SafetyNet 330, July 15, 2015
We hope that our many subscribers continue to read, enjoy and use SafetyNet which is now being posted on Wednesdays. On occasions it may be shorter (and hopefully sharper), but it will still provide up to date information for health and safety reps, workers, employers and anyone with an interest in occupational health and safety. Please send in your views and any questions you have to Renata firstname.lastname@example.org, and use the e-journal to promote safer and healthier workplaces. And please follow us on Twitter: @OHSreps
Cathy Butcher – VTHC OHS Officer retires
It's sad but inevitable – there comes a time in people's lives when they make the decision to retire. The VTHC's amazing and extremely knowledgeable OHS Officer, Ms Cathy Butcher, is finishing up this Friday, July 17th. Before working at Trades Hall, Cathy was the OHS Officer at the LHMU (now United Voice) and before that, she was in the ACTU's OHS Unit. Prior to coming to Melbourne, Cathy headed up the OHS Unit at the ACT Trades and Labour Council… in other words, she has dedicated her working life to occupational health and safety, fighting to maintain and to improve our laws and the working conditions of workers in Australia. She has an incredible depth of knowledge and understanding, and her memory is 'awesome'. The work she has done, which has mainly been out of the limelight (thank you Kevin Jones) has without a doubt saved the lives of many workers. She will be sadly missed, not least by me – I've had the privilege of working both with her and for her for many years and count her as a good friend. Good luck Cathy!
Renata (SafetyNet Editor)
The VTHC Health and Safety Reps Conference is BACK!
In very exciting news, we would like to announce that this year will see the return of the world famous VTHC Health and Safety Reps' conference. In the past it was THE event to attend during Victoria's WorkSafe Week, and it will be again this year! While we are still finalising the program and the guest speakers, we can give you advance notice that it will be held on Tuesday October 27 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Keep your eyes on SafetyNet for more details and when the registrations open. Remember: elected HSRs will have the right to attend the conference, and on paid leave, under Section 69 of the OHS Act.
Situation: Camp accommodation room. Noisy air conditioner vibrating wall next to head. Like a jet. What would be the health and safety requirements with this?
(Obviously this question, which came in last week, is not from someone in Victoria, where we are in the middle of a very cold snap! It came from a worker in Queensland)
There are no specific requirements – however if the accommodation is owned by your employer (or, under the Queensland legislation – the PCBU) then there is a duty of care which includes providing plant that is safe and without risks to health, and ensuring it is properly maintained (see this page on the Queensland regulator's website for more information on the duties of the PCBU)
If the camp accommodation is not owned by your employer (PCBU), then the owner of the accommodation has duties in relation to fixtures, etc even if these do not impact directly on workers they hire:
"(2) The person with management or control of fixtures, fittings or plant at a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the fixtures, fittings and plant are without risks to the health and safety of any person." (Section 21)
The same really applies to any piece of plant or equipment in Victoria – depending on whether it is a workplace, and who has management and control, then there are avenues under the OHS legislation which can be pursued.
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 calls for licensing of labour suppliers
The ACTU's national Executive met in Melbourne yesterday and passed a resolution calling for a public registry of labour hire companies and a "rigorous" national licensing regime. The resolution supports changing the Fair Work Act to recognise that both labour hire companies and the host employers are responsible for providing workers' entitlements. The move was partly in response to the ongoing reports of extreme exploitation of overseas workers in farming, poultry and other industries – workers often 'supplied' by labour hire companies. The ACTU argues that passing laws to regulate labour hire would bring Australia into line with other OECD countries, with Canada, Korea, Japan and many European countries including the UK having licensing systems or codes of conduct.
Source: Workplace Express
Wi-fi: is it harming our health?
With the increasing use of wi-fi and mobile phones in our homes, schools and workplaces, there are people who believe they are suffering serious health effects – and some countries, such as Sweden and France, are taking steps to minimise exposures. It's an area of great controversy, not least because long term effects are not yet known. In a recent program on the ABC, it was suggested that while what people may be experiencing is real, it's due more to the fear that electromagnetic radiation is harmful – rather than it actually being harmful. However, unions have learnt that when it comes to exposures, it is better to be 'safe than sorry' and where possible adopt a precautionary approach and minimise exposure to 'as low as reasonably practicable'. Teacher unions here are keeping an eye on developments, especially in light of France's actions: in January this year, the French government banned wi-fi in nurseries and day care centres, while it conducts a full audit of EMF strength throughout the country.
Read more: Wi-fi isn't hurting you, but the fear of it might be and the video Is wifi technology damaging our health? The Drum, ABC. And for an alternative view on sensitivity to EMF: Referenced working draft paper on Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity [pdf] Also, on the site: Non-Ionising Radiation
Asbestos in crayons: another example of problems with customs and asbestos ban
This week our media reported that asbestos fibres have been detected in a range of children's crayons featuring popular fantasy characters including Mickey Mouse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. The crayons which are made in China by Amscan, as well as two science kits for children which have also been found to contain asbestos, are available in Australia from a number of online retailers and party suppliers. Australia has had a total ban on the use and import of all types of asbestos since 2003, making it illegal to import products containing any asbestos at all. However, we know that many products and machinery (such as building materials, trucks and locomotives) which contain asbestos are still being imported, putting the health of workers and the general public at risk.
The National Toxics Network (NTN) attempted unsuccessfully to alert the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the body responsible for the safety of products in Australia to the potential problems. Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, of the NTN, said: "We are deeply concerned that similar toys and crayons imported into Australia from China may also be contaminated with asbestos. We request that the ACCC investigate this issue as a matter of priority."
Read more: Asbestos found in Mickey Mouse, Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers crayons The Sydney Morning Herald
ASEA: 2nd International Asbestos Conference registration now open
A reminder that 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.
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.
Aerosol paint product used by Victorian firefighting personnel withdrawn due to safety concerns
Last week an aerosol fluorescent paint used by Victorian firefighting personnel to mark potentially hazardous trees in fuel reduction burns was recalled due to safety concerns. The ABC reported that the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) risk assessment of the Dy-Mark paint had identified two chemicals which posed a high risk to health and that potential exposure was unacceptable. Safe Work Australia lists one of the chemicals, methylene chloride, as a class three carcinogen.
In a statement, the department said it had issued a safety notice to its personnel and other fire agencies and immediately withdrew the product from use. Apparently the department was working with all government departments to review the likely health risk to staff. Almost immediately the item appeared on the ABC site, an HSR in a local council wrote to the VTHC seeking advice: his members used the paint daily and he was concerned about their exposures. HIs quick actions led to his council also withdrawing the paint.
Source: ABC news online
Defence considers review into exposure to jet fuel and birth defects link
In an update to the call by current and ex-Defence staff for an inquiry into the possible link between serious illnesses and their exposure to toxic jet fuel and other chemicals (see: SafetyNet 328) the ABC this week reported that the Department of Defence is "actively considering" a major review to determine whether exposure caused birth defects in the children of military personnel - a lukewarm response in our view.
Defence has confirmed the prospect of a review – but not its own research – to examine existing scientific literature on the capacity of fuel to cause foetal abnormalities and reproductive problems. The ABC reports former male and female Defence Force personnel stating they had frequent and prolonged exposure to jet fuel, often with little or no protective equipment, and have subsequently had children with significant medical problems.
The ABC reported in April that a study commissioned by Defence into jet fuel exposure found the fuel itself was toxic to the body's cells, and that the cell damage could be passed on to future generations through a process known as epigenetics. Also of concern is a substance called fuel system icing inhibitor (FSII), which is routinely added to fuels by Defence. In 1987 RAAF's own safety guidelines acknowledged the substance was highly toxic and could enter the body's bone marrow, and damage the central nervous system and kidneys.
Read more: Defence 'actively considering' review into link between toxic jet fuel and birth defects ABC Online
FIFO toll continues to mount
SafetyNet has had numerous items on the many problems associated with the Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) workforce – the most serious of which has been the suicides of nine FIFO workers in a 12-month period which led to the WA parliamentary committee to investigate the mental health impact of this work. The committee's report made a number of recommendations, and many of these have been strongly supported by the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU), the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and UnionsWA.
The mental and physical health tolls of commuting mining work have also been the subject of inquiries in Queensland and in Federal Parliament, where a parliamentary inquiry led by former independent MP Tony Windsor tabled a report back in 2013. Despite only just responding to the Windsor report last month, the Abbott government has rejected most of the report's 21 recommendations.
CFMEU National President Tony Maher said the Abbott government's measly response shows just how callously it is turning its back on regional communities and FIFO workers.
Read more: This Working Life feature article
Being happy - SafetyAtWorkBlog comment
Readers may have noticed the front page of today's Age newspaper - the results of a survey of 2000 Australians (the long-term HILDA [Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia] survey) into what makes them happy and healthy. The article raised a few laughs in the VTHC OHS Unit this morning (one of the recommendations is 'Do not retire' - a bit late for our OHS Officer!). Kevin Jones, in his blog today looks a little more closely at what is actually in HILDA, and points out that "Various elements in the article relate to the workplace and work activity generally but a couple are of direct relevance to occupational health and safety." These include the advice to not retire, and also to 'be a workaholic'. As usual, it's an interesting and lively blog.
Read more: Happiness with HILDA SafetyAtWorkBlog
Friends of the Earth critical of APVMA nano report
In last week's SafetyNet we alerted readers that Australia's agricultural chemicals regulator, the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), released a report on nanomaterials in agrichemicals. Friends of the Earth has also criticised the report, saying the regulator is still failing to address the risks posed by nanomaterials and is wrong in claiming nanomaterials are not being used in agrichemicals in Australia despite clear evidence to the contrary.
Louise Sales, Emerging Tech Project Coordinator with Friends of the Earth said, "All the leading producers of agricultural chemicals, including BASF, Monsanto and Syngenta are actively researching nanotechnology for use in agriculture and pesticides with nanoscale ingredients are already on the market. This makes the APVMA's claim that nanomaterials are not being used in Australia because no one has applied for regulatory approval untenable."
Friends of the Earth Australia is calling for an immediate moratorium on the use of nanomaterials in agricultural chemicals, pending full safety assessments, and the establishment of a nano-register, like that established in France, in order to allow the tracking of these materials through the food chain.
Read more: Friends of the Earth Media Release
International Union News
USA: OSHA labels DuPont 'severe' safety violator
What the global chemicals giant DuPont feared (see SafetyNet329) has occurred: the US health and safety regulator has labelled the company a 'severe' safety violator, after uncovering more safety problems in an investigation launched following a massive toxic gas leak that killed four workers at the company's La Porte, Texas, plant last November.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration promised the move would bring closer scrutiny for DuPont facilities around the country, but did not fully explain how agency inspectors would apply the initiative to three dozen facilities — including two in West Virginia — that DuPont last week spun off into a separate company called Chemours. "OSHA is currently evaluating how to proceed further in this case," agency spokesman Juan J. Rodriguez said.
Meanwhile, an Ohio federal judge dealt a blow to DuPont and the fledgling Chemours Co. less than a week after the companies separated. Plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against DuPont will not be required to prove their individual level of exposure to a chemical linked to illnesses, the judge ruled. The chemical, C-8, also known as ammonium perfluorooctanoate, or PFOA, was once used in Teflon, a signature DuPont product. Although DuPont is the defendant in the case, Chemours will be required to indemnify its former parent if an Ohio jury finds the company liable for exposure.
Read more: OSHA labels DuPont 'severe' safety violator The Charleston Gazette and Judge rules against DuPont in Ohio exposure case Delaware Online
High job demand/low control increases risk of MSD
Researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine examined associations between workplace injury and musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) risk and job-level psychosocial demand and job control, adjusting for job-level physical demand. They estimated relative risk (RR) of minor injury and minor MSD, serious injury and MSD, minor MSD only and serious MSD only for 9260 aluminium manufacturing workers, adjusting for physical demand as well as other recognised risk factors.
Compared with workers in jobs rated as having low psychological demand, workers in jobs with high psychological demand had 49 per cent greater risk of serious injury and serious MSD requiring medical treatment, work restrictions or lost work time. Workers in jobs rated as having low control displayed increased risk for minor injury and minor MSD compared with those in jobs rated as having high control.
Source: Linda Cantley and others, Expert ratings of job demand and job control as predictors of injury and musculoskeletal disorder risk in a manufacturing cohort. [Abstract] Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oemed-2015-102831. Read more: Strains and Sprains
Maternal occupation during pregnancy, birth weight, and length of gestation: combined analysis of 13 European birth cohorts
This study assessed whether maternal employment during pregnancy – overall and in selected occupational sectors – is associated with birth weight, small for gestational age (SGA), term low birth weight (LBW), length of gestation, and preterm delivery in a population-based birth cohort design.
Data from more than 200,000 mother-child pairs enrolled in 13 European birth cohorts was used, and employed versus non-employed women were compared. Among employees, the authors defined groups of occupations representing the main sectors of employment for women where potential reproductive hazards are considered to be present. The comparison group comprised all other employed women not included in the occupational sector being assessed. A meta-analyses of cohort-specific estimates was performed and heterogeneity explored. Employees had a lower risk of preterm delivery than non-employees. Working in most of the occupational sectors studied was not associated with adverse birth outcomes. Being employed as a nurse was associated with lower risk SGA infants, whereas food industry workers had an increased risk of preterm delivery.
The authors concluded that the findings from this study suggest that, overall, employment during pregnancy is associated with a reduction in the risk of preterm birth and that work in certain occupations may affect pregnancy outcomes. This exploratory study provides an important platform on which to base further prospective studies focused on the potential consequences of maternal occupational exposures during pregnancy on child development.
Source: Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. 2015 May 4. pii: 3500. doi:10.5271/sjweh.3500.
Link between welding and lung cancer identified
A UK researcher has identified the link between welding and lung cancer. In a study published in Occupational Medicine, Dr Martin Cosgrove of the UK Department of Employee Health and Wellbeing says employers must follow international guidelines on controlling welding fume exposure.
According to the researcher, while it is well known that arc welders have an increased risk of developing lung cancer, asthma and pneumonia, previous longitudinal studies have not identified an increased risk of death from other lung diseases, such as pulmonary fibrosis, that arc welders can contract. For the study, he undertook an extensive search of the world literature on welding fumes and pulmonary fibrosis, and identified a number of experimental studies on animals that found a link between pulmonary fibrosis and prolonged exposure to welding fumes, and a 2013 study of welders' lungs that supported these findings. He found descriptions of pulmonary fibrosis among welders in studies and case reports from the last 80 years are consistent with "respiratory bronchiolitis", a term recently coined to explain changes in the distal airways of smokers' lungs.
He concluded that steel welding fume may cause an occupational respiratory bronchiolitis which may develop into de squamative interstitial pneumonia with ongoing exposure, and that this may explain the difficulties in interpreting the wider literature on welding fume and lung function at lower exposures and may also explain the increased risk of lung cancer in welders.
Martin P Cosgrove: Pulmonary fibrosis and exposure to steel welding fume [abstract], Occupational Medicine, 7 July 2015. Source: OHS Alert
Formaldehyde Link to ALS
New research has revealed that men who breathe in formaldehyde fumes as part of their jobs have triple the average risk of developing the paralyzing disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease is always fatal. Funeral directors who use formaldehyde to embalm bodies may be the most at risk, the researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found. Their findings, published this week in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, strengthen the links between formaldehyde and the disease.
The researchers investigated a database of approximately 1.5 million people from 1973, followed until they died. Each person filled out a survey at least once about his or her job. Based on this, the researchers calculated whether each person was likely to have been exposed to formaldehyde at work.
Read more: Study Strengthens Formaldehyde Link to Crippling Disease ALS NBC News
WorkSafe appoints new Executive Director
An official announcement was made this week that WorkSafe has appointed Ms Marnie Williams as the Executive Director, Health and Safety, a position made vacant when Mr Len Neist resigned earlier this year. Her most recent position was CEO at the Taxis Directorate, but she held a number of senior positions at WorkSafe up to May 2011, including General Manager of the Strategic Directions Program and Director, Public Sector and Community Services Industry Program Division. The VTHC welcomes the appointment of someone with such broad experience in OHS and with WorkSafe, and looks forward to a fruitful and positive working relationship with Ms Williams.
The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was posted July 9 – and apart from the announcement of the extension of the Dangerous Goods regulations, has a number of items on incidents in Victoria and in other states.
The list of Reported Incidents in the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries from 17 June – 1 July is attached to the bulletin. There were at total of 57 incidents reported, including 20 near misses, 11 lacerations, six electric shocks, five fractures, three crushes, two burns and one each of: sprain, exposure, break, leg injury, ruptured tendon, dislocation, fire and puncture. As usual, several of the near misses could have had very serious consequences – for example a fire in a building being constructed and numbers of objects falling from great height.
Access the July 9 Safety Soapbox edition online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Dangerous Goods Regs extended
Victoria's Dangerous Goods (HCDG) Regulations 2005 (HCDG Regulations), which are due to sunset on 2 August 2015, have been extended for 12 months until 1 August 2016. These regulations relate to high consequence dangerous goods (HCDG) and provide for the management of security concerns associated with explosives and high consequence dangerous goods. Security sensitive ammonium nitrate (SSAN) is the only substance which has been declared as an HCDG for the purposes of the HCDG Regulations. SSAN is primarily used by the mining sector as an explosives precursor and by the farming sector as a fertilizer.
Work is currently underway at a national level, by Safe Work Australia, to develop a nationally consistent framework for the regulation of explosives. This work is expected to be finalised by the end of this year.
Safe Work Australia
As at July 14, 83 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work – seven more people lost their lives in work-related incidents since the previous SafetyNet update on June 26. The fatalities have been in the following industries:
- 26 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 19 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
New report on health and safety in metals manufacturing
Safe Work Australia has released a new publication: Work health and safety in structural metal product manufacturing. The project was undertaken by Instinct and Reason Pty Ltd under commission from Safe Work Australia. The report describes the findings of a qualitative research study on the structural metal product manufacturing industry - an industry with a high rate of work-related injury and illness. It provides valuable insights into attitudes towards work health and safety, risk management practices and factors influencing work health and safety in the industry.
From WorkSafe BC: Struck By Mobile Equipment This video creatively illustrates, using Lego men, the importance of giving mobile equipment the right of way and avoiding danger zones on a jobsite.
There have been no new reported prosecutions in Victoria this week.
WA: employer prosecuted after worker loses three fingers
A Western Australian employer, whose associated company had been issued with several guarding-related improvement notices, was fined after a worker's fingers were amputated in an unguarded auger. GP Mackie and Co Pty Ltd and company director Peter Gilbert, who pleaded guilty to breaching the OSH Act in failing to provide a safe working environment, and were fined $25,000 and $10,000 respectively.
In May 2012, an employee working alone on a New Norcia cattle and hay farm was removing a piece of rock from an auger hopper: the middle three fingers on his left hand were partially amputated. The guard had been removed to make it easier for fertiliser to pass through the hopper. The Court found the director knew the guard was missing, and that WorkSafe WA inspectors issued GP Mackie's sister company – which shared the same directors and workplace – with 10 improvement notices relating to guarding issues in the four years to 2009. The worker losing his fingers was the result of the company's disregard for these notices.
EU: Europeans don't like free trade agreements either
An analysis conducted on behalf of the German conservation organisation BUND concludes that exempting TTIP from the EU's precautionary principle could compromise protection. If the transatlantic trade agreement is adopted, the study revealed, Europeans could end up being exposed to more carcinogenic, hormonally active and environmentally harmful chemicals. For this reason, BUND is calling on the European Commission to stop negotiations on TTIP immediately. According to the NGO, TTIP is a threat to EU standards that protect against chemicals that are harmful to humans and the environment. Industry, of course, rejects what it claims are 'allegations'.
Chemicals regulation differs significantly between the EU and the United States. BUND said over 1,300 chemical cosmetics additives and more than 80 pesticide substances are banned in the EU, but approved for use in products made in the US. This discrepancy is indicative of the very different legal situation in the two regions. In the U.S., a comparatively small number of chemicals are banned and industrial enterprises are not required to prove a substance's safety. The EU, on the other hand, regulates according to the principle of 'no data, no market' for chemicals manufacturers. Before a substance is allowed on the market, the company must provide proof of its harmlessness. Under this precautionary principle, bans and permission restrictions may also be implemented if final proof of a chemical's risks has not yet been submitted.
Read more: TTIP a threat to EU chemical safety standards, German NGO says Euractiv, 25 June 2015
EU: Results of survey on new and emerging risks released
EU-OSHA launched the main findings of the second edition of its European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) at the European Parliament in Brussels on 23 June 2015. With almost 50,000 business surveyed across Europe, ESENER 2 found that risk factors linked to psychosocial and musculoskeletal disorders are the most widespread in Europe's workplaces and that risk assessment is still considered the best way of tackling them.
The survey results provide up-to-date information on how public and private sector organisations, including micro enterprises, perceive and deal with safety and health risks and which drivers and barriers they encounter to manage them in the workplace
Read more: Press release and Summary of the ESENER-2 findings (25 EU languages)
Also, EU-OSHA has released its 2014 annual report: improving working conditions, particularly in small businesses, which describes the diverse ways the organisation helps to improve working conditions across Europe. Key features of the 2014 calendar included the adoption of the new European Union strategic framework on occupational safety and health, the eagerly awaited launch of OSHwiki, the success of OiRA tools to help micro and small businesses do risk assessment and the publication of the 'Managing stress and psychosocial risks e-guide'.
Read more: Press release; Download the 2014 annual report (English) or the summary (25 languages)