Issue 249 - SafetyNet 249
The VTHC OHS Unit welcomes our subscribers to Edition 249 of the fortnightly OHS bulletin SafetyNet. We are having ongoing technical issues with some aspects of our website – we apologise for any inconvenience. If you have a comment on any of the items or have any queries, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
ETU Warns members of potential exposure
The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has issued a warning to its members who the union fears may be exposed to asbestos from working on meter boards. It says that hundreds of electricians around the country are thought to have contracted deadly mesothelioma from this work. The union wants the states to carry out an audit of meter boards in government-owned buildings. There are potentially thousands of electrical boards around the country with asbestos in them. ETU assistant national secretary Allen Hicks says too many of its members have contracted mesothelioma over the years. 'If there's a risk, any risk at all, of exposure to asbestos then we would certainly recommend our members not work on those boards till such time as it's been remedied,' he said. 'We're not confident that all electrical workers understand these risks and we want to make sure it's loudly known and clearly known to electrical workers across the country.'
Read more: ABC Online
Herald Sun Weekend Asbestos story
Last Sunday's Herald Sun ran a lengthy article in their Sunday magazine supplement Asbestos:
Our Silent Killer. Lou Williams, was a small child when she hugged her father Norm, and later washed his overalls. Norm was a plasterer, was diagnosed with the fatal asbestos disease mesothelioma in 1985 and died six months later. No-one in the family imagined that Lou too would develop mesothelioma, but this was the diagnosis she received in 2003. Unlike her father, however, Lou has managed to live almost ten years after this diagnosis, saying 'I can't explain why I'm still here.' However, her life has not been easy, with several bouts of chemotherapy and surgery. Despite her diagnosis, perhaps even because of it, Lou has been a tireless campaigner – seeking to raise awareness of this deadly substance that surrounds us. Even today, even though her health has taken a turn for the worse, Lou told SafetyNet , 'I will continue to put up a fight and also continue to raise awareness and advocacy,' offering her services if we need them. She is currently in Nice, France, 'enjoying November' in her words, 'ready to face December and possibly radical surgery and/or chemo.'
While having such a great article in the mainstream media is an effective way to highlight the dangers of asbestos, there was one misleading statement. In describing how workers came home and hugged their families 'a cloud of dust often rose from their clothing.' Then 'No one realised (asbestos') invisible fibres, 50 to 200 times thinner than a human hair, were working their way into people's lungs, where they lay dormant for many years before developing into the incurable lung cancer, mesothelioma.' Of course, people DID know – doctors, the companies producing the materials, and their executives knew. It was only the workers who didn't know. Subscribers need to make sure they watch 'Devil's Dust' (see next item)
Source: Sunday Herald Sun Sunday Magazine
- Killer Company and Devil's Dust
A reminder to readers that the ABC will be broadcasting the much anticipated mini-series 'Devil's Dust', based on Matt Peacock's book Killer Company, this coming weekend beginning Sunday November 11 and ending on Monday November 12. To read more about the mini-series and see a clip, go to the article Devil's Dust – Australian movie on asbestos and corporate morality on the SafetyAtWork blog in which Kevin Jones says, 'This is not a documentary on asbestos-related diseases. It follows the story of investigative journalist Matt Peacock from the 1970s to the present day in parallel with the corporate machinations of James Hardie Industries and its former CEO, John Reid and the life, times and death of Bernie Banton.'
- Asbestoswise Annual General Meeting 2012
The Asbestoswise Annual General Meeting will be held on Tuesday 13 November, 1-2pm at the Asbestoswise Office, 249-251 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.
- Asbestos Awareness Week and related activities
Coming up in November is Asbestos Awareness Week November 26 - 30. Please take note of annual services in Melbourne and Gippsland, organised by Asbestoswise and GARDS respectively, at 11am Friday 30 November. More information on these are other events is on the website
NOTE: we continue to have technical problems with the Ask Renata function on the website. If you have sent in a query and not received a reply, we apologise – but please send it in again, directly to Renata at email@example.com
This week's question:
We are having problems with being consulted by our employer. Is there a standard definition used in OHS for consultation and what consultation involves? The Act only gives a basic definition and management always state "we need to consult but we don't have to agree".
There is no 'standard' definition, but both the Act and the regulations seek to promote genuine consultation. A good 'definition' was used in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission:
"In relation to the concept of consultation I wish to make it clear that this involves more than a mere exchange of information. For consultation to be effective the participants must be contributing to the decision-making process not only in appearance, but in fact." [Commissioner Smith(C No. 30472 of 1991)]
WorkSafe has also produced a number of good and useful documents on Consultation, which can be downloaded on this page of the new HSR Portal.
If you have any OHS - related queries or questions, then why not send them in to Renata? Send in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we promise you a quick and easy to understand response within a couple of working days at the latest. And it's free!
Ambos fight new policy
Victoria's paramedics, who disagree with a new Ambulance Victoria (AV) policy to send graduate paramedics to emergency cases alone, have produced a video podcast which explains their concerns. Paramedics are regularly called out to dangerous cases and are often threatened or assaulted by intoxicated or drug affected patients, psychiatric patients or aggressive bystanders and relatives. Paramedics have in the past been punched, kicked, spat at or even been stabbed with syringes and for this reason they always work in pairs.
Graduate paramedics have never been allowed to respond alone until now when AV introduced this policy without proper consultation. AV has a strong OHS committee framework however none of the committees were given details prior to the policy being introduced. Only eight HSRs out of 215 were able to provide feedback. WorkSafe has directed AV to consult now, however student paramedics are still at risk as AV has not withdrawn the policy to allow consultation to occur.
Several HSRs have issued PINs regarding the policy - these were challenged by AV, not upheld by WorkSafe inspectors (apart from one on consultation) and are now being considered by Internal Review. 40 paramedics appear in the podcast to have their say – so take a look.
SA firefighters win on cancer comp law
In a great win for the UFU, firefighters in South Australia will soon be compensated for primary brain, bladder and kidney cancers. SA will be the first state to compensate firefighters for occupational cancer given their exposure to toxic chemicals and dangerous materials. The onus of proof would be reversed and certain cancers would be presumed to be work-related. The federal Parliament passed legislation last November to ensure Commonwealth firefighters are compensated for specified cancers
National Harassment Survey reveals problem
According to a survey conducted by the Human Rights Commission and released last week, s*xual harassment is widespread in Australian workplaces and worryingly, progress to address this conduct has stalled.
In releasing the Working without fear: Results of the S*xual Harassment National Telephone Survey 2012, S*x Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick said the research, which is conducted every four years, showed 'little has changed'. The research showed approximately one in five people aged 15 years and older were harassed in the workplace in the past five years: one in four women (25%) and one in six men (16%). Ms Broderick said, 'If a person's entire lifetime is considered, the gender gap is even more profound with a third of women (33%) and less than one in ten men (9%) experiencing sexual harassment.'
Targets of harassment are most likely to be women under 40 and harassers are most likely to be male co-workers. Women are at least five times more likely than men to have been harassed by a boss or employer. Men harassing women accounts for more than half of all s*xual harassment, while male harassment of men accounts for nearly a quarter.
Read more: Media Release and Survey
International Union News
New Zealand: Pike River mining disaster report
The final report on the 2010 Pike River mine disaster has warned New Zealanders they cannot afford to continually ignore the lessons of past tragedies. The government, unions, and the families of those who died in the mine are all calling for a change in national culture and the Pike River Royal Commission may bring sweeping health and safety reforms.
The royal commission found that the 29 deaths in the Pike River Coal mine two years ago were preventable. Its report is a damning indictment of the failings of the company and its management, and the government as regulator. New Zealand has double the rate of workplace fatalities in Australia and four times the rate in the United Kingdom. According to mining union official Ged O'Connell, workplace health and safety has been eroded by the country's 'love affair' with deregulation.
NZ's Prime Minister John Key has accepted the Royal Commission's 16 recommendations for tighter regulation and greater focus on workplace safety across the board. However, Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall has rejected many of the findings of the report. The lawyer for Mr Whittall, the former Chief Executive, and former Pike River directors John Dow, Ray Meyer, and Stuart Nattrass has said her clients do not accept that the board was slack on safety at the mine. Mr Whittall, who has been charged with 12 charges laid by the former Department of Labour following the explosions at the mine, is the only individual charged, and has pleaded not guilty.
Read (and listen to) ABC AM The Australian Pike River boss slams report
Britain: TUC critical of government changes to liability laws and cuts to workers' comp rights
Britain's peak union council, the TUC has strongly criticised moves to prevent workers from gaining compensation when they are injured and the employer has broken a health and safety law that has 'strict liability'. In these cases the employer cannot claim that they did everything 'reasonably practical', but can be convicted simply for not obeying the law. The government has introduced an amendment to remove the right to bring civil claims for breach of a statutory duty contained in certain health and safety legislation. This means that in future, in these cases, it will only be possible to bring a civil action for breach of common law duty of care, on the basis that the employer has been negligent. The TUC has said, 'There is no consideration of the unfairness to the employee if he or she cannot recover compensation in circumstances where the employee is entirely blameless and is doing no more than using, properly, a piece of equipment provided for him by the employer. Removing strict liability does nothing to remove unfairness, it merely creates unfairness. The TUC believes that where an employee goes to work and uses work equipment provided to them by their employer, if they are injured because it is faulty - even if the employer was unaware of that - it seems unreasonable to expect that loss to fall on the injured employee rather than the employer. After all it is the employer who supplied the equipment and controls how it should be used. Regardless of whose fault it is, therefore, the employer and not the employee who creates the risk.'
The TUC has also condemned the reintroduction of proposals to cut compensation for workers who are the victims of crime through their work. Proposals to slash payments were introduced by the government earlier this year and then withdrawn in September following cross-party opposition. They have now been hurriedly reintroduced in exactly the same form as before, despite a promise to reconsider the proposals and bring them back 'in a better form'. TUC head of health and safety, Hugh Robertson said 'This is yet another attack on workers compensation from a government obsessed with shifting the blame for injuries caused though work on to the employee.'
TUC Briefing. Source: Risks 580
WorkSafe OHS Week winners announced
Thirty-five finalists, from as far as Mildura and Wonthaggi, Wangaratta and Geelong, were recognised in the annual WorkSafe Week Awards last week.
WorkSafe Media Release
National roundup: WHS laws
South Australia has now committed to join the harmonised Work Health and Safety (WHS) system from 1 January 2013, a move which leaves just Western Australia and Victoria out of step. The legislation passed through the SA's Upper House last on 1 November after lengthy negotiations between the State Government and crossbenchers threatened to derail the proposed laws.
'After rigorous and lengthy debate, the Upper House has reached agreement which will benefit all South Australian workers and their families,/ SA industrial relations minister Russell Wortley said in a statement. 'The Govt believes the new laws take into consideration modern working relationships and will clarify everyone's role in workplace safety.'
The Federal Government has again urged Victoria and Western Australia to 'follow suit'. Federal Minister for Workplace relations, Bill Shorten, said that 64 in every 100 working Australians will be covered by 'modern, best practice and consistent laws' when South Australia and Tasmania join the national system in less than two months.'
Read more: Minister Shorten's Media Release Less Red Tape in SA and Tasmania: Harmonised Work Heath and Safety
Queensland: However, in recent news from this state, it appears that the government is considering significantly amending its mirror WHS Act to remove subcontractors from the definition of "worker", and limit union entry rights, under a roundtable plan to reduce the "cost burdens" on employers. In not supporting the move, Australian Workers Union (AWU) Queensland assistant secretary, Ben Swan, said the State Government and industry groups were placing too much emphasis on saving businesses money.
NSW: Company fined $80,000 after worker sustained serious spinal injury
A Taree timber recycling mill was fined $80,000 after a worker received serious crush injuries to his spine, resulting in paraplegia. The court found there were multiple failures in systems of work in the Ironwood Mill at Pampoolah and that the risk of serious injury was foreseeable.
At the time of the incident the injured worker was on top of a stack of timber being moved by a forklift in the kiln area. The forklift operator, also a company director, left the forklift and then re-boarded it from the wrong side. In doing so, the operator's clothes caught a lever, causing the forklift's tines to rise, pinning the worker between the load and the inside of the kiln. This resulted in the worker's spinal cord being severed. The man is now a wheelchair bound paraplegic. The company was convicted, fined and ordered to pay WorkCover's costs.
General Manager of WorkCover's Work Health and Safety Division, John Watson said the incident serves as a stern reminder there is no room for complacency towards safety. 'Tragically, this incident could have been easily avoided if simple and safe systems of work had been followed. Working with forklifts and machinery poses a range of risks which should be always addressed prior to work being undertaken,' Mr Watson said.
Read more: WorkCover Media Release
WA: company fined $40k for amputation
Perth food manufacturer Harvest Freshcuts Pty Ltd was last week convicted and fined $40,000 plus $12,000 in costs after a worker lost two fingers in a vegetable slicer in a 2009 incident. WorkSafe WA found the three rotating blades of a belt slicer were covered by a guard that automatically cut the power when opened. Switching off, unplugging the machine or pressing an emergency stop button cut the power. In June 2009, an employee hit the emergency stop button and put his hand into the chamber to clear out some vegetables. However, the emergency stop button and interlock were not working due to an electrical fault. The spinning blades amputated two of his fingers to the middle of his knuckle.
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