Wednesday 19 December, 2012
Welcome to the 252nd edition of the fortnightly OHS bulletin SafetyNet. This will be the last edition for the year, with the next one due at the end of January 2013. The whole team at SafetyNet and the VTHC OHS Unit wishes our readers a safe and healthy holiday season. If you have any OHS related queries or issues during this time, please contact your union directly, or WorkSafe Victoria's Advisory service on 03 9641 1444 or 1800 136 089
Workers die in lead up to Christmas
There were three confirmed worker fatalities in Victoria over four days last week, prompting WorkSafe to issue an urgent plea for workplaces to make safety their priority in the lead-up to the end of year break.
The three deaths were:
- a 50-year-old man who died in hospital on Thursday after he was struck by a reversing four-wheel loader at a Brooklyn concrete recycling yard the day before. The incident occurred while the man was directing traffic at the yard's tip area;
- on Tuesday, a man died in hospital after falling through a ceiling at a Ringwood site;
- a farmer in his 70s was found dead in the early hours of Monday December 11 after his tractor overturned on his property near Alexandra. It is believed the incident occurred the day before.
WorkSafe Health and Safety Operations General Manager, Lisa Sturzenegger, said the past week was a grim reminder of the importance of workplace safety. Ms Sturzenegger said November and December was a dangerous period for workplaces across the state. In 2011, in just a six-week period prior to Christmas, nine workers lost their lives. The recent incidents bring Victoria's workplace toll for 2012 to 17.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Japanese Court awards $13m to asbestos victims
The Tokyo District Court has ordered the government to pay $13 million to 170 former construction workers and their bereaved families over exposure to asbestos. However, the court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that private construction materials firms should also be held responsible for the health problems of their workers. Representatives of 337 people who became ill or died as a result of their exposure to asbestos, accused the government and 42 companies of failing to take adequate safety measures despite knowing about its dangers. They originally demanded 12 billion yen ($146 million) in damages, but the court awarded a total 1.06 billion yen to selected plaintiffs after case reviews.
Source: Australian Network News
Comcare Asbestos Forum
As previously reported, Comcare ran an Asbestos Forum during Asbestos Awareness week, with guest speakers including Mr Geoff Fary, former Chair of the Asbestos Management Review who spoke on improving asbestos awareness. Also of note, was Mr Steve Kibble, the newly appointed head of the Office of Asbestos Safety, who discussed Australia's national investment in asbestos elimination. These and other presentations on the financial impacts of asbestos exposure and disease, the recebt medical research on asbestos related disease, and more are now available to download on the Comcare website.
This week's question is:
In the lead up to Christmas, I've been going through the children's toys: there are several they have outgrown which are almost new. However, I've been told that all donated toys have to be new 'for health and safety reasons'. Is this true?
This is another of those times when people use the excuse of 'health and safety' for not allowing something to go ahead. There are no health and safety reasons at all for not donating second hand toys. The charity organisations will no doubt make sure any items are clean and in good condition, and so there is no reason why a good second-hand toy should not make a great present for a child over Christmas.
It takes extra time and manpower to check the condition of used toys and there may be other valid insurance or compensation issues, but the good news is there no health and safety regulations saying this can't be done.
Unions win in bid to keep OHS provisions in modern awards
In positive news for Australian workers, employers have lost in their bid to remove OHS provisions from modern awards. Fair Work Australia's modern awards review full bench has dismissed arguments put by the Master Builders Association (MBA) and backed in part by the Australian Industry Group and other employer groups about health and safety.
The employer bodies argued that OHS was already addressed in national and state OHS legislation, and so it not only was it unnecessary to include it in modern awards but 'a burdensome impost' on employers. They claimed that a certain part of the Fair Work Act "has the effect that provisions which directly regulate health and safety may not lawfully be included in modern awards". The full bench disagreed.
Unions SA: unsafe employers should not employ young
South Australian unions say South Australia desperately needs new laws to protect children who are in the workforce. SA Unions State Secretary, Janet Giles says South Australia does not have any child labour laws, which means there is no minimum age at which a child can legally begin work. 'That means there are no protections for children who are exposed to unsafe work, humiliated, harassed, degraded or ripped off - all forms of child abuse. Our Young Workers Legal Service has had complaints from young people as young as 13 who have experienced issues like these at work,' she said.
'We believe, for instance, that employers with a history of abusing young workers should be restricted or banned from employing young people in the future. And we don't believe that children under 18 should be working in high-risk construction work, or in jobs with hazardous risks, like asbestos removal.'
She said that employers with a history of abusing young workers should be restricted or banned from employing young people in the future.
Read more: SA Unions Media Release
The Nanotechnology Project (Australia) with one of the world's leading not-for-profit organisations, Friends of the Earth, has released its latest 'Nano News'. Items of interest include confirmation that the Federal Government has agreed to a Senate Inquiry into the use of antimicrobials and the build up of antimicrobial resistance; an update on nano in sunscreens; and a critical review of Australia's nanotechnology public engagement. Union reps have been active participants seeking to have input into government decisions on nanotechnology, but agree with the reviewers that the way the engagement has been undertaken has in great part been ineffective and biased.
International Union News
Europe: Work cancer action edges closer
The European Commission has moved a step closer to improving Europe's law on cancer exposures at work. The European Advisory Committee for Safety and Health at Work (ACSH), the industry-government-union body advising the Commission on workplace safety issues, adopted an opinion on 5 December 2012 backing the inclusion of new occupational exposure limit values (OELV) to a revised version of the Carcinogens Directive, which if implemented would have to be introduced European Union-wide. Laurent Vogel of the European Trade Union Confederation's research arm, ETUI, said if the Commission accepts the ACSH opinion, ten new limit values - for crystalline silica, refractory ceramic fibres, chromium VI, trichloroethylene, hydrazine, acrylamide, epichlorohydrin, 1,2-dibromoethane, methylenedianiline (MDA) and an updated wood dust standard - would be added to the list of occupational carcinogens for which a mandatory OELV will apply in all EU countries. The Directive currently contains only three limits - for vinyl chloride monomer, benzene and hardwood dust - 'which is a big obstacle to cutting workers' exposure to the hundreds of carcinogens and mutagens still being used in European workplaces,' said Vogel. 'The tripartite opinion just adopted at European level by governments and employers' and workers' representatives should help jump-start the revision of the Directive which has been in the Commission's pending tray since 2004. It should give an estimated 10 million European workers better protection from the risks related to exposure to workplace carcinogens.'
In Australia, we have exposure standards (Time Weighted Average) for nine of these chemicals: crystalline silica (0.1 mg/m3), refractory ceramic fibres (0.5 f/ml), chromium VI compounds (0.05 mg/m3), trichloroethylene (54 mg/m3), hydrazine (0.013 mg/m3), acrylamide (0.03 mg/m3), epichlorohydrin (7.6 mg/m3), methylenedianiline (MDA) (0.81mg/m3) and a general standard for wood dust (5 mg/m3 for soft woods, and 1 mg/m3 for certain hard woods such as beech & oak).
Source: Risks 586 Read more ETUI news report
WorkSafe warns builders
As everyone is winding down for the holidays, WorkSafe has issued a warning to builders: 'Don't let your building site become a playground!'
WorkSafe Construction Manager Allan Beacom said builders had to ensure their sites were well secured before shutting down over Christmas, as they could be extremely dangerous to the public. 'Builders need to consider the risk their sites can pose and take appropriate measures,' he warned. 'We need builders to properly lock up their sites to prevent unauthorised people, especially children who might view a site as a potential playground, from gaining access. No one should have to deal with the trauma of an injury because a site wasn't properly secure.' Mr Beacom said builders should also look at other safety measures to minimise risk, including adequate fencing, ensuring plant and equipment are protected, and chemicals and dangerous goods are appropriately stored.
One Victorian injured every 18 minutes - officially
According to new data released by WorkSafe, a Victorian worker is injured every 18 minutes. WorkSafe released the figure to highlight a new campaign launched last week by Assistant Treasurer, Mr Gordon Rich-Phillips, centring around the impact that a near-death experience at work has on a worker and his family.
'Only a worker who has suffered a near miss, an injury or – worse still – seen a colleague die at work fully understands the impact that this has on themselves and the people around them,' Mr Rich-Phillips said. 'This time of year is a dangerous one for workplace fatalities, but we should never lose sight of the fact that injuries and near misses can also be extremely traumatising.'
It should be noted, however, that this figure is based on the 28,478 Victorians who made an injury claim in the past twelve months after being hurt at work. While this equates to one injury about every 18 minutes, the real numbers of people injured at work or contracting an illness or disease are much higher.
WorkSafe Media Release
New report on psychosocial health
As agreed at the last Safe Work Australia meeting, this week saw the release of a major report (co-funded by SafeWork SA and the Australian Research Council): Australian Workplace Barometer: Report on psychosocial safety climate and worker health in Australia report [pdf] . As the report states upfront in its Executive Summary: 'A standout finding here is that depression related to job strain and bullying costs Australian employers approximately AUD$8 billion per annum as a result of sickness absence and presenteeism.'
The resulting recommendation is that employers need to consider the significant impact that respect, recognition, job security and career development have on improving employee wellbeing.
The research, which summarises data from the ACT, the Northern Territory, NSW, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia, is based on the 'Psychosocial Safety Climate' (PSC) theory, which measures levels of worker depression and job strain and states 'work conditions, worker health and engagement can be predicted when the psychosocial safety climate of an organisation or work group is known'.
Industrial Chemicals News
The Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, The Hon Catherine King MP has announced the release of the first round of industrial chemical assessments under the Inventory Multi-tiered Assessment and Prioritisation (IMAP) Framework. The Framework was introduced earlier this year and specifically designed to accelerate the assessment of industrial chemicals that are already available for use in Australia, but which have not been scientifically assessed for their human health and environmental impacts. 'The release for public comment of the reports on the first 137 chemicals assessed under the new IMAP framework is a major milestone in improving the safe use of chemicals in Australia,' Ms King said. NICNAS is seeking public comment on the first round of assessments – the public comment period closes on 31 January 2013.
Fatal heart attacks in the workplace
The Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, has announced the establishment of the Automated External Defibrillator Deployment Registry (AEDDR) which is seeking to reduce the number of work-related fatalities from cardiac arrest caused by malfunctioning or poorly deployed Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs). The Canberra-based not-for-profit organisation is dedicated to ensuring AEDs throughout Australia meet standards of safety, reliability, effective capability and ease of use. Minister Shorten also launched new guidelines for the proper deployment of AEDs. These were developed by the AEDDR.
Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal sets priorities
After considering submissions to a draft of its first Annual Work Program, the relatively newly established national Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal announced the finalised Program on December 10. The Tribunal has decided to limit the work program to a few sectors of the road transport industry, namely: the retail sector, livestock sector, bulk grain sector, interstate long distance sector and intrastate long distance sector.
Read more: Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal Decision
- From Work Health and Safety, Queensland, an alert following a fatality at a school in Cairns. The electrical worker was electrocuted while installing communication cabling in a ceiling space. An electrical cable with damaged insulation made contact with a metallic plate energising parts of the building structure, to which the worker was exposed. The alert includes links to information on working on roofs and ceiling spaces.
- From the UK's regulator, the HSE, a new website Buy Quiet which has been launched to help manufacturers, importers, suppliers and users of equipment to work together to reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace. It supports users in their duty to avoid high noise equipment when suitable lower noise equipment is available and manufacturers in their duty to minimise noise by technical means. While the information is going to be in some cases specific to the UK, there should be some very useful information for Australian workplaces too.
NEW Vic: Tree lopping company fined after worker left hanging
A tree lopping company, Ranges Tree Works Pty Ltd, has been convicted and fined $15,000 in the Ringwood Magistrates' Court following an incident in which an employee was knocked unconscious and left hanging from a tree.
On 8 August 2011 an employee, assisted by two subcontractors employed by the company, was cutting down a tree at a private home. The owner of the company was also present. After removing the tree canopy and limbs, he was cutting the tree trunk into pieces that were then being lowered to the ground by a pulley and bollard device system. As a 180kg portion of the trunk was being lowered to the ground, a ratchet handle released, causing the bollard to swing through the air, hit the employee in the head, rendering him unconscious and hanging in his harness. He also suffered a large cut to his face. The two had little or no experience in the industry or working at heights, or knew how to conduct an aerial rescue. There was no emergency rescue equipment on site - the injured man was rescued by a next door neighbour, who had experience in emergency service operations, and his son.
Two former employees of Ranges Tree Works told the court that they had warned the owner of the company of the need to employ a second climber and to have rescue equipment on site.
WorkSafe's general manager of health and safety, Lisa Sturzenegger, said tree lopping was dangerous work and correct procedures were essential at all times. Ms Sturzenegger said there had been several fatalities in the industry in recent years, and serious injuries had included falls, being dragged into chipper in-feed rollers, being struck by materials ejected from chainsaws, or being hit by falling branches.
WorkSafe Media Release
Comcare: ADF fined $210k over work injury involving propeller
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been fined $210,000 for OHS breaches, for an incident which resulted in former Federal Liberal Senator Nick Minchin's son being struck by the unguarded propeller of an inflatable boat.
In February 2010, the ADF
Academy Army Officer Cadet fell out of the boat during a 'joy ride' on a NSW
lake and suffered serious lacerations to his back when he was hit by the
spinning propeller. Federal Court Justice John Griffiths on Thursday found
there was 'not only a foreseeable risk of serious injury or death... there was
a very high foreseeable risk'. This was
not only due to the inherent risk of unguarded propellers, but also as there
had been six similar incidents dating in the previous five years. The maximum
penalty available was $242,000.
Source: OHS Alert
NSW: Business owner fined after death for ignorance of Australian Standards
In a prosecution that illustrates the need for employers to be aware of 'state of knowledge', the NSW Industrial Court has fined a business owner over a go-kart death. The man, who was the former owner of Port Stephens Go Kart Hire, was fined $32,000, and ordered to pay $18,000 in costs, for failing to ensure the safety of a 26-year-old patron, who died after her loose-fitting hijab became entangled in the rear drive axle of a go-kart and strangled her.
There are two Australian Standards (AS 3533.1 - 2009 Amusement rides and devices, Part 1: Design and construction; and AS 3533.2 - 2009 Amusement rides and devices, Part 2: Operation and maintenance) which applied to the go-kart business. These Standards required go-kart riders to 'not wear loose fitting clothing or accessories that could become entangled in any part of the kart', and prohibited patrons with such clothing or accessories from participating 'where there is a risk of entanglement'. They also required owners to provide signs for the control of patrons, the safe use of a device or the operating restrictions for a device, and to carry out detailed checks of each patron to identify any loose or baggy clothing.
The owner and operator (his son) had not been aware of the Standards, but the Court stressed that under OHS laws employers are obligated to become aware of and comply with Australian Standards that apply to their operations.
Source: OHS Alert Read more:Inspector Brandie v Hogan  NSWIRComm 138 (7 December 2012)
NSW: Tragically, some employers never learn
The construction company responsible for upgrading a section of the Hume Highway has been fined $350,000 and ordered to pay WorkCover costs after one of its employees was killed on the project. Leighton Contractors Pty Limited (Leighton) was the principal contractor building the $250 million Tarcutta Bypass, on the Hume Highway when the fatality occurred. On 1 July 2010, a 39-year-old truck driver was crushed between two heavy vehicles while filling out paperwork after refuelling a front end loader, and died at the scene.
A WorkCover investigation found that Leighton did not ensure adequate safety when refuelling at the site. The company had had seven prior OHS convictions. Leighton was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, breaching its duties under the State OHS Act, in failing to ensure compliance with a specific SWMS for refuelling plant, and failing to provide formal documented information, instruction and training to workers relating to the SWMS.
WorkCover General Manager of the Work Health and Safety Division John Watson said the risk of serious injury or death could have been avoided. 'Leighton had a safe work method statement for refuelling plant but they had not ensured their staff that operated mobile plant equipment had been trained in the procedure.'
WorkCover NSW Media Release
NSW: Worker awarded $2.3m for fall
The NSW Supreme Court has ordered two employers - Parkview Constructions Pty Ltd and Erect Safe Scaffolding (Australia) Pty Ltd - to pay $2.3 million in damages to a worker who suffered extensive injuries when he fell through scaffolding that had been tampered with. He fractured his pelvis, spine, right forearm and elbow, and suffered traumatic brain and psychological injuries.
The incident occurred in April 2007. Parkview was constructing a residential complex, with Erect Safe and a third company, Bluestar Painting Solutions Pty Ltd, providing services. A Bluestar painter fell through scaffolding on the building's third level when a board underneath him gave way. One of the other boards had been untied and removed, leaving the bracket free to splay, and that 'from time to time tradespersons... removed or adjusted scaffolding so they could get on with the job'. It appears that an inspection carried out by Parkview's site supervisor and Erect Safe's scaffold foreman a few days before the incident was a 'cursory observation' only, not picking up the board was missing.
USA: Working conditions of domestic workers
A US survey released in November has revealed the conditions and experiences domestic workers face, documenting issues such as wage exploitation, preventable on-the-job injuries and the little, if any, power domestic workers have in improving their work environments and holding employers accountable. Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work is the first national study of domestic workers, filling an enormous quantitative data gap. The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) surveyed nearly 2,100 privately employed nannies, caregivers and housecleaners in 14 metropolitan areas. All those surveyed were paid directly from their employer, not through an agency or government entity. The survey confirmed that substandard work environments, poor wages and hazardous work conditions are widespread: 23 percent of workers are paid below state minimum wage, 70 percent are paid less than $13 per hour, and the median hourly wage was $6.15, more than a dollar below the federal minimum wage. Sixty-five percent of domestic workers surveyed did not have health insurance, and only 4 percent received employer-provided health insurance.
Read more: The Pump Handle Science Blog
US: New chemicals resources
1 – New guide on chemical alternatives
US-based Clean Production Action (CPA) has released a new 'Guide to safer chemicals', a practical tool setting benchmarks for how users of chemicals - purchasers, retailers and product manufacturers - can track their progress towards safer chemicals use. The guide builds on four key principles: Know and disclose product chemistry; assess and avoid hazards; commit to continuous improvement; and support public policies and industry standards.
2 - New website on site work and silica
The US based Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), has launched a 'Work safely with silica' website. CPWR, an organisation working closely with US construction unions, says as well as giving details of US silica regulation and official research, the new resource includes other research, articles, and training materials, as well as responses to frequently asked questions. Central features of the new site include a 'Know the hazard' section, geared for anyone interested in learning more about why silica is hazardous, the risk, who's at risk, the health effects, and steps workers and contractors can take to work safely with silica. Exposure to silica is linked to serious and potentially fatal occupational diseases, notably silicosis and lung cancer.