Issue 230 - SafetyNet 230The VTHC OHS Unit is pleased to produce the third edition of SafetyNet for the year: edition 230. Please encourage anyone you know who might be interested in keeping up with OHS developments to subscribe to the e-journal themselves. Thank you!
Fatality and serious incidents
In another terrible two weeks in Victoria, a 24-year-old man died in hospital last Monday morning after he fell three metres at a Highett tile retailer on the previous Friday evening. He had been on life support after surgery. WorkSafe is investigating the incident which happened at a business in Wickham Road.
In addition to the fatality, there have been a a number of serious incidents.Three occurred on last Monday: In the first, a man suffered a serious cut to the chest while cutting and trimming a side of beef at a Warrnambool meatworks. He received treatment at Warrnambool Hospital.
Then late in the day, a man was flown to the Royal Melbourne Hospital after a bridge which was being demolished near Kerang partially collapsed. The man, aged in his 20s, was walking beside an excavator and helping to steady a seven metre red-gum beam which was being carried by the machine when one span of the bridge fell. He fell into Pyramid Creek along with the excavator and suffered head and back injuries. His work colleagues performed CPR on him in the water. WorkSafe reported he was in a stable condition, and that it was issuing a notice requiring a safety plan to be developed for when the excavator is recovered from the creek.
In the third incident, a man received a knife wound while working at an abattoir in Warrnambool. He was trimming a side of beef when the knife slipped and struck him on his upper chest. He was taken for treatment to the Warrnambool Hospital.
WorkSafe's General Manager for Operations Lisa Sturzenegger said the incidents showed the dangers that can be found with routine tasks. "Ensuring safety issues are understood and dealt with prevents devastating and life-changing injuries and reduces the risk of a business' viability being undermined. Employers, supervisors and workers all have responsibilities to ensure their workplaces are as safe as practicable. No matter how experienced you or your team is, getting on top of safety issues before they hit is an investment."
On last Thursday morning, a plumber was flown to the Alfred Hospital's burns unit after an explosion at a Bonnie Doon service station. According to early WorkSafe is investigations, the 33-year-old man was installing a deep fryer when gas was released and ignited. The source of ignition is not known.
It's the second major gas explosion in several months and follows the death of a man at Waverley when a build up of gas in a van ignited in December. That incident is still under investigation.
This week: An asphalt factory in Campbellfield, in Melbourne's north, caught fire early Monday morning, and took 25 firefighters up to two hours to control. Ten workers were evacuated from the Downer EDI asphalt factory in Somerton Road at about 7am, as up to 40 tonnes of asphalt burned inside an industrial machine. MFB commander Peter Egan said the tar mixing machine was enclosed, making it difficult to access the blaze.
Sources: WorkSafe Media Releases; The Age
I work as a technician in a high school laboratory. When I commenced work here there were no inductions held. After a year of working at this position I've been informed that the school wants to run safety inductions. Is a safety induction required and compulsory now (considering at least one other staff member has worked here for over 20 years without one)?
There is no SPECIFIC requirement under OHS legislation for an employer to provide safety inductions - but in reality, in order to comply with their duties under Section 21 of the OHS Act, 2004 (see this page for a summary), then they SHOULD be ensuring that all new workers are provided with appropriate training when they begin work AND that regular training (as well as information, instruction and supervision) is provided to all workers. So, strictly speaking, if the employer (the school) has not been training employees in the specialist area of the lab, then there has not been compliance with the duties under the Act. The other thing to keep in mind is that under Section 25 of the Act, employees also have a duty – and this includes cooperating with anything the employer does to comply with OHS requirements. If you or any of the other members of staff have concerns about the training, or how it's being organised, then you have the right to raise this with your elected Health and Safety Rep. If you don't have an HSR, then you should raise it directly with management.
If you have any OHS - related queries or questions, then why not send them in to Renata? Use the Ask Renata function on the website, and we promise you a quick and easy to understand response within a couple of working days at the latest. And it's free!
Hardie pledges $100m to asbestos fund after High Court win
James Hardie, after winning a High Court battle against the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) last week, has said it will pay over $100m to the asbestos injuries compensation fund – which is desperately in need of funds. The money represents only about a third of the amount the ATO will have to refund it.
Italian court sentences asbestos bosses to jail
After a ten-year trial, an Italian criminal court in Torino has fined and sentenced European asbestos billionaires Stephan Schmidheiny and Baron Luis de Cartier to 16 years jail for deliberately failing to warn workers, families and residents about the dangers of asbestos. Swiss Schmidheiny is the former owner of fibre-cement company Eternit and Belgian Baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne was the major shareholder). Tried in absentia, they were found guilty of intentionally omitting to install measures to prevent health damage from asbestos at Italian plants of Eternit, which closed in 1986. While the prosecution had asked for sentences of 20 years, the eagerly awaited outcome was greeted with tears and cries of jubilation by the families of over 3000 victims. 26 busloads of people, not just from Casale Monferrato, site of the largest number of victims, but from all over Italy and even France, arrived at the Torino court to hear the verdict which took the judge over three hours to read. Assunta Prato, spokeswoman from the victims' group Afeva, has said what they wanted to hear was the word 'guilty' and that's what they heard. She also said how moving it was to hear the 'interminable list of the names of victims, and their families' read out by the judge. The full English version of the three hour sentence can be listened to online.
Eternit, was once the biggest manufacturer of asbestos cement products in the world, but in addition to creating a fortune, it also caused disease and death to thousands of workers, their families and residents of nearby towns. Somehow, up to now, Eternit companies had been able to avoid the litigation that sent many of its competitors bankrupt. As well as the prison sentences, the defendants have been ordered to pay compensation to the families of each victim 30-50,000 Euros (A$37-61,000), 25 million Euros to Casale Monferrato, 20 million Euros to the Piedmont region, and 100 million Euros to Afeva. The defendants have consistently denied any wrongdoing and, according to their lawyers, plan to appeal.
Sources: ABC AM program Corriere della Sera (in Italian) SBS Radio and Reuters
Ambulance paramedics fined for speeding
There have been reports in the media this week that dozens of ambulance paramedics, on their way to code 2 jobs, which are urgent but not life-threatening, have been fined for travelling just over the speed limit. Ambulance Employees Australia secretary Steve McGhie is reported in the
Herald Sun as saying the fines reflected the mounting demands on ambulance paramedics due to unfilled shifts, resignations and increasing demand for ambulances. 'We are very concerned about paramedics being clocked doing a few kilometres over the limit, where there is little or no discretion,' he said. 'If they lose too many demerit points, they lose their licence and they need a licence to do their job.' Ambulance officers are exposed to high levels of workplace stress, and the worry caused by speeding fines and the potential loss of their license only adds to the pressure.
Source: Herald Sun
Calling apprentices and trainees
If you're an apprentice or trainee - have you completed the online survey on what it's like at your workplace? Tell us so we can make things better for apprentices and trainees like you in the future. Visit this page and anonymously answer some quick questions about the sorts of behaviours you have experienced at work during your time as an apprentice or trainee. The Australian Catholic University and Swinburne University are running this research project for Skills Victoria. All Victorian apprentices and trainees are encouraged to participate so please forward the survey link on to anyone who may be eligible to take part.
Greens seek more flexibility for workers
Greens MP Adam Bandt has introduced a Bill into Federal Parliament which would give all workers who have been in their job for at least 12 months the right to request flexible working arrangements. The Fair Work Amendment (Better Work/Life Balance) Bill 2012 would strengthen the Fair Work Act's individual flexibility arrangements, which according to Bandt are too weak. 'The current legislated mechanism to request flexible working arrangements is only available to employees who have caring responsibilities for children under school age, or children under 18 with a disability,' Bandt told Parliament this week. 'Employers can refuse on reasonable business grounds, but there are no mechanisms for appeal.'
The Bill would give workers enforceable rights to request flexible working arrangements, including the number of hours they work, as well as when and where they work. Employers would only be able to refuse flexible arrangements to carers if there were serious countervailing business reasons. The changes empower Fair Work Australia to hear and determine any dispute if an employer refuses a request. Debate on the Bill was adjourned. Source: Workforce Daily
IDSA Family Day – Werribee Open Plains Zoo, March 17
The Industrial Deaths Support and Advocacy Inc (IDSA) invites members and friends to a family day at the Werribee Open Plains Zoo on Saturday March 17 from 11 am to 3pm. IDSA will have a pavilion, and will pay for entry, BBQ lunch, salads and soft drink.
Supported by WorkSafe Victoria, IDSA is an organisation established to assist people whose loved ones have died at work, whether in industry or in any other type of workplace. Most people involved with IDSA have first-hand experience of the loss associated with a workplace death. All help from IDSA is free and confidential. The VTHC is a member of IDSA and currently has a representative on its Committee of Management.
If you are interested in attending, or want to have more information on IDSA, email or ring and speak to a committee member on 0414 763 143.
Nano Sunscreen guide
The Friends of the Earth has advised that over the past couple of weeks some doubt has been cast over the accuracy of some sunscreen brands in their Safe Sunscreen guide. The organisation is working to get a resolution to this matter. In the meantime, they stress the need for people to continue to be sun safe when spending time in the sun, wear protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses and use sunscreen. The VTHC urges workers who are exposed to sunlight (UV radiation) to ensure they are protected.
Secure Jobs. Better Future – Insecure Work in Australia, Public hearings
More than 500 workers, unions, community and other representative groups have lodged a submission with the Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work in Australia. ACTU President Ged Kearney said the overwhelming response to the inquiry, chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe, showed insecure jobs were clearly a major concern for Australian workers and their families. Submissions and other information are available from the Secure Jobs. Better Future website
During February and March 2012, members of the Inquiry panel will be visiting every capital city as well as a number of regional centres to hear from workers, employers, academics and community groups. This will be an important opportunity for workers to tell their own stories about insecure work. In addition to written submissions, the ACTU is asking unions to organise for members in different areas of insecure work to appear as witnesses. The Melbourne hearings will be March 21 & 22, but go to this page for dates and locations of all 23 hearings.
Travel agency giant in trouble over bullying
It has been alleged that senior managers at Flight Centre, one of Australia's biggest travel agencies, failed to act after being told of serious bullying and victimised a whistleblower, according to a recently filed legal claim. Industrial relations advocate Josh Bornstein, who is the lead lawyer in the case, has said the claim illustrated the need for new laws.
The case was lodged in late January at Fair Work Australia by a former Flight Centre assistant store manager who had been rated as the travel giant's top Australian consultant before he resigned. He claims that the bullying against him began when he made an internal complaint against the store manager for 'relentless' bullying of a work colleague. The ex-employee also claims that he reported the matter to several senior managers.
Source: The Age
Want to prevent bullying?
If the above story makes you wonder how your workplace would deal with allegations of bullying, then you might like to participate in the WorkSafe funded (but independently-run) 'Top Down Bottom Up' Bullying Prevention Project. The team running the project is still 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 not simply compliance, but an intensive prevention/early intervention program. The project involves both management and elected health and safety reps (or if no reps, then employee reps) in either intensive training/coaching or seminar attendance.
So if you think your workplace would be interested (and does not have a current unresolved bullying issue), 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
Workers fight to keep work/life balance
The long-running dispute at Schweppes is moving into conciliation, with the workers' union, United Voice vowing to keep pressure on the company until it backs down on its move towards 12-hour shifts. The workers were locked out by the company over two months ago. Union assistant Victorian secretary Ben Redford has said the matter would be pushed into arbitration unless the company changes its plan to increase shift lengths. 'We're going to do our best to get the company to abandon its attack on the eight-hour day. [The shift changes] mean a significant incursion on their work/life balance.'
However, Schweppes has said that moving to the 12-hour roster was 'fundamental to the long term future of our operations at Tullamarine'.
United Voice News December 2011
Meanwhile, in Queensland, new fatigue rules were introduced last week, which set minimum standards to manage train driver fatigue were introduced, with a one-year transition time. Maximum shifts will be nine hours for single-driver trains and 12 hours for two-driver trains. The maximum driving time in suburban passenger trains will be eight hours. The minimum break between shifts will be 12 hours at home depots and eight hours at away depots. The maximum number of shifts is in any 14-day period will be 12 and the maximum number of hours will be 132. Secretary of the Queensland branch of the Rail Tram and Bus Union, Owen Doogan, said driving trains required constant deep concentration and fatigue management was a 'top of the tree safety issue'.
Source: OHS News
International Union News
British unions say workplace cancer underestimated
The TUC has said the most recent estimate published by the HSE, UK's
health and safety regulator, of about 13,500 new cases of workplace
cancer annually, and over 8,000 deaths underestimates the true number of
cases. It says that giving a figure for what causes any kind of cancer
can be very difficult as it is impossible to ascertain what the cause of
anyone's specific cancer is. If a construction worker develops skin
cancer it could be because of their work, or it could be because of
exposure to the sun when on holiday. The briefing says the HSE figures
are based on estimates of exposure to definite and probable carcinogens
defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and do not
include suspected carcinogens. It adds that the figures also do not
include deaths from cancers caused by alcohol and tobacco amongst people
who drink or smoke because of the stress of their work. The TUC has
estimated that the true level is more likely to be well over 20,000
cases a year.
TUC Briefing for activists Also: TUC Guide to preventing occupational cancers [pdf ]
Excessive working time causes depressionA new study has concluded that working long hours –irrespective of job stress or satisfaction - increases the risk of depression. Researchers at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and University College London followed nearly 2,000 middle-aged British civil servants for almost six years. They looked at their working hours, whether or not they were depressed or had risk factors for depression to begin with, and whether they had any major depressive episodes over time. In workers with no psychological illness, the rate of a major depressive episode was 2.43 times higher for those who worked more than 11 hours per day compared with employees who worked 7 to 8 hours a day. This association held true even after researchers accounted for other depression risk factors, including socio-demographic factors, smoking, alcohol use, having chronic physical disease, job strain and work-related social support.
'Although occasionally working overtime may have benefits for the individual and society, it is important to recognise that working excessive hours is also associated with an increased risk of major depression,' said study author Marianna Virtanen, an epidemiologist at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
Marianna Virtanen and others. Overtime work as a predictor of major depressive episode: A 5-year follow-up of the Whitehall II Study , PLoS ONE, volume 7, number 1, published online 25 January 2012. CBS News. Source: Risks 541
October Fatalities report
According to Safe Work Australia's October 2011 Notified Fatalities report [pdf] twelve people died in October compared to six in the previous month and 11 in October 2010. All 12 were male, two workers were electrocuted; two were killed after being struck by a falling object; and burns, crushing, being hit by an unattended vehicle and a moving object other than vehicle, pedestrian struck by vehicle, being trapped in machinery and a vehicle incident not on a public road each claimed one life. The cause of one death was recorded as unknown. Four fatalities occurred in the manufacturing sector; three each in agriculture, forestry and fishing and in construction; one occurred in the accommodation, cafés and restaurants sector, and one occurred at a private residence. There were four reported deaths in NSW, three each in Queensland and Victoria and on in the Commonwealth and South Australia.
Work-related family violence should be included in codes
The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has made 102 recommendations in its recently released report Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws — Improving Legal Frameworks , some of which apply to how work-related family violence should be handled in regulation. The report states: '... where family violence is a possible OHS issue, employees should be given the highest level of protection reasonably practicable, and employers should introduce measures to respond to family violence and create and sustain safe work environments in such circumstances.' While it finds that the general duties of care are sufficiently broad to capture protection of workers from work-related family violence, the report nevertheless recommends the issue also be dealt with in the codes of practice, either in existing ones such as 'How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks', 'How to Consult on Work Health and Safety', 'Managing Work Environment and Facilities' or in a specific code.
Australian Law Reform Commission Launch of Report
WorkSafe breakfast gives Bendigo businesses a 'heads up'
WorkSafe hosted a breakfast for Bendigo's small business operators this morning, ahead of a campaign of targeted inspections beginning later this month. The director of WorkSafe's Manufacturing, Logistics and Agriculture Program, Ross Pilkington said the breakfast at Bendigo Performing Arts Centre was designed to give business operators the information needed to improve safety before site visits from February 27 to March 2. WorkSafe inspectors would ensure employers understood health and safety requirements and the obligation to help injured personnel to return to work. Bendigo businesses can use WorkSafe's publication 12 ways to make small business safer as a starting point for their safety improvement catch-up work.
$60,000 fine for crippling injury
A magistrate has given a small building company six years to pay a $60,000 fine imposed on it after a 27 year-old worker became a paraplegic as a result of a four metre fall. The incident occurred at Keysborough in June 2010.
WorkSafe's General Manager of Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said the monthly payment of $850 would be a constant reminder to renovation firm, Mayneline Pty Ltd, of the need to ensure safety standards were maintained. "For a small business this is a significant, and not uncommon, level of fine for a safety incident. Ensuring safety issues are understood and dealt with prevents devastating and life-changing incidents and reduces the risk of a business' viability being undermined."
Magistrate Leslie Fleming said it was important that general deterrence was achieved, but that she would not impose a penalty that would be "crushing" for the small business, nor one that would threaten its ongoing viability.
In the incident, Mayneline's workers were replacing the burnt-out roof of a Keysborough house when it began to rain, causing them to rush to make the house weatherproof. The supervisor told the investigators he had watched the injured man climb onto the frame of the house immediately before he fell, and although he knew it was risky, he did not tell him to come down immediately, thinking he was capable of standing there and lifting one truss. It was at this point that the worker man lost his grip on the truss, slipped off the wet timber on which he was standing, and fell four metres down an unprotected stairwell void. He suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs, a fractured wrist and serious laceration to the head. He also suffered three broken vertebrae and is unlikely to walk again.
Source: WorkSafe Media Release
Pakistan: Explosion kills 16 workers
On the 6th of February, a three storey pharmaceutical factory in Lahore collapsed following a major explosion of one of its boilers. It killed 16 workers, some of whom were children, and injured at least another 50. The factory had been shut down by inspectors twice already in the past, but was operating illegally. Activists of Labour Party Pakistan and Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party held a demonstration in front of the factory few hours after the incident to demand the arrest of the owners, more effective relief work, a compensation of at least one million rupees for the families of those who lost their lives, five hundred thousand (A$5,000) for all the injured, lifting of ban on labour inspection and to provide all the necessary safety measures to the workers. Hundreds of workers, the Women Workers Help Line and the National Trade Union Federation participated in the demonstration as well.
Read more: International Viewpoint - Lahore factory blast
US: Republicans unhappy with child labour protection bill
The federal US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued Zaloudek Grain Co. in Kremlin, Oklahoma citations for safety violations identified in its investigation of the August, 2011 incident in which two young workers each lost a leg. Six serious violations were listed – but with a proposed total penalty of only US$21,500. One reason the amount is so low is despite the severity of the violations and the harm this employer caused, is that the maximum penalty for an OSHA violation has not been updated for more than 20 years.
The two 17 year olds were working together at the grain handling facility when one of the boy's legs became trapped in the auger. The second boy went to his co-worker's aid and his own legs were pulled into the heavy machinery. The young men were eventually freed from the equipment, but each lost a leg and endured numerous surgeries.
Source: The Pump Handle Blog
USA: Industry stalls diesel fumes cancer action
The publication of a landmark US government study probing whether diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in miners, begun 20 years ago, has been delayed by industry and congressional insistence on seeing study data and documents before the public does. Diesel exhaust fume has been recognised by the UN's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a probable cause of cancer in humans since 1989, and the US government's workplace safety research body National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has been calling for its control in mines since the 1970s. However, the results of the US$11.5 million investigation by the National Cancer Institute and NIOSH are being witheld, after a federal judge affirmed the right of an industry group and a House committee to see the background documents in advance.
The much-anticipated study of 12,000 miners exposed to diesel fumes carries broad implications. If the research suggests a strong link between the fumes and cancer, regulation and litigation could ramp up, with consequences not only for underground mining but also for industries such as trucking, rail and shipping. Andrea Hricko, a professor of clinical preventive medicine at the University of Southern California who has followed the dispute, said a statistically powerful government study could have far-reaching impact. 'They feel compelled to challenge it because they don't want more regulations on mining equipment and locomotives and trucks,' she said of the mining industry. In a recent court filing, lawyers representing the industry-run Mining Awareness Resource Group (MARG) wrote that publication of the diesel study, along with government plans to notify its subjects of any health risks, is 'likely to spawn public concerns, regulatory actions, and lawsuits, likely based on inaccurate and faulty Study reports.' Washington Post.
Source: Risks 542
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