Issue 237 - SafetyNet Issue 237
Welcome to Edition 237 of the VTHC fortnightly OHS bulletin SafetyNet. The OHS Unit hopes you find this edition interesting and informative. If you’d like to comment on any of the items, please do so by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ACTU Congress addresses OHS
OHS issues featured strongly at the ACTU Congress held in Sydney last week. One of the major focuses of the week was the release of the ACTU’s inquiry into insecure work,
Lives on hold: unlocking the potential of Australia’s workforce undertaken by former deputy Labour Prime Minister Brian Howe. The report has recommended a series of extensive reforms to labour laws to address the growth in insecure work, including gradual accrual of permanent employee entitlements for casuals and extending National Employment Standards to all employees. The first set involve strengthening labour law across a number of dimensions; the second relate to improvements in the social safety net and opportunities for life-long learning; the third to changes in government funding, procurement and contracting arrangements which currently provide incentives to cut costs through minimising employment protections; and the fourth relate to greater linkages with civil society organisations in order to advance the issues of insecure employment. As expected many of these recommendations are already being heavily contested and criticised by business groups and the Opposition. Both groups keep insisting that there is no problem, that Australian business needs the ‘flexibility’ and making any changes to improve life for the approximately 40% of insecure workers would lead to dire consequences. The Unions at the Congress agreed to a massive social, political and industrial campaign to confront insecure work in what will be the core issue in unions' workplace claims over coming decades, and to an increase in union levies to cover it.
For the first time, the ACTU held Youth Congress as part of the broader event. ACTU President Ged Kearney said unions were committed to giving a voice to young workers who were often left out of public debate about workplace issues. She said young people were more prone to insecure work, as the industries that are considered attractive to young workers including hospitality and retail also experience the highest numbers of casual or non-permanent workers.
The ACTU’s new Secretary Dave Oliver also spoke about OHS in his first address to Congress. He spoke of his early experiences: he began work as a 15-year-old fitter and turner at a Sydney engineering firm, later worked on building sites. He pointed out he had regularly handled asbestos without any protection as an apprentice. 'I was naive. I had no idea the place I was working at was just downright dangerous,'’ he said. He became active as a unionist after a colleague plunged to his death in a lift shaft on a Sydney building site in the 1980s because of inadequate safety precautions. He later worked for the union, and was eventually elected National Secretary of the AMWU in 2007. As incoming Secretary of the ACTU, Mr Oliver well understands the importance of unions in achieving safer and healthier workplaces.
Climate change adds urgency to asbestos removal
A scientific conference of cancer experts in Perth held last week heard that Australia may no longer be able to consider ‘bonded asbestos’ safe due to the increase in natural disasters causing asbestos fibres to be released. Geoff Fary, Chairman of the Asbestos Management Review, told the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia’s Annual Scientific Meeting that many submissions said asbestos still posed a serious health risk through natural disasters and home renovations.
Clinical Oncological Society of Australia President, Professor Bogda Koczwara, said more than 600 Australians died of mesothelioma each year and rates were increasing. ‘This is a highly lethal cancer with very poor survival,’ he said. ‘Yet many people don’t realise they are exposing themselves to asbestos when they pull up their lino floors or recover relics from their flooded home. We need to be doing more to raise awareness and to remove asbestos, especially from areas prone to natural disasters like flooding, earthquake and bushfire.’
Clinical Oncological Society of Australia Media Release
Authorities knew about Geelong’s dumped asbestos
It appears that the City of Greater Geelong and State Government have known about asbestos on the city's beaches for years and failed to act, with the council having alerted the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) to the presence of dumped asbestos on Western Beach crown land three years ago and asking it to investigate. However, the Geelong Advertiser says that up to a week ago, people were able to walk on asbestos on the Corio Quay shoreline and on the top of the cliff. As a result of an earlier story, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has launched an investigation into the site. ‘EPA Victoria was made aware of a large quantity of demolition waste suspected of including amounts of asbestos in the landscape of a Geelong North beach last week, after a report was made to the EPA by a journalist at the Geelong Advertiser,’ EPA spokesman, Scott Samson, said in an official statement this week. ‘The site was inspected by EPA and EPA continues to investigate the site. Initial inspection of the site suggests erosion and tidal flows over many years may have caused the demolition waste to become exposed.’ The council was now working with the DSE and EPA to determine the best clean-up method for the site, Geelong's city services manager Gary Van Driel said, and in the meantime, it had erected barriers around the site to prevent further public access.
Read more: Geelong Advertiser
Thailand: Asbestos industry lies
The asbestos industry is trying to convince the people of Thailand that chrysotile (white) asbestos is in fact, good for you through t-shirts. Laurie Allen of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) notes that 'it comes as no surprise that asbestos vested interests in Thailand are liars.' But she adds the latest deceit is 'in a class of its own'. T-shirts are being distributed by asbestos manufacturer Oranit, bearing this message alongside its logo on the front: 'A toothpick is more dangerous than Asbestos.' On the back, it says: 'Only Chrysotile can be digested and not accumulate in the body. 85 per cent of the world's population still need it. WHO certifies that it is safer than substitutes. USA accepts that TOOTHPICKS are more dangerous. GOOD and CHEAP.'
The World Health Organisation's (WHO) office in Thailand has in response issued a strong rebuttal. A WHO statement concluded: 'In collaboration with the International Labour Organisation, intergovernmental organisations and civil society, WHO is actively working towards the elimination of asbestos-related diseases. The most effective way to eliminate asbestos related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos.'
IBAS report . Bangkok Post. Source Risks 555
Riding for a cure
If you’re looking for a good cause to donate to, then consider making a donation to Asbestoswise Committee Member, Shelley Mathews’ ‘Meso Busters’ team in the first Melbourne Ride to Conquer Cancer (27 and 28 October), which is raising money for the Peter MacCallum Hospital to find a cure for cancer. Shelley’s mother passed away in 2009 from mesothelioma, and she is dedicating the ride to all those who have suffered the same fate, hoping to raise the awareness of mesothelioma. 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
Our workplace suffers from 'smoke drift'. We have air intakes for the air conditioning systems which are right next to the designated smoking areas. There is a receptacle to butt out cigarettes 3-4 metres from some of the vents, and when it is raining smokers stand underneath a veranda type area, right in front of the intakes. When this happens the smoke gets sucked into the air intakes and is blown out of our air conditioning units, forcing us to breathe in cigarette smoke. My colleagues and I are seriously worried about the effect it is having on our health. I've raised this with OHS who have told me they basically can't (or won't) do anything, and Senior Management in my area who are arranging to put up an extra no smoking sign or two (there are already signs there). What can we do?
As you have raised what is a legitimate OHS issue, your employer cannot simply do nothing about it. Under the general duty of care (Section 21 ) the employer must take action to either eliminate or minimise the risks associated with any identified hazards.
In this case, the hazard has been clearly identified and it is also clearly a risk to workers in the workplace, and so action MUST be taken to, so far as reasonably practicable, eliminate/minimise that risk. In addition, under Sections 35 & 36 the employer must consult with any HSRs (and affected workers if so desired) on what actions will be taken to control the risk.
How this is to be tackled by your employer needs to be explored, but putting up an extra sign or two is obviously insufficient. It may depend on a number of factors (eg who the smokers are; who controls the building; and so on)
If the workers who are smoking are employees of your employer, then the employer can and must (under Section 21[d]) provide information, instruction, training and supervision. This means having a clear rule that they cannot smoke in any area where the second hand smoke can make its way into the building, and ensuring they comply (note that workers have a duty under Section 25 to 'co-operate with.. employer with respect to any action taken by the employer to comply with a requirement imposed by or under this Act or the regulations'. This means the employer must take action to ensure they comply, and if they don't then the employer has a right to take action.)
If the workers are NOT employees of your employer and/or the building is not managed/controlled by your employer, then action may include contacting the employer of those workers, and/or whoever has management/control of the building. Note that others have duties under the Act.
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!
Who’s got the maths right? Productivity Commission or PwC?
In contrast to the findings of the Victorian Supplementary RIS (see SafetyNet 234 ), the Productivity Commission’s report, Impacts of COAG Reforms: Business Regulation and VET , released this week, has found that while it will cost the Australia’s employers about $850 million to transition to the new
Work Health and Safety Act, the cost of complying with OHS laws will fall by between $120 million and $620 million a year.
‘Given the uncertainty in outcomes from harmonised OHS laws, the mid-point between the two estimated impacts on business costs has been adopted as the expected direct impact from these reforms,’ the report says. ‘The Commission estimates a net cost saving of around $370 million per year.’
The report acknowledges however, that multi-state employers will be the beneficiaries of the savings, and that ‘additional compliance activities’ are likely to increase single-state businesses' costs by about $110 million, in total, per year.
ACTU/Cancer Council Cancer in the Workplace Forum
The presentations from the joint ACTU/Cancer Council Forum on Cancer in the Workplace held on May 3 in Melbourne, are now available to download (in pdf format) from the Cancer Council website.
Among the very informative presentations is that by A/Professor Tim Driscoll, from the University of Sydney, whose talk on The occupational cancer burden: Australia and beyond was quite shocking: based on his and his colleagues’ work, in Australia approximately 5000 cancers per year and over 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers are work-related. Professor Lin Fritschi, from the Western Australian Institute of Medical Research, presented on Occupational carcinogen exposure: The challenges of uncertainty and management (using shiftwork as an example). She explained what the difficulties are in Australia when it comes to measuring the exposures of workers, and the sort of work she and colleagues have been doing.
In a very inspiring presentation, the international guest speaker, Ms Lucy Servido, Senior Vice President, CAPACCIO Environment Engineering Massachusetta, USA, described her experiences with the Toxic Use Reduction Act in Massachusetts. The Act has now been in place for over 20 years, and has delivered some fantastic outcomes.
Flu and colds
Many employers now organise flu shots for their workers – having healthy workers ensures better productivity and reduces the risks of infections spreading in the office. While it’s been calculated that absenteeism accounts for about $6 billion in lost productivity in Australia each year, presenteeism – that is coming in to work while ill – has been estimated to cost business about $25 billion each year. (
Canberra Times Healthy dose of work )
So this is an issue HSRs might consider raising with their employers: particularly those who represent workers whose work means they come into contact with the general public or students and are at a higher risk of catching the flu. Flu vaccinations are available at The Worker’s Occupational Health Centre (WOHC) now. WOHC is located at the Trades Hall (entry via Victoria Street). Alternatively, they are able to come out to worksites on Mondays and Tuesdays at a time that suits the employer. Please contact the WOHC on 9662 4820 for more information or to book a session.
VicHealth Creating Healthy Workplaces
Victoria's Health Minister the Hon. David Davis and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) have launched a $1.8 million program to improve health in Victorian workplaces. VicHealth’s
Creating Healthy Workplaces Program includes the release of five international evidence reviews on how stress, gender inequality, alcohol, race-based discrimination and prolonged sitting at work contribute to chronic disease. Along with the reports, four large statewide organisations will commence three-year pilot projects to find solutions to prevent workplaces from contributing to ill-health. These are:
- Victoria Police (a project with Probationary Constables to identify the sources and effects of job stress and then to develop more tailored, needs-based approaches to stress prevention);
- Eastern Access Community Health (also a stress project, testing the efficiency of a range of stress
- the YMCA (a project to build equal relationships between men and women, increases women’s representation and leadership in the workplace and creates a positive, respectful and equitable culture and working conditions); and
- the Department of Human Services (project to design, implement and evaluate organisational and systems strategies for reducing prolonged sitting in office workers in SMART call centres).
The publications are available in hard copy from VicHealth or can be downloaded from the
Creating Healthy Workplaces Program website. Read more:
VicHealth Media Release Victoria gets serious about workplace health
Health Department Media Release
Victorian firefighters could miss out on compensation for cancer
As reported in previous editions of
SafetyNet, the firefighters union has been lobbying for the adoption of special compensation arrangements for members who contract certain cancers, now clearly recognised as being caused by their work. The Age reported last week that unfortunately, due to differences in laws across Australia, Victorian firefighters in this position are not eligible for WorkCover payments, while those employed by the Commonwealth are able to claim compensation.
Last year, the Federal Labour government passed legislation ensuring that firefighters employed by the Commonwealth would receive workers' compensation coverage if they contracted one of 12 specified types of cancer. The Victorian state Labour opposition and the Greens now want the Baillieu government to make Victorian firefighters eligible for WorkCover if they contract one of those cancers. Read more: The Age
Flight Centre worker lodges adverse action claim
A former Flight Centre assistant store manager last week lodged an adverse action claim (under federal IR legislation) alleging he was victimised by his manager after complaining about bullying of a colleague by a store manager and that the company, including its HR manager, failed to take action to halt the conduct. The worker, at the time an assistant manager at the chain's Chadstone store, claims he complained repeatedly to the company's management, including the area manager, about the store manager's bullying of a female colleague. He says that after his complaints, the manager began to bully and victimise him. After he complained about this treatment, he was moved to another store, which he says was in fact a demotion.
Josh Bornstein, a principal with Maurice Blackburn, who is acting for the worker, said that the adverse action provisions played an important role in protecting whistleblowers from victimisation and retribution.
ACT Greens’ bullying survey results
The ACT Greens have released the results of their online bullying survey. The results reveal that of the 135 people who completed the survey, 75 per cent said they had been bullied, and the majority within the last twelve months. The survey found close to half of all bullying incidents were not reported. Further, 85 per cent of those who did report said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the response. ‘The survey results not only show that bullying remains a real problem in ACT workplaces, but that bullying incidents commonly go unreported. People who do report bulling incidents are frequently dissatisfied with the response they receive,’ said Greens Industrial Relations spokesperson, Amanda Bresnan. This is not dissimilar to the experiences of Victorian workers who report being bullied to our state regulator. Source: ACT Greens Media Release
International Union News
UK: Abuses still exist in Olympic supply chains
A new report has found that workers making London 2012 Olympic sportswear for top brands and high street names including Adidas and Next are being paid poverty wages, forced to work excessive overtime and threatened with instant dismissal if they complain about working conditions. Researchers working for the Playfair 2012 campaign visited ten factories - eight of which were producing Olympic goods - in China, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and talked to 175 workers about their working conditions. The report, 'Fair games'? Human rights of workers in Olympic 2012 supplier factories' [pdf ], documents a range of working hours, pay and safety abuses. At an Amerseas Enterprises Factory in China, producing sportswear for London Olympics sponsor Adidas, workers said they were unable to wear the safety masks to protect against dust because of unrealistic production targets. Playfair 2012 says this additional evidence should increase the pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to improve the working conditions in Olympic supply chains in the run up to Rio 2016. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Despite the London organisers' best intentions and its confidence that factory audits would be enough to expose any abuses, this report shows that there have been goods made in Olympic supply chains where the workers were treated in a way that cannot be described as ethical.’
TUC news release and action call. ITUC news release.
Increased lung cancer linked to exposure to long thin fibres
Animal data and physical models suggests that the carcinogenicity of asbestos fibres is related to their size and shape. Recent research investigating the influence of fibre length and diameter on lung cancer risk in workers at asbestos textile mills in North Carolina and South Carolina, USA has support the hypothesis that the occurrence of lung cancer is associated most strongly with exposure to long thin asbestos fibres.
Researchers, led by Professor Dr Dana Loomis, Department of Epidemiology, from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, followed for vital status through 2003 over 6000 workers who worked more than 30 days in production and were employed between 1940 and 1973. They found that exposure to fibres throughout the range of length and diameter was significantly associated with increased risk of lung cancer. Models for fibres >5 µm long and <0.25 µm in diameter provided the best fit to the data, while fibres 5–10 µm long and <0.25 µm in diameter were associated most strongly with lung cancer mortality (log rate about 4% per IQR, p<0.001). When indicators of mean fibre length and diameter were modelled simultaneously, lung cancer risk increased as fibre length increased and diameter decreased.
Loomis, D, et al Increased lung cancer mortality among chrysotile asbestos textile workers is more strongly associated with exposure to long thin fibres [ abstract] Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oemed-2012-100676.
Heavy exposure to diesel exhaust linked to lung cancer death in miners
In a study of non-metal miners in the United States, federal government scientists reported that heavy exposure to diesel exhaust increased risk of death from lung cancer. The study was carried out by researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both parts of HHS. The results were distributed in two papers in March, 2012, from the J ournal of the National Cancer Institute and be posted to the JNCI website.
The research, part of the Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study, was designed to evaluate cancer risk from diesel exhaust, particularly as it may relate to lung cancer, among 12,315 workers at eight non-metal mining facilities. The facilities were located in Missouri (1 limestone mine), New Mexico (3 potash mines), Ohio (1 salt mine), and Wyoming (3 trona mines, which process an ore used in soda ash). Health outcomes associated with exposure to diesel exhaust were reported in two complementary papers. The first documented the risk of dying from any cause, with an emphasis on lung cancer, using data from the full study population (the cohort study). The second (the case-control study) reported on the lung cancer deaths in the cohort study.
The cohort study revealed that the risk of lung cancer among heavily exposed underground workers was
five times the risk observed among workers in the lowest exposure category. The case-control study confirmed the lung cancer findings from the cohort study. When the investigators took into account smoking and other lung cancer risk factors, the data showed a three-fold risk of lung cancer death overall and about a five-fold risk for heavily exposed underground workers, which is consistent with the cohort analysis. For never smokers, risk of lung cancer death increased with increasing diesel exhaust exposure.
National Cancer Institute Media Release. More detailed information on the Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study, see Questions & Answers.
Open Plan Offices
Most offices are now ‘open plan’, designed this way because firstly it saves space and money, and secondly to foster communication among workers. However, research has shown that such offices have raised issues of noise and speech privacy, with workers creating their own ‘barricades’ and developing ‘technology etiquette’. Such issues can and do contribute to workplace stress. They can also affect worker productivity. Now worker complaints are being heard, with companies are redesigning offices, and using ‘pink noise’ to improve the acoustics and bringing in engineers to solve volume issues. Researchers at the Berkeley Centre for the Built Environment at the University of California study what works and what doesn’t in offices and other commercial buildings, and are measuring the unhappiness and lower productivity of distracted workers. After surveying 65,000 people over the past ten years in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia, the Berkeley researchers report that more than half of office workers are dissatisfied with the level of ‘speech privacy’ – this is the leading complaint in offices everywhere.
Source: The Age. University of California, Berkeley Centre for the Built Environment Publications, including Salter, C. and T.R. Lawrence, 2012 Summary Report: Acoustical Performance Measurement Protocols for Commercial Buildings [pdf]
WorkSafe Victoria Awards
This is a reminder that nominations for the 2012 WorkSafe Victoria Awards are now open with WorkSafe calling on people and business who are ‘making a difference’ to enter. According to the regulator, the new online entry system takes just 10 minutes. There are several categories – those of most interest to unions and HSRs are those for workplace safety. WorkSafe Media Release
WA WorkCover commits to harmonisation
The Western Australian Government has indicated in its 2012/13 budget that it will introduce a mirror Work Health and Safety Bill to Parliament before the end of the year. Under the heading, ‘significant issues impacting the [Department of Commerce]’ - the Government says a ‘draft Work Health and Safety (WHS) Bill has been prepared and is expected to be introduced into Parliament this year’. The announcement means that Victoria will be the only jurisdiction in Australia to not introduce the model Work Health and Safety Act, Regulations and Codes of Practice. (see SafetyNet 236 Larissa – please put in link )
Safe Work Australia news
Comparison of Workers’ Compensation Arrangements
Safe Work Australia has released the Comparison of Workers’ Compensation Arrangements in Australia and New Zealand (2012). The 2012 edition of the report is now available online on the Safe Work website in both PDF and word versions. The report provides information on the operation of workers’ compensation schemes in each of the jurisdictions in Australia and New Zealand. It has been substantially revised and reformatted to improve comparability and readability. The Comparison provides background to the evolution of workers’ compensation arrangements in Australia and New Zealand, and discusses the way that each scheme deals with key aspects such as the size and nature of the schemes, coverage, benefits, return to work provisions, self-insurance, common law, dispute resolution and cross-border arrangements.
An Alert from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland after a worker fell 13 metres from the top level of a boiler house and landed on the guard rail of a landing, sustaining fatal injuries. The regulator is investigating the incident, which occurred last week at a manufacturing workplace in Bundamba, south-west of Brisbane. The man was a licensed boiler operator.
Second prosecution in four years for company and its director
Company director Stanley Guthrie and his Epping business Manumatic Industries Pty Ltd, have been prosecuted and fined a total of $124,000 for serious workplace health and safety charges for the second time in four years.
Melbourne Magistrate Elizabeth Lambden last week said that after a prosecution for a workplace fatality in 2006, she would have expected safety to be part of day to day operations.
In August 2009 incident, a worker using a pipe-bending machine designed by Mr Guthrie had his finger crushed because a light curtain, which should automatically stop the machine if a beam was broken, had been over-ridden. In December 2009, another worker had the tip of a finger partially severed as he tried to remove a piece of metal that had just been cut by a saw. The man’s glove was caught by the saw which did not stop at the rate required by the Australian Standards.
WorkSafe found the company did not have standardised or consistent training; allowed machines to be used in a way that did not provide adequate guarding; and that Mr Guthrie failed to take reasonable care.
The company and Mr Guthrie were first prosecuted in December 2009 after a man died at the company’s Epping factory in August 2006. Mr Guthrie and Manumatic Industries were each convicted and fined $100,000 as a result of those charges. Machine guarding issues were a feature of that matter, including the effectiveness of the laser light curtain.
WorkSafe’s General Manager of Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said effective machine guarding and training of workers was a fundamental obligation for all employers and needed to be a priority for directors, managers and supervisors.
Source: WorkSafe Media Release
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