SafetyNet 328, July 2, 2015
It has been a tragic week – two Victorian workers were killed in the past three days. Every workplace death is preventable.
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Tragedy in Victoria: two fatalities this week
In the first fatality a man was crushed under trailer at a factory in Pakenham on Monday afternoon. It appears the man was preparing to help unload an industrial oven from a trailer when it fell on him. He suffered crush injuries and died at the scene.
Source: WorkSafe Media Release
The second fatality was of a young trackwork rider at Caulfield racecourse on Wednesday morning. The German-born 25 year old woman, who worked for Byron Cozamanis Racing, passed away from injuries sustained in an incident when riding a horse on the sand track. She was attended to by emergency services but passed away on arrival at the Alfred Hospital.
The MRC is assisting Victoria Police and WorkSafe with their investigations into the fatal incident. This is the second fatality at Caulfield trackwork this year. Another young woman, who worked for Aquanita Racing, passed away in January after suffering serious head injuries. These deaths takes the number of confirmed workplace fatalities in
Victoria this year to eight, compared to 10 at the same time last year.
Is it law to wear high visibility clothing in a warehouse where there are forklifts operating?
There is nothing specifically in the LAW – but this is because the OHS legislation is not specific on most matter, placing instead what are known as 'general duties of care' on various 'duty holders'.
Under the OHS Act, the employer's duty of care is to provide and maintain for employees, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing safe systems of work and ensuring the safe use, handling, storage and transport of plant.
In order to comply with this, most workplaces will have systems, procedures, rules, and so on and it's the employer who has the legal duty to develop and implement these – in consultation with affected employees and their elected HSRs. Consequently, a workplace a policy whereby workers must wear reflective gear where there are moving vehicles – like in a warehouse, etc – is reasonably part of what an employer would need to have in place.
Workers also have a duty of care, including to "co-operate with his or her employer with respect to any action taken by the employer to comply with a requirement imposed by or under this Act or the regulations." This means workers must comply with systems and procedures the employer has implemented, including the requirement to wear high visibility 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.
Free trade side deal axing skills testing for Chinese electricians puts lives at risk
The Electrical Trades Union and other unions in the construction sector have warned that an agreement to immediately remove current requirements for Chinese electricians to undergo a skills assessment before being approved for a work visa - reached a fortnight ago by Trade Minister Andrew Robb - is reckless, dangerous, and will lead to lives being lost. This 'side agreement' to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was only revealed late last week when some of the documents were released.
The aim of removing the requirement for mandatory skills assessments for ten occupations, including electricians, is to reduce, or eliminate entirely, the requirement for Chinese workers in other occupations to undergo skills assessments before receiving temporary work visas within the next five years. Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks described the agreement, reached without industry or community consultation, as 'a dangerous policy that will lead to electrocution deaths, house fires, and other safety problems'.
Read more: ETU Media Release
Occupational Violence Taskforce established
Last Thursday, at the first day of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Vic Branch) annual Delegates Conference, Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy announced the establishment of an Occupational Violence Taskforce to identify issues and recommend reforms to reduce violence in Victorian hospitals. The Taskforce is to be chaired by Clare Amies, the new Chief Executive of Worksafe and former Chief Executive Officer of Western Region Health Centre. Members will include representatives from the ANM , the Australian Medical Association, health services, the Victorian Managed Insurance Agency, and the Health and Community Services Union.
The Taskforce was created following both the release of the ANMF (Vic Branch) 10-Point Plan to reduce occupational violence and aggression (OVA) and two damning reports from the Victorian Auditor-General John Doyle that found healthcare workers were at increased risk of violence and that employers were not doing enough to keep them safe.
ANMF (Vic Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said, 'The Andrews State Government also shows a refreshing commitment to its pre-election pledges by the creation of this important taskforce. 'We look forward to working with all the parties involved.'
Read more: Premier's Media Release Working Together To Make Our Hospitals Safer and ANMF Media Release ANMF (Vic Branch) welcomes Occupational Violence Taskforce
The plight of Australia's casuals
Up to 40 per cent of workers in Australia are employed as casuals, subcontractors or in fixed-term contracts. In this excellent article in The Overlander Ava Hubble revisits the findings of the ACTU's 2011 Inquiry, concluding that very little has changed for these workers – for some, in fact, things have got worse. The article discusses the recent revelations on the exploitation of workers on 457 visas, young workers on holiday visas and the rise of unpaid 'internships'. In answer to the question: "So what's to be done?" the author responds:
"All workers should join a union. Unions have been denigrated for decades by employers' organisations, conservative politicians and the media. The result has been an ongoing loss of working conditions." She adds, however, that we can't just leave it to unions – it's up to all of us to contact our politicians and the media to demand workplace change.
Read more: The plight of Australia's casuals The Overlander
Defence staff exposed to toxic jet fuel
Current and former Defence Force personnel have called for an inquiry into whether thousands of servicemen and women have suffered serious illnesses due to exposure to toxic jet fuel. Some of those calling for the inquiry claim that Defence has been aware for many years of the dangers of fuel exposure, but did not enforce the workplace precautions necessary to protect personnel. Defence has made ex-gratia compensation payments to personnel who worked on a particular project and suffered from depression, skin complaints, gastro-intestinal problems, erectile dysfunction and an increased risk of cancer. It has said that those who worked on the project were exposed to a unique mixture of chemicals, including the solvent and a sealant. Those calling for an inquiry want a study to be expanded to include servicemen and women who worked with fuel as a Defence study has revealed that this is more toxic than the solvent and sealant. The fuel contains benzene, a carcinogen, and other toxic substances. Personnel would use the fuel for a number of purposes, including to clean parts and tools.
Read more: RAAF jet fuel: Defence personnel call for inquiry after reporting wide range of serious illnesses ABC News online; Defense was warned about potential risks of jet fuel more than thirty years ago (YouTube) ABC 7.30, June 30, 2015
ACT: The extent of the Mr Fluffy contamination
The Canberra Times this week clearly sets out the extent of the Mr Fluffy contamination in our capital's homes: the number of homes affected and the worst hit suburbs. The release of the list of 1022 affected homes is expected to spark a new flood of concern, engulfing a wider group of residents who will learn whether they have rented, owned, worked on or in a Mr Fluffy house, potentially exposing themselves to pure asbestos fibres. The asbestos taskforce estimates 30,000 people may have lived in the homes. While fibres have been found in the living areas of most Mr Fluffy homes, the biggest contamination is in the ceilings, walls and subfloors. If these homes are to be demolished, as expected, it will lead to a transformation of many Canberra streets.
Read more: Canberra's Mr Fluffy houses: list of asbestos-affected homes The Canberra Times
NSW: Govt sets aside $250m for Mr Fluffy homes
The government in NSW has announced that will set aside up to $250m (some reports $280m) for a voluntary home buyback scheme that could end up with more than 500 houses demolished in locations such as Queanbeyan, Yass, Bungendore, Lithgow and even Manly. Houses in several parts of NSW and Canberra were pumped full of loose-fill asbestos roof insulation in the 1960s and 1970s by the Mr Fluffy company. While more than 1,000 homes in the ACT were cleaned in the late 1980s and early 1990s and are now part of a $1 billion demolition program, residents in NSW received little to no help until recently. Authorities still do not know how many Mr Fluffy homes are in NSW. Only 66 have been found in the state, most in Queanbeyan. But according to a study commissioned by the Government, there could be over 500 properties across 26 local council areas where the material may have been installed.
Read more: NSW sets aside up to $250 million to buy back houses contaminated with asbestos ABC News online
ASEA: 2nd International Asbestos Conference registration now open
Early Bird registration is now open for the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) second International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management, which will be held during National Asbestos Awareness Month, from the 22 to the 24 of November. The conference will this year be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in South Brisbane. While the conference fees are high for 'commercial' organisations, there is a reduced fee ($350 early bird for both days) for community organisations.
Please go to the ASEA Conference page for more information and to register.
UK: Teachers say their classrooms gave them cancer
Teachers must be protected from the "scourge of asbestos" in UK schools, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has said. A report on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme last week noted that between 2003 and 2012, 224 people in Britain whose last occupation was recorded as "teaching professional" died of the mesothelioma. The union says asbestos is a problem in schools nationwide. A 2013 study from the independent Committee on Carcinogenicity estimated more than 75 per cent of schools in England had buildings containing asbestos. The NUT puts the UK-wide figure at 86 per cent, based on a Freedom of Information request to local authorities. And an online survey this year by the union - based on 201 responses - suggested 44 per cent of teachers had not been told whether their school contained the substance. NUT general secretary Christine Blower told the BBC the government had no "long-term strategy" and there was "still no [government] recognition that asbestos is a serious problem for schools."
Find out more: BBC News Online and Victoria Derbyshire programme. Source: Risks 708
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.
International Union News
New Edition of the ETUI HesaMag
The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) produces a great Health and Safety at Work magazine: HesaMag. The (European) Spring/Summer edition has just come out - there is a Special Report on Nursing, and features articles on work-related cancers, deregulation, a call for a coalition between scientists and workers to work on occupational illnesses, and an article on Bhopal. The magazine is free to subscibe to (in hard copy) or articles can be downloaded online.
ETUI HesaMag #11
ITUC comments on 10 worst countries for violation of workers rights
Writing in theHuffington Post, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation Sharan Burrow comments on the ten worst countries according to this year's Global Rights Index. Released earlier last month (seeSafetyNet 326). Ms Burrow says the 'usual suspects' are in the top ten, but that in a worrying new trend, it has been European workers who have endured the sharpest decline in their workplace standards in the past 12 months due to the brutal austerity measures across the EU.
Read more: Top 10 Worst Countries for Workers' Rights: The Ranking No Country Should Want The Huffington Post
UK: Relax workplace dress codes to help staff cope with this week's heatwave, says TUC
Britain experienced its warmest July day on record yesterday, as roads melted, trains were delayed, and bottled water was handed out to truck drivers caught in huge traffic jam a strike in Calais. Heathrow recorded 36.7C, the highest in July since records began in the mid-1870s with the introduction of standardised thermometer exposure. Earlier this week, the TUC, Britain's peak union council, called on employers to temporarily relax workplace dress codes to help their staff work through the heatwave as comfortably as possible, warning the sudden increase in temperatures would make many workplaces may become unbearably hot.
The TUC said it would like employers to:
- allow staff to adopt less formal attire – with jackets and ties out, and short sleeves, vest tops and shorts in;
- distribute fans to staff and provide portable air cooling cabinets;
- install air conditioning and maintain it regularly, so that it doesn't break down during a heatwave;
- allow flexible working so that staff can have the option of coming in earlier and staying later to avoid the sweltering conditions of the rush hour commute;
- move desks away from windows, draw blinds or install reflective film;
- allow staff to take frequent breaks and provide a ready supply of cool drinks.
Read more: UK swelters in heatwave as hottest July day recorded The Guardian; TUC Media Release.
Teachers report high levels of stress and burnout
A survey of nearly 5000 members of the Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union undertaken by Monash University found that 51 per cent of their members had experienced an occupational health and safety incident in the previous year. AEU (Vic) union members working in schools, TAFEs and other education services were asked to rate their workplaces on features that should keep people safe at work, such as access to occupational health and safety (OHS) training or OHS being a priority.
Stress-related matters were a focus of the survey. Respondents reported high levels of work overload and moderate levels of work-related burnout, with 55 per cent reporting that they had experienced injuries or illnesses in the past year that was either work-related stress or another mental health issue. Work pressure, workloads that increased or changed, and the demands of looking after students with personal difficulties were common causes of stress.
Lead researcher Professor Helen De Cieri, from the Monash Business School, said the report, issued today, highlighted that in workplaces with greater commitment to health, wellbeing and safety, individuals experience fewer injuries and illness at work. "Essentially we want to shift the focus of workplaces from counting the cost of injuries and illness to better work practices that prevent incidents, with more attention to OHS leadership, equipment and resources, and access to health and safety training," Professor De Cieri said.
Source: Helen De Cieir, et al Leading indicators of occupational health and safety: A report on a survey of Australian Education Union (Victorian Branch) members. [pdf] Research report#: 045-0415-R07 July 2015; and Education workers' health in the spotlight Monash University Press Release. Read more Stress; and Bullying and Violence
New Study Examines Relationship between Firefighters and Cancers in California
A new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examined firefighters in the statewide California Cancer Registry and found that firefighters had increased risks for several major cancers. Firefighting is considered one of the most hazardous occupations, and involves regular exposure to known carcinogens.
In this study, which used data from 1988-2007, firefighters were found to have increased risks for several cancers, including melanoma, acute myeloid leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and cancers of the oesophagus, prostate, brain, and kidney. For the purposes of the study, only adult male subjects were included. Black and Hispanic firefighters, unlike white firefighters, were also found to have increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, chronic myeloid leukaemia and cancers of the tongue, testis, and bladder.
"California has the largest statewide cancer registry in the country," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "This focused study generates novel findings for firefighters of various race and ethnicities and strengthens the body of evidence to support the association between firefighting and several specific cancers." This study included more firefighters with cancer than any previous study, allowing authors to assess the association between firefighters and the development of 32 different cancers in all firefighters combined, and firefighters of various races and ethnicities. Of the 32 cancers assessed, the risks of 14 cancers were significantly elevated in one or more firefighter groups. Black and Hispanic firefighters had significantly increased risk for more cancers than white firefighters, which highlights the need for further investigation of cancer risks among various race and ethnicities within this profession.
Read more: Tsai, R, et al Risk of cancer among firefighters in California, 1988–2007 [abstract] American Journal of Industrial Medicine DOI: 10.1002/ajim.22466
Weekend work and depressive symptoms
The purpose of this study was to quantify the association between weekend work and depressive symptoms in a representative sample of Korean employees. Researchers looked at over 29,000 employees of companies in Korea. Data were obtained as part of the 2011 Korean Working Conditions Survey. Depressive symptoms were measured as a score of 7 on the World Health Organization Well-being Index. The association between weekend work and depressive symptoms was measured, controlling for sociodemographic and work-related factors including the number of hours worked per week and stratified by gender.
The study found the prevalence of depressive symptoms was higher in employees who reported working at least one weekend day in the past month than in employees who reported working no weekend days in the past month. After controlling for confounders, including the number of hours worked per week, 1-4 days of weekend work in the past month and more than 4 days of weekend work in the past month were significantly associated with depressive symptoms. The authors concluded that weekend work was related with a significant increase in the prevalence of depressive symptoms in Korean workers.
Read more: Lee HE, et al Weekend work and depressive symptoms among Korean employees [abstract] Chronobiology International. 2015 Mar;32(2):262-9. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2014.965826.
The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was posted June 25th, well after we'd sent out SafetyNet. In this edition, WorkSafe Senior Construction Advisor Tony Cockerell highlights concerns over the number of incidents involving skid-steer loaders. On 10 June 2015 a man was killed after being crushed while operating a skid-steer loader in Carrum Downs, in Melbourne's east. (see The Age). In the past 12 months there have been a number of other significant incidents involving skid-steer loaders in Victoria and across Australia. The edition also reports on incidents in Victoria and other states.
The list of Reported Incidents in the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries from June 4 – June is attached to the bulletin. There were at total of 50 incidents reported, including 1 fatality, 20 lacerations, 14 near misses, four electric shocks, three amputations, three fractures, two crushes and one fall, heart attack, puncture and dislocation. As usual, several of the near misses could have had fatal consequences – for example an excavator falling through a concrete floor; worker falling three metres.
Access the June 24 Safety Soapbox edition online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Safe Work Australia
As at June 26, 76 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work – three more people lost their lives in work-related incidents since the previous update on June 11. The fatalities have been in the following industries:
- 24 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 15 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- nine in Construction;
- eight in Mining;
- four in Electricity, gas, water & waste services;
- three each in Manufacturing; Administrative & support services; and in 'other services'
- two each in Arts & Recreation services; the Retail trade; and in Accommodation
- one in Education and Training
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 March of this year, when fifteen work-related deaths were reported to state and territory OHS regulators. The report can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
From WorkCoverBC (Canadian regulator): A new video series on Safe Work Procedures for room attendants.
1. Company found guilty of failing to provide safe system of work
On 24 June 2015, in the Geelong Magistrates Court, Star Track Express Pty Ltd (a freight transportation company) pleaded guilty to breaching Section 21 of the OHS Act for failing to provide and maintain a system of work for its employees. On 1 July 2013, a Star Track truck from the Corio depot collided with an electricity pole in Mercer Street, Geelong. The front seat passenger was killed in the incident. WorkSafe's investigation identified that the truck may have had a faulty seat (however, it was not alleged that this failure caused the accident or fatality). The investigation also revealed that the Star Track depot did not have an adequate written defect reporting procedure. The failure to have an adequate written defect reporting procedure exposed employees to the risk of serious injury or death. Star Track was convicted and fined $70,000 with an order for costs in the amount of $6,489.
2. Calco Timbers Pty Ltd - failure to notify: no conviction or fine
On 25 June 2014, an employee of Calco Timbers Pty Ltd, a timber manufacturing process company (from growing and harvesting to kiln drying, sales, joinery and prefabrication) sustained an injury. He had been using a nail gun, it kicked back and a nail penetrated his left thumb. The incident was not reported to WorkSafe either immediately or in writing within 48 hours. The incident site was also not preserved. On 23 June 2015, in the Geelong Magristrats Court, the company pleaded guilty to three charges under the OHS Act for failing to notify WorkSafe of a notifiable incident. It was placed on an adjourned undertaking, without conviction, for a period of six months with a condition that they pay $1,500 plus pay costs of $560.
3. Brooklands - failure to notify: fined but no conviction
In another failure to notify case, on 25 June 2015 Brooklands Motel Mornington Pty. Ltd was fined, without prosecution in the Frankston Magistrates Court. The incident occurred in May 2014, when an employee was washing and drying cups when one shattered and cut her left finger. She later had surgery to repair tendons, nerves and artery. The incident was not reported to WorkSafe either immediately or in writing within 48 hours. The company pleaded guilty of failing to notify WorkSafe of a notifiable incident, and was fined $500 (plus costs of $656).
Source: WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage