SafetyNet 323, May 28, 2015
Welcome to SafetyNet – please let us know whether you find the newsletter useful. If you have any comments, please send them in to Renata firstname.lastname@example.org – questions welcomed too. We need/want more "followers" on Twitter… so please follow us @OHSreps
New Australian Unions video on OHS Reps and unions
Australian Unions this week released a new video on the important role of unions and elected health and safety representatives: All workers should be able to leave home in the morning knowing that they will be safe from danger, safe from injury, safe from work-related illness. It's been proven that unionised workplaces - when people can act collectively, elect health and safety representatives from their own ranks that they trust, and get support from unions - are safer workplaces. The video, launched at the ACTU's 2015 Congress, includes some footage from the VTHC's International Workers' Memorial Day event.
Watch the video: Speak up for health and safety
VTHC to target young workers
Luke Hilakari, Secretary of the VTHC, in addressing the ACTU Congress this week, announced a plan to work with young workers and students to highlight their rights and the role of unions. He set a target of issuing a 'union work card' to every high school student in the state. Mr Hilakari said raising students' awareness could lead to school based campaigns like getting ethically-sourced chocolate in their canteens or Textile Clothing and Footwear Union-approved school uniforms, which would teach practical campaigning skills.
The VTHC had run sessions with young workers in sectors such as retail and hospitality to gauge their concerns and they had raised sexual harassment in the workplace, being paid cash in hand or 'with pizzas' and health and safety.
WorkSafe Victoria is advertising for OHS inspectors
Are you passionate about health and safety and interested in becoming an inspector? Applications are now open to fill a number of inspector vacancies in the following (Multiple) areas:
- Construction / Healthcare / Agriculture (Mulgrave Office)
- Manufacturing / Warehousing / Transport / Agriculture (Dandenong Office)
- Public Sector / Healthcare (Traralgon Office)
- Warehousing / Manufacturing / Logistics (Geelong Office)
- Healthcare / Public Sector / Manufacturing / Construction (Essendon Office)
- Construction (Shepparton Office)
- Construction (CBD Melbourne Office)
Position descriptions and an application form can be downloaded from the WorkSafe website, here. Applications close at 5pm on Tuesday 9 June. We need good people in these positions - including people with direct workplace experience - so please consider applying!
I work in an office on the third floor of a building, and our manager has told us that we can't open the windows for health and safety reasons. Even though we're heading into winter, our office gets very stuffy and opening a window seems to be the only way to get fresh air. Is he correct in banning opening windows?
In some circumstances it may be appropriate to prohibit people from opening windows if there is a real risk of someone falling out; but where this is a concern, the problem could be addressed by fitting controls to limit the extent to which the windows can be opened.
This may be a concern in this case – or it may be that "health and safety" is being used as a cover when the real reason is to do with concerns over the effectiveness of the air conditioning/heating.
"Health and safety" should not be used simply to avoid having a discussion about the real concerns and what solutions might be possible. The working environment needs to be healthy and safe, and this includes the temperature, air flow and so on.
Read more: Temperature and humidity - what are the 'rules'?
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.
Fair Work Ombudsman to examine poultry producer Hazeldene work practices
The office of the Fair Work Ombudsman has confirmed it is looking into recent claims about employment practices at the central Victorian poultry producer Hazeldene's. The National Union of Workers has raised concern that some contract staff are being overworked and underpaid. This was one of the companies covered in the recent ABC Four Corners program. Hazeldene's has denied any wrongdoing. Labor's federal Member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters, planned to raise the issue in Federal Parliament yesterday.
Source: ABC News online
Victorian Government reopens Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry
The Andrews Labor Government this week announced it was reopening the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry to "get to the bottom of community health concerns" following the 2014 fire and to consider rehabilitation at the Latrobe Valley's coal mines.
Minister for Resources, Lily D'Ambrosio, and Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy, joined Inquiry Board Members in the Latrobe Valley on Tuesday to discuss the Inquiry's new Terms of Reference with the community. The Terms Of Reference address concerns of a spike in deaths following the fire, as well as the option of mine rehabilitation at all three coal mines in the Latrobe Valley – Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang. Ms D'Ambrosio said: "The inquiry will help the community move forward, mine rehabilitation will assist in preventing future mine fires. The people of the Valley deserve nothing less."
Read more: Vic Government Media Release
WA: UnionsWA calls for Royal Commission into workplace fatalities
In last week's SafetyNet we reported on the two fatalities at WA mines in just one week. These deaths prompted UnionsWA to call for a Royal Commission to investigate mine and other work deaths in the state. "There are numerous reasons for calling a Royal Commission into work fatalities in WA. First and foremost, work fatalities are rising in WA while they are declining elsewhere in Australia. Further the case for clear, strong work health and safety laws has been continuously delayed by government inaction," said Meredith Hammat, UnionsWA Secretary. "Finally, the circumstances surrounding a recent death at the Birla Nifty Copper mine require an independent investigation as well as highlighting the need for the establishment of an independent mine safety authority."
The WA government is clearly concerned, with mines minster Bill Marmion saying it was disturbing that a second worker had been killed at Newcrest's copper-gold mine at Telfer, so soon after the fatality at the Nifty copper mine. "Industry cannot be complacent. There is always room for improvement," the minister said in Parliament, "and it should not come to an event like this to be reminded." The online Australian Mining revealed on Thursday last week that these two mining deaths were closely linked, with both workers said to be colleagues working as bogger operators for the same mining services company. It is understood that the men worked together as a two-man bogger crew before being separated to work alone. A source said that one of the men was concerned about his safety when told he and his colleague would be split up and expected to work as one-man bogger operator crews.
Source: Australian Mining; UnionsWA Royal Commission needed for work and mine deaths
Reminder: Asbestoswise Annual Appeal
If you have not yet done so, please make a tax deductible donation to the Asbestoswise Annual Appeal. Help this support and advocacy group to continue its good work in both assisting victims of asbestos and their families, and in lobbying government to remove this scourge from our society.
Go to this page to donate
New book: Australia's asbestos reality
A new and very affecting book written by Western Australian mesothelioma sufferer was launched yesterday. Barry Knowles, a builder who left school at 14, has written a very personal account of his 'journey' and his phenomenal memory has enabled him to describe the routine asbestos exposures he experienced during his apprenticeship in great detail.
Read More: Knowles, B. Reflections through Reality. Mesothelioma – My Journey. 2015.
Asbestos curse: Perth mesothelioma sufferer's tale surprises and tugs at heart The Age
ASEA announces 2015 Conference dates
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has announced that as part of the events around the country during National Asbestos Awareness Month in November the Agency will hold the second International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management from the 22 to the 24 of November. The conference will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in South Brisbane. Registration is due to open soon. SafetyNet will keep readers informed.
Corporate Greed: James Hardie profits grow at same time payments to victims under threat
In disturbing news, it was reported last week that James Hardie's contribution to an asbestos victims' fund is expected to fall by a third, even though the company has had a 12 per cent rise in profit. The building materials company, now focused heavily on the US market, reported a $US221.4 million ($281 million) profit for the year to March 31. It will pay shareholders a 27 cent final dividend and 22 cent special dividend, while announcing a new share buyback program.
As a result of a long and hard fought union campaign, the company has an obligation to put up to 35 per cent of its operating cash flow into the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund (AICF), providing payouts to Australian victims of asbestos-related diseases. On July 1, 2014 James Hardie made a $119.9 million payment to the AICF, however this year's payment is likely to be only $US62.8 which, at current exchange rates, would be around $80 million – little more than half of the $154.3 million the AICF actually paid out during the 2014 financial year. The problem, though, is that asbestos claims continue to rise, not fall.
Read more: James Hardie's payment to asbestos fund set to fall even as claims keep rising
ABC News Online
Wittenoom: how could anyone have survived?
A chilling image of a group of miners in the infamous WA town of Wittenoom competing in a contest shovelling blue asbestos raises the question how any workers from the town survived. In fact, of all those in the 1962 photo, only one did not die from an asbestos-related cancer. Several of the men also lost children to asbestos disease. Robert Vojakovic, president of the Asbestos Disease Society, said the competition was a coal mining tradition. 'It's a tradition from coal mining towns which started in Australia. The men would race each other to see who could fill the 40 gallon drum first.' The article in The Daily Mail has a number of other very disturbing photographs, including one of two small children playing in a pit of blue asbestos, completely covered in dust. The mine operators, and others involved in the asbestos trade, were no better than murderers: it has been known for centuries that asbestos kills.
Read more: Chilling image shows group of miners competing in an asbestos shovelling contest The Daily Mail
Italy: Good News for Asbestos Claimants!
The judge who is overseeing preliminary hearings in a new case (Eternit bis) against asbestos billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny has this week rejected requests from the defendant's lawyers to transfer the trial from Turin to Ivrea and to exclude partie civiles (civil parties), including the government, region and province, from the proceedings. These decisions are good news for the 258 asbestos victims and their families on behalf of whom this case has been brought. It is hoped that by the end of June a ruling will be made by Judge Bompieri which will allow the case to proceed.
See: Eternit bis, lo Stato Italiano è parte civile [Eternit bis, Italian State is a civil party]. Source: IBAS News Archive
Also in Italy: Case Proceeds against Olivetti
As a result of preliminary hearings in the asbestos case over the deaths of factory workers, a date for the trial of managers from Olivetti (and its successor Telecom) who stand accused of failing to protect workers' health from the asbestos hazard has been set. The trial will commence on September 23 and finish on October 5, 2015. The standing of the civil parties has been validated; these include the city of Ivrea, the metropolitan area, the victims' association (AFeVA) and trade unions.
Source: IBAS News Archive
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.
Queensland: Mining union says some FIFO camps 'like prisons'
According to the CFMEU (mining) submission to Queensland's parliamentary inquiry, some fly-in, fly-out camps were like prisons. The union believes that mining companies should be forced to pay a tax on beds, and that there should be standards imposed on the food served in the camps, recreational facilities and freedom of movement in the camps. The CFMEU said some workers often felt they were under constant surveillance in the camps.
According to the union FIFO was a factor in suicides – with nine FIFO workers in the Pilbara mines taking their own lives last year. "While some camps have great recreational facilities, decent room sizes and quality food, others feel like prisons, with old buildings, windowless rooms, low quality and repetitive food and a lack of recreation facilities," its submission said.
Read more: The Courier Mail
Queensland: union safety concerns at Sun Metals
As the union representing workers at Sun Metals zinc refinery, the Australian Workers' Union says it holds great concerns for safety at the refinery following the death of a Townsville father. The 41 year old worker was killed at the site on May 16 after being trapped under a hydraulic arm. AWU Queensland district secretary Cowboy Stockham said the fatality occurred less than 12 months after another worker was seriously injured in a crushing incident at the site. "Less than 12 months ago we saw a near-fatal incident at this site and in the last week a worker has been killed – this is not good enough," he said. "The union is concerned about workplace health and safety. When you see serious incidents happening regularly, one a fatality, it throws up a flag. We need to have a look at the procedures and processes. We don't want this sort of thing to happen again."
Read more: Union says it holds 'great concerns' for safety at Sun Metals refinery Townsville Bulletin
Queensland: two more fatalities
A man died in a workplace accident south of Brisbane last Friday morning. Paramedics were called to a worksite at Tanah Merah just before 10:30am, with reports a man was trapped under an excavator. The man, aged in his 50s, was declared dead at the scene. Workplace Health and Safety is investigating.
The second fatality occurred this Monday on a private property in Toogoolawah, Brisbane Valley. A young worker, alone at the time, was killed by the bucket of a bobcat when it fell once pressure in the hydraulics was released in order to repair the brakes.
Sources: ABC News online; WHS Queensland Alerts Read more: Working Alone – is it legal, is it safe? and Young workers
Inquest into foreign seafarers' deaths
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) hopes a NSW coronial inquest into the deaths of two foreign seafarers in Australian waters will increase accountability in the industry. The Filipino crew on board the coal carrier, Sage Sagittarius, died in suspicious circumstances in 2012 during the ship's six-week trip from Japan to Newcastle. Union officials and company representatives will front the inquiry.
Dean Summers, from the ITF, said the flag of convenience system, where ships are registered in foreign countries, makes workers vulnerable. "We hope that the coroner will be able to shine some light onto the flag of convenience system," he said. "A system that we will maintain creates an environment of fear and intimidation."
Another Panamanian registered ship, K Pride, is the focus of a current investigation after a Korean seafarer fell overboard two weeks ago. It is currently docked in Newcastle as police interview its crew.
Source: ABC News online
International Union News
Cambodia: garment industry is a health hazard for workers
The garment and textile industry has expanded greatly in Cambodia in the last decade based on cheap wages and low overheads. Over the last couple of years, garment workers have fought back strongly, organising mass demonstrations and strikes against repression and starvation wages. A recent report by Human Rights Watch has catalogued many of the widespread labour rights abuses that garment factories owners are guilty of, with the collusion of the Cambodian government. Last week several workers were hospitalised when they collapsed after being exposed to a toxic substance. On top of all these issues, garment workers also face inadequate transport options, with almost 20 workers being killed in a traffic accident last week.
The ITUC and Global Union Federations have attacked Cambodian Government plans to further reduce its weak labour protections. A series of new measures, being developed behind the scenes by the government, would further restrict rights for the country's impoverished workforce by excluding large segments of the workforce from labour law protection, setting unreasonably high membership thresholds for union registration, giving government sweeping powers to suspend unions, undermining collective bargaining rights and allowing government officials to ban strikes or lock-outs without proper recourse to the courts. Major international clients of Cambodia's garment industry have also been calling for the country's labour laws to be brought up to international standards.
Cambodia is also believed to be preparing to export a first batch of workers to Qatar, following a 2011 agreement between the two countries. A Cambodia-based recruitment agency has confirmed that the authorities have now issued it a permit to send workers to Qatar, where the "kafala" system enslaves workers to their employers and where unions are banned for foreign workers. At least one migrant worker dies each day in Qatar.
Read more: Work faster or get out Human Rights Watch; Unions urge safer communities The Phnom Penh Post; ITUC News Source: AAWL Mini News
Qatar: BBC reporters arrested for reporting on migrant workers' conditions
BBC reporter Mark Lobel and a team of fellow BBC journalists were monitored, arrested and detained in Qatar while investigating the experiences of migrant labourers who are building accommodations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Lobel writes: "Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International's Gulf migrant rights researcher, told us the detentions of journalists and activists could be attempts 'to intimidate those who seek to expose labour abuse in Qatar.' Qatar, the world's richest country for its population size of little more than two million people, is pouring money into trying to improve its reputation for allowing poor living standards for low-skilled workers to persist." An article published late last year in the Guardian reported that Nepalese migrant workers building World Cup infrastructure in Qatar died at a rate of one every two days in 2014.
Unions have said that top global companies must pressure FIFA to act on the deadly and exploitative working conditions at the 2022 World Cup building sites in Qatar. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) leader Sharan Burrow said the work conditions were "simply slavery". She said the 600,000 migrant workers are also housed typically in "squalid and unsafe conditions".
Send an email to FIFA sponsors asking them to tell Qatar to play fair on workers' human rights. Read more: Death toll among Qatar's 2022 World Cup workers revealed The Guardian; Arrested for reporting on Qatar's World Cup labourers BBC News
FIFA officials arrested in Switzerland
According to media reports, several top FIFA officials have been arrested on corruption charges in an early-morning police operation in Zurich. The charges stem from a joint investigation by the FBI and US tax authorities that has been ongoing since at least 2011, according to the New York Times. The charges allege widespread corruption in organisation over the past two decades, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals. The charges include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
In November last year, Fifa's ethics committee closed its investigation into the controversial bidding process in which Qatar was named host for the 2022 World Cup, ruling that any breaches of the rules were only of "very limited scope". The choice of Qatar was hugely controversial, with many allegations about the way it won the bid; concerns about the extreme heat, and the treatment of migrant workers building the necessary infrastructure. The human toll so far has been shocking.
Today delegates at the ACTU Congress passed a resolution in support of construction workers in Qatar. Dave Noonan, CFMEU Construction & General National Secretary, said 'the beautiful game is built on
the blood, sweat and tears of exploited migrant workers.' Congress delegates gave FIFA a 'red
card' to protest corruption and exploitation.
Read more: Fifa officials arrested on corruption charges – reports The Guardian; FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Face Extradition to U.S. The New York Times; The human toll of FIFA's corruption The Washington Post
WorkSafe Victoria Awards now open
You have until June 26 to nominate your elected health and safety rep, or your OHS Committee for a WorkSafe Victoria Award. If you're thinking about it, just do it. The awards are now in their 27th year, and one of the few opportunities to show appreciation for those who are passionate about health and safety – even if the nominated person doesn't make the finals, it's good for them to know they are appreciated.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Vic government establishes the Carol Friday Excellence Scholarship
At the 2015 Victorian Maternal and Child Health Conference the Minister for Families and Children, Jenny Mikakos, announced the establishment of a nursing scholarship in the name of Carol Friday, the dedicated Victorian maternal and child health nurse who was killed on the Germanwings flight 4U 9525. Ms Friday was highly regarded for her work to improve conditions and practices for all Victorian maternal and child health nurses. Her colleagues remember her deep commitment to supporting the community's most vulnerable. This year's conference was dedicated to addressing the issue of family violence.
Read more: Government Media release
Safe Work Australia
As of 26 May, 65 fatalities have been reported to Safe Work – that is nine more in than the last update on 12 May. Nine more families have lost someone in a workplace related tragedy in two weeks. The fatalities have been in the following industries:
- 18 the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 13 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- nine in Construction;
- eight in Mining;
- four each in Arts & Recreation services; and Manufacturing; and
- three each in Administrative & support services; Electricity, gas, water & waste services; and 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 remains that for February 2015, which can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
SWA releases Key Work Health and Safety Statistics, Australia, 2015
Safe Work Australia has released a 29 page booklet which provides the most recent key statistics on work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities of workers in Australia. There were 196 Work-related injury fatalities in the year 2013. In the 2012-13 period there were 117,815 'serious' workers' compensation claims. In 2013-14, the number of injuries and diseases reported in the Work-Related Injury survey totalled 531,800.
As well as the general stats, the booklet has information on each jurisdiction, industry, the nature or injury or disease, age group, and more.
Read more: Key Work Health and Safety Statistics, Australia, 2015
Victoria: Sub-contractor fined for role in Carlton wall collapse
Sub-contracted sign installer Jonathon Westmoreland was last week found guilty and fined $7,500 for his role in the collapse of a brick wall in Carlton in March 2013 that killed three people. The court ruled that he could have ensured that a building permit was in place before erecting a sign on the brick wall of a construction site. Pleading not guilty, he told the court he was just a labourer and believed the appropriate permits had been obtained before he did the work. His defence counsel argued the responsibility for applying for a permit lay with the developer, Grocon. WorkSafe gave evidence it took the watchdog 18 months to unpick who was in control at the site.
Read more: ABC News online
There hasn't been an update on the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage for some time - but it's worth keeping an eye on it.
Comcare/WA: Transpacific* gets record fine
A record fine of $363,000 has been imposed on waste management company Transpacific Industries over a fatal collision involving one of its trucks in Perth. The company was prosecuted by Comcare in the Federal Court which found Transpacific breached occupational health and safety laws by failing to carry out proper brake maintenance on a garbage truck that hit a car in the Swan Valley in February 2011. The truck collided with a van, and then drifted into traffic hitting a car, and killing the 71-year-old woman driver. The driver of the Transpacific truck had applied the brakes, but the front brakes did not work.
Investigations revealed systematic failures in Transpacific's maintenance practices. Justice Michael Barker found Transpacific had breached the Occupational Health and Safety Act four times by failing to carry out adequate maintenance on the truck's brakes. The fine is the largest penalty imposed as a result of a court proceeding brought by Comcare.
Source: ABC News Online
* APOLOGY: SafetyNet unreservedly apologises for erroneously naming "Transfield" in the heading in the edition that was sent to subscribers. The company fined was Transpacific Industries.
China: A Short Film Shows the True Cost of Gold
In the alpine area in central China there are hundreds - perhaps thousands - of men too sick to breathe normally. These men were once farmers, but in the late 1990s they left en masse to work in gold mines, contributing to China's economic boom. Years later, they came back with the lung disease silicosis, and now wait in their homes for death. This is the unseen cost of gold mining in China - the world's top gold producer. In China, silicosis is considered a form of pneumoconiosis, which affects an estimated six million workers who work in gold, coal, or silver mines or in stone-cutting factories. It's the country's most prevalent occupational disease.
In a moving feature article in the National Geographic, author Sim Chi Yin, tells the story of one such worker He Quangui, who has been struggling with silicosis for over ten years, surviving much longer than most.
The author says: "What the statistics can't
capture are the miners' slow deaths. The men waste away, their lungs
gradually scarring or becoming hardened from the dust they breathed
years earlier. The disease is irreversible - a lung transplant is the
only known cure -but is preventable with protective gear and ventilation
while drilling. Mr. He says the type of mines he worked in lacked such
Read more and watch the film: Dying to Breathe Read more on Silica
US: DuPont fined after four workers gassed to death in
Chemical manufacturer EI DuPont De Nemours and Co was last week fined after four workers died from exposure to gas in a building with a broken ventilation fan at its Texas facility in November 2014. The fine is no more than a light slap on the wrist for the multinational, totalling just $US99,000 ($A125,300), including a $35,000 component for a repeat offence.
A worker opening a drain on a methyl mercaptan vent line was overcome by gas unexpectedly escaping from the line. Three workers who went to assist her were also overcome. None of them were wearing respirators: all four died. "Four people lost their lives and their families lost loved ones because DuPont did not have proper safety procedures in place," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "Had the company assessed the dangers involved, or trained their employees on what to do if the ventilation system stopped working, they might have had a chance."
Pont was charged with 11 safety violations, including failing to
implement safe work practices for controlling hazards (eg when entering
confined spaces, or performing lock-out-tag-out work) and failing to
train employees to recognise respiratory hazards during routine tasks.
The action taken by OSHA is seen as a failure by many. Former OSHA
official and workplace safety expert, Celeste Monforton, said "There's
no excuse for a chemical company with DuPont's resources to have such
gross and repeated failures in how it manages it chemical processes and
prepares for emergencies."
Read more: OSHA cites DuPont for violations in quadruple fatality accident The Chronicle; With DuPont, OSHA's tough talk falls faint The Chronicle Opinion