Issue 228 - SafetyNet 228
The staff at the VTHC OHS Unit welcomes subscribers to the first edition of SafetyNet for 2012 – a short but still informative one we trust, and hope that everyone had a safe and happy holiday.
WorkSafe urges improvements in safety as young boy killed
In a tragic start to the year, a four-year-old boy was killed on January 6 on a property at Wandella, near Kerang. WorkSafe investigators went to the scene to assist the police prepare a brief for the coroner. It appears the child was near a hay bale spike (similar to forklift tines) which was to be fitted to a tractor when it fell on him.
On the same day a 47-year-old Sebastapol man suffered a major electric shock near Ballarat while setting up speakers for a road-cycling event at the weekend. According to WorkSafe, the man received an electric shock when a speaker cable came into contact with a power-line. He was taken to hospital but there have been no subsequent reports on his condition.
WorkSafe Media Release: Two major incidents in one day prompts urgent safety call
In another fatality as a result of a workplace incident, an 84-year-old woman died earlier this week when the trolley she was lying on collapsed at the Wimmera Base Hospital at Horsham in western Victoria. While investigations are continuing, WorkSafe understands the woman was lying on a mobile showering trolley when one of the side guard rails dropped, resulting in her falling to the floor and sustaining head injuries. She died that evening. WorkSafe investigators were reported to be looking into the hospital's maintenance regimes, examining the trolley itself and assisting in the preparation of a report for the coroner.
Source: ABC online, WorkSafe Media Release
New Year's Eve fireworks end in tragedy
Illegal fireworks on New Year's Eve have claimed the life of a 34-year old father of two. In the incident, which occurred at the family home in the western suburb of Tarneit, the man suffered massive head injuries when a 'mortar-style' firework went off in his face. He died in hospital on the night of 1 January. It is illegal to buy, sell or use fireworks in Victoria unless the person has been issued with a license from WorkSafe Victoria - that is by licensed pyrotechnicians (read more: Licence to use fireworks)
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said that the illegal fireworks that turned the festive season into a tragedy for this family are a growing menace. While the police have been aware that fireworks have been sold covertly in places such as Footscray Market and Victoria Street, Richmond, Mr Walshe said he believed the problem was escalating.
Source: The Age
ACTU launches new OHS campaign and website
The ACTU has begun the year with a 'Speak Up' OHS campaign aimed at ensuring workers know they have the right to elect a health and safety representative and to 'speak up' on ohs issues. In some jurisdictions, workers have enhanced rights under the newly implemented health and safety laws. ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick, said it was important to educate workers on these enhanced rights to elect health and safety representatives under the new system. 'Workers need to know that when they are confronted by a health or safety issue in their workplace, they don't have to deal with it alone,' Borowick said. 'They have an iron-clad right, under law, to elect their own health and safety representatives. These reps act as watchdogs within the workplace, making employers comply with the law well before regulators have to become involved. They have rights to stop work and demand improvements when there are health or safety concerns.'
ACTU Media Release
My colleagues and I have worked in an office for about 18 months with air-conditioned temperatures at 14-15°C. We have all complained of cold causing pain in back and extremities. Conditions are so poor that several staff are discussing leaving the job. What options do we have considering we have been asking management to sort this out for about the last 18months?
While office temperature may not seem to be a 'serious' occupational health and safety issue, offices that are either too hot or, worse, too cold not only make working unpleasant and uncomfortable, but can affect the health of workers. Too often the air-conditioning is set too high and especially in summer, when we tend to wear lighter clothes, and the temperature outdoors is warmer, cold offices can be a real problem.
OHS legislation does not specify what the minimum or maximum temperature of workplaces must be, but the employer has a general duty of care under the Act to provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment (so far as reasonably practicable), and this includes temperature. You'll also see that the employer has a duty to monitor conditions at the workplace - and this includes monitoring the temperature of the workplace, as well as monitoring the health of workers.
The Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and environment then sets out what the employer needs to do to comply. The Code states: "Optimum comfort for sedentary work is between 20°C and 26°C, depending on the time of year and clothing worn." For more detailed advice go to Offices: Temperature and humidity – what are the "rules"?
In your case, what you should do is raise the issue with the employer as an ohs issue, preferably through your elected health and safety representative, and have the information ready. If your employer says there is nothing he/she can do as the control of the building's air-conditioning system is central, then let him know that the person (includes company) with management and control of a workplace also has duties – see this page
Don't forget that if you have any OHS - related queries or questions, send in an email through the Ask Renata function on the website. You'll get a response within a couple of working days at the latest.
EPA rejects funding for Gippsland mobile asbestos facility A request for funding for the "world's first" mobile asbestos disposal facility, designed to provide a quarantined environment to dispose of asbestos safely, was rejected by the Environment Protection Agency in November following a submission by the Gippsland Regional Waste Management Group. The group will now need to seek alternative sources of funding.
Gippsland Asbestos Related Diseases Support group secretary Vicki Hamilton, a key driver of the project, said she was shocked the EPA would not be providing the funding. 'It's the first of its kind in the world and here is the EPA lagging behind; I'm quite shocked that they can't afford a few hundred thousand dollars for such a worthwhile project,' Ms Hamilton said. More than three years had gone into developing plans for the facility, which were at a construction-ready stage, in conjunction with the GRWMG and mobile building developer Event Studios Australia.
Source: Latrobe Valley Express GARDS December Newsletter [pdf]
NSW: Asbestos Victims Get Cash BoostThe NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner last week announced funding of almost $7million for two research institutes based at Concord hospital. Asbestos Diseases Research Institute director Professor Nico van Zandwijk said the $3.5 million grant it would receive was for a translational program, which would take discoveries made in labs and studies to clinical application stage to reduce cancer incidence, morbidity and mortality. 'That means research in our lab will translate into clinical practice,' he said. 'That includes prevention, diagnosis, drafting guidelines. It even includes palliative care.' He said although the institute had received previous grants, the money would fund its work for the next five years.
A further $3.47 million was given to a team at the Anzac Research Institute, also based at Concord Hospital, and the University of Sydney for diagnosis and treatment of blood cancers.
Source: The Inner West Courier
US Asbestos group recognises Steve McQueenIn December last year, SafetyNet reported on the death of Australian actor Harold Hopkins. In the US, actor Steve McQueen is to be honoured posthumously by the asbestos disease advocacy group ADAO with its "Keep Me in Your Heart" memorial tribute award. McQueen starred in dozens of films including the The Great Escape (1963), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Bullitt (1968), and Papillon (1973). He died in November 1980 after being diagnosed a year earlier with pleural mesothelioma. His wife, Barbara Minty McQueen, will accept the award on her late husband's behalf at ADAO's annual conference scheduled for March 30-April 1, 2012 in Los Angeles, CA. After learning about the award Barbara McQueen said, 'Steve's death was a long and painful ordeal and my heart goes out to those who have been exposed to asbestos as well as their loved ones. We're all in the same family and I commend ADAO for the great work they do on behalf of asbestos awareness.'
Source: The Pump Handle
Vic Premier promises action on Fiskville cancer cluster
As reported in the
SafetyNet 226 and 227 a cluster of cancer cases has emerged amongst workers and locals exposed to a number of carcinogenic chemicals used at the Country Fire Authority's main training college at Fiskville, west of Melbourne. Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, this week vowed that the 'right action' would be taken for those people. He made the promise in a letter sent to Ms Meagan Clauscen, the daughter of the former CFA chief officer Brian Potter, who has contracted cancer and a rare autoimmune disease. Both Ms Clauscen and the Herald Sun, where the item was reported, as well as the Firefighters' Union, are calling for an independent investigation, and hope that this will be part of the 'right action' promised by Mr Baillieu.
Source: Herald Sun
Is your workplace proactive and innovative?
If so, then it's not too late for your workplace to participate in a WorkSafe funded (but independently-run) bullying prevention project on bullying. As reported in SafetyNet 227, the team running the TOP DOWN BOTTOM UP BULLYING PREVENTION PROJECT, is looking for small to medium (up to 200 employees) workplaces in the manufacturing, hospitality or retail sector to participate in developing an ongoing collaborative approach to bullying that is more than compliance. Designed as an intensive prevention/early intervention program, Top Down Bottom Up is both innovative and unique. The project will involve both management and elected health and safety reps (or if no reps, then employee reps) in either intensive training/coaching or seminar attendance.
SafetyNet's item has led to a number of workplaces contacting the team, so if you think your workplace has a capacity to implement change in the workplace level and does not have a current unresolved bullying issue (the project has a prevention focus), then contact the project team directly for more information – but do it quickly! Either phone or email: Brian Martin Tel: 0400 939 800 or Deb Ferguson Tel: 0410 212 001
Detention centre staff report serious safety concerns
According to an item in this week's Herald Sun, Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre staff have compiled a report for WorkSafe Victoria which they hope will trigger a workplace safety review. Concerns include drug use and assaults and staff claim detention services provider Serco has failed to address complaints.
The Herald Sun reports that alleged incidents include a staff member being told to "toughen up" after complaining of an assault by a detainee, and that another detainee who choked a security officer was placed in an observation room for only seven minutes.
Source: Herald Sun
And in breaking news: Fulham Prison riot over
There were dramatic scenes at the Fulham Prison near Sale in Eastern Victoria yesterday and overnight as about 30 inmates armed with gym and gardening tools refused to return to their cells, rioted, lit fires in rubbish bins and stormed the roof. The prison was placed in lock-down, with negotiators and heavily-armed police sent in. By the evening, eleven of the inmates were still on the roof, but surrendered at about 3am when prison staff and members of the Corrections Victoria Security and Emergency Services Group used capsicum spray and high pressure hoses. It appears no-one was injured.
Karen Batt, secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union Victoria, said the union had written to jail management last November. 'Increased prisoner numbers, a reduction in staff, earlier lockdown of the prisoners and a limitation on the access of rehab programs as a cost-cutting exercise is a recipe for disaster,' Ms Batt told the ABC. Further, prisoners were able to access gym equipment and untethered knives to use as weapons against guards.
Ms Batt said the prison had failed to act on her advice and the union now wants to meet with the minister. She said the jail, run by Australasian Correctional Management (ACM), was built to accommodate around 650 prisoners and is now home to about 840. "We want the minister to meet with a delegation of our members so he can hear first-hand of the concerns they have about how the prison is running," Ms Batt said.
Sources: The Australian, ABC Online
UnionsWA slams paltry fines for negligent company over death
Unions in Western Australian have lambasted the state's workplace safety laws after the Supreme Court this week reduced the fines for a company and its directors who were found negligent in the workplace death of a 22 year old worker. Luke Murrie was killed when a section of crane fell on him in 2007. The company and its two directors were convicted and fined in the Magistrates court for allowing workers to use an "inherently dangerous" method to lift crane parts. The Supreme Court judge dismissed appeals against the convictions, but ruled that the original $180,000 be halved.
UnionsWA Secretary Simone McGurk said the thoughts of the union movement were with the young man's family. Despite the anguish of dealing with their son's death, four years of on-going pain as the legal case proceeded, the family had been active in campaigning for strong work safety laws. The peak council has also called for the State Government to immediately sign up to new national workplace safety laws that include increasing the maximum penalty for negligent employers who are responsible for a workplace death. 'The penalties for negligent employers must be increased not reduced. They need to be high enough to deter employers from taking shortcuts and risking the safety of their employees,' said McGurk.
UnionsWA Media Release
International Union News
Freeport union halts return to work after ambush killingsWorkers at the giant Indonesian gold and copper mine owned by US company Freeport-McMoRan have halted their gradual return to work one day after gunmen shot two contractors dead on the road to the Grasberg mine, a union spokesman said. It was unclear whether the halt also affected production at the mine in the central highlands of Papua. 'This terror is like a monster for us, the workers,' union spokesman Juli Parorrongan said. 'Every day the workers ask who is going to be the next victim,' he said, adding that no more workers would return until police ensure the safety of the mine road. Workers had been slowly returning to Grasberg in the wake of a three-month strike over pay that crippled production at the world's second-biggest copper mine and shook labour relations in Indonesia, southeast Asia's largest economy. Approximately 2,000 workers had returned to Grasberg with approximately 7,000 others waiting to be transported by bus to the mine.
WorkSafe Victoria CE announces retirement
Greg Tweedly, Chief Executive of WorkSafe Victoria, this month announced he would not be seeking a new contract when his current one expires in March. However at the request of the board Mr Tweedly has made himself available to remain in the role until July while a comprehensive recruitment process takes place and to oversee the development of WorkSafe's next five year strategy.
SafetyNet's editor, Renata Musolino, said the VTHC had worked closely with Mr Tweedly since his appointment to the position in 2003, and wished him well in whatever new challenges he takes on in the future. 'Mr Tweedly has been a great supporter of the OHS Reps @ Work website,' said Musolino, 'and we hope that the next Chief Executive will continue to provide the same level of support.'
The announcement came four weeks after the state government announced in a revised budget outlook that $471.5 million would be taken from Victoria's workplace insurance scheme over four years and funnelled into general revenue, the first time this has occurred. WorkSafe is funded through WorkCover premiums. WorkSafe Victoria has been able to operate effectively 'in the black' as well as regularly lower the insurance premiums on the state's employers. The VTHC is concerned that the changed funding arrangements will limit some of WorkSafe's core compliance and enforcement activities.
Source: The Age WorkSafe Media Statement
Five jurisdictions now 'in' A reminder to our subscribers in other states and territories: the harmonised Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation officially commenced in five out of the nine Australian jurisdictions on 1 January 2012. The five jurisdictions are: the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. For more specific information on the legislation in each of these jurisdictions, go to this page of the website to access their legislation websites. Transitional Principles have been developed by Safe Work Australia to ensure a co-ordinated approach is taken to implementation, and that so far as possible jurisdictions adopt harmonised transitional arrangements. as agreed nationally, are also in place.
Because the Commonwealth's date of commencement for the Work Health legislation was January 1, Victorian workers under the Comcare scheme are now covered by the new Act, regulations and codes. The OHS Reps @ Work website has updated information in the Comcare section , and more will be added in the coming weeks.
Model Codes now available
Although Victoria has postponed the implementation of the model Work Health and Safety Act and associated regulations and codes, reps should be aware that these are now available online to download, including the eleven 'priority' codes.
Read more: Model OHS laws update 8
New Representation Guide releasedEarlier this month Safe Work Australia published the Worker Representation and Participation Guide. The guide provides information based on the model Work Health and Safety Act on the representation and participation of workers in health and safety matters in the workplace. It also provides guidance on resolving health and safety issues and supports an objective of the model act to provide for fair and effective workplace representation, consultation, co-operation and issue resolution in relation to work health and safety.
Volunteer organisations reported to be 'worried'
The ABC's PM program this week reported that organisations that rely heavily on volunteers, such as 'Meals on Wheels', are concerned that the changes to the definition of 'worker' in the new health and safety legislation is going to negatively affect them. Work Health and Safety Acts. They fear classifying volunteers as 'workers' is going to cost the organisations more (eg in training) and also that the volunteers themselves will be less likely to come forward as the Act places a duty on them, breaches of which could potentially attract large fines. The new laws are confusing volunteer organisations, although their worries could be misplaced, as all duties remain subject to 'so far as reasonably practicable'.
The federal Opposition has jumped on the bandwagon, with Senator Mitch Fifield, the Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector, this week claiming in a Media Release: 'As predicted by the Coalition, Labor's new OH&S laws have turned volunteers into workers, effectively destroying the tradition of Australian volunteerism as we know it.' He claimed that volunteers could face prosecution, steep fines and even jail sentences.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has responded by stating the Federal Government is taking a 'common sense approach' to addressing concerns the harmonised WHS laws burden the voluntary sector. At a press conference on Tuesday she said, 'We are continuing arrangements where there are safety expectations for the treatment of volunteers, and volunteer organisations know that and go out of their way to make sure that they keep their volunteers safe… our approach has been endorsed by the peak body for volunteers, Volunteering Australia.'
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten responded to the Opposition claims by saying, 'Nearly all volunteer organisations already have good OHS practices in place and won't face any additional burdens whatsoever.' Mr Shorten added, 'These new laws are not heavy handed and the maximum penalties in the regime are for extreme workplace negligence, not the everyday activities of volunteers. If you give communion in a church, bake cakes for a charity, help out Meals on Wheels, look out for swimmers at the beach or clean up in your community after a storm, you are not going to face jail or fines.'
Safe Work Australia chair Tom Phillips described Senator Fifield's claims as alarmist, and said the duty to ensure a safe workplace 'remains the primary duty of the employer or 'person conducting a business or undertaking' - not the volunteer'. He said, 'Importantly, there is unlikely to be a prosecution of a volunteer except in the most serious and exceptional of circumstances.' He added that state and territory legislation had always applied to volunteer organisations that had employed staff.
Safe Work Australia Media Release: Setting the record straight on volunteers
From various state authorities:
- Following the deaths of two workers died in Melbourne and Darwin when the cylinders in their work vehicles exploded, the Queensland Petroleum and Gas Inspectorate, has issued a Safety alert on the risks of transporting gas cylinders [pdf].
And on the same topic, NT WorkSafe has also issued an Alert on the safe storage of gas cylinders in enclosed load spaces [pdf].
- From WorkCover NSW:
- Advice [pdf] to manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of LPG to include information about the inherent dangers of their products in their material safety data sheets, after an apprentice plumber accidentally cut a live gas line and died of asphyxiation. It has also issued a Safety alert [pdf] to employers and principal contractors after the incident.
- A Safety alert [pdf] following two incidents in which workers were injured when loads toppled from forklifts and struck them.
The UK's health and safety regulator, the HSE has many online risk assessment tools, and has released a number of example risk assessments and approaches for small businesses. There are case studies for businesses such as nightclubs and bars, motor vehicle and repair businesses, call centres, a variety of shops and more. The case studies follow the guidance provided in the Five steps to risk assessment
HSE Approaches to risk management for small businesses
Queensland: General manager fined after fatality
The general manager of a Queensland construction company Bauer Foundations Australia Pty Ltd that received one of the State's biggest ever safety fines after a workplace death has also been fined $40,000 (without conviction) plus $33,000 in costs over the August 2009 incident.
An inadequately trained Bauer storekeeper and a colleague were removing a 10.5-tonne counterweight from a piling rig when it fell and fatally crushed him. It emerged that prior to the incident the parent company had sent an email alert warning of the risks posed by counterweights, and recommending controls, but Bauer had failed to act on theses recommendations.
In 2010 Bauer pleaded guilty and was fined $200,000. In the recent case, Industrial Magistrate Wendy Cull found that the manager, who also pleaded guilty, was responsible for the company's safety management system, and should have ensured there was a process for acting on email alerts. She also found the manager failed to ensure workers were adequately supervised and trained.
Source: OHS Alert
Recognising the 'creep': out-of-hours emails
As reported in SafetyNet 225 there is increasing recognition that 'time pollution' is becoming an increasing problem for Australian workers – that is, workers being increasingly 'on the grid' in terms of work due to the use of 'smart phones', mobile computers and so on. There have been three examples of this being recognised internationally over the past month.
The first is news that Brazilian workers who have to check or answer work emails on their smartphones after the end of their shifts may be entitled to overtime under a new law. The new legislation was approved by President Dilma Rousseff in December last year. According to the legislation, company emails to workers are equivalent to orders given directly to the employee, making it possible for such employees to be eligible for overtime payments.
The second comes from Germany, where Volkswagen has announced a new policy that bans the sending of work emails via work-issued BlackBerrys outside employees' normal working hours. A new clause in the union/management collective agreement means that the company servers stop routing emails 30 minutes after the end of employees' shifts, and then don't start again until 30 minutes before they return to work. The staff can still use their devices to make calls, will apply to approximately 1150 non-management employees with work-supplied BlackBerrys, but does not apply to senior management.
The third example is the maker of Persil washing powder, Henkel, which declared an email "amnesty" for its workers between Christmas and New Year saying messages should only be sent out as an emergency measure.
Sources: Sydney Morning Herald and BBC Online
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SafetyNet 250, Thursday, 22nd November, 2012...read more
SafetyNet 249, Thursday 8th November 2012...read more
SafetyNet 248 Thursday, 25th October 2012...read more
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SafetyNet Issue 246 - Thursday September 27, 2012...read more
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SafetyNet Issue 242 Thursday 2 August 2012...read more
SafetyNet 241 Thursday 19th July 2012...read more
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SafetyNet 239, Thursday June 21, 2012...read more
SafetyNet 238, Thursday June 7 2012...read more
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SafetyNet 235 April 26th 2012...read more
Thursday 12th April 2012...read more
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Thursday March 1, 2012...read more
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