SafetyNet 309, February 5, 2015
Welcome to the third edition of SafetyNet for 2015. 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
Work/Life Balance most important issue for Australian workers
The Fair Work Commission last week released a new report: the Australian Workplace Relations Study (AWRS) - one of the most significant studies of Australian workplace relations in 20 years, involving 3,000 businesses and 8,000 employees. The report reveals that workers' job satisfaction scores were lowest for total pay, job security, voice at work, and hours worked, and that balancing work and life was the most important issue for workers (table 6.1).
ACTU President Ged Kearney said the study provides hard evidence that claims by the Abbott government and employers about high wages and low productivity are simply not true. "Wages account for only a minor part of sales and services revenue for 90 per cent of businesses," said Ms Kearney. "It's simply not true for employers to claim they can't afford to open on weekends or public holidays because of penalty rates." The ACTU says the report shows there is no evidence to support the need for a Productivity Commission inquiry into workplace relations.
Read more: ACTU Media Release Biggest study of workplace relations in 20 years shows no need for Abbott's Productivity Commission inquiry and The Fair Work Commission report.
Tragedy: death of four medical trainees
The recent sudden deaths of three trainee psychiatrists and a hospital intern in Victoria have raised concerns that the medical profession is not doing enough to support people in the industry struggling with mental health. Beyond Blue's doctors' mental health program chairman Mukesh Haikerwal said there was not enough support for medical professionals. The three psychiatric trainees were working at St Vincent's, Austin, and Frankston hospitals, while the intern was one week into an internship at Geelong Hospital.
However, while Dr Haikerwal urges those who 'need help' to 'seek help', the issues of workload, work stress and training must be considered. Some of the trainees' colleagues have questioned the work pressure they had been under. Dr Haikerwal said he was concerned about a low pass rate in their training program and the workload they faced in the stressed public hospital system. He said it was possible that changes introduced under the Mental Health Act last year in Victoria had increased the demands on psychiatrists and trainees, who were already having to quickly move very sick patients through the system because of high demand.
Victoria's new mental health minister Martin Foley did not comment specifically on the deaths, but in a written statement, he said the government was committed to rebuilding the mental health system.
Read more: Deaths of four medical trainees raises questions about mental health support in the industry ABC online and Three Victorian psychiatrists' deaths raise questions over 'intense' training program The Age. More information on Stress.
Victorian Government to review WorkSafe and TAC
As anticipated, the Victorian Labor government has announced a review into WorkSafe and the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) in order to "to identify opportunities to optimise the effectiveness, efficiency and value of these organisations to the Victorian community". According to Labor's pre-election commitments, the review will examine the Authority's enforcement policies, ensure labour-hire arrangements cannot be used to avoid safety obligations or workers' compensation premiums; and examine the return-to-work process for long-term injured workers. The Labor party has committed that any surplus accumulated by the regulator is to be used only to improve injured workers' benefits, reduce employer premiums or expand the OHS inspectorate.
The Government has confirmed that WorkSafe's head office will be moved to Geelong – but the review will examine ways to ensure "appropriate decisions are made" with regard to the shift. The government has appointed James MacKenzie (chair of WorkSafe and the TAC 2000-2007) to conduct the review and report by the middle of this year. Yesterday's Geelong Advertiser, said the CPSU, the union representing WorkSafe and TAC workers, is confident the review will not affect job numbers in the agencies. State secretary Karen Batt said the union was happy with the choice of Mr Mackenzie, and the processes outlined by the Government, including an assurance that it would be consulted.
Source: Labor Government Media Release Read more: Geelong Advertiser and SafetyAtWorkBlog Victoria's WorkSafe to be reviewed for an interesting perspective.
Another Victorian government review: the EPA
The Age this week reported that Victoria's Environment Protection Authority is to be reviewed, partly to assess whether the watchdog has the right powers properly oversee massive rehabilitation projects such as the clean-up of Alcoa's defunct Point Henry aluminium smelter. Victorian Environment Minister Lisa Neville said the laws the EPA works within may have fallen behind. "It has been a long time since the EPA has been through a process of review and really looking at the legislation and its powers, and I think probably it hasn't kept pace with more modern challenges," she said.
The review would also examine how to best prevent long-term contamination of sites, she said, along with the EPA's ability to respond to small day-to-day environmental issues. EPA chief executive Nial Finegan welcomed the proposed public inquiry. The EPA was widely criticised for its response to the air pollution from the Hazelwood mine fire last year. Its performance in that event will also be examined in a reopened mine fire inquiry. The EPA has an important role in the ensuring the proper disposal of asbestos, and the clean-up of asbestos contaminated sites.
Read more: EPA faces review ahead of massive Point Henry clean up The Age
Two workers killed in Perth explosion
An explosion at approximately 9.30am on Tuesday, believed to have been of an electrical transformer at a Perth shopping centre, has killed two of four contractors who were working nearby and caused serious injuries to the other two. One man died at the scene and the other died later in hospital, having sustained 80% burns to his body. The four men were employees and subcontractors of privately-owned High Energy Service Pty Ltd and were undertaking 'routine' electrical maintenance work at Morley's Galleria Shopping Centre.
Read more: Two dead after Morley Galleria shopping centre explosion WA Today
NSW Coroner: workplace practical jokes contributed to suicide
The NSW Coroner has said that practical jokes played on a young apprentice during his employment with a major company significantly contributed to his depression and subsequent suicide. In January 2008, the then 16 year old started working for Downer EDI in Kelso, near Bathurst in NSW. A few months into his employment, his parents noticed a change in him: he was using foul language and had become aggressive towards them. In May 2008, he physically attacked his brother, before telling his father about a number of incidents that had occurred at work.
These included colleagues setting fire to his welding glasses while he was wearing them; holding his arm down and burning his hand with an oxy-torch; and constructing the "Sph**cter Dilation Chart", which recorded errors he made and threatened that if he reached a certain number of mistakes, a steel d**do would be inserted into his a**s. The Coroner heard from several employees that at the time of the apprentice's employment, playing practical jokes on others at work was common, and that the chart, for example, was meant as a joke and not a threat. The supervisor at the time said he should have had the chart removed as soon as he became aware of its existence, but he had seen it as a joke.
The young man worked his last shift on 26 May, and was diagnosed a few days later with depression and anxiety symptoms. In August, he told his parents he had tried to kill himself, and he and his mother returned to New Zealand, where the family was from. On 13 October 2008, the young man committed suicide. He had just turned 17.
Source: OH News More information: Bullying & Violence Hazards section
My workplace has had changes announced to roles and structure. There was no formal consultation process and staff have low morale and uncertainty around their role as a result. Should I have been consulted? My manager thinks not.
I believe your manager is wrong.
Under sections 35 and 36 of the OHS Act, the employer has a legal duty to consult with workers, and where they are represented by HSRs, involve those HSRs in the consultation, whenever they propose changes to the workplace, the plant/substances OR the systems of work which may affect the health or safety of the workers (see Duty to Consult). The regulations then specify in 2.1.5 HOW the employer must involve the HSRs in these consultations (see the summary of regulation 2.1.5)
In my view, any changes to 'roles and structure' would clearly mean changes to the way work is carried out… and these changes clearly have the potential to affect the health (which the Act specifies includes psychological health) and/or safety of employees. So yes, you and the affected workers SHOULD have been consulted.
My advice is to write formally to management, quote the legislation (print out some of the WorkSafe documentation on consultation – you'll find links at the bottom of page on Sections 35 & 36); request that no further changes be made/decided on until such time as there has been proper consultation as required by law under the OHS Act and regulations. If they refuse, notify them that this is an OHS issue and that you are seeking resolution of it (see: Resolution of Issues). If necessary think about issuing a PIN if they refuse to meet, or if you are unhappy with their response (see A PIN: How to use it)
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.
NSW: BHP appealing mesothelioma payout
The lawyer representing a Cessnock man awarded a multi-million dollar compensation payment for mesothelioma says BHP's decision to appeal is frustrating and unfair. The man worked at BHP's Newcastle steelworks between 1979 and 1981 and was last year awarded $2.2 million in the NSW Dust Diseases Tribunal. Slater and Gordon Asbestos lawyer Joanne Wade said it has been an extremely difficult time for the man and his family. "It's really frustrating that BHP filed an appeal in the case of a dying man and one of its ex workers," she said.
Read more: ABC News Online
NSW: Report reveals up to six tonnes of loose-fill asbestos sold to franchise
An independent PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report says there is anecdotal evidence up to six tonnes of potentially deadly loose fill asbestos was franchised to a Finley business. PwC has been tasked by the government to investigate the extent of "Mr Fluffy" across the state. The November interim report, says a man who owned an insulation business in Finley during the 1960s and 70s recalled a competitor in the region known as 'Asbestosfluf'. It is estimated that amount of asbestos would insulate '60 houses at most.' The report also identified documents stating another man provided loose fill asbestos. The insulation may also be known as Amoswool, Asbestosfluf, Byer Asbestos, Holbrook Asbestos and Insulfluf.
Read more: ABC News online
Italy: The Fight for Asbestos Justice Continues
Despite the Supreme Court's overturning of the historic judgment against asbestos billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny in November 2014, the campaigners for asbestos justice in Casale Monferrato, Italy continue the fight. As another case against the same defendant, who has been charged with murder, proceeds through the Italian judicial system, a meeting will be held on February 16, 2015 in Casale Monferrato to update citizens on recent developments. Keynote speakers include the Turin Public Prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello and oncologist Professor Luciana Mutti.
See: Eternit: Ona, c'è ancora speranza di giustizia [Eternit: there is still hope for justice].
Although Italy has pioneered efforts in Europe to identify asbestos-containing products, locate polluted sites and establish protocols for dealing with asbestos, Italian experts have predicted that it will take until the end of the century to free Italy of the asbestos hazard. Every year, around 3,000 Italians die from asbestos-related diseases; half due to mesothelioma. It has been estimated that there are 32 million tonnes of asbestos-containing materials in Italy and as only 380,000 tonnes are disposed of each year, it could take 85 years to eradicate the problem.
See: Amianto, 85 anni per smaltire asbesto in Italia [Asbestos, 85 years to dispose of asbestos in Italy].
Source: IBAS News Archive
ADAO February Newsletter available
The US Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation (ADAO) has released its February e-newsletter. ADAO President, Linda Reinstein, was one of the international guest speakers at last year's ASEA Asbestos Conference. The newsletter has a wealth of information on asbestos, particularly in the US context.
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more – go to the Asbestos section on the site.
Queensland: Worker dies at Murarrie
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland is investigating a fatal incident that occurred on Sunday 25 January 2015 at a workplace in Murarrie. A gantry crane operator received crushing injuries to his head from a load that he was working beneath. Source: WHS Queensland Incident Alert
International Union News
UK: TUC says new rules for self-employed are a licence to kill
The TUC this week slammed government proposals to exempt millions of self-employed workers from health and safety legislation. The House of Lords voted on Tuesday on plans that mean self-employed workers who work as sole traders would no longer be covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act, unless they work in a select list of occupations and sectors.
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said "This is one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation that has ever come before the House of Lords. The changes will mean that the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities will be powerless to stop millions of self-employed workers putting themselves and the public at risk, unless they work in a select list of occupations or sectors.
"These proposals are virtually a licence to kill. It will be a green light to cowboys and incompetents to cut corners and take risks – not only with their own lives but also with those of others. We hope that the House of Lords will support those amendments which seek to reduce the damage that it will cause if enacted."
Source: TUC Media Release
Cancer deaths worldwide to rise to over 11million in 2030
On World Cancer Day (February 4) the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that deaths from cancer worldwide are projected to continue to rise to over 11 million in 2030. The WHO says that cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide as it accounted for 7.6 million deaths which is approximately 13 per cent of all deaths in 2008. Lung, stomach, liver, colon and breast cancer cause the most cancer deaths each year. In the WHO Western Pacific Region, it is estimated that close to 4.07 million new cases occurred in 2008 with 2.31 million in men and 1.75 million in women. While the WHO attributes about 30% of cancer deaths to the five leading behavioural and dietary risks - high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, physical inactivity, tobacco use and alcohol use – it has been estimated that at least one in every 10 cancers are likely to be linked to work.
Source: The Daily Times; Read more: WHO World Cancer Day On the site: Occupational Cancer and Cancer – what causes it?
Women, Plastics Workers and Breast Cancer Risk
A 2012 Canadian study by a group of researchers together with the National Network on Environments and Women's Health (NNEWH) confirms recent epidemiological findings of a 5-fold elevated breast cancer risk for premenopausal women who work in the plastics industry. Through a review of the toxicology, industrial hygiene, and epidemiology literatures in conjunction with qualitative research, the authors explore occupational exposures in producing plastics and health risks to workers, particularly women, who dominate the workforce. The review shows that workers are exposed to chemicals identified as mammary carcinogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals, and that the work environment is heavily contaminated with dust and fumes.
Consequently, plastics workers have a body burden that far exceeds that found in the general public. The nature of these exposures in the plastics industry places women at disproportionate risk, underlining the importance of gender. Measures for eliminating these exposures and the need for regulatory action are discussed.
Read more: Chemical Exposures of Women Workers in the Plastics Industry with Particular Reference to Breast Cancer and Reproductive Hazards Full article [pdf] NEW SOLUTIONS, Vol. 22(4) 427-448, 2012
The NNEWH has developed a workshop and materials with the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW). The primary focus of the workshop was to communicate health research evidence to workers, their advocates, community organizations, health workers, policy makers, and industry stakeholders. The researchers worked to ensure that there was ongoing, accessible and understandable communication with the women affected and that the workers have an opportunity to participate actively in the interpretation of data, the review of conclusions drawn from research, and the crafting of recommendations for changes to current practices in the workplace.
The YouTube presentations; Plastics and Breast Cancer Q & A [pdf]; Backgrounder - Defining Endocrine Disruption [pdf]; Chemical Exposure and Plastics Production: Issues for Women's Health - Review of Literature [pdf]; and Women and the Automobile Plastic Industry: Information Tool - A quick-fact guide for protecting the health of women [pdf]
Even short breaks lower blood pressure
It is now well-accepted that prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) even in people who exercise regularly – although why this is so is not yet known. Australian researchers sought to evaluate the effect of a workplace health intervention designed to reduce prolonged occupational sitting on the mean arterial pressure (MAP) of desk-based employees.
They ran a randomized controlled trial with an experimental group who received an e-health intervention and a control group who did not. The 13-week intervention passively prompted workers to stand and engage in short bouts of office-based physical activity (such as standing, walking around, etc) by interrupting prolonged occupational sitting time periodically throughout the workday. If they did not take action, their computer would lock down. Mean arterial pressure was measured at before and after the trial. What they found is that the MAP in the experimental group was significantly reduced, whereas MAP in the control group did not (in fact it increased slightly). The researchers concluded that a workplace e-health intervention designed to reduce prolonged occupational sitting was effective in decreasing MAP in desk-based employees.
Read More: Mainsbridge, C P et al; The Effect of an e-Health Intervention Designed to Reduce Prolonged Occupational Sitting on Mean Arterial Pressure [Full text] Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine: November 2014 - Volume 56 - Issue 11 - p 1189–1194 doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000000243
WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox finally arrived in our inboxes yesterday (February 4) – the previous one was dated December 10 – so a long hiatus!
The editorial is a belated 'New Year message' from Allan Beacom who writes: "Last year saw too many construction workers killed on construction sites, at workplaces and at private homes. While the number is less than in some previous years, one is always too many.
WorkSafe continues to see advances in the way many employers manage safety.However, we all know that the difference between a fatality and a near miss is often luck and some would think that given the number of near misses that occurred in 2014, that perhaps the industry did ride a small wave of luck."
Attached to the newsletter is the list of incidents notified to WorkSafe since the last edition – a huge list with many serious or serious "near misses" and with no tallying up of total numbers, so we've done it:
- December 3 – 17 there were 81 incident notified;
- December 18 – 31: 15 notified;
- January 1 – 14: 21 notified; and
- January 15 – 28: 52 notified
This edition of Safety Soapbox also lists relevant Victorian prosecutions, as well as a large number of news items from other jurisdictions and from around the world.
Access the February 4 Safety Soapbox edition online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Safe Work Australia
As of February 3, there had been 11 fatalities notified to Safe Work Australia. The fatalities so far this year have been in the following industries: three in Agriculture, forestry and fishing; two in Transport, postal and warehousing; one each in Construction, Mining, Arts & Recreation services, and Manufacturing; and two in 'other services'. More information on which industries the fatalities occurred in is accessible on the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities page.
The latest monthly fatality report released by SafeWork Australia remains that for October, 2014, during which a total of 16 work-related deaths were notified. Monthly reports can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
New report argues cost-benefit analyses biased
Safe Work Australia warns that traditional cost-benefit analyses do not adequately reflect the benefits of health and safety investment. SWA has released a new report: The Business Case for Safe, Healthy and Productive Work, which argues that employers that over-rely on cost-benefit analyses of WHS interventions are at risk of overlooking the high cost of incidents and allocating insufficient resources to safety.
In addition, SWA says that currently there is a lack of standardised and accepted indicators to measure the work health and safety performance of organisations and businesses at the organisational level. It has released two research papers to "inform a broader three staged policy development project taking place over the next three years". The project aims to develop a standardised set of indicators for use in annual reports as well as guidelines for the development of lead and lag indicators relevant to the size and nature of the business. The papers are: Issues in the Assurance and Verification of Work Health and Safety Information and Issues in the Measurement and Reporting of Work Health and Safety: A Review.
Both papers and the report can be downloaded from this page of the SWA website
From SafeWork Australia: Engineered Nanomaterials - an update on the Toxicology and Work Health Hazards. The report updates and builds on the findings of the 2009 report Engineered nanomaterials – a review of the toxicology and health hazards and provides specific information about the health hazards of: Carbon nanotubes; Titanium dioxide; Zinc oxide; Cerium oxide; and Silver. It provides suggestions for workplace exposure standards for carbon nanotubes and nanoscale silver and titanium dioxide. It also finds that conventional risk assessment approaches for chemicals can be used in managing risks of working with engineered nanomaterials.
Victoria: company fined for injury to truck driver
Freeney Fabrications Pty Ltd was prosecuted in the Dandenong Magistrates' Court over an incident where a non-employee truck driver sustained crush injuries. In October 2013, the driver was standing on his truck's tray while Freeney steel beams were being loaded onto the vehicle - a beam fell and struck his legs. Freeney pleaded guilty to breaching s23 of the State OHS Act, in failing to provide a non-employee with a safe system of work or adequate supervision and instructions.
Source: WorkSafe's Prosecution result summaries
Turkey: 125 workers killed in one month
According to statistics by Worker Health and Occupational Safety Assembly (İSİG), at least 125 workers died on the job across Turkey in January. Of these, 115 worked on regular contracted jobs, six were farmers/small land owners, four worked in small business and ten were independent workers. Among the deceased workers five were women, two were children and six were foreign immigrants.
"Even though Justice and Development (AKP) government made laws for the protection of workers, workers continued under unsafe and union-free environments in Turkey," İSİG said in a statement. The report also warned about the increasing trend on worker casualties and criticized the ban on a strike initiated by United Steel-Work Union (Birleşik Metal İş) due to security. (YY/BM)
Source: 125 workers die on the job in January Bianet
Turkey: Thousands of children work over 40 hours per week
A new study by Bahçeşehir University's Center for Economic and Social Research (BETAM) has found that approximately 57,000 children work over 40 hours a week in Turkey. The 2012 Children Workforce Survey, released just last month, said 292,000 children were in the workforce in the country, and 75 percent of them worked in family business without receiving any financial compensation. About half of the children labourers worked for an average of one hour per day, according to the study. However, around 47,000 children worked more than 40 hours a week, generally for very low wages. Around 10,000 children worked over 40 hours a week at home.
Read more: 57,000 children work over 40 hours a week in Turkey Hurriyet Daily News
Bangladesh: Factory fire kills 13 workers
There has been another deadly fire in Dhaka – this time in a plastics factory – which has killed at least 13 people and injured dozens more. It appears there was an explosion which was then fed by the huge stock of chemical and flammable substances inside the building. The fire was brought under control by late on Saturday night and a search was under way for more victims. It was unclear how many people might be missing, but survivors have said 70 workers were inside the building when the fire broke out at the five-storey factory in the city's Mirpur district. Factory fires are common in Bangladesh, where safety conditions are often poor. In 2012, 112 workers died in a fire in the factory just outside the capital. Then, in 2013 the Rana Plaza garment factory complex collapsed on the outskirts of Dhaka, killing 1,135 people
Source: BBC world news; Aljazeera