Issue 224 - SafetyNet 224
Welcome back to SafetyNet – Edition number 224, as usual this edition has a range of items including the latest international news and research.
OHS Rep of the Year Marg Howard
SafetyNet caught up with WorkSafe's OHS Representative of the Year, Ms Marg Howard, this week. We had to do the interview by phone, as Marg works at the Nestle Uncle Toby's manufacturing facility in Wahgunyah, a small town in northeastern Victoria, Australia. It is located on the southern bank of the Murray River, opposite Corowa, New South Wales.
Another two deaths in country Victoria
An elderly man died after being crushed under a tractor in the state's northeast on the afternoon of October 31. The farm worker, 86, was removing wire from the slasher of a tractor when the vehicle fell on him at Mitchellstown just before 5pm. Paramedics tried to revive the Nagambie man but he died while pinned beneath the tractor at the Wattlevale Rd property. WorkSafe is investigating, and the police are also preparing a report for the Coroner.
The second man was killed on Sunday when a tractor rolled over him at a property at Elmhurst, in Victoria's west. According to newspaper reports, the 68-year-old man is believed to have been working on the machine when the incident occurred at about 3.50pm. Police and paramedics arrived not long after, but the man died at the scene. This fatality is also under investigation by the police and WorkSafe.
Two other men working as contractors near Yarram in South Gippsland and Nalinga near Violet Town were also badly hurt at the weekend when machinery re-activated as blockages were cleared. These injuries and both fatalities involved harvesting related work.
WorkSafe's General Manager of Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger said the past week built on a tragic year which included nine of the state's18 work-related deaths happening on farms. "Our weekend emergency response call-taker said it was the worst weekend he'd experienced in more than 15 years," she said. "It is only the start of the harvest season and with a bumper crop expected in most regions the dangers often seen in farming will be magnified, particularly if the weather turns and people rush to get crops in. Arguably, harvest time is the most dangerous time of year."
Source: The Herald Sun WorkSafe Media Release
When I attended the Initial five day OHS Reps' course, I had parking and other expenses I wouldn't normally have. My boss told me to claim them on tax. Is this right?
While this matter is not specifically covered in the Act (or the regulations), WorkSafe's Guide to Employee Representation makes it clear that "The guiding principle is for the HSR not to be disadvantaged in any way for taking on the role of HSR." (p33) It addresses the question of associated costs on p39:
Who pays for the costs associated with attendance at training?
HSR training is a work activity. Employers must pay course fees and any other expenses associated with attendance at a course, including:
- travel to and from the approved course (where it is greater than travel to the normal workplace); and
- accommodation, meals and incidental expenses where an approved course is remote from the workplace.
Ideally, these matters should be discussed and agreed prior to attendance at the course.
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.
Asbestos Awareness Week – November 21 - 25
Activities are already being planned for Asbestos Awareness Week. Beginning on Monday November 21 with the launch of a new, bigger and better asbestos awareness group and film at the Bella Union Bar at Trades Hall (6.30pm for 7pm) and with activities all week, it's a great opportunity to carry out some workplace asbestos-related activities as well.
Read more on the events and download the Asbestos Awareness Week flyer.
The Gippsland Asbestos Related Diseases Support Inc has just released its October newsletter – read about the range of activities the organisation organises and participates in. There's an interesting article reporting on a presentation by Professor Manfred Beilharz from the Wa University on his "Triple Therapy for Mesothelioma" - an experimental treatment of the condition. GARDS October Newsletter [pdf]
ABC Program on Asbestos
Indian asbestos workers have little in the way of safety equipment and if they contract a respiratory illness like asbestosis or a cancer like mesothelioma few are paid compensation. As SafetyNet subscribers will be aware, Canada won't use asbestos itself but it is selling it by the shipload to India. Business is so brisk Canada is breathing new life into its asbestos mining industry to bolster its exports. In a new ABC report aired on television this week on Foreign Correspondent, Matt Peacock exposes the effect of this criminal trade, where workers' lives are sacrificed for profits.
Have your say on insecure work
The ACTU has begun its inquiry into insecure work and has invited Australians to have their say. Submissions opened last week for Australia's first formal investigation into the rise of insecure work and its effect on families and communities. The ACTU says workers will have the opportunity to share their stories about the impact of casual, labour hire and contract employment alongside community groups, unions and employers in a new national independent inquiry to investigate the extent of insecure work in Australia.
The Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work has been commissioned by the ACTU to analyse the increase in casual, contract, labour hire and other forms of insecure work in Australia over recent decades, and the impact it has on workplace rights, household finances, and wider society.
ACTU President Ged Kearney said insecure work made up about 40% of the workforce and many Australians were being asked to choose between insecure employment or no work at all.
The full terms of reference and more details about the inquiry are available at Secure Jobs website or by phoning 1300 362 223 (toll free).
Read more: ACTU Media Release
Federal govt poised to abolish ABCC
The federal government is poised to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) with the introduction on November 3 of legislation to replace the regulator with another body. The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011 is the same as Labor's legislation abandoned before the last election, with one small change. "This amendment changes the sunset provision relating to compulsory information gathering powers from five years to three years," Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said. It is unlikely the new regulator will be supported by the construction unions, as it will retain its coercive information gathering powers. It will however, lose the higher penalties and gain new safeguards around powers to compulsorily obtain information and documents.
Source: Workforce Daily
Senate enquiry hears of Jetstar staff horror
According to the ABC, a Jetstar flight attendant told a Senate inquiry that a crew member was ordered to clean around a dead body and managers have shown no concern over staff falling asleep on long-haul flights. While the grounding of the Qantas fleet last week dominated the day's evidence before the Senate, a last-minute witness, Sydney-based Jetstar flight attendant took the hearing in a different direction. The flight attendant testified he and several of his colleagues had been falling asleep on 15-and-a-half-hour return trips between Sydney and Bali. He told of a female staff member who crashed her car on the way home from one such flight and later committed suicide. "Because she stopped for coffee to stay awake she didn't receive any assistance from the company because she broke the journey from point A to point B," he said.
He said another colleague was forced to clean an aircraft while the body of a deceased passenger was still on board. He said he would prefer to work for Virgin Australia because of poor working conditions within the Qantas group.
Alliance calls for protection of health care workersAccording to the Alliance for Sharps Safety and Needlestick Injury Prevention in Healthcare (the Alliance), preventable needlestick and sharps injuries affect 18,000 healthcare workers each year. It says that such injuries not only carry the risk of infection with a potentially life-threatening bloodborne disease such as hepatitis B or C, or HIV/AIDS, but often result in great stress for healthcare workers and their families, as well as significant costs for the healthcare system.
The Alliance is lobbying state and federal jurisdictions to mandate the use of engineering controls to eliminate the problem, and is proposing that governments adopt legislation requiring the mandatory use of safety engineered medical devices in combination with relevant education and training programs for healthcare workers.
'Eliminating workplace hazard and risk is a fundamental principle of occupational health and safety legislation and is especially important for the health and social assistance sector as it is the largest employer of workers in Australia,' the Alliance said.
Read more about the Alliance, and needlestick or sharps injury as a workplace health and safety issue.
231 heavy vehicle fatalities in 12 months
According to the Department of Infrastructure and Transport in the year to March 2011, there were 231 people killed from 198 crashes involving heavy trucks or buses. 140 deaths were the result of 120 crashes involving articulated trucks; 78 deaths from 65 crashes involving heavy rigid trucks and 23 deaths from 21 crashes involving buses.
Transport ministers approve national truck and rail safety regulators
In other transport related news, Australia's transport ministers have approved legislation that will establish national regulators for the heavy vehicle and rail sectors. The Standing Council on Infrastructure and Transport meeting met for the first time in Canberra on November 4. At the meeting, the ministers also agreed to provide a national ports strategy and road-reform plan to COAG for its consideration and endorsement. National Transport Commission (NTC) chief executive Nick Dimopoulos said the national heavy vehicle and rail regulators were expected to be in place by 2013, and that productivity and safety in the industries would no longer be "hindered" by state and territory borders. He also said that as a result of the new laws, the heavy vehicle and rail sectors would save about $12.4 billion and $72.7 million respectively over the next 20 years.
Qu unions walk off worksites after foreman's death
Workers walked off the job at 20 major construction sites around Queensland's southeast last week in an emotional reaction to a work-related death of a foreman. The death was the 12th fatal accident at Queensland construction sites this year, up from eight last year. It was also the second in just over a month. Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union workplace health and safety co-ordinator Andrew Ramsay said union members at several sites around the state moved a motion to walk off their jobs in protest of the construction-related death. He said the workers' decision to take a day off after a work-related death to show respect for the deceased had been a union tradition for many years but it had slowed down with the introduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner. The tradition had been rekindled recently, he said, because workers had been pushed to their limits.
Unions and good jobs delivered Olympic safety
According to UK construction union UCATT, the official report on safety lessons from the London 2012 construction project has ignored the critical safety factors: the role played by unions and direct employment in delivering an unprecedented safety record. Launching the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) 'Leadership and worker involvement on the Olympic Park' report, Stephen Williams, the safety watchdog's director for London 2012, said: 'The report shows how strong leadership and worker involvement are key to a safer working environment. The ODA's [Olympic Delivery Authority] creation of a no scapegoating culture allowed workers to raise issues without fear of reprisal, learning lessons to apply across the site and reducing the risk in hazardous activities.' But UCATT believes the agreement reached in 2007 between unions and ODA that only directly employed workers should be employed on the Olympic Park was the most significant factor. The union said this ensured that workers, supported by union representatives, had the confidence to raise safety concerns without the fear of being sacked. In comparison, the adjacent and far less demanding Olympic Village site, which was not covered by the agreement, had a significantly higher injury rate. UCATT said, 'It is vital to understand why the Olympic Park achieved a very low accident rate. If the construction industry really wants to learn the lessons from the Olympics it is that sites where workers are directly employed are far safer, especially when this is combined with strong union involvement from an early stage.' UCATT regional secretary Jerry Swain added: 'The difference between the accident rates on the Olympic Village and the Olympic Park is stark. Direct employment allied with full-time union representation created the environment in which worker involvement could be achieved.'
Source: Risks 529
EU Proposals would leave pilots drunk on fatigue
The British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) has warned that proposed European Union flying hours limits would see pilots working with levels of fatigue-related incapacity equivalent to four times the legal alcohol limit for flying. This new evidence, presented to MPs by the pilots' union this week, is calculated using the Civil Aviation Authority's (CAA) own computer programme called SAFE. Dr Rob Hunter, BALPA's head of flight safety and security, said: 'Alcohol and lack of sleep affect our abilities in similar ways. Using the CAA's own scientific model for calculating fatigue the proposed EU regulations would see pilots landing their aircraft with the equivalent performance detriment of being four times over the legal alcohol limit for flying.' He added: 'The limit on pilots' blood alcohol is rightly set down in law. The government cannot say on the one hand that flying while over the alcohol limit is unsafe - which it is - and at the same time do nothing to oppose regulations which would allow pilots to be flying equivalent to four times that same limit.' BALPA chair Captain Mark Searle said ministers must 'call a halt' to the EU's flying hours plans. 'We must have safe, scientific flight time limitations for pilots which don't allow pilots to be flying over built up areas on approach to airports with the equivalent of five cans of lager in them,' he said.
BALPA news release Source: Risks 529.
UK Retail union materials for safe journeys
Many workers are concerned about their safety during their trip to and from work, something identified by UK retail union Usdaw in a survey of over 2500 members. The union found 'many members, particularly women, can feel unsafe on their journey to work. Dark car parks, missing the last bus home at the end of a shift and isolated staff entrances can all be a source of worry.' So the union has developed campaign materials to highlight the problem and to encourage members to turn to the union for help. In addition to posters and advice leaflets, the union is providing union reps with a short survey form so they can identify problems in their own workplace. These materials can be adapted for use by in similar situations.
India: Thousands of textile workers are now entering the 7th week of strike action in the city of Ludhiana, Punjab. The workers, from a number of different factories, are asking for better wages, better health and safety conditions and the implementation of the current labour law. Read more and send a message of solidarity.
Iran: Reports are emerging of major industrial actions at petrochemical complexes at Mashar and Tabriz. Conditions for the large majority of Iranian workers are very bad with low pay and unsafe working conditions. In addition, Iranian workers right to organise is severely restricted by the Iranian Government, with arrests of activists common. Read more
Korea: One woman takes on Hyundai: Ms. Park has been employed as a contract worker at Hyundai Motor for 14 years. In 2009, she started to be sexually harassed by a group leader and a manager. When she complained to the company, Ms Park was suspended for six months, then her pay was cut, and ultimately she was dismissed for 'tarnishing' the company's image.
While Ms Park has won her case in court, Hyundai refuses to take responsibility as Ms. Park was a contract worker. Ms. Park is now holding a sit-in struggle in front of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family for more than 150 days. Read more.
Survey reveals desk-bound workers get no sun
In a recent survey of 1000 Australian office workers commissioned by mobile internet provider amaysim, one in four Australian office workers revealed they are so bound to their desks that they don't see daylight during the working week. Reported in The Telegraph, the survey also found one in five get only 15 minutes of fresh air on a typical work day and more than one in 10 skip dinner with their children to stay in the office. Despite the findings, two-thirds of those surveyed said getting out of the office made them feel more productive, and one in ten aspired to a job outdoors.
Source: The Telegraph
Bad bosses bad for business
The UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's (CIPD) quarterly Employee Outlook survey has concluded that companies that neglect concerns about trust in senior leaders, stress in the workplace or job satisfaction risk losing key staff. The CIPD has found that employees are much more likely to be among the 22 per cent currently looking for a new employer if they express low trust in their senior managers, are dissatisfied with their job or are under excessive pressure every day. Only 8 per cent of employees satisfied with their job are looking for a new employer, compared to 57 per cent of dissatisfied employees. People who face excessive pressure in their jobs on a daily basis are almost twice as likely to be looking for a new job (39 per cent) than those who only experience excessive pressure once or twice a month (21 per cent). CIPD's Claire McCartney commented: 'Trust forms a key part of the employment relationship and if employees feel there is a gap between what directors say and do, or that there is a lack of transparency or fairness in terms of how people are recognised and rewarded, they are likely to feel disenchanted. The openness, quality and frequency of communication from the top is also critical to trust, as is the extent to which any consultation is meaningful and happens before decisions are taken.'
CIPD news release Source: Risks 529.
UK workers: half are ill-treated at work
Researchers in the UK have found that half of British workers have been ill-treated at work in the last two years, with several million also suffering from 'impossible workloads'. The study found 4.9 per cent of workers were victims of violence while 22.3 per cent said they were treated in a disrespectful or rude way. Over a quarter, 27 per cent, said they felt ignored. The study, by academics from Cardiff and Plymouth universities was based on data gathered from face-to-face interviews with almost 4,000 workers as part of the British Workplace Behaviour Survey, gathered in 2008. The team also looked in depth at four large employers, using them as case studies. Workers in the public sector were reported to be 'particularly at risk' of rudeness, disrespect, violence and injury. Disabled employees, those with long-term health problems and younger staff are all more likely to experience ill treatment at work, as were lesbian, gay and bisexual workers. The report claims around 7,000,000 to 8,000,000 British workers suffer from 'impossible workloads' and 'not being listened to'. Managers and supervisors were blamed for two-thirds of incidents of unreasonable behaviour. Professor Ralph Fevre of Cardiff University, one of the report's authors, said: 'Sadly, our study shows that violence, ill-treatment and unreasonable behaviour are all too common in Britain's workplaces.' He added: 'Many managers saw staff welfare as low on their list of priorities, while some even felt ill-treatment of staff was expected of them.'
Ralph Fevre, Duncan Lewis, Amanda Robinson and Trevor Jones, Insight into ill-treatment in the workplace: patterns, causes and solutions, 2011 [pdf] and Appendix: Respondents to the British Workplace Behaviour Survey [pdf] Source: Risks 530
WorkSafe Victoria increases activity
A week after Victorian workplaces were confirmed as Australia's safest, WorkSafe has launched a campaign urging safety improvements before an inspector visits. The new campaign, 'Any Day Now' (see YouTube ) went to air last night & comes on the heels of the federal government's annual benchmarking report which confirms Victoria as having the lowest number of injuries per-thousand workers of any state or territory.
The regulator has also warned business that it has doubled its prosecution rate in recent months, and is urging employers to "find and fix" workplace hazards before inspectors discover them. WorkSafe health and safety director Ian Forsyth said the regulator initiated 24 prosecutions in September. "There are nearly 100 cases now before the courts ranging from non-compliance with safety improvement notices to major incidents where members of the public as well as workers have been put at risk [or killed]," he said. "Many more matters are under investigation and with the cases we've run since May this year we're running at a success rate of more than 90 percent," Mr Forsyth said.
"We take safety seriously and we will enforce the law, but business operators and workers can avoid prosecution by doing the right thing, consistently."
The Comparative Performance and Monitoring report compiled by Safe Work Australia, which standardises injury claims data and makes like-for-like comparisons across the states and territories was released at the end of October. It showed a 30 per cent drop in the rate of workplace injuries in Victoria between 2004 and 2010. However, it also revealed that quarter of all injury claims in Victoria in 2009/10 came from fewer than 3000 businesses in the following industries, which will be targeted for the rest of the current financial year:
food product manufacturing;
wood product manufacturing;
fabricated metal product manufacturing;
plastics and rubber manufacturing;
transport equipment manufacturing;
warehousing and storage services; and
residential care services.
Seven of Australia's nine workplace safety jurisdictions, have now introduced Work Health and Safety Bills to their parliaments, with the Northern Territory and Tasmania doing so last week. Neither of the two new Bills, however, committed to a commencement date of 1 January 2012.
The Northern Territory Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 would take effect on a "day fixed by the Administrator by Gazette notice", according to the Bill introduced to the Legislative Assembly. The Tasmanian Work Health and Safety Act 2011 will also take effect on "a day to be proclaimed", according to s2 of the Bill, which was introduced to Parliament in late October.
"For consistency with the national agreements on uniform work health and safety laws in Australian jurisdictions, it is intended that the commencement day will be 1 January 2012," clause notes accompanying the Bill said.
Victoria and Western Australia remain the only two not to have introduced WHS Bills – both formally requesting that the timeline be extended.
Also this week, Safe Work Australia released its Operational Plan 2011-2012 , which outlines its harmonisation framework and planned publications for the next eight months.
Industrial Chemicals Regulator Review
The Gillard Government is inviting interested parties and individuals to provide input into the review of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS). The Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King MP, and the Minister Assisting on Deregulation, Senator Nick Sherry have encouraged stakeholders to provide written submissions to inform the review.
The review is being carried out as a Better Regulation Ministerial Partnership, and is investigating how regulation of industrial chemicals can be improved to achieve better public and environmental health outcomes, and enhance the competitiveness of the Australian chemical industry.
Ms King said the role of NICNAS is to provide scientific assessment of the risks to public health, occupational health and safety and the environment from industrial chemicals. "It is important that we get the regulation of these chemicals right so that the Australian community as well as our environment is safeguarded from the potential risks associated with these substances," Ms King said.
Read more Joint Media Release
From WorkSafe WA: a safety alert Highly toxic beryllium in welding electrodes [pdf] after it was found that workers might have been exposed to high levels of the highly toxic metal while cleaning electrodes on welding machines.
$100,000 fine for overloaded scaffold
EGI Bricklaying Pty Ltd, a Reservoir company which risked a collapse at a Prahran construction site by overloading scaffolding by more than double the safe limit, was last week convicted and fined $100,000.
The Melbourne Magistrates' Court heard the company put workers and members of the public at serious risk after it overloaded scaffolding with bricks at a hotel construction site on Commercial Road. When WorkSafe investigators visited the site on 24 February, 2009 they found the scaffolding had more than 6,000 bricks stacked on 14 bays, which was more than double the safe working limit for each bay. They also found the bricks were not evenly distributed across the platform; the employees were not properly trained in unloading and stacking bricks; and there was no supervisor at the site to ensure the job was done correctly.
WorkSafe Construction and Utilities Director, Allan Beacom said overloading platforms on a scaffold was a significant and serious breach. "Overloaded platforms can cause a scaffold to collapse and may lead to grave consequences, not just for workers, but to members of the public," he said. "Bricklaying companies should refer to WorkSafe's Bricklaying Checklist for Builders and Building Trades Contractors guideline to ensure correct procedures are in place."
WorkSafe Media Release What part of not having fall protection doesn't sound dangerous?
Lack of machine guarding costs company $160k
Geelong business Timbertruss Pty Ltd, which failed to properly guard machines resulting in three workers suffering serious injuries within months, was last week convicted and fined $160,000 for failing to provide a safe workplace and failing to provide training and supervision to employees.
Three Timbertruss workers– two from the company's Belmont plant and one from its South Geelong plant – suffered serious crush injuries in separate incidents over a four-month period. Each of the machines were used to make timber trusses, but were inadequately guarded.
WorkSafe's investigation found the company applied administrative controls, but failed to implement adequate physical barriers to prevent injury. The company has since implemented appropriate guarding and other measures on each of the machines. WorkSafe's Operations General Manager, Lisa Sturzenegger hoped the prosecution would send a strong message to companies operating machinery without appropriate guarding. "Plant and machinery safety should not be left to the discretion of the workers. Employers must ensure the highest level of protection," she said. "Workers need to receive training and be competent to operate the machinery before they are allowed to work unsupervised and employers need to systematically manage risks to ensure they provide a safe place of work."
WorkSafe Media Release.
China: Gas explosion kills 29 in coal mineIn another mining tragedy in China, a deadly blast at a coal mine on October 29 has killed 29 people. The gas explosion took place at a colliery in Hengyang city, in Central China's Hunan province. Six miners were being treated in hospital after being rescued from the Xialiuchong Coal Mine, owned by the Hengyang city government.
And in more troubling news: Rescuers pulled seven injured miners to the surface and were trying to reach 50 others trapped after a cave-in at a coal mine in central China, state media reported. Four miners were killed when the cave-in blasted rock into the mine shaft on the evening November 4, and 14 managed to escape, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The rock explosion happened just after a small earthquake shook near the mine in the city of Sanmenxia in Henan province.
The BBC website reports that China's mines are the deadliest in the world, although the number of miners killed has been falling in recent years. In 2010, 2,433 people died in coal mines in China, although this was an improvement on the toll of 2,631 a year earlier. The industry's safety record has improved in recent years as smaller, illegal mines have been closed, but labour rights groups say the actual death toll is likely much higher than official statistics, partly due to under-reporting of incidents as mine bosses seek to limit their economic losses and avoid punishment. Reported annual fatalities are about now at about one-third of the high of nearly 7,000 who died in 2002.
China Daily. BBC News Online. Charleston Gazette (blog)