SafetyNet 315, April 2, 2015
Welcome to Edition 315 of the SafetyNet journal. For those having a few days off this week, we wish you a safe and relaxing break – although many Australian workers, particularly in hospitality and retail, will be working while the rest of us are off. Spare a thought for them – and the attack on their wages and conditions currently being waged by some employers and the Federal government. Please sign the Save Our Penalty Rates petition.
Remember, if you have any comments or suggestions for items, please send them in to Renata and thank you to those who have sent emails. We're still waiting to hit a critical number of "followers' so please follow us @OHSreps
April: remembering workers killed
April is a month that unionists all around the world will stop to remember workers killed at or because of their work. In Victoria, there are two events coming up:
1: April 24 – Rana Plaza Anniversary Vigil to remember the workers who lost their lives.
It will be two years since the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh. 1127 garment workers perished in the collapse. Excluding natural disasters, this was the single largest cause of death in post-Independence Bangladesh. Hundreds of workers were injured, and hundreds are still missing. In the lead up to the second anniversary, the three organisations negotiating compensation for its victims have launched a "countdown campaign" to remind consumers, governments and the brands that almost two years on from the garment industry's deadliest disaster justice has still not been done for the thousands of worker killed and injured. UNI Global Union, IndustriALL Global Union and the Clean Clothes Campaign are ramping up demands on global brands linked to the disaster to fill an USD8.5million gap in the funding needed to deliver full and fair compensation to each of the over 5,000 individuals with eligible claims.
Come to the vigil at the 8 hour monument opposite the Trades Hall at 4.30pm to remember the workers who were killed in the name of greed. Mourn the Dead, Fight for the Living. Facebook Event page and UNI Global Union News
2: April 28 – International Workers' Memorial Day
Victorian unions will again hold an International Workers' Memorial Day event on Tuesday April 28. We will take some time to remember those Victorian workers killed at work, vow to keep fighting for the living by making sure we achieve the best possible health and safety in our workplaces. Speakers will include the Honourable Robin Scott, Minister responsible for WorkCover, and Luke Hilakari, VTHC Secretary. More information to come.
Where: Trades Hall, Lygon St, Carlton South
When: 10.30am, Tuesday April 28
Flu season coming up – approach your employer now
Summer is officially over, and we are rapidly approaching the flu season (we've already had a 'cold snap' in Melbourne!). HSRs of workers who regularly come in contact with members of the public, or who work in the health, community and education sectors, should be considering approaching their employer. The government-funded flu vaccine will be available from 20 April, a month later than most years, as the vaccine has been reformulated to cover a new strain of flu. But some GPs may offer the vaccine privately before then.
This year there is a new flu vaccine, known as "quadrivalent" which contains four flu viruses compared with three in the normal trivalent vaccine. The additional flu strain provides extra insurance that may be useful if unexpected viruses begin to circulate. The standard trivalent vaccine will probably cover the great majority of the flu A and B strains expected to circulate in Australia this winter. The quadrivalent vaccine won't be available via the government's free flu vaccine program and will be more expensive than the standard trivalent vaccine if purchasing it privately.
The recent flu season in the United States and most of Europe was dominated by the A(H3N2) strain of flu – and most of the serious influenza was caused by this strain which had changed over the five to six months when the vaccine producers were manufacturing the vaccine. The new Australian vaccine has been updated to protect against the new A(H3N2) viruses. Consequently, those who got a flu shot last year need to get one again this year. Read more: Presenteeism – what is it? Source: The 2015 flu vaccine – what's new, who should get it and why SBS
CFMEU impairment and testing policy
The CFMEU construction division last week announced its proposal for an impairment policy in the industry. The policy – which for the first time includes a proposal for drug and alcohol testing - focuses on safety in the workplace. CFMEU National Construction Secretary Dave Noonan said the union was consulting with the membership about the policy and stressed that testing was just one component of their proposal. "This is a policy that revolves around the causes of impairment in our industry that include fatigue, physical and mental health, job insecurity, injury and illness and drug and alcohol use," he said.
"It's important to remember that the percentage of people using drugs in our industry is no more or less than the general community and this is borne in study after study. The union has worked on the ground in this space for over twenty five years raising awareness, offering counselling and assisting people overcome addictions."
The union is recommending mandatory
blanket testing including testing employers and is calling on the Master
Builders Association (MBA) to support the union's proposal. Mr Noonan
said the union was changing its policy due to members' concerns of the
safety risks involved in working with someone who is impaired as a
result of addiction or substance abuse, Mr Noonan stressed, however,
that the policy focusses on safety and impairment – including due to
other factors as well.
Read more: CFMEU proposal for new impairment policy includes drug and alcohol testing CFMEU News; and Kevin Jones' SafetyAtWork blog for an interesting discussion.
Morning sickness: disability under EEO
A recent decision at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has put employers on notice that in some cases morning sickness as a result of pregnancy is a disability under the Equal Opportunity Act, and if they discriminate against a pregnant woman suffering the effects of the condition, they would be in breach of the Act. A pregnant Melbourne phone shop worker, with Hyperemesis Gravidarum – a severe form of morning sickness – ran a civil lawsuit against her employers, alleging they discriminated against her in 2013 for being pregnant and failing to make "reasonable adjustments" to accommodate her disability. She said the actions relating to sick leave, lifting boxes, sitting during work hours and toilet breaks amounted to discrimination.
VCAT accepted evidence that her morning sickness
involved migraine, back pain, ankle pain and foot pain, which restricted
her body from functioning properly. In weighing the discrimination
claim, Senior Member Ian Proctor said in "ordinary life" a pregnant
woman suffering morning sickness would not constitute a disability, but
the symptoms of Hyperemesis Gravidarum constituted a disability under
the law. VCAT found the store managers breached the state's Equal
Opportunity Act after texting the employee after a string of absences,
saying "I'm f--king sick of this", and "You better f--king come in".
Read more: Severe morning sickness considered a workplace disability The Age; and Discrimination and Harassment on this site.
Fiskville: to close permanently
On March 26 Victoria's Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett has announced that the firefighting training base at Fiskville will be shut down permanently after tests revealed the presence of water supply contamination. Ms Garrett said, "Today ends a dark chapter in our fire-fighting services. While we are relieved that the drinking water is safe, the ongoing discovery of contamination at Fiskville means it can no longer operate as a training ground." The Minister had ordered a temporary shutdown early last month (see SafetyNet312). The site was initially closed when the chemical PFOS, which can cause cancer, heart disease and infertility, was detected in the water supply. The CFA board unanimously recommended the closure of the site following the results of around 550 tests at the site, which showed that while the drinking water and showers were clear of contamination, high levels of the toxic chemical were found around the fire training area and in another area where it had not been previously detected.
Read more: Fiskville Shut Forever Victorian Government Media Release; and Fiskville closure CFA Media Release
We are looking to find an assessor to review our office workstations and equipment for OH&S purposes to ensure our staff's welfare. Can you help?
We have a list of 'consultants' on our site and several of these can undertake ergonomic assessments and provide advice.
However, as a first step, I recommend that you do preliminary assessments yourselves, taking a look at a number of pages on the site, which have information on work stations, and links to useful publications. Make sure this is done in consultation with the health and safety rep/s and the workers themselves.
A very useful publication is Officewise (you'll find a link to this on the pages I've referred you to)
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.
New Zealand: Asbestos needs a ban and a plan
Workers this week presented a petition signed by over a thousand New Zealanders calling on the Government to ban the importation of asbestos and develop a comprehensive plan for the removal of all existing asbestos in New Zealand. "Asbestos is the biggest workplace killer in New Zealand. It kills at least 170 workers annually: more than twice as many workers as accidental deaths at work. The number of people dying from asbestos related diseases (lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis) is increasing and the Government projections are that it will peak at 300: higher than the road toll," said Council of Trade Unions (CTU) Secretary, Sam Huggard. "New Zealand is out of step with other developed countries. We are still importing asbestos containing products. Australia prohibited the import of all asbestos containing products in 2003. Similar bans in the United Kingdom date to the late 1990s."
Huggard said that while proposed regulations would significantly assist
in the management of asbestos, and should be given the highest
priority, much more action is needed. The CTU has a twelve-point plan to
deal with asbestos.
Read more: CTU Media Release
April 1 – beginning of Global Asbestos Awareness Week
While Australia's Asbestos Awareness Week is in November, it seems that there is an international move to have the first week in April declared Global Asbestos Awareness Week. A bipartisan resolution passed by the United States Senate has designated this week as National Asbestos Awareness Week. The resolution, authored by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and passed by Unanimous Consent, puts the Senate on record as recognizing the threats asbestos still poses to the American people, even though significant steps have been taken to reduce use of and exposure to the deadly substance. "We owe it to those who suffer from the devastating impacts of this silent killer to ensure they know they are not alone in this fight to raise awareness about the risks of asbestos," said Senator Markey. "This resolution will help educate people about asbestos-related illness and disease and support efforts for its prevention, detection and treatment."
Read more: April 1 Kicks Off National Asbestos Awareness Week EWG Blog
Canada: Asbestos imports increasing
According to Statistics Canada figures, imports of asbestos-related items rose to CAD$6million (AUD$6.19m) last year from CAD$4.9million (AUD$5.05m) in 2013. The bulk of these goods consisted of asbestos brake linings and pads, which hit CAD$3.6million (AUD$3.7m) in imports in 2014, a seven-year high. Other imports included raw asbestos, friction materials and some items containing crocidolite, the most dangerous form of asbestos.
Asbestos is by far the top on-the-job killer in Canada, accounting for almost 5,000 death claims since 1996. Many victims die of mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer, though it may take 20 to 50 years after exposures to materialize. And yet Canada continues to allow imports and exports of asbestos, unlike other dozens of countries such as Australia, Japan, Sweden and Britain, which have imposed a ban. Canada has had a very chequered history with asbestos – until recently mining and exporting thousands of tonnes to developing countries. Read more: The Globe and Mail
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more – go to the Asbestos section on the site.
Widow to sue building company after husband's death
According to reports in the media, a young widow is suing building company Bilic Homes for compensation after a four-metre wall collapsed and killed her husband on a Melbourne worksite in July last year. Because her husband was a subcontractor who worked for himself, and not an employee, when he died last year he was not eligible for WorkSafe insurance – unless he took out his own coverage. She has filed a civil lawsuit in the Victorian Supreme Court.
WorkSafe Victoria has also launched a
criminal prosecution of Bilic Homes after an investigation into the wall
collapse uncovered serious alleged safety breaches. Bilic Homes has
been charged with multiple workplace violations and could face heavy
penalties. This terrible tragedy raises issues of workplace safety,
contracting arrangements, workers compensation coverage, and finally the
value of strong unions at the workplace.
Read more: The Age
ACTU: Unions urge PC inquiry to give more rights at work to casuals and women
The ACTU has called for workplace rights to be strengthened for women and millions of Australians in casual and insecure work in its submission to the Productivity Commission inquiry into workplace relations. While the focus of the PC report may appear to be 'industrial', issues of protection of conditions, particularly for vulnerable workers, are health and safety issues as well. The ACTU says Australia's workplace system is based on fairness, equality, protection of the vulnerable and rewards for hard work.
Read more: ACTU Media Release
International Union News
Interested in workers' rights? International online course
A new course is being offered online to trade unionists around the world in June. The Global Labour University is launching a free Massive Open Online Course on "Workers' Rights in a Global Economy". Starting on 1 June 2015, the six weeks online course will discuss what Global Workers' Rights are and which instruments and strategies can be used to implement them. Based on a mix of video lectures, readings, online resources and interviews with activists and labour scholars from around the world, participants will gain both knowledge and practical skills for furthering workers' rights worldwide.
Watch a short trailer to get an overview of the course. More information and enrolment go to "Workers' Rights in a Global Economy" (This course is in English only.)
USA: McDonald's workers told to put mustard on burns!
McDonald's workers are filing official health and safety complaints in 19 cities in the US after suffering burns that some were told to treat with mustard, mayonnaise or other condiments. The official health and safety regulator OSHA has launched an investigation in response to 28 worker complaints stating workers often suffered burns, some of them severe, under pressure to filter oil for recycling while it was still hot, and from exposure to grills. The restaurants in question are a mix of franchises and directly-operated restaurants. The complaints also allege inadequate or missing first aid and protective equipment. Some workers suffering from burns were told by managers to treat their injuries with various condiments. Fight for $15, a fast food trade union fighting for better pay and conditions, has spearheaded the campaign with a graphic video showing McDonald's workers pouring hot fat into bins lined with plastic bags and filled with ice. Fight for $15 says that one-third of fast food workers who have sustained burns have been told to treat themselves with mustard. Reports say four in five fast-food workers have been burned on the job in the past year, according to a Heart Research survey of 1,426 adults working at a variety of fast-food restaurants. McDonald's said in a statement that it would review the allegations. It added that the company and its independent franchisees were "committed to providing safe working conditions for employees in the 14,000 McDonald's Brand US restaurants." It's interesting to see what this 'commitment' looks like...
Find our more: Fight for $15 petition and 'Burned at McDonald's, Treated with Mustard' video. Source: Risks 696
Malaysia: more construction workers killed
Four construction workers were killed after the elevator they were in fell from a height of 13 floors at an apartment construction site in Precinct 15H in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Assistant Police Commissioner Abdul Razak said the elevator fell after an apparent mechanical malfunction. "All three Indonesian workers, aged between 20 and 40, died on the spot from injuries to their head and body," he said. He added that the fourth person in the lift, a Bangladeshi national in his 20s had died at Hospital Putrajaya that afternoon. The elevator had a maximum lifting weight of 2000kg and was used to transport workers and cargo. "All four workers were in the elevator with about 1200kg of cement bags when the incident happened, and we believe it was caused by a malfunction in the pulley mechanism," said Abdul Razak. He added that the bodies of the workers who died at the construction site were sent to Hospital Putrajaya for an autopsy. Source: The Star
Qatar Buys Time at the ILO
Qatar has been given until November to reform its kafala system of modern slavery and bring its labour laws into line with international standards, after a decision of the International Labour Organization's Governing Body. Government blocs from Asia, Africa and Latin America refused to back calls for immediate action by worker and employer representatives. EU/Nordic governments and the USA supported the worker and employer position.
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said, "Qatar used its financial muscle over other governments to buy yet more time, after years of empty promises to bring its system of slave labour to an end. Worst of all, governments from Asia and Africa, where most of the 1.5 million migrant workers in Qatar come from, refused to stand up for their own people. A further six-month delay will cost scores of lives as workers are forced to work through the incredibly hot summer months without basic protection and at the mercy of kafala employers.
"Qatar's leaders knowingly choose to impose modern day slavery on migrant workers who are forced to borrow to pay for illegal recruitment fees, forced to live in squalor and paid poverty wages. They have no effective means to have grievances settled or disputes resolved, no right to change jobs even to escape from abusive employers, and their bosses can force them to stay in the country for years by denying an exit visa." Read more: ITUC news release
Formaldehyde found in Victorian emergency workers' protective clothing
The CSIRO has found formaldehyde in Victoria's emergency services workers protective gear. In a study of seven garments, CSIRO found low levels of the cancer-causing chemical in clothing treated by Proban, a chemical additive used to make protective clothing fire retardant. Proban is currently used in clothing worn by the firefighters, the State Emergency Service and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, according to Emergency Management Victoria (EMV). The results were reported by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC). "What they've actually shown is that the ensemble – which is the gear that our firefighters wear for bushfires – have some residual risk of carrying some chemicals," Victoria's Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said. Although the results were not "a critical safety issue", an alert had been issued as a precautionary measure. The safety alert tells firefighters what to do in the maintenance and storage of their gear.
Source: ABC News Read more on Formaldehyde
WHO: Cut music to one hour per day
In advice which will cause anxiety to many workers in the music and hospitality industry, the World Health Organization has suggested that people should listen to music for no more than one hour a day to protect their hearing. It says 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of permanently damaging their hearing by listening to "too much, too loudly". It said audio players, concerts and bars were posing a "serious threat". WHO figures show 43 million people aged 12-35 have hearing loss and the prevalence is increasing. In that age group, the WHO said, half of people in rich and middle-income countries were exposed to unsafe sound levels from personal audio devices. Meanwhile 40% were exposed to damaging levels of sound from clubs and bars – they don't seem to have considered the workers in these clubs and bars though! The proportion of US teenagers with hearing loss went from 3.5% in 1994 to 5.3% in 2006. Dr Etienne Krug, the WHO's director for injury prevention, told the BBC: "What we're trying to do is raise awareness of an issue that is not talked about enough, but has the potential to do a lot of damage that can be easily prevented."
Source: BBC News (Health). Read more on Noise
WorkSafe announces new safety record in half-year results
The rate of injuries in Victorian workplaces has reached a new record low, according to the half-yearly results released last week by Victoria's regulator. As of 31 December 2014 there were 7.32 claims per million hours worked (MHW) in Victorian workplaces, a reduction on the 7.37 claims per MHW recorded at the end of 2013/14. The results were released to key stakeholders by Finance Minister Robin Scott MP, acting chair John Walter and acting chief executive Clare Amies at a briefing at the State Library of Victoria. In his address to stakeholders representing unions, employer groups and peak body associations Minister Scott highlighted the need for further improvements in workplace safety. "Generally workers in Victoria are safer than they have ever been, but still too many have been killed or seriously injured," Mr Scott said.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox landed in our inboxes yesterday, April 1. Although it didn't contain any April Fool 'jokes', the "Absolute Shocker" – a scaffolding on a 48 level unit development – could have been a joke had it not been so dangerous. The whole scaffold was sitting on a pile of wooden boards. This edition also has interesting items from Energy Safe Victoria (including a survey on its advice on working near power lines; as well as items from other states.
list of Reported Incidents from 11 – 25 March is attached to the
newsletter. There was one fatality - a worker was killed and another
suffered serious multiple injuries in a vehicle collision between a car
and a truck - and a number of very serious incidents, including 34 near
misses, 23 lacerations, four fractures, three crush injuries, two
punctures, two burns, two electric shocks, one amputation and one
Access the April 1 Safety Soapbox edition online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Safe Work Australia
As of March 27, Safe Work had been notified of 39 worker fatalities – this is two more workers killed in the week since March 20. The fatalities so far this year have been in the following industries: eight each in Transport, postal and warehousing; and in Agriculture, forestry and fishing; six in Construction; five in Mining; three each in Manufacturing; Electricity, gas, water & waste services and in 'other services'; two in Arts & Recreation services; and one in Administrative & support services.
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 December 2014, during which a total of 20 work-related fatalities were reported: 11 male workers, 2 female workers, 6 male bystanders and 1 female bystander. Of these fatalities, 4 workers and 4 bystanders died as a result of incidents in the air and on public roads. The December report can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
US regulator to regulate nano-silver
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to regulate nano-silver in consumer products as a result of a lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety (CFS) in December last year. Meanwhile in Australia nano-silver products remain unregulated. The decision means that nano-silver products will now require EPA review and approval before they can be sold in the US – an important first step towards ensuring consumer safety in that country. Australians should have the same protection.
Because of its powerful antimicrobial properties,
nano-silver is the most widely used nanomaterial in consumer products,
used in over 400 consumer products including food packaging, chopping
boards and baby bottles. Health experts have raised concerns that the
widespread use of nano-silver in consumer products will further increase
the problem of superbugs. Yet here, the Food Standards Australia New
Zealand (FSANZ), responsible for assessing the safety of food and food
contact materials, recently decided not to assess the risks of the
chemical migration of nanomaterials such as nano-silver into food
because it doesn't know enough about them.
Read more: Friends of the Earth Media release Legal action prompts US regulator to regulate nano-silver while Australian regulators fail to take action
- From WorkSafe Victoria: A Safety Alert - Battery powered circular saws
- From WorkSafe BC (Canada): A free online guide for those working at heights on the safe use of PPE, such as safety belts, harnesses, lanyards: Personal Fall Protection Equipment [pdf]
There still haven't been any new prosecution summaries added to the WorkSafe Prosecutions Summaries webpage since the end of February. The VTHC hopes that this does not mean there have been no prosecutions - and we continue to suppose that it's simply because the site has not been updated. Please update it!