SafetyNet 329, July 8, 2015
Subscribers will notice that this week's SafetyNet has been sent today, Wednesday. Apart from the odd occasion, it will be sent out on Wednesdays from now on as our editor, Renata, has commenced working part-time only. We hope you find the journal as interesting and useful as you have in the past. 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 are welcomed too. Our usual reminder to please follow us on Twitter: @OHSreps
I have reported to Management that headsets on the very busy reception desk need replacing over a month ago, but nothing has happened. What are the next steps I should take and how do I set a time frame for compliance? Thanks
I'm assuming there's an OHS issue with the headsets? And that the current headsets are creating a health/safety risk of some sort to the operator?
If this is indeed the case, are you the elected Health and Safety Rep? If you are not the HSR, then as a first step, take the issue to your HSR to raise with management.
If you are the HSR, then suggest you take the issue to management again - formally and in writing. Ask for a specific time to meet about it. At the meeting, seek to reach agreement as per Section 73 of the OHS Act. If you don't get a satisfactory (and timely) agreement (in writing, with a person delegated to take the agreed action), then consider issuing a PIN.Check out this page for more information: Resolution of issues
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.
Hazelwood operator refuses to pay CFA bill
The owners of Hazelwood are refusing to pay an $18 million CFA bill for fighting the fire at their brown coal mine last year. The CFA sent the invoice in March to owners GDF Suez to recover costs for the massive operation which involved thousands of firefighters battling the blaze over many weeks. The company has refused to pay the bill, however, stating it had already paid for the CFA's services through state fire service levy contributions over many years, and should not be expected to pay more.
While the mine fire was sparked on February 9 last year by spotting from a nearby, likely deliberately-lit bushfire, "Voices of the Valley" president Wendy Farmer said GDF Suez should take responsibility for the fire costs. "They didn't prevent it getting into their mine. They didn't have the procedures and protocols in place," she said. "[GDF Suez] should take responsibility. Why is the government topping-up an international company?"
Read more: Hazelwood owners GDF Suez refusing to pay $18 million mine fire bill The Age
Asbestos victim lawsuit against Wunderlich cement factory
A second Melbourne man suffering lung disease has launched legal action against the operators of the Wunderlich cement factory in Sunshine North for allegedly exposing him to asbestos dust. Law company Slater & Gordon last week filed the lawsuit representing the man who lived less than 125 metres from the western suburbs factory site for 15 years. He now suffers asbestosis and has severe lung damage. The lawsuit against factory operator Seltsam Pty Ltd coincides with the release of a state government audit that identified that 25 people who lived near the factory had died or become ill with asbestos-related diseases.
Read more: Asbestos victim launches lawsuit against Wunderlich cement factory in Sunshine North The Age
NSW: Two employers and director found guilty of asbestos breaches
Two companies and their director have been found guilty of breaching the NSW Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 in dumping 16,000 tonnes of asbestos- and lead-contaminated waste on a site that could not be lawfully used as a waste facility. The Land and Environment Court rejected the director's claim that many of the regulatory controls for asbestos and other waste were "impossible" to comply with, and that Environment Protection Authority officers might have maliciously "salted" the waste with asbestos pieces.
The director, Phillip Foxman, and his two companies, Foxman Environmental Development Services Pty Ltd (FEDS) and Botany Building Recyclers Pty Ltd, pleaded not guilty to the charges, claiming the material wasn't waste, but recycled building and construction material that could be used as fill and road base, "even if small amounts of contamination were present".
But Justice Terry Sheahan found the material: was waste under the Act; contained high levels of asbestos and lead; and didn't meet the terms of any of the EPA's "resource recovery" exemptions. The parties face a combined maximum fine of $3.75 million, and will be sentenced at a later date.
Source: OHS Alert
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.
Canada: Health Canada amends information on its website
Subscribers will be aware of Canada's often shocking relationship with asbestos – from mining and exporting it until relatively recently, to underplaying its toxicity. Federal department Health Canada has recently made changes to how its website describes the health risks of asbestos. These are being welcomed by activists, who are still arguing for a total ban on the use of asbestos. The page previously said: "When inhaled in significant quantities, asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis (a scaring of the lungs which makes breathing difficult), mesothelioma (a rare cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity) and lung cancer."
The page now says, "Asbestosis, if inhaled, can cause cancer and other diseases" - eliminating the qualifying "significant quantities" reference. It also no longer makes a distinction between types of asbestos. It had previously said chrysotile asbestos, the type that had been mined in Quebec, is "less potent" and does less damage.
Jim Brophy, formerly of Sarnia's Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers, and currently an adjunct professor at the University of Windsor, said "What I really think what Health Canada should be doing is issuing an apology to the Canadian public for failing to enact public health policies that would have protected thousands and thousands of workers and their families."
Read more: Advocates in Sarnia calling for ban on asbestos use in Canada The Observer
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.
International Union News
USA: DuPont kills four, not happy with fine
Global chemicals giant DuPont is contesting a five figure safety fine for a chemical leak last year that killed four workers at its La Porte plant in Texas, USA. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed US$99,000 in penalties in May after documenting 11 violations in connection with the quadruple fatality in November 2014. DuPont, which had an estimated US$35 billion in sales revenue last year, filed notice in June that it was contesting all the citations "in their entirety." Union leaders reacted angrily to the company's denial of blame. Frank Cyphers, president of the International Chemical Workers Union Council, said, "DuPont should drop their legal challenge and put their money where it needs to be - with these workers' families and ensuring safety in this plant."
Brent Coon, an attorney who is suing DuPont on behalf of the family of one of the workers who was killed, said the company's decision to challenge the violations is "insulting." He added: "It's a political issue. It's a public relations issue. And ultimately, it's a collateral damage issue." There is more at stake for DuPont than money. Matt Shudtz, executive director of the Center for Progressive Reform, said DuPont risks landing in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) because one of the citations issued in May was for a "repeat" violation. He said there can be "significant consequences" for ending up on the severe violator list, including increased monitoring and potential for company-wide settlement agreements. DuPont sells its own 'STOP' behavioural safety programme worldwide, dubbed by unions a 'blame-the-worker' system.
Read more: Houston Chronicle. Advice on Behaviour Based Safety Source: Risks 709
US: BP to pay billions in oil spill settlement
Last Thursday it was announced that a settlement of US$18.7 billion was agreed between the U.S. government and oil company BP - the biggest environmental fine ever levied against a corporation. The deal is the final reckoning for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and ends all federal and state government civil suits against BP for its part in the disaster that killed 11 crew members, immolated the huge drilling rig, and leaked roughly 4 million barrels of crude oil into the water. With the announcement, the London-based oil giant said it planned to add US$10 billion to the already enormous reserve it had set aside to cover costs related to the spill, bringing the total by the company's estimate to $53.8 billion. However, BP will be allowed to make payments over 18 years, making the payout easier to accept and effectively reducing the size of the settlement, after adjusting for interest rates and inflation.
Read more: Justice Department reaches $18.7 billion agreement in principle with BP The Washington Post
New IndustriALL campaign to clean up the shipbreaking industry
The NGO Shipbreaking Platform has strongly welcomed global union organisation IndustriALL's "Campaign to clean up Shipbreaking - the world's most dangerous job". IndustriALL, which represents 50 million workers in 140 countries, is calling on governments to finally make the shipbreaking industry safer for workers. The trade unions stress the precarious working conditions for shipbreaking workers in South Asia, usually migrant workers hired by sub-contractors, as well as the exposure to various health threats including toxic substances and industrial accidents. IndustriALL has launched a dedicated website featuring campaign materials, related documents and videos, as well as a model letter to governments.
Read more: Platform Media Release Platform welcomes new IndustriALL campaign on ship recycling: living and working conditions of shipbreaking workers still deplorable IndustriALL Campaign to clean up Shipbreaking
China: the battle against smog leads to massive layoffs
China's campaign for cleaner air has come at a high cost for workers in at least one eastern province city. On February 25, inspectors from China's environmental protection ministry the acting mayor of Linyi City, Shandong Province, to discuss the city's environmental problems. The inspectors were undoubtedly there to enforce China's "war against pollution". Last April, China's passed stringent environmental law amendments, which came into effect this January. The methods employed have too often involved top-down orders to be followed to the letter, regardless of the inefficiencies or other consequences created.
Three days after the mayor's meeting with the inspectors, he made 412 businesses adhere to a limited production schedule, and ordered the closure of 57 mainly coal, steel, and glass firms. The following day, on March 1, he literally pulled the plug on the 57 companies: a glass panes plant lost its electricity supply with about 2,000 metric tons of molten glass and tin still in the furnace. The sudden close down permanently damaged manufacturing equipment, furnaces, etc.
Workers were next to go. About 60,000 people suddenly found themselves unemployed, and including their families, at least 150,000 Linyi residents were estimated to be affected by the layoffs, according to a local government worker. With increased unemployment came increased crime rates.
Read more: China's Battle Against Smog Leads to Mass Layoffs Epoch Times
Cancer study casts doubt on chemical standards
Chemical exposure standards 'should be revisited' because low level exposures to a mix of substances which individually might be harmless can together present a cancer risk, a major study has concluded. The Halifax Project, a high-profile taskforce formed in 2013 by the international organisation Getting to Know Cancer, involved 174 scientists in 28 countries and investigated 85 chemicals that were not considered to be carcinogenic to humans. The paper notes: "Our current understanding of the biology of cancer suggests that the cumulative effects of (non-carcinogenic) chemicals acting on different pathways that are relevant to cancer, and on a variety of cancer-relevant systems, organs, tissues and cells could conspire to produce carcinogenic synergies that will be overlooked using current risk assessment methods. Cumulative risk assessment methods that are based on 'common mechanisms of toxicity' or common 'modes of action' may therefore be underestimating cancer-related risks." It concludes "current regulations in many countries (that consider only the cumulative effects of exposures to individual carcinogens that act via a common sequence of key events and processes on a common target/tissue to produce cancer) should be revisited."
Lead researcher William Goodson III, from San Francisco's California Pacific Medical Center, said his results show one-at-a-time testing is out of date and must be modernised. "Every day we are exposed to an environmental 'chemical soup', so we need testing that evaluates the effects of our ongoing exposure to these chemical mixtures," he said.
Read more: William H Goodson III and others, Assessing the carcinogenic potential of low-dose exposures to chemical mixtures in the environment: the challenge ahead, [Full Article] Carcinogenesis, volume 36, Supplement 1, pages S254-S296, 2015. Exposure to mixture of common chemicals may trigger cancer, scientists find. The Guardian.Source: Risks 709. More on this site on: Exposure Standards for Chemicals
Use of organophosphate pesticides increases cancer risk in female spouses
Organophosphates (OPs) are among the most commonly used insecticides. OPs have been linked to cancer risk in some epidemiological studies, largely conducted in predominantly male populations. US researchers evaluated personal use of specific OPs and cancer incidence among female spouses of pesticide applicators in the prospective Agricultural Health Study cohort.
The researchers observed increased risk with OP use for several hormonally-related cancers, including breast, thyroid and ovary, suggesting potential for hormonally-mediated effects. As the first comprehensive analysis of OP use and cancer risk among women, the researchers concluded that it demonstrates a need for further evaluation.
Read more: Lerro, C et al Organophosphate insecticide use and cancer incidence among spouses of pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study [abstract] Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oemed-2014-102798
Safe Work Australia
As at July 3, 80 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work – four more people lost their lives in work-related incidents since the previous update on June 26. The fatalities have been in the following industries:
- 25 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 17 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 9 in Construction;
- 8 in Mining;
- 4 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services;
- 3 each in Arts & Recreation services; in Manufacturing; Administrative & support services; and in 'other services'
- 2 each in the Retail trade; and in Accommodation & food services
- 1 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
Ag Vet regulator releases report on regulation of nanotechnology
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has released the final report on Nanotechnologies for pesticides and veterinary medicines: regulatory considerations. The APVMA says: "The report aims to inform and stimulate discussion about emerging nanotechnology and highlights the key regulatory considerations for agvet chemical nanomaterials based on the current state of knowledge. It systematically explores the opportunities and risks of these substances in Australian agriculture and animal husbandry and reviews the published work relevant to the registration of nanoscale agvet chemicals." The report concludes: "The general consensus is that, for the foreseeable future, existing regulatory frameworks developed for macroscale chemicals will be used to regulate nanomaterials. Over time, however, the framework will evolve as new information highlighting limitations in the current risk assessment paradigm becomes available." The VTHC has not yet had the opportunity to read the full report. However, the conclusion is concerning, as the current regulatory frameworks do not require that manufacturers and suppliers provide information that is nano-specific and given that there are still many unknowns with regard to potential risks, this is not acceptable. Further, past experiences with this regulator has not engendered much confidence in unions that considerations such as workers health and safety are given adequate attention.
Read more: APVMA Report. Information on the website on Nanotechnology
WorkSafe Victoria: Diversion for failure to notify
The accused was charged with three offences under section 38(1), 38(3) and 39 of the OHS Act, for failing to notify WorkSafe of a notifiable incident immediately and in writing within 48 hours, and failing to preserve the incident site. On 9 April 2015, the accused was placed on a diversion program with conditions to donate $750 to the Court Fund, to undertake an OHS course such as the Certificate III in Work Health & Safety provided by the Master Builders' Association or equivalent within 6 months, and to pay costs of $1,500. (Moorabbin Magistrates' Court). Note: where a company is placed on a diversion program, the details of the company are not released.
Source: WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage