SafetyNet 333, August 5, 2015
Here's the latest SafetyNet, with OHS news from Victoria, Australia and the world. Please send me your views and any questions you might have to firstname.lastname@example.org, and use the e-journal to promote safer and healthier workplaces. And please follow us on Twitter: @OHSreps
Thank you! Renata
Productivity Commission releases draft report – attack on penalty rates
The Productivity Commission (PC) yesterday released its draft report into the Workplace Relations Framework. Anyone on Twitter, or following the news on the media will be aware of the PC's proposal to reduce penalty rates for some workers (such as hospitality, retail and service workers) while suggesting they be maintained for health and emergency service workers. The response has been predictable. Despite productivity increasing and the increase in wages having been kept at historically low levels, it's the low paid who stand to lose the most. The PC actually concluded that the current workplace relations system in not, in fact, dysfunctional – yet it proposes major changes.
"Australia's workplace system is based on fairness, equality, protection of the vulnerable and rewards for hard work. The system works and Australians have demonstrated they want and support it," said Dave Oliver, ACTU Secretary. "Cutting penalty rates or the minimum wage has nothing to do with job creation or productivity - it is about cutting people's pay packets."
In his SafetyAtWorkBlog Kevin Jones picks up some safety related elements in the draft report: bullying and an OHS component to the penalty rates issue. The PC points to the cost of the anti-bullying provisions in the Fair Work Act and whether they have been effective. The issue with penalty rates is more complex: the PC says there are some "compelling grounds for premium rates of pay for overtime, night and shift work" including long hours of work involving risks to both a worker and the community, and notes there are proven adverse health effects from night shift and rotating shift work. So there is an argument for maintaining these – but only for health and emergency service workers?
The draft report also recommends the introduction of 'Enterprise Contracts' – potentially even worse for individual workers than the old Workplace Agreements, as employers would base these on a pre-approved template not requiring negotiation with individuals. These could be offered on a 'take it or leave it' basis to new workers.
Read more: PC Workplace Relations Framework Draft Report; ACTU Media Release Productivity Commission report attacks penalty rates, minimum wage and rights at work; SafetyAtWorkBlog PC report questions bullying processes; The Sydney Morning Herald Productivity Commission: With a mandate for change, the cuts had to come
Hospitality workers invited to tell their story
If you work in hospitality and haven't yet filled out Kahlani's 'super quick survey' about your experiences in the industry, the please do so now. If you are not a hospitality worker, but have friends or family in the hospitality industry, pass on the link. The survey is not very long, and will provide useful and up to date information on how much workers are really being paid. Go to this page
VTHC Health and Safety Reps Conference
The organisation for the 2015 VTHC OHS Reps Conference is well underway. If all goes according to plan, we will be having a fabulous day of great interest to HSRs. Remember the date and alert your employer you will be attending the VTHC OHS Reps Conference on Tuesday October 27. The speakers for the first session: VTHC Secretary Luke Hilakari; Minister Robin Scott, and Ms Claire Amies, WorkSafe's Chief Executive have been locked in. Remember: elected HSRs will have the right to paid leave to attend the conference under Section 69 of the OHS Act.
Pedestrian killed by garbage truck
In another fatality involving a garbage truck a woman was killed this morning in a car park in Campbellfield in Melbourne's north. The woman, who had not been identified when the incident was reported, died at the scene. The exact circumstances of the collision are under investigation and the truck driver, who was not injured, was assisting police.
Source: ABC News online
I'm wondering what the distance from a person's workstation needs to be to the top of a flight of stairs particularly if it is floorboards and the person if facing backwards toward the top of the stairs?
How close is the worker's chair to the top of the stairs? I imagine the worker is concerned that he or she could potentially fall backwards! While there's nothing specific in the OHS legislation, remember the law requires an employer to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health – this means the workplace, the set-up, the work stations, the systems of work and so on. If something has been identified as a risk, then the employer must take actions to eliminate or reduce the risk. (see Duties of employers). Further, the employer must consult with workers prior to any changes and also when identifying, assessing and controlling risks. See: Duty to Consult
There's also guidance:
- The Australian Standard (AS 1657—2013) which sets out technical requirements regarding 'landings' which is what the top of a stairway is. It is not specifically on how far a workstation has to be from the top of a stairway, but if we take the furthest the worker might have his/her chair out and add extra space for 'cross-traffic' then I think the distance from the top of the stairs would have to be at least a metre and a half.
- WorkSafe's Officewise publication, which has advice on floor space (6 square metres per person for 'tertiary' space - space required in a workstation to accommodate a desk, chair, drawers, filing cabinet, etc); walkways, partitions, storage and more
- The Compliance Code on Workplace amenities and working environment, which has advice on work areas and access ways.
You can access both WorkSafe publications from links on this page: FAQ on Office Space. Having someone's workstation set up in such as way as to be close to a stairway, and having their back to it suggests there are real problems with the arrangement of the office and so needs to be redone.
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.
Herald Sun Home Show, August 13 – 16
Next week is the annual Herald Sun Home Show (at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre) – a mecca for homeowners looking for ideas and help in planned renovations. If you or any friends or family are attending the Show, make sure you visit the Asbestoswise stand to get information and advice on asbestos and what to do/not to do. Asbestos removalists will also be available to answer questions. In addition, Asbestoswise will be surveying people as part of a grant received from the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency to look into the extent of knowledge potential DYI renovators may have. Come along, meet one of the volunteers and get some information
NSW government abolishes Dust Diseases Board
The NSW Government has snuck through changes which will abolish the NSW Dust Diseases Board. The changes appear to be part of the WorkCover reforms the government announced yesterday. The Board, established in 1926, has been an independent arbiter in awarding claims to victims of asbestos exposure and their families. The move has enraged victims' groups in New South Wales.
"The custodianship of the dust diseases board has been the moral responsibility of every NSW Government and NSW Premier for over 85 years," said AMWU National Secretary Paul Bastian. "This is not simply a piece of Government bureaucracy. This board ensures that the many victims of one of Australia's worst industrial killers are compensated and cared for. To casually announce that the Board will no longer exist shows a callous attitude that is beyond belief."
AMWU NSW Secretary, Tim Ayres, was also scathing about the Government's decision: "Mike Baird has delivered a kick in the guts to victims of asbestos exposure and their families. The numbers of victims of asbestos-related diseases are only rising. These families will have to wait longer when claiming compensation."
In September 2014, the NSW Upper House inquiry into the Dust Diseases Board chaired by Liberal MP David Clarke found: "The overwhelming view of review participants is that the Dust Diseases Board and its compensation scheme are performing in an exemplary manner." The government, however, is saying the reform to the Dust Diseases Board will mean that asbestos claims will be handled faster, that victims will have a say, and that there will be no change to benefits.
Read more: Media Release Asbestos Victims Association (SA); Asbestos victims' groups enraged by decision to abolish board which oversees claims for sufferers, families ABC News online
WA: One man's mesothelioma story
Diagnosed with mesothelioma in February, 2010, and given six to 12 months to live, Mr Barry Knowles is today alive and determined to help in the battle against the disease. His skills and his honest, hardworking approach made Mr Knowles a respected and valued member of the WA building industry until his retirement in 2007.
When diagnosed, he and his wife, packed up their retirement home in Tasmania and moved back to Perth to be with their daughters and their families. Slater and Gordon general manager Siri Siriwardene approached Mr Knowles to write his life story at the inaugural Asbestos Disease Society of Australia walk from Kalgoorlie to Perth to raise funds for asbestos-related diseases medical research. The result was Reflections through Reality, in which Mr Knowles shares his family's darkest hours – the shock of his diagnosis, his subsequent battle with ill health, his fight for compensation, and his hopes for the future. Read more: Doing it by the book Community News
ASEA: 2nd International Asbestos Conference registration now open
Early Bird registration is open until September 15 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.
Australian consumers shun China's exports
After the 2012 asbestos scandal involving Chinese cars, Australian consumers are opting for vehicles from other countries. Before asbestos engine components were discovered in Chinese cars exported to Australia by Great Wall Motors, more than 12,000 Chinese cars had been purchased that year. Of the 1.1 million new vehicles bought by Australians in 2014, only 4,200 were made in China. Asbestos and asbestos containing-products have been banned in Australia since 2003 - but some products continue to be imported illegally.
Read more: Haval stalls as Chinese car sales evaporate in Australia.
SA: did you work at Myers Rundle St store?
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has sent out an urgent call to any worker who may have worked at Myers in Adelaide's Rundle St between 1968 and 1974 to contact them as soon as possible about the use of asbestos spray in the building. The company is acting for a former retail worker who has mesothelioma. Principal Jane McDermott said that during that period, "asbestos was sprayed on walls to insulate the building and we believe one of our clients was exposed to asbestos during this period. This person now has mesothelioma."
Read more: Adelaide Advertiser
India: want asbestos products? Order online here There's an incredible website to check out: The Asbestos Centre. This is an Indian company specialising in, amongst other things: Asbestos & Non Asbestos Industrial Packing & Sealing Products, Asbestos Cloth, Webbing Tape, White Rope Asbestos, and even asbestos aprons and asbestos shoes !! Thanks to Rod Smith, from the Bernie Banton Foundation, for alerting us via Twitter, to the wonders of this Indian company.
UK: Asbestos campaigners say 'stop playing with cancer'
Asbestos groups, trade unions and campaigners are calling for regulators to ensure people are protected from "possible asbestos contamination of UK imports." The coalition was speaking out after July reports in the US identified asbestos fibres in crayons and toy fingerprinting kits imported from China – the same issue Australia is facing. Earlier reports had identified China-sourced baby powder and thermos flasks exported to Europe also contained asbestos. The call from the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) notes that China is now the UK's second largest import partner, accounting for 7 per cent of all UK imports in 2014. In a news release, they ask: "How many of these imports contain asbestos?" John Flanagan of the Asbestos Forum noted: "The government needs to assure people that the products are not being sold here and confirm the measures being taken to monitor imports from China and other countries to ensure that no products containing asbestos reaching this country." JUAC chair Julie Winn said the organisation was concerned about the inadvertent introduction of asbestos-containing products into schools. "Global internet sales mean that such products can still find their way insidiously into our schools and homes." She added: "It is now time for a national campaign to raise public awareness about the real dangers from asbestos in our schools and homes – it simply is not good enough for a few to know the truth and for the rest to be kept in the dark." Laurie Kazan-Allen of IBAS said: "In 2015, there can be no excuse for the sale of asbestos-contaminated products in the UK. These people guilty of importing or selling these goods should face prison sentences for illegally flouting the asbestos prohibitions and endangering the lives of British citizens."
Read more: IBAS/JUAC/Asbestos Forum news release [pdf] Source: Risks 713
Wales: Asbestos Scandal in Schools
It's unfortunate, but it appears as though children are being exposed to asbestos in schools all over the world. While governments in Cardiff and London argue over who is responsible for the deadly asbestos contamination of Welsh schools, children and their teachers there continue to experience daily exposures to asbestos. The BBC published an article last week reporting on the repercussions of these exposures and the efforts by campaigners to lobby the Welsh authorities to "take responsibility" for a hazardous situation which appears lost in a bureaucratic mess. According to research by the BBC, 1,514 Welsh schools (85%) contain asbestos products.
Read more: Take lead on asbestos in schools, Welsh government told.
UK: Asbestos Debris at Historic Site
Details have just emerged that Stonehenge, one of Europe's best known prehistoric monuments, was contaminated with asbestos when toxic topsoil was used in landscaping work. When the accidental contamination was discovered last summer, contractors wearing protective clothing and using specialist equipment were brought in to remediate the site at a cost of £100,000 (AUD$213,920). One source speculated that the week-long operations were done under cover of darkness to avoid publicity; English Heritage, the site owners, deny this.
Read more: Stonehenge contaminated with deadly asbestos after contractors accidentally dump soil. Source: IBAS
US: ADAO monthly newsletter now available online
The August newsletter of ADAO (Asbestos Diseases Awareness Organization) is now available to read online. The newsletter has items on what's going on in the US, including news on the battle activists are having in reforming US legislation, and much more. The organisation's president Linda Reinstein, is a long-term activist and was a key note speaker at last year's ASEA Conference
Read more: ADAO August newsletter
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.
Trucking industry employers admit to breaking rules
An article in The Age this week reports on a new Safe Work Australia survey in which hundreds of employers in the trucking industry admit sometimes breaking safety rules to complete work on time. They also said workplace injuries are simply 'an everyday risk' of the job. The survey confirms what the TWU has been saying for a long time: the industry is one of the most dangerous in Australia.
The survey of more than 1000 businesses has found that 20 per cent of employers agreed they broke safety rules to complete work on time, compared to an average of 6 per cent in other monitored industries. One in five also agreed they "consider minor incidents a normal part of daily work", compared with one in 10 elsewhere. Truck drivers face the highest exposure of all industries to hazardous gases and dust, fumes, sun, loud noise and vibration. Injuries, including sprains, strains and chronic joint and muscle problems, were also more common among transport workers than in other industries.
More transport workers die each year than in any other industry. Forty-eight of 184 workplace deaths in Australia last year were in the transport sector. The survey found there were significant gaps between employers and employees in attitudes towards safety, with staff showing significantly less faith in workplace health and safety practices than their employers did.
Read more: Truck driver injuries 'just part of the job' in Australia's most lethal industry The Age
WA: FIFO workers may strike for better rosters
Unions representing the fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers on the Chevron's $55 billion Gorgon LNG project on Barrow Island off WA's north-west coast are recommending protected industrial action after they failed to secure a more family-friendly roster in a new enterprise agreement. "The company is refusing to move so they've left our workers no other option but to take action, there's nothing else left in the bag of tricks," Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary Steve McCartney said.
Currently construction workers on Barrow Island work 26 days on, 9 days off. The workers and their unions are fighting for a more family friendly roster of 20 days on, 10 off. Their position is that a 20/10 roster is roughly in line with the recommendations from a recent WA parliamentary inquiry into the mental health impacts of FIFO work.
About 1,800 workers will start voting today on an industrial campaign which could include work bans and rolling stoppages up to 24 hours. "We've seen too many workers take their lives on these jobs and the impacts on their families is horrendous," Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) state secretary Mick Buchan said. "It's about time they started to listen to the workers and look after those that build these mega projects and give these huge multi-billion-dollar returns." The WA branches of the CFMEU (construction and general division), AMWU and ETU said in a statement that they would be running print, social media, and radio advertising to support their campaign for more "family friendly" rosters for the CB&I workforce. They have also produced a video to advance their position.
Read more: Chevron FIFO workers in WA to vote on strike action over failure to secure family-friendly roster ABC News online
Bangladeshi photo exhibition in Sydney: 13 July - 28 August
If you haven't yet seen the "Murder Not Tragedy" Exhibition of photos from the Drik Gallery (Dhaka, Bangladesh) at the UTS (Level 4 Breakout Space, City Campus Library), Sydney and you're in town, make sure you do. The exhibition features photographs following the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Dhaka, in which over 1300 workers were killed. More details here.
Genetic link to melanoma
A Queensland-led melanoma study has uncovered five new gene regions that increase a person's risk of developing the deadliest form of skin cancer. A team from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, led by Dr Matthew Law, had the lead role in the international project, the largest study of its kind, which examined more than 12,000 melanoma samples. Dr Law said the discovery moved scientists marginally closer to "unravelling the melanoma puzzle" and could lead to better treatments and improved outcomes for patients. In Australia development of melanoma is an occupational risk for outdoor workers.
Read more: Law, M, et al: Genome-wide meta-analysis identifies five new susceptibility loci for cutaneous malignant melanoma [abstract] Nature Genetics (2015) doi:10.1038/ng.3373; New genetic melanoma risks uncovered in Queensland-led skin cancer study ABC News online Peters, S, et al. Childhood brain tumours: associations with parental occupational exposure to solvents. [Abstract] British Journal of Cancer 111, 998-1003 (26 August 2014) doi:10.1038/bjc.2014.358
Research on Quad Bike deaths
The University of NSW Transport and Road Safety Unit yesterday released the results of a world-first testing and research project into quad bike safety. WorkCover NSW funded the $1.3 million Quad Bike Performance Project designed to quantify the stability and crash worthiness of quad bikes and assess their risks and performance.
The project was conducted over 18 months by researchers from the University of NSW Transport and Road Safety unit and involved more than 1000 tests for static stability, dynamic handling and rollover crash worthiness on 16 vehicles: agricultural and recreational quad bikes and side by side vehicles. The project produced 24 recommendations including:
- introducing a consumer safety rating system for new vehicles;
- retrofitting of operator protective devices for existing on-farm vehicles;
- increasing helmet wearing;
- restricting children under 16 from operating an adult quad bike; and
- increasing education and awareness about the importance of vehicle selection and safe use.
The authors rejected "active riding" as a reliable rollover-prevention strategy, and found that no tested quads achieved better than three out of five stars under a proposed safety-rating system. Head of the research team Professor Raphael Grzebieta said the research has demonstrated the importance of rating quad bikes and side by side vehicles to help reduce injuries. Executive Director of WorkCover's Work Health and Safety Division, Peter Dunphy, said WorkCover is reviewing the findings of the research report and is working with stakeholders and the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities to develop a nationally agreed position in relation to the research findings and a revised Quad national Bike Safety Strategy. The Queensland deputy Coroner was able to reference this study in making recommendations in a recent inquiry (see below).
Read more: Research to pave the way to reduce quad bike deaths WorkCover NSW Media Release. Hear the researchers discuss their research here.
WorkSafe Small Business Events
WorkSafe Victoria is promoting its Small Business Events which are aimed at assisting small businesses to improve their business with health and safety. Free advice is provided from WorkSafe on Occupational Health and Safety and Return to Work. As part of the Small Business Victoria Festival, businesses are invited to attend free WorkSafe seminars in Ballarat (August 21), Shepparton (August 24), and Traralgon (August 26).
More details on the events and to register, go to the Small Business Events webpage.
Safe Work Australia
As at July 31, 92 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work – nine more work-related deaths since the previous update on July 14 – nine more families who have tragically lost someone. The fatalities have been in the following industries:
- 29 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 23 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- Ten in Construction;
- eight in Mining;
- four in Electricity, gas, water & waste services;
- three each in Arts & Recreation services; in Manufacturing; Administrative & support services; and in 'other services'
- two each in the Retail trade; and in Accommodation & food services
- one each in Education and Training; and Health care & social assistance
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 for April – in which there were nine work-related deaths reported to state and territory OHS regulators. The report can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page
Queensland: Deputy Coroner recommends kids banned from use of quad bikes
Queensland's deputy coroner has found that helmets should be mandatory on quad bikes and children banned from riding adult-sized bikes. Coroner John Lock has been inquiring into the deaths of nine Queenslanders aged from nine to 86 who died in quad bike accidents between March 2012 and January 2014. In handing down his findings, Mr Lock said recent research showed children are 12 times more likely to suffer serious injuries in quad bike accidents than adults. Mr Lock said it was clearly inappropriate for children under six to ride a quad bike of any type, and children under the age of 16 should not ride adult-sized bikes.
Mr Lock also called for helmets be made mandatory in Queensland. The court was also told that Safe Work Australia should initiate the process of introducing an Australian standard for quad bike helmets. Once there is a standard, the State Government should mandate their use.
Read more: ABC News online
From WorkCover NSW: Falls from ladders have recently resulted in serious brain injuries and a death.
More information on falls.
Comcare charges two national employers with Category 2 charges
In what are the second and third criminal proceedings filed under the WHS Act, two companies have been charged with breaching s32 of the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011 over separate incidents in Adelaide in 2013. Both companies have been charged and found guilty for breaches in the past.
1 – Transpacific Industries Pty Ltd
The two new charges against Transpacific relate to an incident in July 2013: Comcare alleges a worker was knocked to the ground and suffered burns when a flash fire broke out from a large distillation tank at Transpacific's Wingfield Chemical Waste Processing Plant near Port Adelaide. According to Comcare, the employer was conducting its first production-scale trial to distil a new industrial solvent from a chemical waste product at the time.
Transpacific was recently fined a record $363,000 under the old Commonwealth OHS Act for its conduct both before and after a February 2011 fatality in Perth involving a garbage truck with defective brakes.
2 - John Holland
In late 2014, John Holland was the first entity to be charged under the WHS Act following an incident on the South Road Superway construction project in north Adelaide in 2012. A concrete pipe fell on and damaged two passing cars, exposing the drivers to the risk of serious injury or death.
The three new charges against John Holland relate to an incident, also in July 2013 in Adelaide, at the same project, where a portal crane collided with an elevated work platform and injured a worker in the platform basket.
John Holland was also recently fined $110,000 in the first of two safety prosecutions it is facing under the old Act relating to the incident-ridden construction of the Brisbane Airport Link.
Italy: Fireworks factory blast kills nine
An explosion at a fireworks factory in Bari, southern Italy has killed nine workers. Seven people were killed instantly and several others were injured in the explosion on 24 July. Two later died from injuries. La Repubblica newspaper reported that a van exploded first, triggering a series of blasts within the factory that lasted around an hour. The Bari prosecutor's office has opened an involuntary homicide inquiry into the explosion. Italian president Sergio Mattarella said everything would be done to ensure that the cause of the tragedy would be discovered "as soon as possible". Two Canadair water-bomber planes were deployed to prevent the fire triggered by the blasts from reaching a nearby forest. The factory was destroyed.
Read more: The Telegraph Source: Risks 713
Japan: Fukushima executives to be prosecuted
In the first criminal prosecutions of officials connected to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster of 2011, the Japanese authorities have announced they will proceed with cases against three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the owner of the plant where reactors melted down after a tsunami. This is a victory for citizens' groups that have been pursuing charges against dozens of officials at Tepco, and the government, with no success until now. Prosecutors had twice rejected requests to indict the three former Tepco executives, but a review board overruled their decision on Friday and ordered that charges be brought.
Read more: 3 Former Executives to Be Prosecuted in Fukushima Nuclear Disaster The New York Times
Egypt and Indonesia: Two gas explosions lead to multiple deaths
Deadly conditions have been highlighted again after over 40 workers died in similar incidents in Egypt and Indonesia. At least 25 people died in a 28 July fire at a furniture factory north of the Egyptian capital Cairo. A further 22 people suffered injuries from burns and smoke inhalation from the blaze in the three storey building and its warehouse in the city of Obour, media reports said. The fire is thought to have started after a gas canister exploded while it was being transported in a lift. The furniture factory did not have safety clearances, according to a source quoted by the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA). More than 20 fire trucks eventually brought the blaze under control. In Indonesia, 17 people died as a result of injuries sustained in a 10 July explosion at a cosmetics factory on the outskirts of Jakarta. Dozens of others were hospitalised after the disaster in Bekasi, West Java. The factory, which reportedly manufactured hair spray, is owned by Mandom Indonesia. It is believed a gas canister exploded in the factory, causing an inferno.
Read more: Daily news; Jakarta Globe Source: Risks 713