Issue 214 - SafetyNet Journal 214Union News
Website wins award
The VTHC OHS Reps website has won the inaugural healthy Skin Award for employee association/union for 2011 from The Skin and Cancer Foundation for its outstanding web-based OH&S site which covers many skin conditions:
The presentation acknowledged:
The site is co-funded by Worksafe Victoria to provide independent information on health and safety to health and safety representatives which they in turn use to inform workers and raise in their workplaces
The website has an enormous amount of information on health and safety which can be downloaded, displayed in workplaces, used to raise awareness in workplaces
The website is unique in Victoria (and in Australia) – there is no other site which can provide the same level of information to such a wide range of workplace parties.
Produces a fortnightly e-journal SafetyNet (currently 10,500 subscribers) and provides provide individual advice on issues/questions
The e-journal SafetyNet provides up to date information workplace hazards - including campaigns and workplace strategies on cancer, dermatitis and diseases of the skin
Access to appropriate information and links to more in depth information kits and guides for workplace action guidance from Australian and international unions, ohs and health authorities, research etc
provides advice and links to union activities - eg skin checks in construction, union campaigns here and internationally eg cancer
Read more and check out the pics from Award night White Night Ball [pdf]
Should the First Aid Room be cleaned and disinfected every day?
There's nothing so specific mandated in the legislation - but the employer has a general duty of care under Section 21 of the OHS Act to ensure that the working environment is safe and without risks to health.
Section 26 of the Workplace Amenities and Work Environment Compliance Code, which sets out what an employer needs to do do comply with the Act, states:
"Workplace amenities need to be maintained so that they continue to meet the needs of employees. This means they need to be hygienic, safe, secure and in serviceable condition."
Also, under Section 17:
"Employers are required by law to consult with affected employees and HSRs, so far as is reasonably practicable, when making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of employees."
So, in other words, the employer has the duty to ensure the rooms/facilities are kept clean and hygienic, and if you or other employees believe they are inadequate, then you have a right to raise the matter with the employer, who should consult with you (or with your elected Health and Safety Rep) on things such as when cleaning should be scheduled.
Go to this page on the website for more information on first aid requirements, including a link to the First Aid Compliance Code.
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.
Telstra to remove asbestos for NBN rollout
Telstra has announced it will bear most of the responsibility for removing asbestos from infrastructure it plans to lease to the government company rolling out the National Broadband Network. It is not unusual to find that many of the underground pits and conduits contain asbestos cement, which was used regularly until the 1980s, when the then Telecom switched to using plastic. Under OHS regulation, any asbestos that is found and likely to be disturbed in a workplace must be removed by licensed asbestos removalists unless it is small quantities of 'non-friable' asbestos. In an information pack released by NBN Co, the company acknowledges that some of the roll-out could involve replacing old pits that could contain 'small amounts' of asbestos but claims it is non-friable and 'does not easily break up into dust'. This is an issue the unions and HSRs will need to be aware of and deal with on a case by case basis to ensure that workers will not be exposed to lethal asbestos fibres.
Quebec environmental groups coalition launch campaign to stop asbestos mining
A new coalition of environmental groups this week said asbestos should not be mined because is too dangerous for human health. Christian Simard, director general of Nature Québec, one of the groups involved, said "Quebec is at the root of an epidemic of deaths around the world, and also in Quebec. It is time to break our ties with this industry that kills and does not create any sustainable jobs."
The announcement came the day after former federal Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl called on the government to stop exporting asbestos. Strahl, who used to work as a logger, was diagnosed with lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure from equipment he worked with.
Asbestos has been banned in more than 50 countries around the world, and is strictly controlled in Canada. In Quebec, it was mined in the towns of Thetford Mines and Asbestos and exported to India and other countries. In April, the Quebec government approved a $58-million loan guarantee to the company that owns the mine in Asbestos. It plans to expand the mine, allowing exports to continue for at least 20 more years.
Workers win on representation
Workers at Woolworths' MLDC site have endured a long rollercoaster ride to finally have improved health and safety representation. In 2010 three health and safety representatives were forced to do all the work to represent 460 workers at the site, even though all the workers had lots of different shift patterns. Their union, the National Union of Workers, reports the HSRs recognised how difficult it was to represent everyone and commenced a campaign to improve health and safety representation. During this campaign some 350 workers stood together and signed a petition to force the company to increase the number of HSRs. The HSRs, Delegates and Union Rep were then able to re-negotiate the number of health and safety reps at the site. Due to the pressure that was mounted on the company, they finally agreed to increase the number of reps to 12. After this agreement was reached workers then conducted the health and safety elections, and just as things were looking positive, WorkSafe ruled that the election had to be rerun. Although this was a blow to the members, they rallied and conducted another election, and now have 12 fully-fledged health and safety reps on site.
Newly elected HSR Sean Crotty commented on his new role as HSR. "I feel honoured to have been elected by my peers to represent them on their health and safety issues, it's a great responsibility and I'm really looking forward to the challenge. I know how difficult that challenge will be too, as lots of members have already expressed many issues and concerns that they have with health and safety at the site. However, I am comforted by the strength and unity that we have amongst us, and many members have even offered their assistance to help resolve workplace health and safety issues. I believe that members have reacted extremely positively to having more representation, and that increased representation will enable us to change the workplace for the better. So far we have done 3 of the 5 days of our HSR training, and we have learnt so much that it has already started to help us improve the health and safety of members at MLDC."
Delegate and HSR Rohan Hill was "stoked" with the result. "I'm very happy that we've been able to improve our health and safety representation. I'm even more happy that we've done this all by ourselves. This really shows that when workers stick together, we can achieve anything. Outcomes like this never come easy, they're always a struggle. But they're certainly not possible without the help and support of the strong and united members at the site. "
Firefighters Union campaigns for cancer law
The international cancer agency (IARC) some time ago classified firefighting as a 2B carcinogen - "possibly causing cancer", due to the toxic mix of chemicals and soot firefighters are exposed to. Overseas studies, which have found much higher reported rates of cancer among firefighters, support this. The cancers firefighters have been shown to be much more likely to suffer include testicular, bladder, prostate, brain, rectum, leukaemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Australian studies have been limited, however the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council recently announced a three-year study of 28,000 professional and 130,000 volunteer firefighters - both current and former = to be done by Monash University.
The United Firefighters Union of Australia last week reiterated it wants a change in Australian laws to follow the example of the US and Canada that when a firefighter falls sick with some types of cancers, the burden falls on the employer to show it was not caused by their work. The UFU has been campaigning for change for the past five years. Visiting Canadian fire union leader and campaigner Alex Forrest last week addressed a cross-party group of MPs in Canberra pointed out that firefighters were unique as they could not refuse to work in an unsafe environment, and explained that in Canada 'reverse onus' laws now cover 90 per cent of the country. He added that the rising use of plastics was causing concern as they vastly added to the toxicity of fires.
Greens MP and employment and workplace relations spokesperson Adam Bandt plans to introduce an amendment Bill on July 4 - The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011 - designed to ensure a compensable employment link under Commonwealth law for firefighters who contract certain types of cancer. Bandt said he hoped similar legislation could be implemented in states and territories.
Union quad bike campaign bears results
As reported in previous editions of SafetyNet, the AWU has been campaigning to improve quad bike safety for some time. The National Farmers Federation has now supported the voluntary fitting of roll protection devices to quad bikes in specific circumstances. However on Monday this week, the New South Wales Farmers Federation's Industrial Relations Committee Chair Graham Morphett spoke in favour of "the mandatory fitting of roll bars" to quad bikes. Meanwhile, Australian and New Zealand workplace health and safety regulators, through the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA), have acknowledged the unacceptably high death and injury rate linked to quad bikes, and have endorsed measures developed by a trans-Tasman quad bike industry working group to improve safety in the farm sector.
HWSA Media Release [pdf]
Union to appeal reduction of minimum shift times
This week Fair Work Australia's Vice President Graeme Watson ruled in favour of a National Retail Association (NRA) application to vary the General Retail Industry Award 2010, to allow for shorter shift times of 1½ hours for secondary school students. The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) has said it will appeal the decision which reduces the minimum shift requirement for young retail workers from three hours.
SDA secretary Joe de Bruyn said "This opens the door to substantial exploitation of school kids by retailers.There is no way we can accept the decision made."
The decision comes 15 months after employers first raised the issue with FWA following the introduction of the FW Act, which set minimum shift times across Australia at three hours - as they had always been under previous awards. FWA knocked back the NRA's first application last July and its appeal to that decision in October. This week's decision sets specific conditions for working the shorter shift times to seek to ensure young workers are not taken advantage of and no students suffer a detriment, including: workers must be full-time secondary school students; it only applies to school day shifts between 3pm and 6.30pm; workers and their parents/guardians must agree to the shorter shifts; and it is not possible to employ them for longer periods because of the operational requirements of the employer or the unavailability of the worker.
The union, however, believes young workers will be safeguarded, as unscrupulous employers will be able to easily avoid these conditions.
Source: Workforce Daily
International Union News
Global: IUF calls on global hotel chains to disclose policies on sexual harassment of staff by guests
Following the recent highly publicized events at the Sofitel New York (where International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually assaulted a hotel room attendant), the IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations) has written to major international hotel operators, including Intercontinental, Wyndham Hotels, Marriott, Hilton, Accor, Hyatt, Rezidor, Starwood, Carlson Hotels, and Melia to highlight the vulnerable situation of hotel housekeepers. The IUF says the risk of sexual assault and harassment by hotel guests must be treated as a workplace hazard and appropriate steps taken to protect workers. Some US hotels have already responded by providing staff with 'panic buttons'.
Union housekeepers are ending the silence on sexual assault
Thanks to the courage of the housekeeper at the Sofitel New York, a curtain has been pulled back on the world of sexual misconduct that housekeepers sometimes face from guests. Inspired by her stand, more housekeepers are coming forward to share their own stories and launch a campaign to break the silence about the routine sexual misconduct and other forms of abuse that housekeepers face at work.
UK: Bullying hits hard as cuts bite
Six in ten workers across the UK have been bullied, or witnessed bullying, over the past six months, according to a survey of more than 6,000 staff by the UK union UNISON. The union warns that government cuts are fuelling workplace bullying and silencing workers fearful for their jobs. One in four workers say staff cutbacks have led to workplace bullying - double the number from two years ago - and around half say they would be too scared to raise concerns during the period of cuts. The union predicts workplace bullying 'will rocket further', as the cuts really start to bite. The survey, carried out by the Centre for Organisation Research and Development (CORD) at Portsmouth Business School, reveals that one in three employees are being bullied at work across the UK, with many more witnessing it. Despite reporting bullying related health concerns, more than half of the bullied workers said they would stay in their jobs and suffer in silence - compared to only a quarter of staff in 2009.
Unison Media Release Source: Risks 510
Workplace bullying affects witnesses
A study of more than 1700 workers from 36 organisations across the health, education, hospitality and travel sectors in New Zealand, has found a clear link between people being exposed to bullying and poor perceptions of their work environment. "The greater exposure a person had to bullying, both directly and indirectly, the more negative their perception of the work environment was," said Dr Helena Cooper-Thomas, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Auckland. Dr Cooper-Thomas, who presented the findings at the Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference in Brisbane this week said that greater exposure to bullying was also associated with lower wellbeing and poorer work attitudes. She added that despite 10 per cent of the participants reporting they had witnessed bullying, little research had been done so far on the effects of bullying on witnesses.
IARC: mobile phones as possibly carcinogenic
On May 31, the IARC (the International Agency for Research on Cancer) Working Group made up of more than two dozen scientists and doctors from 14 countries (the world's leading experts) issued a joint statement that cell phone and other types of radiofrequency (RF) and microwave radiation might cause cancer. Near the close of the eight-day meeting, there was only one dissenting voice in the room, and IARC released the news: Long-term use of a cell phone might lead to two different types of tumors, glioma, a type of brain cancer, and acoustic neuroma, a tumor of the auditory nerve. (Microwave News: IARC: Cell Phone Radiation Is a Possible Human Carcinogen )
On June 22, a summary of Working Group's decision was posted on the Web pages of Lancet Oncology. It is not freely accessible, but the public interest website Microwave News reports that one key conclusion of the working group is: "Although both the Interphone study and the Swedish pooled analysis are susceptible to bias - due to recall error and selection for participation - the working group concluded that the findings could not be dismissed as reflecting bias alone, and that a causal interpretation between mobile phone RF–EMF exposure and glioma is possible. A similar conclusion was drawn from these two studies for acoustic neuroma, although the case numbers were substantially smaller than for glioma. Additionally, a study from Japan found some evidence of an increased risk for acoustic neuroma associated with ipsilateral mobile phone use."
Health effects of carbon nanotubes
Safe Work Australia has released a research report, Durability of carbon nanotubes and their potential to cause inflammation. The report looks at durability of carbon nanotubes and the tendency to cause lung inflammation if inhaled, two indicators of potential asbestos-like behaviour. Carbon in its bulk form is not hazardous, but there have been concerns for some time regarding the toxicity of carbon in nano-form. Carbon nano-tubes are already being used in a number of different applications.
Key findings in the report include:
Some types of carbon nanotubes can be durable, but others may also break down in simulated lung fluid.
Carbon nanotubes of certain length and aspect ratio can induce asbestos-like responses in mice, confirming previous findings. However, this response may be reduced if the nanotubes are less durable.
tightly agglomerated particle-like bundles of carbon nanotubes did not cause an inflammatory response in mice.
The 'Skeleton Project'
The Skeleton Project – baring the bones on workplace safety, is a new WorkSafe campaign involving three Victorian CEOs spending a day 'undercover' on the frontlines of their businesses to better understand how the most easily preventable workplace injuries happen.
Musculoskeletal injuries caused by slips, trips and falls, poor manual handling practices or inadequate equipment affect 50 people a day around Victoria and account for 60 percent of all workplace injuries. Collectively they cost more than $1-billion a year in treatment costs and related expenses. Fletcher Jones CEO Phil Smith admits his decision to go undercover and spend a day on the floor of his flagship Melbourne store gave him a perspective on safety that he would never have had sitting in his office.
"It was a serious learning experience", said Smith. "It's easy to 'talk the talk' and say there's nothing more important than your staff's safety, but having taken the time to look at what goes on in store from a safety perspective, I've made a personal commitment to change our business culture from being focussed on cutting costs to one that also prioritises safety."
WorkSafe Chief Executive Greg Tweedly said the aim of The Skeleton Project was to help CEOs and senior management understand musculoskeletal injuries were a significant issue and that a safety culture which encouraged open dialogue had to be driven from the top. "CEOs, business owners and managers are ultimately responsible for ensuring their workplaces are safe and that their workers are not at risk," he said.
Check out the videos, download a toolkit and read more on The Skeleton Project
WorkSafe Victoria advice on forklifts
Even though fatalities involving forklifts have reduced significantly over the past decade, incidents involving forklifts and pedestrians continue at an unacceptably high rate – 143 between January 2010 and February 2011. Around 80 per cent of these occurred in warehousing environments. In the recent WorkSafe publication, The Safety Express, Carolyn Kennedy (Project Manager, WorkSafe) wrote an article on why forklifts and people don't mix, and provides advice to employers on what they need to do, which includes considering whether the use of forklifts is appropriate, and developing a traffic management plan.
Victoria's wild weather prompts WorkSafe warning
WorkSafe issued a warning this week urging planning and care during clean up activities, after strong winds caused damage across much of Victoria. It said uncompleted structures and scaffolds may have been damaged or become unstable, trees may have 'widow maker' branches caught in them and people rushing to complete work may take short-cuts.
WorkSafe Victoria's General Manager for Safety, Lisa Sturzenegger, said employers had an obligation to ensure safety standards were in place an applies while workers had to work carefully to reduce risk. "Early reports are that there has been considerable damage, however the extent of that damage may not be known for some hours. Planning demolition or repairs is essential to ensure potential hazards are identified and a method determined to ensure the work is done safely."
OHS Harmonisation newsBoth New South Wales and Queensland parliaments have passed their respective Bills relating to the national WHS harmonisation legislation.
In NSW, the government first introduced the Bill to enact the national model work health and safety legislation on 4 May 2011. The Bill was passed by the NSW Parliament on 1 June 2011. Late changes to the NSW legislation mean that unions in that state have retained the right to prosecute workplace safety matters under certain circumstances – a surprise to many. The amendments were put by Labor, the Greens and the Shooters and Fishers Party in the upper house
NSW WorkCover has now published detailed information on the new legislation to assist interested parties to move to the new national OHS legislative regime. The information covers all the aspects of the legislation which differ from the current NSW legislation.
New legislation 2012: National initiative, NSW focus
Meanwhile, in Queensland the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 received assent in Queensland on 6 June 2011.
New Draft Guidance on Violence
SafeWork SA is seeking comment on the draft Preventing and responding to violence at work guide - a national guide designed to help people who run businesses or undertakings to develop work systems to prevent violence at work and also to respond to incidents if they occur, it has been developed with a view of being consistent with Work Health Safety (WHS) principles and the Model Work Health and Safety Bill, focussing on risk management tools. The purpose of the guide is to assist persons in control of a business or undertaking and workers to prevent and respond to violence at work and provide advice that is generally applicable in any workplace in Australia. Comment closes September 22.
For more information and to download the draft guide, go to the SafeWork SA website
Safe Work Australia Fact Sheets
Safe Work Australia has published legislative fact sheets on 12 key areas of the harmonised work health and safety laws, which are expected to take effect in just over six months' time. Specifically tailored for a legal audience, but containing concise, accessible information, the fact sheets are:
Role of inspectors in compliance and enforcement [pdf ]
Health and safety committees [pdf]
Right of entry [pdf]
Codes of Practice [pdf]
Incident notification [pdf]
Protection from discrimination, coercion and misrepresentation [pdf]
Consultation obligations [pdf]
Issue resolution [pdf]
Work health and safety duties [pdf]
Role of the regulator in compliance and enforcement [pdf]
Review of decisions [pdf]
Health and safety representatives [pdf]
From WorkSafe Victoria:
- Falls from grain bunker/stockpiles This Safety Alert highlights the hazards associated with working on and around stockpiles of grain, silage or other agricultural matter.
- Working Alone An information sheet providing advice about identifying and controlling risks associated with working alone, concentrating on occupational violence. See also the OHS Reps @ Work FAQ on Working Alone
- Occupational violence Advice for organisations where jobs that require face-to-face contact place workers at risk of exposure to occupational violence. See also the Bullying and Violence section on the website.
- Preventing slips, trips and falls Advice for organisations on preventing slips, trips and falls.
- Transporting people and equipment in vehicles Advice for organisations on reducing risks of manual handling when using vehicles to transport people, equipment and other items.
- Using office areas This Health and Safety solution provides information on potential hazards and risks in an office environment and controls.
- Blast management plans The guidance note provides advice to shot firers and others involved in explosives blasting work on developing a blast management plan to control risk.
- Safe distances when using explosives The guidance note provides advice to employers and contractors about safe distances for general explosive blasting operations and setting up exclusion zones.
- Tractor power take-off guarding This Health and Safety Solution covers the problem of tractor power take-off (PTO) driven attachments that are not properly guarded creating a serious risk of entanglement if loose clothing or hair is caught on the PTO shaft.
- Hydrofluoric acid Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is a corrosive and toxic acid used in many industries, including metal treatment or cleaning, car detailing, glass etching and dry cleaning. Depending on the concentration, exposure to HF can cause severe burns and death. This Health and Safety Solution discusses the risks and solutions.
115 million children in dangerous jobs
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), over 115 million of the world's children and young teenagers are engaged in dangerous and life-threatening jobs. Overall, there are 215 million child labourers worldwide, says the global labour standards body. A new ILO report, 'Children in hazardous work: what we know, what we need to do', cites studies from both industrialised and developing countries indicating that every minute of every day, a child labourer somewhere in the world suffers a work-related injury, illness or psychological trauma. The report also says that although the overall number of children aged 5 to 17 in hazardous work declined between 2004 and 2008, the number aged 15-17 actually increased by 20 per cent during the same period, from 52 million to 62 million. 'Despite important progress over the last decade, the number of children in child labour worldwide - and particularly in hazardous work - remains high,' said ILO director-general Juan Somavia. 'Governments, employers and workers must act together to give strong leadership in shaping and implementing the policies and action that can end child labour. The persistence of child labour is a clear indictment of the prevailing model of growth. Tackling work that jeopardises the safety, health or morals of children must be a common and urgent priority.' The ILO report concludes that while there is a need to strengthen workplace safety and health for all workers, specific safeguards for adolescents between the minimum age of employment and the age of 18 are needed. These measures need to be part of a comprehensive approach in which employer and worker organisations and the labour inspectorate have particularly critical parts to play, says ILO.