SafetyNet 312, March 5, 2015
Hello subscribers – welcome to Edition 312 of our journal. If you have any comments or suggestions for items, please send them in to Renata firstname.lastname@example.org and thank you to those who have sent emails. Also: please (please!) follow us on Twitter @OHSreps
Fatality on Melbourne building site
In what is a terrible tragedy, a young worker was killed yesterday afternoon when a four metre deep trench collapsed at a construction site in Melbourne's south-east. Emergency crews were called to the site in Cranbourne East just after 2.00pm. The young man, who was just 19 years old, was preparing to lay sewer pipes when he became trapped in the trench. Emergency crews were unable to revive him. Worksafe is investigating the fatality.
The Herald Sun
Fiskville closure consequences - WorkSafe CEO and Chair resign
On Tuesday morning news emerged that the Victorian Country Fire Authority's (CFA) training facility at Fiskville, north-west of Melbourne, was to close indefinitely after chemical residue from a banned firefighting foam was found in the water supply. The facility, near Ballan, was already the subject of a state parliamentary inquiry into exposures of firefighters to toxic chemicals dating back to the 1970s.
The CFA's chief executive, Michael Wooten, said "Drinking water is treated by other organisations to make sure it's safe for drinking so we didn't believe the mains water was going to represent a risk to the site, and that's why we hadn't tested it before." However Peter Marshall, Secretary of the United Firefighters Union, said the substance was extremely toxic and dangerous, known to cause cancer and is banned in most countries. Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett said she was "deeply concerned" about the discovery and has ordered an investigation.
The news, however quickly led to decisive action by the Andrews government. Just hours after the news of the contaminated water broke, the Minister for Finance, Robin Scott, met with the CEO and Chair of WorkSafe Victoria to address concerns about the performance of the organisation.
In December 2014, WorkSafe advised the Minister that it was not aware of any current health and safety concerns at Fiskville that required its intervention. Yet at the meeting with the Minister on Tuesday, WorkSafe could not confirm whether it had tested the water. "An assurance of safety was given," said the Minister. "The Fiskville findings prove otherwise."
Following the meeting, the Minister sought and received the resignations of WorkSafe's Chief Executive Officer, Denise Cosgrove, and Chairperson, David Krasnostein. The Minister said, "The public needs to have confidence in WorkSafe because it's responsible for the health and safety of Victorian workers. Confidence in public regulators must not be compromised."
The current Executive Director of the Insurance Business Unit at WorkSafe, Clare Amies, has been appointed acting Chief Executive Officer. The Chairman of the Transport Accident Commission and current board member of Worksafe Victoria, John Walter, has been appointed acting Chairperson.
Read more: ABC News online Fiskville CFA fire-training facility closed indefinitely after chemical residue found in water United Firefighters Bulletin Premier Daniel Andrews Media Release Labor Government Acts To Restore Public Confidence and CFA's Fiskville training college shut down after dangerous chemical found in water supply Herald Sun
Queensland: man killed while operating excavator
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland released an eSafe Incident Alert last Thursday afternoon regarding a fatality on Tuesday 24 February 2015 at a workplace in Richlands. A worker later died from injuries he received while operating an excavator – Workplace Health and Safety Queensland is investigating.
Read more: eSafe Incident Alert
March 8 – International Women's Day Rally and March
International Women's Day (IWD) originated in 1911, when women garment workers in New York took action to protest against their appalling and dangerous working conditions. Women workers often face more hazardous working and social conditions than their male counterparts and get paid less than men for comparable work. In Australia, the gender pay is almost 19% for full time workers: a twenty year high. (Australian Gender Pay Gap Widening Media Release). The pay gap is even greater at managerial levels with a gap of up to 44% in some sectors. Violence against women is still very common – with domestic violence now the main cause of injury and death in women under 45 in Australia (Sunday Extra ABC's Radio National). Women make up the majority of the world's poor and as refugees face particular dangers. IWD is the global day when women and men will be marching to advance the fight for women's rights and for equality.
A wide range of union and women's groups has organised a rally and march marking the event this coming Sunday 8 March, starting at 1pm at the State Library, corner of Swanston and Latrobe Streets in the CBD. We invite everyone to come to the Melbourne rally - and bring family and friends.
I am a democratically elected HSR and represent about 29 employees in my DWG. My employer has hinted they would like the DWG split into two. My question is: Can I represent two DWGs as the HSR at the same time?
Firstly, your employer does not have the legal right to arbitrarily split (or in any way change) an established DWG. This can only be done BY AGREEMENT with the members of the DWG - see Section 44 &  of the Victorian OHS Act:
(3) The parties to an agreement concerning a designated work group or groups may, at any time, negotiate a variation of the agreement.
(4) If a variation is agreed, the employer must vary the agreement by giving written notice to the employees.
So, do not allow your employer to just split the DWG. The employer may request a variation – but look at what are the reasons why he wants to do this. Are they valid? Do you agree? Do the members of the DWG agree? Take a look at the factors that need to be considered when establishing or varying DWGs (the summary of these sections is on this page of the site). Having 29 workers in a DWG is not ordinarily too large.
IF the variation goes ahead, then each of the two DWGs must elect their own HSR. You CEASE to be the HSR unless and until you are re-elected by the members of the DWG you're a member of. Remember though, it's up to the DWG to run the election, NOT the employer.
An HSR can represent the members of another DWG ONLY in certain circumstances, and not permanently - this is covered under Section 59 of the Act:
A health and safety representative for a designated work group may exercise powers under this Part only in respect of matters that affect, or may affect, members of that group, or persons mentioned in section 44(1)(e) or 48(1)(e) whom the representative is authorised to represent, unless -
(a) there is an immediate risk to health or safety that affects or may affect a member of another designated work group; or
(b) a member of another designated work group asks for the representative's assistance—
and it is not feasible for the representative to refer the matter to a health and safety representative for the other designated work group.
An alternative to splitting the DWG, is varying it so that there are TWO HSRs or an HSR and a deputy HSR.
I would be concerned that the only reason your employer wants to split the group is to essentially have you removed as the HSR!! So take care, and seek the assistance of your union organiser if you think your employer is doing this to remove you as an active HSR.
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.
Unions win for James Hardie asbestos victims
Unions have ensured that thousands of Australians suffering from asbestos related diseases will continue to be properly compensated, said the ACTU. After campaigning by unions and asbestos victim support groups, the NSW government has agreed to lend the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund an extra $104 million to cover a shortfall caused by increasing number of claims for mesothelioma.
ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said it's a win for unions and asbestos victim support groups who have worked tirelessly to hold James Hardie and the NSW Government to account. "James Hardie and the NSW government have been toying with people's lives by refusing to top up the compensation fund or stop a move to change compensation payments to instalments instead of a lump sum.
"While it's disappointing that James Hardie chose to ignore its moral responsibility to top up the compensation fund with more money, unions welcome the NSW government's decision to provide a loan to the compensation fund to cover the increase in claims.
Mr Oliver said unions are now calling on James Hardie, the New South Wales and Federal Governments to guarantee the future viability of the compensation fund.
Read more: ACTU Media Release; Public to prop up Hardie asbestos fund after shortfalls, The Australian; and James Hardie asbestos victims to get extra $106m in support from NSW The Guardian
NSW: Asbestos on Two Tugs in Newcastle
Tug company Svitzer pulled two of its nine Newcastle tugs out of service last week, after one of the Chinese-built vessels was found to contain asbestos. The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), which raised the alarm, said both vessels were certified as being clear of asbestos before they sailed to Australia. The union's assistant national secretary, Ian Bray, said the asbestos was contained in electrical wiring and had led the union to take a ''closer look'' at Svitzer vessels in other Australian ports. He said concerns were raised after an asbestos-free certificate for one of Svitzer's tugs said it had been inspected in Brisbane on a day the union knew it was in Bowen, more than 1000km north.
Svitzer confirmed asbestos in one vessel, the Warunda, and inspections were underway in its sister ship, the Warrego. Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia president Barry Robson said asbestos was repeatedly found in machinery imported from China (See SafetyNet 311).
Read more: MUA News
NSW: Government releases new Guide
As part of its response to the loose-fill asbestos problem, the NSW Government has released a new guide: Living in a Home with Loose-Fill Asbestos. The information provides clear guidance for residents including tenants living in homes that have been identified as containing loose-fill asbestos insulation.
Read more: Living in a Home with Loose-Fill Asbestos
US: Judge orders US$1.8M payout in asbestos case
Three former executives of a now-defunct non-profit have been ordered to pay US$1.8 million in restitution to 65 people who were exposed to airborne asbestos after their company directed workers to illegally remove debris containing asbestos from a former air force base in Northern California. The three had previously been sentenced by the US attorney's office to between 24 and 27 months in prison in the case. The men were accused of using high school vocational students to remove asbestos from the former Castle Air Force Base in the city of Atwater between 2005 and 2006. Their construction training company performed the demolition and renovation work to convert the former air base motor pool into an automotive mechanic training centre.
Source: Judge orders 3 former execs to pay $1.8M in asbestos case. ParadisePost.com News
UK: MPs urged to back Asbestos in Schools Action Plan
Lawyers in the UK representing thousands of families affected by asbestos-related diseases are urging the major political parties to commit to tackling the growing problem of asbestos in schools as part of their election promises. They say that In recent years there has been a significant increase in cases related to exposure to the deadly dust in schools with diseases such as mesothelioma affecting former pupils, teachers, cleaners, kitchen staff, handymen and caretakers across the UK.
Three years ago a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health estimated that asbestos was present in more than 75 per cent of the country's schools and described the issue as a "national scandal". However campaigners including the Asbestos In Schools group have become frustrated at delays to a review of the management of the material and a lack of action in dealing with the problem.
Read more: Lawyers Representing Victims of Asbestos Call For Urgent Action To Tackle Growing Problem
Italy: No one guilty!
In shocking news, the charges against six former Enel executives over asbestos cancer deaths of former power plant workers between 2004 and 2012 were dismissed by a criminal court in Milan last week. The relatives of the eight deceased victims, who had been employed at the Turbigo facility in the Lombardy region, were outraged when the verdict was read out. The prosecutor had asked for jail sentences of up to eight years.
Source: IBAS News See: Milano, il processo sulle morti da amianto a Turbigo: tutti assolti gli ex manager Enel [Milan, case of fatal asbestos deaths in Turbigo: former manager acquitted].
International: Canada likely to not vote to list chrysotile on Rotterdam Convention
The current Harper government won't say, but it looks like Canada will be sitting on the sidelines at the United Nations Rotterdam Convention conference in May, refusing to support listing chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under global trade rules. In so doing, Canada will in effect be helping Russia continue exporting asbestos to developing countries with no safety controls required. This action is hypocritical – as asbestos is now banned for use in Canada and they no longer export it themselves. And in doing so, the government is ignoring the advice of its own regulators, such as Health Canada.
Read more: Canada is on the sidelines when it comes to banning asbestos trade The Star
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more – go to the Asbestos section on the site.
International Union News
Bangladesh: Benetton finally agrees to pay Rana Plaza compensation
Fashion chain Benetton has finally agreed it will compensate victims of the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. The company says the amount will be announced "in the next few weeks and in any case no later than April 24, 2015" – the second anniversary of the fire - and forms "part of a broader programme of further social engagement by the Group for 2015, the details of which will be announced in the coming days." This follows pressure from the global union federations IndustriALL and UNI, which spearheaded the creation of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the campaign for compensation. IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina said: "We are pleased that at long last Benetton has promised to pay into the Rana Plaza Trust Fund [.….] We call on Benetton to do what's morally right and compensate with compassion. We expect to see a significant contribution to the Rana Plaza Trust Fund by Benetton in keeping with a major brand that sourced from Rana Plaza and has a considerable investment in Bangladesh." UNI general secretary Philip Jennings said: "We understand that Benetton promises to step up and take their share of the responsibility for the victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy. For a company with a profit of more than US$200 million and turnover of US$1.6 billion, we expect Benetton to show their most generous colours. UNI and IndustriALL are ready to talk to ensure fair compensation." Benetton said an unnamed "third party" would set the compensation level.
Paying compensation to the injured and to the families of the dead is the minimum these companies should do. Much more must be done to ensure that workplaces and the conditions under which garment industry workers work are improved.
Source: Risks 629 Read more: Benetton Group news release. UNI news release IndustriALL news release.
UAE: Fire kills migrant labourers in Abu Dhabi
At least 10 migrant labourers have been killed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) when the warehouse they were sleeping in caught fire. The workers were in the al-Mussafah district of Abu Dhabi, an industrial area of warehouses, factories and workshops on the outskirts of the capital. Police said the blaze started early the morning of Friday 20 February in a car repair shop at the base of a commercial building. It spread to a two-storey warehouse - illegally rented out as accommodation to the labourers – gutting the building before firefighters could extinguish the flames. Eight people were injured and 10 bodies have been found. The victims, who have not been named, were reportedly from Bangladesh, Syria, Pakistan and India. Last year, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) called on the United Nations to investigate the "international scandal" of migrant labour in the UAE, saying human rights abuses were present even in high profile projects run by Western firms. Further, a report this year from Human Rights Watch warned that migrant workers in the country faced destitution, summary arrest and deportation if they complained about their squalid and unsafe conditions.
Source: Risks 629
India: calling for global day of action against Unilever
In a case that has lasted almost 15 years, former workers and local residents of Kodaikanal in southern India, have been campaigning for Unilever to compensate and rehabilitate their area from a dumpsite containing tons of mercury. This toxic site was the result of illegal dumping of mercury by a Hindustan Lever factory over a period of 18 years. Unilever has taken no responsibility for this dumped mercury or the illnesses that workers and their families have suffered since 1983. Unions all around the world will stand united tomorrow, March 6, against Unilever. Once again, examples like this show how companies have no regard for workers' health and lives in their quest to maximise their profits.
Read more: Struggle for justice in Kodailkanal and Hanging in the mist: Mercury contamination in South India Greenpeace India Source: AAWL Mini News
Facing the challenges: Research on shale gas extraction.
The exponential increase in the development of natural gas and oil from tight shale reserves (also known as 'fracking') seen in the last decade has resulted in optimistic predictions for energy independence and economic development. Similar to other historic boom periods, however, this rapid expansion has posed many challenges.
Read more: Professor John F. Stolz, Director Biological Sciences, Centre for Environmental Research and Education, Facing the challenges: Research on shale gas extraction. [Abstract] Journal of Environmental Science and Health Volume 50, Issue 5, 2015. DOI: 10.1080/10934529.2015.992649
Border construction sites under the microscope
WorkSafe Victoria is in the process of contacting construction employers in the Mildura region to alert them that a week of concentrated worksite visits will begin later this month. Inspectors from both WorkSafe and WorkCover NSW will visit construction sites in and around Mildura and Wentworth as part of the ongoing Cross Border Project, which aims to educate builders and sub-contractors about workplace safety requirements in both states.
During the visits, beginning 16 March, inspectors will assess site safety, paying particular attention to fall protection controls and UV sun protection. WorkSafe Regional Operations Manager Trevor Butler said that while the rate of injuries on Mildura construction sites had fallen in the past two years, construction workers were still over-represented in local workplace injuries. "Over the past five years, on average, one worker was seriously injured every fortnight on a construction site in Mildura. More than 11 per cent of those injuries were caused by falling from heights," Mr Butler said.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Safe Work Australia
New Report on the Manufacturing Industry
Safe Work Australia has released a new report: Work Health and Safety Perceptions: Manufacturing Industry. The manufacturing industry, like the construction industry, is designated as a priority industry for work health and safety in the 2012-22 Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy. The report summarises findings from manufacturing employers and workers from eight existing SWA data sources, and presents areas where the manufacturing industry is doing well and areas for improvement in relation to:
- hazard exposures and workplace control measures
- work health and safety activities, and
- WHS perceptions and attitudes that may act as barriers or enablers to work health and safety.
The report found that the most common self-reported exposures in the manufacturing industry were exposure to airborne hazards, noise and vibration. Most workers with exposure to noise were provided with some type of control (unfortunately this was most commonly hearing protection devices). However, about one in seven workers with exposure to airborne hazards and vibration were not provided with any control measure for these hazards. Nevertheless, a surprising 93% of both workers and employers thought their workplaces were generally 'safe'.
Of concern however, is that almost one in three workers (30%) believe risks are unavoidable, compared with one in eight employers (13%), and a similar proportion of workers thought that minor accidents were a normal part of daily work. In addition, at least one in five workers and employers accepted risk-taking if there are time pressures.
New Report: Exposure to multiple hazards among Australian workers
Released last month, this SWA report summarises the research findings for self-reported exposure to multiple hazards from the 2008 National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS) Survey in which 4500 workers participated. The report focuses on the prevalence of self-reported exposure to multiple hazards and examines different types of multiple exposures. Some of the more concerning findings are:
- 62% of workers reported exposure to multiple types of hazards; one in five reported exposure to at least five hazards.
- A significant proportion of workers reported that they had incomplete or no access to control measures for the multiple hazards that they reported being exposed to.
- The most common self-reported exposure was to high job demands, followed by exposure to airborne hazards and exposure to chemicals.
Identified as being 'especially at risk' are: young workers, labourers, night workers, technicians, trades workers and those in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector. The report concludes that instead of focusing on a single hazard at a time, comprehensive risk assessment and risk management activities are essential in workplaces, and that controls measures should be implemented according to the hierarchy of controls.
The report can be downloaded from this page of the SWA website.
The SWA fatalities webpage has not been updated since the last SafetyNet when, as of February 23, the deaths of 24 Australian workers had been notified. More information on which industries the fatalities occurred in is accessible on the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities page.
SWA has now released the monthly fatality report for November 2014, during which a total of 16 work-related fatalities were reported: 10 male workers, 1 female worker and 3 male and 2 female bystanders. Of these fatalities, 2 workers and 2 bystanders died as a result of incidents on public roads. Of the 16 fatalities, 4 involved a Vehicle incident–public road crash, and 2 fatalities each were the result of Fall from a height, Drowning and Crushing. The remaining 7 fatalities were all different types of incidents including Pedestrian hit by vehicle–not on a public road, Fall from a height, Trapped in machinery, Hit by unattended vehicle–not on a public road, Hit by falling object, Insect and spider bites and stings and being Hit by moving object other than vehicle.
Transport, postal & warehousing workplaces accounted for 5 fatalities, 4 fatalities occurred in Agriculture, forestry & fishing workplaces and 2 fatalities in Construction workplaces. Manufacturing, Arts & recreation services, Administrative & support services, Public administration & safety and Wholesale trade workplaces had one fatality each. Monthly reports, including that for November 2014, can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
From WorkSafe Vic:
Three Safety Alerts:
- Preventing roof collapses in housing provides information on managing the risks associated with structurally inadequate temporary roof supports in housing construction.
- Supervision at aquatic venues. In recent years there have been a number of near drowning incidents at aquatic venues involving children and a lack of appropriate supervision. This Alert highlights the importance of having systems of work in place to provide appropriate supervision of young patrons (children) at aquatic venues.
- Tampering with stair void protection - following recent serious injuries to workers when the stair void protection they were standing on collapsed, this Alert highlights the danger of tampering with stair void protection systems and provides guidance on managing the risks.
And an updated Guidance Note: Elevating work platforms and the placement of gas cylinders for cutting or welding
Drum explosion: Mansfield manufacturer fined
Mansfield manufacturer Crawford Containers was convicted and fined $35,000 (plus costs of $3577) in Melbourne Magistrates' Court last week following the serious injury of a welder when a 44-gallon drum exploded. The company pleaded guilty to breaching section 21 of the OHS Act for failing to provide a safe system of work.
The company, which operates a factory converting shipping containers into mobile kitchens for commercial use, engaged a number of subcontractors at its Mansfield site. On 13 January 2014, a subcontracted welder and fabricator was asked to cut the top off two 44-gallon drums so they could be used to store scrap metal. Wearing a T-shirt, full face shield, ear plugs and leather gloves, he used an angle grinder to cut the lid off the first drum without incident. An explosion occurred when he began to cut into the second drum, and he was thrown backwards into a tool rack. Tests later revealed that the second drum had previously contained polychloroprene and other substances which could ignite and burn easily. He was flown to hospital suffering second degree burns to his torso, neck and shoulders which later required skin grafts.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release and Handling used metal drums Safety Alert
Source: WorkSafe Prosecution result summaries