Issue 238 - SafetyNet 238 Issue 238
Welcome to Edition 238 of the VTHC fortnightly OHS bulletin SafetyNet. The OHS Unit hopes you find this edition interesting and informative. If you have a query or would like to comment on any of the items, please do so by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OHS Reps Website
The OHS website staff have been busy checking and updating links on the website, as well as adding new materials. We ask you as users of the site to please contact us with details if you come across any broken or incorrect links. We would really appreciate the assistance. Examples of new material:
New page on Inspectors and Enforcement
A new worker survey attached to the Hazard page on Strains and Sprains – a useful tool which HSRs can amend to identify where workers may be experiencing pain or discomfort.
International Call for Action to Stop Intimidation of Scientists by the Asbestos Industry
The scientific evidence is overwhelmingly clear that all asbestos is deadly and that "safe use" of asbestos is impossible. The world's leading health authorities have called for an end to the use of any asbestos, stating that this is the only way to prevent further tragic epidemics of asbestos-related disease and death. However, as part of its ruthless tactics to try to suppress the scientific evidence about harm caused by asbestos, the asbestos industry has filed legal threats against scientists in Brazil, India and Thailand to try to silence them. A Statement condemning the intimidation tactics of the asbestos industry, expressing support for the scientists being threatened, and calling on governments everywhere to put the health of their citizens first and to stop the use of all asbestos has been signed by close to one hundred leading scientists around the world, including seven in Australia.
Read more: The Statement and call for Action.
Mesothelioma - Photodynamic Therapy yields longer survival rates
Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania have found that treating patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma with PDT (photodynamic therapy) alongside lung-sparing surgery appears to result in significantly longer survival rates of up to two years longer compared to other treatments, and sometimes even more. 38 patients, all of them with mesothelioma, underwent lung-sparing surgery and photodynamic therapy. In each case, a specialist decided whether they were suitable for lung-sparing surgery. All but one of them had advanced stage (III/IV) cancer. When they were followed up 34 months after the PDT plus lung-sparing surgery, the median overall survival rate was 31.7 months. In 31 of the patients, the subtype of the cancer was a significant factor, the authors added. They had the epithelial subtype - and their median overall survival was 41.2 months.
Lead author, Joseph Friedberg, MD, said, 'While I don't consider anything short of a cure as a victory against mesothelioma, I am encouraged by our results. Based on our new findings, we are redoubling our clinical and translational research efforts to find a way to further improve and refine this multimodality treatment approach for mesothelioma. The research has been reported in
Annals of Thoracic Surgery.
Friedberg, Joseph S., et al Radical Pleurectomy and Intraoperative Photodynamic Therapy for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. Ann Thorac Surg 2012 93: 1658-1667 Medical News Today
I hope my query finds its way to the right Department.
I have a rather new motel and I comply with all the OHS Rules. Now there are two motels in the town, mine and another one. The other motel was built in the early 1970's. I am constantly getting complaints from guests who feel there is asbestos and I would like to now how this can be checked, as the owner does not think the rules apply to him.
I think you've written to me in the past, and as I explained, we are the OHS Unit at the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the peak union council in the State. We are not part of the government and so do not have the capacity (including legal capacity) to be able to come out and respond to your concerns.
The places I suggest you contact for more information or advice are either the local council or WorkSafe Victoria.
If you call the council, ask to speak to the Environmental Officer. The council has the ability to deal with issues that could be seen as being 'public nuisance' issues, so it may be that the advice is that there is not much they can do. WorkSafe is the government regulator for occupational health and safety. There are Asbestos regulations which are in place in Victoria, which apply to workplaces, and the motel is in fact a workplace, as there are workers present. However, WorkSafe may need to get an inquiry/complaint directly from either a worker or someone who has stayed in the other motel and is concerned about the possible asbestos issue.
The Advisory Service number is: (03) 9641 1444 or 1800 136 089 (toll free) or contact them by email at email@example.com
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!
Bullying in Schools
According to a new book,
Bullying of Staff in Schools, being launched in Sydney this week, over 95 per cent of staff in schools have experienced some form of workplace bullying.
Authors Dr Dan Riley, Dr Deirdre J Duncan and John Edwards, say a zero tolerance approach is needed to stamp out this behaviour. The authors collated responses from more than 2,500 government, Catholic and independent school employees to 42 separate kinds of bullying. More than 75 per cent of respondents experienced a third or more of these bullying behaviours. According to the research, the types of bullying behaviour most likely to be experienced by staff in schools are the questioning of one's professional judgement and being set impossible targets, deadlines or workload. Over 80 per cent of respondents had experienced these behaviours. Australian Council for Educational Research Media Release
Federal Government announces workplace bullying review
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten last week announced a review into bullying in the workplace, to be undertaken by the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment. The review will look at the nature, causes and extent of workplace bullying and consider proposals to prevent bullying cultures developing as well help individuals who have been affected by bullying to return to work. It will consult extensively with the community (public submissions close Friday, June 29) and will report by 30 November 2012.
The Review is an acknowledgement of the extent of the problem, with the Productivity Commission estimating the total cost of workplace bullying in Australia at between $6 billion and $36 billion annually, as well as the effect on families. In the 'doorstop' announcement, made in the company of Brodie Panlock's parents, the Prime Minister referring to the Victorian law and national initiatives, said, '… more needs to be done and if we have a national parliamentary inquiry, it will enable people to come forward, tell their stories, help us work out the prevalence of bullying in work places and also help us add to what we are doing now. And one way we could add to what we are doing now is to take Brodie's law nationally and to have common national laws to deal with bullying at work.' The Review will consider whether there are regulatory, administrative or cross-jurisdictional and international legal and policy gaps that should be addressed, and whether the existing regulatory frameworks provide a sufficient deterrent against workplace bullying.
There is information to assist anyone interested in making a submission to such parliamentary committees. For further information, contact the committee secretariat on (02) 6277 4578, email or visit the Committee's website.
Read more: Prime Minister's Media Release, ABC News SafetyAtWork Blog Bullying hits the national agenda
Skin Health Week
The week June 11 - 16 is the Skin and Cancer Foundation's first annual Skin Health Week. The week highlights the biggest organ of our body and its the aim is to raise awareness of about skin conditions and the importance of looking after our skin at any age. The week will end with the White Night Gala Ball on June 16, at which the Foundation hands out awards. Last year the OHS Reps@Work website was the winner of the 'Professional Association or Union' Award.
The Foundations says: 'Every Australian will suffer from at least one skin condition during their lifetime. Like the common cold, skin conditions vary enormously from mild conditions such as dry skin, warts or acne which affect the appearance of the skin to severe conditions such as skin cancer which can have a significant impact on a person's health and wellbeing. It's possible to prevent common skin conditions through a few simple changes such as daily use of sunscreen, taking short showers and minimising the contact of soaps and cleaning products on the skin.' It recommends having regular skin checks - done by the individual themselves, and by a professional if there are any concerns.
Research has shown that the greatest carcinogen that Australian workers are exposed to is UV radiation - mainly from sunlight, with our country having the highest rate of melanomas and other skin cancers in the world. Furthermore, there are a number of skin conditions caused or exacerbated by work, such as contact dermatitis. Workers in certain occupations are at increased risk of suffering with these conditions. The Skin and Cancer Foundation, located at 1/80 Drummond St, Carlton runs clinics, produces great information and regular newsletters, and is a resource for those wishing to know more.
Read more: Skin and Cancer Foundation newsletter, Skin Deep (May 2012) [pdf], Sunlight - UV Radiation, Dermatitis and other skin conditions
With the start of winter, are you getting flu shots?
If your employer has not yet organised flu shots for employees, HSRs might like to raise it for consideration. Flu shots can be of benefit not only to the workers but also to employers: healthy workers are more 'productive' and the risk of infections spreading in the office is reduced. Absenteeism accounts for about $6 billion in lost productivity in Australia each year, but presenteeism (sick workers going in to work) has been estimated to cost business about $25 billion each year. ( Canberra Times Healthy dose of work ). Meanwhile the ABC this week reported that WA Health Department figures show 422 people were diagnosed with the flu in the first 20 weeks of the year - almost double the number reported in the same time last year. Health Department officials there are urging people to get flu shots while they can, saying it's not too late to do so. The same advice applies to workers all over Australia, particularly given the cold snap currently being experienced in the eastern states. The Worker's Occupational Health Centre (WOHC) can organise to provide flu vaccinations at the workplace (on Mondays or Tuesdays) or for workers at their offices at the Trades Hall. Please contact the WOHC on (03) 9662 4820 for more information or to book a session.
ACTU OHS, Rehab and Compensation Policy
The ACTU's OHS, Rehabilitation and Compensation Policy, as passed at the recent ACTU Congress is now available to download from the ACTU website. Also available to download are two factsheets on the policy and the OHS Resolution.
Subscribers might also like to listen to an interview done last Sunday on Radio National's Sunday Profile where Richard Aedy interviews the new ACTU Secretary, Dave Oliver who started work as an apprentice. In the interview, Mr Oliver talks of his early experiences at work, including being exposed to toxic chemicals and extremely dangerous workplaces. ABC Radio National Sunday Profile (Sunday June 3, 2012)
Job insecurity affecting Australians' mental health
The CEO of Beyond Blue, Kate Carnell, last week said in an interview on the ABC's AM program that job insecurity is one of the leading risk factors for depression and even heart disease. She said research was showing that the increasing casualisation of the Australian workforce, with now 40 per cent of works employed in insecure working arrangements, has resulted in an increase in mental health disorders and heart disease amongst workers. The ABC's AM Program
International Union News
New ILO Director-General
The International Labour Organization (ILO) has elected Guy Ryder as its tenth Director-General. This election means that for the first time the ILO will be led by someone with trade union rather than government experience. Mr Ryder began his career at the International Department of the Trade Union Congress in London. In 1985, he moved to Geneva, as Secretary of the Industry Trade Section of the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees (FIET). In 1988, Mr Ryder became Assistant Director and – from 1993 – Director of the Geneva Office of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. ILO Media Release
USA: Fracking workers in deadly peril
'Fracking' - hydraulic fracturing, a process used to free natural gas and oil from shale rock – has been much in the news in Australia over the past few months, with mining companies increasingly wanting to access these resources, even close to metropolitan cities. US unions last week warned that workers in this industry may be being exposed to high levels of crystalline silica, putting them at risk of silicosis, lung cancer and other debilitating diseases. US national union federation AFL-CIO, Mine Workers (UMWA) and the United Steelworkers (USW) sent a letter to top US federal safety agencies last week highlighting a recent two-year National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) assessment. The assessment found that, among those exposed, 79 per cent of samples for silica exceeded the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limits. Silica sand is a major component of the fracking process. The sand is mixed with large volumes of water and chemical additives and injected under high pressure by drilling into shale rock. Massive quantities of sand are used and workers are at risk of high levels of exposure during multiple points of the fracking process. The letter urges the safety agencies to take immediate action and issue a joint 'hazard alert' that identifies the occupational safety and health hazards in the fracking industry, with a special focus on silica exposures. It also recommends OSHA take immediate steps to produce a new silica standard that includes requirements for exposure monitoring and medical surveillance. The union bodies also want NIOSH to expand its field work in the fracking industry to include medical surveillance of workers. AFL-CIO blog and letter [pdf]. Information on Silica Source: Risks
Inspections are good for safety and jobs
US research has shown that preventing safety inspectors turning up and taking action against law-breaking employers can end up being bad for business. A May 2012 study led by Professor Michael Toffel of the Harvard Business School found that a surprise visit from an official safety inspector is good for both jobs, the bottom line, and worker health and safety. The study, published in the journal Science, used a 'clinical trial' of California's randomised safety inspections to discern their effect on both worker safety and companies' bottom lines. The results were unequivocal: Workplace inspections do reduce on-the-job injuries and their associated costs and do not cause any harm to companies' performance or profits. The study looked at company survival, employment, sales and total payroll to see if inspections were detrimental to the inspected firms. It found a 9.4 per cent drop in injury claims at workplaces in the four years following an inspection, as well as an average savings of 26 per cent on workers' compensation costs compared to similar, non-inspected companies. 'Across the numerous outcomes we looked at, we never saw any evidence of inspections causing harm,' Toffel explained. The effect was long lasting: the reduced injuries and cost savings lasted for at least four years after the inspection. According to the study, if the same system was in operation nationwide the annual savings arising from surprise inspections would translate to roughly $6 billion to employers and employees, even without factoring in pain and suffering. Source: Risks 557. Harvard Business School news release, David Levine, et al "Randomized Government Safety Inspections Reduce Worker Injuries with No Detectable Job Loss" (abstract in Science).
Frequent night shifts increase risk of breast cancer
A study published last week in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine website, which found that frequent night shifts are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer has confirmed previous findings. The authors conducted a nationwide case-control study nested within a cohort of 18,551 female military employees born in 1929-1968 to investigate the risk for breast cancer after night shift work and to explore the role of leisure time sun exposure and diurnal preference. They documented 218 cases of breast cancer. Their findings indicate that frequent night shift work increases the risk for breast cancer and suggest a higher risk with longer duration of intense night shifts. Women with morning preference who worked on night shifts tended to have a higher risk than those with evening preference.
Johnni Hansen and Christina F Lassen "Nested case–control study of night shift work and breast cancer risk among women in the Danish military" [Abstract Full text (pdf )] Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oemed-2011-100240 Read more: Cancer – What causes it? Shiftwork - Health Effects TUC Occupational cancer guide [pdf].
Hand/wrist pain in hospital-based nurses
Australian researchers associated with Monash University have found a
high prevalence of hand and wrist pain in hospital based nurses. The
researchers assessed over 1110 nurses working for three hospitals in
Melbourne between October 2009 and January 2010. They found that
healthcare workers, especially nurses, are particularly at risk of
developing musculoskeletal disorders, symptomised primarily by low back
pain, but also by shoulder pain, neck pain and pain in the arm, elbow,
wrist or hand. Specifically, wrist or hand pain is highly prevalent in
hospital nurses, leading to a considerable proportion experiencing
disability and requiring time off work and medical attention. They also
found that both personal and physical factors, particularly repeated
wrist or finger movements for greater than four hours (but not involving
the use of a keyboard), somatising tendency (a process by which
psychological distress is expressed as physical symptoms) and physical
health and well-being, were 'significantly associated' with wrist or
hand pain among nurses. The researchers recommended that hospitals
should devise programs that limit the amount of time nurses spend
undertaking prolonged repetitive hand movements.
Inoka K Surawera, et al "Physical and psychosocial factors associated with wrist or hand pain among Australian hospital-based nurses" [abstract] OEM Inj Prev doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2011-040267
Office desks, chairs, phones germ-ridden
US researchers have found that offices are teeming with bacteria, most of which is human in origin. More than 500 bacterial genera were identified based on an analysis of viable heterotropic bacteria cultivated off office space surfaces in three US cities. There were highly significant differences in bacterial abundance among surfaces, genders, and cities, reported Scott Kelley, PhD, from San Diego State University, and colleagues in PLoS One. Chairs and phones were the most contaminated surfaces while spaces inhabited by men were more germ-ridden compared with areas where women worked (P=0.001), they noted. They found that human oral and nasal cavities as well as skin were the primary sources of office bacterial contamination. Proteobacteria (salmonella, helicobacter) was the most common, followed by firmicutes, actinobacteria, and bacteroidetes.
With regard to the the differences in contamination levels based on gender, the researchers offered two possible explanations: Men are perceived as being less hygienic than women (washing their hands less frequently) and they also may shed more bacteria into the environment simply because they are generally larger than women.
While the bacteria levels reported in the current study would probably only pose a problem for people who have severely compromised immune systems, these findings in "nominally 'healthy' buildings" could be useful for identifying sick building syndrome, the authors said.
Hewitt K, et al "Office space bacterial abundance and diversity in three metropolitan areas" PLoS One online, May 30, 2012. Source: Medpage Today
Formeldehyde exposure affects fertility
A Chinese study has found female partners of male workers who have been exposed to formaldehyde (FA) - a chemical used in a wide range of industries both here and in growing amounts in China – are more likely to have difficulties conceiving and then have a higher risk of spontaneous abortions. The chemical is widely used in resins, construction, wood processing, furniture, textiles, carpeting, hospitals, laboratories, and the chemical industry. China is now the largest producer and consumer of FA in the world, with the researchers saying that as result, pollution has also increased considerably particularly in occupational settings. This has led to 'growing concerns regarding the toxicity of FA exposure on male reproduction', with experimental studies of rodents showing it to be a male reproductive toxicant. The quality of human s*men has declined in the last 60 years, with between 10 and 15 per cent of couples being affected by infertility.
In China, the occupational exposure standard for FA is 0.5 mg/m³; however, some studies have shown that the levels of FA in some occupational environments were far higher, with a few extreme instances of exposures between 5.84 and 20.94 mg/m³. In Australia, the exposure standard is 1.2mg/m³.
The researchers looked at 302 male workers who were exposed to FA in their workplace, and 305 reference participants, and found there was a significant increased risk of spontaneous abortion in the wives of those exposed to FA, and an increased risk in it taking longer to conceive. The study also found these risks were slightly elevated in the wives of participants in the high FA exposure group, compared to the low exposure group.
Hai-Xu Wang, et al, China. "Effects of Paternal Occupation Exposure to Formaldehyde on Reproductive Outcomes" Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 54, Number 5, May 2012.
WorkSafe's annual roadshow kicked off May 15 with 19 metropolitan and country locations to be visited to June 19. Aimed at business operators, return to work coordinators and elected workplace health and safety representatives (for which special breakout sessions are being held for the first time), bookings are essential and can be made online. The free 60-minute sessions will provide information about a wide range of topics including: the latest news and developments in workplace health and safety, assisting injured workers get back to work, the WorkSafe premium and how it's calculated, and online employer services including a useful tool for the growing number of business operators who use contractors. WorkSafe's Deputy Chief Executive, Ian Forsyth, said the roadshow had grown into an important part of the organisation's community engagement strategy. 'People get information, but most importantly, they also have the opportunity to ask questions in an informal setting,' he said. More information and bookings
February Fatality report
Safe Work Australia has released Notified Fatalities Monthly Report for February 2012. There were 16 work-related notified fatalities reported during February 2012: 13 male workers and one female worker, and also one male and one female bystander. Of these fatalities, two workers died in an air crash incident, and three workers and one bystander died as a result of incidents on public roads. Safe Work notes that that as of January 2012 onwards, reporting is based on Calendar year and, by agreement with jurisdictions, the reporting of incidents on public roads should be more comprehensive. Consequently, comparison with earlier reports should be made with caution.
Notified Fatalities Monthly Report February 2012
Industrial chemicals news
Review of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme
As reported in SafetyNet, the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and the Department of Finance and Deregulation are undertaking a review of NICNAS to investigate how the regulatory settings may be improved to enhance both the competitiveness of the Australian chemical industry and public health and environmental outcomes. This is being done through a 'Better Regulation Ministerial Partnership' established to make recommendations on the regulatory settings for the notification, assessment and regulation of industrial chemicals, noting that any proposed changes to the regulatory arrangements for industrial chemicals should not weaken human health and environmental protection.
Various organisations, including the VTHC, made submissions at an early stage, which contributed to the development of a public discussion paper which outlines potential options for reforming the regulation of industrial chemicals. This has been released for public comment which closes Friday July 27, 2012.
Discussion Paper: Review of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS)–June 2012 [pdf] More information, including Stakeholder Submission Form, on the Office of Chemical Safety website
Draft PEC Report
NICNAS, the body which regulates the notification and assessment of industrial chemicals, has released a Draft PEC Report for Diisononyl Phthalate (DINP) for public comment. DINP is one of nine phthalates declared as Priority Existing Chemicals for public health risk assessments due to their 'ubiquitous use as platicisers in industrial and consumer products, and concerns regarding potential human health effects particularly reproductive and developmental effects. The report can be downloaded (in pdf format) from the NICNAS website.
Read more NICNAS news: NICNAS Matters [pdf]
From WorkCover NSW, a Safety Alert Mobile plant operating near overhead power lines after the Authority was notified of 55 life-threatening incidents involving energised lines in less than a year. The Alert outlines steps PCBUs (for Victoria, employers) can take to eliminate the risk, and a list of emergency-response procedures.
Five repeat offenders prosecuted in May
Serious repeat workplace safety offences have landed three companies and two individuals in court in May prompting WorkSafe to warn others to lift their game.
Laverton North meat processor, Diamond Valley Pork Pty Ltd and labour hire firm Sanikleen Pty Ltd were each convicted and fined $100,000 with costs of $2,463 last week. In June 2010, a Sanikleen employee working at Diamond Valley Pork had three fingers crushed in the spinning rollers of a machine which he was cleaning and oiling. His index and middle fingers were surgically amputated while his right ring finger has lost mobility. WorkSafe's investigation found the machine's guards had a gap of 20cm (wide enough to allow hands and fingers to come into contact with the rollers) and was also not locked-out or isolated from the power supply and the work instruction was inherently dangerous. Sanikleen was aware of this and alerted Diamond Valley Port by letter several months before the incident. Both companies had prior offences for workplace safety issues. In July 2009, Diamond Valley Pork was convicted and fined $45,000 and Sanikleen was convicted and fined $40,000 in 2005.
Earlier in May, Epping company Manumatic Industries Pty Ltd and its director, Stanley Guthrie, were convicted and fined a total of $124,000 on two counts after being charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act over incidents in August and December 2009.
And lastly, Joshua Luke Marshall was prosecuted in the Geelong Magistrates Court for the second time for working as an unlicensed asbestos removalist. He was fined a total of $13,250.
Source: WorkSafe Media Release Five Repeat Offenders get court in May
EU: Great new chemicals resource portal
A new project, SUBSPORT – the Substitution Support Portal was recently launched in the EU. According to the site, the goal of the SUBSPORT project is 'to develop an internet portal that constitutes a state-of-the-art resource on safer alternatives to the use of hazardous chemicals. It should be a source of not just information on alternative substances and technologies, but also of tools and guidance for substance evaluation and substitution management.' The Project is publicly available in four languages and includes, amongst other things:
a structured presentation of legal information on substitution throughout the European Union and, in part, on an international and national level (Substitution in Regulation)
a database of hazardous substances that are legally or voluntarily restricted or subjects of public debates
a compilation of prevalent criteria for the identification of hazardous substances
a description of existing substitution tools to compare and assess alternative substances and technologies
China: Still waiting for Apple to take action
Activist organisation TheSumOfUs is asking users of iPhones, etc in particular, to keep pressuring Apple to fulfil its promises made weeks ago. On its especially created website which is measuring the time lapsed, the organisation says: 'Our iPhones and other iGadgets are still made by workers treated unethically, even though Apple pledged to address violations of workers' rights in its Chinese supply chain. The counter on the left shows how long it's been since Apple made that pledge. But thus far, there has been no documentation of measurable improvements in working conditions for Apple factory workers.' Go onto the website to check out the video and sign the online petition.
USA: Public Health Groups Move to Enter Fight Over Toxic Chemical Styrene
One of the largest labour organisations in the US, a leading environmental advocacy group, and one of the top physicians in occupational medicine have filed legal papers aimed at making sure government can alert the American public to the potential dangers of styrene, a chemical used extensively in the manufacture of plastics, as well as boats, cars, bathtubs and products made with rubber, such as tyres and conveyer belts. The groups filed a motion to intervene in D.C. District Court, seeking to help defend the US Department of Health and Human Services' listing of styrene as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." The motion is in response to a chemical industry lawsuit attempting to force the agency to withdraw the styrene warning. Styrene has long been suspected of being harmful to human health. The listing of styrene by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) came after seven years of scientific review, vetting by multiple panels of experts, and numerous rounds of public comment.
Earthjustice Media Release
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