SafetyNet 308, January 29, 2015
Welcome to the second edition of SafetyNet for 2015. There have been a number of developments in the Victorian world of OHS – thanks to our new Labor Government – including, but not only, the restoration of the well-known 'WorkSafe' brand. If you have any comments or suggestions for items, please send them in to Renata firstname.lastname@example.org and please follow us on Twitter @OHSreps
WorkSafe is back!
The Andrews Labor Government last week announced that it has restored the world-renowned Worksafe name after the Liberals "trashed it" in a costly and failed corporate rebranding exercise. Minister for Finance with responsibility for the Victorian WorkCover Authority, Robin Scott, announced that the VWA will immediately return to the WorkSafe banner. He said, "Worksafe is back. Victorian workers and their families can be confident they're in the hands of the experts they know and trust.
"Since it was launched in 2001, WorkSafe has made its mark through powerful awareness and advertising campaigns and the highly-visible presence of Inspectors who make over 40,000 workplace visits every year. Even after the Liberals dumped the name on the advice of highly-paid consultants, WorkSafe remained one of the most recognised and respected brands in Victoria."
The VTHC looks forward to WorkSafe becoming once again a strong regulator which not only provides information and advice, but also ensures compliance with the law, and, where necessary, prosecutes in timely manner. We also look forward to more media releases and information from the regulator on its compliance activities, as it has been mainly silent for the past couple of years.
Read more: Media Release Worksafe Restored Because Workplace Safety Matters and Kevin Jones' SafetyAtWorkBlog WorkSafe Victoria returns
Mine safety – new Victorian initiative
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Minister for Resources Lily D'Ambrosio and Member for Eastern Victoria, Harriet Shing last week announced that new requirements for mine operators to carry out risk assessments and develop fire management plans will be fast tracked. These changes should improve safety at the three major coal mines in the Latrobe Valley ahead of the 2015/16 bushfire season, in line with the recommendations of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry. The Labor Government is bringing forward this requirement through variations to the mine operators' licences. Operators will also be required to regularly review these assessments and plans and improve them over time, as well as implement a plan to reduce the risk of a fire in the mine, to fight any fires that occur and to mitigate the impacts of any fires. "What happened at Hazelwood must never be allowed to happen again," said Mr Andrews. "This isn't just about the safety of the mine – it's about the safety of tens of thousands of firefighters and Latrobe Valley locals. That's what matters most to us."
Source: Media Release Urgent Steps To Fix Mine Fire Safety And Keep Valley Safe
And in related news, Ms D'Ambrosio has announced that the Victorian Government will be maintaining the current ban on coal seam gas exploration (fracking) until a parliamentary inquiry hands down its findings. This is welcome news to many farmers and residents as well as to unions – there is increasing world-wide concern regarding toxic substances being released in the process putting workers and communities at risk (for example: New fracking study finds link between proximity to gas wells, negative health symptoms). The VTHC looks forward to making a submission to the inquiry. In NSW this week AGL Energy was forced to halt coal seam gas drilling at a site on the mid-north coast after benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene were detected in water storage tank. The NSW Government has ordered an immediate investigation and has informed AGL that it will not be allowed to resume the project until such time as it can prove its operations do not pose an environmental threat.
Read more: Coal seam gas exploration: Victoria's fracking ban to remain as Parliament probes regulations ABC News Online and NSW coal seam gas project suspended after dangerous chemicals detected The Guardian
Abbott government PC inquiry targets OHS/bullying as well
The Productivity Commission (PC)'s broad inquiry into Australia's workplace relations system is so broad that as well as opening up and potentially threatening basic conditions such as the minimum wage, penalty rates and unfair dismissal, it is seeking comment on issues which impact worker health and safety. Specifically, the PC is calling for comment on any "unintended consequences" of Australia's federal anti-bullying laws – which it has already labelled as "confusing and complex". Readers will remember that the anti-bullying laws were introduced by the previous Labor government to give individual workers the ability to seek anti-bullying orders in the Fair Work Commission, putting into effect one of the recommendations of the national inquiry into workplace bullying. The Abbott government's broad 'inquiry' has the potential to make working conditions much worse for Australians, and remove many rights.
More information: Bullying – Legislation and Workplace Relations Framework: Public inquiry, Productivity Commission, January 2015.
I am an OHS rep. at my workplace. I have members of my DWG who have reported suffering from glare caused by the fluorescent lighting. The glare bothers me too. Can you advise who I can talk to for options that I can get implemented in my workplace?
As the elected rep, you have the right to raise this as an issue with your employer and seek resolution of it – but I suggest you seek more specific information regarding how the members of your DWG are affected negatively by the fluorescent lights.
The Workplace amenities and work environment Compliance Code has some advice on what employers need to do in order to comply with Section 21 of the OHS Act, in relation to Lighting:
133. Lighting from natural and/or artificial sources needs to be provided for employees to ensure working conditions that are appropriate to the nature of the work, the location of the work and the times at which the work is performed.
137. Factors that employers need to consider when providing lighting include:
* the nature of the work activity
* the nature of the hazards and risks in the workplace
* the work environment
* illumination levels, including both natural and artificial light
* transition of natural light over the day
138. The lighting provided needs to improve the visual environment and be free from glare including reflective glare, flicker and stroboscopic effect.
There are now many different types of fluorescent lights which can provide different qualities of light, such as white, warm, natural, daylight or colours – and also other types of lights (eg tungsten, halogen, etc) as well as different light fittings – all of which can affect the quality of the light and its effects on the workers. In the old days there were fewer options. Once you've established there's a problem with the lighting, then it's a matter of researching what's available, maybe trialling, maybe even consulting a "Lighting designer" to get proper advice.
See this FAQ on the site on Lighting (with links to both the Code and also Officewise)
Please send any OHS related queries in to 'Ask Renata' - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.
ACT: Mr Fluffy homeowners agree to buy-out
Almost one quarter of Mr Fluffy asbestos households in Canberra have agreed to an offer from the ACT Government to buy their contaminated properties. According to the Asbestos Response Taskforce this indicates the multi-million-dollar buyback and demolition scheme is on target to purchase 75 per cent of the 1,021 affected houses by the end of the financial year. Last year the Federal Government agreed to provide a loan to help remove the toxic legacy from Canberra, however the ACT Government was expected to make an overall loss of around $400 million when it completes program. The New South Wales Government has indicated it will introduce a similar loose-fill asbestos eradication program, but has not announced the details. News in the past few days is that the first 'Mr Fluffy' home has now been identified in NSW.
Read more: ABC News Online
BHPB – compensation payment of $360,000 in meso case confirmed
A South Australian Supreme Court full bench has confirmed that employers should have known by the early 1960s that even "light" exposure to asbestos could be fatal. The Court dismissed BHP Billiton Ltd's appeal against a $360,000 mesothelioma award, as well as its claim that in 1962 it was entitled to believe that exposure to "low levels of asbestos dust" was not hazardous. The case involved a former painter and docker who was exposed to asbestos while working on the PJ Adams vessel at the BHPB-owned Whyalla Shipyards for 11 weeks in 1962, spending about half his time in the engine room handling asbestos-containing insulation, dry composition powder, slurry, pipe sections and rope. He regularly disturbed asbestos dust when sweeping or cutting and modifying materials, and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011. The man claimed damages, arguing BHPB breached its duty of care to him, in failing to protect him from asbestos.
BHPB said that while it had "actual knowledge" in 1962 that asbestos was a "general industrial hazard in the sense that sufficient exposure to asbestos was capable of giving rise to a risk of asbestosis", it didn't know the worker's "intermittent and low" exposure placed him at risk. As we know now, there is no "safe" level of exposure to deadly asbestos dust.
Read more: BHP Billiton Limited v Van Soest  SASCFC 135 (19 December 2014) Source: OHS Alert.
UK: Union Asbestos Campaign
Unite union has uploaded a range of resources on the asbestos hazard to raise awareness and prevent exposures to materials within the UK's built environment. Union members who have been exposed to asbestos are also being asked to register with the union to protect their rights should they at some point develop an asbestos-related disease. In a union press release, Unite said: "Raising awareness about how to safely handle this killer substance is equally important. That is why our campaign is also about prevention… to help ensure that employers protect their employees from exposure to asbestos at work." The resources included information for reps, a campaign poster and information on asbestos in schools and in construction.
Read more: Unite Campaign on Asbestos Awareness
France: Thousands Die in Asbestos Epidemic
France's Institute of Health Surveillance last week released details highlighting the national epidemic of asbestos cancer. With 1,700 asbestos fatalities and 2,200 cases of asbestos cancer diagnosed per annum, the banned substance remains a potent hazard to life. The Institute reported a significant rise in the incidence of mesothelioma in the late 1990s and the late 2000s among women, 28% of whom had no known exposure to asbestos. The figures suggest that the French asbestos epidemic has not peaked.
See: Amiante: Plus de 2.200 nouveaux cancers et 1.700 décès chaque année [Asbestos: More than 2,200 new cancers and 1,700 deaths each year] Source: IBAS
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.
OHS Regulator News
Australia-wide fatalities 2015
Safe Work Australia has not updated its site since the last SafetyNet journal - where we reported that as of January 20, six fatalities had been notified to Safe Work Australia. More information on which industries the fatalities occurred in is accessible on the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities page.
SafeWork has now released the monthly fatality report for October, 2014. During October, a total of 16 work-related deaths were notified: 14 workers and two 'bystanders' – whose deaths were considered to be directly caused by work being done. Of the 16 fatalities, 13 were male and three female. Once again, the greatest number of fatalities were in Transport, postal and warehousing workplaces accounting for seven deaths.
Monthly reports can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
As usual, there is a delay in the publishing of prosecution outcomes – many of the summaries below relate to prosecutions completed in December of last year. The prosecution of the two companies Vibro-pile and Frankipile following the death of a worker, these were initially reported in SafetyNet 301
Two companies convicted and fined after worker fell to his death
On 28 May 2011, a dogman employed by Frankipile fell approximately 40 metres to his death when the leader (mast) of a piling rig collapsed. The builder had engaged Frankipile to undertake piling work associated with building foundations at the site. Frankipile in turn engaged Vibro-pile (an affiliated company) to operate the piling rig.. A Vibro-pile employee who was given the job of preparing the rig for work was unfamiliar with its controls and had never installed or been trained in how to install the 1.8 metre leader extension which had to be fitted to the mast. Despite reporting his concerns to his supervisor, work on preparing the rig continued. As a result, 10 of the 16 bolts needed to secure the leader extension to the rig were not fitted. Later that day the dogman was working at the top of the rig when the mast snapped causing him to fall to the ground, along with a 20m section of the mast.
Both companies were convicted at trial (in the County Court) of one count under s.21(2)(a) of the OHS Act for failing to provide systems of work that were so far as was reasonably practicable safe and without risks to health and one count under s.21(2)(e) for failing to provide such information, instruction, training or supervision as was necessary to enable employees to perform work in a way that was safe and without risks to health. Frankipile was fined $350,000 as an aggregate sentence and Vibropile was fined $100,000 as an aggregate sentence. This fatality should never have occurred.
Branagan: Crushing injury #1 (and failure to notify)
On 3 October 2013, an employee of Branagan Pty Ltd (T/A 'Motawizza') a timber and building materials supply business, was injured when a bundle of form ply sheets weighing approximately 1.5 tonnes fell off a forklift onto his lower limbs. The injured employee was the son of the sole Director of the company. In addition, the company failed to notify the VWA of the incident. Branagan was charged with breaching section 21(1) and 21(2)(a), 38(1), 38(3) and 39 of the OHS Act, and was fined $7,500.00 (plus costs of just over $3,000) - without conviction.
Colonial Leisure Group: Crushing injury #2
On 6 February 2014, an employee of Colonial Leisure Group Pty Ltd, a farm producing fruit and vegetables and a propagation nursery in Cape Schanck, was crushed by a tractor he was using to spray weeds. The tractor was fitted with a 400lt spray tank and a 30 metre retractable manual spray hose reel. The company was charged with failing to provide and maintain plant (ie the tractor) in a condition that was safe and without risks to health and was fined $15,000 plus costs of $3,245 - without conviction.
Loving Earth: Guarding failure leads to prosecution
On 19 December 2013, an employee of Loving Earth, a Campbellfield manufacturer of organic chocolate, cereals, powders and other organic food products received an amputation to his fingers whilst operating an unguarded machine. The machine is designed to melt and stir chocolate in preparation for pouring. After pleading guilty to one rolled-up charge of the OHS Act for failing to provide and maintain plant that was, so far as was reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health, the company was convicted and fined $20,000, plus costs of $3,245, in the Broadmeadows Magistrates' Court.
Construction company, Greensite Constructions, fails to provide fall protection
Greensite Constructions Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Geelong Magistrates' Court to two charges under s 26 of the OHS Act – these related to lack of fall protection and a separate incident involving a lack of impact protection around LPG tanks. The company was fined $7,500 without conviction, and ordered to pay costs of $2,703. There was no information on whether these circumstances led to any injuries.
Polaris Manager fined for providing false/misleading documents
On 5 May 2014, a WorkSafe Inspector attended a Polaris Constructions worksite to conduct an inspection of construction works and to look into an allegation made that testing tags had been fraudulently completed. The inspector formed the opinion that the tags on the electrical equipment had not been inspected and tested by a suitably qualified person prior to being used at the construction site. Christopher Anthony Dwyer, a Manager at Polaris Constructions, was subsequently charged under section 153(2) of the OHS Act for producing documents, being 222 inspection tags, knowing that the tags were false or misleading in a material particular. Dwyer was sentenced without conviction to pay a fine of $2,000 plus costs of $2,363.
Dynamic Possibilities: Working at height without fall protection
Inmode Constructions, principal contractor at a multi-storey construction project in Carnegie, contracted Dynamic Possibilities Pty Ltd to complete flooring works wall and roof framing. On 28 March 2013 a WorkSafe Inspector attended the workplace to follow up on a service request alleging unsafe work at height. The inspector observed two Dynamic Possibilities employees working on the top open floor of the building - estimated to be about 10 metres from ground level – without harnesses. A work bag containing at least one harness was in a nearby vehicle. The inspector issued notices prohibiting all work on the upper three levels of the building. Dynamic Possibilities was charged with breaching sections 21(1) & 21(2)(a) of the OHS Act for failing to provide a safe and healthy working environment, and was and fined $12,000, plus costs of $2,000 – again, without conviction.
Electric shock leads to fine
Visual Exposure Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching s 21(1) & (2)(a) of the OHS Act in relation to an incident in November 2013, when two employees received an electrical shock and burns while replacing signage in Princess Hill. The company was fined $50,000 without conviction, and ordered to pay $3097 costs.
Workers burned by exploding metho – just a fine!
On 18 January 2014, two employees of Martin Lay Catering (operating the bistro at the Altona Sports Club) were injured when methylated spirits was poured onto a hot grill plate instead of the product "Grill Supreme" causing it to explode and ignite. Both employees sustained serious arm and facial burns. Martin Lay, an Officer of the partnership, was charged with breaching section 21 (2)(b) of the OHS Act for failing to make arrangements for ensuring safety and the absence of risks to health in connection with the use of substances. Martin Lay was fined $15,000.00, plus ordered to pay costs of almost $4,000 - without conviction.
Source: The VWA Prosecution result summaries
SA: Company prosecuted after worker's arm 'de-gloved'
A South Australian company, Blue Lake Milling Pty Ltd, has been fined $78,000 for failing to train an 18 year old worker to isolate plant, after his arm was trapped while cleaning a valve. The young man, a casual cleaner, sustained breaks to three major arm bones, and his right index finger and two sections of his forearm were de-gloved. He then needed eight operations, and his index finger was amputated. The Court heard the worker had not cleaned the valve before, and had not been provided with written procedures for cleaning plant or written instructions for the cover or how to isolate power to the moving arms. Blue Lake Milling pleaded guilty to failing to guard the moving parts of the valve.
Bangladesh: Tanneries' toxic waste
About 15,000 workers who work in tanneries in Hazaribagh, a suburb in Bangladeshi's capital Dhaka, working with toxic chemicals. They are not even given proper clothing or equipment to protect themselves from these dangerous chemicals. They are paid only $5 a day on average, and most do not have any representation from unions or non-profits. The labourers are expected to take large of piles of raw cowhides, submerge them inside giant wooden barrels, and add chemicals such as chromium, chloride, sulphur, and manganese to create pre-processed leather. Continuous contact with such chemicals is known to cause cancer.
Phillip Gain, a local activist for the non-profit Society for Environment and Human Development, says that Hazaribagh is one of the five most polluted places on earth. "They are polluting but they are not treating," he said. "The polluters are not paying and their principle does not work at all. This is unacceptable and in sheer violation of environmental laws."
Read more: Tanneries in Bangladesh Are Spewing Toxic Waste and Making Workers Sick