Issue 209 - Safety Net Journal 209Welcome to SafetyNet 209 as usual we are bringing you the latest news in ohs as well as related coming events.
Three farm deaths in five days
A spate of deaths on farms in recent days has prompted WorkSafe to again urge farmers to 'follow basic safety rules'. Executive Director for Health and Safety Ian Forsyth said, 'If you're operating heavy vehicles – whether it's on a hobby farm or a commercial farm – you need to follow basic safety rules. Be aware of the terrain, wear a seatbelt on a tractor and a helmet on a quad bike, and always use the right vehicle for the job.'
The most recent fatality occurred Tuesday evening on a farm near Tallandoon, near Wodonga, where a 52 year-old man rolled his tractor. Two further fatalities occurred last Saturday. One involved a man spraying weeds from a quad bike on a smallholding in Forrest, near Colac; the second involved a woman falling off a mower at a trout farm in Marysville, north east of Melbourne.
WorkSafe is carrying out a 12 month state-wide campaign targeting the most common causes of death and serious injury on Victoria's farms - including tractor safety. The campaign will run until June 2011.
WorkSafe Media Release
Are Australian Standards law? Do they have to be complied with?
No, Australian Standards are not mandatory unless they are called up in specific regulations, even though many of them are relevant to workplaces and OHS,
However, under the general duties of the Act, the employer has the duty to provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment and also to ensure that there is safe entry to and exit from the workplace. In addition to employer duties, whoever has control or management of the workplace and designers of workplaces also have duties. (Duties of employers and Duties of others )
While the duties are very general, and 'so far as reasonably practicable' - duty holders must take into account the 'state of knowledge' about a particular hazard and the means of controlling that hazard in order to eliminate or minimise the associated risks. (WorkSafe has produced a guideline on how it applies the principle of 'Reasonably Practicable' )
Australian standards, if there are standards relevant to the particular workplace or hazard, are clearly part of the state of knowledge, and so in complying with the general duties in the Act, employers must take into account what these standards recommend.
If you have any OHS related queries or questions, send in an email through the Ask Renata function on the website. You'll get an answer within a couple working days at the latest.
Asbestos management review underway
In October last year, partly in response to the outcomes of the National Asbestos Summit earlier in the year, the Minister for Workplace Relations, Senator Chris Evans, announced the establishment of the Asbestos Management Review. He appointed Mr Geoff Fary, then Assistant Secretary of the ACTU, to chair the review. This week Mr Fary attended the VTHC Asbestos Committee to go through the review's terms of reference and get some initial feedback on what we see the issues as being. He has held talks with a wide range of groups, including unions, asbestos disease support groups, industry groups and government. The next step will be to develop and release an Issues Paper for public consultation sometime in June. The VTHC will be making a submission and urges anyone interested to consider putting in their views. Relevant items will appear in coming editions of SafetyNet announcing the release of the Issues Paper.
Asbestos Management Review website
WA Labour Opposition questions public housing asbestos management
The WA state Opposition Leader, Eric Ripper, has sought clarification from the Government of what steps it is taking to ensure asbestos used in public housing is safe. He said nearly 17,000 Homeswest properties have been identified as containing asbestos. The conservative government dismantled a committee the Labour Party had put in place to address the issue when it was in government. "When they came to Government they inherited a central asbestos management steering commitee," he said. "They abandoned that committee and they've returned the responsibilities to individual agencies, it won't be given the priority that it needs."
Source: ABC Online
Queensland poster on asbestos in homes
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has published a poster [pdf] showing common locations of asbestos-containing materials in houses.
Commission calls for full UK compliance with EU legislation
The European Commission has asked the UK to change provisions in its legislation that exempt some maintenance and repair activities from the scope of the EU's Asbestos Directive. The EU has said the UK authorities are not meeting three clear obligations, which is undermining EU legal protection for workers exposed to asbestos. The request comes in a reasoned opinion under EU infringement procedures. The UK now has two months to bring its legislation into line with EU law, otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer the UK to the EU's Court of Justice.
ETUI Media Release
US resolution on Asbestos Week
The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), a leading U.S. asbestos advocacy and support organization, this week applauded Democrat Senator Max Baucus and co-sponsors for introducing a resolution into the Senate declaring the first week of April as "National Asbestos Awareness Week" to "raise public awareness about the prevalence of asbestos-related diseases and the dangers of asbestos exposure."
ADAO Press Release
Shift worker fatigue 'comparable to drink driving'Unions have long argued that fatigue is one of the major contributors to worker impairment – often in the face of an increasing employer push to test workers for alcohol and/or drug use. A coroner in Rockhampton this week supported our views. Coroner Annette Hennessy, in investigating the deaths of two miners and a police officer has likened the risk of commuting while fatigued to drink driving. Both the miners were driving home after long shifts working at CQ mines. In her recommendations the Coroner is urging the Mines Inspectorate to enforce fatigue-management standards. Industry Safety and Health representative for the CFMEU, Chris Gilbert welcomed the findings. He said fatigue was an ongoing problem for mine workers and many had a strong urge to return home as soon after their shifts finished, especially if they'd made the choice to live a considerable distance from where they work. 'It's a very big issue and it's only going to get worse in the next few years with the boom coming on,' Mr Gilbert said.
Source: The Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton.
AWU 'Guard it or Ban it' campaign timely
As reported in the last edition of SafetyNet, the Australian Workers Union has launched a 'Guard it or Ban it' campaign. With news of a South Australian employer escaping prosecution over a workplace amputation due to a technicality, the campaign is timely. In the case of a worker whose fingertip was amputated while using a hand-held hydraulic cutter to remove the hocks of slaughtered sheep, SafeWork SA had charged the employer under the Act as having "failed to adequately guard the plant so as to prevent the employee from making unintentional contact with the shearing blades." The employer pleaded not guilty, and in January last year Industrial Magistrate Michael Ardlie ruled in its favour. He found that while a guard would have reduced the risk of touching the blades, there was no proof it would have prevented it. This decision was later overturned in June - with Judge Brian Gilchrist finding that "prevent" was a synonym for "hinder" - and the employer appealed. In the Industrial Relations Court, SafeWork SA argued that a guard would have "substantially reduced" the risk of unintentionally touching the blades, which proved there had been an offence. It said if necessary it should be granted leave to amend the complaint. But the judges upheld the employer's appeal, ruling that SafeWork would not be allowed to amend the complaint. AWU Campaign Source OHS Alert.
Hotel workers campaign for respectJulie, a veteran room attendant who until just recently worked at the five star Hilton South Wharf, reveals how, because of the pressure of too many rooms to clean in too little time, she was forced to leave her job. She said, 'We get back injuries, knee injuries; I have chronic pain in my hands from scrubbing bathrooms.' The union, United Voice (previously the LHMU) is urging people to show their support for workers in hotels.
Read more: Hotels with Heart Blog – Julie's story
Union blows whistle on slave wages
The AWU this week 'whisked' a number of Filipino workers off the Maersk Discoverer in the North-West gas-shelf and flew them to Perth, after discovering the sub-contractor had been paying them less than $3 per hour. Paul Howes, AWU National Secretary, said the workers had been brought to Australia under the controversial 456 Visa program. It appears that Maersk, a Danish multinational, sacked the dodgy contractor, soon after the MUA-AWU Offshore Alliance exposed the pay deal. Mr Howes said the his union members on the same vessel earned average annual salaries of $132,000 and the Filipino workers could expect back pay in the tens of thousands of dollars as they had been working on the rig on and off for 18 months.
Workers vote down Patrick's first offerMaritime Workers Union (MUA) members around Australia this week voted down the EBA offered by Patrick Bulk and General Operations. Members had earlier taken protected action across Webb Dock, Melbourne, Fremantle, Albany and Geelong over 28 days, following a further spate of near misses and a criminal conviction against Patrick in the Melbourne courts for discriminating against an OHS Representative. The union had called off all protected action this month to allow the company time to put the offer on the table, the first after 8 months of negotiations. However the union and its members were concerned that key issues of casualisation, safety and career paths were not adequately addressed in the EBA.
Source: MUA News
International Transport Federation news
US aviation unions win on OHS
The ITF reports that US aviation unions have successfully fended off attempts to undermine health and safety on board aircraft. A telephone campaign by members of the ITF-affiliated Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) and a letter to US senators from Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists, led to the defeat in the US Senate on 18 February of an attempt to strip health and safety protections from the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Bill. A proposed amendment which sought to remove the protections for cabin crew and passengers, including sanitation and temperature standards in the aircraft cabin, was rejected by a 52-47 party line vote.
Seafarer boycott of piracy areas 'now possible'
The ITF last week said that in the face the increasingly widespread and brutal piracy epidemic and it is moving closer to advising seafarers to consider avoiding working in all the affected areas – including the Indian Ocean. This came after a week-long consultation sparked by the increasing number and range of Somali pirate attacks, and by their now routine use of extreme violence and death threats against the 800 mariners they are currently holding hostage.
Read more ITF Media Release
Bullying in the public sector still high
Despite the state's efforts, bullying in the Victorian public sector has not improved over the past six years, according to the state government's own research.
The statewide study, Trends in Bullying in the Victorian Public Sector: People Matter Survey 2004 – 2010 [pdf ] has found that 20 per cent of workers are harassed, intimidated or verbally abused by managers or colleagues, while 33 per cent have seen it happen. The rate of bullying in the rest of the Victorian workforce is slightly lower, at 15 per cent .
The health sector, with the highest number of public sector employees, had the highest rates of reported bullying, and the water industry the lowest.
Public sector chiefs say they can't understand why bullying rates have not dropped with the implementation of strategies such as management training. "All we know is that we've tried to break it down…. And have developed mitigation strategies for it. But we're not hiding this as an issue," said Karen Cleave of the State Services Authority, which conducted the study. The SSA has developed a guide, Tackling Bullying [pdf] which draws on the research and offers some practical tips for managers.
Engaged workers more stressed
A recent study by the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has found that 18 per cent of workers said their jobs were highly stressful. The researchers examined the relationship between job stress and worker perceived responsibilities and job characteristics. They surveyed 2737 Alberta adult workers from a variety of sectors, including offices, manufacturing, construction, farming and services.
The study found: more engaged employees were twice as likely to report high stress and the job characteristics associated with stress pointed to workers who were engaged and responsible. Workers were more likely to describe their job as "highly stressful" if they were managers or professionals, worked at a site remote from their home, or if their jobs required them to entertain, travel or work long or variable hours (shift work, being on call, compressed work week or overtime). The odds of being highly stressed also increased for workers if they felt that their poor performance could cause physical injury to themselves or co-workers, or damage to the company's equipment, reputation, or finances.
Source: CCHOS Health Report
CS Dewa, AH Thompson, P Jacobs, Relationships between Job Stress and Worker Perceived Responsibilities and Job Characteristics. [Abstract ] The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol 2, No 1 January (2011)
OHS Harmonisation news
As reported in the last edition of SafetyNet, WorkSafe Victoria is running a number of information sessions across the state over the coming weeks in order to provide the public with the opportunity to ask questions. The regulator hopes that many Victorians will comment on the draft model regulations. WorkSafe has prepared document to assist and provide a basis for discussion. The 80 page document is titled Initial Comparison of the draft model WHS Regulations with Victoria's OHS Regulations 2007 and can be downloaded from the WorkSafe website here
The sessions run from 25 February to 11 March. For more information and to RSVP go to this page [pdf]
Workers' Compensation Stats
Safe Work Australia has released the 2008 - 09 Compendium of Workers' Compensation Statistics. The Compendium provides a detailed analysis of compensated work-related injury and disease among employees in Australia. This is the seventeenth report released as part of the Compendium series.
Preliminary data in the Compendium showed that in 2008-09 there were 223 compensated fatalities and 128 735 serious workers' compensation claims in Australia. This equates to 2.3 fatalities per 100 000 employees and 13 serious workers' compensation claims per 1000 employees. These figures are the reported fatalities at the workplace and successful workers compensation claims, and as a result almost certainly under-represent the true level of occupationally caused death, disease and injury in Australian workplaces.
This view is shared by federal Labor Senator Doug Cameron, who at Senate Estimates recently criticised SWA's notified fatalities reports for understating the number of deaths in Australian workplaces. Prior to entering politics, Senator Cameron was national secretary of the AMWU (the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union).
The Compendium of Workers' Compensation Statistics Australia 2008-09 report is available for download from the Safe Work Australia website.Guidelines released for public comment
EnHealth (the Environmental Health Committee, a subcommittee of the Australian Health Protection Committee) has released two draft documents for public comment:
- Environmental Health Risk Assessment Guidelines for assessing health risks from environmental hazards. This is an update of the 2004 publication of the same name which has played an important role in informing environmental health risk assessments in Australia, providing support for risk assessors, government regulators and policy makers, and as a tool for teaching and training programs, and its companion document,
- Australian Exposure Factor Guidance This is a new document that is intended to provide risk assessors with sets of tabulated data on human factors that may be used as inputs to the exposure assessment component of an environmental health risk assessment.
Prominent panel to review ANSTO health
Senator Kim Carr, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, last week announced that the Australian Government has formed a high-level panel to evaluate health and safety practices at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation radiopharmaceuticals facility – ANSTO Health. This follows several media reports of incidents and accidents at the ANSTO radiopharmaceutical production facility at Lucas Heights ( SafetyNet 208). The panel will be chaired by Mr Mark Paterson AO, Secretary of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. The panel members are Dr Jim Peacock, Mr Grahame Cook and Mr Tim Ayres. Mr Ayres is the NSW Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, and will provide an industrial perspective on current health and safety practices at ANSTO Health. It has been reported that three more employees have made allegations that they were bullied when attempting to raise safety concerns.Comcare OHS Awards
Nominations for the 2011 SRCC Safety Awards, designed to reward and recognise excellence in workplace health and safety, rehabilitation and return to work achieved by employers and individuals covered under the Comcare scheme, are now open. Categories include Best Solution to an Identified Workplace Health and Safety Issue, Best Individual Contribution to Health and Safety (two awarded: Employee, eg health and safety rep, and Employer). Nominations close 18 April, 2011.
WorkSafe has released Health and Safety solutions on;
From WHS Queensland: Workplace health and safety in schools - a practical guide for school leaders [pdf] - designed for people with management responsibility for workplace health and safety in schools, such as principals and assistant principals, and leadership team members responsible for budgets, facilities and purchasing.
Injured worker awarded $1m in damages
The Supreme Court has awarded a young Victorian worker more than $1,000,000 in damages, after finding the employer should not have been permitted to perform heavy manual-handling work alone and without mechanical assistance. The back injury stemmed from two overtime shifts the 23yr old had done which involved lifting and moving a large number of heavy metal springs. He was prescribed mild anti-inflammatories and painkillers, continued to work until the following month, then resigned and moved interstate. He secured a job, but was increasingly restricted by back pain.
Subsequent scans revealed a disc prolapse and he underwent surgery, but his problems persisted and he was deemed unfit for physical work. This also meant he was unable to further pursue a professional boxing career and was unable to play sport. The court found the employer, Trevor Roller Services Pty Ltd, should not have allowed the worker to lift large numbers of heavy springs for several hours without "appropriate manual or mechanical assistance", and had breached its duty of care.
Source: OHS Alert
Safety system too 'time-consuming': worker seriously injured
When a safe system for unloading an overloaded container was abandoned because it took too long, a worker was crushed by seventeen quartz stone slabs and permanently injured. The director had been shown a safe system, but abandoned it and instructed an inexperienced and untrained administrative employee to help him move the slabs. The Victorian company, Brothergreen Group Pty Ltd and its director, Guanlong Lin, pleaded guilty to charges under the OHS Act and Victorian employer and director, and were fined $45,000 and $10,000 respectively. Source: OHS Alert
Skip truck company fined for hitting a pedestrian
An 87 yr old elderly woman was badly injured by a reversing truck while passing the driveway of a demolition site. She then suffered a heart attack in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The company, Melbourne Bin Hire Pty Ltd, which trades as Melbourne's Cheapest Bin Hire, pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that members of the public are not exposed to health or safety risks, and it was fined $20.000.
WorkSafe Victoria's investigation found that the company failed to carry out a hazard identification and risk assessment on skip trucks entering and exiting the site.
Executive Director for Health and Safety Ian Forsyth said that straightforward steps like using another staff member as a spotter, putting a mirror on the fence line so drivers could see the footpath, or ordering drivers to drive slowly and sound their horn when exiting the property, were obvious solutions which the company could have taken to protect pedestrians.
Comcare prosecutes Transpacific Industries – again
Waste disposal company Transpacific Industries (TPI) Pty Ltd – which moved to coverage under Comcare under the Howard government - is again being prosecuted over three separate safety incidents. Comcare previously launched Federal Court proceedings against TPI in December last year over a workplace fatality. The three incidents are:
- An employee in Victoria suffered crush and burn injuries to his hand while operating unguarded machinery.
- A SA employee was burned with sulphuric acid while attempting to change a vacuum hose being used to clean up acid.
- A WA employee's foot was seriously injured when it became caught in a compression machine
Comcare Work Health and Safety General Manager Neil Quarmby said Comcare is concerned at the national pattern of these incidents. 'When mistakes like these are made in the workplace, particularly across three states, there are unfortunate consequences, and so it is timely to take stock and work together to prevent the injury toll,' he said.International News
China: Workers poisoned at Apple supplier
Global company Apple has released its annual review of its global suppliers' labour conditions. Among its results, it stated that 137 workers at a Suzhou (China) factory where the i-Phone's screens are made were seriously injured by the chemical n-hexane. Apple described this as a "core violation" of worker safety, and reported that it had ordered the contractor to stop using the chemical and to improve safety conditions at the plant. Apple also said that it would monitor the medical conditions of those workers. However, in interviews last weekend, several employees who say they were harmed by the chemical said they had never heard from anyone at Apple. The workers reported instead that the contracting company, Wintek, pressured those who were injured to resign and to accept payments in exchange for promising not to hold the company liable.
BP determined most culpable in Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
Although various companies were at fault of in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion which killed 11 workers last April, BP has been established as the most culpable, according to the presidential panel insvestigation. Fred Bartlit, chief counsel of the panel, released his personal final report providing details on the shortcuts, lapses and mismanagement by BP, Halliburton and Transocean that led to the disaster. The report concludes that some of the unaddressed problems with Halliburton, which was doing the cement work which was supposed to contain the oil and gas, dated back to 2007. It also found that a reorganisation of BP's engineering department caused distractions among personnel on the rig that later exploded. It then concluded that lack of communication and awareness between managers on shore and the rig about a failed pressure test at the well was a clue that could have helped prevent the disaster.
Oil Spill Commission Chief Counsel's report Source: Risks 495Europe: EU to phase out six dangerous substances
On 17 February 2011, the European Commission decided to add the first six substances of very high concern (SVHCs) to an authorisation list under the REACH chemicals regulation – this means these chemicals will not be allowed on the market unless their use is covered by an authorisation after the so-called sunset date set for them, stretching between 2014 and 2015. The authorisation requirements apply regardless of the tonnage.
Spain: young building workers suffer most work fatalities
The Autonomous Community of Castilla-La Mancha (Central Spain) has published official findings on the causes of fatal work-related accidents in the region from 2005 to 2007. The report analyses 90 cases, and found the biggest concentration of fatal accidents occurs in the building industry. The under-25s run double the risk. Being an immigrant worker also multiplies the risk. The report's analysis gives a clearer picture of the causes involved in these accidents - the two most implicated in fatalities are work organization and poor prevention management.