Issue 208 - SafetyNet 208
Welcome to SafetyNet 208 - as usual this edition has a range of items including the latest on the harmonisation of OHS legislation, the latest in research news and more.
Vale Bill Mansfield
In what is very sad news for the union movement, Mr Bill Mansfield, a full-time union official for 39 years, passed away on February 3. He was an Assistant Secretary of the ACTU for 17 years whose responsibilities included OHS. Renata Musolino, editor of SafetyNet, worked in the ACTU OHS Unit for a number of years under Mr Mansfield. 'He was a wonderful man whose commitment and passion to OHS led to real improvements in the lives of many working Australians,' she said.
Mr Mansfield later distinguished himself as a Commissioner of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, before retiring from the bench in 2007. ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said business organisations and the employer community were 'deeply saddened' by the news of Mr Mansfield's death. 'He was a man of integrity and character and mentor to many who contributed to a better working environment for working people and the doing of business in our country.'
Truck driver fatality in country Victoria
A man was killed following a collision between two trucks on the Hume Freeway in Baddaginnie just after midnight on Tuesday this week. It appears that the driver of one truck lost control and rolled onto the freeway moments before a second truck collided with it. The driver of the second truck died and police are investigating the cause of the collision. While it is too early to speculate on what may have caused the driver to lose control of his vehicle, it is well known that many drivers in the commercial transport sector are placed in the position of having to adopt unsafe practices in order to make a living. It should be noted that because the death occurred on a public road, this fatality will not be considered a work-related death. The Transport Workers Union, the TWU, has an on-going campaign – the Safe Rates Campaign - to improve safety in the long haul transport sector. Source: Herald Sun
Union questions WorkSafe condition on Esso licence
Following four separate incidents since December 2008, where corroded pipelines have caused crude oil or gas to leak, WorkSafe Victoria has imposed a condition on Esso's licence to operate its Longford plant. The most recent incident was last August, when WorkSafe issued two safety improvement notices to Esso after a crude oil leak. All major hazard facilities in Victoria require a licence from WorkSafe to operate. Executive Director for Health and Safety Ian Forsyth said, 'By putting a condition on the licence, we're requiring Esso to ramp up its safety program, and provide an extra level of assurance to WorkSafe that they're on top of safety issues.' He said the events had raised concerns about the effectiveness of Esso's maintenance of pipes and related structures at Longford. Mr Forsyth said, 'We don't want to be dealing with pipe maintenance issues on a piecemeal basis – we want assurance from Esso that they're across the issue and are putting specific steps in place to deal with it.'
Dr Yossi Berger, the Australian Workers' Union National OHS Director, told SafetyNet that despite the requirements of the Safety Case, the annual 'in depth inspections' by specialist WorkSafe inspectors and Esso Longford's own OHS safety system, this site 'nevertheless continues to generate serious OHS failures that are sentinel events'. Dr Berger believes a better alternative to placing a condition on Esso's licence would be to 'deal at greater depth, in detail and openly with the relevant unions' in order to get a genuine and thorough picture of what goes on at the site through the detailed knowledge of those who work there. WorkSafe Media Release
Can a worker be dismissed for OHS reasons?
There is nothing in OHS legislation that covers the dismissal of an employee. Warnings and dismissals are covered under the Fair Work Act and these are also usually covered in the award or Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.
The OHS Act of course places a clear duty on employees under Section 25, but unless the breach is both very serious and also intentional, it is unlikely that a worker would be dismissed for this. If a worker continues to not follow the employer's OHS instructions, for example, then the employer would normally deal with this using the agreed or legislated (industrial) procedures - that is, a series of warnings (with a final written warning) which can then lead to dismissal if the matter is not remediated by the employee. Employees have a duty under employment law to follow any legal and reasonable request of the employer.
The situation is different if a worker does something very serious, which could 'grossly endanger' the health or safety of someone at the workplace. This could lead, potentially, to dismissal and/or prosecution by WorkSafe under Section 32 of the Act. Read more – Can a worker be dismissed for OHS reasons?
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.
In the last edition of SafetyNet the Ask Renata item was on the dangers of mould in the workplace. To illustrate that this can indeed be a problem, ABC News Online reported the case of six teachers at Cranbourne Carlisle Primary School in Melbourne's south-east who got ill after the school was flooded the previous weekend. The school was closed for several days while large fans and dehumidifiers were used to dry carpets. The department opened the school for classes on the Wednesday; however the six teachers had to go home after suffering headaches and nausea. Their concerned colleagues then decided to hold their classes outdoors. It is now believed the fans caused mildew and chemicals used in the carpets to become airborne. The AEU has come across this problem in the past, when one of their members suffered permanent lung damage due to mould spores. Read more: Crippled by Damp, ABC News Online
International asbestos lobby resorts to threats
The UK-based International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), which coordinates a network of campaign groups worldwide, reports that asbestos industry lobbyists are running a campaign of intimidation targeting organisations seeking to ban asbestos. It says that in recent weeks 'the internet has been flooded by accusations against individuals and groups campaigning to ban asbestos.' IBAS believes it is likely that the public relations offensive originated in Russia, 'the country with the highest earnings from asbestos production and exports.' It adds, 'The latest industry diatribes, most of which focus on the work of IBAS, were not unexpected. Threats to the asbestos industry have traditionally been met by verbal attacks, legal action or physical intimidation.' IBAS says the latest round of attacks brands ban asbestos campaigners as eco-terrorists and pseudo-environmentalists who are part of the 'powerful industry of the international anti-asbestos lobby... a supranational industry of money-pumping.' In an online rebuttal of the pro-asbestos attacks, IBAS notes: 'Whether or not the asbestos defenders are ready for the demise of the asbestos milch cow is irrelevant. Progress is represented by those mobilising around the world to end the decades of destruction wrought by this industry and not by those desperate for yet one more asbestos dividend. While attacking their critics might be cathartic for the old guard, it will not change the course of history. There is no place in the future for this dying industry.'
Source: Risks IBAS news report.
Meanwhile, IBAS reports Canadian push to sell more asbestos to India
In a move IBAS, unions and other campaigners predict will lead to a 'tsunami' of asbestos going to the sub-continent, the governments of Quebec and India have agreed to draw up an accord on 'investment and sustainable development' in mining activities which will include Canada's asbestos exports.
IBAS news report and news release
Union sparks safety of smart meters debate
The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has criticised the industry regulator, Energy Safe, claiming it is allowing unqualified subcontractors to install smart meters in Victoria. Dean Mighell, ETU Victorian Secretary, said in a radio interview that many of the workers installing smart meters were subcontractors and there had been no scrutiny of their qualifications. It has been reported that a Melbourne woman received a shock from the meter, which the electricity supply company said had been incorrectly installed. Mr Mighell has asked for a meeting with Michael O'Brien, Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources. Source: ETU ; ABC Online
AWU conference endorses 'Guard it or Ban it' campaign
At the Australian Workers Union National Conference this week, National Secretary Paul Howes said that workplace accidents are so bad that we can currently expect two amputations to occur every work day. 'Every year on average about 675 amputations occur due to industrial accidents,' said Mr Howes after the union's national conference adopted a decision to campaign for new machine guard regulations. 'Business will almost always respond to these incidents by blaming workers and human behaviour for these incidents. Seldom will their policies, their training or their supervisors be blamed. And certainly they will not accept there were any design faults with machinery or work procedures.' The union expects to launch the campaign in the coming weeks. Read more
Unions form partnership with Indigenous Australians
Unions this week announced a new partnership with Indigenous Australians to campaign to improve the lives of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through decent jobs and sustainable economic development. The ACTU has pledged to work hand-in-hand with indigenous Australians to advocate for better social and economic opportunities. 'Australian unions have always stood by our Indigenous brothers and sisters,' said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence, when opening the ACTU Indigenous Conference in Darwin Wednesday. 'We stood with Indigenous workers in the Wave Hill Station walk out; fighting for land rights, and stolen wages. But it is clear that Indigenous Australians have been left behind by the strong growth of the Australian economy over the past decade, so today we are announcing a greater emphasis and focus of the union movement on what is happening in Indigenous communities now.' ACTU Media Release, Opening address by Jeff Lawrence.
Jobs link to women's lung cancer risk
A large scale occupational health surveillance study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, the broadest analysis of occupation, industry and lung cancer among US women to date, has found significantly higher rates of lung cancer deaths - sometimes double what would be expected - occurred in those who worked in certain occupations. Researchers at the US government's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analysed 4,570,711 death certificates from 1984 - 1998 to identify workplace settings with unusually high amounts of lung cancer deaths in women. More than 40 industries were identified as having excessive lung cancer deaths, including manufacturing, transportation, retail trade, agriculture, forestry and fishing and nursing/personal care. Many jobs had one and a half to two times more lung cancer deaths than would be expected for the groups. Some estimates indicate that workplace exposures account for two to five per cent of lung cancer deaths in women, but the amount of research regarding workplace related cancer for women is much less than for men, where estimates are higher. While the researchers could not specify causes for the higher risk, the authors suggest that in blue collar workers, the excesses in lung cancer deaths might be a result of poorly controlled exposures to industrial chemicals with the potential to cause cancer. In other workplace environments, the authors suggest second hand smoke or even naturally emitted radon gas may be a factor.
Cynthia F Robinson and others. Occupational lung cancer in US women, 1984-1998, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 54, issue 2, pages 102-117, February 2011 [abstract]. Source: Risks 493.
Patient deaths increase where nurses work long hours
Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Nursing and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine examined data from 71 Illinois and North Carolina hospitals and found that patient deaths from pneumonia and acute myocardial infarction were significantly more likely in hospitals where nurses reported schedules with long work hours.
During nursing shortages in the 1980s in the US, many hospitals switched nurses from 8-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts, and the pattern has persisted. Study author Alison Trinkoff said that 'alertness and vigilance required for providing good nursing care depend upon having an adequate duration of quality sleep and rest.' In a previous study, Trinkoff and colleagues found that a lack of time off contributed to nurse injury.
Alison M Trinkoff and others: Nurses' Work Schedule Characteristics, Nurse Staffing, and Patient Mortality . Nursing Research: January/February 2011 - Volume 60 - Issue 1 Source: The Pump Handle
OHS Harmonisation news
The 30th Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting last weekend (Feb 13) - attended by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the state Premiers and the territory Chief Ministers – dealt primarily with health reform and the adoption of a national natural disaster "resilience" strategy, with the national harmonisation of OHS laws not getting much of a mention. However, according to a report card on the progress of COAG's deregulation priorities, conducted by the Business Regulation and Competition Working Group, 'COAG remains committed to delivering this important reform and New South Wales and Western Australia continue to remain engaged in the reform process.' Meanwhile, the NSW Opposition leader, Barry O'Farrell, has committed to immediately signing up to the harmonisation of OHS laws if elected at next month's State election. A reminder that the model regulations, codes of practice, issues paper, and regulatory impact statement were released for a four month public consultation period in December. Comment closes April 4. These documents can be accessed on the SafeWork Australia website
Coroner critical of employers/SafeWork SA after death of apprentice
SA Coroner Mark Johns this week concluded an inquest into the death of an 18-year-old apprentice toolmaker, killed in 2004 when he was dragged by his dustcoat into a 40-year-old boring machine. The coroner found the horizontal borer the young man had been working on had been operated for years in a condition which could only be described as "deplorably unsafe". Also of great concern to Johns was time it took for SafeWork SA to prosecute Diemould Tooling Services, the company involved. The case highlights a number of problems with compliance and enforcement, worker representation and more, many of which are canvassed in the SafetyAtWork Blog. Sydney Morning Herald
Victorian information on flood safety
The Victorian Department of Health has prepared a number of fact sheets to assist the general public understand the health issues associated with floods. The Flood hazards - Protecting your health and safety fact sheets are Flood - mould growth and your health; Protecting yourself from animal and insect-related hazards; and Power blackouts - Using alternative fuel and electricity generation safely. Department of Health website
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland – new materials and websites
Floods and Storms: a new webpage topic with a number of topics including what OHS laws are relevant when cleaning up; how to plan safe work; demolition; working at heights; and much more. Victorian workers doing any flood or storm clean up work may find some of this advice useful. Floods and Storms
Nanotechnology: another new webpage, this provides good advice on nanotechnology, including basic general information on nanotechnology and its applications, potential risks and a tool for workplaces. ESafe article, Nanotechnology Webpage
Melioidosis update: a disease not known here in Victoria, melioidosis is an uncommon but serious tropical disease which has led to several work-related fatalities in that state. The disease occurs most commonly in north and central Queensland, and is caused by bacteria which usually live below the soil surface but are found in mud and surface water after heavy rainfall. Melioidosis update
Comcare releases critical report of OHS at Lucas Heights
Media reports over the past week have revealed that a confidential Comcare investigation and report has found that the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has under-reported accidents and breached basic safety standards at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor. The investigation was initiated last year after an employee of 30 years standing and the health and safety rep for its pharmaceutical production area, ANSTO Health, raised concerns. The ABC reports that at the time, he said: "If you don't follow the safety regulations and the procedures and you don't investigate when you do have an accident, the accidents are going to get worse and worse and someone's really going to pay the ultimate price one day". His concerns were supported by ARPANSA, the industry regulator, which then called in Comcare to investigate. However he was suspended by ANSTO, and has not yet returned to work,
In addition to these safety concerns, two other employees have claimed they were suspended after reporting a contamination scare in September. ANSTO, however, denies they were suspended for reporting the incident, and says it was rather for 'unduly creating safety concerns'. The matter is before Fairwork Australia.
Senator Kim Carr has said in a media release that he has asked his Department to examine the operation of the ANSTO facility and the OHS practices in place at present at the facility. As part of the review, the Department will also seek the assistance of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), the independent regulator, with respect to ANSTO's compliance with the facility licence.
Source: ABC News Online
National campaign targets road worker safety
The Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) has announced a new campaign to improve safety for those working on or near public roads after five fatalities and 10 serious injuries in the past 18 months. Chair John Watson said, 'Factors such as high volumes of traffic, inadequate signage, poor traffic management and the use of powered mobile plant pose a high operational risk.' Under the targetted campaign inspectors would visit more than 260 roadside worksites nationally. Between March and May inspectors will monitor employers and site controllers to determine if adequate risk management and worker consultation systems are in place. HWSA Media Release [pdf]
Comcare OHS Awards
Nominations for the 2011 SRCC Safety Awards, designed to reward and recognise excellence in workplace health and safety, rehabilitation and return to work achieved by employers and individuals covered under the Comcare scheme, are now open. Categories include Best Solution to an Identified Workplace Health and Safety Issue, Best Individual Contribution to Health and Safety (two awarded: Employee, eg health and safety rep, and Employer). Nominations close 18 April, 2011. Read more
New Alert: Repairing High Stress Components - Failure of high-stress components can have catastrophic results causing fatalities or serious injuries. This alert sets out key actions required when repairing high-stress components.
Alert: Ground support for excavations on the dangers of undertaking deep bulk excavations without an adequate ground support system.
Safe use of meat bandsaws – Guidance Note providing practical advice to employers about controlling hazards while using meat bandsaws.
WorkCover NSW has published a guide specifically on the health and safety standards for aluminium tower-frame scaffolding.
Convicted company to pay $28,500 to flood appeal
In July 2009, Chevron Glazing workers were attempting to install an oversized glass panel into a window on a balcony on the 20th floor of a worksite, an apartment complex. The glass shattered and fell to the scaffold deck and laneway below. No injuries occurred, but there could have been serious consequences as the laneway was regularly used by pedestrians and vehicles. Magistrate Vandersteen found that the company failed to ensure the safety of persons other than its employees in that it failed to: properly identify the risk that broken glass might fall from the building site; ensure that the risk that falling broken glass would fall to the ground was minimised; and ensure that people were not able to be in the area where broken glass might fall. Chevron pleaded guilty and was convicted and released on an undertaking for a period of 12 months with a special condition that they donate $28,500 to the Victorian Flood Appeal. Source: WorkSafe
Comcare to prosecute Transpacific Industries
Comcare has launched Federal Court proceedings against Transpacific Industries (TPI) after a worker died at Wagerup Alumina Refinery in WA. On September 2, 2009, the TPI worker fell 25 metres to his death through an open manhole while cleaning equipment at the workplace. TPI will be charged with breaching federal work health and safety laws by failing to take all reasonably practicable steps to provide and maintain a working environment and safe systems of work for its employees. TPI is one of the 29 companies which applied for and was granted self-insurer status under Comcare when this was introduced by the Howard Coalition government.
Global: ILO to discuss safety in growing container industry
"Any fool can stuff a container?" The container shipping market represents about 16 per cent of the world's goods loaded in tonnes. With its growing market share, the risk of accidents also increases, says a report [pdf] prepared for an ILO Global Dialogue Forum on Safety in the Supply Chain in Relation to Packing of Containers, to be held in Geneva on 21-22 February 2011. The meeting will try to find a common approach throughout the supply chain to ensure the application of the appropriate standards for packing containers. ILO Press Release
Global: Killer jeans still not banned
Despite an on-going international campaign, fashion brands Diesel, Dolce & Gabbana, Replay and others refuse a dialogue with the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) to bring an end to sandblasting of jeans. Sandblasting kills operators in garment-producing countries, and thousands of lives are at risk. Some major brands, such as Levi's, have already abolished sandblasted jeans in their collections. Other companies need to do the same. The CCC is asking workers around the world to take action by going on to their website and sending off a letter demanding an end to the sandblasting of jeans.
Europe: Work violence and harassment up
Violence, bullying and harassment are becoming more common in European workplaces, according to a new report. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) found 'third party' violence and harassment affects from 5 per cent to 20 per cent of European workers. Its report, 'Workplace violence and harassment: a European picture', includes international statistics collected by its European Risk Observatory. Its recent pan-European workplace survey ESENER found 40 per cent of European managers are concerned by workplace violence and harassment, but only around 25 per cent have implemented procedures to deal with it. The problem is even more acute in health and social work and in education, with more than 50 per cent of managers identifying it as a health and safety problem. 'Both violence and harassment represent serious but under-reported threats to the safety and well-being of workers in Europe', said agency director Jukka Takala. 'Workplace harassment can lead to stress, long-term sick leave, and even suicide. Economic consequences are reduced productivity, increased sickness absence, higher turnover of staff and premature retirement due to disability at often early ages.'
UK: New HSE nanotechnology webpages
The UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – the OHS regulator, has a nanotechnology webpage which provides advice on the nature and use of nanotechnology and highlights on the 'benefits of nanotechnology.' Potential health concerns are relegated down the webpage. This section does, however, repeat HSE's earlier warning: 'Where nanomaterials have an uncertain or not clearly defined toxicology and unless, or until, sound evidence is available on the hazards from inhalation, ingestion, or absorption a precautionary approachshould be taken to the risk management.' In other words, if they can't demonstrate it is safe, you shouldn't go near it.
Also from the HSE, a new video on wood dust exposure showing showing the high exposures from sweeping up and blowing down wood dust, compared to using a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters. The Australian exposure standard for soft wood dust is 5mg/m3 while for certain hard woods, such as beech and oak, it is 1mg/m3 (as a time weighted average over 8hrs). Wood dust can cause allergic reactions and be a respiratory irritant and in some cases, is carcinogenic. In addition, any chemicals used to treat the wood may also be hazardous.