Issue 212 - SafetyNet Journal 212Welcome to this new edition of SafetyNet, stay informed with national and international news and the latest upcoming events.
Start planning now for International Workers Memorial Day
Thursday April 28 is International Workers Memorial Day – and if you're either in Melbourne or Gippsland, there's an event you should try to attend. All year we struggle to make our workplaces safer, and this is the one day, when all around the world we pause to remember the dead and fight for the living. The Melbourne event will take place at 10.30am, at the Memorial Rock, Trades Hall, at the corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton South. The Gippsland event will take place at 11am at the Centenary Rose Garden, Commercial Road, Morwell.
For those who cannot attend, then do something at your workplace – go to this page on the website for more information on the events, the history of International Workers' Memorial Day and some ideas on what you could do on the day.
I have been told that we are to wear harnesses when working in overhead travelling platforms but when quizzed my safety officer could not supply me with any WorkSafe documents to support this. Where can I obtain this information?
The relevant piece of legislation is Part 3.3 of the Regulations, "Prevention of Falls".
While the regulations do not specify wearing harnesses, what they DO require is that if work is being carried out at a height of more than 2 metres, then the employer has duties to identify the hazard, and then take actions (according to a specified hierarchy) to either eliminate the risk of falling or minimise the risk. What this requires is that the employer controlling the risk by beginning at the top (doing the task on the ground or on a solid construction) and if there is still a risk of a fall, then moving to the next step, implementing that control as far as reasonably practicable and if a risk still exists, moving down to the next step, and so on.
Wearing a harness while working on moving platforms is the control specified at Step 3. WorkCover NSW has just released a Safety Alert (see below, under 'Useful Materials) following an incident in which a painter died after falling 10 metres from an elevated work platform.
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.
Fatigued pilots told to 'toughen up, princesses'
The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) has described as 'worrying' the defensive and dismissive response of Jetstar management to an email concerning fatigue, which was tabled at a Senate inquiry in Canberra yesterday. The email was sent by a pilot managing rostering at Jetstar's Perth base, and was written in response to a pilot who had complained that the Singapore-Denpasar-Perth-Melbourne-Perth route left him so tired that he was unable to function to the best of his abilities. A senior pilot who manages rostering at Jetstar's Perth base, admitted it was a "horror shift", but told colleagues who fly the route: "Toughen up, princesses. You aren't fatigued, you are tired and can't be bothered going to work." He went on to say: "I hate the shift and I definitely don't operate to my normal standard. I am tired throughout the shift, but would not call it fatigued."
An AIPA vice president, Captain Richard Woodward, said "Fatigue is a very serious issue which deserves to be treated seriously."
AIPA Media Release More information on Fatigue
New laws could see bullies jailed
In 2009, four men were charged and found guilty under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act following the tragic death of 19 year old Brodie Panlock who suicided after serious and prolonged bullying by three of the men who were her work colleagues. The fourth man charged was the owner of the company who pleaded guilty to two charges including failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment. In laws introduced in the Victorian Parliament last week, prompted by Brodie's suicide in 2006, bullies could now face up to ten years in jail. Attorney-General Robert Clark said that under the new laws serious bullying will be treated as stalking if it could cause someone physical or mental harm. The ACTU welcomed the new penalties for workplace bullying but emphasised that employers had a duty to provide safe workplaces in which bullying does not occur in the first place.
Bullying rife in Victorian public service
A recent survey of almost 19,000 Victorian public servants commissioned done by the State Services Authority has found that 21 per cent of these workers experienced some form of bullying during 2010, and one in three witnessed bullying. This rate is higher than bullying reported by public servants in other states. Health care workers and those in the education system reported the highest rates of bullying. The true level of bullying is probably much higher, with only 22 per cent of bullied public servants making a formal complaint. The report suggests that this might be due to the fear of negative consequences resulting from reporting. Karen Batt, state secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union said, "A lot (of bullying) stems from work overload, excessive demands, under-resourcing. The government is the employer, as well as the regulator, and it does need to look at the resourcing of programs .. to deliver services to the state."
In extremely concerning news, reports in the two major daily newspapers last weekend revealed that the state's own health and safety watchdog, WorkSafe Victoria, has bullying problems in its own ranks. An independent investigator has been appointed to look into the allegations. Ms Batt warned that the climate of fear was developing at WorkSafe, noting that a government plan to cut 1 per cent on non-payroll costs could worsen the problem by putting workers under greater stress.
MUA push for wharf safety continues one year on
One year on from the tragic death of Sydney waterside worker NIck Fanos, family and workmates at Patrick, Port Botany honour their dead. Patrick Port Botany terminal stopped at 2pm change of shifts on March 28 as workmates and family of the late Nick Fanos, tragically killed in a job accident on one year before, held a memorial service and wreath laying. Members from DP World, Cargolink and Ativo maintenance also attended the service, conducted by the family's Greek orthodox priest. The memorial service comes as the union ramps up its push for national regulation and training to make the wharves safe. Nick Fanos was one of three wharfies killed in job accidents last year.
International Union news: UK call for 'sweat free' London 2010
A UK campaign coalition has called for the London Olympics next year to be 'sweat free'. Playfair 2012 , which brings together unions and campaigning groups, has called on International Olympic Committee (IOC) members to ensure all workplaces in the many Olympic and sportswear supply chains are free from poverty wages, insecure employment and excessive hours, and that the workers are allowed to join unions. IOC members were in London last week for a two-day board meeting on the London Games. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber handed the IOC representatives letters from trade unionists around the globe calling for fair treatment for workers producing Olympic merchandise, including a clause in the Olympic charter and in its code of ethics ensuring that all companies involved in the manufacture of sportswear and other Olympic branded products do not exploit or abuse their workforce.
They warn that workers in China, Indonesia and Turkey who were employed to make goods for previous Games complained of extreme pressure to meet production quotas, dangerous working conditions, extremely long hours and low wages. Brendan Barber said: 'We want British sports fans who are applying for tickets to Olympic events in 2012 to be able to do so safe in the knowledge that no worker has suffered making any sportswear or merchandise going on sale between now and next summer.' He added: 'There has been exploitation and ill-treatment in the run up to every previous Olympic Games, and we fear that such abuses are unlikely to have disappeared completely. Only the IOC can stop those abuses for good, and we want them to put the Olympic ideal of fair play into practice in their code of ethics.'
WHO calls for primary prevention of work cancers"Many cancers caused by environmental and occupational exposures can be prevented. Primary prevention - prevention of the exposures that cause cancer - is the single most effective means of prevention", says the World Health Organization (WHO) in its Asturias Declaration adopted at an international conference on the occupational and environmental determinants of cancer held March 17 & 18 this year. The declaration [pdf]
Longer office hours increase risk of heart disease
According to recent research from the University College London (UCL), people who work an 11-hour day compared to those who work a standard seven or eight hours increase their risk of heart disease by a huge 67 percent. The research tracked 7,095 British public service workers aged between 39 and 62 for 11 years (data from the famous Whitehall II study). Over the course of the study, 192 participants suffered a heart attack. Andrew Steptoe, the British Heart Foundation professor of psychology at UCL, said that after taking factors such as blood pressure, diabetes and smoking into account, finding out how long people work will add to understanding of heart disease.
Professor Steptoe said the increased risk could be associated with stress, or it could be to do with other factors in peoples' lives – "if you are spending 11 hours at work you are spending less time with the people you may love and like to be with. But we do know that work is associated with increases in stress hormones and various other biological changes which might themselves increase the risk of heart disease," he added.
Source: The Australian. MRC News Release
Kivimäki M, et al Using additional information on working hours to predict coronary heart disease: A cohort study [abstract] Ann Intern Med (April 5, 2011).
More bad news for sedentary workers
Australian research recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has found that long-term sedentary work may increase the risk of colon and rectal cancer. Researchers from the University of Western Australia collected data on lifestyle, physical activity and life-time job history in a population-based case-control study of colorectal cancer in WA. A total of 918 cases and 1021 controls participated in the study. Compared with participants who did not spend any time in sedentary work, those who spent 10 years or more in such work had almost twice the risk of distal colon cancer and a 44 per cent increased risk of rectal cancer. This association was independent of recreational physical activity and was evident even in the most recreationally active participants.
Boyle, et al Long-Term Sedentary Work and the Risk of Subsite-specific Colorectal Cancer [abstract] Am. J. Epidemiol. (2011) kwq513 first published online March 18, 2011 doi:10.1093/aje/kwq513
Welders at Risk of Neuronal Damage
In recent years there have been increasing concerns about the potential for neurologic damage among welding workers because of exposure to components of welding fumes, particularly manganese. In a study sponsored by a number of organisations, including the Michael J Fox Foundation, researchers in the US have found that welders who have occupational exposure to manganese fumes may in fact be at risk for developing parkinsonism-like neuronal damage.
OHS Harmonisation news – public comment now closed
The period for public comment on the Model regulations, the first 'tranch' of Codes of Practice, and the Regulatory Impact Statement has now closed. By April 8 Safe Work Australia had received over 1300 submissions, including a 96 page submission from the VTHC. The length of our submission gives some idea of the level of concern we have with both some fundamental issues and the detail. While our concerns centre on changes which we believe will deliver fewer protections to workers and reduce the rights of elected reps, some employer organisations are arguing the model laws will give workers too much power! The Federal Opposition, in a not-unexpected attack, has also branded the model laws 'unworkable' citing claims from business that they are 'too complex'.
But in a media release earlier this week, Safe Work Australia Chair, Mr Tom Phillips AM, said the objective of the harmonisation process was not to reduce the size of Work Health and Safety regulation but to ensure uniform safety standards are in place in each jurisdiction throughout Australia. This is consistent with the requirements of the Inter-Governmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety. "This exercise is about harmonisation and putting everyone on the same page, it is not rationalisation or reform," said Mr Phillips.
South Australia last week became the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce the model Work Health and Safety Bill to its Parliament. State Industrial Relations Minister Bernard Finnigan said the South Australian Government had been at the forefront of the harmonisation process in the last three years, and had been working actively with South Australian employer and employee groups, SafeWork SA and Safe Work Australia. All jurisdictions are expected to enact legislation that mirrors the model Act by 1 January 2012. Media Release [pdf]
From WorkCover NSW:
Safety alert: Preventing the collapse of excavations [pdf ] following an incident in which a worker was fatally crushed by an unsupported trench wall to highlight the need for employers and principal contractors to ensure the stability of excavations before workers enter them.
Safety alert: Overturned boom-type elevating work platform (EWP) [pdf ] following an incident in which a painter died after falling 10 metres from an overturning boom-type EWP to highlight the need for EWP operators to know the dangers of operating such machines.
Logistics Company faces Comcare prosecutionComcare has launched Federal Court proceedings against logistics employer BIS Industries Ltd, after a worker was seriously injured in a confined-space fall in July 2009. The worker fell 1.5 metres at a steelworks, sustaining spinal injuries. Comcare has alleged that BIS failed to provide a safe working environment, and said such falls could be avoided through vigilance and improved systems of control. The company faces fines of over $240,000.
'Horseplay' deemed harassment
A young Tasmanian apprentice chef worker who suffered depression after being sexually harassed by his male manager has been awarded damages of $8000 "for his distress, humiliation and injury to his feelings", to be paid by the manager himself.
The young worker told the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal that in his eight months at Lucks Restaurant in Launceston the manager regularly lifted him up, touched him on the bottom, showed him his genitals and made sexually explicit comments, including threats to anally penetrate him and his mother. Eventually the worker resigned, then sought counselling for depression, self-harming, binge drinking and suicidal ideation.
Tribunal Member Catherine Rheinberger heard that while such "banter and horseplay" were common at the workplace, the apprentice had been targeted more often than others because of his size (45kg).
Huge Safety Bonuses for Gulf spill Executives
In news that will baffle workers around the world, Transocean, the company that owned the BP drilling platform at the centre of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster has given its executives big pay rises, bonuses and stock options after the company's "best year" for safety. This is despite the explosion which killed eleven workers and caused a massive oil spill into the Gulf.
Patting themselves on the back, Transocean, in a filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said, "Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record as measured by our total recordable incident rate and total potential severity rate."
Nine of the eleven people killed in the April 20, 2010 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon platform were Transocean employees. Seventeen other people were wounded.
Source: ABC News Online
Meanwhile, BP executives may face jail for manslaughter
While Transocean Execs get rewarded, managers of UK oil multinational BP could face manslaughter charges when prosecutors in the United States conclude their criminal investigation into the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The possibility of these and other charges at the US Justice Department has put new pressure on the shares of the energy giant. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not identify those managers at risk of individual charges. Involuntary manslaughter, if proven, could carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison. They also stressed that no decisions had been made and the criminal inquiry is still some way off being finalised. Suggestions that prosecutors are also considering opening a perjury investigation implies that investigators are re-examining testimony given by BP executives, including that of former CEO, Tony Hayward, during congressional hearings. A decision to prosecute individuals within BP as well as the company itself would be an unusual step since it is normally the corporations themselves that are targeted. It would be seen as further evidence of the Obama administration's determination to take the toughest line possible with the company and make an example of it in this case. 'They typically don't prosecute employees of large corporations,' noted Jane Barrett, a law professor at the University of Maryland. 'You've got to prosecute the individuals in order to maximise, and not lose, the deterrent effect.'
Health Impacts of Gulf Oil Spill Still Unknown
One year after the explosion, a study of workers involved in the cleanup of the spill is barely under way, according to researchers, and will likely not be able to gauge all the effects on people or the environment. Bernard Goldstein, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues have reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that although the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is conducting a study of 55,000 workers who were involved in the cleanup, there are many uncertainties.
The study is open-ended, lacking specific endpoints, and wasn't funded until at least six months after the disaster, they wrote – this could introduce recall bias among the patients, and limits the use of biologic markers of exposure. Generally, the potential health consequences of oil spills fall into four categories: toxicologic effects, worker safety, mental health effects, and ecosystem effects. With regards to worker safety, the researchers said there are fewer studies on long-term health consequences.