January 24, 2013
Welcome to the 253rd edition of the fortnightly OHS bulletin SafetyNet - the first for the New Year.
Victorian 'Red Tape Commissioner' to target WorkSafe
In disturbing news for workers, on January 21 Victoria's Treasurer Kim Wells, announced new guidelines into red tape in that State's government authorities and regulators and appointed John Lloyd as Red Tape Commissioner. According to the Media Release: 'Stage one of the reform will focus on the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA), VicRoads, Environment Protection Authority, Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.'
OHS is often claimed by employers, both here and in the UK, as being an unreasonable cost to business. When UK's conservative government implemented similar measures last year, the TUC began recording serious negative effects on workplace safety as a result. One example specifically mentioned is reducing costs associated with renewal of high risk construction licences. The guidelines also suggest taking 'a more targeted and risk-based approach to inspections. For example, reducing the frequency of inspections for parties with a strong history of compliance in low-risk areas of operation (i.e. areas with a history of low incident frequency and severity).' Perhaps not coincidentally, the new commissioner, John Lloyd, is a former commissioner of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), the federal body established under John Howard, which targetted the construction unions and reduced their ability to monitor health and safety.
UK: The deadly consequences of sectors without inspectors
This item from Risks, the TUC's weekly e-journal, provides clear evidence that the 'hands off' approach being taken by the HSE is having dire consequences.
A new Hazards report 'Low life' has warned that many workers can no longer expect an inspector as, on government orders the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has designated most industrial sectors, from farms to footwear, either too safe for them to bother, or just not worth the effort even if they are shockingly dangerous. The report includes the first consolidated list of sectors excluded from unannounced HSE inspections. There are now at least 37 designated 'sectors without inspectors', employing the majority of the workforce. The Hazards report says the no-go policy is a result of a hands-off inspection approach laid out in the government's March 2011 'Good health and safety, good for everyone' strategy. Since then, Hazards concludes more than half of all fatalities in HSE-enforced workplaces have occurred in firms outside of HSE's unannounced inspection programme. A Hazards analysis of worker fatalities in the 19 months after the government strategy took effect shows that of the 258 deaths recording in HSE statistics from April 2011 to 21 October 2012, a total of 137 (53 per cent) were in uninspected sectors, compared to just 40 per cent in routinely inspected sectors, with the remainder occurring in jobs where the enforcement situation is unclear. There were 78 construction deaths in this period, or 30 per cent of the total. Deaths in sectors not subject to preventive HSE inspections make up over three quarters (76 per cent) of the 180 non-construction worker deaths.
Low life - Hazards online report, January 2013 including the list of sectors without inspectors and the 137 dead who went unprotected.
Bushfires: Asbestos warning
In circumstances similar to Victoria's 'Black Saturday' bushfires, NSW WorkCover has warned about the dangers of exposure to asbestos. Last week WorkCover NSW announced that it was waiving the five-day asbestos removal work notification time frame to allow immediate clean-up of asbestos debris resulting from that state's bushfires.
John Watson, the WHS general manager for WorkCover NSW urged residents to seek out information on the potential risks of being exposed to asbestos and how to safely manage asbestos when cleaning up after the fire. 'Residents should be aware that fire affected homes may contain fire damaged asbestos materials which need to be safely removed,' said Mr Watson. WorkCover has recommended a number of measures during the clean-up of fire-damaged buildings containing asbestos.
WorkCover Media Release: WorkCover warns residents of asbestos dangers after bushfires
This week's question is:
Can you tell me what are the appropriate measures required to be taken in the case of severe dust allergies, triggered specifically by ingrained dust build up in the level's carpet? My workplace is an indoor air-conditioned call centre.
There is nothing specific with regard to this in occupational health and safety legislation. However, an employer has a general duty of care under the OHS (or WHS) Act which basically covers everything in the workplace and means taking all reasonably practicable actions to provide a healthy and safe working environment, systems of work, extra for all workers.
In this case, if the state of the carpets and the workplace generally is affecting the workers, then the employer must take action to identify the hazard and risk and then implement controls to either eliminate the risk, or minimise it so far as reasonably practicable. This applies not only for the allergies, but for the general health of workers. An employer has a responsibility in terms of cleanliness, maintenance of the workplace and so on.
Report: Quad bikes unlikely to be safest vehicle for task
Supporting union arguments that quad bikes are unsafe, the quad bike fatality report released by the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety has concluded that employers that identify the safest vehicle for a particular task are highly unlikely to select a quad bike. The 2012 Quad Bike Related Deaths and Injuries Report [pdf], based on an analysis of the printed media, shows that 18 people were killed in quad-bike incidents in Australia in 2012. At least nine of the fatal incidents involved rollovers, and five of those killed were children under 16.
International Union News
Bangladesh: Tazreen fire update
On November 24 last year, a garment fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in Bangladesh killed 111 workers and injured over 300, most of them women (SafetyNet251). A multi stake holder dialogue hosted by the Bangladesh Occupational Safety Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE), Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC),and the Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) to understand the present situation of the Tazreen factory fire, lessons learnt, challenges and way forward took place in Dhaka at the CIRDAP Auditorium on January 7, 2013.
A detailed investigative fact finding report conducted by Mr. Omar Faruq, Program Manager of OSHE Foundationand supported by AMRC highlighted the dire situation of the workers, gross negligence of the employer, the physical condition of the factory that lead to the tragedy.
A documentary has now been produced by the Bangladesh Occupational Health and Safety Foundation– a specialised Labour Foundation.
Mexico: Days of Action 18-24 February
Last year, the IndustriALL Global Union Executive Committee committed to mobilize internationally for trade union rights in Mexico during the week 18-24 February 2013. The date marks the terrible Pasta de Conchos mine accident in 2006 that killed 65 miners. The refusal of the Mexican government and employer Grupo Mexico to recover the bodies of the 63 miners who remain entombed is known to be an effort to cover up the real causes of the disaster and the inadequacy of rescue efforts.
Read more: IndustriALL
Canadians to study workplace cancers
The Canadian Cancer Society has recently provided funding to researchers at the Occupational Cancer Research Centre in Ontario, Canada to undertake a 'first-of-its-kind' study to chronicle the impact of occupational cancers. The four-year, nationwide study will examine the human and economic impact of workplace exposures to carcinogens, focusing on 44 known or suspected carcinogens as identified by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. It will include a broad range of occupational settings, from mining and agriculture to the service and health care sectors.
The first two years of the study will gather relevant exposure and
epidemiological data to develop a set of estimates on the annual number of cancers
due to occupational exposures. The third year, as researchers wrap up the cancer
estimates, a team of health economists will estimate both the direct and
indirect costs of these occupational cancers (medical costs, losses in
productivity and the costs of disability). The last year of the study, the
researchers will work closely with the Canadian Cancer Society to promote
prevention programs in Canada.
Source: The Pump Handle Blog
More research on breast cancer
Women employed in the
plastics industry are exposed to a multitude of toxic chemicals used in
plastics production. These include styrene, acrylonitrile, vinyl chloride,
phthalates, bisphenol-A (BPA), brominated flame retardants, heavy metals, a
host of solvents, and complex chemical mixtures. A recent study published in
the journal New Solutions presents
strong evidence that women employed in the plastics industry are exposed to
workplace chemicals that can increase their risk of breast cancer and
reproductive abnormalities, and supports the findings of another study of a
five-fold elevated risk.
National Network on Environments and Women's Health Media Release: Chemical Exposures of Women Workers in the Plastics Industry in Relation to Breast Cancer Risk
Birth defects linked to solvent exposures
Recent French research suggests that exposure to organic solvents during pregnancy increases the risk of certain types of birth defects. Researchers found mothers with greater exposure were 4 to 12 times more likely to have babies with oral clefts than mothers with less exposure. Metabolites of two large classes of organic solvents - glycol ethers and chlorinated solvents - were linked to occupational use of cleaners and cosmetics in jobs such as hairdressers, chemists and nurses. Exposures at work are commonplace as solvents are present in many paints, adhesives, glues, coatings and are used as degreasing and cleaning agents. They also are used to produce dyes, polymers, plastics, textiles, printing inks, agricultural products and pharmaceuticals.
This case-control study enrolled women in the second
trimester of pregnancy from 2002-2006. The women were asked about their contact
with 11 classes of products containing certain solvents from work, home or
hobbies and about their occupation. They also provided a urine sample that was
tested for 10 metabolites of glycol ethers and chlorinated solvents. The
authors assessed exposures three ways: self-reported by the women, the tasks
the women performed at work and levels of metabolites measured in the urine
samples. Using either self-reporting or job classification, the more a pregnant
women was exposed to solvents the more likely it was that her baby would have
certain birth defects. Women who reported regular exposure to solvents were
four times more likely to have a baby with an oral cleft compared to women who
did not report regular exposure. Using job classifications, exposed women were
12 times more likely to have a baby with an oral cleft as compared to unexposed
Cordier, S, R et al Exposure during pregnancy to glycol ethers and chlorinated solvents and the risk of congenital malformations. Epidemiology, volume 23, number 6 pages 806-12, 2012 [subscription access only]. Environmental Health News Source: Risks 287
Pesticide awareness must be improved
There have been many studies confirming that exposure to pesticides increases the risks of contracting diseases such as Parkinson's disease. Researchers from the US say more must be done to ensure workers are aware of pesticide safety information and trained to prevent substances from entering their body. They found that more than one half of 187 farmworkers (60.4%) surveyed did not believe that they could come into contact with pesticides by eating fruits and vegetables in the fields while working. They also found that 27% of workers did not wear PPE. The researchers concluded that evaluation of Environmental Protection Agency Worker Protection Standards pesticide safety training and requirements for providing PPE are crucial to encourage farm workers to use PPE
Donna Levesque, et al Effectiveness of Pesticide Safety Training and Knowledge About Pesticide Exposure Among Hispanic Farmworkers [abstract] Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 54, Issue 12, December 2012.
'Safest year on record for Victorian workplaces'According to official workers' compensation statistics released by Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips, Victoria's workplaces had the safest year on record in 2012. Last year 18 people died in Victorian workplaces – seven fewer than the 25 fatalities which occurred in 2011 and equal to the previous record low of 18 workplace deaths set in 2005. The number of Victorians injured at work (and compensated) also fell to a new low. Last year, 7.77 people were injured for every million hours worked, compared to 7.9 people per million hours worked in 2011.
Mr Rich-Phillips said the improvement was a significant
achievement and kept up the state's track record of leading Australia in
terms of workplace safety. 'In 2012 national data confirmed Victoria's
position as having the safest workplaces of any state or territory in Australia, and
that's a credit to employers, workers and the efforts of the WorkSafe team,' Mr
Rich-Phillips said. 'Many things need to come together to achieve these sorts
of outcomes – active engagement and support from employers and workers,
practical assistance combined with inspection and enforcement activity by the
VWA and a commitment to improved workplace safety.'
WorkSafe Media ReleaseFatalities Australia-wide
According to an analysis of media reports undertaken by SafeWork Australia, as at 31 December 2012, 192 Australian workers were killed while at work. This is an increase from the previous year: during the same period in 2011, there had been 166 fatalities. The four sectors with the greatest number of deaths were: Transport, postal & warehousing (66), Agriculture, forestry & fishing (45), Construction (21), and Manufacturing (14).
SafeWork Australia Worker Fatalities
WorkSafe inspectors to blitz Western Victoria
WorkSafe has announced inspectors will target housing construction sites in the western part of the state in February as part of Operation SafeSite. The blitz is part of a statewide campaign in the housing industry being conducted in addition to WorkSafe's normal inspection work.
WorkSafe regional director, Adam Rogers, said teams of inspectors would saturate areas around Ballarat, Bendigo, Warrnambool, Geelong and Mildura as part of the blitz. 'We're still seeing too many serious incidents on housing sites around the state, with around 25 occurring each week,' he said, adding that inspectors would target basic safety issues as well as sites carrying out high risk construction work.
Mr Rogers said it was important builders and sub contractors took the time to check how effectively they were managing safety planning, worker supervision, fall prevention, electrical safety, site housekeeping and onsite worker facilities.
WorkSafe Media Release
OHS Authorities issue hot weather warnings
With temperatures reaching into the high 40s, a number of OHS Authorities have issued hot weather warnings over the past weeks. WorkSafe Victoria general manager for operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, urged business operators and supervisors to ensure planning was in place for workers exposed to high temperatures. 'Workplace health and safety laws require the working environment to be safe and without risks to health and safety, including illness from working in heat,' she said. 'There are clear safety issues with people working outdoors, but many people who work indoors or in confined spaces are also at risk from indirect heat or fatigue.'
Some of the measures suggested by WorkSafe to prevent heat illness include:
- Reschedule work so the hot tasks are performed during the cooler part of the day
- Wear light clothing that still provides adequate protection
- Reduce the time spent doing hot tasks (eg job rotation)
- Arrange for more workers to do the job
- Provide extra rest breaks in a cool area
- Use mechanical aids to reduce physical exertion
- Provide cool drinking water near the work site
WorkSafe Media Release
WHS laws take effect in Tassie and SA
Both Tasmania and South Australia implemented new work health and safety laws – the WHS Act and Regulations, on January 1, 2013. Both states has also declared 23 Codes of Practice to support the legislation. This now brings the two states in line with most of the rest of Australia, except Victoria and Western Australia. SafeWork SA acting executive director Robin Scott said the new laws would 'reduce workplace injury and will create avenues for solving safety issues.'
Residual Chemicals in Shipping Containers
In December, SafeWork Australia published a Hazard Surveillance Report: Residual Chemicals in Shipping Containers.The research was commissioned after several European studies have reported high levels of residual chemical levels in sealed shipping containers, and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service finding similar results when testing containers in Australia. These findings raise potential issues for worker health when shipping containers are unpacked.
The research investigated worker exposures when unpacking shipping containers at retail warehouse or distribution centres. Exposures for workers who unpacked 76 shipping containers in Melbourne and Brisbane were measured using a combination of video exposure monitoring and gas sampling techniques. Self-reported health symptoms and self-reported work practices were also investigated. The research revealed that residual chemicals were detected in "peak" personal samples taken in 74 of the 76 containers (97.4%). Toluene was most commonly identified (92.1% of all containers) followed by C2-alkylbenzenes (73.7%) and methyl bromide (68.4%). Workers reported symptoms such as runny noses and throat or eye irritation.
Disturbingly, while approximately 70% of the workers had completed specific work health and safety training on unpacking shipping containers, none knew a lot about the risks of fumes in containers but 67% knew a little. Workers were generally unsure about the likelihood of exposure to chemical fumes and how harmful those exposures may be to their health.
Safety Alerts from WorkSafe Victoria:
- Rotating knocking box fatality - highlighting the potential hazards and risks associated with operating cattle rotating knocking boxes used in the red meat industry after the death of a worker. The employer, Tabro Meat Pty Ltd, was found guilty of safety charges relating to the November 2010 incident in the County Court late last year.
- Preventing mobile plant fires - highlighting the danger of mine workers being exposed to mobile plant fires and provides recommendations to reduce or eliminate fire risks.
From Comcare: The Summer edition of the Safety Essentials Newsletter has been released. The regular newsletter is of particular interest to workers who come under the Comcare WHS and workers comp legislation. It includes information on new WHS Codes of Practice, Comcare's new Medical Form, and more.
Vic: Company fined $375,000 for forklift fatality
In December last year, freight company AirRoad Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $375,000 over the death of a worker who was crushed by a 635kg computer server that fell off a forklift at its Laverton North depot on 12 January 2010. The company had pleaded guilty to failing to provide a safe system of work.
The worker died when the computer server fell on him as it was being unloaded. The man had been helping the forklift driver manoeuvre the forklift tines under the server so it could be lifted off the truck. As the forklift lifted it and reversed away, the man remained standing next to the server. It began to move and he lunged forward in an attempt to stabilise it. It fell on him, crushing his chest, and he died at the scene.
WorkSafe's general manager of health and safety, Lisa Sturzenegger, said forklifts were a major contributor to deaths and serious injuries in Victorian workplaces. 'Forklifts and people working close by simply don't mix. A traffic management plan incorporating physical separation of forklifts and people is essential,' she said.
WorkSafe Media Release
NSW: Company prosecuted and fined $250k for death of roadworker
The NSW IRC convicted and fined Coastal Asphalt and Civil Construction Pty Ltd $250,000 in December last year for the crushing death of a roadside worker. On 14 January 2010, the worker, who was attempting to spray diesel onto the rollers of a multi-wheeled roller, was crushed when the driver inadvertently bumped the forward control lever causing the roller to lurch forwards. The man died from massive head, face, neck and chest injuries including extensive crush injuries to his skull.
Justice Roger Boland found the had employer failed to identify and control the foreseeable risk of serious injury and death associated with working within striking distance of a heavy piece of mobile plant. He identified a number of flaws in the employer's systems, which permitted the worker to remain in close proximity of the roller; thereby, putting him in harm's way.
WorkCover NSW Media Release
USA: Center for Public Integrity Hard Labor series
The Center for Public Integrity has an excellent, but horrific series of articles, Hard Labor which tells the stories of some of the US workers who are killed on the job: They were not thinking of him as a human being.
is the story of Carlos Centeno, who died after suffering from burns to 80 per cent of his body. Centeno had been assigned by a temporary staffing agency to the Raani Corp. plant in Bedford Park, Illinois, where he was scalded by an eruption of a citric acid solution. According to federal investigators, factory bosses refused to call an ambulance, even as he screamed in pain. More than 90 minutes after being burned, Centeno finally arrived at an emergency room, but died of his injuries three weeks later.
Source: The Pump Handle Blog
Europe: 200 case stories published in the growing SUBSPORT database
The SUBSPORT case story database presents practical examples of substitution, and many of the case stories are provided directly by companies carrying out substitution efforts. In December, the number of case stories published in the database exceeded 200. They can serve as inspiration and offer concrete help to companies or organisations searching for substitutes to hazardous chemicals.
SUBSPORT case story database