Issue 217 - SafetyNet Journal 217Welcome to SafetyNet 217, the latest edition of the VTHC's fortnightly OHS e-journal. If you have any comments or queries, please send them in by emailing OHS Info.
A truck driver was killed at a Campbellfield timber distribution centre on Sunday afternoon. It appears the 56-year-old man was on foot, assisting a forklift driver unload timber from a truck onto shelving. According to Victoria police, investigators were the man was standing near the truck at about 4.40pm, when a stack of timber fell on him and trapped him. Colleagues moved the wood and tried to resuscitate him before fire officers and paramedics arrived but he died at the scene.
WorkSafe attended the scene, and issued the company with two improvement notices, giving it two weeks to improve safety practices relating to unloading of trucks and pedestrian exclusion zones. The worker's death is the third in the past two weeks, and takes the number of traumatic fatalities in Victorian workplaces to eleven this year. Victoria police will prepare a report for the Coroner.
Sources: Victoria Police Online, The Herald Sun, WorkSafe Media Release
More workers complaining of bullying - but few helped
How serious an issue is workplace bullying? According to an article in last weekend's Age newspaper, the number of Victorian workers who have contacted WorkSafe Victoria to complain of workplace bullying as 'skyrocketed' to over 6000 in the past year. This supports what workers are reporting to their unions. However, the Age goes on to report that 'no action was taken on the vast majority of complaints', apparently because 'most fell well short of what constitutes bullying under the law.' Of the 6000 complaints, only 10 per cent were referred to the 'bullying response unit' and of these, only one in 10 led to a workplace visit by an inspector. In other words, 99 per cent of workers who were distressed enough to contact the state's OHS regulator found no action was taken.
Our own experience has been that by the time someone puts in a formal complaint about bullying, they are probably quite distressed. The problems we have encountered have had more to do with 'proving' the behaviour, rather than finding the bullying did not occur or did not 'fit' the legal definition. Also of interest: On July 10 this year, the ABC's Background Briefing recently aired a very informative program on Bullying - it's possible to listen online, download the audio and the transcript.
Bullying and harassment happens all to often in workplaces, and just because little action is (or perhaps can be) taken by the regulator, this does not mean that workers are not seriously affected by it. Such behaviours are toxic in workplaces, and lead to increased levels of stress and other consequences (see next item).
If you feel you are being bullied, then document the daily events. Keep a factual journal in which you record the:
- date, time and details of what happened
- Names of witnesses
- outcome of the event
Comcare calls for action on stress
Recent analysis by Australia's federal work health and safety regulator, Comcare, has found that since 2006–07, there has been a 54% increase in mental stress claims, as a proportion of total accepted claims. The figures show that over the last 12 months, mental stress claims accounted for almost 22% of all serious claims that involved one week or more time off from work. Comcare's analysis found that that while work pressure was previously the main cause of serious mental stress claims, in the last 12 months, the proportion of serious mental stress claims related to harassment or workplace bullying has increased to a level equal to that of work pressure.
Comcare is concerned at the growing proportion of mental stress claims, particularly as injury claims have fallen over the same period. Comcare's Work Health and Safety General Manager, Neil Quarmby, said poor health caused by job stress is fast becoming one of the biggest threats to health and safety in the workplace.
"Clearly this trend could have serious consequences for employees and employers through serious health issues and a significant loss in productivity. I am keen that employers get the message that health and safety at work is not only a physical issue but also increasingly involves mental health as well," Mr Quarmby said. He emphasised that employers needed to urgently address and manage psychosocial risk factors in the workplace, as well as should know the signs of mental ill health among their employees.
Often we feel pushed to take 'short cuts' due to work pressures which are, strictly speaking, inconsistent with formal ohs procedures. What's your advice on this?
My advice is to never take safety shortcuts – even if management, or your supervisor, is breathing down your neck to hurry up. Safe work procedures, which should have been developed in consultation, must be followed. If these procedures are not followed, and something goes wrong, this may result in an injury - but even more than this, a worker can end up losing their job, as a Tasmanian worker recently found out. The worker, a butcher in a large supermarket chain, was issued a first and final warning in July 2010 for cutting meat on a bandsaw without using the machine's sliding guard and clamp. Then in March this year, he injured his thumb, requiring stitches, while again using the bandsaw without the guard and clamp. After a disciplinary meeting three days later, he was sacked. The worker, who was an experienced butcher and had been with the company for 15 years, argued at Fair Work Australia that the termination was harsh because no account was taken of him being subjected to a heavy workload due to a shortage of staff. He said at the time of the first incident he had also felt pressured because a customer was waiting and "you do what you've got to do to get the job done".
However the worker lost his unfair dismissal claim as Deputy President Ives found the employer's policy expressly "forbade placing urgency ahead of safety", and "being busy" did not justify breaching it.
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.
Government ratifies Asbestos and other conventions
On July 28 the Australian government ratified three International Labour Organisation Conventions, including Convention No. 162 - Concerning Safety in the Use of Asbestos. ACTU President Ged Kearney has said Australia's ratification is a significant achievement which sends an important message about the value and respect for workers' rights, and welcomed the Government's commitment to upholding the ILO standards for Australian workers.
The other two conventions ratified are the Protocol to the Occupational Health and Safety Convention 1981 (Protocol No. 155) and the Part-Time Work Convention (Convention 175). "All of these standards provide important safeguards for workers' rights and their ratification is an additional protection," Ms Kearney said. "The ratification also means Australia's compliance with these important standards will be regularly reviewed by the ILO supervisory bodies."
The Asbestos Convention required all states to implement laws and regulations to protect workers against health hazards from exposure in the workplace to asbestos. "Ratification of this convention is an important step in the ongoing efforts for an asbestos-free Australia," Ms Kearney said. "Australia had the highest per capita use of asbestos in the world from the 1950s until the 1980s, but after years of concerted campaigning by unions and other interested groups, the importation, production and use of asbestos was completely banned in Australia in 2003. But there is still much work to be done in ensuring adequate compensation to those affected by the deadly material and to eradicate asbestos in Australia."
ACTU Media Release
National Asbestos Management Review
A reminder: the Asbestos Management Review Issues paper has been released for public comment. The government has asked the Review to make recommendations for the development of a national strategic plan to improve asbestos awareness and management. Aspects to be considered are:
the enhancement of education and public awareness;
the efficacy of asbestos import and export controls;
asbestos removal, handling, storage and disposal;
mandatory reporting and disclosure where asbestos is detected; and
mandatory collection of data and reporting on associated health issues.
The VTHC is in the process of preparing a submission. Submissions close 5pm Friday 9 September. The report must be provided to government by 30 June 2012. To download the Issues Paper, Submission Cover Sheet and Response form, go to the Asbestos Management Review website
Latest GARDS Asbestos News
The latest newsletter (June/July) of the Gippsland Asbestos Related Diseases Support Inc is now available to download [pdf ] from their website. The newsletter has information on the group's activities and their preliminary views with regard to the National Asbestos Management Review (above).
ACTU Working Australia Census
More than 41,000 Australian workers from all industries will help shape future workplace campaigns following their participation in the biggest ever national survey of workers, conducted by unions this year. ACTU President Ged Kearney said the response to the Working Australia Census 2011 had been overwhelming, with workers clearly wanting a say in their future. "An early analysis of Census data has confirmed what unions believed about the cost of living placing increasing stress on workers and their families, while the work-life balance has become more and more difficult to manage," Ms Kearney said. "Australians are working longer and harder but life is not getting easier."
The ACTU, which conducted the survey to ensure that workers had a say in shaping its future campaigns and policies, is now doing a thorough analysis of the survey data. The three winners of the $1000 prizes for participating are: Perth flight attendant Cindy Aitkenhead, Queensland nurse Matthew Dendle and Victorian library technician Lee Pattinson.
ACTU Media Release
More fatigue-related issues in aviation
After the concerns with fatigued Tiger Airline pilots (see SafetyNet 215) news has hit the media that numbers of Jetstar staff have raised their own fatigue concerns. In a major story on the ABC's Lateline program last week, Jetstar staff claimed exhaustion on long-haul flights is common. Some cabin crew are rostered to work 20-hr shifts – which sometimes get extended even further. They said they have raised concerns with senior management numerous times about not being alert enough to handle an emergency; it was revealed that at least 60 complaints have been raised internally regarding serious concerns over fatigue on just the Sydney-Darwin and Sydney-Perth routes alone. Not only are staff concerned about dealing with emergencies, but several crew said in their complaints they were worried about crashing while driving home after a long shift.
The pilots association says the problem is that there is no contracted limit on the number of hours cabin crew can work, unlike their colleagues in the cockpit. "The cabin crew are suffering very badly," Australian and International Pilots Association's Richard Woodward said.
In addition to this, the airline also faces criticism that its overseas employees are treated even worse than their Australian employees. There are clauses their contracts stipulating their shift hours could be extended as necessary and if they're sacked or break their contracts they can be forced to pay back more than four months of their base wages.
WHO backs work-related cancer action call
A new report, published this month in the online journal Environmental Health Perspectives, says urgent action is needed to tackle the occupational and environmental exposures "responsible for a substantial percentage of all cancers."
The authors, Philip J Landrigan of New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Carolina Espina and Maria Neira of the World Health Organisation (WHO) write: "Despite their proven feasibility and cost-effectiveness, efforts to prevent environmental cancers have lagged. In contrast to vigorous and well-coordinated global efforts to prevent cancers caused by tobacco, much more needs to be done in environmental cancer control and to further develop strategies for prevention of environmental causes of cancer."
The paper notes "credible estimates from the WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) suggest that the fraction of global cancer currently attributable to toxic environmental exposures is between 7 per cent and 19 per cent." It adds: "Primary prevention - environmental interventions that halt the exposures that cause cancer - is the single most effective strategy. Primary prevention reduces cancer incidence, and it saves lives and billions of dollars."
The authors summarise the 'Asturias Declaration', which was agreed at a March 2011 WHO-convened conference, saying the "recommendations will also prevent recurrence of such tragedies as the global asbestos epidemic".
Landrigan PJ, Espina C, Neira M. Global prevention of environmental and occupational cancer , Environmental Health Perspectives, volume 119:a280-a281, 2011. doi:10.1289/ehp.1103871. The Asturias Declaration: A call to action [pdf]. Source: Hazards
International Union News
New Zealand: Unions call for recovery of mine dead
Unions in New Zealand and worldwide have called for the recovery of the bodies of 29 miners killed in the 19 November 2010 methane gas blast at Pike River Coal Ltd's colliery. Local union EPMU, Australia's Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and global mining unions' federation ICEM want the miners' remains returned to families before New Zealand's largest underground mine is sold and reopened. At a press briefing in Greymouth, the unionists said it was 'morally irresponsible' for New Zealand's government to allow the trustee of the mine, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to sell the mine and allow production to begin before bodies are recovered. The blast killed 29 miners, including 11 members of EPMU. It was the worst New Zealand mine disaster in 119 years, killing 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two UK citizens, and one South African. A subsequent explosion occurred on 24 November, after which authorities declared the miners dead, and in the days that followed two further explosions occurred. 'Mine workers have a special bond with one another and we will use our influence globally to assure that production at Pike River does not re-start until the bodies are recovered,' said ICEM general secretary Manfred Warda. EPMU National Secretary Andrew Little said New Zealand's government must be mindful that the Pike River catastrophe had reverberations worldwide, highlighting the nation's lax mine safety regulations.
Cambodia: thousands of textile workers faint in terrible conditions
Cambodia's Free Trade Union says unacceptable working conditions in the country's textile factories are related to corruption of government officials. The textile industry is Cambodia's third largest earner, after agriculture and tourism, but with thousands of workers fainting and ending up in hospital, it is now facing strikes and protests over working conditions and pay, several of which have resulted in clashes between the mostly female employees and riot police armed with guns and electric stun batons. Just last week, 300 workers at the Hung Wah textiles factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital, fainted, overcome by the sweltering heat, long shifts and choking stench of chemicals. Some ended up in hospital. Many foreign clothing and footwear brands, including some 'high fashion' brands, manufacture clothing in Cambodia. Some have initiated investigations into the events, saying they place the health and safety of the workers is a 'high priority'.
For example, the 104 faintings over a two-day period in a factory producing footwear exclusively for German company Puma, were probably caused by exposure to chemicals, poor ventilation and exhaustion from excessive hours. The company reacted immediately by 'limiting working time at the factory employing 3,400 people to 60 hours per week and overtime to two hours daily'. It also promised health and safety training in the use and storage of chemicals and medical personnel on site at all times.
Read more: Reuters
Thai Labour Court decision 'shocking'
Last week the Thai Labour Court allowed the dismissal of seven leaders of the SRUT railway workers' trade union for their part in a safety-related industrial action two years ago, and a fine of 15 million Thai Bhat (THB) (approx A$460,000) against them – a decision that has shocked the International Transport Federation (ITF). State Railways of Thailand (SRT) is punishing the union officials for their part in an October 2009 industrial action publicising the deplorable safety failings on the network. In four days that month there were two derailments and one fatal accident which killed seven and injured many others. The driver had had just one rest day in the previous 30 days. His 'deadman's handle' system was not working, and according to the union, only 20 per cent of locomotives were even equipped with such a fundamental piece of equipment.
ITF general secretary David Cockroft said: "The ITF is calling into question the independence and fairness of the court in reaching this decision. We are concerned by the judge's statement that basic safety devices found worldwide on trains are nothing more than 'supplementary devices'. We are similarly sceptical about his having ignored the fact that a recent civil court case, involving a mother who lost her daughter in a railway crash that led to the industrial action, found against the management of SRT, to the tune of THB1 million."
According to the ITF the injustice of this whole affair is exacerbated by legislation that refuses to allow legitimate industrial action in public enterprises. The union will appeal the decision and the ITF strongly cautions the SRT not to try to sack the men before the appeal can be lodged.ITF news release
Farms link to increased blood cancer risks
New research suggests that growing up on a livestock farm is linked to an increased risk of developing blood cancers as an adult. The risk of developing a blood cancer was three times as high for those who had grown up on a poultry farm, according to the study published online in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Previous research linking farmers to increased risk of blood cancers – possibly due to exposure to pesticides or infections as a result of contact with farm animals – focused on adults with little information on potential early life factors. The authors here analysed more than 114,000 death certification records in New Zealand, from 1998 to 2003 for those aged between 35 and 85. They were able to extract information on the usual job of the deceased and that of at least one of the parents for 82 per cent (94,054) of the records. During the study period, just over 3,000 deaths were attributed to blood cancers, and growing up on a livestock farm was associated with a higher risk of developing such a cancer. This association was not apparent for those who had grown up on arable/crop farms, although working on one of these farms as an adult was associated with a higher risk. The analysis showed that the overall risk of developing a blood cancer, such as leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, was 22 per cent higher for those growing up on livestock farm compared with those who had not grown up in this environment. Those growing up on poultry farms were three times as likely to develop a blood cancer as those who had not. Working on a livestock farm as an adult seemed to lessen the risk, with the exception of beef cattle farming, where the risk was three times as high.
Andrea 't Mannetje and others. Farming, growing up on a farm, and haematological cancer mortality, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Online First, 27 July 2011; doi 10.1136/oem.2011.065110 [abstract]. Source: Risks 516
UK: Construction workers nine times more at risk of skin cancer
Just like their Australian counterparts, the UK's 2.4 million construction workers have been warned by the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) that they need protection from potentially deadly over-exposure to the sun. The alert came as new research recently published in SOM's journal, Occupational Medicine, suggested skin cancer in construction workers could be as common as asbestos-related disease. Researchers from the University of Manchester found that some construction workers were up to nine times more likely to get skin cancer than other workers from a similar social group and background. They have a higher risk due to long periods working outside in direct sunlight and ultraviolet rays reflected from nearby surfaces such as concrete, the research concluded. The study also reveals that labourers in building and construction trades have significantly increased incidence of other health conditions because of their work compared with other workers. Dr Raymond Agius, who led the research team, said: 'Construction workers are an important focus of our research. Many are unaware that their work can put their health at risk of a whole range of conditions including asbestos induced tumours, serious skin conditions and skin cancer.' SOM said that by prioritising and targeting employees who work in the construction sector with preventive measures, lives can be saved. 'Workers in the construction industry suffer from a lack of occupational health provision and this also needs to be addressed and improved,' said SOM president Dr Henry Goodall.
WorkSafe investigating serious burns
An explosion at a car wrecker's factory in Campbellfield last week left a man with burns to more than half his body in Melbourne. Both WorkSafe and the MFB are investigating the blast, which occurred while the 32 year old was believed to be stripping the car and removing an LPG cylinder at the time the explosion occurred. He self evacuated and jumped the neighbouring fence into the secured property next door. When firefighters arrived, they had to cut through cyclone fencing to gain access to him. He suffered second degree burns to 60 per cent of his body and was taken to Alfred Hospital in a serious but stable condition. It took 25 firefighters an hour to control the blaze, which caused extensive damage.
Sources: MFB, Hume Leader
Health and Safety Harmonised Legislation - update
Safe Work Australia members meeting
Safe Work Australia members met on 29 July, to consider and endorse the draft model Work Health and Safety Regulations, the first stage Codes of Practice and the National Compliance and Enforcement Policy. After much discussion, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) was the only member to not endorse the 'package', on the basis that there had been 'too little time' to fully consider the draft regulations. The ACCI also declined to agree to the Decision Regulatory Impact Statement being presented to Workplace Relations Ministers' Council (WRMC) pending endorsement and comments from the Office of Best Practice Regulation.
New codes in development
Safe Work Australia has announced it intends to develop two new model Codes of Practice to provide advice on minimising the hazards of Vibration and Blood-borne Pathogens in the workplace by the end of 2012. The Blood-borne Pathogens Code will be developed from a review of the NOHSC National Code of Practice for the Control of Work-related Exposure to Hepatitis and HIV (Blood-borne) Viruses. There is currently no national code of practice on vibration. Both of these Codes are to be developed within the framework of the new national Work Health and Safety legislation.
Safe Work is running a number of public consultation workshops to hear ideas on the scope, application and approach to these two codes. Workshops are expected to run from 9:30 am until 4:00 pm and in Melbourne will be on 15 September (Vibration) and 16 September (Blood Borne Pathogens) at the Royal Society of Victoria Building Lecture Theatre, 9 Victoria Street, Melbourne.
WorkSafe Victoria has produced a 'brief guide' on the Work Health and Safety legislation harmonisation - What's changing in Victoria The guide provides information on changes to a number of areas:
Terms and definitions – for example: the use of the term 'Person conducting a business or undertaking' and the expanded definition of 'worker'
Duties under the Act
Health and Safety Representatives – rights and elections
WorkSafe's National work health and safety reform webpage
More recently produced/updated material from WorkSafe Victoria
Isolating plant – Checklist This Checklist can be used to develop, assess and monitor the health and safety processes for maintenance and non-production tasks. WorkSafe advises that the Guidance Note: Isolating plant, should be read before completing this checklist.
Contractor management - Checklist This checklist can be used to develop, assess and monitor processes to ensure the safety of contractors, including those doing maintenance and non-production tasks. WorkSafe advises the Guidance Note: Contractor management should be read before completing this checklist.
Benefits of Returning an Injured Worker to Work - This fact sheet will help communicate the benefits of returning an injured worker to work to their manager and supervisor.
From WorkSafe WA: a safety alert Use of safety harnesses on elevating work platforms [pdf].
The July edition of SkinDeep [pdf] – The Skin & Cancer Foundation's newsletter. The journal has an interesting article on Vitamin D deficiency, exacerbated over the winter months.
EPA prosecution Brooklyn
Not a WorkSafe prosecution, but interesting to HSRs nevertheless: EPA Victoria has issued $18,000 of fines and required companies in the Brooklyn area to conduct almost $2m of works to fix problems at their sites. Pollution Abatement Notices were issued to Australian Tallow Producers Pty Ltd and Tasman Logistics Pty Ltd who have to fix odour and dust issues.
EPA has prohibited Australian Tallow Producers in Geelong Road from storing product and waste outside. The company will also need to undertake works to entirely seal their building and ensure all emissions are treated by an appropriate air treatment system. There were over 100 community complaints for odour in the 2010-11 financial year alone. Charges were also laid for three separate incidents last year, two with regard to odour and the other, a tallow spill to Kororoit Creek.
The second company, Tasman Logistics, a site identified with substantial dust issues, will need to seal all roads and car parks onsite and install wheel wash and wheel grates to minimise dust and mud.
EPA Media Release
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work resources
- Maintenance and work-related road safety This e-fact provides occupational safety and health information and advice that are specific to maintenance activities. As well as identifying risks that maintenance workers face in a particular sector or task, it gives examples of good practice in dealing with them.
- Napo in … Safe moves- The famous cartoon character Napo shows that workplace transport must be well organised to reduce risks and manage hazards properly. This requires planning and monitoring by senior managers, risk assessment and appropriate action by employees who should be trained. Scenes include site, people and vehicle safety, maintenance, visibility, reversing and loading. The latest film (and others) can be viewed on this webpage.
- Factsheet - Preventing vehicle transport accidents at the workplace (in various languages)
Italy: Versace announces ban on sandblasting
After an intensive campaign launched by the Clean Clothes Campaign and recently hosted by Change.org, the Italian textile brand Versace announced last week that it will join other denim manufacturers around the globe in calling for a ban on the practice of sandblasting. After many months of silence, Versace now say they agree that the sandblasting operators who make the finishings on the jeans run unacceptable health risks. Previously they had refused to join the call for a ban and refused to provide details of their production.
The Clean Clothes Campaign says they will be following up with the brand to provide information as to how they will be implementing the ban and monitoring their supply chains. In addition, the campaign will continue to put pressure on those jeans brands which have still not agreed to ban sandblasting from their supply chains.
Read more Clean Clothes Campaign news release
Japan: 1600 workers face high radiation exposure
In a newly released document, the Japanese government has estimated 1,600 nuclear workers will be exposed to high levels of radiation (more than 50 millisieverts) while battling to stabilise the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. The document also raises concerns about the safety of dozens of other nuclear reactors in the country, warning that with so many nuclear workers at Fukushima exposed to such high doses of radiation, they may not be able to work at other plants in the coming months. The document was produced by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is in charge of regulating Japan's nuclear industry, after the Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center requested the information be made public.
The Japanese government raised the radiation exposure limit from 100 millisieverts per year to 250 after the disaster occurred so workers could remain at the Fukushima site.
Source: ABC Online, Time Online