Issue 218 - SN 218 Thursday August 18
Welcome back to SafetyNet – Edition number 218. Unfortunately Victoria has had another fatality since the last edition of the journal.
Note: the journal has been sent out a day early due to staffing and operational issues.
Unfortunately another worker was killed at work in Victoria last week. The 62-year-old contractor died after a tree fell on him at a farm at Mingay, south of Skipton, in western Victoria on August 9. The contractor was working with two others to remove blue gums on the property, but the tree fell on to a four-wheel drive and the man who was standing nearby. A 27-year-old man who was in the vehicle was taken to Ballarat Hospital for observation. WorkSafe investigators returned to the scene to further investigate the following day.
WorkSafe said this was the second fatality involving tree-felling work this year. In April, at Apsley near the South Australian border, a man died when a pine tree fell on to an excavator.
Tuesday's death is the 12th traumatic work-related death in Victoria this year and the seventh in regional Victoria.
Sources: WorkSafe Media Release
WorkSafe inspectors are also investigating a serious incident in Springvale where a woman was left in a critical condition last Friday when her arm was dragged into an industrial food mixer. It took emergency services personnel 30 minutes to free her from the machine. Employers have duties with regard to machine guarding, and ensuring that plant is safe.
Read more: Plant RegulationsDeath at Work: From Red Tape to Real People
Health and safety reps may remember Professor Michael Quinlan, who gave the keynote address at the 2006 VTHC OHS Reps Conference. Professor Quinlan is an expert in work organisation, the effect of contingent (insecure) employment, and OHS matters generally. Professor Quinlan, currently a professor in Organisation and Management at the Australian School of Business, University of NSW, was surprised to find that, despite a body of research on death and trauma, until recently there has been no investigation into the impact of workplace deaths in Australia. He and colleagues have recently completed an initial study into the cost of workplace death on families and identified several areas for future inquiry.
Their papers, Traumatic death at work: Consequences for surviving families and The adequacy of institutional responses to death at work: Experiences of surviving families, confirm what unions and workers have always known: that the impact on families, both emotional and financial, is significant. For the research, the researchers interviewed seven families who had lost a relative through a work-related accident in construction.
Co-author Lynda Matthews says the research provides "a baseline" of what the experience of what families who lose a loved one have to navigate in terms of procedures and how best to improve the regulatory systems around workplace deaths. It also shows that institutional responses "are central" to how the families deal with a death.
Read the article: Death at Work: From Red Tape to Real People Published: August 16, 2011 in Knowledge@Australian School of Business
How long is the term of office for a committee member?
There is no set term of office for committee members under the OHS Act – however Section 72 the Act requires that, so far as practicable, the employee members of the committee be the elected health and safety reps. As the default term of office for health and safety reps is three years, it makes sense for the term of office for the committee members to mirror this.
Of course, the management/employer reps on the committee would not necessarily be tied to such a time framework, but would need to change if their duties/responsibilities changed - but nevertheless be as stable as possible.
More information on Committees is on the site.
Don't forget that 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.
National Asbestos Management Review
As reported in previous editions of SafetyNet, the Federal government has commissioned a review into the management of asbestos in Australia, with an Issues Paper now released for public comment. VTHC is in the process of preparing a submission, and we will make this available as soon as it is completed. In the meantime, we encourage workers to put in their own submission, even if brief. In consultation with the ACTU, a list of important points has been developed to assist you in putting together a submission.
NSW unions and asbestos support groups call on TV shows to be more responsible
Neither The Block nor The Renovators, nor similar shows contain automatic warnings that DIY renovators may live in houses containing asbestos and risk exposure. Unions NSW has passed a unanimous resolution demanding on-air warnings on the dangers of asbestos in renovation programs, with secretary Mark Lennon urging networks to be responsible. "The tragedy of asbestos-related illness has touched far too many families and these DIY home renovation shows need to ensure they're not unwittingly adding to the problem," he said. Barry Robson, president of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, said the networks had a responsibility to viewers. "There's no safe level of asbestos exposure and it's time the major TV networks took the dangers of asbestos seriously," Mr Robson said.
In response, Shine Australia co-executive producer Tim Cobbins told The Daily Telegraph: "All our houses were professionally assessed, all asbestos was clearly noted and The Renovators had to include licensed asbestos removal in their plans and costs. Our rules state clearly that no contestant is to handle or remove asbestos." However, all this means is that the show's participants were warned – not that the network alerted viewers, who might be encouraged to do their own renovations.
The Daily Telegraph Read more: Asbestos in the home
Also in NSW:
The NSW Government has established an intergovernmental taskforce - the "Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities" (HACA) - made up of representatives from WorkCover, the Health Department, the Dust Diseases Board and other Government bodies to tackle all issues relating to asbestos in NSW. The group has been established to improve the way the government manages, monitors and responds to asbestos, Finance Minister Greg Pearce said in a statement last week. It will be backed by a fund of $1 million over four years for new prevention programs to improve the management of asbestos, and would be tasked with developing a state-wide Asbestos Plan, he said. A further $6.3 million has been provided over three years for a risk mitigation program at the abandoned Woods Reef Mine site near Tamworth.
Read more: Sky News
James Hardie profits hit in weak housing market
James Hardie Industries this week reported a sharp drop in net profit in its first quarter on soft conditions in the US and Australian housing markets. However chief executive Louis Gries described operating profit as solid considering the difficult operating environments. "In the US, new housing and repair and remodel sectors remain weak with high unemployment, low levels of consumer confidence, falling house values, excess housing inventory and limited credit availability, all still inhibiting growth," he said in a statement. The issue of a falling net profit is of concern as this will negatively affect the amount of money the company will pay into the Australian compensation fund established for victims of asbestos diseases.
Read more: The Australian
ADAO Asbestos Newsletter
The August newsletter of the US organisation, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) can be downloaded from the homepage of their website. The newsletter has items on the Italian Internit asbestos trial, the future of asbestos mining in Canada, and much more.
India: Workers die, companies profit
More than 100 workers, who had previously worked in asbestos mines, have been diagnosed with asbestosis when approximately 250 workers were examined during a recent medical camp organised by the Mine Labour Protection Campaign (MLPC) at Jhadol in Udaipur. Rana Sengupta, from MLPC, said, "There are thousands of asbestos mine workers in Jhadol. Although it has been more than 15 years that mine workers stopped working in asbestos mines in Rajasthan, asbestosis continues to kill people."
When asbestos mining was banned in Rajasthan, the government ceased granting new asbestos mining leases or renewing existing leases. However, it did not force the existing mines to stop production until the individual lease expired. In 2005, all official asbestos mining stopped in Rajasthan, almost 20 years after the ban.
Source: Australia Asia Worker Links
Senate enquiry on compensation for firefighters begins
A Senate Enquiry looking into the automatic awarding of workers compensation to firefighters contracting cancer began last week. As reported in SafetyNet 214 and 215 this is the result of a long-term campaign by the United Firefighers' Union and a bill introduced into parliament by Green's MP Adam Brandt. The Senate committee is holding a series of public hearings on the bill, and will report to the Senate by September 15. Canadian expert Alex Forrest from the International Association of Firefighters addressed the enquiry, urging Australia to become the third country to introduce this type of legislation.
Read more The Australian
Rail union: 'bad practice' puts safety at risk
The Rail, Train and Bus Union (RTBU) is alarmed at the findings of the state's rail safety investigator into a fire on a train in Northcote last year. Chief investigator Ian McCallum found Metro's failure to satisfactorily maintain one of its trains and a railway power substation in Reservoir led to the fire as the train pulled out of the Croxton station on March 17, 2010. 50 passengers had to be evacuated, with train's driver only realising the train was on fire when he lost power and saw 'massive flames' coming from under the final carriage.
A lack of repair records for the train and extensive fire damage meant the investigation was unable to establish what had caused the blaze, however.
Metro disputes Mr McCallum's findings. A spokeswoman said the fire had been caused not by a lack of maintenance but by a faulty power substation part installed by the previous operator, Connex, in 2008.
Read More: The Age
Detention Centre Union concern for members
United Voice, the union representing detention centre workers in the Northern Territory has serious concerns for the safety of detention centre staff following more assaults on Darwin workers, saying centre manager Serco does not have the proper procedures in place to ensure its staff are kept safe. Two detainees have been charged with assault after several workers were injured two days ago and were to face court earlier this week. One of the workers was taken to hospital.
United Voice NT Secretary Matthew Gardiner said the incident was one of a growing number of assaults against staff. 'It's one of the things that we've got grave concerns about - the occupational health and safety of both the staff who work at the centre but also the clients actually in the centre,' he said. 'This is something we want the centre management to take seriously and we want to make sure that these sorts of incidents do stop and we want to make sure there are the proper processes in place to make sure they won't happen again.'
Meanwhile, Comcare has published a report on seven Immigration Detention Facilities (IDFs) which found that IDF staff was prevented from "taking ownership" of OHS. The investigation into Christmas Island, Villawood and five other IDFs, which were controlled by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), was undertaken as Comcare believed federal workers, contractors and detainees were at risk of harm and mental stress. It found that overcrowding was the major concern, and that no facilities had "local OHS leadership" and staff feeling that Canberra "owned OHS". Comcare also found that DIAC failed to comply with its obligations on risk management, staffing ratios, staff training and critical-incident management, and that it failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of detainees.
OHS Harmonisation forum
The Work Health Safety (OHS) Harmonisation (Australia) Group on Linked In has a focus on the current OHS harmonisation process in Australia, and is effectively a discussion forum/blog on OHS harmonisation. Members of the Group can post questions or comment on issues raised by others. It has close to 900 members, including HSRs, OHS professionals, managers, lawyers, and business owners as well as representatives from Safe Work Australia and number of the State and Territory regulators. Membership of Linked In and the Harmonisation Group are both free. If you are not currently on Linked In simply click here and follow the prompts to join and set up a brief profile (you can add to it later if you wish). Once you are on Linked In you can apply to join the Group by going to the Group Homepage. There are also a wide range of other OHS groups on Linked In including a number which are Australian based.
A tip: Many people joining Linked In do not use their employment email address when they sign up, but use for example Gmail, Hotmail or another account. This is because Linked In updates will be sent to this address. In addition it can make it difficult for your account to 'follow you' if you change employment
International Union News
UK unions concerned for safety of members during riots
A number of UK unions have issued statements regarding the safety of members during the recent riots in the UK. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has warned journalists need to plan and take appropriate precautions, and has issued guidance after reports some journalists had been targeted. The union's alert noted: 'Should the civil unrest continue it is likely that similar behaviour will be repeated if participants are being filmed or photographed and journalists may also be injured as a result of the violence aimed at the police and/or their proximity to premises being attacked.' The union's detailed checklist advises journalists to carry a map, check routes and know alternative exit routes and advises wearing strong boots and strong, tight fighting clothing. Other protective gear including shin guards, kneepads, body armour and helmet 'may be worth thinking about.' NUJ news release.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has also warned that attacks on fire crews are creating a risk of deaths and that any delay in carrying out rescues hugely increases the risk to anyone trapped in a fire. FBU assistant general secretary Andy Dark said: 'Fire crews have been subjected to attacks and threatened as they try to protect the communities they live and work in. It is predominantly poorer working class communities that are bearing the brunt of arson attacks.' Commenting on 9 August, after three days of riots in a number of cities, he said: 'Fire crews are doing their best in the face of great risk to themselves. They've been attacked on the way to incidents, at the scene and there have been attempts to steal lifesaving equipment. Those who are torching homes, shops and workplaces need to understand they are seriously risking lives. There is a very real risk that this will result in a significant loss of life if it goes on.' FBU news release
The general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, has said rioting was achieving nothing other than ruining lives and putting workers at risk - 'Workers need to know that they can go about their business in the community in safety, particularly in the transport sector where bus drivers have been placed in the most dreadful and dangerous of situations in recent days.' He added transport workers had shown their dedication by continuing to turn out for work, but said: 'Workers cannot be asked to drive people into battlefields. Equally, we offer our admiration and support for the public servants up and down the country who are now repairing the damage done to our communities.' Unite news release Source: Risks 518
USA: Hyatt hotel turns heat on workers
Late in July, hotel workers at the Park Hyatt Chicago hotel went on strike after nearly two years of fruitless negotiations, setting up a picket line at the front entrance. That's when management turned the heat on, literally, by firing up 10 heat lamps normally used in winter in the awning above the entrance - on a day when the National Weather Service had issued an excessive heat warning for temperatures above 100 degrees. The hotel workers' union, UNITEHERE! Local 1, complained to the National Labor Relations Board, stating, 'The employer assaulted the employees and tried to fry them by shining heat lamps on them in the middle of what was already a hot, humid day.' The union reported the heat lamps were turned off when they were reported in the press. Hyatt released a public statement the following day, admitting that a manager was responsible for turning heat lamps on striking workers. Linda Long, a cook at the Park Hyatt, commented: 'They put the heat lamps on us, like we were nothing. If the heat didn't kill us, the heat lamps would.' UNITEHERE! says the Hyatt chain is abusing housekeepers by cutting jobs, replacing experienced employees with minimum wage temporary workers and imposing dangerous workloads on the remaining housekeepers. According to the union, housekeepers at some Hyatt hotels clean as many as 30 rooms a day, nearly double what is typically required at union hotels. This leaves room attendants as little as 15 minutes to clean a room, resulting in fewer jobs and more dangerous working conditions. The union has accused the Hyatt Corporation of having the worst safety record in the hotel industry.
Source: Risks 517 Labor Notes.
Slovenia: crane operators strike over health and safety
Port crane operators based at Slovenia's Luka Koper, one of the biggest ports on the Adriatic sea, have been on strike after negotiations between management and union representatives over health and safety and job security broke down. Twenty three members of the ETF/ITF-affiliated Sindikat Zerjavistov Pomorskih Dejavnosti (SZPD), downed tools at majority-state-owned Luka Koper on the morning of July 29. Workers claimed that over the past 18 months there has been a 'brutal' growth in tonnage at the port that has coincided with a fall in working conditions and the breaking of maximum working hour restrictions. SZPD claims that health and safety standards have fallen to such an extent that accidents are happening at the port almost every day. There are also reports that some contract workers – who are staging wildcat action alongside SZPD members – are being paid as little as 12€ for an 11-hour shift and being expected to stay on the job for several shifts at a time.
Read more: ITF news release
Cambodia: Firing pregnant staff triggers strike
Further to the item in the last edition of SafetyNet on the poor conditions in Cambodia's textile industry, more than 500 workers at a garment factory in suburban Phnom Penh went on strike because of their employer's history of disregarding labour laws, including firing pregnant employees. Taiwanese-owned Nan Kuang Garment (Cambodia) allegedly forces staff to work overtime, employs under-age girls and refuses to allow staff to take sick leave, workers striking outside its factory said. They said the sacking of two pregnant staff in the week before triggered the strike. "We decided to protest to force the factory owner to allow them to return to work," said employee Ol Sreyneang. "We won't stop if the owner does not allow them back," she said.
Read more: The Angkor Post
Presenteeism – at work when you shouldn't be
A recent study by KPMG's Econtech for Medibank Private has revealed that 'presenteeism' – where ill workers feel forced to turn up to work but are less productive, is costing the Australian economy $34 billion a year. It appears that an average 6.5 working days of productivity are lost by each employee a year. Common ailments included allergies, arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes and heart disease.
The condition has a high cost, and Dr. Matthew Cullen, Medibank Health Solutions General Manager, says it urgently needs to be addressed. "Employers need to take action to address the situation now so that they can create more positive and productive environments for their employees and, consequently, better performing, more profitable businesses."
Early shift workers more sleep deprived and more at risk
A recent Argentinian study suggests that early morning shift workers are more likely to not have sufficient sleep and recommends that rest periods be implemented.
They studied 47 short distance bus drivers and found that the early-shift workers were more likely to experience sleep restriction and slower reaction times than afternoon-shift workers. The former were also more likely to be overweight, and have signs of long-term chronic stress. They slept an average of one hour less per night than the afternoon-shift drivers.
The authors recommended that workers on early schedules needed to be provided with information on the drawbacks of inadequate sleep, and helped to compensate for their ongoing sleep loss in ways such as inclusion of rest time in the daily schedule to improve driver health and reduce traffic accidents.
Sleep Habits, Alertness, Cortisol Levels, and Cardiac Autonomic Activity in Short-Distance Bus Drivers: Differences Between Morning and Afternoon Shifts, Joaquín Diez, et al Argentina, Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, Volume 53, Issue 7, July 2011. [abstract]
Health and Safety Harmonised Legislation - update
Workplace Relations Ministers' Council (WRMC) meeting – August 10
Following agreement by Safe Work Australia (see SafetyNet 217), the WRMC on August 10 was expected to sign off on the draft Model regulations and priority codes – and the majority of Ministers endorsed these in principle. However, the communiqué released after the meeting states:
"The Council noted that the NSW Government is strongly committed to harmonisation but requires additional time to consult with NSW Ministerial colleagues whose portfolios are impacted by the changes. The Council also noted that the Victorian Government supports the principle of harmonisation subject to satisfactory assessment of the regulatory impacts and benefits to Victoria. All Ministers agreed to advise their decision with respect to approval of the draft model WHS Regulations and the first stage Codes of Practice upon consideration of the final Regulation Impact Statement as expeditiously as possible out of session; along with any further approval processes that need to be undertaken in individual jurisdictions."
Also at the meeting, the Ministers endorsed the National Compliance and Enforcement Policy which will facilitate a nationally consistent approach, noting it may be necessary to update the document once the list of offences that may be subject to infringement notices is settled.
On health and safety coverage of Comcare self-insurers, the Ministers agreed that the transfer date of all non-Commonwealth licensees to state and territory jurisdictions would be 1 January 2013.
WRMC Communiqué [pdf]
Comcare targets bullying, drug and alcohol harm
The federal work health and safety regulator Comcare has highlighted several occupational health and safety issues, including bullying and drug and alcohol harm at work, in its Work Health and Safety Plan for the current financial year. The Plan commits to improving work health and safety across federal employers by focusing on four key priority areas: worker health, preventing harm, stronger enforcement, and a smooth transition to national work health and safety laws.
According to Comcare's Work Health and Safety General Manager, Neil Quarmby, this is a major change in the way Comcare delivers its services. "Our new regulation model highlights the importance of preventing workplace injuries. This year we'll deliver strong enforcement outcomes, but also commit to stopping workers getting harmed in the first place."
Planned is a workplace bullying campaign which will address the recent growth in mental stress claims. "We're targeting workplaces where bullying is just 'how things work', and we'll be working with employers where alcohol harm is a known risk in the workplace. We're sending the message that it's not OK, that it's unacceptable," Mr Quarmby said.
Comcare Media Release
More recently produced/updated material from WorkSafe Victoria
Safety Alert - Workers engulfed in trench collapse – the alert covers the increased risk of trench collapse due to recent wet weather, and details the control measures employers and principal contractors can take to minimise the risk of trench collapse.
Safely storing dangerous goods – a very informative article for both workplaces and householders by Peter Vitali, from WorkSafe's Dangerous Goods Unit. He has more than 35 years experience in the petrochemical, paint, plastics and package manufacturing industry.
Managing domestic non-friable asbestos a checklist is for managers and operators of facilities who receive non-friable asbestos waste from domestic sources ('asbestos waste') for short-term storage and disposal.
Return to Work Toolkit - the kit includes tools for injured workers (eg a template to help document what an injured worker will be doing when they return to work); the workplace (eg as a register of injuries template, and a fact sheet to give to managers and supervisors about the benefits of return to work) and doctors and health practitioners (eg fax and letter templates).
From WorkSafe WA: a safety alert Worker injured while cooking food in a microwave oven [pdf] after a young hospitality worker sustained serious burns to the chest while removing a container of food from the microwave. The container was not to the task, the worker had not been trained, and was not using protective clothing.
From WorkCover NSW a fact sheet: Selection and use of vacuum cleaners that are used for asbestos and hazardous dust collection [pdf].
Director conviction affirmed
A construction company director who applied for leave to appeal against an OHS conviction and $60,000 fine has been rejected by the Victorian Appeal Court. Victorian County Court Judge John Nixon fined Echuca-based Permanent Er*ction Constructions Pty Ltd (PEC) $350,000 under s21 of the OHS Act in May 2010. Directors Andrew Leorke and David Spedding pleaded not guilty to breaching s144 of the OHS Act but were fined $60,000 each for 'cutting corners'.
Carpenter Peter Miller was killed when a partially built floor loaded with more than 10 tonnes of building blocks collapsed in May 2006. Judge Nixon concluded that the death would have been prevented had the directors sought advice from an engineer about safe bearing capacity of the floor. According to Leorke, one of the trial's independent engineering expert witnesses had failed to "properly and fully investigate the facts of the accident," and that failure should have led Judge Nixon to rule his evidence inadmissible. In the Appeal Court, Justices Hartley Hansen, Simon Whelan and Iain Ross said Leorke gave no reason why he believed the expert's evidence was not credible or reliable, so rejected his contention. Leorke also claimed Judge Nixon had been prejudicial and should have clarified what was said to be the experts' 'conflicting views'. Justice Whelan – with the others agreeing - submitted the trial judge instructed the jury on all relevant matters, including the expert's issues. The court found Leorke failed to establish grounds for seeking leave to appeal and refused his application.
PEC was fined in 2008 for continuing work despite WorkSafe Victoria issuing a notice preventing access to a building site in 2006 after a wall collapsed. They have been fined a total of $520,000 and its directors $165,000 for OHS breaches.
USA: OSHA plans to protect whistleblowers
US government safety watchdog OSHA has said workplace safety whistleblowers will have greater protection from victimisation. New measures are designed to improve investigator training and avoid long delays in completing investigations. Recent official reviews have been strongly critical of the existing system to protect whistleblowers, including a serious lack of whistleblower investigators. As part of the measures announced, OSHA will hold a mandatory training conference in September to be attended by all whistleblower investigators as well as by Labor Department lawyers who work on whistleblower cases. 'The ability of workers to speak out and exercise their legal rights without fear of retaliation is crucial,' OSHA chief David Michaels said. 'The new measures will significantly strengthen OSHA's enforcement of the 21 whistleblower laws that Congress charged OSHA with administering.' Other changes include having the programme report directly to the OSHA chief, rather than to the enforcement division, which handles safety inspections and has been accused of neglecting whistleblower protection. OSHA said it is also issuing a revised investigations manual and will strengthen audits 'to ensure that complaints are properly handled on a timely basis.' A Government Accountability Office review found that nearly 40 per cent of whistleblower investigators had not taken or even registered for a required basic training course on the statutes they are supposed to enforce. In the UK, OSHA's equivalent, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), has repeated refused to intervene in safety victimisation cases, saying it is a matter for employment tribunals.
Chile: A year after 33 miners trapped in Chilean mine, Congress just considers reforms
A year after the San Jose mine collapse in which 33 miners were trapped underground for 69 days, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, has faced difficult questions about the failure to carry out a promise he made days after their rescue. In London, Piñera said Chile would ratify the ILO's Safety & Health in Mines Convention. But Chile has since backed away from the convention, which demands mines have at least two exits and guarantees the right of workers to raise safety concerns. Nevertheless, Hernán de Solminihac, Chile's Minister of Mining, has indicated that the president was sending new mine-safety legislation to Congress on August 5th.
In the meantime, these same miners, who became world-wide celebrities, are now struggling to find a new way to earn a living, forcing some of them back into underground mines. They still live in their old houses, with little money and continuing mental and physical health problems caused by their ordeal.