Issue 227 - SafetyNet 227
Welcome to the last edition of SafetyNet for 2011 – Edition number 227. The team here at the VTHC OHS Unit wishes all our subscribers a safe and happy holiday season, and looks forward to a better 2012. We are on leave until January 16, and so the next edition of the journal will be sent out the week after.
Two more Victorian fatalities
In the first incident, a young man died in an explosion outside his Mulgrave home on last Monday morning. 'Gas bottles stored in a vehicle appear to have exploded, but at this stage why that has happened is not clear,' WorkSafe's General Manager for Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger said. 'WorkSafe will try and determine which product has exploded and whether the van had a special box in which products like acetylene, refrigerant and LPG can be stored safely. Our deepest condolences go out to this young man's family and friends, but also to others who, as a result of this incident, are remembering loved ones who did not come home from work.'
The second fatality occurred on the afternoon of Wednesday December 14, when a man was killed in Gellibrand, in remote country in the Otways after a tree fell on him. WorkSafe sent inspectors and investigators to the scene near the Colac-Lavers Hill Rd.
These fatalities are on top of a number of life threatening major incidents and three other fatalities this month. Nine Victorians have died at work since 21 November. The recent incidents bring Victoria's workplace death toll for the year to 25.
On Thursday the week before, a 100m long awning which was 15m across fell from an uncompleted warehouse at Keysborough just after workers went to lunch. By sheer luck no one was hurt. Early Sunday December 11, fuel which escaped from a tanker at a Rowville service station was ignited and threatened a neighbouring hotel before igniting the truck which also exploded, blowing a huge hole in the side of the vehicle. The driver suffered burns and is in hospital. Then last Thursday December 15, there was a serious truck crash on the Monash Freeway.
'In each of these incidents there was the potential for multiple injuries if not deaths,' Ms Sturzenegger said, adding that the latest incidents were indicative of broader issues. 'We feel for the families, workmates and friends of all of these people who are suffering so much. While our investigations into all of these incidents continue, we have to urge the entire community to ensure safety does not slide down the list of priorities. The difference between an incident that kills or causes a minor injury is not great.'
WorkSafe Media Releases: Make safety improvement today because tomorrow may be too late and Nine Victorians dead at work in 24 days
Firefighters' union calling for Fiskville enquiry
The UFU has written to the Victorian State Coroner Jennifer Coat easing for a State Coronial enquiry into chemical exposure at the CFA training college at Fiskville, near Bacchus Marsh. 'We do not understand why neither the CFA nor the Government has referred this matter to the Coroner for investigation,' UFU secretary Peter Marshall has said. Mr Marshall said the union had received legal advice that supported a coronial investigation. 'Only a coronial inquest or royal commission can properly test the truth of these and other matters that go to the heart of determining the extent of the exposure and any knowledge of the consequences to the health of individuals who were exposed,' Mr Marshall said.
Read more: Herald Sun
I'm working over the Christmas break. Who can I contact if I have any OHS queries or problems?
If the matter is urgent, contact either your union or the Advisory service of the health and safety regulator in your state or territory. For Victorians, contact the WorkSafe Advisory Service on 03 9641 1444 or 1800 136 089 if outside of Melbourne. For other jurisdictions, go to our Australian government Links page, and click onto your state/territory to find the 'contact' page.
While the unit is on leave until mid-January, Renata will be occasionally checking the Ask Renata emails, and responding to queries. However, if you have an urgent query, then contact your union or WorkSafe Victoria's Advisory line on 03 9641 1444.
Public Sector Campaign
On 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.
Asbestos Awareness WeekPlease take a moment to look at the Youtube video of the AsbestosWise Commemorative Service during Asbestos Awareness Week, on Friday 25 November using the poignant photos taken by the amazing Laura Manariti.
Australian actor dies of mesotheliomaHarold Hopkins, the Australian actor known for roles in many films and TV series, died on Saturday December 10 of mesothelioma – contracted when he was a young apprentice carpenter in Queensland in the early 1960's. He was only 67 years old. He appeared in 16 movies, including Age Of Consent, Gallipoli, Don's Party, The Club and The Year My Voice Broke.
Hopkin's death is but one of many such deaths due to this deadly substance. Asbestos is everywhere and there are many young Australian carpenters & other tradies still being exposed today, not to mention home renovators and their families. Too many Australians will die from this disease, with the number of people being diagnosed with it still growing. All our governments must support the efforts of asbestos-disease support groups and unions to rid Australia of this terrible substance. The VTHC urges Geoff Fary, currently undertaking the federal government's Asbestos Management Review, to make strong recommendations which will see the achievement of an Asbestos-free Australia.
Source: Herald Sun Read more: Towards an Asbestos-Free Australia and Asbestos Management Review
Queensland 'one-stop shop' for asbestos info
The Queensland government is establishing a one-stop-shop asbestos information phone number (137 468) and a website. They will both become available on January 1.
US groups urging elimination of asbestos-related disease
ADAO, a US group, is asking Americans to stand up against asbestos and support the ' North American Declaration to Eliminate Asbestos-Related Disease'.
ADAO says, 'As most of you know, the United States and Canada have yet to ban the deadly carcinogen, asbestos, and Canada continues to mine and export tons of asbestos fibers with deadly effects around the world. In response, ADAO, in partnership with the Canadian Voices of Asbestos Victims, has announced the North American Declaration to Eliminate Asbestos-Related Diseases . This declaration represents a joint effort between U.S. and Canadian asbestos victims and their families, public health organizations, NGOs, OSH specialists, and politicians to demand a ban of asbestos across the entire North American region.' The groups are asking people to sign the petition.
Read more: ADAO Press Release
Google moves Supreme Court against Andhra Pradesh firmGoogle India, a subsidiary of US-based Google Inc, has gone to the Supreme Court seeking the quashing of a criminal complaint filed against it for allegedly carrying defamatory material on its website against an Andhra-based asbestos manufacturing firm. Visakha Industries, in its complaint before a civil court in Secunderabad, has alleged that the network service provider had hosted some defamatory articles aimed at it on its website.
Visakha had sent a legal notice to Google India in December 2008 alleging that articles authored by Delhi-based Gopal Krishna (coordinator of Ban Asbestos India) and hosted by the website violated its rights and were defamatory as they were aimed at a single manufacturer.
Read more: The Financial Express
Sign online petition to Indian governmentAlthough India has banned the mining of asbestos, it continues to import and use the deadly substance. In 2010 India imported more than 350,000 metric tons of asbestos, primarily from Russia, Canada and Kazakhstan. No attempts have been made by the Indian Government to identify and locate probable victims of asbestos related disorders and there are no official statistics available. The industry is owned by Government officials who influence decision making. Please sign the international petition which is calling on the Indian Government to implement a comprehensive and total ban on the use of all asbestos fibre and asbestos-containing products throughout India within the next three years.
Wharfies take action over safety
More than 150 wharfies, employed by Sydney-based stevedoring company POAGS, last week went on strike at Western Australia's busiest ports, mainly over concerns that a poor safety regime will lead to deaths on the waterfront. Maritime Union of Australia Western Australia branch secretary Chris Cain said up to 200 wharfies at Fremantle, Port Hedland and Bunbury ports had downed tools on Saturday December 10 over safety concerns. Mr Cain said the main concern at these ports was safety, as the workers were using 'antiquated gear'. Two POAGS workers were killed last year while on the job. One was a 41-year-old father-of-two struck by a falling steel beam at Appleton Dock in Melbourne.
Mr Cain said workers were concerned there would be more deaths on POAGS sites if the company's safety regime was not improved. The union wants more training, newer equipment, a safety facilitator at the ports and an open dialogue with POAGS management about safety. On Tuesday last week, POAGS locked out hundreds of MUA stevedores at Fremantle, Port Hedland and Bunbury in Western Australia in response to the action, flying in non-union labour with helicopters. Interestingly, POAGS is chaired by former Patrick chairman Chris Corrigan, known to many Australian workers for his role in the 1998 waterfront dispute. However, after an intervention by new Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, on Wednesday, the company and the union have agreed to suspend all industrial action and have agreed to return to the negotiating table. A Fair Work Australia-appointed mediator will oversee the negotiations.
Source: WA Today MUA News POAGS locks wharfies out for Christmas and POAGS Stevedores Recklessly Compromising Safety and Illawarra Jobs Workforce News.
Summertime protection and nano-safetyIn the last edition of SafetyNet we reminded subscribers of the dangers of UV Radiation and the need to use protection if working, or playing, in the sun. This week we're taking the opportunity to make sure you're aware of what is in the sunscreen you're using. While it is absolutely crucial to ensure use of good sunscreen, it's also important to be able to choose whether the sunscreen contains nanomaterials.
The Friends of the Earth (FoE) has released its new Safe Sunscreen Guide, with more brands of nano-free sunscreen than ever now available. The organisation is also offering to send out one or more hard copies for your home, workplace and friends – just email FoE with how many you'd like and your details.
Long term effects of absorption of the nano forms of the chemicals used are not yet known, so having the choice is important. Polling recently conducted by The Australia Institute for FoE shows that 85% of Australians want nano-ingredients labelled in sunscreens and 92% of Australians want nano-ingredients in products tested before use. Yet despite this high level of support, the Government refuses to take action to introduce mandatory labelling and testing laws.
Shiftwork linked to diabetes in women
Women who work a rotating schedule that includes three or more night shifts per month, in addition to day and evening working hours in that month, have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a recent study has found. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) reached their conclusion after comparing women on rotating shifts with those who only worked days or evenings. They also found that extended years of rotating night shift work was associated with weight gain, which may contribute to the increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Previous studies have focused on the association between shift work and risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, Swedish research published in 2005 did find that women who experience stress and a lack of control over their work could be at a greater risk of this type of diabetes. An Pan, a research fellow in HSPH's Department of Nutrition and the new study's lead author, commented: 'Long-term rotating night shift work is an important risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes and this risk increases with the numbers of years working rotating shifts.'
Those women who worked rotating night shifts for three to nine years faced a 20 per cent increased risk; women who these shifts for 10 to 19 years upped the risk by 40 per cent; and women who working rotating night shifts for over 20 years were 58 per cent more at risk.
An Pan, Eva S Schernhammer, Qi Sun, Frank B Hu. Rotating night shift work and risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Two prospective cohort studies in women, PLoS Medicine, published online 6 December 2011. Source: Risks 535
Stroke linked to high pressure white collar jobs
A 30-year Danish study of almost 5000 middle-aged men has found work pressure is more likely to be a predictor of stroke for men in white-collar occupations than for those in blue-collar occupations. White-collar workers were more likely to feel exposed to work pressure, and that those who felt under regular pressure had a 38 per cent increased risk of stroke. In contrast, there was no association between perceived work pressure and increased risk of stroke in men in the blue-collar jobs. The researchers, from Copenhagen's Bispebjerg University Hospital, questioned workers aged between 40 and 59 about psychological pressure at work and home, lifestyle factors and medication use, and measured their blood pressure and body mass index.
Perceived Psychological Pressure at Work, Social Class, and Risk of Stroke: A 30-Year Follow-Up in Copenhagen Male Study. [abstract] Poul Suadicani, et al, Denmark, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 53, Issue 12, December 2011.
Kids at risk if building sites are not secured
Victorian building sites need to be well secured before the annual Christmas/New Year shutdown, WorkSafe warns. 'Unless children are physically prevented from gaining access, they're at risk of injury or death,' General Manager of Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger said. 'While they should not be there, a fall from height, treading on nails, cutting themselves on scrap metal or another injury can lead to a WorkSafe investigation or legal action by the child or their parents. At this time of year when people are rushing to finish work before a Christmas closure it's easy for site security to be forgotten. However, children can view building sites as an adventure playground,' Ms Sturzenegger said.
WorkSafe Media Release
WorkSafe to blitz manufacturing
WorkSafe has announced it will target up to 1000 manufacturers as part of a six-month blitz on manual handling risks. In the last financial year manual-handling-related injuries sustained by Victorian machine operators resulted in more than 700 claims, at an average cost of $52,000 for treatment and rehabilitation.
During the blitz inspectors would look at:
- the storage, transport and loading of materials on machines;
- how product was retrieved from machines; and
- the posture of machine operators while working.
WorkSafe's Manufacturing, Logistics and Agriculture Director, Ross Pilkington, said slips, trips and falls and manual handling tasks – which involves handling boxes, bags and parts, production work and lifting – accounted for 53% of all claims. 'Not only should workplaces have procedures in place so workers cannot be hurt, employers have the responsibility to ensure workers are supervised and are using safe systems of work,' he said. 'If companies aren't doing what they are legally required to do, we will take action. That will mean issuing safety improvement notices and prohibition notices, which can seriously disrupt operations. If there is non-compliance with notices there is a high likelihood of prosecution.' WorkSafe Media Release
Victoria's WorkSafe Week, 2012
For subscribers of SafetyNet to put in their diaries for next year: Work Safe Week will run from 22 October to 1 November 2012. The Melbourne event will run from Monday 29 October to Thursday 1 November 2012, with regional events covering the full two weeks. Based on these dates, the VTHC's 2012 OHS Reps Conference is likely to be held at the Convention Centre on Wednesday 31 October.
Five of Australia's nine jurisdictions will be ready to enact a harmonised Work Health and Safety Act by the end of December, including Comcare. In a communiqué released by Safe Work Australia after its most recent members' meeting, three further model Codes of Practice have been endorsed.
"The Commonwealth, NSW, Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory have enacted the provisions of the Model WHS Act ready for commencement from 1 January 2012," the communiqué on the Melbourne meeting says.
Safe Work Australia has also released four new legislative fact sheets outlining how volunteer workers, volunteers officers and volunteer organisations can comply with the model Work Health and Safety Act. The fact sheets clarify a volunteer organisation's duty to consult with volunteer workers, and provide a detailed list of the risks that volunteer workers are likely to be exposed to. They also outline the duties of officers of volunteer organisations, and what officers need to do to comply with their due diligence obligations. These and the other fact sheets can be downloaded from the Volunteer Fact Sheet page of the SWA website.
Victorian workers under the Comcare scheme should note that as of January 1, 2012, the relevant Act, regulations and codes will those developed through the harmonisation process, that is, the Work Health and Safety Act, etc. The OHS Reps @ Work website has updated information on this page, and more will be added in the New Year.
Latest NICNAS Matters
NICNAS, the industrial chemicals regulator, last week released its latest NICNAS Matters [pdf ] newsletter. It contains important information on changes and amendments to the Act which allow coverage of cosmetic ingredients, information on Triclosan, a chemical for which NICNAS has completed a full assessment, the planned prioritisation of existing industrial chemicals in Australia, information on international chemical safety matters and much more.
Printer emissions and nanoparticles in the workplaceSafe Work Australia Chair, Mr Tom Phillips AM, today announced the release of two significant reports on the risks and health effects of printer particle emissions in the workplace. Mr Phillips said, 'The two reports, Nanoparticles from Printer Emissions in Workplace Environments and A Brief Review of the Health Risks Associated with Laser Printer Emissions Measured as Particles are a breakthrough in the nanotechnology field.'
Research for the Nanoparticles from Printer Emissions in Workplace Environments report examined particle emissions from laser printers in office environments, and examined 107 printers in Queensland offices. The majority of the nanoparticle exposure experienced by workers over the course of a working day did not come from printers but from other sources, for example vehicle emissions infiltrating the building.
Mr Phillips said the review of health risks found that the risk of direct toxicity and health effects from exposure to laser printer particle emissions for most people is negligible but people responsive to unusual or unexpected odours may detect and react to the presence of emissions. 'Workers should still attempt to minimise their exposure to printer particles. The Nanoparticles from Printer Emissions in Workplace Environments report provides precautionary advice on how offices can assess and control printer particle emissions in their workplace,' said Mr Phillips.
SafeWork Australia Media Release
Travelling for work? See Comcare guidance
Comcare has released guidance for employers which have workers travelling overseas. This guidance is useful for any employers and workers in a similar situation. The regulator says employers must take steps to reduce the risks faced by these workers and be prepared to respond when an incident occurs. Such workers face increased risks and this necessitates a systematic approach to understanding travel risks, how workers may be impacted and what the organisation should do in response. Comcare fact sheets and tools, including a Travel risk assessment checklist, Deep vein thrombosis fact sheet, and more, can be accessed through the International Deployment section of the Comcare website.
From NT WorkSafe, a Safety alert: Controlling risks associated with workers accessing mezzanine floors to highlight the potential falls risk of workers accessing mezzanine floors.
A national Safety Alert [pdf ] issued by the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities after numerous incidents of serious injury and 16 fatalities involving quad bikes Australia-wide. It highlights the serious safety risks with the use of quad bikes. Also of great interest, an item on Quad bikes on the SafetyAtWork Blog: New OHS laws could change the management of quad bikes
$40,000 fine for house restumping collapseA Geelong restumping company was convicted and fined $40,000 last week in the Geelong Magistrates' Court over the collapse of a house in August 2010, which trapped and seriously injured the company owner.
Vollebregt House Restumping pleaded guilty to one count of failing to provide a safe workplace and one count of failing to ensure the public was not exposed to health and safety risks. The owner, who was working under the house when it fell from hydraulic jacks used to lift it, was trapped face down and suffered significant injuries including a broken pelvis. A casual worker escaped with minor injuries and the owners of the house, who were inside when it collapsed, smashed their way out through the front window and escaped unharmed.
WorkSafe's investigation found the company failed to properly undergo risk assessments for the work and obtain a building permit. Acting Director of WorkSafe's Construction and Utilities Division, Allan Beacom said the incident showed the need for basic safety issues to be addressed. 'It's yet another case where people are doing routine work and members of the public have been put at risk. In this case, the potential for serious injuries and deaths was considerable,' he said.
WorkSafe Media Release
$15k fine for non compliance with notice
FedEx Australia, the international delivery company, has been fined $15,000 in the Werribee Magistrates' Court for failing to comply with an improvement notice issued by WorkSafe.
WorkSafe inspectors issued an improvement notice at the company's Derrimut site in July 2009 after they saw workers unloading and loading packages from steel cages in an awkward position that exposed them to risk of musculoskeletal injuries, the court was told. Although the company had four months to comply with the notice, when WorkSafe returned to the site in December 2009, they found the notice had not been complied with and work was being carried out in the exact same way.
WorkSafe Media Release.
Bostik fined $90,000 for chemical leak
Bostik Australia Pty Ltd, a glue manufacturing company, was convicted and fined $90,000 in the County Court last Friday after an investigation into a chemical leak at their Thomastown factory found there was no operational vapour system in place to deal with the spill.
The incident happened on 20 June 2007 when n-butylamine, a highly flammable and corrosive chemical, escaped from a tank at the company's Thomastown site, exposing workers to the risk of dangerous chemical inhalation. WorkSafe's investigation into the incident found a deluge system which would automatically activate and release foam to help suppress vapours had been installed months before, but was not working at the time of the incident.
WorkSafe's Manufacturing, Logistics and Agriculture Director, Ross Pilkington, said functional emergency response systems were essential. 'It's a fundamental safety measure which must not only be installed but operational, especially in areas that are dealing with highly flammable and corrosive chemicals,' he said. WorkSafe Media Release
NSW employer fined $150K following crushing death of worker
NSW employer Morris Powerlec Pty Ltd, now in liquidation, that failed to direct an employee to follow an "essential" process outlined in a user's manual when working on plant has been fined $150,000 by the Industrial Court over his death.
In September 2009 the worker was repairing the hydraulic cylinder on a scissor lift at a customer's factory. The scissor lift was fitted with a maintenance chock designed to prevent the platform from lowering or falling, which had, however, been disengaged. It seems the worker had forcefully levered it out of place using a screwdriver, before he placed his upper body in the area below the lift platform. He was found with his head and upper torso crushed under the scissor lift's platform, which weighed more than 100kg. He died while trapped.
The Court heard Morris Powerlec had no system in place to ensure service technicians had read and understood the information in the manual, that its job safety analysis for the task made no reference to raising the lift platform before removing the chock, and that it did not forbid the worker from placing some or all of his body in the area beneath the lift platform unless the chock was applied. The Court found the employer had failed to risk assess the task and had failed to issue a warning that the hydraulics needed to be tested prior to removing the maintenance chock.
Global: Brands promise to ditch hazardous chemicals
Six major international clothing brands have announced a 'joint roadmap' intended to dramatically reduce the use of hazardous chemicals in their supply chains. Adidas Group, C&A, H&M, Li Ning, Nike Inc and Puma say the initiative will lead the apparel and footwear industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020. The roadmap covers the full supply chain for all products, initially focusing on clothing, and is based on individual commitments by each of the brands.
The initiative is a direct response to 'Dirty Laundry' , a July report from Greenpeace which exposed toxic use and related pollution in production facilities in China. The roadmap commits the firms to identify all chemicals used in textile manufacturing, a phase-out of hazardous chemicals and to projects to encourage sector wide chemical disclosure. Any company wishing to join is invited to publish an individual commitment and sign up to the initiative. Several projects on disclosure will be undertaken during the next year, such as exploring options for suppliers to disclose their chemical inventory. In the initial stage, facilities shared by the six brands will be targeted. These are located in China, Philippines, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Thailand, India and Indonesia.
US: $10.8 million penalty by Labor Dept for 29 dead at Upper Big Branch mine
The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has released the findings of its 20 month-long investigation into the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion. The April 5, 2010 disaster killed 29 workers and seriously injured another worker, leaving hundreds of grieving family members and friends. MSHA identified 12 violations of safety regulations that contributed to the cause or the severity of the disaster. Nine of the 12 contributory violations were classified as "flagrant" infractions which come with a $220,000 penalty each (for a total of $2.64 million). In addition to these contributory violations, MSHA investigators identified an additional 357 non-contributory citations and orders. These combined fines make up the $10.8 million penalty, the largest in MSHA history. The contributory violations include:
- Failure to conduct mandatory pre-shift, on-shift, and weekly examinations of areas where miners were expected to work or travel.
- Failure to immediately correct hazardous conditions or post with "Danger" signs, including 937 areas with accumulations of dangerous levels of coal dust observed between March 1, 2010 and the day of the explosion.
- Failure to correct accumulations of float coal dust, including dust as thick as four feet deep and 120 feet long in certain travelways.
- Failure to apply and maintain adequate concentrations of rock dust to reduce the explosibility of coal dust in the mine environment
- Failure to follow an approved mine ventilation plan
Read more: The Pump Handle Science Blog