Issue 226 - SafetyNet 226Welcome to the 226th edition of SafetyNet. The past three weeks have been tragic for Victorian workers - the fatalities stress the need for all employers to identify all hazards and then take action to eliminate the risks. The role of health and safety reps is crucial in ensuring workplaces are healthy and safe.
Seven fatalities in three weeks
Unfortunately, in the past three weeks there have been seven work-related fatalities – a tragedy for families so close to Christmas. This brings the 'official' number of fatalities for the year to 23.
The first was a 73-year-old farmer who died after he was gored by a bull near Yea in Victoria's north-east on Monday November 21. Paramedics were called to a private property at Acheron, 115 kilometres north of Melbourne, to treat the man, who had suffered severe head and chest injuries. They performed CPR but could not revive him.
The second fatality happened on the afternoon of Friday November 25, when a 45 year old worker died after falling from a cherry picker in Lara. It appears that he was pruning trees at a property when he fell and injured his head at about 4.15pm. He died at the scene after paramedics tried to treat him. Geelong CIU detectives will prepare a report for the coroner.
The third death was that of a 46 year old man following an incident at a warehouse in Westmeadows on the Friday evening at about 8.30pm. The ABC reported that the man was pinned to the wall by a truck when he reached inside the cab to turn on the ignition. Emergency crews freed the man, but he died at the scene.
On the evening of Wednesday November 30, a man was killed in Bayswater North when he was run over by a street sweeper. The incident occurred just before 11pm in Canterbury Rd. He died at the scene.
On the afternoon of Thursday December 1, a 26-year-old worker sustained fatal head injuries when a 150kg piece of machinery fell from an overhead crane and struck him at a boat manufacturing business in Campbellfield. The Craigieburn man died en route to the hospital.
A 37 year old man died in hospital last Friday after he was crushed while carrying out repair works on a dock leveller at Laverton North.
The seventh person killed was a subcontractor who went missing while carrying out routine sampling work at Melbourne Water's Eastern Treatment Plant on the morning of December 1. He was found dead in a sewage tank later that night.
While WorkSafe continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incidents, Health and Safety Executive Director, Ian Forsyth, said the week was a grim reminder of the importance of workplace safety. He urged workplaces to remain extra vigilant in the lead up to Christmas, with December being one of the busiest periods for many industries. 'We're calling on Victorian workplaces to stop, think and take action about improving safety. Simple steps make a real difference to individuals, families and businesses,' Mr Forsyth said.
WorkSafe Media Release
Patrick Stevedoring discrimination conviction stands
The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by Patrick Stevedoring Pty Ltd against its conviction and $180,000 fine for workplace health and safety breaches under Section 76 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The judgement was handed down on November 23rd. The sections makes it an offence to dismiss, injure or alter a worker's position to his or her detriment, or threaten to do so, just because the worker has raised a safety concern or exercised their power as an elected health and safety representative.
This was a very important prosecution, imposed in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court in January as it was the first discrimination conviction under 2004 Act. (See SafetyNet 206) The VTHC applauds WorkSafe's perseverance in pursuing this company, but notes that the case illustrates the difficulties in bringing discriminatory employers to justice. The issues which triggered by complaint by the health and safety rep concerned, a long-standing employee of Patrick Stevedoring and an MUA member, date back to 2007.
WorkSafe Media Release
Public Sector Campaign
Last Sunday 27 November 2011, the Victorian Public Sector Unions collectively launched the There For You Campaign.
When something goes wrong with Occupation Health & Safety on site, these are the workers who are there to help make things better. Be it emergency response, health care or workplace inspectors.
Workers like fire fighters, nurses, paramedics and hundreds of other professions are seeking to protect the services we rely on. You probably know lots of these workers. They are your family members and friends. They want to be there for you when you need them most.
But how can they be there for you when the State Government cuts their funding and makes pay offers below the cost of living? If you think these services are important, then join them and send a message of support.
A Very Bella Christmas and Terminativity
Well, it's almost Christmas, and if you're looking for some light entertainment before the serious business of the holidays begins, then come along to the Bella Union at Trades Hall. There are two fabulous events:
The Terminativity: presented by Bella Union in the New Ballroom. If you've always found the traditional Nativity disappointingly low on killer metal robots from the future, we've got just the Christmas celebration for you! Returning in an expanded form after last year's triumphant premiere, The Terminativity takes the Greatest Story Ever Told and adds time travel, a Terminator T-800, a police manhunt, lasers, pitched battles, a handful of catchy tunes and much, much more.... Tickets are $34 full/$27 for groups of six or more/$24 concession.
A Very Bella Christmas Three hours of riotous fun from 7.30pm on December 23rd. Catch up with friends and warble along to the most soulful, deep, funky and strange renditions of seasonal standards it may ever be your peculiar pleasure to hear. In past years, performers included the famous and not so famous - and you can be sure that this year you'll have a great night of fabulous and talented entertainers. Tickets are $15/$10 (+ $2 booking fee) or $20/$15 at the door.
Giveaways: Congratulations to Jacinta Richardson and Carolyn Goldsmith who both won double passes to Terminativity.
My company has a tenancy in a building with a communal kitchen(ette). As part of a recent 'green energy' initiative, the landlord has replaced existing double fluoro lights with 2 timed downlights resulting in dimmer, more uneven and shadowy light than before. Since it's a kitchen outside our company's control is there anything we can do?
What I suggest you do is organise for your company to formally write to the landlord and point out that the replacement of the lights in the kitchenette is unacceptable for health and safety reasons and that under Section 26 of the OHS Act, he, as the person with management and control of a workplace, has a duty to ensure that said workplace is so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health. This advice applies to any ohs issue that may arise in a workplace where the employer does not have 'management' or 'control' of that workplace.
With respect to what the light levels should be in workplaces, there's guidance on this: for staff canteen it's recommended that it be 160 lux and for food preparation areas, it should be 240 lux. Go to this page on the OHS Reps website for more information on Lighting in workplaces
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 newsAISS and ADSVIC merged website
As announced in the last edition of SafetyNet, two of Victoria's asbestos diseases support groups have merged to form Asbestoswise, which brings together the skills and expertise of the two organisations, the Asbestos Information and Support Service (AISS) and the Asbestos Diseases Society of Victoria (ADSVIC). The Asbestoswise website is now live.
Read more: Asbestoswise website
Unions welcome commitments from Labor to eradicate asbestos
Changes to the Labor Party's national platform will see Australia leading the way in the global campaign to eradicate asbestos, say unions. The ALP conference held last weekend in Sydney amended Labor's foreign affairs platform to place Australia at the lead of international action for a global treaty to ban the use and trade in asbestos. The amendment commits Australia to hosting an international conference for the Global Alliance against Asbestos Hazard.
'Asbestos is a scourge that kills tens of thousands of workers around the world every year,' ACTU President Ms Ged Kearney said. 'Unions have been at the forefront of campaigning against asbestos in Australia but a renewed global effort must be made to ban its use and trade in all forms around the world, especially in developing nations. We are pleased to see Labor acknowledging the role that Australia can play in leading global efforts.'
Source: ACTU Media release
Eternit sentenced for the first time by Belgian court
On 28 November, a Belgian court sentenced Eternit to pay 250,000 euros in compensation to the family of an environmental victim of asbestos. The court ruled that Eternit was at fault by continuing to use asbestos and minimising the dangers it posed, even though it was known that it could cause serious illnesses. This is a landmark case in Belgium, where the few victims to have brought cases so far had always lost. Laurent Vogel, director of the European Trade Union Institute's Working Conditions department said, 'This ruling puts a stop to the impunity that Eternit has enjoyed in Belgium for too long. Thanks to a courageous fight by one family, we have finally secured recognition for the heavy price paid in general indifference by thousands of Belgian workers'.
Cancer fears spark firefighting training facility investigation
Victoria's Country Fire Authority (CFA) is reported to be investigating allegations that at least 15 people have died of cancer, and others have contracted the disease because of their contact with chemicals the authority used at its training centre at Fiskville, west of Melbourne. For about 40 years Victorian firefighters have undergone training at the CFA facility. The CFA chief executive Mick Bourke has said that the allegations are being investigated. 'We have to treat these allegations seriously,' he said.
Following a major article in the Herald Sun, the paper now reports that WorkSafe has inspected the CFA's Fiskville training college. The WorkSafe visit comes as the CFA launched its own investigation into the use of dangerous chemicals at the site during the 1970s and '80s.
Half of casual workers want more secure work
Half of all casual workers would prefer to have a standard, secure job, according to new research released by the ACTU last month. The research, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data, found that 1.1 million casuals would prefer to be a standard employee. A similar number have been employed casually for more than two years, but have not been offered permanent work, and 1 million have pay that varies from week to week.
Approximately 706,000 do not receive a casual loading, and almost half a million have no choice about when they take holidays. The research is contained in a new options paper prepared by the ACTU to foster discussion and debate about how to deal with the growth of insecure work in Australia.
The options paper, The future of work in Australia: dealing with insecurity and risk [pdf ] , has been prepared for the Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work in Australia, chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe. ACTU Media Release
Have your say on insecure work by December 16
If you still haven't told your story about your experiences of insecure work and its effects on you and your family and want to, or if you'd like to make a more formal submission to the ACTU's inquiry into insecure work you must do it by December 16. 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.
To learn more about the enquiry, or to enter your story online, go to the Secure Jobs website or phone 1300 362 223 (toll free).
Unions say Wheel's safety in doubt
According to reports in The Age, WorkSafe has made 10 visits to the troubled Southern Star Observation Wheel at Docklands in the 12 months leading up to last week's major safety incident at the site. A 'non-disturbance notice' issued by WorkSafe for the wheel site was to expire this week, but the state secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Bill Oliver, said the union continued to have safety concerns about the Docklands wheel, particularly as last week's incident could have killed workers. In the incident, which occurred at about midnight, slings attached to hold points on the wheel broke lose allowing the wheel to turn uncontrollably and causing workers to flee as large pieces of the assembly structure broke lose and crashed to the ground. The CFMEU is calling for an independent engineering assessment on the wheel before workers return to the job.
Reminder of dangers of UV radiation
As the summer months are approaching, unions and cancer experts are warning of the dangers of UV radiation. If you are working outdoors, then this is a serious hazard, and the employer has a duty to minimise the hazard. Cancer Council Western Australia says a new report, which has calcuated the cost of sun damage at work to Australian employers, should sound alarm bells for businesses with outdoor workers.
The Occupational exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation [pdf ] report produced by Cancer Council Western Australia found 1,360 workers compensation claims for sun related injury or disease were made in Australia between 2000-2009, at a total cost of $38.4 million to employers. The report highlights how sun exposure at work is becoming increasingly recognised in the courts and the number and cost of claims is increasing over time. The report shows that total payments for skin cancer claims doubled from $2 million in 2001-02 to $4 million in 2008-09.
'This report is a stark reminder to employers that their duty of care extends to protecting workers from over-exposure to the sun and that UV radiation is a known cause of injury and disease,' said Terry Slevin, Cancer Council WA Director Education and Research, and Chair of Cancer Council Australia's Occupational and Environmental Cancer Risk Committee.
International Union NewsEuropean Unions call for Formaldehyde to be declared carcinogen
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has announced that it wants Europe to classify formaldehyde as carcinogenic to humans. The trade union organisation has adopted this position as part of a public internet consultation launched by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) at the end of October, due to run until mid-December. In its response, the ETUC emphasises that this substance has been recognised since 2004 as being a definite carcinogen to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Read more
In Australia, formaldehyde was nominated as a Priority Existing Chemical in March
2002 in response to occupational and public health concerns. It was consequently re-assessed by NICNAS and the final report released in November 2006 (the report can be downloaded from this page on the NICNAS website). Among the recommendations were a lowering of the exposure standard, and the re-classification to a Class 2 carcinogen. Unfortunately, the recommendations made have not been implemented.
USA: Republican hopeful calls for child labour in schools
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has said he wants to 'get rid of unionised janitors (cleaners)' and hire poor kids to clean the schools in low income neighbourhoods. Speaking at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government last month, Gingrich suggested that putting scrubbing brushes and floor sanders in the hands of kids and firing school maintenance workers would 'lift up the poorest neighborhoods.' He also added child labour laws 'entrap poor children into poverty.' The Gingrich plan was rejected by the union AFSCME. The union said it was time to tell Gingrich his 'model' to lift kids out of poverty was 'outrageous, dangerous and downright hogwash'. The union is calling for anyone sharing its distaste for child labour to sign an online letter that reminds the would-be president that 'doing janitorial work in a school entails sanitising toilets, handling hazardous cleaning chemicals, and scrubbing floors hunched over a mop for hours. It's hard to imagine a nine-year old doing any of those tasks.' National union federation AFL-CIO noted many janitors lined up for the axe by Gingrich are parents. 'That job puts a roof over kids' heads, food on the table, and provides them with health care and the chance to get an education,' it notes. 'That job is the only thing between a kid and poverty.'
WorkSafe Victoria blitz targets domestic construction sites in the west
A state-wide campaign targeting construction site safety in domestic housing estates begins today (on 8 December) in Melbourne's west. Teams of inspectors will be focussing on basic safety issues like fall protection, electrical safety, supervision, housekeeping and site security, the acting Director of WorkSafe's Construction and Utilities Division, Allan Beacom, said.
"These are issues that employers and tradespeople consistently fail to properly address. Inspectors will issue safety improvement and prohibition notices during this campaign and if they're not dealt with the risk of prosecution, whether or not someone is hurt, is high."
The absence of fall protection on a domestic housing site is a feature of WorkSafe's current enforcement campaign showing workers on the roof of a house.
WorkSafe Media Release
And on Friday last week: a scaffold collapsed at Geelong - WorkSafe is investigating an incident involving a scaffold which fell and landed on a car at the Geelong suburb of Belmont. A shop in High Street was being demolished and while no one was hurt, it is the latest in a number of incidents involving scaffolds or collapses arising from demolition work in recent years.
WorkSafe's General Manager for Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said uncompleted, partly demolished or damaged structures had to be properly supported as workers or members of the public were at risk. 'Proper planning of the work and supervision of it, contractor management and ensuring people have the right equipment for the job is essential.'
Victoria's Dangerous Goods regs extended
As reported, the Victorian Government has announced that it has started work on a supplementary assessment that will look at the impact of the proposed model Work Health and Safety laws on Victoria. It expects this process will take several months. As we've previously advised, this decision had implications for the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2000 (Storage and Handling Regulations) which were due to expire on 5 December 2011.
To avoid a regulatory gap, the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Interim Regulations 2011 have been made, without a regulatory impact statement, for an interim period of 12 months. These are a direct translation of the current Storage and Handling Regulations. Changes have been strictly limited to updating references to third party documents and removing redundant provisions. All regulation numbering remains the same.
Continuing the current Storage and Handling framework by way of interim regulations is a 'stop-gap' measure that minimises the impact on duty holders and maintains safety standards while the supplementary impact assessment is being prepared.
Other Harmonisation news
The Model WHS Regulations have now also been endorsed, as have a number of Codes of Practice. Several more are still open for public comment. However, while a number of jurisdictions have proceeded with the passing of the relevant Bills to implement the model WHS legislative package, the Victoria and Western Australian governments have announced that they will not be in a position to proceed on January 1, 2012.
The latest jurisdiction to proceed is the Northern Territory: the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Bill 2011 (NT) was passed in the NT Legislative Assembly on Thursday 1 December 2011. The new laws will commence on 1 January 2012. Find out more by going to Update Number 7 on the OHS Reps @ Work Website, including links to the various information pages for each of the jurisdictions.
Victoria's Auditor General releases reports
Victoria's Auditor-General, Des Pearson, this morning tabled four reports in the Victorian Parliament this week. Of interest to subscribers is: Managing Contaminated Sites. This audit examined how contaminated and potentially contaminated sites were managed, particularly where a sensitive use of the land is involved. According to the report, the Department of Planning and Community Development, the Environment Protection Authority and audited councils - Brimbank City Council, Maribyrnong City Council and Yarra City Council - are not effectively managing contaminated sites, and consequently cannot demonstrate that they are reducing potentially significant risks to human health and the environment to acceptable levels. A complex, unclear regulatory framework with significant gaps has contributed to this.
More information:link to audit summary and full report
Reminder: Industrial Chemicals Regulator Review
This is a short reminder that the Government is seeking high level input into the review of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS). 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.
The VTHC encourages anyone with any concerns on how chemicals in general, and industrial chemicals in particular, are regulated, to send in their views.
Read more Joint Media Release
Australia Post fined $160k after worker loses leg
Comcare has fined Australia Post $160,000 after a workplace incident in which a 73 year old mail centre worker lost a leg when he was run over by a forklift at the Toowoomba Mail Centre on July 7, 2008. The worker, who was a casually employed as a contractor in the loading dock, was thrown to the ground by the impact. The incident caused him to lose his right leg below the knee, and spend more than a month in hospital.
Australia Post admitted it had breached the OHS Act by failing to properly control pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the congested loading dock. It had also failed to properly provide safety training to contractors. As well as the $160,000 fine, Australia Post was ordered to pay $80,000 in legal costs.
Source: The Herald Sun
Deadly shipbreaking yards
At any one time, at the Gadani ship breaking yards, just west of the Pakistani city of Karachi, up to 15,000 workers are employed to dismantle ships from all over the world. These workers are mostly employed as casuals, do not have access to any prescribed safety measures, regular transport, housing or even clean drinking water facilities. In the last ten months alone, 25 workers have been killed in industrial accidents with hundreds more injured. Local unions are trying to organise these workers. Last year a major strike shut the site for weeks.
Read more: Viewpoint Balochistan: 15000 ship-breaking workers on strike
New OHS laws to cover over 10 million Taiwanese workers
The Taiwanese Legislative Yuan last month passed the first reading of an amendment to widen the protection of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to workers of all occupations, including interns, the self-employed and freelance workers.
The amended law would apply to and affect roughly 10,670,000 workers, up from the initial 6.7 million in targeted industries. The revisions also introduce a new article on preventing deaths from overwork, which would force employers of high-risk employee groups - those working shift duties or night shifts - to implement measures and systems that prevent overwork.
The employers will be required to provide physical exams and regular health checkups. If employees in such groups are diagnosed with work-related diseases such as high blood pressure and doctors deem them unsuitable for work, employers must make significant adjustments to the work environment and hours or face fines.
The proposed amendment marks the first major revision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act since its approval in 1974. The changes have become necessary with the evolution of work environments and management. With higher demand come longer work hours and greater stress, and the revised act aims to emulate the American and European systems that stress and enforce safety and health legislation.
Read more: The China Post