG Mining, Fosterville Gold Mine also pleaded guilty. On December 22 last year, the company was convicted and fined $110,000 plus costs in the Magistrates Court.
Failure to provide safe plant/systems of work, information, instruction and training.
Abigroup Contractors Pty Ltd was undertaking earth moving works at the site of the Craigieburn bypass project. The company failed to ensure that the Superintendent of Earthworks and Leading Hand had been provided with site drawings and plans indicating the existence of a high-voltage electrical cable immediately to the south of the Mount Ridley Road construction site. On 12 January 2005 while the excavator operator was excavating the trench, he unearthed a live high voltage underground power cable. The cable was severed and the power to a nearby housing estate was cut off. It was sheer good luck that no one was injured. The company pleaded not guilty, but was convicted and fined $45,000 in the County Court for breaching sections 21(1) and 21(2)(a) and (2)(e) of the OHS Act.
Colombia: 21 miners killed in blast
An explosion probably caused by a methane gas buildup has killed 21 workers in an underground coal mine in Colombia. The explosion occurred at La Preciosa mine in Sardinata, about 400 kilometres northeast of the capital, Bogota, early Wednesday. the provincial Colombian Red Cross director, Johel Enrique Rodriguez, has said that five of the victims died at the mine's entrance and by the afternoon two bodies had been removed from the mine with another 14 left to recover. Rescuers had seen the rest of the bodies, which the director said were covered in burns and scattered throughout the kilometre-long tunnel that extended horizontally beneath a verdant mountain.
A methane buildup was believed to have caused an explosion at the same mine in 2007 that killed 32 miners. Six miners were killed and two others were injured in a similar accident in the mine in October 2010.
According to the national safety co-ordinator for Ingeominas, the mine met legal safety requirements. But the Ministry of Mining and Energy said it would be shut down, at least temporarily, with Mining Minister Carlos Rodado having gone to La Preciosa to meet with its managers and victims' families.
USA: Cost-cutting blamed for deadly oil disaster
A major US report into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has called for wide-ranging reforms of the oil industry to prevent a repeat of the disaster. The report from the US presidential oil spill commission said the US needed to expand and update drilling regulation and establish an independent drilling safety agency. The April 2010 blast aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 people and caused one of the worst oil spills in history.
The final report of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which President Barack Obama convened in May, spreads blame for the disaster widely, criticising BP, which owned the Macondo well; Transocean, which owned the rig; and Halliburton, which managed the well-sealing operation. It said the companies had cut corners to save time and money - decisions that contributed to the disaster. It also concluded regulation and legislation governing offshore oil drilling failed to adequately protect oil workers and residents affected by the spill. 'Our exhaustive investigation finds that none of the major aspects of offshore drilling safety - not the regulatory oversight, not the industry safety standards, not the spill response practices - kept pace with the push into deep water,' said panel co-chair William Reilly. Former Florida senator Bob Graham, who sat on the panel, cited 'significant errors and misjudgments' from BP, Halliburton and Transocean. Recommendations in the commission's report include increasing budgets and training for the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling and increasing the liability cap for damages when companies drill offshore. 'BP did not have adequate controls in place to ensure that key decisions in the months leading up to the blow-out were safe or sound from an engineering perspective,' the report found.
Oil spill commission website and final report [pdf]. BBC News Online. The Guardian.
Public Citizen campaign to get the US government to act on the commission findings. Source: Risks