Issue 260 - SafetyNet 260
This is the 260th Edition of the VTHC's OHS Unit's SafetyNet Journal. With news from around Australia and the world, there are many items of interest for HSRs and others. Please note that as we are in transition onto our new site, we are considering suspending the journal for at least one edition.
International Workers Memorial Day April 28
The commemoration event was held this week at the Victorian Trades Hall to commemorate Workers Memorial Day. Since April of last year 21 people, workers and unfortunately, bystanders, were killed in traumatic workplace incidents. Guest speakers Brian Boyd, VTHC Secretary, Ged Kearney, ACTU President, and David Clement and Lyall Watts from Asbestoswise addressed a gathering of workers and families. As well as remembering Australian workers, speakers noted the presence of members from the TCFUA and spoke of the horror of the building collapse in Bangladesh which killed up to 1000 garment industry workers (see item below). Ms Kearney said that Workers Memorial Day was a day begun by unions to keep up the fight for better working conditions and had to remain a union day, even though it had now been picked up by organisations such as Safe Work Australia and the ILO and even renamed as 'World Day for Health and Safety'.
Read more: OHS Reps website ACTU Media Release and international information on International Workers Memorial Day: Hazards April 28 Safetyatwork blog report of the event
National Memorial Canberra
Last Sunday, April 28, Australia opened its National Workers Memorial in Kings Park in Canberra on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin across from the National Carillon. At the ceremony the Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, said 'By erecting this monument, we tie the lives and memories and families of thousands of Australians to this place. We stand here in this place as a mark of respect from a civilised community as an expression of failure and regret. That's what all memorials are, and this one is no different. This is a symbol of the mourning for those lost too early from our tribe Australia.'
The physical Memorial is complemented by a dedicated website and Facebook page. Both sites will tell the many stories behind the values and actions at the centre of the Memorial. Significantly the website will highlight the importance of work health and safety issues and the Facebook page will provide an online space for family and community members to visit and share their stories.
Read More: Safetyatwork Blog ABC News online
ILO targets occupational disease on its 'World Day Safety and Health at Work'
Launching a new report on April 28, the ILO says that worldwide, occupational diseases continue to be the leading cause of work-related deaths. According to ILO estimates, of the 2.34 million occupational fatalities every year, only 321,000 are due to traumatic incidents. The remaining 2.02 million deaths are caused by various types of work-related diseases, which correspond to a daily average of more than 5,500 deaths. The organisation says that all countries can and should take 'concrete steps now to improve their capacity for preventing occupational diseases'.
ILO Media Release
ILO Programme on Safety and Health at Work and the Environment Report: 'The Prevention of Occupational Diseases' can be downloaded from this page in a number of languages.
Safety in the construction industry: unionists protest
The death of the young Canadian backpacker in NSW last month has triggered a union protest on the site of the incident. The CFMEU's NSW secretary Brian Parker, says concerns had been raised by the union about safety at the site, and it has now been revealed workers were not receiving all of their entitlements, including superannuation. 'It's clear that we have seen a rip off here in terms of their rates of pay and conditions,' he said. 'But worse than that we have seen the death of a young worker at 23 years of age.' The union is calling for the developer to compensate the man's family. Mr Parker said the family have not received insurance money that should have come through the superannuation – had the company paid it - a substantial amount of money.
And in Melbourne this week
The construction unions rallied at the Trades Hall demanding better health and safety on Grocon sites. After gathering at Trades Hall the workers moved on to the Swanston Street site of last month's tragedy for a minute's silence as a sign of respect. They then moved to Grocon's Emporium site where a crane operator was killed earlier this year for another minute's silence before moving on to WorkSafe Head Offices in Exhibition Street. SafetyNet's editor walked with the workers for part of the way, and saw for herself the respect everyone showed during the rally.
The labelling of the rally by Victorian premier Denis Napthine as 'an insult' to the three people who died and their families is incomprehensible. Grocon's poor safety record has been of serious concern to the CFMEU for some time. As well as the recent deaths of three passers-by, a list of serious incidents in Victoria over the past 6 months include continuing crane operations in high winds; a worker being skewered on reo; a blowout while tensioning slab, and formwork collapse during concrete pour. The truth is that the lives of construction workers are at risk every day; unions have the right to fight for better conditions and showed the utmost respect to those killed. What the union is fighting for is proper representation on all Grocon sites, and ongoing consultation – rights all workers have under the Victorian OHS Act.
CFMEU Media Release: Grocon's shocking safety record A dispute about safety
Coincidentally, or not, on the same day as the rally, WorkSafe Victoria released a statement on the Swanston St wall collapse, explaining that it is 'continuing to investigate' the incident, but 'given the complexity of the task it remains in its relatively early stages and will take some time to complete'.
Asbestos toll to mount
Between 30,000 and 40,000 Australians are expected to die from asbestos-related diseases in the next 20 years, a Senate inquiry has heard. The Inquiry into the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Bill took evidence in Hobart last week from a range of groups with experience with asbestos. David Clement, from Asbestoswise, said the age of mesothelioma patients was becoming younger as people carrying out home renovations were exposed. But despite there being widespread ignorance among renovators about the risks, efforts to raise awareness through popular home make-over shows had largely fallen flat. 'The story we have with home renovations shows is that we have been banging on their doors for years trying to get on,' Mr Clement said.
While the Senate inquiry was hearing these submissions, the Queensland government was calling for the Federal Government to withdraw the Bill, claiming its goal for the removal of asbestos from government and commercial buildings by 2030 was not achievable, and would create a risk of widespread exposures due to 'rogue' operators carrying out asbestos removal work in order to meet the deadline. The ACTU's assistant secretary Michael Borowick said Queensland's submission 'put lives at risk' by choosing not to highlight key messages and recommendations of the asbestos management review. 'Their comments demonstrate a worrying disregard for the dangers of asbestos. We know that without action the number of victims of the third wave will grow, namely home-renovators. This is especially concerning when you consider the extreme weather in the state.'
Read more: The Mercury ACTU Media Release Irresponsible Queensland government misleading Senate on Asbestos danger
Toxic Villawood: Government Warned Of Continuing Asbestos Risk
Reports of dangerous asbestos contamination, revealed under Freedom of Information, show hazards have been left unaddressed at Villawood, Australia's largest mainland detention centre. Seven years after detainees were temporarily moved from Villawood Detention Centre to allow for asbestos removal, widespread contaminations are still being reported there. Since 2006, when the police union and refugee advocates demanded action, immigration officials have claimed that the risk of exposure to asbestos is "minimal". However the December 2012 Villawood Hazardous Materials Register shows 165 separate asbestos contaminations – and 27 of those are classified as "friable".
Read more: Global Mail
Hi Renata, I understand that Incident reports are confidential, so who exactly can have access to a full report? Is if the employer, the person who writes it, the treating doctor, the injured person?
No, incident reports are not and should not be confidential. Incident reports are a very important tool in the workplace to assist in the identification and assessment of hazards and/or risks. An incident report should record what happened, when it happened, who was involved, what injuries were suffered (eg knock to head, twisted ankle, burn, etc) witnesses, cause of incident etc. There should also be note of who investigated and what action is being planned - may be investigation of controls, redesign, etc, etc
Incident reports must be kept by the employer and used to take follow-up action. The employer should also collate these and use them to identify trends, etc - this may be done at an OHS committee and so on. They are also the sort of information that HSRs are entitled to have access to, in order for them to be able to identify hazards, etc and to also be involved in the development and implementation of controls.
So in answer to your specific question - I would say that the person who is injured; the HSR, the employer, and the relevant manager should all be able to access the report. In fact, it would make sense to make sure that anyone involved should check it to make sure that whoever filled it in has done so accurately and has the 'whole picture'. If necessary or requested, the medical practitioner should be able to have a look – though I am not sure why s/he would need to.
What IS confidential, though, are individual's medical records (that is, what their treating doctor has on file) and information on their medical status (eg if they suffer a particular condition). However, under the OHS Act if the individual employee gives permission, that person's HSR may be provided with or have access to this information.
See this page: Privacy legislation - does it affect my rights as a rep?
Please send any OHS related queries in to 'Ask Renata' - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can, within a couple of days at the latest.
Nurses fed up with violence in hospitals
The Australian Nurses Federation (ANF) Vic branch is concerned about a series of assaults against nurses at Dandenong Hospital, Monash Medical Centre in Clayton and the Royal Children's Hospital in recent months. Members have reported being sexually assaulted by patients, punched in the face and threatened with knives. One nurse suffered nerve damage to her scalp after having her hair ripped out, while another had to have plastic surgery after part of her breast was bitten off. The Royal Children's Hospital is reviewing its security arrangements after four assaults this year.
However, assistant secretary Paul Gilbert said nurses at Monash Health were angry: a registered nurse with 16 years experience has been disciplined for responding to a violent risk posed by a patient's relative in a secure area of the Dandenong Hospital emergency department. A members meeting held at the hospital last week expressed extreme concern for their colleague and dismay at the hospital's actions and called on Monash Health to fully and properly implement a Code Grey policy at the hospital. After an incident where a patient's relative approached a nurse aggressively, hospital management immediately demoted the nurse from his supervisory and triage duties. He was disciplined on 19 April 2013 despite an investigation which reported that witnesses described his response as "reasonable", found there had been a security breach and that staff lacked training to de-escalate potentially violent situations.
A preliminary ANF investigation has found that Monash Health is not complying with 12 of the recommendations of the Victorian Government's Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee Inquiry into Violence and Security Arrangements in Victorian Hospitals, in particular Emergency Departments handed down in December 2011.
ANF has referred the matter to the Fair Work Commission and is supporting elected health and safety representatives in Dandenong Hospital emergency department to take steps under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act to make the area a safe place to work. Dandenong emergency department nurses have also foreshadowed taking further action in the event the imminent risk to their health and safety is not immediately addressed.
Read more: ANF News: Dandenong Hospital disciplines and demotes emergency nurse after incident with aggressive visitor The Age Fix safety or we'll strike, warn nurses
Tasmania legislates for firefighters
The Tasmanian (Labour) Government this week moved to become the first State in Australia to introduce supported presumptive legislation recognising all twelve occupational cancers for firefighters. Tasmanian Police and Emergency Management Minister David O'Byrne introduced legislation to end the impossible task of firefighters proving which chemicals they encounter have caused their cancer from the many hundreds of fires and emergencies they may have attended. They will be able to access medical support, leave and compensation, removing the burden which currently falls on their family and friends..
United Firefighters Union national secretary Peter Marshall says similar laws support stricken firefighters in Canada and the United States, as well as federally employed firefighters working in Canberra and Australian airports.
United Firefighters Union Media Release [pdf]
Reminder: Campaign for a National Stevedoring Code of Practice
This is a quick reminder to subscribers to support the MUA campaign for a National Stevedoring Code of Practice (NSCOP) to stem the tide of waterfront fatalities over recent years. The MUA is demanding that NSCOP be put out to public comment immediately. If you haven't yet seen Georga Fitzgibbon's YouTube video asking MUA members and the broader community to sign on to the MUA's NSCOP submission, check it out now. Georga's father was killed on the Newcastle waterfront in September last year, and she doesn't want any other family suffering as hers has.
More information: Georga's YouTube clip, the MUA's submission to SWA [pdf] and sign on in support of the MUA campaign.
International Union News
Horrific building collapse in Bangladesh kills hundreds of workers
Last week, in a horrific incident, over 400 textile workers were killed, and hundreds injured, when Rana Plaza, an eight storey building housing five garment factories, collapsed in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Up to 3000 people were working in the building when it collapsed on Wednesday morning, many of them women and children – reports are that there are still hundreds of people missing. The building had begun to crack the day before, and reports are that police had ordered an evacuation. The building owner organised an engineer to come in, but allegedly ignored the engineer's report, ordering workers back to work the next day, threatening to dock their pay if they refused. Bangladeshi police said they had arrested the owners of two of the garment factories, but were still searching for the building's owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana and his father.
International labour organisations have been calling on the Bangladeshi government and multinational clothing companies to take action. The ILO has announced it will send a high-level mission to Bangladesh in the coming days to offer its support and expedite action by all parties following the collapse. 'Horror and regret must translate into urgent firm action,' said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. 'Action now can prevent further tragedy. Inaction would mean that the next tragedy is simply a matter of time. The ILO urges the Government of Bangladesh and its employers and trade unions to make use of its support and ensure that the Rana Plaza tragedy is the last of its kind.'
IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriALL Bangladesh Council is calling on the government to take urgent action to guarantee freedom of association and improve building and fire safety and the minimum wage for the more than 3 million garment workers in Bangladesh.Send your message supporting these demands to the Bangladesh Prime Minister and Minister for Labour and Employment today - click here.
New resources from the UK's TUC
The peak union council in the UK, the TUC released the following useful resources for HSRs – remember though that they will refer to UK legislation:
New and expectant mothers at work This guide explains how being a new or expectant mother can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer's responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.
Working with sewage This guide explains how working with sewage can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer's responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.
Meningitis in the workplace This guide explains how meningitis can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer's responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.
IARC Publishes Rationale for RF as Possible Human Carcinogen
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has released its detailed evaluation of the cancer risks associated with RF radiation, which serves as the rationale for designating RF as a possible human carcinogen. The IARC monograph comes close to two years after an invited panel of experts from 14 countries reached this conclusion following an eight-day meeting at IARC headquarters in Lyon, France (see Microwave News Report ). An electronic copy of the 430-page document [pdf] is available at no cost from IARC.
The basis for IARC designation of RF as a Class 2B carcinogen is summed up in one sentence: 'Positive associations have been observed between exposure to radiofrequency radiation from wireless phones and glioma and acoustic neuroma' (p.421). Those associations with brain tumours and tumours of the acoustic nerve were observed by the Interphone study group and Lennart Hardell's team in Sweden.
Read more: Microwave News
Secondhand smoke during pregnancy alters children's behaviour
Mothers who breathe secondhand smoke are twice as likely to have children with attention and aggression problems, according to a new study from China. It is known that smoking during pregnancy can affect a child's behaviour. Women who are active smokers during pregnancy are more likely to have children with behaviour problems such as ADHD, conduct problems and aggression. Kids born to smoking mothers also have increased criminal behaviour in adolescence and adulthood. Women can be exposed at home or at work when they breathe the smoke from a burning cigarette or smoke exhaled by a smoker.
This is one of the first studies to show a link to secondhand smoke, and found that children exposed to secondhand smoke in the womb are more likely to have behaviour problems when 5 to 6 years old. The results from this study are consistent with prior studies from the United States and Taiwan.
According to a report by the Centres for Disease Control, women of childbearing age exposed to secondhand smoke at work and at home are a worldwide health problem.
Source: Environmental Health News, March 2013
From WorkSafe Victoria
Latest editions of WorkSafe newsletters
WorkSafe sent out its e-newsletter: Safety Soapbox on April 23 headlining with its media release that ten tradies are injured every day (as reported in the last edition of SafetyNet) Other news includes reminders of the WorkSafe awards, and the list of 62 incidents serious enough to reported, from the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries since the last edition. There were a number of electric shocks and 'near misses' – any of which could have proved fatal. A worker had his thumb amputated, and there were a large number of lacerations to hands, arms, legs and faces, as well as burns. Several workers sustained fractures (leg, arm and back) either from falls, or from falling objects.
Also available online and directly to subscribers, is WorkSafe's latest Return to Work News which has a range of items, including 'Inspector Tip of the Month'; and links to resources such as 'Working with GPs' and workshop materials.
Safety blitz heads north
WorkSafe has warned the housing construction industry in Melbourne's northern suburbs to make sure sites and work practices are up to scratch ahead of a safety blitz. Inspectors will visit the outer northern suburbs in May as part of Operation SafeSite, a 12-month blitz on health and safety compliance on construction sites across the state. The latest blitz comes as WorkSafe launched a six-week campaign aimed at getting tradies and other construction site workers to talk about safety. As part of the blitz, WorkSafe inspectors will target basic safety issues as well as high risk construction work, fall protection, site supervision and safe work method statements.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
WorkSafe Awards 2013
A reminder that HSRs should think about entering WorkSafe Awards. All entries must now be in by July 20. Read more
Safe Work Australia news
Safe Work CEO challenges Quad Bike manufacturers
Safe Work Australia Chief Executive Officer, Mr Rex Hoy has called for quad bike manufacturers to immediately reconsider their position on fitting crush protection devices to quad bikes to help prevent more quad bike deaths or life-changing injuries.
Mr Hoy said quad bikes are the leading cause of deaths on Australian farms with about half of all quad bike fatalities resulting from a roll over. 'With over an estimated 220,000 quad bikes in Australia and more than 150 Australians from the ages of 4 to 94 dying from quad bike incidents since 2001, we need to work together to improve safety for quad bike users. There are on average 14 quad bike related deaths on Australian farms every year. If we don't act immediately more of our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and friends will be dead from quad bike incidents', said Mr Hoy.
Mr Hoy has called on the designers and manufacturers of quad bikes to urgently reconsider improving the design of quad bikes so they are not prone to roll over. Crush protection devices should also be fitted to reduce the likelihood of death and injury as a result of a crush or asphyxiation when they do roll.
ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said that there had been enough talk on quad bike safety and it was time for the ACCC and State and Territory workplace safety bodies to act.'There have been many, many preventable deaths and serious injuries from quad bikes. And it is not stopping. It is time to make quad bikes without CPDs illegal,'Mr Borowick said.
Responding in the Safetyatwork blog, the ex-AWU National OHS Officer, Dr Yossi Berger, praised the Safe Work Australia position, saying, 'I've come to the view that the industry is simply being dishonest. And their agents (representatives) are being placed in an untenable position of supporting very poor science and deliberate misinformation. Let me repeat this: deliberate misinformation is taking place.'
Read more: SWA Media Release Safetyatwork blog ACTU Media Release
Latest fatality statistics
SWA has released the November 2012 Fatality Report [ pdf] which reveals that there were 18 fatalities. Since the last reported count of fatalities in Australia (43 as at April 15), there have been an additional six, as at April 26, making it a total of 49. ( Worker fatalities to date )
From WorkCover NSW: Safety alert Working with or around mobile plant to remind officers and workers of persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) of risks associated with mobile plant in the workplace. The alert was issued after 10 workers were killed, and more than 2000 injured, in mobile-plant incidents in NSW in the last five years. Six of the fatalities occurred in the last six months.
Victoria: State ordered to pay $250k in damages
Not a prosecution under the OHS Act, but important nevertheless, is this week's order that the State of Victoria pay $250,000 in damages to a police officer who sustained serious psychological injury and attempted suicide after being bullied by a supervisor. The State had attempted to avoid the payment by claiming that the officer had been 'contributorily negligent' because she had failed to make an official complaint about the bullying. However the Court of Appeal rejected the State's argument. Further, two of the three Court of Appeal Justices found the $108,000 awarded to the worker in July 2011 Supreme Court proceedings was manifestly inadequate. The Court heard that over a two year period (2004-06), the South Melbourne Criminal Investigation Unit police officer was bullied and harassed by her supervisor, who engaged in a range of unacceptable bullying behaviours including having participated in offensive telephone calls with her.
Source: OHS Alert
NSW: RailCorp fined $150k for communication breach after train death
Rail Corporation NSW has been fined $150,000 over the death of a worker who was struck by a train, after the Industrial Court found it failed to ensure an area controller followed its safety processes. On 13 April 2010, five Swetha International Pty Ltd rail safety workers were cleaning a rail corridor at Kogarah station when a train 'unexpectedly' entered the station. While four of the workers were able to get to safety, the fifth was hit by the train as he tried to climb onto a platform. He suffered fatal injuries. The Court heard the RailCorp area controller, who was responsible for blocking signals to stop trains entering Kogarah station, had incorrectly informed the work group's protection officer that blocks had been placed on the relevant signals.
Source: OHS Alert Read more: Independent Transport Safety Regulator v Rail Corporation New South Wales  NSWIRComm 27 (15 April 2013)
USA: Massive fertiliser facility explosion
A fertiliser retail facility in the town of West, near Waco in Texas, exploded on the night of April 18, killing 12 firefighters (and at least two others) and injuring up to 160 people. The explosion was most likely the result of ammonium nitrate fertiliser exceeding a critical temperature and breaking down into components that then reacted with each other, producing vast amounts of heat and gas.
Read more: The Washington Post The Conversation: Why was the Texas fertiliser plant explosion so deadly?
Bangladesh: Agreement on compensation for fire victims
Just a week before the latest Bangladeshi garment industry tragedy (see above), news came that major European retailers C&A, KiK and El Corte Inglés had agreed to contribute to a compensation plan for the victims of the Tazreen Fashions fire in Bangladesh. However, US corporations Walmart, Sears/Kmart and Disney snubbed the hundreds of workers killed or injured in the November 2012 disaster. The European brands made the commitment at a meeting hosted by the global union Industriall on 15 April in Geneva to discuss a US$5.7 million compensation plan for the victims of the tragedy, which claimed the lives of 112 workers and injured about 120. In attendance were major European retailers, a leading Bangladesh trade unionist, the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Worker Rights Consortium. Walmart the largest buyer from the Tazreen factory), Sears/Kmart and Disney, who have refused to pay any compensation to the victims, failed to attend the meeting. The companies, which critics say failed to enforce their own worker safety standards, have claimed to be deeply saddened by the deaths.
Ineke Zeldenrust from the Clean Clothes Campaign commented: 'We once again call upon Walmart and the other major companies sourcing from Tazreen to aid the families of the dead and the injured workers. Their refusal to do so indicates a shocking lack of concern for the rights and well-being of the workers who make their clothes and who, in this case, were injured or killed in the process.'
Industriall news release. Clean Clothes Campaign news release. Source: Risks 601
UK: Companies fined over A$1m
Two companies were this week ordered to pay a total of £794,658 (A$1.19m) in fines and costs after a driver was run over and killed by his own lorry (truck). The 51 year-old was working for a Larkins, a contract haulier when the fatal incident occurred on 11 October 2010. He was collecting a trailer loaded with structural concrete products from a Bison Manufacturing site. He failed to apply the brake in his cab and, because Bison's drivers had not applied the brake to the trailer, the vehicle moved off as he was coupling the two parts together.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that drivers working for Bison did not routinely apply the trailer brakes to ensure the units were safely parked. Following the driver's death, a police vehicle examiner examined ten other trailers at the site but none had the brakes applied, and no other manual system of restraint, such as chocks or hooks, was in place. Both companies had identified the risk to workers, but had failed to implement appropriate control measures.
Read more: HSE Media Release
Urgency targets kidney disease in Central America.
Bringing new urgency to a mysterious kidney disease afflicting the region's agricultural labourers, Central America's health ministries signed a declaration last Friday citing the ailment as a top public health priority and committing to a series of steps to combat its reach. A rare type of chronic kidney disease (CKD) is killing thousands of agricultural workers along Central America's Pacific Coast, as well as in Sri Lanka and India. The cause of the disease has not yet been discovered, but emerging evidence is pointing to toxic heavy metals in pesticides. Following years of official inaction in the U.S. and beyond, Friday's San Salvador declaration — for the first time — formally recognized the disease and its unique characteristics.
According to the declaration adopted by the Council of Health Ministers of Central America, 'This disease fundamentally affects socially vulnerable groups of agricultural communities along the Pacific Coast of Central America, predominates among young men, and has been associated with conditions including toxic environmental and occupational risk factors, dehydration, and habits that are damaging to renal health.
Read more: Center for Public Integrity