SafetyNet 270, 7 November, 2013
We welcome all our subscribers to Edition 270 of SafetyNet. If you find the journal useful, please tell others about it. And please consider 'following' us on Twitter @ohsreps
Remember 'Go Home on Time' Day: November 20
GHOTD is an initiative of The Australia Institute in partnership with beyondblue, in response to the increasing hours many Australians are working. For example, the AI says that despite Australia's reputation for being a land of 'sickies' and 'smokos' and for celebrating long lunches, many Australians are struggling to even manage a short one. In fact, their research shows that 3.8 million people routinely don't take a lunch break, with one in two of them saying it is because they are 'too busy'. The AI has produced a 'fun infographic' [pdf ] to highlight the benefits of taking a break.More interesting facts from their research can be found in their Hard to get a break? infographic [pdf ] and Mental health at workinfographic [pdf ].
The Day is a light-hearted way to start a serious conversation about work/life balance. The Australia Institute is asking organisations to register to participate. Go to the GHOTD site to sign up.
Asbestos Week Activities
Documentary: The Making of DUST
Remember to check out the documentary based on the making of the show Dust – which will be on ABC1 Tuesday 26 November at 10pm during Asbestos Awareness Week.
Annual Asbestoswise commemoration service – Federation Square
The asbestos support and advocacy group AsbestosWise invites all those interested to its annual service to commemorate the lives of those touched by an asbestos-related disease. The non-denominational service begins at 11am at the Deakin Edge Theatre at Federation Square. Following the one hour service, AsbestosWise invites everyone to join them on the banks of the Yarra for the now-traditional barbeque.
Enquiries: email@example.com or 03 954 9555
Education union Asbestos Forum, 4.30 – 6.30pm, Tuesday 3 December, 2013
In conjunction with National Asbestos Awareness week the Australian Education Union (AEU) is holding an Asbestos Forum to provide the latest information and strategies toAEU workplaces to manage this hazard in situ whilst aiming to achieve asbestos free workplaces. For AEU principal class members and OH&S managers, Health & Safety Representatives, AEU members and all otherinterested persons to attendeither in person or via online forum. Up-to-date information will be provided by the AEU, WorkSafe and the Victorian Trades Hall Council representatives.
AEU head office 112 Trenerry Crescent, Abbotsford 3067 (Melways Ref 44 E3)
Tel: 03 9417 2822 Fax: 1300 658 078 Web: www.aeuvic.asn.au
You must register your attendance, please elect whether you will attend in person or online.Register online by clicking here
1 - Morning Tea: 10am, Thursday November 28th
Function Room - Moe RSL - Albert Street, Moe
Gold coin donation to ACV/GARDS for morning tea
- Asbestos Information from ACV/GARDS & Cancer Council Vic - booklets on health
- Slater & Gordon Law Firm & Maurice Blackburn Law Firm will be on site to answer any questions from the general public about litigation,
- Mairin OHS&E Consulting will answer questions on sample testing & have examples of asbestos containing products on display for your viewing
All Welcome! ACV/GARDS is also having a raffle on the day
2 - Asbestos Awareness Day Ceremony 2013: 11.00am, Friday November 29th
Centenary Rose Garden, Commercial Road, Morwell
The event highlights and raises the awareness of asbestos and its effects on families and the community.
There will be an ecumenical service to remember those who are suffering and those who have succumb to asbestos disease, Beryl Stevens - Celebrant will officiate.
The ceremony will provide time for families to lay flowers and pay tribute to their loved ones. There will be a number of guest speakers, the Coal Valley Male Choir and the Newborough Primary School choir, as well as the ACV/GARDS bagpipers David Duncan & Bill Dunbar.
At the conclusion of the ceremony there will be a free BBQ lunch – all welcome. For further information on either event, please contact Vicki Hamilton 0407274173 or the ACV/GARDS office: 5127 7744g
Mesothelioma in Australia incidence report released
The 2013 edition of the annual mesothelioma incidence report Mesothelioma in Australia: incidence 1982 to 2009, mortality 1997 to 2011 has been released by Safe Work Australia. This is the sixth report in the series.The report reveals that in 2009 there were 666 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in Australia. Alarmingly, but unfortunately not surprisingly, the total number of new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed has risen steadily in most years since 1982.
The report states two studies have found that the incidence of mesothelioma will peak in the next few years, while a third study found the peak will occur in 2021.It notes that Australia was one of the biggest producers and consumers of asbestos-containing products in the 20th century, with 70,000 asbestos-cement houses being built in NSW alone between 1945 and 1954.One in four new houses in Australia was clad in asbestos cement well into the 1960s.
Download the report on this page of the Safe Work Australia website
Union rep gets payout after exposing asbestos risks
Mr Darren Hayes, a Communication Workers Union representative who raised concerns about the asbestos risks his fellow workers were exposed to while rolling out the NBN, has received a payout from his former employer, NBN contractor Visionstream. Mr Hayes launched a constructive dismissal claim against the company claiming he had been sidelined and forced out after he went to the union. According to Mr Hayes, the employer provided workers at the Mt Clear site near Ballarat with faulty or defective equipment, had poor handling of the asbestos and more. Comcare issued the company with an improvement notice after photos revealed asbestos bags being left unattended near a primary school. Mr Hayes and Visionstream reached a confidential settlement at the Fair Work Commission.
Source: The Herald Sun
NSW bushfires increase dangers of asbestos
NSW is currently experiencing one of the worst fire seasons in 10 years which has damaged or destroyed properties across the state. With so many properties affected, the risk of exposure to asbestos has increased. Victoria faced a similar situation following the 'Black Saturday' bushfires in 2009, and had to implement special arrangements. In response to the current threat, WorkCover NSW is waiving the five-day asbestos removal work notification timeframe to allow immediate clean-up of asbestos debris. 'Residents are being urged to seek out information on the potential risks of being exposed to asbestos and how to safely manage asbestos when cleaning up after the fire', saidWorkCover NSW Work Health and Safety Division general manager John Watson. 'As firefighters and other emergency services workers assess the damage, and residents begin to repair or rebuild, we want to make people aware of the danger of asbestos.'
Read more: Nyngan Observer
What is the situation if workers suffer hay fever or an asthma attack from the vegetation growing in and around a work site? Or alternatively, a severe allergic reaction/asthma attack at work caused by native vegetation OUTSIDE the workplace (eg in the surrounding allotments)? What about a severe reaction to a colleague's scent? (Not the company's fault.) Are these work-related illnesses/conditions? Can these workers claim workers' compensation?
While this may seem to be a very specific query, the principles potentially apply to many workplaces and many conditions.
Firstly, in most of the above cases, the workers affected have the right to claim compensation if the reaction/illness/condition is either caused or exacerbated by work, or by being at the workplace. The insurer is likely to initially reject the claim, and so the worker/s should seek advice from their union or a legal representative with experience in workers' compensation. The issue is to be able to support the connection between work and the effect. [Note: workers' compensation legislation is not my specialty, and so it is important they seek further advice.]
However, there is also an OHS aspect to the above issues. The employer has a legal duty to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable (see Duties of Employers ). So in all of the above examples, the employer can and should take action. If the plants at a work site are causing some workers to suffer hay fever, allergic reactions, or asthma, then the employer should remove as much of this vegetation as possible and replace with plants which do not cause this effect.
If the problem is in surrounding areas, then the employer should contact the 'person' with management and control of this land/work site and raise the issue, and ask for some action to be taken. The former 'person' also has duties under the Act, if as an employer (Section 23) or under Section 26 (see Duties of 'others' ).
With regard to perfumes in the workplace, it's not an issue of 'fault' but a recognition that perfumes and scents are in fact chemicals, and the employer, who has control of the workplace, needs to consider introducing a policy (in consultation with the HSRs and workers). For more information, see Perfumes and scents: chemicals too!
Union seeks support for Ambulance Officers
Police, fire-fighters and paramedics are often the first on scene at fatal road traffic accidents.These critical workers will attend many of these cases in their careers and the psychological effects of attending these accidents can be life changing and career ending. At Ambulance Victoria there have been 10 paramedic suicides in the last five years.
The ambulance union, part of United Voice, says that Victoria's Premier Denis Napthine is going to introduce legislation to severely limit the ability for paramedics, fire-fighters and police to receive compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder suffered from attending car accidents. This will be done by introducing a new definition of 'severe psychiatric injury' which will be so hard to satisfy it will make these critical workers' common law rights effectively meaningless. 'This is a disgraceful act,' says the union.
The union is asking the community to tell Premier Napthine: 'Don't strip away their rights.'
TAKE ACTION: please take a minute to sign their petition.
ACTU: Speak up as pregnancy discrimination overtakes disability as top workplace complaint
The ACTU is urging workers who have experienced discrimination while pregnant or when returning to work after having a baby to tell their stories to a national inquiry.This comes as the Fair Work Ombudsman reveals 28% of complaints received in 2012-13were from women treated poorly by employers due to pregnancy; overtaking the prior top complaint of discrimination due to physical or mental disability.
ACTU President Ged Kearney said discrimination was a major factor in oneinthree women leaving the workforce while pregnant or after having a child. 'Despite laws and policies in Australia protecting employees against discrimination while pregnant, seeking parental leave or returning to work after parental leave, many people are often demoted, forced to resign, made redundant or receive unfavourable treatment during this time,' Ms Kearney said. 'Unions can and do help in all of these situations, but they shouldn't happen in the first place. Unions hear these stories all the time, but we need to let decision-makers in government know about them too through the inquiry being conducted by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.'
The ACTU and affiliated unions will be making submissions to the inquiry, but individual workers are also encouraged to tell their stories. Ms Kearney said the ACTU had set up a hotline and a simple online service to make this process easier.
Australian Unions pregnancy hotline: 1300 364 024 or make your submission online
Read more: ACTU Media Release
WA unions urge government to improve safety laws
According to data released by WorkSafe WA, the number and rate of very serious work injuries (iethose resulting in more than 60 working days lost) in that state is now higher than at any time in the past five years, with 5350 workers suffering such very severe injuries in 2011-12.
Meredith Hammat, Secretary UnionsWA, is calling on the WA to sign up to national work health and safety laws that would improve the protections and 'make the system clearer and simpler for everyone. '[The government] has insisted on keeping weaker penalties for employers who fail to maintain safe workplace, has poorer protections for whistle-blowers and wants to make it harder to prosecute breaches of work safety laws,' she said. 'In 2012 [it] consulted around its proposed weaker safety laws. There has been no outcome from those consultations, no policy announcement, no legislation. With that record, and in the face of this latest crisis of serious work injuries, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Barnett Government simply doesn't rate work safety as a priority.'
NSW: 'Secret' mercury pollution report comes to light
It has just been reported in the media that chemical giant Orica tried to keep secret a potentially damaging report into whether the dangerous metal mercury might have been leaking off site from its former chlor-alkali plant, which operated at the Botany Industrial Park for almost 60 years. The report was commissioned by the company (then ICI) and written by two University of Sydney professors 20 years ago. The October 1991 study came to light only recently when a former Orica employee revealed its existence. It was commissioned by the company seeking to reassure the public in a 1990 newspaper ad that it was reducing the amount of mercury going down the sewer pipes. The NSW now has a copy of the report, ''Review of the mercury pollution abatement programme at ICI Operations Botany'', which concluded that about a kilogram a day of mercury was going down the drain which ran from the Botany site to Malabar.
Sydney Morning Herald: Leaking toxic sludge report kept quiet by chemical giant
FoE Nanotechnology Newsletter
The team at the Friends of the Earth Nanotechnology Project has released the latest Nano News. Of interest/concern is the report that the updated Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory– run through the Woodrwo Wilson International Centre for Scholars - now contains 1,628 consumer products that have been introduced to the market since 2005, representing a 24 percent increase since the last update in 2010.
Read more: Nanotechnology on the website.
International Union News
USA: Regulator's admission lends support to union campaigns to improve safety
In what is an unbelievable admission, the USA's regulator is asking employers to voluntarily improve safeguards for workers exposed to hazardous chemicals as their exposure standards are 'antiquated'. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) warns that many current federal limits on chemical exposure in the workplace are just plainly insufficient. The regulator launched an initiative on October 24 that offers guidance to businesses about substituting safer substances for more hazardous substances and sets voluntary exposure limits for hazardous chemicals to levels lower than federal standards. The agency says that by taking such actioncompanies will reduce worker illness and death that could result from OSHA's outdated permissible exposure limits (PELs) for chemicals. Most of those federal limits date back to the 1970s.
'Many of OSHA's chemical standards are not adequately protective,' says David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. 'Simply complying with OSHA's antiquated PELs will not guarantee that workers will be safe.' OSHA updated hundreds of its chemical limits simultaneously in 1989, but a federal court struck them down in 1992 and reinstated the original ones. The ruling left the agency to modernize PELs one at a time through a cumbersome process. Most remain unchanged.
OSHA has developed a new website: Transitioning to Safer Chemicals: A Toolkit for Employers and Workers in order to assist workplaces deal with this situation. Not surprisingly, the American Chemistry Council, an association of chemical manufacturers, is unhappy about OSHA's emphasis on chemical substitution. Consequently, OSHA has also developed a list of alternate occupational exposure limits 'that may serve to better protect workers'.
Read more: Protecting workers (Chemical and Engineering News) and News Release: OSHA releases new resources to better protect workers from hazardous chemicals
Japan: Workers continue to be criminally exposed to radiation
Although it has been two and a half years since the Tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan, radiation continues to leak out of the plant. Unfortunately, those most severely affected by the continuing leak are the workers who are trying to contain this disaster and stop it from worsening. A Reuters special report has revealed that companies are criminally sending their workers into areas where there is too much radiation. There are up to 6,000 workers at the plant at any one time. The report is accompanied by a four minute video Forgotten in Fukushima. Earlier this month, a 40,000 strong anti-nuclear demonstration in Tokyo again showed people distrust and opposition to the government's nuclear policies(Labornet Japan).
Source: AAWL Mini news
Sand-blasting ban making little difference to workers
International labour organizations had hoped that when Levi Strauss announced it had banned the use of sandblasting three years ago, the move by the top-selling jeans maker would help end the deadly practice, which gives denim a fashionable look but is linked to a fatal lung disease.
However, even though Target and Gap joined Levi Strauss in proclaiming bans, sandblasting persists in factories that make those retailers' clothes in China, India, Pakistan, Egypt and Bangladesh, countries responsible for the bulk of the five billion pairs of jeans made each year, research by non-profit, medical groups and labour organizations shows. 'There clearly is sandblasting going on. I don't know how anyone could really deny it,' said Katie Quan, associate chair of the LaborCenter at UC Berkeley.
The garment industry is built on a vast network of subcontractors hidden from regulatory oversight, experts say, so that even well-meaning fashion brands are unable to change the conditions in which their clothes are made. 'There is no such thing as a non-sweatshop in the global supply chain,' said Garrett Brown, coordinator of the Berkeley-based Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network, a collection of occupational health and safety professionals who educate factory workers about workplace hazards. 'Retailers have almost no ability to know where it's being done, by whom it's being done and with what technology, and as a consequence they have no idea the terrible stuff that's going on.'
Read more: Retailer sandblasting bans have changed little in the garment industry San Jose Mercury News
Spain: Miners stop work after gas leak kills six
Spanish miners launched a 48-hour work stoppage last Tuesday following the death of six coal workers as a result of a methane gas leak in the struggling industry's deadliest accident in 18 years.The gas suffocated the workers in a mine in Santa Lucia in northwestern Spain on Monday October 28, officials said, spreading so quickly 700 metres underground that miners had no time to put on protective masks before being overcome. Another five workers injured were taken to hospital and are in a stable condition. It is reported that the workers were employed by a sub-contractor.
Major Spanish union federations, the CCOO and UGT, called a two-day stop work in Spain's mines (about 40, mostly in the north). 'Both federations have decided to call a 48-hour strike in all mining operations in the country as a symbol of respect, condolences and mourning for our workmates,' they said in a joint statement.The unions urged the National Commission for Mining Safety to investigate urgently and to take measures to prevent further such disasters.
Read more: Agence France-Presse
Bangladesh: Families hold candlelit vigil at Rana Plaza site six months on
Families of workers who died during the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh have held a candlelit vigil to mark six months since the day the tragedy occurred.The families were joined at the site of the former factory by survivors as well as national trade unions, IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union.
Rana Plaza, a structurally flawed building containing five garment factories and seven floors came down on 24th April, killing 1,129 people. More than 300 bodies are still to be identified, whilst thousands of workers have suffered injuries.
In the aftermath of the disaster, IndustriALL and UNI signed an agreement with international brands committing to transform the safety of the Bangladeshi garment industry. In a world first, 103 brands have signed the Accord, and 1600 garment factories are covered by new safety regulations.
Read more: IndustriALL Media release
Over 40% of Australian workers potentially exposed to carcinogens
Australian researchers from the universities of WA, Monash and Sydney, have published the results of their recent study, the Australian Work Exposures Study (AWES), which investigated the current prevalence of occupational exposure to carcinogens. A random sample of men and women (between 18 and 65yrs old), in paid employment, were invited to participate in a telephone interview collecting information about their current job and various demographic factors. Responses were obtained from 5023 workers.
Of these, 1879 respondents (37.6%) were assessed as being exposed to at least one occupational carcinogen in their current job. Extrapolation of these figures to the Australian working population suggested 3.6 million (40.3%) current workers could be exposed to carcinogens in their workplace. Exposure prevalence was highest among farmers, drivers, miners and transport workers, as well as men and those residing in regional areas.
Renee N Carey, Timothy R Driscoll, Susan Peters, Deborah C Glass, Alison Reid, Geza Benke, Lin Fritschi Estimated prevalence of exposure to occupational carcinogens in Australia (2011–2012) [abstract]
Truck driver alcohol, drug use linked to poor working conditions
A recent analysis of available evidence suggests that the high prevalence of drug and alcohol use among truck drivers on the road is strongly associated with poor working conditions. Researchers from Brazil comprehensively reviewed international research databases on the use of drugs and alcohol among truck drivers. They found 36 relevant studies, dating back to 2000, of which 28 were carried out in countries with a large land mass, such as Australia, the United States and Brazil. Twenty-three studies used information obtained through survey data rather than biological samples.
The data showed that the use of psychoactive (mind-altering) substances by drivers occurred relatively frequently. The most frequently used substances included alcohol, as well as the illicit drugs 'speed' (amphetamines), cannabis and cocaine.The data also revealed common themes, such as younger age, longer trips, night driving and fewer hours of rest. In addition, pay below union-recommended rates and productivity-based earnings were also associated with the use of psychoactive substances. Regulations on working hours, increasing income, improving working conditions, roads and ensuring vehicles are in good repair, said the researchers, would contribute to a reduction in the use of these substances, and therefore a safer industry.
Read more: EdmartonGirotto, et al, Psychoactive substance use by truck drivers: a systematic review Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oemed-2013-101452
WHO: Air pollution is carcinogenic and urges action; scientists say industry hindering progress
On October 17, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that air pollution has been classified as a human carcinogen. Although the composition of air pollution and exposure levels vary widely from place to place, IARC says its assessment is applicable worldwide and notes that exposures in rapidly industrializing countries with large populations have increased significantly in recent years. According to the IARC review of the latest scientific studies, exposure to air pollution increases the risk for lung cancer and for bladder cancer. IARC also evaluated particulate matter, a major component of air pollution, and concluded that it too is a human carcinogen.
This is the first time outdoor air pollution has been classified as a cause of cancer. IARC notes that in 2010 – the most recent annual data available – approximately 223,000 deaths worldwide resulted from lung cancer prompted by air pollution. Meanwhile air pollution-related respiratory and cardiovascular diseases continue to decrease life expectancy worldwide. 'We now know that outdoor air pollution is not only a major risk to health in general, but also a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths,' said Dr Kurt Straif of the IARC in the organization's announcement.
Read more: IARC Press Release [pdf] The Pump Handle and Loomis, et al The carcinogenicity of outdoor air pollution The Lancet, doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70487-X
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New Injury Rehab & Comp Bill
A Victorian Bill combining two pieces of legislation, and giving employers a new avenue to seek a review of their workers' comp premium rates, has passed through Parliament. The Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Bill 2013 combines the Accident Compensation Act 1985 and the Accident Compensation (WorkCover Insurance) Act 1993, and takes effect on 1 July next year. Mr Gordon Rich-Phillips, the Assistant Treasurer, said the Bill 'presented in a logical and sequential order with visual aids, making it easier for all users to better understand their legislative rights and obligations.' He added, 'The re-write was also undertaken on a 'no benefit change' basis and will continue to offer all existing entitlements and benefits currently available to injured workers and their families.'
Latest edition of WorkSafe Safety Soapbox
The latest edition of WorkSafe's newsletter came out this week. The newsletter has itemson cross-border construction visits, a Safety Alert from WorkCover NSW: Unmarked Imported Plywood [pdf] which has the potential to fail, and more.
Since the last edition (October 22), there were42 incidents serious enough to be reported to WorkSafe Victoria from the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries, including12 lacerations, three fractures, one electric shock and 19 near misses. Thelist can be downloaded from the Safety Soapbox for more information.
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Safe Work Australia News
SWA releases Comparative Performance Monitoring report
Work-related compensated injury fatalities are at the lowest level since 2002, the Safe Work Australia Fifteenth Edition of the Comparative Performance Monitoring (CPM) Report has revealed. The report provides trend analysis on the work health and safety and workers' compensation schemes operating in Australia and New Zealand.
Safe Work Australia Chief Executive Officer Rex Hoy released the report, and noted the progress that has been made but noted there was still more room for improvement. 'Over a decade ago the National OHS Strategy 2002-2012 set the target of a 20 per cent reduction in the incidence rate of work-related fatalities by 2012. We have achieved this with a 42 per cent reduction in fatalities,' he said. 'While this is a good result there were still 199 compensated fatalities recorded in Australia for 2011–12. More work is still needed to improve work health and safety and reduce this figure even further.'
The report also revealed that in 2011-12, 12 out of every 1000 workers were injured seriously enough to require one week or more off work. While there has been a 28 per cent improvement since 2002, the target of a 40 per cent reduction in the rate of injuries by 2012 was not achieved.
Safe Work Australia media release
Two fatality reports also released last week
The first report Work-related injuries and fatalities involving a fall from height, Australia shows there has been no improvement in the number of workers killed each year due to falls from height with 232 workers dying following a fall from height over the eight years from 2003 to 2011. 'This latest report shows more needs to be done to prevent workers falling from heights particularly in the construction industry,' said Mr Hoy.
The construction industry accounted for one third of falls-related fatalities in the last four years. Many of the fatalities involved workers, particularly painters and roofers, in the low unionised house construction sector.One-third of the workers fell to their death from a ladder, with falls from vehicles and roofs also prominent in the data.
The second report Work-related traumatic injury fatalities Australia 2012 showed there has been no change in the total number of workers killed in the last two years. While falls from height accounted for 13 per cent of worker deaths in 2012, there were three times as many deaths due to a vehicle crash.
Over the past ten years two-thirds of all fatalities involved a vehicle in some way. In 2012, 40 truck drivers and 26 workers in cars died while working.Mr Hoy said Safe Work Australia is working with work health and safety authorities to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in the number of work-related fatalities by 2022.
Safe Work Australia Media Releases: Falls and Traumatic injury fatalities
As at 31 October 2013, 140 Australian workers have been killed while at work. Of these, 32 occurred in Transport, postal & warehousing, 38 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing, 17 in Construction and 11 in Manufacturing. Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities
SWA has released the June monthly fatality report during which there were 16 work-related notifiable fatalities reported – thirteen of these were workers, and three were by-standers. For further details see the Notified Fatalities Monthly Report June 2013, which can be downloaded here.
SafeWork SA has established its own work-related death toll on the right-hand side of its homepage to 'remind us all that we must make every effort to ensure this number does not rise', according to South Australian Industrial Relations Minister John Rau. WorkSafe Victoria, at one time, also published the number of fatalities on its website, but no longer does so
Bullying and harassment prevention tool kit
WorkSafe British Columbia (Canada) has released a comprehensive Bullying and harassment prevention tool kit for employers and workers. Introducing the new resources, the regulator states: 'There's growing evidence that exposure to bullying and harassment in the workplace has serious negative outcomes. It can take many forms, including verbal aggression, personal attacks, and other intimidating or humiliating behaviours. WorkSafeBC has developed OHS policies, effective November 1, 2013, to help workers, employers and supervisors prevent and address workplace bullying and harassment.' The resources include policies, a handbook 'Toward achieving a respectful workplace', checklists, FAQs, and some useful short animations.
Source: Graham Dent – convener, LinkedIn Work Health Safety (OHS) Leadership for All (Australia)
Government announces enquiry into home insulation deaths
Putting in place an election promise, the federal coalition government has released some of the terms of reference into the investigation into the deaths of four young workers during the roll-out of the Rudd government's home insulation program. In what could be seen as a blatantly political motive, it appears former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is being targeted. The Courier Mail has published four of the ten terms of reference:
- The process and basis of government decisions while establishing the program, including risk assessment and risk management;
- Whether the death of the four men could have been avoided;
- What if any advice or undertakings given by the government to the industry were inaccurate or deficient, and;
- What steps the government should have taken to avoid the tragedies.
The current Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, who has long blamed Kevin Rudd directly, is now saying the investigation is to prevent any similar future 'errors' and to provide closure for the families. SafetyNet hopes the investigation does not forget who had (and have) the primary duty of care to workers under the law: their employer. Under legislation all around the country, the employer (or PCBU) has a duty to provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment, and, amongst other things, to provide such information, instruction, supervision and training to all employees.
For more discussion of this issue, see SafetyAtWorkBlog: The Australian Government targets former PM, Kevin Rudd, over insulation death
Queensland coroner surprised at lack of regulation
The QueenslandCoroner has strongly advised the state's OHS regulator to introduce safety regulations for the hazardous house-removal industry within a year, after a young worker was fatally crushed beneath a house on his second day on the job in April 2011. The Coroner commented that with coronial inquiries being held into similar deaths in recent years, it was 'very surprising' that specific regulations for the sector hadn't been introduced around the country.
The young man was crushed under a building when the company's director lost control of the handle of a hand-operated jack (trewhella jack), causing the house it was supporting to drop 600mm, bounce on its timber supports (pig sties) and collapse. The worker tried to escape but became trapped. He was freed and taken to hospital but died later that day.
The jack manufacturer specifically warned of the danger of losing control of the jack in a publication, and recommended that two people operate the jack under a heavy load, but the director failed to follow these instructions.
There have been a number of deaths in the house-removal industry involving structures "dropping" and crushing workers, including two in Victoria in March 2002 and August 2004. The Coronial inquests held after these fatalities made a number of recommendations for industry changes. However, 'it appears very little has been implemented, whether in Victoria or elsewhere', the Coroner said. He also noted the director was fined $10,000 plus costs for safety breaches relating to the young man's death in November 2012.
Read more: The results of the Inquest [pdf ]
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- From WorkSafe Victoria
Guidelines: TEBARS: Truck Emergency Breakdown and Roadside Safety. The document provides road freight transport employers, drivers and mechanical service providers with 'information on reducing the risks from interaction between people and passing vehicle when a truck has broken down on the roadside, up to the point of the truck being towed'.
- From WorkCover NSW: Five steps to keeping workers safe in heat provides guidance on ensuring the safety of workers in hot working environments. WorkCover NSW says: 'Australian workers are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, due to exposure to high levels of UV radiation and the world's worst skin cancer rate'
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WA employers pay $363k in fines and costs after tyre fatality
The Perth Magistrates court fined BHP Billiton Iron Ore ($102,000) and HWE Newman Services ($136,000) plus $62,000 in costs in relation to the death of a mobile maintenance supervisor while he was working on the tyre of a heavy earth mover in Western Australia.The man was struck by the tyre handler device, which sprung off the tyre when it was overinflated, and was killed.
The August 2008 incident occurred at BHPB's Yandi Mine near Newman, which was operated by HWE at the time. Both employers were found in April of failing to provide a safe working environment, but were sentenced only last week. Magistrate Steven Malley said that while they hadn't blatantly disregarded safety, there was a 'systems failure with dire consequences'. In particular, the worker had not been provided with the necessary equipment for safely assembling tyres, nor was he sufficiently trained.
Multiple failures led to solvent-related death
In what is a tragic example of an employer failing to supervise employees, and failing to take action when aware of non-compliance, a ship-builder death after intentionally inhaling solvents has led to the prosecution and fine of a company director. The NSW Industrial Court found Richard Geoffrey Ward - the director of Seawind Catamarans Pty Ltd (now known as Shipcove Pty Ltd) - failed to ensure workers werenot exposed, through skin contact or inhalation, to chemicals that were likely to cause them injury. He was charged with and pleaded guilty to OHS breaches, in failing to install exhaust or extraction ventilation to prevent the accumulation of chemical fumes, failing to minimise the use of acetone and Bostik 9913, and failing to store solvents in containers that were labelled and fitted with secure, undamaged lids.He also failed to provide workers with PPE, failed to conduct a risk assessment for solvents, failed to provide a safe work method statement for working with solvents, and failed to provide adequate supervision, instruction and training to workers.
The court heard that prior to the incident, in August 2008, it was known that four employees - including the deceased worker - deliberately exposed themselves to chemical fumes used for the construction of vessels to "get high". Further, there had been numerous other incidents where workers had been overcome by fumes after both intentional and unintentional exposures.
Read more: Inspector Cooper v Ward  NSWIRComm 95 (31 October 2013)
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Global: New Report names TEN most industrially polluted sites
Climate change may be getting more media attention, but the biggest environmental risk to human health today is not global warming – it's industrial pollution, often in poor cities and towns where there is little to no regulation on factories, power plants and chemical facilities. A new report from the Blacksmith Institute (an NGO that addresses industrial pollution) and Green Cross, Switzerland estimates that industrial pollution poses a health risk to more than 200 million people around the world, often through elevated levels of cancer, respiratory disease and other illnesses. The report names and shames ten of the most polluted places on the planet:
- Agbogbloshie, Ghana
- Citarum River, Indonesia
- Chernobyl, Ukraine
- Dzerzhinsk, Russia
- Hazaribagh, Bangladesh
- Kabwe, Zambia
- Kalimantan, Indonesia
- Matanza-Riachuelo, Argentina
- Niger River Delta, Nigeria
- Norilsk, Russia