SafetyNet 326, June 18, 2015
Today the Fair Work Ombudsman released a scathing report on the working conditions of young workers in the chicken processing industry – exploitation brought to light by the workers, unions and the media. This highlights the importance of workers knowing their rights and having organisations that can speak up for them. In addition – lots more news from all over which should interest health and safety reps and even employers. Please distribute the journal, use it for your own purposes, and let us know if you find it useful. If you have any comments, please send them in to Renata email@example.com – questions welcomed too. Our usual reminder to please follow us on Twitter: @OHSreps
Report confirms union/worker complaints of exploitation in chicken processing
The Fair Work Ombudsman today released a report from an Inquiry launched in November, 2013, following complaints from plant workers that they were being underpaid, forced to work extremely long hours and required to pay high rents for overcrowded and unsafe accommodation. Similar allegations were also made by the Australian Meat Industry Employees' Union, local community groups and a report on ABC television's Lateline program.
The report confirmed that workers are being forced to work up to 18 hours a day for as little as $11.50 per hour, and live in over-crowded slum accommodation. Many of these workers are being directly recruited in countries such as China and Taiwan. At the top of the supply chain is giant company Baiada which uses contractors at arm's length to benefit from slave labour conditions imposed on meat processing workers and then supplies the Lilydale Select and Steggles brands for Woolworths, Coles, IGA, Aldi, McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Red Rooster, Nando's and Subway.
The report is scathing of the company: "Baiada refused permission for Fair Work inspectors working on this Inquiry to access the factory floor at its worksites, denying them an opportunity to observe work practices, as well as talk to employees about conditions, policies and procedures. Baiada also failed to provide the Inquiry with any "significant or meaningful" documentation on the nature and terms of its labour contract arrangements."
In addition, Baiada's labour-hire contractors were unwilling to engage with the Inquiry and produced inadequate, inaccurate and/or fabricated records to Inspectors. Actions the Fair Work Ombudsman will take include enforcement action against parties, including any accounting and legal professionals found to be assisting businesses to provide false and/or misleading records to Fair Work inspectors, and enlisting major buyers of processed chicken including Coles, Woolworths, KFC and Aldi to help promote more ethical supply chains.
Read more: Statement of Findings Baiada Group Fair Work Ombudsman Media Release; Chicken plant workers exploited: watchdog scathing of Baiada Sydney Morning Herald
BIG unions criticise prosecution of individual
The Victorian Building Industry Group of Unions (BIG) this week warned that the conviction of an individual over the Swanston Street wall collapse that killed three pedestrians in 2013, has set a precedent for major employers to walk away from safety and permit breaches, and would have ramifications for the entire construction industry.
The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) has defended its decision to prosecute Jonathon Westmoreland, trading as Paramount Signs. Westmorland was fined $7500 after the Magistrates Court found he breached the Victorian Building Act in installing signage on the Melbourne wall before a building permit had been issued for the job – though he did not deliberately avoid his responsibilities, he should have determined whether the permit was in place. At the time of the triple fatality, construction giant Grocon had contracted Aussie Signs Pty Ltd to install hoarding and signs on the brick wall bordering its Swanston Street construction site, and Westmoreland was ultimately subcontracted to perform the task.
The BIG said the VBA had effectively determined that individual workers were "solely liable" for ensuring compliance with building permits issued to employers or contractors, and pursued the prosecution "without regard for the nature of the industry". BIG chair Brian Boyd said, "They have ignored the commonly held understanding that the
responsibility for building permits lies with the principal contractor,
occupier or owner of the site."
Read more: BIG Media Release
Are there any rules, guidelines or standards that deal with flammability of uniforms for staff working near potential sources of ignition (eg welders)?
There are no specific regulations in OHS – however, like much other clothing and equipment designed to protect workers in workplaces, there is an Australian/NZ Standard. These Standards are not law per se, but they are often either called up in regulations, or referred to in Codes of Practice/Compliance Codes, and therefore, there is a very real obligation for employers to comply with them.
The standard that is relevant in this case is AS/NZS ISO 2801:2008 Clothing for protection against heat and flame - General recommendations for selection, care and use of protective clothing.
The introduction of the standard states: "The information in this Technical Report has been produced to assist employers (or people who advise employers) in making the necessary decisions regarding the selection, use, care and maintenance of protective clothing, for employees exposed to risks related to heat and flame (e.g. welding, firefighting). See more on Personal Protective Equipment and Clothing
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.
ACTU: Injured workers worse off under Senate Comcare recommendations
A Senate committee has recommended passing legislation which Australia's peak union council says will leave nearly 400,000 workers covered under Comcare, the national workers' compensation scheme, with inadequate cover if they are injured or ill at work.
Unions are disappointed the Senate committee examining the Abbott Government's Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Comcare) Bill has recommended changes that will leave ordinary workers worse off. The Bill will restrict eligibility for accessing compensation and rehabilitation services, reduce or cut compensation payments and make it harder for injured workers to appeal unfair decisions.
This will result in lower Occupational Health and Safety standards and will severely disadvantage injured or ill workers and will shift the costs of workplace injuries or illnesses from employers to workers. ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick said, "The Abbott Government continues to attack workers by absolving big business' responsibility and placing the burden on injured or ill workers."
Read more: ACTU Media Release
Have you donated to the Asbestoswise Annual Appeal
Asbsestoswise would like to thank everyone who has already made a tax deductible donation to its Annual Appeal – and those who haven't yet got around to it but intend to. Please donate – every donation over $2 is a tax deduction to a good cause. 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
Australian mesothelioma treatment breakthrough
Australian researchers have used nanocells to achieve potentially the most significant breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatment in a decade. Scientists have published a case report of a patient whose mesothelioma has almost entirely disappeared. The man is one of ten patients in a phase-one clinical trial of a new treatment using microRNA - very small genes - to inhibit tumour growth. The genes were transported to the mesothelioma in his right lung using Australian-designed nanocells. While the researchers are cautiously optimistic, they emphasised this one patient was the only one to respond so well to the treatment. The other nine patients in the trial have either remained stable or continued to decline. They do not know how long the treatment will work or if it will work in others.
The ground-breaking research was conducted at the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute at the Bernie Banton Centre. Before his death in 2007, Bernie Banton campaigned vigorously for the rights of those who suffered, like himself, from asbestos-related diseases. The research facility on the Concord Hospital Campus was named in Mr Banton's honour in 2009.
Read more: Asbestos-related cancer treatment breakthrough leaves Australian researchers optimistic ABC News Online
UK builder jailed for 26 weeks for exposing workers to asbestos
A UK builder has been jailed for exposing workers to asbestos while working at a commercial unit in an industrial estate. Brian Roberts and three men working with him, were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos fibres while working in the unit around 11 September 2012.
Roberts had been employed by the owner of the premises to remove asbestos from the building prior to sale. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was alerted to the unlicensed work by a contractor who was licensed to remove asbestos. Roberts removed a significant quantity of asbestos insulating board (AIB) from the premises despite not holding a licence to work with such material. He pleaded guilty to breaching the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, and was given a custodial sentence of 26 weeks.
Read more: HSE News
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.
International Union News
World's TEN worst places to be a worker
As the Abbott Government edges closer to signing a bilateral free trade agreement with China, that country has entrenched its position on a global index of the worst places for workers' rights. The annual survey by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has found that fundamental workplace rights are at critical levels in many parts of the world, with employers continuing to undermine labour market institutions and millions of people falling into precarious work.
China is listed as one of the 10 worst countries in the world for workers, alongside Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland and the United Arab Emirates.
Read more: The 10 worst places to be a worker Working Life; ITUC Global Rights Index names world's ten worst countries for workers ITUC Media Release (The report, the Index and Infographics can be downloaded from this page).
Mothers' exposure to endocrine disruptors linked to genetic defect
Mothers exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals at home or in jobs such as cleaners, hairdressers and laboratory workers during pregnancy are more likely to have baby boys with a genital defect, according to a new French study.
The study adds to mounting evidence that foetal exposure to chemicals that mimic people's natural hormones may cause hypospadias, a condition where the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the p*nis rather than at the tip. The researchers examined more than 600 children in the south of France and found that babies exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals while their genitals were developing were more likely to suffer from hypospadias. Half the boys had hypospadias and half did not. The risk for those exposed was 68 percent higher than the unexposed boys.
Read more: Genital defect in baby boys linked to moms' chemical exposure Environmental Health News; Source: Nicolas Kalfa, et al. Is Hypospadias Associated with Prenatal Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors? A French Collaborative Controlled Study of a Cohort of 300 Consecutive Children Without Genetic Defects [Abstract] in European Urology doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2015.05.008
FIFO workers depression link
New research has found that fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers suffer from depression at more than twice the rate of the general Australian population. Researchers from Edith Cowan University surveyed 629 Western Australian FIFO workers and found that 28 per cent exhibited significant signs of depression, compared to just 13 per cent of the general population.
FIFO workers also exhibited higher rates of stress and anxiety than the general population and non-FIFO mining workers who live in remote and rural areas. The study also identified certain groups within the FIFO sector that were particularly at risk of depression – for example younger aged between 18 and 29 were twice as likely to suffer from depression as their older colleagues. However, workers with a university degree were half as likely to experience depression. Lead researcher Philippa Vojnovic from ECU's School of Business said this highlighted the need for robust support systems to be in place at FIFO workplaces.
From a union point of view, however, the fault lies with the FIFO set up, which separates workers from their family and friends, and forces them to live in the FIFO community near the mine isolated even from nearby towns. While 'robust support systems' would provide assistance, these are the equivalent of providing PPE to workers exposed to toxic substances.
Read more: FIFO Depression Link Edith Cowan University
Minister announces new Chief Executive of WorkSafe
On Friday last week Minister for Finance, Robin Scott, announced the appointment of Clare Amies as the new Chief Executive of WorkSafe Victoria. Ms Amies has been acting in the role for since March of this year. Following a comprehensive and competitive recruitment process, Ms Amies was selected as the preferred candidate by an independent selection panel. Ms Amies joined WorkSafe in 2009 and has held a number of senior leadership roles, most recently as Executive Director – Insurance, with responsibility for workers compensation, return to work, premium, and self-insurance operations. Minister Scott said, "Ms Amies brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience, a crucial understanding of WorkSafe and a collaborative leadership style which makes her the best candidate for the role." The VTHC congratulates Ms Amies on her appointment and looks forward to a positive and continuing relationship with WorkSafe.
Read more: Ministerial Media Release
The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox the VTHC received was June 12. In this edition, Steve Darnley from the WorkSafe Construction Practices Unit has an item on the danger of carbon monoxide on construction sites. This is because in the list of notifiable incidents in an earlier edition of Safety Soapbox, one incident involved a number of workers overcome by carbon monoxide, when a petrol driven cutting saw was used inside a room with little ventilation. This incident is a reminder to industry of the dangers of carbon monoxide. There are also a number of other items from both Victoria and around Australia.
The list of Reported Incidents in the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries from May 21 – June 4 is attached to the bulletin. There were at total of 45 incidents reported, including 14 near misses, 12 lacerations, five punctures, three electric shocks, three fractures, two falls from height and one amputation. As usual, several of the near misses could have had fatal consequences – for example a worker falling three metres.
Access the June 12 Safety Soapbox edition online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Last chance to nominate for the WorkSafe Victoria Awards
Come on subscribers – nominate your HSR and/or OHS committee now for a 2015 WorkSafe Award. What's stopping you? You've only got until June 26 and the process isn't difficult.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Safe Work Australia
As at June 11, 67 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work. – this is only two more fatalities since the last update of May 26. The fatalities have been in the following industries:
- 20 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 15 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
New Job advertised
The Australian Government has advertised the CEO position at Safe Work Australia (SWA). The agency leads the development of national policy to improve work health and safety and workers' compensation arrangements across Australia. Membership of SWA comprises representatives of the federal, state and territory governments, ACTU and employer bodies. The closing date for applications is June 29.
Read more: APSJobs
1 – Company fined for failing to provide safe system of work
In October 2013 Total Homes (Vic) Pty Ltd was developing/constructing townhouses in Donvale. The multistorey construction required the removal of a tree. A worker using a chainsaw to while standing in the raised excavator bucket was observed cutting down the tree. The person was not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as protective clothing, eye, ear or head protection. There was also no harness or other fall arrest/fall restraint device in use. The company pleaded guilty to breaching the OHS Act by failing to provide a safe work method statement (SWMS) for tree felling and ensuring it was followed. The company was fined $5,000 without conviction, plus costs of $3,317 in the Ringwood Magistrates Court.
2 – Company prosecuted and fined for plant failures causing amputation
On 22 May 2014, Denpak Pty Ltd employees were cleaning spice packaging plant which contained a rotating auger, encased in a tube, at the bottom of which was an inspection port guarded with a removable, interlocked cover plate. During cleaning, the cover plate was removed, the interlock was bypassed using cellophane tape or by holding the magnetic switch against the tube and the auger was energised, so that excess spice would fall out. While cleaning an employee's hand became entangled with the auger causing amputation and partial amputation injuries to his fingers. Denpak pleaded guilty to breaching sections 21 of the OHS Act 2004 for failing to provide and maintain safe plant and systems of work. The company also failed to take reasonably practicable measures to eliminate the risk of the unguarded, rotating auger including a failure to implement a tag-out/lock-out procedure on the auger during cleaning, a failure to install a permanently fixed metal grill over the inspection port that would restrict access to the auger and a failure to ensure that the interlock on the cover plate was not bypassed. On 16 June 2015, the Broadmeadows Magistrates' Court fined the company $23,000 without conviction, plus pay costs of $3,317.
SA: Truck company boss accused of manslaughter
Peter Francis Colbert, owner of a trucking company, is this week being tried in the Adelaide Supreme Court for the manslaughter of a driver killed in one of the firm's trucks. He is accused of failing to maintain a truck which crashed into a pole in March last year, but has denied responsibility for the death.
He has also pleaded not guilty to endangering the life of a second driver who, a few days earlier, managed to avoid a crash when the brakes failed on the same truck. The court heard that Colbert had been warned several times about brake problems on the 1994 Mitsubishi truck, but had ignored the warnings. The 45 year old driver, who had only been employed by Colbert Transport for about 10 days before the fatal crash, managed to avoid banked-up cars before slamming the truck into a pole.
Read more: Trucking company boss Peter Colbert ignored warnings about brake failure that led to driver's death, court hears ABC News Online
UK: Recycling company fined £50,000 for death of worker
In a case not dissimilar to a recent Australian fatality, a UK recycling company has been sentenced for serious safety breaches after a worker was killed after it appears he was thrown from a six-tonne dumper truck. The 30 year old was found lying on his back on a bank, a few metres behind the overturned dumper, on a sloping dirt track at Dittisham Recycling Centre on 21 September 2012. The worker had not been properly trained by his employer to use the vehicle, and the company had also failed to properly enforce the wearing of seat belts fitted to the dumpers.
HSE's subsequent investigation uncovered a catalogue of dangers at the Dittisham Recycling site and served a total of eight Prohibition Notices on the company preventing its use of various plant and machinery until adequate safety measures were taken. Having taken into account the current financial circumstances of the defendant Company, the Judge the company to pay a fine of £50,000 (AUD100,530) plus £25,000 (AUD 50,260) towards the prosecution costs (payable over 5 years). An inspector said after the case that this young man's death was 'entirely preventable.'
Read more: Death of young worker leads to court for recycling company HSE Media Release
India: Most e-waste workers suffer breathing problems
Over three quarters (76 per cent) of electronic waste workers in India suffer from respiratory ailments including breathing difficulties, irritation, coughing and choking due to improper safeguards at dismantling workshops, an industry study has found. Research by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) found many of the affected workers are children and become incapable of working by the time they are 40 years old. According to the trade body: "For the recycling of e-waste, India heavily depends on the unorganised sector as only a handful of organised e-waste recycling facilities are available. Over 95 per cent of the e-waste is treated and processed in the majority of urban slums of the country, where untrained workers carry out the dangerous procedures without personal protective equipment, which are detrimental not only to their health but also to the environment." Assocham says "of the total e-waste generated in India, approximately 1.5 per cent is recycled by formal recyclers or institutional processing and recycling. Another 8.0 per cent of the e-waste generated is rendered useless and goes to landfills. The remaining 90.5 percent of the e-waste is being handled by the informal sector." It says despite stringent laws regulating the e-waste trade "destitute children still face hazards picking apart old computers, TV etc. The chamber has also strongly advocated the need to bring out effective legislation to prevent entry of child labour into its collection, segregation and distribution."
Read more: Assocham news release. The Hindu.Source: Risks 706
France: Roundup herbicide banned
French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal announced Sunday a ban on the sale of popular weedkiller Roundup from garden centres, the active ingredient of which, glyphosate, was classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans" by the UN's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in March. "France must be on the offensive with regards to the banning of pesticides," Royal said on French television.
Read more: France bans sale of Monsanto herbicide Roundup in nurseries AFP