SafetyNet 266, 12 September, 2013
We welcome our readers – both old and new subscribers – to this latest edition of SafetyNet. We encourage readers to send in comments and stories you think others might be interested in. We also call on you to 'follow' @OHSreps on Twitter and tweet us about OHS issues that might interest you!
A man died on the morning of August 29 while working on an orchard in Wemen, 100km south of Mildura. The man, 55, was operating a tractor, when it is believed he climbed down. He was then run over by the tractor. This was the third fatality in Victoria in eight days. According to a brief media release WorkSafe was investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident.
WorkSafe is also investigating the death of a man who fell from a rescue helicopter while being winched to safety on Saturday August 31. The man, 65, had injured his ankle in rough terrain at Macs Cove, about 20km south of Mansfield in Victoria's northeast. An Air Ambulance Victoria helicopter was called to the location and, while being winched to safety, the injured man fell from his safety harness. WorkSafe investigators attended the site on Saturday and Sunday.
WorkSafe Media Releases: Worker dies on orchard and Helicopter death being investigated
VTHC Training program released
Remember to check out the VTHC OHS Training unit's new course program (which has courses to the end of March 2014). The VTHC delivers WorkSafe approved initial and refresher courses for OHS reps and deputies, Comcare approved courses under the WHS Act and training for committees, managers and supervisors. Remember that HSRs and Deputies have the right to choose the course they wish to attend – and, unless there are very good reasons to the contrary – the employer must allow them to attend the course of their choice. The employer must pay the cost of the course, any reasonable associated costs, and pay the HSR as if he/she were at work.
Under the Victorian Act, the HSR/Deputy must notify their employer at least 14 days prior to the commencement of the course. Under the WHS legislation, the timeframe is different.
Read more: VTHC training program and HSRs right to training
New Australian Coalition Government –
implications for OHS?
The election last weekend will see a federal Coalition government led by Tony Abbott as PM – will there be any implications for the health and safety of Australian workers? There are a few possibilities which already come to mind:
- In opposition, Tony Abbott flagged the ABCC (the Australian Building and Construction Commission) would be reinstated. This will potentially affect OHS for workers in the construction industry.
- Senator Eric Abetz, who is likely to be the minister responsible for industrial relations, including WHS, has previously voiced concerns over both the draft model bullying code of practice, and the apparent ease with which workers will be able to go to the Fair Work Commission with bullying claims. He also called for these new anti-bullying provisions to be amended so that employers who believe they are being bullied by union officials can apply to the FWC for assistance.
- The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) is predicting the Coalition's government's previously announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs from the APS over the next two years will increase workloads and stress on those who are left and lead to a rise in psychological injury claims.
- Other potential effects include the future of Quadwatch,which is looking into the hazards of quad bikes and control measures (a nine year old girl was killed in Yarra Glen last week when a dune buggy she was on with her father rolled) and the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (also known as the Safe Rates Tribunal), with the Coalition questioning its necessity prior to the election.
Read more: SafetyAtWorkBlog New political challenges for OHS in Australia
137 MFB firetrucks off the road after asbestos found
The media reported this week that school visits to fire stations across Melbourne have been cancelled until further notice while experts clean trucks after an asbestos scare. Rubble believed to contain asbestos was found in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade's workshops in Anderson St, Thornbury, where fire trucks are serviced. As a result, the MFB has hired experts to clean 137 trucks at its 47 fire stations across the city.
MFB has notified WorkSafe and the relevant unions and is conducting atmospheric monitoring of all buildings on the site. United Firefighters Union industrial officer Casey Lee said: 'This is a really significant incident. I've never seen the MFB react like this before.' The Thornbury incident follows last week's asbestos exposure at a big West Melbourne blaze. About 30 fire trucks required cleaning after that incident.
Read more: The Leader
Changes at GARDS
Our friends at GARDS have sent through the following news: Recently formed is the Asbestos Council of Victoria which is the advocacy arm of Gippsland Asbestos Related Diseases Support Inc. It has a new improved logo incorporating the two names ACV/GARDS. It is located in Gippsland and is a not for profit, charitable organisation.
The Asbestos Council of Victoria has an elected Committee of Management who govern the affairs of the organisation comprising of volunteers and one paid staff member. It provides a range of community awareness and support programs, including a regular monthly support group meeting as well as a monthly evening organisational meeting. ACV/GARDS provides information and support 24/7, and produces a quarterly newsletter. It has an office where the general public can access information and support 5 days a week. ACV/GARDS provides medical equipment to asbestos sufferers in the Gippsland community with oxygen concentrators, conserving devices, nebulisers, wheel chairs etc.
The organisation is located at:
41 Monash Road, Newborough,
Ph. 0351277744 Fax. 0351260354, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
PO Box 111 Moe, Vic. 3825
Surge in Hardie asbestos claims
There have been media reports of another spike in asbestos claims linked to James Hardie products, with the cost of some claims higher than expected. The company itself has speculated that the number of asbestos claims cases could peak in coming years, but said more time was needed to see whether this trend continued. For the past few years, James Hardie actuaries have predicted that the ''peak year'' for asbestos claims was financial year 2011. Figures released in August show between March and June this year the company received 160 new claims. This is above the expected 135 claims. In addition, the cost of the payouts is higher which is likely to put pressure on the compensation fund set aside for victims of James Hardies' asbestos products.
The company said its profit was expected to remain steady as housing conditions in the US and Australia improved. Chief executive Louis Gries said sales in the US increased 10 per cent and those in Australia had risen 5 per cent over the three months to June 30.
Source: Asbestoswise Snippets newsletter August 26
Court awards $300k+ to power station
A court has ordered a former power station worker dying of mesothelioma be paid $327,000 in compensation for asbestos exposure. The man worked for the Electricity Trust of South Australia (now Resi Corporation) at Port Augusta power station for 31 years as a welder and boilermaker and later developed mesothelioma. The District Court found ETSA was aware of the danger and ordered it pay exemplary damages under the state's Dust Diseases Act.
Terry Miller of the Asbestos Victims Association welcomed the judgment. 'Many thousands of ETSA employees up until the 1990s were exposed to asbestos dust in power stations around the state,' he said. 'This decision shows that ETSA knew of the dangers of exposure to asbestos and did not tell or protect its workers.'
Read more: ABC online
Please support the Meso Busters team –
October 26 & 27
We remind our subscribers that cycling team 'Meso Busters' will be riding in the Ride to Conquer Cancer event to raise money for research at the Peter Mac and promote the awareness of safe asbestos handling in the community. Last year the team raised almost $24,900 with five riders. This year there are six riders in the team and hope to raise more money this year.
Please make donations by going to www.conquercancer.org.au then choosing 'Melbourne', clicking on 'donate', and then searching for either a team or an individual participant. Shelley Mathews is the team captain, so search for Shelley, then follow the prompts. All donations are tax deductible (receipt sent via email).
asbestos litigator passes away
Ronald L. Motley, a high profile South Carolina lawyer, who spearheaded lawsuits against big tobacco and asbestos industries, recently passed away at the age of 68.
According to US asbestos diseases support organisation ADAO, 'Mr. Motley was a one-of-a-kind attorney and tireless advocate who, for so many decades, made such a huge difference in the lives of asbestos victims and their families. His tenacity and brilliance in and out of the courtroom was seen and felt throughout the nation.' He won many cases against both tobacco and asbestos companies – he was the lawyer who acted for tobacco industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand, played by Russell Crowe in the movie The Insider. He once powerfully said, 'I will stand for my client's rights – I am a trial lawyer." Many of the lawsuits he ran led to bankruptcy filings by many of the companies in the asbestos industry.
Read more: for this and other interesting items, the ADAO September newsletter and The New York Times Obituary
I often have to reach up to take things down from high shelves. I am concerned about strain and sprain injuries. What can I do?
The first matter to consider is how materials are being stored in your workplace. This may require re-organising the workplace and/or purchasing more appropriate shelving/storage units. Things that are used or needed often should not be placed on high (or low) shelves, but stored in a manner that makes
it easy to retrieve them. Equally, heavy materials should not be stored on high shelves, nor liquids or unstable loads. There is an increased risk of manual handling injuries when bending down below knee level or reaching up above shoulder level.
In some circumstances, even after the workplace has been reorganised, a stepladder may be needed to reach less frequently needed items. Both the condition and the positioning of the stepladder must be checked prior to use. Some rules are: only work on a stepladder for a maximum of 15 - 30 minutes at a time; only carry light materials and tools (up to 10 kg); do not overreach; and keep both feet on the same rung or step throughout the task.
Your employer must consult with any HSRs of workers affected, and can choose to also consult with these workers as well, when deciding what to do to resolve this issue..
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. (NB: if you have any problems with this, email your query directly to email@example.com)
Equal Pay Day: September 3
Women still earn less than men, despite all the efforts of unions over the past few decades. Ged Kearney, President of the ACTU, said 'Year after year, Equal Pay Day, is a reminder of just how much less women earn compared to men. What we continue to see are generations of Australian women starting behind and that wage gap increases throughout their life time until they retire on much, much less.'
Overall, women earn 17.5% less than men, which means they have to work an extra 64 days to earn the same amount of pay as the average man. Some of the reasons for pay inequity and the worsening pay gap include: 'women's work' being undervalued; wages are generally lower than industry standards in professions where women predominate; women more often work part time and in temporary jobs that have reduced hourly pay rates; women interrupt their careers more frequently, e.g. after pregnancy; women often face a 'glass ceiling'; they do not move on to senior positions even when they have the same qualifications as men; and gender role stereotypes still predominate and our workforces are often segregated into women's work and men's work.
Ms Kearney ended on a positive note: union membership attributed to higher wages, with female employees who are union members being paid more than female non-union employees at $209.2 extra a week or 25.4%. 'This demonstrates what we have been saying all along. Joining a union gives workers a
stronger voice and better outcomes in the workplace,' she said.
Read more: ACTU Media Release , Equal Pay Day and Economic Security4Women
Time running out to enrol in the Anna Stewart
If you are a woman and are interested in finding out how unions work – and maybe one day working for a union, then consider registering for the Anna Stewart Memorial Project, the aim of which is to increase women's involvement in the union movement through on the job training. Registrations for the next Anna Stewart Memorial Project, Monday 7 October to Friday 18 October, are now open - for more information and how to register please contact Jennifer O'Donnell-Pirisi, VTHC Women's Officer. firstname.lastname@example.org or 0412 228 247.
Ambulance officers face regular threats
The Age last week reported that a team of paramedics were forced to abandon their patient and ambulance after they were physically and verbally threatened by a large group of people in Ardeer in Melbourne's west. The paramedics were unable to lock their ambulance, but were able to activate their duress alarm before escaping through the back of the vehicle. They then ran a safe distance and awaited back-up from another ambulance crew and police.
Ambulance Victoria chief executive officer Greg Sassella said 'Ambulance Victoria will continue to push for charges to be laid against anyone who directs abuse, threats or violence against paramedics or obstructs them from assisting someone in need.'
Steve McGhie, Secretary of the Ambulance Employees Association Victoria, told SafetyNet, 'This is another example where paramedics' safety is compromised. It is not acceptable that they are obstructed, abused or assaulted in the line of duty attending to someone in need of emergency treatment.'
Sources: The Age Paramedics threatened by 'up to 10 people'
Public sector union voices fears for
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has said it fears there may be more assaults on prison guards because of overcrowding. Because of a lack of cells, Corrections Victoria has introduced over 100 camp beds in communal areas of seven minimum and medium security jails. These include Marngoneet, Langi Kal Kal and Beechworth.
While the State Government says it is a temporary measure, the CPSU's Andrew Capp, has said the measure could lead to assaults. 'Our experience shows that it does lead to an increase in prisoner tension,' he said. 'Then that in turn leads to prisoner assault on prisoner and prisoner assault on prison staff.'
Mr Capp says the situation is the result of lack of planning. 'The Government came to office on a platform of tougher sentencing laws,' he said. 'It introduced those tougher sentencing laws. Blind Freddie could see that once that happened that that would lead to a dramatic increase of prisoners in the system.'
The union said the introduction of the temporary beds will change these prisons significantly. The union is concerned the dynamics between prisoners, and between prison officers will change significantly due to the physical layout of the prisons; the numbers of Emergency beds and the speed with which they have been introduced.
Over the past week CPSU has observed Camp Beds set up in the living in areas; Camp beds in previously single cells; Camp beds placed in walk ways outside cells; and newly created portable double up beds (being moved into previously single bed cells).
Mr Capp said he believed tensions inside the prisons are increasing markedly and the union feared 'an underclass will emerge inside based on available sleeping options.'
Sources: ABC online; CPSU
Survey reveals high workloads; high
stress in nurses
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has warned that a new workforce survey reveals an increased number of experienced nurses and midwives will leave the profession over the next 12 months due to high workloads caused by inadequate nurse to patient ratios.
The national survey of the attitudes of nurses and midwives, conducted for the ANMF by the Monash University Department of Management, found that:
- 23% of nurses and midwives were likely to leave the profession in the next year (an 8 per cent increase on last year);
- 33% frequently thought about leaving;
- 41% will explore other career opportunities.
ANMF Federal Secretary Lee Thomas said nurses and midwives who responded to the survey across the health, mental health and aged care sectors, also expressed concern that poor staffing levels and skill mixes contributed to high levels of stress among staff and compromised safe patient care –
with 23% working double shifts. 'Nurses and midwives are stressed and exhausted and are working under conditions which are putting safe patient care at risk. In one instance, two nurses on night duty caring for 23 mentally unstable patients,' said Ms Thomas. 'This a dire warning that unmanageable workloads
due to critical funding shortages, no nationally mandated nurse to patient ratios, attacks on working conditions and the lack of professional recognition from some employers, is taking its toll on frontline nurses and midwives.'
Read more: ANMF Media Release High workloads will see more nurses quit
Workplace Education Program
With at least two in every three Australians developing skin cancer before the age of 70, and outdoor workers having a higher risk of skin cancer, employers need to be aware of the risks to these workers. SunSmart's face-to-face Workplace Education Program is designed to assist employers fulfil their responsibilities to workers under Occupational Health & Safety legislation, and increase capacity to create a 'SunSmart workplace'. Experienced facilitators run one or 1.5 hour face-to-face group sessions at the workplace. To find out more about booking a SunSmart education session, contact SunSmart on (03) 9635 5148 or email@example.com. More information
Also, SunSmart has new guidelines on how to develop a workplace UV protection program and sun protection policy. Skin cancer and outdoor work: a guide for employers provides information about control measures, how to address sun protection in workplaces and evaluate compliance. SunSmart's sample sun protection policy for workplaces can be used as a basis for organisations that are developing policies.
International Union News
Pesticide exposure and cancer in Florida
Workers such as Marta Cruz who left Michoacán, Mexico with her husband and 1 year-old son a decade and a half ago to work in the fields of Homestead, Florida, believe the pesticides they are using are causing cancer. Both Maria and her son have developed cancer. Two years ago she fell to the ground with convulsions and was diagnosed with a brain tumour which was later removed. One year later, her 17 year-old son was also diagnosed with cancer, but by the time he received medical attention, it had already spread to his stomach, chest and lungs.
'They would spray in the morning while we were arriving to work instead of spraying in the evenings,' said Ms Cruz, who at the time, had no idea pesticides posed a health risk to workers. When her son was around nine, he started going to the fields to help his father work, which Cruz believes further
exposed him to pesticides. She knows at least six other farm workers who developed cancer recently – four have died.Elvira Carvajal, from The Farmworker Association of Florida, which focuses on training how to properly handle pesticides, took notice of the growing concern and began tracking cancer
cases. There has been quite a bit of research which has indicated that exposure to pesticides increases the risk of cancer and other diseases.
Read more: Fox News Latino Florida farm workers allege pesticide exposure is giving them cancer. Source: Above the Fold.
Preventing violence in retail
UK retail union Usdaw has published a new guide for union reps on the prevention of violence in the sector. It says the guide provides pointers on how to look after affected members, raise awareness of the issue and raise the profile of Usdaw. The union says its reps are at the heart of its 'Freedom from Fear' campaign.
Preventing violence to retail staff - an Usdaw guide
Unions at Alcoa to Hold Global Week of
Alcoa unions around the world will hold a global week of action in mid-September. They will demand that the world's largest producer of primary aluminum provide fair wages, uphold high health and safety standards and respect workers' fundamental right to organize into unions.
IndustriALL Media Release
October 7 - Joint global action in
October against precarious work
On the World Day for Decent Work unions around the world will be taking action against precarious work. Major global union federation IndustriALL says that in the last decade, companies and governments all over the world have used flexible and insecure employment contracts to undermine workers' wages, conditions and ability to organise collectively.
More information and campaign materials are on the IndustriALL website Source: AAWL Mini news
psychosocial workload, longer working careers
Cutting the mental and social strain caused by work can make workers healthier in the short and long term, new research has found. A Finnish study discovered the risk of an employee claiming a work disability pension due to musculoskeletal diseases can be decreased by up to 35 per cent by reducing the workplace strains. For mental health problems, improving the job can mean the chance of a disability claim drops by almost 20 per cent. 'These figures are from a Finnish follow-up study in which 30,000 men and women participated. The study investigated how the improvement of employees' potential to influence work time could reduce early exit from work,' said Professor Mika Kivimäki from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) and University College London. 'The prevention of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases is vital for extending working careers,' said Kivimäki. 'Controlling the psychosocial factors of work may help reduce early retirement due to illness. Currently, however, systematic research of concrete ways in which to decrease psychosocial workload at workplaces is largely lacking.' The professor was commenting ahead of a 'Work, Well-being and Wealth: Active Ageing at Work' conference (WWW) which was held last month in Helsinki.
Read more: FIOH news release and key papers. Source: Risks 620
Australian study exposes potential flaws in workplace drug testing
Australian researchers have found that exercise substantially increases cannabis levels in the blood. The study, Exercise increases plasma THC concentrations in regular cannabis users, has implications for workplace drug testing. They found that exercise increases plasma THC levels (tetrahydrocannabinol is the main intoxicating ingredient in cannabis) in regular cannabis users, and that recent exercise potentially complicates interpretation of blood THC levels in roadside and workplace tests.
Cannabis users were asked to undergo a 'reasonably tough' 35-minute workout after abstaining from smoking overnight. Afterwards they had 'substantial increase in blood THC', in some cases enough to make the difference between a negative and positive drug test. The researchers found the higher the person's body mass index, the greater their increase in blood THC levels with exercise.
Professor Iain McGregor, of Sydney University which participated in the research, said 'Someone subjected to workplace or roadside drug testing after a visit to the gym could end up testing positive despite an absence of recent cannabis use.'
Source: Workplace Express Alexander Wonga, et al: Exercise increases plasma THC concentrations in regular cannabis users (abstract) Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, August 2013.
confirms cleaners at higher risk of eczema
A New Zealand study of occupational skin conditions in cleaners has found they have almost double the rate of eczema compared to people not exposed to cleaning products. Centre for Public Health researchers from Massey University's College of Health studied work-related skin symptoms in 425 cleaners from a variety of workplaces including hospitals, educational institutions, commercial buildings and the meatworks industry and compared them to non-exposed workers from retail, clerical and bus drivers.
Lead research investigator and centre director Professor Jeroen Douwes, said, 'In terms of occupational disease, it's something that gets ignored because it's not life threatening, but it is more problematic than people realise and can really affect their ability to perform their jobs.'
The research suggested cleaners were incorrectly applying anti-dermatitis creams and aggravating existing conditions by re-using old gloves, sometimes for days on end rather than throwing them out, thus damaging the protective skin layer making it more vulnerable to chemical exposure. In some cases
cleaners were not even aware of the cleaning agents they were using and simply identified which was the correct one by the colour of the bottle.
Read more: Massey University Study identifies dermatitis risk for cleaners
New Zealand workers exposed
to over 50 carcinogens
Public health researchers have identified which carcinogens are likely to contribute most to occupational cancer in New Zealand workplaces. The study, funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) found that there are more than 50 known human carcinogens commonly present in New Zealand workplaces.
Members of the Centre for Public Health Research at Massey University's College of Health, undertook a selective study of numerous industries to determine varying levels of exposure to carcinogens such as asbestos, silica and wood dust in the report for the HRC and the Department of Labour (now part of MBIE). The work was prompted by a lack of national data on the extent and spread of occupational exposure to carcinogens in industries ranging from agriculture, the construction industry, health services and machinery and equipment manufacturing. Manufacturers of metal products and wood and paper products were also identified with having a high number of workers potentially exposed to cancers.
The study found that 87 per cent of New Zealand joinery workers and 63 per cent of furniture workers are exposed to inhalable wood dust levels in excess of international standards of one milligram per cubic metre. A second study found that educational intervention measures alone, such as risk education
and providing information on good work practice only resulted in a "modest" reduction in wood dust exposure. Technical interventions such as employers providing workplaces with good ventilation and exhaust outlets, as well as promoting good cleaning standards could result in greater reductions. This
study found that among the most common of the 50 carcinogens are asbestos, benzene, formaldehyde, involuntary smoking, wood dust, solar radiation and occupational exposures as a painter.
Read more: Massey University Workplace cancers study leads occupational disease research
fish could reveal effects of multiple chemical exposure
Researchers at Oregon State University in the U.S. are using zebrafish to assess the impacts of multiple chemical exposures. Their findings could help lead to a better understanding of how chemicals in the workplace, the environment and in consumer products affect human health. Robert Tanguay, professor of molecular toxicology at Oregon State, is studying zebrafish seeking an answer to one of the most pressing questions in environmental health and toxicology: What are the health effects of chemical mixtures?
Using zebrafish, Tanguay and other scientists are investigating why certain chemical components of crude oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989 continue to adversely affect fish survival in Alaska's Prince William Sound, as well as effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill on marine life in the Gulf
of Mexico. Zebrafish studies are also being used to assess the potential human health impacts of the 'chemical stew' in U.S. Superfund sites. Tanguay's lab is conducting research for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), evaluating the toxicity of thousands of chemicals used in consumer products.
Zebrafish are also proving key to advancing our understanding of how particular chemical compounds affect the expression of individual genes that maintain and influence virtually every body system.
New Firies Cancer compensation advisory line opened
Further to the item in SafetyNet 265, the Victorian Coalition Government has now launched a phone-line to provide information and advice to firefighters considering lodging a workers compensation claim for cancer. The Firefighter Advisory Service hotline, jointly operated by the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) and the Country Fire Authority (CFA), will operate between 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, with an afterhours service available for CFA volunteers until 8.00 pm week days. The number is 1800 060 729.
Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips said the new hotline will complement the Firefighters Assessment Panel, formed by the government last month, to manage and assess the work-related cancer claims of Victoria's firefighters. The United Firefighters Union and the Greens blasted the establishment
of the panel as a tactic to derail the bill seeking to give Victorian firefighters automatic access to compensation for a number of listed cancers.
Victorian Government Media Release
Latest edition of WorkSafe Safety
The latest edition of WorkSafe's newsletter came out this week. Since the last edition there were 58 incidents serious enough to be reported to WorkSafe Victoria from the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries – over 20 more than the last period. The incidents included the two fatalities (young electrician electrocuted and the worker crushed by the collapse of the second floor of a building site). In addition, there were several incidents which were 'near misses' or serious injuries, such as the second worker trapped, five electric more shocks, a worker losing consciousness due to fumes, a number of head injuries, lacerations, and fractures.
There were three injuries caused by falls – in one incident, a worker who fell off a 700mm high platform suffered fractured vertebrae. The incident supports the position of Victoria's coroner that falls regulation should apply to heights lower than the current 2 metre cut-off. The list [pdf ] can be downloaded for more information. Safety Soapbox
End of year-long farm campaign – safer
WorkSafe Victoria has wrapped up its year-long campaign in which inspectors helped identify and eradicate the most common causes of injuries and fatalities in agricultural workplaces. The regulator claims that as a result, more than 460 farms are now safer. During the campaign, inspectors concentrated primarily on dairy and beef cattle farms and paid particular attention to dangerous machinery, animal handling practices and unsafe manual handling. In the 12 months to 30 June, WorkSafe inspectors issued 375 improvement notices requiring issues be fixed. Another 64 breaches were able to be dealt with on the spot by employers. Of the 375 notices, almost 30 per cent related to machinery. Of that 30 per cent, almost half involved poor guarding.
'Machinery and attachments that are used incorrectly, poorly maintained and inadequately guarded is still the biggest problem on farms,' said WorkSafe chief executive, Ms Denise Cosgrove. 'Farmers are practical and creative but machinery should only be used for the purpose it's intended.'
Other safety issues identified during the campaign included poor ladder access to silos, slips, trips and fall hazards, a lack of personal protective equipment and failure to have a chemical register and Material Safety Data Sheets that provide safe storage and handling advice.
While the campaign and notices issued will have focussed farmers' attention to the health and safety hazards and risks they face, they will have to ensure they continue to take action so their farms are truly 'safer'.
Read more: WorkSafe Media release
Safe Work Australia News
Safe Work Australia chair Ann Sherry has officially launched Safe Work Australia Month 2013, which begins on 1 October, and has called for dedicated OHS professionals and others to register as Safety Ambassadors.
'In 2012 a record 699 people registered as Safety Ambassadors and this year we're aiming for at least 800 workers to get involved by registering and organising safety awareness activities at work,' Ms Sherry said. 'All you need to register is a commitment to improving safety in your workplace by motivating other staff to participate in safety month.'
Ambassadors will receive an information kit to help them organise and promote safety in their workplace, and be eligible to enter the Safety Ambassador of the Year Award.
Read more: SWA Month
New nano publication
Safe Work Australia has published the research report: Development of an automated high-throughput screening procedure for nanomaterials genotoxicity assessment done by the University of South Australia, Flinders University and CSIRO.
As of September 3, there were 112 Australians reported as being killed at work so far this year. The greatest number of fatalities have been in the transport, postal & warehousing sector (28); agriculture, forestry & fishing (27); construction (15) and manufacturing (9). The number of worker deaths listed is based on initial media reports and is only a preliminary estimate for the number of people killed. Work-related status cannot be confirmed until the death is investigated by the appropriate authority.
Also available are the monthly fatality reports. There were 17 work-related notifiable fatalities during April 2013, the latest available: 12 male workers and three male and two female bystanders. Of these, three workers and four bystanders died as a result of incidents in the air or on public roads. Five involved a 'Vehicle incident–public road crash' and three resulted from being 'Hit by a falling object'. 'Pedestrian hit by vehicle–public road', 'Crushing' and 'Fall from a height' resulted in two fatalities each. Hit by moving object other than vehicle, Drowning and Burns resulted in one fatality each.
Transport, postal & warehousing workplaces accounted for eight fatalities; three occurred in Agriculture, forestry & fishing industry workplaces; and Construction and Manufacturing industry workplaces recorded two fatalities each.
Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities and Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Reports
- From WorkSafe WA an updated version of its 2011 bulletin on the Globally Harmonised System of Classifying and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) [pdf]. The bulletin says that while Western Australian chemical manufacturers/importers and other businesses are permitted to continue using the Australian classification system instead of the GHS "at this time", they will be required to implement the GHS by 2017 if their products are used in states and territories that have adopted the model Work Health and Safety Act. In Victoria, which has not taken up the WHS Act, companies can either continue under the current system or move to the GHS system (recommended!)
- Also from WA – a new poster on Noise: Protect your hearing [pdf ] which focusses on identifying the sources of the noise
- A publication Comcare's commitment to Health and Safety Representatives
Nufarm prosecuted, fined $300k for fatality
On August 30 in the County Court of Victoria, the DPP secured a prosecution and fine of Nufarm Australia Ltd over the May 2011 fatality of a contractor. The company pleaded guilty to failing to provide supervision to enable employees to perform their work in a way that was safe and without risks to health, and was convicted and fined $300,000.
At the time of the incident, a sulphur smell was noticed at the workplace, probably coming from the effluent collection tank in the herbicide plant. The contractor, who had been working at the site since 1995, was given the task of breaking open a line at a flange and putting a solid face over the end in order to isolate it from the system. The Court noted that although line breaking was not an uncommon activity at the workplace, Nufarm did not have a written procedure for the task. However, it was also noted that 'it was nevertheless understood by employees that the correct method of breaking open a flange' involved wearing 'wet weather gear' (a form of chemically resistant protective equipment comprising a helmet, face shield, jacket, pants, rubber gloves and boots); assuming there would be liquid in the lines and positioning themselves so they would not come into contact with it; and only removing remaining bolts and separating the flange once any liquids had drained out.
On the morning of 19 May, the worker was issued with a permit and started to do the job – at about 11am he was seen running to towards the first aid room. While he had glasses and a hard hat, he had not been wearing the wet weather gear, and had been working on a ladder underneath the line. He was exposed to 2,4-Dichlorophenol (DCP), collapsed, was unable to be resuscitated and died.
The Court heard that although Nufarm was aware that this worker occasionally failed to properly wear required clothing, and that he had previously, in 2001, been sprayed in the face and neck with DCP and so been exposed as a result of this, it failed to adequately supervise him to ensure compliance.
The presiding judge, His Honour Judge Parsons, commented, 'As a consequence of the demonstrated reluctance of (the worker) to wear proper clothing on occasions, NUFARM had at least two options before them - to ensure that he did wear the required clothing properly, or alternatively to stop employing him on jobs which required him to wear that particular style of clothing.'
The company had shown remorse, had implemented improvements and had pleaded guilty – had it not, the judge commented: 'The sentence that would have been imposed if convicted of this offence after trial would have been trebled, being $900,000.00.' Read more: County Court Sentencing Remarks [pdf]
Sacking of train driver found to be adverse action
Not a prosecution, but a case demonstrating how an employer sacked a long haulage driver for a prohibited reason, which was his responsibility under s21 of the South Australian OHS Act (since repealed) to take reasonable care to protect his and others' health and safety by not driving while mentally or physically ill. On August 29 the Federal Circuit Court found rail company Railpro Services Pty Ltd took unlawful adverse action when it dismissed a locomotive driver who became sick and anxious and could not undergo a competency assessment six weeks after he was involved in a crash.
Judge Denys Simpson also found that the dismissal, because of the driver's mental and physical disability, was in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.
WorkplaceExpress. Read more: Flavel v
Railpro Services Pty Ltd  FCCA 1189 (29 August 2013)
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China: fatal ammonia leak kills 15
At least 15 people were killed on August 31 when ammonia leaked from a frozen storage and logistics business, Weng's Cold Storage Industrial Company, in Shanghai. According to industrial safety officials eight were seriously injured and 17 people suffered lesser injuries. The reports did not specify how the people died or whether they were all employees at the site. Safety officials said they were investigating the cause of the leak, which sent stinging fumes into nearby residential areas. The Chinese government has said it is trying to reduce deaths at mines, factories and other workplaces that became more dangerous in the wake of rapid industrial growth.
Source: New York Times and Beijing News
China: Fresh labour violations in factory producing the "cheap" iPhone
A new undercover investigation by China Labor Watch (CLW) has revealed a series of ethical and legal labor violations in a factory in Wuxi, China owned by U.S. electronics manufacturer Jabil Circuit that is currently producing the soon-to-be-released cheap iPhone for Apple.
Among the infringements uncovered by CLW include millions of dollars in unpaid overtime wages; over 100 hours of monthly mandatory overtime, three times in excess of legal limits; more than 11 hours of standing work every day with no rest outside of 30-minute meal breaks; illegally inadequate pre-work
training; hiring discrimination; and in hazardous conditions. Staff are allegedly working without adequate protective equipment, at risk from chemicals, noise and lasers, for an average of 69 hours a week.
China Labor Watch Media Release The Guardian Workers rights flouted at Apple iPhone factory in China
Tanzania: Children exposed to mercury, other dangers, mining gold
According to a new Human Rights Watch report, thousands of children are working in small-scale Tanzanian gold mines, with many using or being exposed to mercury. The United States-based lobby group has called on the government of Tanzania, along with donor organisations and gold companies, to take urgent action to curb the high rates of child labour and regulate the use of mercury.
The 96-page report reveals the grim reality of small scale gold mining in Tanzania (in 2011 Africa's fourth-largest gold producer). Children, many of whom are orphans, are involved in every stage of artisanal mining, from digging with picks to carrying heavy rocks, mixing gold ore with mercury and
burning the amalgam to extract gold. The backbreaking and dangerous work can involve being underground for between six and 24 hours. Of the 80 children interviewed on 11 mining sites, some had been injured by rudimentary machinery and others were trapped underground when shafts collapsed. As well as
the dangers of gas inhalation and other respiratory threats from working underground, a number of children said they were burning ore with mercury to extract gold and exposing themselves to the toxic chemical, the effects of which are serious for the young.
Read more: Children are exposed to a minefield of labour, mercury for the sake of gold and Child gold miners risking their lives in Tanzania - report Johannesburg Mail & Guardian, South Africa.