SafetyNet 319, April 30, 2015
Edition 319 of the SafetyNet journal – it has been a very busy week, with many events, and we hope that workers around Australia stopped to think about those killed and injured in workplaces this Tuesday. If you have any comments or suggestions for items, please send them in to Renata firstname.lastname@example.org – comments and questions welcomed. We need/want more "followers" on Twitter… so please follow us @OHSreps
April 24: 2nd anniversary of Rana Plaza disaster
The ceremony remembering the almost 1200 murdered garment workers in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh attracted a decent crowd. The Australia Bangladesh Solidarity Network, in conjunction with New Model Beauty Queen, is hosting the worldwide launch of the film, "The True Cost" on 29 May, with a further three screenings across 30/31 May and 1 June. The True Cost is a ground-breaking film exposing the social and environmental cost of the fashion industry throughout the world. Charting the amazing stories of workers and communities as they struggle against the behemoth multi-trillion dollar fashion industry and its insatiable appetite for cheap garments at any cost. More information is available at the film website. Tickets are just $5. Opening night will be at 120 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, while the other screenings are elsewhere in Melbourne
Find out more, and purchase tickets, on the ABSN website
April 28: International Workers Memorial Day 2015
The IWMD ceremony at Trades Hall this week was a moving one: the many people in attendance listened silently as 20 pairs of boots and shoes, including a pair of baby booties, were placed on stools on the lawn outside the Hall, each in memory of a person killed at work since April last year. Luke Hilakari, Secretary of the VTHC, asked that we remember the 2.3 million people killed around the world, the 600 Australians killed by mesothelioma – and the role of unions in making workplaces safer. Also addressing the large crowd were Robin Scott, Minister for Finance (and WorkSafe); Lisa Fitzpatrick, Secretary of the ANMF and John Setka, Secretary of the CFMEU.
Read more: International Workers Memorial Day 2015 ; The Age; and check the International IWMD 2015 website
ACTU says company directors liable for worker deaths
On the occasion of IWMD, the ACTU has said company directors should be made personally liable for Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) fines resulting from workplace death, even if they restructure their business to avoid payment. The ACTU called on the government to strengthen national OHS laws and make directors personally fined and/or jailed for up to 20 years to ensure companies cannot restructure to avoid paying fines as a result of negligent conduct.
Forty six Australian workers died at work this year, but there is no provision in OHS laws to for directors to be held personally accountable if those deaths are a result of company negligence. ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick said, "Strengthening OHS laws to make negligent companies and individual directors liable sends a clear message to employers that they must ensure people are safe at work." He added, "Current laws need to be strengthened so that companies and company directors are liable for our safety at work.''
Source: ACTU Media Release
I'm an OHS Rep for my employer. An OHS audit at two of our stores revealed two fire extinguisher behind locked doors (one locked with a key kept in an office, and the other locked by a passcode no-one know the combination of). WorkSafe guidance states:
"Place fire equipment in your workplace where it can be accessed quickly if needed" and "equipment kept clear of obstructions".
It would seem that a locked door would be 'an obstruction'. However, management assure me this is complying with OHS standards. Are they correct? What steps can I take from here?
There is no specific law on this, so WorkSafe guidance, designed to facilitate employers complying with their general duty of care, is important and should be followed. However, there is an Australian Standard (AS 2444-2001) on the location of fire extinguishers, which recognises that there are times when they may "incur unauthorised interference". The standard states that in these cases fire extinguishers may be locked away, however:
"…the cabinet or enclosure shall be marked with the words 'FIRE EXTINGUISHER' in letters at least 32 mm high in a colour contrasting with the background unless the door has not less than 50% of its surface area fabricated from transparent material that permits visual identification of the cabinet's contents. Where extinguishers are likely to incur unauthorized interference, the cabinet may be locked. Locked cabinets shall be provided with a frangible panel to provide access to the latching device or extinguisher."
In other words, if fire extinguishers are in a locked cabinet or cupboard, they must be able to be accessed by an easily breakable panel. Remember, the employer has a general duty of care to ensure the workplace is safe and without risks to health.
Read more: Fire and Emergency Evacuation and Duties of employers
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 NSW Asbestos petition
If you haven't yet signed Unions NSW Asbestos petition seeking an end to the use of asbestos world-wide, please do so. Sign the petition now to add your voice to the call to end asbestos trade.
The countdown to the Rotterdam Convention is on with two weeks to go.
As noted in the last SafetyNet, the Rotterdam convention is getting closer, and if a strong 'message from the world' can be put together and broadcasted to delegates encouraging them to vote to Ban Chrysotile Asbestos this will increase chances of success. So your help, and your voice is needed. Please send a message in support of banning asbestos around the world – in words, pictures or short video. All you need to do is post your message on our Facebook page or tweet it to us if you use twitter. These will be collated by AsbestosFreeFuture and sent to delegates at the Rotterdam Convention, urging them to ban chrysotile asbestos. Send your message here
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.
Blanket health assessments rejected by FWC
The Fair Work Commission has ruled that it is unreasonable for an employer to direct workers to attend a compulsory health assessment allegedly designed to address high injury levels without first establishing genuine need. Cement Australia Pty Ltd introduced a compulsory physical risk review program in 2013 as part of its response to the frequency of injuries reported by heavy vehicle drivers in its distribution division, which were higher than the average injury rate across the rest of the business.
Previous company efforts to reduce the injury statistics had been unsuccessful, including voluntary functional capacity assessments and practical measures to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls when drivers were working on or around their vehicles. The 45 minuted assessments were to be done bi-yearly by an external provider, with results to go on to the employee's health file.
However, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) disputed the company's right to direct drivers to participate in the assessment, especially given they were already required to have regular medical assessments under the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme.
FWC Commissioner Paula Spencer ruled that the company's direction for the program was unlawful or unreasonable. "There has been an insufficient particularisation of the data to establish a genuine need to direct an entire segment of the workforce to undertake this assessment." The decision has implications for workers around Australia, as several unions have reported employers attempting to subject entire groups of workers to such medical assessments to determine "fitness to work".
Source: Workplace Express Read more: TWU v Cement Australia Pty Ltd  FWC 158 (20 April 2015)
Tasmania: Principals struggle with workload
According to a survey, Tasmanian school principals are struggling to cope with their workloads and stress, and are developing health problems. Between 40 and 50 Tasmanian principals responded to the Australian Principal Occupational, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey annually for the past four years. They rated the sheer quantity of work, the lack of time to focus on teaching and learning, and resourcing needs as their biggest sources of professional stress. The principals surveyed came from public and independent schools in urban, regional and rural areas.
Read more: Principals struggling to cope with workloads developing health problems, survey finds ABC News online
International Union News
Global: ITUC Pledge on Toxics "If you expose us, we'll expose you"
Occupational cancers kill at a rate of more than once a minute worldwide, according to a comprehensive review of the available evidence by the ITUC. In a media release ahead of International Workers' Memorial Day, the global union body said this preventable waste of life had to end and warned rogue employers: "If you expose us, we'll expose you."
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said, "Even conservative estimates put the annual occupational cancer toll at 660,000 deaths a year. A poisonous cocktail of toxic marketing and regulatory failure has already condemned another generation to an early grave. As long as there's money to be made, industry will retain its fatal attachment to some of the most potent killers in history," Burrow notes. "For example, next month it is all but certain that just enough governments will dance to the asbestos industry's tune to keep chrysotile asbestos off the toxic exports list included in a key United Nations treaty."
"This is a typical example of an industry protecting its markets without regard to the human consequences. Global asbestos production is not falling, and in some countries, including India, Indonesia and Brazil, consumption has increased."
Benzene is another industry favourite with over half a century of evidence establishing a clear cancer link. Yet the biggest names in petrochemicals – British Petroleum (BP), Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell Chemical – all contributed to major study that ran through most of the last decade, designed to head off cancer compensation claims and to protect their valuable product from tighter regulation.
Read more: ITUC Media Release
UK: Grave reminder of the daily risks faced by workers
This was the 23rd year International Workers' Memorial Day has been commemorated in the UK, the 2015 theme was removing exposure to hazardous substances. The UK union body the TUC highlighted the results of its online questionnaire on hazardous substances at work. Of the 500 respondents, 71 per cent said they are exposed to, or at risk from, potentially dangerous substances at work. This included asbestos (49 per cent), hazardous chemicals and gases (49 per cent), radiation sources (35 per cent) and biological agents such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and other pathogens (27 per cent). TUC say asbestos alone is responsible for 5,000 UK deaths a year. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Many of these substances could be removed from the workplace or their use reduced, but where this is not possible, workers need much better protection. That means stronger regulation, and, more importantly, proper enforcement." She added: "On International Workers' Memorial Day in workplaces across the world and in the UK, trade union health and safety representatives will consider what can be done to stop unnecessary deaths, injuries and illness. We need employers and governments to do more too."
TUC Media Release [pdf] Source: Risks 699
UK: TUC releases guide to epilepsy at work
New guidance to help trade union representatives support members with epilepsy has been published by the TUC. Epilepsy in the workplace – a TUC guide was written for the TUC by Epilepsy Action and is based on the social model of disability, which means epilepsy is not seen as a barrier to work. However, it points out there may be external barriers to accessing work in the form of ignorance, prejudice and failure by employers to make workplace adaptations. The guide educates trade union members about epilepsy, and provides guidance on reasonable workplace adjustments and making workplaces 'epilepsy-friendly'. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Despite legal protection, workers with epilepsy still encounter ignorance, prejudice and discrimination. Trade unions challenge all such attitudes and behaviour and this guide will help them to do so from a position of understanding and strength." Epilepsy Action's chief executive, Philip Lee, said: "I have no doubt that this new guide to epilepsy in the workplace will be a valuable resource for trade union officials who are supporting members with epilepsy. I hope it will help to tackle some of the myths about epilepsy and enable trade union advisers to encourage more employers to become epilepsy-friendly workplaces."
The guide would be useful in Australian workplaces also, as workers with epilepsy have legal rights under Equal Opportunity legislation.
Source: Risks 699
Firefighting increases cancer mortality risks
Another study has strengthened the evidence that firefighting exposures increase the risk of death from cancer. The latest is a study carried out by the NIOSH, the US federal agency responsible for conducting research on work-related diseases. Of eight types of cancers examined, researchers found that lung cancer and leukemia mortality risks increased with firefighter exposures.
"These findings add to evidence of a causal association between firefighter and cancer," said the researchers. They gathered nearly six decades of data on firefighters from Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco, comprising almost 20,000 male firefighters with 1,300 cancer deaths and 2,600 cancer incidence cases. The results are the second phase of the study. In the first phase, published in October 2013, researchers found that firefighters had higher rates of several types of cancer.
Daniels R.D. et al.(2015) Exposure–response relationships for select cancer and non-cancer health outcomes in a cohort of US firefighters from San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia (1950–2009), [pdf] Occupational & Environmental Medicine. DOI:10.1136/oemed-2014-102671.
WorkSafe Victoria Awards now open
WorkSafe is encouraging businesses and workers with a demonstrated passion for improving workplace health and safety are encouraged to enter the 2015 WorkSafe Victoria Awards. The awards, now in their 27th year, were officially launched last week by Minister for Finance, Robin Scott at Rapid Test Systems in Bentleigh. RTS was a finalist in the 2014 awards.
WorkSafe Acting Chief Executive, Clare Amies, said the awards were an important event in the WorkSafe calendar. "Each year these awards uncover inspiring stories about individuals and businesses committed to keeping their workplaces safe, and helping injured workers get back to work as soon as it is safe to do so," Ms Amies said. "It is people and organisations such as these that help make Victoria the safest state in which to work. And they may not know it, but their stories are an inspiration to others."
We encourage workers to nominate their elected health and safety representatives, and if they have a good and effective health and safety committee to nominate their committee as well.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was sent out yesterday, April 29. The feature article in this edition has been written by Steve Darnley from the Construction Practices Unit, on the registration requirements for "No Go Zone" spotters. WorkSafe has recently found a number of unregistered people acting or proposing to act as "No Go Zone" spotters for earthmoving equipment working near overhead power lines. However all such spotters must be registered with EnergySafe Victoria (ESV) and hold an ESV spotter's registration card before undertaking spotting duties – and only for the type of powered mobile plant listed on the ESV registration card.
The list of Reported Incidents from April 9 – 21 is attached to the bulletin. There were at total of 71 incidents reported in the two week period – almost double that in the previous period and include 26 near misses (such as ruptured gas pipes, rolling of equipment, and more), ten electric shocks and several serious falls.
Access the April 29 Safety Soapbox edition online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Safe Work Australia
As at 23 April 2015, 48 Australian workers have been killed while at work. The fatalities so far this year have been in the following industries: fifteen in Transport, postal and warehousing; nine in Agriculture, forestry and fishing; six in Construction; five in Mining; three each in Electricity, gas, water & waste services; Arts & Recreation services; and in 'other services'; two in Manufacturing; 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.
The latest monthly fatality report remains that for December 2014, during which a total of 20 work-related fatalities were reported. The December report can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page
From WorkSafe Victoria: Lift Work on Construction Projects - this handbook provides advice for employers, employees, health and safety representatives, and anyone who has a role in health and safety about controlling risks associated with the installation or refurbishment of lifts (lift work) on construction projects.
Victorian Prosecutions and updates
1 - $450,000 fine over front end loader tragedy
Melbourne waste recycling company Resource Recovery Victoria Pty Ltd ('RRV') has been convicted and fined $450,000 over the death of an worker killed by the bucket of a 20-tonne front end loader. On 31 March RRV pleaded guilty in the County Court to two offences under the OHS 2004 (failing to provide a safe system of work and failing to provide information, instruction or training).
RRV operated a waste recycling depot in Braeside in which dump trucks, heavy machinery, smaller vehicles and staff on foot all worked in close proximity. On 4 October 2013, a worker was driving a small sweeper vehicle in an open air shed; another worker was also in the shed, operating a 20-tonne front end loader to move dirt and bricks up a small ramp into a hopper. After the front end loader emptied a load of material into the hopper, the operator reversed the machine back down the ramp and lowered its bucket to about one metre above ground level – and felt a bump. When he reversed, he saw his colleague slumped in the sweeper vehicle with fatal injuries.
It emerged that while new employees were given safety pamphlets to read, there was no written induction at the site and training was informal and "on the job". There were no:
- documented procedures for traffic management;
- signs or lines in the yard area to determine where trucks, loaders or street sweepers could or couldn't go;
- alarms, lights or barriers;
Training in relation to all the machines used in the depot was verbal. Furthermore, there had been a number of injuries and near misses involving employees and machines over recent years that had not been reported.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
2 – French baker convicted and fined $60,000 after workers loses arm
On 23 April, Laurent Boulangerie Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the duty of care in the OHS Act – by failing to provide and maintain plant that was safe and without risks to health. According to WorkSafe, the dough processing machine at the company's Braeside bakery had a conveyor belt bearing replaced on December 1, 2013. After the work was finished an employee deliberately left off the guarding beneath the conveyor because regular maintenance work on the machine was going to be done the next morning. Staff were told to tell workers to avoid the area where the guarding had been removed. That evening, the machine was stopped so the conveyer belt and rollers could be cleaned after a wet dough mixture clogged the conveyor belt. Soon after the machine was turned back on, an employee continued cleaning beneath the conveyor. His left hand was drawn into the in-running nip point between the conveyor belt and the roller before his arm was caught in the rollers. The man's arm was severed and he was trapped for more than 40 minutes before being freed and transported to hospital. His amputated arm could not be reattached. The Moorabbin Magistrates Court convicted and fined the company $60,000.00 plus costs of $4,473.
3 – Company not convicted or fined following fatality in orchard!
Mertikas Holdings Pty Ltd operator of an apple orchard in Elphinstone, Victoria has been sentenced to an adjourned undertaking without conviction to comply with a number of conditions. On 2 June 2013, a man employed as an apple picker was working at the premises when a forklift became stuck in wet and muddy ground on an upwards slope. The forklift was connected with a chain to the tractor – but in the attempt to move the forklift, it flipped backwards pinning the worker under the tractor, killing him. On 20 April 2015, the company pleaded guilty to breaching sections 21(1) & (2)(a) of the OHS Act: failing to provide a safe system of work by failing to provide plant that was safe and without risks to health. The Magistrate ordered Mertikas Holdings to undertake a number of education and safety workshop projects in the agriculture industry, specifically in relation to apple orchards and the requirements for roll over protection and tractor training. A further condition required the company to contribute $7500 to the Court Fund and to pay costs of $6207.
4 - Company placed on diversion program
An unnamed company was placed on a diversion program in relation to two breaches of section 21(1) of the OHS Act for failing to provide the necessary supervision and training to its employees. The company manufactures and delivers house frames and trusses. Two factory based employees of the company assisting a delivery driver unloading trusses at a construction site were photographed being suspended from the slings of the delivery vehicle crane as they were lifted off the second storey level of the house under construction. On 21 April 2015, in the Dandenong Magistrates Court under the diversion plan, the matter was adjourned for 12 months. The company was required to donate $3000 to the Magistrates Court Fund and write a letter of gratitude to the Informant.
5 – Individual prosecuted for failing to provide safe systems of work
Travis John Lindorff, trading as Casey Accident Repairs, pleaded guilty to breaching section 21(1) and 21(2)(a) of the OHS Act for failing to provide and maintain systems of work that were safe and without risks to health. On 3 December 2013, an employee was seriously injured when he fell through non-weight bearing sheeting on the mezzanine floor area above a spray paint room to retrieve a bumper bar. The area has been used for storage. On 16 April in the Dandenong Magistrate's Court, Lindorff was without conviction, sentenced to pay a fine of $7,000.00 plus costs of of $3,317.
Source: WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage
Comcare: John Holland fined $110k over worker injury
Construction group John Holland (JH) has been fined $110,000 in the Federal Court for breaching federal occupational health and safety (OHS) laws after a worker was injured in a 2011 incident.
JH failed to take reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety of its employees under the former 1991 federal OHS Act. The worker was moving two arch-form structures in a tunnel at the Brisbane Airport Link project on December 1, 2011 when an unsecured metal bridge fell causing a head injury. The incident involved four employees who were preparing to lower the arch-form structures before moving them. According to Comcare, John Holland admitted it had not conducted a risk assessment of the bridge before its installation and use, and failed to provide workers with any information or training on the safe use or removal of the structures.
In November 2014, JH was convicted and fined $360,000 following the death of a worker at the Perth City Link rail project in December 2011 (see SafetyNet301).
Read more: Comcare Media Release John Holland fined over injury to Brisbane worker