Issue 222 - SafetyNet 222Welcome to another edition of our nationally famous OHS E-journal - as usual it's full of news from Victoria, Australia and around the world. If you have any comments or queries, click HERE to send an email to the editor.
Reps Conference – last chance to register
Hopefully, elected HSRs and deputies have registered for the VTHC's Annual Health and Safety Reps' Conference next Wednesday October 19. If you haven't yet registered yet – this is your last chance, as long as your employer agrees to allow you to attend. While under Section 69 of the OHS Act employers must allow elected HSRs to attend the conference on paid leave, this is subject to receiving at least two weeks' notice of registration. Go to the website to download a registration form, but do your best to get it in TODAY, and make sure you include a phone number and a valid email address.
Remember too that we won't be able to provide lunch – so pack your own or be prepared to buy something either at or near the Convention Centre.
And don't forget there are lots of other events that week - more than 100 seminars and events across Victoria, Work Safe Week provides an easy way to learn the latest and prepare for the year to come. To register for other events happening during Work Safe Week visit the special Work Safe Week website.
Another quad bike death – this time a child
In the work-related third quad bike death in Victoria this year, an 11 year-old boy from Numerkah was killed last week when the quad bike he was riding rolled. He was moving cows at a rural property at Katunga, and although ambulance crews arrived within six minutes they were unable to save the boy. According to 'an Ambulance Victoria spokeswoman, the boy suffered multiple injuries, went into cardiac arrest and died at the scene. Michael Birt, WorkSafe spokesperson, said the boy was not wearing a helmet. 'Helmets are required when using quad-bikes in a farm environment, and they make really good sense if you are riding recreationally because they can make an enormous difference,' he said.
However, this latest death adds weight to the arguments that it's time requirements were put in place to make the quad bikes safer by design.
There was also a quad bike death last week in South Australia, which prompted that state's Consumer Affairs Minister Gail Gago to write to the Federal Government asking it to review safety standards for quad bikes. A 78-year-old man drowned in the Murray when the quad bike he was riding with his grandson plunged into the river. Luckily, the boy survived. While Ms Gago said she had not seen any conclusive evidence that safety devices on the bikes would save lives, she believed this needed to be 'revisited'.
Read more: WorkSafe Victoria Farm Safety webpage Sources: The Age; ABC Online
We are currently drafting a Health and Safety Committee (HSC) Charter. I would like to know if a meeting could be deemed 'not legitimate' if fewer than half of the HSRs attend or if there is no representation by management?
An HSC charter should include details regarding a 'quorum' - that is, the minimum number of members of the committee who need to be present for a committee meeting to go ahead. In my view, if there are important issues to discuss, then every effort should be made to ensure HSC meetings go ahead. Usually decisions are reached by consensus, or the committee makes recommendations to management, so having strict numbers shouldn't be such an issue.
What concerns me about your question, however, is that I suspect there may be an issue with management commitment to a committee that meets regularly and is able to discuss/resolve matters. If arrangements are in place to facilitate the attendance HSRs (ie in paid time, when they are at work and/or suitable and fair arrangements if they need to come in when they're not on shift), then there shouldn't be any problems with ensuring at least half the HSRs attending the meeting.
In terms of management attending: if they don't regularly attend, then they're showing a lack commitment, and I recommend taking the issue up with the most senior person and through the union if necessary. It's very important that there be a clear commitment that the right management people are on and that there will always be an adequate number in attendance.
Everyone should also remember that under the OHS Act, the committee MUST meet at least every three months, and that a meeting can be called by 50% of the membership at any time. Given that there's a requirement that AT LEAST 50% of the membership have to be employee reps, this means that the HSRs can call these meetings.
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. We haven't been getting lots of emails lately – so get your questions in.
Councils reporting increased dumping of asbestos
Illegal dumping of asbestos has been a problem for many years, but recently, some councils are finding the problem getting worse. According to an article in The Melbourne Times, this dumping in the City of Moreland is raising health concerns and costing the council thousands of dollars. Moreland mayor Oscar Yildiz said illegal dumping was "out of control". The Council has dealt with 52 cases of illegally dumped asbestos in the past nine months, with 12 cases in Brunswick. Eight cubic metres of asbestos material was collected from a Coburg oval in June, and four cubic metres was picked up from Coburg North in July. Such large amounts indicate the dumping is being done by companies removing asbestos, not householders trying to get rid of small amounts. The VTHC recommends only using removal companies on the VTHC List of Removalists, which are much more likely to comply with legislative requirements.
VTHC List of Removalists The Melbourne Times Asbestos dumpers in Moreland do it in bulk
Germany continues to import asbestos fibres
In 2010, Germany imported around 60 tonnes of asbestos fibres on behalf of the companies Dow Chemical and Solvay. These data are contained in a recent report submitted by the German government to the European Commission. The text of Annex XVII of REACH, which lays down the restrictions applicable to the manufacture, placing on the market and use of certain dangerous substances, establishes a derogation that allows Member States to authorise the placing on the market and use of diaphragms that contain chrysotile for existing electrolysis installations. Of the 27 European Union Member States, 23 have not made use of this derogation.
Read more: ETUI
Australia Post suspends SBD following union OHS concerns
In a good news story, the Communication Workers Union reports that representatives from the CWU National Delivery Committee met with Post on 4 October to raise their concerns over the implementation of SBD (Separate Bundle Delivery), the cost effectiveness of SBD and the serious occupational health and safety issues related to the new delivery method, including the safety concerns with the FLC (Front Letter Carrier). These have been reported in earlier editions of SafetyNet. The union reports that Australia Post has agreed to no training and rollout of SBD on any further rounds in all states for two weeks (ie until Monday 24 October) and the establishment of joint working parties (as of 11 October) to examine key issues; FLC, OHS issues and a comparison study of SBD and traditional delivery rounds.
The union also advised that the workers who had been stood down over refusing to comply with the new system, had been permitted to return to work after agreeing to certain guidelines.
Source: CWU website
Unions cautiously welcome news ABCC to be abolished
A spokesperson for Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans has confirmed that legislation to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) will be introduced to Federal Parliament by the end of the spring session. The legislation will be "effectively the same" as the ABCC bill abandoned prior to the last election and the while no timetable has been released, it is expected the government will introduce the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011 by the end of the year. The government's intention is to replace the ABCC with a new building industry inspectorate.
The CFMEU's Construction division national secretary Dave Noonan, who has been lobbying for the ABCC's abolition for some time, said the government must ensure it removes the regulator's coercive powers. "[I]t is crucial that the final legislation not only scraps the ABCC but does not transfer its coercive powers to another organisation," Noonan said. "Coercive powers - which give the ABCC the right to secretly interrogate workers - have no place in a free society."
Source: Workforce Daily
Transport Workers Union Safe Rates survey
The Transport Workers' Union (TWU) has long advocated a safe rates system, where truck drivers receive full-cost recovery for the work they perform, including full-reimbursement for fuel and maintenance costs and paid waiting times. The union bases its arguments on the National Transport Commission's 2008 Quinlan–Wright report, which linked unfair conditions, pay and payment methods with a culture of speeding, fatigue and illicit substance use in the road transport industry. "The TWU is fighting for safer rates and conditions and only you can provide the crucial evidence," the union says on its website, and it's asking drivers to fill out a brief, confidential, survey.
TWU Website - Survey
New ETUI site
Since July, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has had a new website covering all the activities of its three departments. The Working Conditions, Health and Safety department's site has thus disappeared. This does not, of course, mean the end of this bilingual information tool (available in English and French). Their (updated) thematic dossiers, the current events and the articles in their magazine HesaMag can now be consulted under "Health and Safety" on the general ETUI site. Check out the new site
UK construction union report finds one in five workers at risk Almost one in every five workers is now classified as 'vulnerable', a report for UK construction union UCATT has found. Based on a review of the current enforcement regime and interviews with construction workers, 'The hidden workforce building Britain' says many are working in 'slavery like' conditions, wait in car parks to get work as day labourers and are typically employed in dangerous and unregulated work. In one case history, an illegal immigrant reports working in London for £4 (A$6.35) per hour and being required to use chemicals without any protective equipment. 'Me and other people who used this chemical used to get nose bleeds and itching when we used it,' he told the researchers. 'No one warned us about the effects or told us what to do to protect ourselves.' The report warns that workers in the construction industry have a lower level of protection than workers in the food-related sectors covered by the Gangmasters Licensing Agency (GLA). It calls for the creation of a single independent labour inspectorate, which would be based on the GLA model but would cover all industrial sectors. The union's acting general secretary, George Guy, said, 'It is time that the government and the employers accept the unpalatable truths about how the construction industry operates. Only effective regulation by a strong enforcement regime will end exploitation in the construction industry.'
UCATT news release and the full report, The hidden workforce building Britain: Exposing exploitation and protecting vulnerable workers in construction [pdf].
Stress and musculoskeletal injuries linked
In another of those cases where the research confirms what everyone thought, US researchers have found that work-related stress is a significant risk factor for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). They also found that control over the job reduced the likelihood of pain. The study, conducted by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, was based on two "quality of work life" surveys, and face-to-face interviews with 1564 working adults, who were questioned about back, hand, wrist and shoulder pain.
Stress was found to be the variable with the strongest influence on reported back and arm pain, with workers with arm pain particularly likely to report they were sometimes, often or always stressed. On the other hand, workers who said they could decide how to do their work were much less likely to suffer arm pain. Along the same lines, having enough time to get work done also resulted in fewer reports of back pain.
The likelihood of arm and back pain increased when work stress, repetitive hand movements and heavy lifting were combined.
Trends in Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders: A Comparison of Risk Factors for Symptoms Using Quality of Work Life Data From the 2002 and 2006 General Social Survey. [abstract] Thomas R Waters, et al, US, J ournal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 53, Issue 9, September 2011.
WorkSafe Week finalists announced
WorkSafe has announced the finalists for the WorkSafe Week Awards. The finalists for the Health and Safety Representative of the Year are Marg Howard, from Nestle Uncle Tobys and Paul Harman from Thiess (Wonthaggi Desalination Plant). The finalists for the Health and Safety Committee of the Year are Meritor and RMIT. To read more about these finalists, and to find out about those in other categories, go to the WorkSafe Awards Finalists webpage WorkSafe Media Release
Health and Safety Harmonisation News
Several jurisdictions going ahead
In South Australia, the Work Health Safety Bill is currently before parliament, however it has now become 'controversial'. SA Unions has accused the construction industry of reneging on an agreement to bolster safety legislation in the state. SA Unions state secretary Janet Giles said the legislation had been framed in consultation with the Safe Work SA advisory committee, which included representatives from employer groups Business SA and Master Builders Association. "We agreed unanimously on the Bill, and now they are going behind our backs lobbying against it," Ms Giles said, and promised unions would now push for stronger safety provisions, which had been compromised to placate the industry groups. Just a few days before, a serious incident on a construction site had demonstrated just how dangerous such work can be, according to SA Unions, "how much we need improved work and safety laws." Ms Giles said, "We are urgently calling on the Liberal Opposition and the Upper House Independents' to support legislation currently before the Parliament which will strengthen South Australia's safety laws. The Work Health and Safety Bill better protects working people, increases the fines for employers who disregard safety and supports the rights of union officials to enter worksites to address safety issues."
SA Unions Media Release
The Northern Territory Government will introduce a Work Health and Safety Bill to its Parliament later this month, according to NT WorkSafe director of regulatory reform, Anna McGill. The Territory Government had initially planned to introduce its harmonisation Bill last August, but this would now occur on one of the Legislative Assembly's six sitting days between 18 and 27 October.
Master Builders Australia (MBA) last week said the 1 January 2012 start date for OHS harmonisation was 'no longer tenable because of delays in finalising the model regulations and codes of practice'. The organisation's CEO, Wilhelm Harnisch said "Builders are seriously concerned about the practicality of a 1 January 2012 start date for OHS harmonisation. They need adequate time to assess the extent of the changes required to their systems and processes and to implement those changes." However, he restated the MBA's commitment to achieving OHS harmonisation and to working with Government and other stakeholders to 'settle the legislative package, including the codes of practice, as soon as possible'.
MBA News Release
Meanwhile, the Workplace Relations Minister, Senator Chris Evans, has said the Federal Government has expressed 'disappointment' with the Victorian and Western Australian Governments after they recently reneged on the COAG agreement to rollout the harmonised Work Health and Safety laws by 1 January 2012. Speaking at the National Conference - Australian Labour and Employment Relations Association in WA last week, Minister Evans said it was 'ironic' that the OHS regulators in those jurisdictions had endorsed the model laws but that their workplace relations ministers are 'wavering'. He said that it is a major regulatory reform, with significant potential to improve efficiency and productivity and would in fact be costly not to enact the reforms nationally.
Safe Work Australia releases 2nd MAPS report
Safe Work Australia released the second MAPS (Motivations, Attitudes, Perceptions and Skills) Report: What they said about work health and safety in 2010 last month. The MAPS project involved compiling information from interviews with 762 adults working in high-risk industries, in order to gain a greater understanding of the socio-psychological factors (eg motivations, attitudes, perceptions, knowledge and skills) and their influence on work health and safety actions and outcomes. The first report, MAPS: Pathways to Safe Work, focused on workers' attitudes to safety and to their bosses, their perceptions of their workplace, their views about regulatory authorities and their motivation to take safety issues seriously. The second report focuses on workers' views on the importance of work health and safety, their main sources of work health and safety information, how safe they think their workplace is and their perceptions of common causes of workplace injury and illness.
While respondents believed their workplace was safe, the results indicated that there is a lower level of engagement with work health and safety in small business
The second report can be downloaded from this page of the Safe Work Australia website.
WorkCover NSW investigating Orica leak
The NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker has expressed disappointment with multinational company Orica, following the third major chemical incident at its NSW operations in less than two months – and for not informing government of this latest leak immediately.
The Office of Environment and Heritage, the Department of Health and WorkCover were investigating the latest incident which occurred on September 27, in which mercury vapours exceeded the licensed levels at the chemical company's Botany site in Sydney. The two earlier releases were on August 8 (when hexavalent chromium leaked at the Kooragang Island plant in Newcastle) and on August 19 (a release of arsenic in the Hunter River).
Parker said that it was 'already clear' there was a need for 'major changes to protect the people and the environment of NSW'. The state government was expecting the findings of an inquiry by former director-general of the NSW Premier's Department Brendan O'Reilly into the Kooragang Island leak. A spokesman for the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, said, "The NSW Government will consider any recommendations in the O'Reilly report and announce any changes once the report has been considered by Government. "
Sources: Sydney Morning Herald SkyNews WorkCover NSW Update
From WorkSafe Victoria
- a communiqué [pdf] to the owners of cranes and other plant in the construction industry, advising them that major inspections of the machinery must be carried out in accordance with Australian Standards.
- The Safety Express newsletter, this edition with an article on the need to 'tag out' when maintenance, service or cleaning of machinery is being done, as well as other news for the manufacturing, logistics, agriculture and retail industries.
From WorkCover NSW:
- a fact sheet Using Mobile Phones Safely suggesting workers should be encouraged to limit their use of hand-held phones (to reduce exposure to radiation), and warned of the risks of using hands-free phones while operating vehicles.
- a safety alert: Crane safety on railway construction sites after one worker was killed and four others seriously injured when they were struck by a rail while using a crane to perform maintenance on a railway track.
- Materials for Young Workers - funded by WorkCover NSW and developed by YouthSafe NSW in partnership with the Australian Retailers Association:
- In Working Order contains a DVD, lesson plans and fact sheets. The website and DVD assists teachers, employers, supervisors and parents to develop young people's understanding of workplace safety rights and responsibilities; recognising, assessing and managing workplace hazards; and communication and negotiation skills for the workplace. In Working Order was highly commended at the 2008 NSW SafeWork Awards and won best OHS training program at the 2009 National Safety Council of Australia Awards.
- Talking Safety with Young Workers - an online training resource for supervisors of young workers which provides strategies and practical information to help supervisors effectively manage, consult and communicate with young workers. Talking Safety with Young Workers also has comprehensive ohs information for young workers. Talking Safety with Young Workers was highly commended at the 2010 National Safety Council Australia Awards.
Third prosecution over workplace death near Clonbinane
A drilling rig supervisor who told an inexperienced 21-year-old man to drive a truck with defective brakes and no seat belt down a steep slope before the vehicle crashed, killing the driver, has been convicted under S32 of the OHS Act and sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for three years. County Court Judge Rizkalla said the sentence meant any offence in the next three years for which a prison sentence was applicable meant Maurice Barton could go to jail.
The young man, who had only obtained his truck license just over two weeks before, died when the truck went out of control on a steep slope, overturned, and crushed him.
Perth-based company Orbit Drilling Pty Ltd, which employed the young man, pleaded guilty in April 2010 to one charge of recklessly engaging in conduct that places another person at a workplace at risk of serious injury (section 32 OHS Act) and was convicted and fined $750,000. Martin John Smith, the director of Orbit Drilling Pty Ltd, pleaded guilty to one charge of being an officer of a company which breached its obligations to provide or maintain for employees plant and systems of work that were safe and without risks to health. As the responsible officer, he was convicted and fined $120,000, in April 2010. Both Orbit Drilling and Mr Smith have appealed against their sentences.
WorkSafe Media Release Safety issues raised and ignored, young truck driver dies.
Refrigeration company convicted and fined over explosion
In the Shepparton Magistrates Court last week, Kyabram refrigeration business, Kanga Coolers, pleaded guilty, was convicted and fined $45,000 over an explosion that left an apprentice with third degree burns to 35 per cent of his body. The worker was performing a service check on a commercial refrigerator in the cellar of Echuca's Bridge Hotel in July, 2009 when the explosion happened. He suffered third degree burns to his arms, face, back and hands and was flown to the Alfred Hospital where he was in a coma for eight days. He hasn't been able to work since the incident.
WorkSafe Victoria's investigation found there was a leak in an acetylene gas torch leading to a build up of gas in the poorly ventilated cellar space which 'erupted' when the worker lit the torch. The investigation also found the company failed to, among other things, comply with regulatory requirements for working safely within confined spaces; have a safe system of work in place for the regular inspection, cleaning and gas leak testing of the acetylene equipment; and provide the worker with access to the safety and operating instructions and be properly trained by his employer in accordance with those instructions.
WorkSafe's Construction and Utilities Division Acting Director, Allan Beacom said the incident should remind other businesses of the need to properly deal with flammable gases in confined spaces. "This incident showed the devastating consequences of an explosion," he said. "People should make sure cylinders, hoses and attachments are in good condition, turned off, secure and that there is proper ventilation in the event of a leak. While this young man suffered very serious injuries, the possibility of him or others dying was significant."
WorkSafe Media Release
Visy Pulp and Paper fined $145k for Vic incident
Visy Pulp and Paper Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined $145,000 in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission relating to the serious injury of one of its workers at the company's Tumut mill in Victoria in July 2008. The worker fell up to 14m while performing maintenance work on a digester vessel, a silo-like structure used to process raw woodchip, pulp and paper waste at the mill, colliding with scaffolding. He suffered head and body injuries as a result of the fall and later experienced psychological injuries. The man was general manager of Delter, a firm contracted by DME engineering group, which was contracted by Visy, to provide labour for the digester upgrading and maintenance work.
Another company, Bell Scaffolding Pty Ltd designed and built scaffolding within the digester but the custom-designed curved boards did not fit properly, leaving a 43mm gap on one of the working decks. No-one from Bell had placed either a "scaftag" at the digester's entrance to indicate the scaffolding was finished and safe to use or an "incomplete scaffold" tag. Even though a fellow worker noticed the 43mm gap, he took no action, believing it was not sufficiently wide for someone to fall through.
Visy Pulp and Paper pleaded guilty to a charge under the NSW OHS Act 2000 (failing to ensure "persons not in its employment...were not exposed to risks to their health and safety"). Source: OHNews 943
Queensland: Disregarding manufacturer's instructions ends in death
Queensland employer Car-O-Liner Australia Pty Ltd which failed to ensure plant was repaired according to the manufacturer's instructions has been fined $90,000, after a worker was killed. The company pleaded guilty following the February 2010 incident, in which a vehicle hoist collapsed on the worker while he was replacing its scissors. Despite receiving a letter from the hoist's manufacturer stating that three pillar jacks attached to a fixed bracket were required to support the hoist's frame during scissor replacement, at the time of the incident only two unrestrained pillar jacks were being used. Source: OHS Alert