4 April, 2013
This is the 258th edition of the fortnightly OHS bulletin SafetyNet – we hope you find the items informative and interesting. Please feel free to distribute to contacts, and send though any comments on any of the items.
Melbourne: Three pedestrians killed in wall collapse
Just as people were getting ready to finish work for the Easter long weekend, news came through that two people had been killed as a 3m wall collapsed on Swanston Street in Carlton. The wall collapsed with what sounded like a thunder clap at just before 3pm. A 19-yr-old man, and a 33-yr-old woman were killed at the site, while another woman, the man's sister, 18, was rushed to the Royal Melbourne hospital in a critical condition. She died as a result of her injuries the following Sunday morning. Police said all three were pedestrians. A large number of passers-by and workers rushed to clear debris from the scene between Queensberry and Victoria streets. The site, bought by Grocon from RMIT University seven years ago with the intention to develop it, has been vacant and a 'bomb site' for 30 years.
The CFMEU, which has its office across the road from the site, has raised concerns over the plywood advertising hoarding which was attached to wall. The union's Dave Noonan said, 'We are looking for answers as to the structural integrity of the hoarding.' The CFMEU said the hoarding was up to a metre higher than the wall, and may have acted as a sail in a strong gust of wind, contributing to the collapse.
Following the collapse, Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy announced a state-wide audit of all free-standing structures. He said the government will approach the Building Commission to offer structural assessment assistance to councils and builders across the state. In a statement released earlier this week, the City of Melbourne said, 'WorkSafe, Victoria Police and the Coroner are investigating the incident and the City of Melbourne will co-operate fully. We expect the inquiries to look into all aspects of the collapse, including the placement of the hoarding attached to the wall.'
WorkSafe Media Release The Age The wall, and why it collapsed
International Workers Memorial Day April 28
April 28 is International Workers Memorial Day when workers around
the world stop to remember those who have died as a result of work –
both as a result of traumatic injuries and as result of work-related
disease. But we don't only remember: a focus of the day is to also fight
for the living – that is, to keep working to improve health and safety
in our workplaces. This year the Federal Government will officially open
the National Workers' Memorial in Canberra on the Sunday, and
commemoration ceremonies will be held around Australia on Monday April
29. The event in Melbourne will be held at the Trades Hall, at the
corner of Victoria and Lygon Streets, commencing at 10.30am. The event
is to be co-hosted with Asbestoswise, and focus on activities to ensure
that the recommendations of the Asbestos Management Review are
implemented. We invite workers to come along and participate. If it's
not possible to do so, then stop for a minute at 11am at your own
workplace. More details will be provided in the next SafetyNet.
Read more on International Workers Memorial Day: Hazards April 28
Draft discussion paper on national asbestos strategy released
The Office of Asbestos Safety (OAS) yesterday released a discussion draft of the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management, together with a background paper. The development of such a plan was a key recommendation of the Asbestos Management Review. The Government established the Office of Asbestos Safety in August 2012 to commence work with jurisdictions and stakeholders to start the development of a national strategic plan by 1 July 2013. The Office is currently conducting national forums with stakeholders interested in asbestos awareness, management and eradication. Feedback is invited from all members of the community on the discussion draft of the National Strategic Plan. The plan will pave the way for the first coordinated and consistent national approach to handling asbestos beyond the workplace.
Read more: Discussion draft: National Strategic Plan
NSW: Plan to improve asbestos management
Just pipping the OAS release, the NSW Minister for Finance and Services Greg Pearce has released a plan to reduce the incidence of asbestos-related diseases across the State. Mr Pearce said the plan will increase awareness of the dangers associated with asbestos and ensure its safe management to improve long term health and safety outcomes. 'Australia has one of the highest mesothelioma rates in the world with the NSW Dust Diseases Board reporting 201 asbestos related deaths across the state in 2011,' he said. 'Tragically, the number of people with asbestos related diseases may increase in the next few years, as there is often a delay of up to 40 years between exposure and the onset of disease.' The plan includes four priority areas - research, risk communication, prevention and coordination - to ensure current practices for managing asbestos do not contribute to exposure. The Asbestos Plan was developed by the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities (HACA) in consultation with government agencies, local councils, industry and worker representatives and disease research groups. HACA was established in response to the NSW Ombudsman recommendations for significant asbestos reform in NSW.
Source: Ministerial Media Release, 3 April, 2013
First indigenous cabinet minister succumbs to mesothelioma
Former West Australian Labor MP Ernie Bridge, recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, died last week at the age of 76. Just weeks before he had launched legal action, suing the State government, the Shire of Ashburton, CSR Limited, Midalco, and two of Australia's richest women, Gina Rinehart and Angela Wright, after being diagnosed with the condition. Mr Bridge believed he was exposed to asbestos fibres and dust while he was the minister responsible for withdrawing government services from the town of Wittenoom in the late 1980s. According to media reports, it is now unclear whether the legal action will proceed.
Sources: ABC news online; The Australian
Queensland ombudsman warns of increase in mesothelioma cases
A report tabled in the Queensland State Parliament on March 21 highlighted that any buildings built before 1990 in the state could contain asbestos but there was a lack of co-ordination and understanding about how to deal with it, potentially leading to an increase in asbestos-related diseases linked to the home-renovation boom. The state's ombudsman recommended a new department be set up to handle the problem of asbestos. The ombudsman identified confusion with a number of asbestos issues, including which agency was responsible for removing the material from neighbouring properties and who should pay for the clean-up.
The recommendation came the day after Senator Bill Shorten tabled a Bill in the Federal Parliament to establish a separate Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency to work with the states and territories to develop a nationally consistent approach to handling and eradicating asbestos-containing materials.
Read more: The Courier Mail
Canadian government 'buries' asbestos industry
Two weeks ago, the Canadian government released its latest budget, part of which was a commitment of "Supporting the Economic Transition of Communities Economically Linked to the Chrysotile Asbestos Industry." The budget goes on to state: 'Historically, the chrysotile asbestos industry has been a significant employer in the communities of Thetford Mines and Asbestos in the province of Quebec. Due to the decline of the industry, these communities are now exploring ways to diversify their local economies and create new jobs. Confirming the commitment made by the government in September 2012, Economic Action Plan 2013 proposes to provide $50 million over seven years to Canada Economic Development for Quebec regions to support economic diversification efforts in the communities of Thetford Mines and Asbestos.' This means that for the first time, a Canadian government has acknowledged the end of the industry, ceasing export to third world countries, and made the decision to assist these workers in finding alternate employment.
The news has been welcomed by ToxicsWatch Alliance (India), which points out that Canada's position has been hypocritical – while supporting the asbestos mines and exporting hundreds and thousands of tonnes of asbestos, it was at the same time spending millions of dollars to rid its public buildings of it.
Read more: Winnipeg Free Press Federal budget finally buries asbestos industry Ends shameful practice of exporting it overseas
Stage set for inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in UN list of hazardous substances
Banned in over 50 countries, chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) is all set be included to the UN list of hazardous substances under Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade at the upcoming sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention during April 28 -May 10, 2013. The Chemical Review Committee of the Convention had recommended the listing of white asbestos on the grounds of findings of World Health Organisation (WHO) that asbestos was a hazardous substance harmful to human health and environment which cannot be used safely in a controlled manner.
Despite having barely used chrysotile asbestos domestically for decades, Canada had been one of the key world suppliers, and had opposed its inclusion in the PIC list of hazardous substances. The purpose of the prior informed consent (PIC) procedure is to allow countries to make their own informed decisions on future imports of hazardous substances.
Read more: ToxicsWatch Alliance
Latest GARDS newsletter
The Gippsland Asbestos Related Diseases Support (GARDS) has published its latest newsletter March 2013 [pdf] The newsletter has items on the wide range of activities the organisation participates in and runs, including those during Asbestos Awareness Week.
Our organisation is a provider of
public primary healthcare services, employing over 200 staff (management
and administration staff, medical practitioners, dentists, paediatric
staff, disability clinical staff, aged care clinical staff & allied
health professionals), operating out of a number of facilities.
Can you please advise what vaccinations are recommended?
Unfortunately, I do not have any medical qualifications and so cannot provide a list of 'recommended vaccinations'.
HOWEVER, I can give you advice on what needs to be done, the process that needs to be followed, to identify what is needed yourself.
The OHS Act recognises there is expertise in a workplace. Under Section 21 the employer has a general duty of care to provide and maintain for employees (so far as is reasonably practicable) a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. The employer also has a duty to monitor the health of employees, and the conditions at the workplace, and in order to be able to do this, there is a duty to 'employ or engage persons who are suitably qualified...' (Section 22)
See: Duties of employers
In order to comply with these duties, the employer has a legal duty (under Sections 35 & 36) to CONSULT with their employees and their elected health and safety representatives when (amongst other things):
- identifying and assessing hazards or risks to health or safety at a workplace
- making decisions on the measures to be taken to control risks
- making decisions about procedures for consultation with employees
- making decisions about procedures to monitor the health of employees
- making decisions about procedures for providing information and training to employees
So, applying this process to your issue, the following needs to occur (in consultation with employees, including 'contractors')
- Identification of the hazards - in this case, infectious diseases. What are employees potentially being exposed to? Who is being exposed?
- Assessment of the actual risk of development of disease? This would need to be done for the different 'groups' of staff
- What controls need to be put in place to either eliminate the hazard, or control (eliminate or minimise) the risk?
The outcome of the process would be to then have a list of diseases/conditions/etc; an assessment of who is being exposed to what, and then a range of controls to be applied, which would INCLUDE the appropriate vaccinations, but also have other important control measures (eg information and training, appropriate personal protective equipment, infection control procedures, etc). Some of the information on Infectious Diseases on the site may assist you.
Maritime Union rallies to stop deaths
The maritime unions in Australia have been campaigning hard over
the past five years to establish a National Stevedoring Code of Practice
(NSCOP) in Australia to safeguard OHS on Australia's ships and ports
following a spate of fatalities. Progress was finally being made, but
now the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the
stevedoring employers have launched a last ditch effort to bomb the code
of practice, even though fatalities continue to occur in the industry.
They are attempting to: weaken the requirements for the 'hatchman', a
key safety position; to exclude the code from applying to stevedoring
activities onboard ships; to exclude the forthcoming cranes code of
practice from applying to ships' cranes; and to downgrade the code to
'guidance material', giving it less regulatory force. Further, in
another desperate attempt to prevent a safety code of practice, the
employers lobbied the Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) which
has now issued a requirement for a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) to
take place. Maritime unions organised demonstrations on Tuesday the 26th
of March in major cities around Australia.
Read more: MUA Rally Alert and Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith's OpEd Wharfies battle to work safely
Overworked Ambulance officers fall asleep at the wheel
A group of Victorian paramedics attended the state's parliament
house on Thursday, March, telling of their experiences of falling asleep
at the wheel because they are working overtime to cover staff
shortages. Lack of staff is leading to poor ambulance response times
and putting patients at risk. They say they are being stretched while
many paramedics are on stress leave and want a resolution to their pay
deal with Ambulance Victoria. They met with Opposition health spokesman
Gavin Jennings, who said the government has failed to ensure the
ambulance service is adequately funded.
The same issue has also been raised by the Liberal Opposition in Tasmania: Liberal health spokesman Jeremy Rockliff said that state's ambulance workers risk being 'worked into the ground' because of a blow-out in overtime, with the data also showing that at least 30 shifts had crew shortages, or were cancelled completely
Read More: The Age and The Mercury
Transport union warns on fatigue
Michael Kaine, National Assistant Secretary of the Transport Workers' Union has said that telling a truck driver who is being squeezed every day by impossible deadlines and dangerously low rates of pay to have another cup of coffee and 'keep on truckin' is not only wrong, but also dangerous. The comments were made after media reports accompanying the release of research undertaken by the George Institute appeared to suggest to truck drivers and the wider public that drinking more coffee would help reduce the hundreds of fatal crashes on our roads each year.
'The real reason that hundreds of people are tragically killed in
truck crashes each year and the fact that driving a truck is the most
dangerous job you can do in Australia is not because of a shortage of
coffee in road houses and truck stops. It's because of the relentless
demands from the major retailers like Coles, whose economic power allows
them to dominate the entire road transport industry, dictating to
everyone from owner-drivers right up to major transport operators,' said
Mr Kaine. 'Another cup of coffee won't address the facts highlighted by
a recent major survey of almost 1000 drivers that 40 per cent of
truckers in the Coles supply chain have been forced to delay vehicle
maintenance because of economic pressures and dangerously low rates of
pay. Or the 46 per cent of drivers in the Coles supply chain who feel
pressure to skip breaks and the 28 per cent who feel pressured to
TWU Media Release Have another coffee and keep on truckin is wrong and dangerous
ACT Construction industry report
Following three fatalities and a disturbing level of serious incidents in the capital's construction industry, in September 2012 the ACT Government established an Inquiry panel, and sought public comment. A few weeks ago the Getting Home Safely report was released. It is a damning report, with the authors stating: 'Getting home safely is a right that everyone should expect. To our dismay, this cannot be guaranteed for workers in the ACT's construction industry, where each year one in every forty workers can expect to have an injury which results in them being off work for at least a week, if not much longer. On average, we can expect that every working day one construction worker will sustain such an injury somewhere in Canberra. It is a distressing safety record for a small jurisdiction.'
The panel 'noted with surprise' that the industry:
- appears not to recognise that the ACT's construction safety record is so bad
- has a sense of inevitability about the occurrence of serious injuries
- does not generally understand how to identify, assess and mitigate risks
- appreciates that workplaces must adopt a safety culture, but has very little knowledge about how to do that or what fundamentals must change in the current "can do" culture to make it happen, and
- disregards work health and safety in some parts of the residential construction sector.
They made 28 recommendations, addressing matters such as improving training, particularly of 'transient workers'; addressing sham contracting practices; improving greater understanding on how to manage health and safety risks; improving inspection and tartetted prosecutions; industry partners build positive, inclusive safety cultures on local worksites; setting a target of reducing the serious injury claim rate by 35%; and so on. In February 2013, ACT's Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations, Simon Corbell, accepted all the recommendations.
The Master Builders responded last week, saying it agrees to most
of the recommendations, but not all of them. It has pulled back from
supporting the 35% target to reduce injuries, questioning the
interpretation of the statistics and calling for more research.
Further, in what can only be seen as an attempt to shift the blame onto
workers, it wants to introduce random drug and alcohol tests on
Read more: ACT Government Media Release; Builders call for random worksite drug, alcohol tests The Canberra Times; MBA responds to safety report ABC News; SafetyAtWorkBlog discussion and analysis
Quad bike fatalities cost $288 million
Australian research released earlier this week has found that the
costs for fatal quad bike incidents between 2001 and 2010 were $288
million. Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (ACAHS)
director Dr Tony Lower, said 'This conservative estimate draws on deaths
data from the National Coroners Information System and includes
projected losses in future earnings, impacts on household contributions,
insurance payments, investigation and hospital costs…. The average cost
was $A2.3 million, with the highest average being in those aged 25-34
years at $A4.2 million.' It is noted that these costs are 'only the tip
of the iceberg' as they do not include the pain and suffering of
families and friends; nor do they include the 'significant costs
associated with life threatening and permanently life-changing non-fatal
injuries such as spinal and head injuries. Dr Lower said, 'The real
tragedy behind these figures is that most of these deaths are completely
preventable. With around two-thirds of all deaths involving some kind
of quad rollover, it has been estimated that fitting a crush protection
device (CPD) has the potential to reduce deaths by up to 40%. If you add
the use of all prevention strategies such as not carrying passengers,
excluding children from using quads and wearing a helmet, this increases
The papers criticise the manufacturers of quad bikes for their 'tobacco-esque' attempts to divert attention away from their product, misrepresenting results of research and rolling out their own dubious information.
Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety Media Release: Quad bike fatalities costly but manufacturers fail to act [pdf]; SafetyAtWorkBlog Quad bike fatalities cost an average of at least $2.3 million
International Union News
South Korean workers killed in chemical factory
On the 14 March, seven workers were killed and 13 were injured when a polyethylene chemical plant exploded in a residential area in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province. The workers, all short term contract workers, had been engaged in welding when the tank storing the plastic polyethylene exploded. This is not the first time that workers have been killed by explosions at this factory. A similar explosion killed one person at the complex in 2003. South Korean unions staged a major demonstration outside the factory demanding that the factory owners be charged with murder.
Read more: Asia Pacific Fire Magazine Source: AAWL Mini news
UK: Time to Change Health & Safety bulletin - Occupational diseases: The epidemic that is ignored.
The UK's TUC last week released the latest edition of its Time to Change Health and Safety bulletin, which focuses on occupational diseases. Official UK figures show that just under 200 workers die as a result of an injury at work each year. The TUC says this is 200 too many. It goes on to point out, however, that by the most conservative estimates, at least 20,000 people die prematurely every year because of occupational disease. Between 8,000 and 15,000 die from occupational cancers while 4,000 die from lung disorders such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema caused by breathing in fumes, chemicals and dusts.
Read more: Occupational diseases: The epidemic that is ignored. [pdf]
Burnout bigger heart risk than smoking
Burnout at work is worse for heart health than smoking cigarettes, research has found. The study, published in the journal
found that people suffering work-related burnout are even more likely to
develop heart disease than smokers. People in the top 20 per cent of
the burnout scale were 79 per cent more likely to develop heart disease,
whilst all workers suffering from any degree of burnout were 40 per
cent more likely, the research found. The findings were based on a study
of 8,838 apparently healthy people, who were tested for signs of
burnout and heart disease respectively. High stress, heavy workloads,
long hours, lack of control over job situations and insufficient
emotional support lead to physical wear and tear, which when sustained,
eventually weakens the heart. This means that the risk of burnout
associated heart disease is much higher than previously thought.
Toker, S et al: Burnout and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Prospective Study of 8838 Employees [abstract] Psychosomatic Medicine; Medical News Source: Risks 597
Traffic-related air pollution and increase in prostate cancer
In a study recently published online in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine researchers in Canada conducted a case–control study in Montreal to estimate associations with exposure to ground-level nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a marker for traffic-related air pollution. They examined 803 cases of men with prostate cancer, and 969 control cases drawn from individuals living in the same electoral districts as the cases and frequency-matched by age. Concentrations of NO2 were measured across Montreal in 2005–2006. The researchers developed a land use regression model to predict concentrations of NO2 across Montreal for 2006. These estimates were back-extrapolated to 1996. Estimates were then linked to residential addresses at the time of diagnosis or interview.
What they found was that exposure to increased ambient concentrations of NO2 at the current address was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. However, as this was a 'novel' result, it needs replication. This research is relevant for identifying risks to the health of road and construction workers who are potentially exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution.
Parent, Marie-Elise, et al Traffic-related air pollution and prostate cancer risk: a case–control study in Montreal, Canada [abstract] Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oemed-2012-101211
Latest edition of WorkSafe Safety Soapbox
WorkSafe last week sent out the latest edition of its e-newsletter: Safety Soapbox. According to the newsletter since the last Safety Soapbox, there have been 40 incidents in the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries serious enough to be reported to WorkSafe. Several of these could have resulted in very serious injuries or death, including several falls from heights higher than two metres; several workers receiving electric shocks; and pieces of equipment/plant falling to the ground (one piece from level 10 of a building!).
WorkSafe Victoria releases draft code for comment
WorkSafe has released the proposed Code of Practice for the Storage and Handling of Dangerous Goods for public review and comment (until close of business on Thursday 2 May, 2013). The document can be accessed from this page of the WorkSafe website.
WorkCover NSW issues cherry picker warning
Following the fifth serious incident in less than 12 months, WorkCover NSW last week issued a safety warning reminding businesses and workers using elevating work platforms (EWP) to have appropriate safety procedures in place. One worker has been killed and several others seriously injured since May 2012 after either falling from a EWP while not wearing a safety harness or the EWP toppling over. The alert concludes by advising the safety alert Overturned boom-type elevating work platforms provides advice on the control measures required to prevent EWPs from overturning, and to refer to the Australian Standard AS 2550.10-2006: Cranes, hoists and winches – Safe use – Mobile elevating work platforms. Warning on cherry pickers
SafeWork Australia news
Workers' Compensation Statistics 2010-2011
Safe Work Australia (SWA) last week released its latest Compendium of Workers' Compensation Statistics Australia While the Compendium is restricted to the analysis of accepted workers' compensation claims, according to SWA, it provides a good indicator of Australia's work health and safety performance in 2010–11 and allows analysis of trends in performance over time. The Compendium does cannot provide information on claims not accepted, or injuries/illnesses for which no claims were lodged.
In summary, during the 2010-2011 period:
- The number of compensated fatalities fell by approximately 21%, from 215 in the previous period to 169, an incidence rate of 1.6 fatalities per 100,000 employees. Of these, 158 (93%) were male employees. The highest number occurred in the Construction industry (28), followed by Transport & storage (24), 18 of which were in Road freight transport alone. The highest incidence rate was in Transport & storage
- There were a total of 127,355 serious workers' compensation claims, or 12.2 serious claims per 1000 employees and 7.3 serious claims per million hours worked. This was a decrease of 3% from the previous year.
- Two-thirds of all serious claims were male workers, an incidence rate of 15.2 serious claims per 1000 males, nearly double the 8.9 claims per 1000 female workers.
- Incidence rates increased with age from 7 serious claims per 1000 employees aged 15–19 to 16.6 claims per 1000 employees aged 60–64.
- In terms of industries: Transport & storage had the highest incidence rate with 21.7 serious claims per 1000 employees, nearly twice the national rate of 12.2. Agriculture, forestry & fishing accounted for 21.0 serious claims per 1000 employees, while there were 20.9 in Manufacturing and 17.8 in Construction. These four industry divisions also experienced high frequency rates.
- Labourers & related workers sustained the highest incidence rate of all occupation groups: 30.2 serious claims per 1000 employees, more than twice the national rate. Intermediate production & transport workers made 26.7 claims per 1000 employees and Tradespersons & related workers 20.7. These three occupation groups also recorded the highest frequency rates.
New guide on plant risks
SafeWork this month released the Guide for Managing Risks Involving Heritage Plant, which provides practical guidance about managing health and safety risks for people who carry out activities involving plant that is at least 30 years old and no longer in active service. These activities include using, operating, restoring, maintaining, modifying, servicing, repairing or housing heritage plant. The guide can be downloaded in pdf or word format from this page of the SafeWork website.
Comcare seeking feedback on Fatigue guide
Comcare is seeking feedback on the draft guide: Managing the risk of fatigue at work [pdf] which provides practical guidance for duty holders on managing fatigue and ensuring it does not contribute to health and safety risks at the workplace. The information in the guide can be applied generally to all types of work and all workplaces covered by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. Comment must be provided by April 18.
ACT: Apprentice awarded $850,000 in damages
The ACT Supreme Court has awarded a 22-year-old apprentice panel
beater who suffered serious damage to his left eye a total of $852,034
in damages. The incident occurred on 20 April 2006 when the young man
was required to change the brake pads on a vehicle. He used a pair of
long-nosed pliers to remove a spring, but they slipped from the end of
the spring and struck his left eye. He spent 11 days in hospital, and
while his eye was saved though with scarring of the cornea and retina,
his vision was permanently affected. As a result of the accident he
suffered a major depressive disorder and an adjustment disorder with
anxiety for about two years. However, he was able to eventually return
to work with full duties.
The apprentice sought damages from his employer in the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory. His damages claim related mainly to loss of income earning capacity, but it was not just based on his work as a panel beater, which he had been able to resume fairly quickly. He had had an ambition to join the Australian Defence Force, where he could have had a better paid career, but he had been rejected because of his injury. The Supreme Court concluded that he had not been trained for the work, he had been using inappropriate equipment, had not been supervised and had not been wearing eye protection. The employer admitted liability.
Read more: J v Forefront Automotive Industries Pty Ltd  ACTSC 44 (20 March 2013)