Issue 235 - SafetyNet 235
Welcome to Edition 235 of the VTHC fortnightly OHS bulletin SafetyNet.
International Workers Memorial Day – April 28
Tomorrow is April 27 – the day on which this year Australians will mark International Workers Memorial Day. This is the last chance to plan to either attend a commemoration service tomorrow or at least stop for a minute at 11am to remember the thousands of workers who have lost their lives because of the work they do.
In remembering the dead, think about what needs to be done at your workplace to make it a healthier and safer place. Don't wait for something to go wrong before taking action: for example, if there hasn't been a workplace audit for a while: do it tomorrow. If there are outstanding matters which have been raised and not yet dealt with, follow up on them today. You'll find many resources and tools to assist you on the
OHS Reps @ Work website, or email through a query to Renata if you need assistance in dealing with an ohs issue.
For those who are in Melbourne, we invite you to the event at the Trades Hall at 10.30am on the morning of Friday April 27. We hope that hundreds will attend the event, run jointly by the VTHC and IDSA – the Industrial Deaths Support and Advocay group. Come and join us at the corner of Victoria and Lygon Streets for a short ceremony. Everyone is then invited to a morning tea hosted by IDSA.
Read more: in Victoria, Australia (ACTU website ) and internationally: Hazards International Workers' Memorial Day website
If you haven't had a look at the UK unions' resources, go to TUC Bulletin Number 5 - which covers the benefits of union health and safety representatives; How they make a difference; Role of representatives under the UK's conservative government; What reps can do.
Is OHS harmonisation 'dead'?
As reported in the last
SafetyNet, the Victorian Government released the PricewaterhouseCoopers Supplementary Impact Assessment - which supposedly 'proved' that implementation of the harmonised WHS regulatory package would cost Victorian businesses $3.44 billion – the day before the last COAG meeting. Discussion at COAG of the ohs reforms seems, according to the Communiqué, to have been quite limited:
"On occupational health and safety reform, of the nine jurisdictions, six have legislated the new workplace safety arrangements and one other is in the process of legislating the reform. COAG agreed that the current occupational health and safety laws will be reviewed by the end of 2014. The Commonwealth noted that the National Partnership Agreement to Deliver a Seamless National Economy contains reward payments for successful implementation of these measures."
Various media reports suggested that in reality, the attempt to harmonise OHS legislation, which had been so robustly supported when the process began, has now failed.
Work-related cancer forum May 3
According to the ILO, it's possible that up to 8,000 Australian workers die each year as a result of workplace exposures to toxic substances. This is an issue that must be confronted. We urge unionists, health and safety reps, and above all employers to register and attend the ACTU/Cancer Council Forum on Cancer in the Workplace on Thursday May 3, at Rydges Swanston in Melbourne. The international guest speaker is Lucille Servidio who has been in environmental consulting for 21 years. Lucille's experiences have focussed on assisting USA manufacturing industry solve their environmental compliance challenges. Also speaking are Prof Lin Fritschi and A/Prof Tim Driscoll. Topics include: looking at the burden of cancer in Australia, and cancer prevention efforts; Toxics Use Reduction legislation; skin cancer; asbestos; and shift work.
At a cost of only $200 don't miss this fabulous forum which will focus focus on practical solutions for prevention. More information: Updated Forum flyer [pdf]
Research on Australian workplace cancers
Lack of up-to-date Australian data has led researchers in Western Australian to launch a national study of occupational cancers. Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) Professor Lin Fritschi has said workplace exposure to carcinogens in Australia a "big and under-recognised problem". The time delay from exposure to symptoms, lifestyle factors and multiple jobs means measuring the prevalence of occupational cancers is difficult. According to Professor Fritschi's study released in the
Medical Journal of Australia, workplace carcinogens cause about 5,000 cancers each year in Australia. An estimated 11% of cancers in men and 2% in women were the result of workplace exposure. Researchers for an Australian Work Exposures Study plan to collect information about the jobs of about 5,000 Australian workers, measuring the prevalence of occupational exposure to carcinogens. Fritschi said gaining a better understanding of its prevalence was the most effective way to help reduce the number of cancers in the future. Lowering chemical use and including potential health effects on all chemical labels would curb occupational cancer risk, she advised.
Dying worker receives $1.15m in compensation
A 63 year old man who was exposed to asbestos dust forty years ago and contracted mesothelioma in 2011 has won the largest ever compensation payout from Amaca Pty Ltd (formerly James Hardie) – but not after a prolonged legal battle. The man, who was a machinist and fitter and only visited the James Hardie asbestos cement sheet factory at Welshpool, WA, only three times in 1972. A jury initially awarded the worker $1.15m in compensation, but the company appealed, arguing that the worker could not prove his exposure caused his cancer. When the Victorian Court of Appeal rejected the argument and upheld the payout, the company then appealed in the High Court. Amaca filed a notice of discontinuance in the High Court at 4.15pm last Wednesday, just hours before the court was to begin its determination at 9.45am the next day.
Source: Herald Sun
With the 28th April just two days away, when workers around the world will commemorate the thousands of workers who have lost their lives and health at work, international union organisation the ITUC has asked us to sign a petition requesting the UN to not accept asbestos-promoter Stephan Schmidheiny - recently convicted to 16 years gaol in Italy for asbestos crimes - at Rio+20 (see details below).
A solemn appeal to Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations
We, the undersigned, strongly urge the United Nations, international authorities, heads of State and Governments, and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil to declare Mr. Stephan Schmidheiny "persona non grata" at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held June 20 – 22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a criminal convicted of causing an environmental disaster, Mr. Schmidheiny should be prohibited from participating in this important meeting to plan for and protect the future of our Planet Earth.
While Mr. Schmidheiny is the Founder and Honorary Chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), he is also the former owner of Eternit, an asbestos-cement company as well the "philantropist" founder of AVINA Foundation that supports social and environmental actions in Latin America. On February 13, 2012 in Turin, Italy, Mr. Schmidheiny was sentenced to 16 years in prison for causing a "willful and permanent environmental disaster" and "willful negligence in implementing health and safety regulations (preventive measures)" that would have protected his employees and the general population from the long-recognized mortal risks of exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a carcinogenic mineral that causes the deaths of over 107,000 people a year according to the World Health Organization. Based on the criminal verdict rendered in Italy and the environmental damage he has been proven responsible for, we hereby urge the United Nations and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil to declare Mr. Stephan Schmidheiny "persona non grata" and prohibit him from participating in Rio+20.
More information (to sign the petition and to find it in other languages)
Riding for a cure
Asbestoswise Committee Member, Shelley Mathews, has entered a team called Meso Busters in the first Melbourne Ride to Conquer Cancer which takes place on 27 and 28 October this year. The 200 km ride from Melbourne through the Yarra Valley is to raise money for the Peter MacCallum Hospital in an effort to find a cure for cancer. Shelley is entering a team in memory of her mother who passed away in 2009 from mesothelioma, and is dedicating the ride to all those who have suffered the same fate. The team believes it will raise the awareness of mesothelioma in the cancer community and beyond, and educate the public about the dangers of asbestos. Please support the team by donating through their page on the Conquer Cancer website (join the team and ride by registering!) For more information go to the team's page or email Shelley
Last week the Toyota Motor Company terminated 350 workers – 'forced redundancies' – using a 'scorecard' which rated the workers and their 'value' to the company. This followed ten weeks of negotiation with the workers' union, the Vehicle division of the AMWU in which the company refused to accept the union's position that the company should have offered voluntary redundancies. During the negotiations there was some agreement reached on the quantum of the redundancy package, assistance to the workers – outplacement and job retraining – and a process that would ensure that workers were treated with dignity and respect. While the union provided input into the criteria the company would consider for choosing workers – it insisted there would be involuntary redundancies – there was no agreement on these and the union did not 'sign off' on any final criteria.
On April 18 Toyota reneged on all agreements, brought in over 60 security guards and sacked 350 workers – escorting them off-site to fill in paperwork. Contrary to the claims of the company, the union did not request security guards. It was not provided with a list of workers, and certainly had no say in which workers were made redundant. In fact, the union believes that the so-called selection criteria were a sham: according to early information, a (not) surprisingly high percentage of the 350 workers were either current or previous OHS reps or union delegates. Another group to feature highly were workers on Workers Compensation. The union is taking a number of actions in court and has vowed to fight for the rights of its members.
Sources: AMWU ABCOnline
I am the OHS rep for my Workgroup. We have relocated and we now only have one fire extinguisher on the floor (we used to have many). I cannot get information on what is the recommended number we should have considering the floor is an office block with up to 50 office workers, and the extinguisher is located outside the men's loo, but nowhere near the fire exits. Could you please advise me of what the employer is required to do?
Neither the OHS Act nor the regulations go to this level of detail in terms of any matters, including matters such as the number of fire extinguishers.
However, under Section 21 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 the employer has what is called a 'general duty of care' which basically covers all matters, in order to provide and maintain a healthy and safe working environment. This includes providing a safe system of work, information, training, supervision, and so on. In addition to this, under Section 26, persons who manage or control workplaces must ensure that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health. (see Duties of Employers and Duties of others )
Compliance Code - Workplace amenities and work environment, in particular the section Responding to emergencies, gives extra advice about what an employer 'needs to do' to comply - and says (Section 156):
"Employers need to comply with the relevant parts of Section E of the Building Code of Australia, which specifies requirements for emergency response features in buildings. These provisions include the requirements for firefighting equipment, smoke hazard management and emergency lighting, exits and warnings in buildings."
(note however, the Building Code is not easy to access and costs a lot of money to buy - but it's the employer's duty to ensure they do what's needed to comply with their general duties)
Link to the code, and more information specific to fire and emergencies
Remember too that the employer has a duty to consult with the elected HSRs and affected workers on any changes which may impact on the workers' health and/or safety (includes change of workplace!) and also any control measures in the workplace - see: Duty to consult
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!
International Union News
USA: Concern after oil worker is boiled to death
California's largest oil company failed to warn employees of the dangers in an oil field where a worker was sucked underground and boiled to death last year, state authorities found - and then they fined the firm $350. According to reports in the Los Angeles Times, union leaders are angered by the small regulatory penalty which has reignited a debate over the risks of the extraction technique that led to the worker's death. The method, in which a rush of steam heats the ground and loosens oil deposits, yields much of California's crude. The paper says that for years union leaders have had safety concerns about the process, describing it as inherently dangerous because injecting steam into the earth at high pressures can create a minefield of craters-in-waiting. 'They let Chevron off the hook way too easy,' said Ed Crane, secretary-treasurer of United Steelworkers Local 12-6, the union that represents oil field workers. 'A guy died, for God's sake. If people aren't being trained properly, how does $350 handle that? Chevron is not going to pay attention to that.' According to state inspectors, Robert David Taylor and two Chevron co-workers were walking in a Kern County oil field last June when the earth opened up and swallowed Taylor. 'Immersed in a cauldron of oil fluids, he yelled for help as a co-worker tried to reach him - first by hand, then with a piece of pipe,' the LA Times reports. 'His body was recovered 17 hours later.' Los Angeles Times Source: Risks 552
Intervention helps decrease occupational eczema
A recent piece of Danish research supports what might seem a common sense message: implementing a training program in hairdressing schools leads to an increase in the use of gloves and reduces the incidence of hand eczema in hairdressing apprentices. The researchers divided 502 hairdressing apprentices into two groups, providing one group with an evidence-based training program developed for the study and delivered by teachers specially trained in the prevention of hand eczema; the other half received normal training and served as a control group. The students completed self-administered questionnaires including questions regarding hand eczema, use of gloves and degree of wet work, and were all clinically examined for hand eczema three times during the 18-month study period. The results were that more apprentices from the intervention group used gloves during wet work procedures and significantly fewer developed hand eczema compared with apprentices from the control group
Bregnhøj, A, and others: Prevention of hand eczema among Danish hairdressing apprentices: an intervention study [abstract] Occup Environ Med 2012;69:310-316 doi:10.1136/oemed-2011-100294 Read more on Occupational Skin conditions
Night shifts disrupt melatonin production
Subscribers will remember that IARC some years ago classified shiftwork - if it disrupts the body's circadian rhythms - as being a Class 2A carcinogen (see Shiftwork – Health effects) While the causes have not yet been proven, it has been hypothesised that one of potential mechanisms of breast carcinogenesis in the night shift workers is the level of light exposure at night, and the inhibition of melatonin production. Researchers from the Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine in Poland conducted a cross-sectional study of 354 nurses and midwives working on rotating night shifts and 370 working days only. Data from questionnaires and 1-week diaries were used to characterise current job and total occupational history. Associations between rotating night shift work characteristics and 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (MT6s) – the primary melatonin metabolite - in spot morning urine were tested. The results revealed that women working eight or more night shifts per month had significantly lower MT6s levels than those having fewer night shifts per month.
Peplonska, B, and others: Night shift work characteristics and 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (MT6s) in rotating night shift nurses and midwives [abstract]
Shiftworkers face diabetes and obesity risk
According to a new study, shiftworkers who get insufficient sleep at the wrong time of day may be increasing their risk of obesity and diabetes. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in the US controlled the lives of 21 people, including meal and bedtimes. They found that the changes to 'normal sleep' made it difficult for the body to control sugar levels. Some changes participants even developed early symptoms of diabetes within weeks. The trial began with 10 hours' sleep at night, followed by three weeks of disruption to their sleep and body clocks. The length of the day was extended to 28 hours, creating an effect similar to a full-time flyer constantly getting jet lag. Participants were allowed only 6.5 hours' sleep in the new 28-hour day, equivalent to 5.6 hours in a normal day. They also lived in dim light to prevent normal light resetting the body clock. Sugar levels and insulin control were disrupted, with three of the participants showing sugar levels which stayed so high after their meals they were classified as 'pre-diabetic.'
The study also highlighted a risk of putting on weight as the body slowed down. 'The 8 per cent drop in resting metabolic rate that we measured in our participants... translates into a 12.5-pound increase in weight over a single year,' the authors noted. Lead researcher, Dr Orfeu Buxton said, 'We think these results support the findings from studies showing that, in people with a pre-diabetic condition, shiftworkers who stay awake at night are much more likely to progress to full-on diabetes than day workers. Since night workers often have a hard time sleeping during the day, they can face both circadian [body clock] disruption working at night and insufficient sleep during the day. The evidence is clear that getting enough sleep is important for health, and that sleep should be at night for best effect.'
OM Buxton and others. Adverse metabolic consequences in humans of prolonged sleep restriction combined with circadian disruption, Science Translational Medicine, volume 4, number 129, 11 April 2012 [abstract] and related News Release Source: Risks
Study highlights workplace lung cancer risk
A new study has confirmed the high numbers of lung cancers related to work. The research study in Lombardy, northern Italy, used a new job-exposure matrix (JEM) to translate lifetime work histories into "never", "low" or "high" occupational exposure to six known or suspected lung cancer causes in a population-based case-control study. The results showed significantly increasing risks of lung cancer for exposure to asbestos, crystalline silica and nickel-chromium exposure. For exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, common in combustion products like soot and vehicle exhaust fume, an increased risk was found only for high exposures. No association was seen between exposure to diesel engine exhaust and lung cancer risk. John Cherrie of Edinburgh's Institute of Occupational Medicine, commenting in his OH-world blog, says from the finding of this and a recent UK study backed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 'it seems clear that an important fraction of incident lung cancers must be due to past occupational exposures.'
The Italian study found the proportion of lung cancers in the population that could be attributed to exposure to asbestos, silica and nickel-chromium were 18 per cent, 5.7 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. 'The overall attributable fraction was estimated to be 22.5 per cent, based on cases ever being exposed to one or more of these agents,' Cherrie comments, adding the study for HSE 'estimated that about 21 per cent of lung cancers were attributable to occupational exposures, which is very similar to the Italian estimate. ' The real risk, particularly in certain jobs, is considerably higher. Neither HSE nor the Italian researchers evaluated the full, lengthy, list of suspected and known causes of work-related lung cancer. And high risks limited to certain occupations, for example the established lung cancer risk to miners from diesel exhaust, can be buried or missed entirely in broader studies of this type.
OH-world.org blog S de Matteis and others Impact of occupational carcinogens on lung cancer risk in a general population. [Abstract] International Journal of Epidemiology, published Online First, 31 March 2012.
L Rushton and others. Occupation and cancer in Britain. British Journal of Cancer, volume 102, pages 1428-1437, 2010. Source: Risks 552
Call centre workers suffer voice problems
According to a study commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), one in four call centre workers suffer voice problems because managers are failing to properly protect their health. Researchers found around one in 10 call centre workers had been diagnosed with a voice problem, while the same proportion said their work was now suffering because of the stress placed on their vocal cords. Of the workers surveyed, 60 per cent reported having difficulty making themselves heard against background noise and 41 per cent said they had failed to be heard by the customer on the other end of the line. More than one in three call agents said their voice was hoarse often or very often. The researchers identified new starters, particularly female workers, as a high-risk group who are more likely to develop voice problems. Experts at Ulster University surveyed nearly 600 call handlers from 14 call centres across the UK and Ireland. Lead researcher Dr Diane Hazlett said: 'Policies on voice care should exist in all call centre environments, and should be reviewed regularly. Going forward, there needs to be an emphasis on the prevention of voice problems within the industry - to maintain optimal vocal health. Employers in this sector need to show they better recognise just how important the voice is, to having a healthy, well supported workforce and a thriving business.'
IOSH news release. Working voices: An epidemiological study of occupational voice demands and their impact on the call centre industry, IOSH, 2012 [pdf]. Hazards voice loss webpages. Source: Risks 552
WorkSafe Vic relaunches supervisor campaign
Using what could be described as a bizarre 'experiment', WorkSafe has shown that even when warned of the danger of something, and seeing someone injured, people will follow instructions. Victoria's regulator set up a mock worksite in Melbourne's CBC where two actors asked passers by to hand over a 'live' cable from one to the other - despite being warned the cable was dangerous, 90 per cent of people who were asked by the 'supervisor' to pass the live wire to the 'apprentice' did so. If the apprentice received a (fake) 'shock' and dropped the cable, the helpful passers by picked it up and handed it to him again! The experiment is part of WorkSafe's supervisor campaign, which comes after a recent survey which showed supervisors rate keeping up with productivity and meeting client deadlines as their most important priority ahead of safety. The survey also found one in five supervisors admitted they would ask their employees to bypass safety to complete a task quickly.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release WorkSafe experiment delivers shocking results
Safe Work Australia news
Proposed amendments to exposure standards for 'mineral wools'
Safe Work Australia invites public comment on the proposed amendment to the workplace exposure standard (WES) for all mineral wools (previously known as synthetic mineral fibres). A consultation package is available on the Safe Work Australia website and consists of:
- an issues paper which details the proposed changes to the WES and summarises the material on which the recommendations are made,
a summary of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluation of the current epidemiological and toxicological evidence, and
the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) position paper.
The public comment period closes at 5.00pm AEST on Friday 8 June 2012.
The discussion paper expected to be released for public consultation, as reported in the last edition of SafetyNet was not yet available. We will inform subscribers when it is released. To check for further information about the discussion paper and the consultation period go to the Office of Chemical Safety website
From Safe Work Australia: Key Work Health and Safety Statistics Booklet Australia 2012 - 'a pocket-sized summary of the main statistics on work-related injury, disease and death produced by Safe Work Australia'. The information includes the main types of injuries for which compensation was paid, the cost of injury and incidence rates by industry.
Forklift incident and prosecutions prompt safety warning
Three companies have been prosecuted in the past week for incidents involving forklifts. Also this week, a man who was struck by a forklift at Morwell has undergone surgery at the Latrobe Valley Hospital. The man, a truck driver, was standing near the front of his vehicle when the reversing forklift hit him.
Last Thursday, Dandenong South company, Polycell Australia Pty Ltd, was convicted and fined $100,000 over an October 2009 incident where a worker fell almost two metres from a pallet that had been raised by a forklift. The company which makes bubble wrap, pleaded guilty at the Dandenong Magistrates' Court to two charges of failing to provide a safe workplace. The worker was thrown from the elevated pallet after the forklift driver suddenly braked. WorkSafe's investigation found no safe working procedures were in place relating to this particular task and that the company failed to provide proper supervision, instruction and training.
Earlier this week the Age Print Company Pty Ltd was fined $20,000, without conviction, after pleading guilty to an incident at its Tullamarine Print Centre where in December 2009 a worker, struck by a reversing forklift, suffered serious injuries while working in a loading dock. The court found the site did not have adequate measures in place to reduce the risk of forklifts colliding with pedestrians.
Finally Limnos Poultry Pty Ltd, a chicken processing company, was fined $15,000, also without conviction, after an employee in February 2010 was struck by a load causing serious injuries including a broken leg. The company pleaded guilty at the Frankston Magistrates' Court, to failing to provide a safe workplace. The court was told a lack of traffic management and a lack of information, instruction and supervision contributed to the incident.
All companies have since implemented relevant measures to eliminate the risk of incidents involving forklifts.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Visy fined $170k after caustic burns (NSW)
The NSW Industrial Court has fined Visy Pulp and Paper $170,000 over a February 2008 incident where two mill workers were sprayed with steam and a corrosive substance (known as "black liquor"). The release caused serious chemical/thermal burn injuries. One worker's burns required a skin graft to his right arm and a half-torso burns pressure suit. He was off work for about two months. The other worker had multiple skin grafts and required a full-torso burns pressure suit. He was off work for about four months. Justice Wayne Haylen said the offence was categorised as "very serious" and "objectively serious" where the potential risk of significant injury was not remote. He also said the risk was foreseeable, and "had been identified by [Visy] in its documented system." The company pleaded guilty to breaching NSW's OHS Act by failing to maintain a safe work system; failing to provide adequate supervision; failing to ensure employees complied with procedures; failing to provide instruction, information and training; and failing to ensure employees wore appropriate protective equipment.
Visy had previously been fined for breaching the Act: $10,000 in 2004 in the Chief Industrial Magistrate's Court and $145,000 in 2011 in the Industrial Court (OHN 943). The company has also been prosecuted in Victoria: in 2002 it was fined $132,000 had her hand almost totally severed after it was caught in an inadequately guarded rubbish compactor. Source: OHNews
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