SafetyNet 343, October 14, 2015
Welcome to our latest SafetyNet – we've all been very busy organising the upcoming VTHC HSR Conference, so please forgive us if you pick up any errors (!) - but there should still be items of interest for everyone. Also, please send me your views and any questions you might have to email@example.com .. and follow us on Twitter: @OHSreps
Thank you! Renata
ALL HSRs! VTHC Health and Safety Reps Conference – October 27
The conference is getting very close, and unlike other years, we have a limit on the number of people who are able to attend.The venue can take a maximum of 970 and we are almost full! So if you are planning to come, then make sure you have your employer's permission (the deadline for simply notifying your employer that you would be attending has now passed).
The day goes from 8.30am – 4pm, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre; South Wharf, Melbourne. Once you arrive you must be 'credentialled' – for catering and distribution of materials. The desks will open before 8am. It will be a great opportunity to meet other HSRs, skill up and learn how to advocate for safer workplaces. We can guarantee a great day. Morning tea and lunch are provided – but you MUST register.Register directly on this page of WorkSafe Victoria Health and Safety Week website. If you would prefer to register by phone, either contact your union who will arrange registration, or ring WorkSafe's Advisory Service on 9641 1444 or toll free 1800 136 089. More information, and to download a flyer go to this page on the OHS Reps @ Work website. If you have any issues, then email Renata.
Workplace 'resilience' debunked
We are increasingly hearing of the importance of 'Workplace resilience' as an intervention intended to help workers withstand the pressures of work. The UK's peak union council, the TUC, criticised the concept years ago, and now an article in The Age reports on how private consultancies are cashing in on 'resilience training', often employing mindfulness, meditation and associated health and well-being programs. The authors Andrew Thackrah and Susie Byers rightly point out that "individually-focused programmes can't overcome the structural realties and power imbalances that characterise the employment relationship. 'Workplace resilience' might help us bear up to stress, but it won't solve its underlying causes. And the causes of workplace unhappiness don't necessarily reside in the individual and their own ability to 'be resilient' or 'relax' – they are part of the economic structures within which we work."
They conclude: "The provision of health and well-being programmes by employers may have individual and collective benefits but it does not shift the underlying dynamic that determines the wages and conditions that, in turn, have a big impact on our health." They add that while meditating at work may make us happier, "you know what else might make us happier at work? Packing up and going home on time. The real challenge for workers is not simply to remain resilient in the face of workplace stress, but to lead a societal shift that sees 'work-life balance' become more than simply a slogan. This shift will require the present generation of workers (particularly those in the expanding services sector) to adopt a healthy scepticism towards the behaviour of corporate vested interests and to be willing to act collectively to obtain lasting workplace justice."
One of the main sessions at the upcoming VTHC HSR conference will consider how to address the work-related causes of stress and other psychosocial hazards using a risk management approach - rather than focus on making individuals more 'resilient'. And for an interesting discussion, as always, check out Kevin Jones' SafetyAtWorkBlog on the article: Workplace resilience gets a kicking. Read more: Workplace Resilience: It's all a great big con The Age.
Trained at the VTHC? Your views wanted!
Thousands of HSRs have been trained by the VTHC. If you're one of them, and attended either the five day or the Refresher courset, we'd like to hear your thoughts about the course.
Please email your views or thoughts to Amy Jenkins.Thank you so much!
Reminder of the West Gate Bridge disaster 45 year anniversary
Tomorrow, Thursday 15 October year marks 45 years since the West Gate Bridge disaster: 35 workers were killed and dozens more injured when, at 11.50am on 15 October 1970 the 365 ft (112m) 2000-tonne span between piers 10 and 11 of the West Gate Bridge collapsed and fell 164 ft (50m) onto the muddy edge of the Yarra River below. It was Victoria's worst industrial disaster and remains so even today.
The annual commemoration ceremony
will take place tomorrow at 11.30am at the memorial park at Spotswood on
Douglas Parade directly below the bridge - all are welcome.
Read more: West Gate Bridge Memorial; A section on the Public Record Office Victoria website Disaster at West Gate: The West Gate Bridge Collapse of 1970
I work 8 hours a day in a brightly lit office, with varying work hours. Recently I've been getting a lot of headaches, and I'm beginning to think that these may be a result of the fluorescent lighting installed. There is a light fitting almost directly above me, and looking at my computer screen the fitting is at the very top of my vision.
Are you aware of any health related issues pertaining to fluoro lights? Google has a lot of material but much of seems speculative or unhelpful. Unfortunately we don't have an OHS rep or committee, as my employer has refused to look at doing this (and yes, I know they can't do this, I've just given up arguing with them).
Let's deal with the second issue first. If you and your fellow workers wish to have an elected HSR and a committee established, then your employer cannot ignore this. I recommend that you contact your union for assistance (if you are in a union) and request that negotiation for the establishment of Designated Work Groups begin. Make this in writing. If you get no response, then contact WorkSafe and request that an inspector come to the workplace. This is the first step to establishing and electing health and safety representatives. One of the primary objectives of the OHS Act, 2004 is that employees be encouraged to be represented, and the employer has a duty to consult on a range of issues, including the consultation arrangements. (see these pages: Duty to Consult; Designated Work Groups; Health and Safety Committees)
Now, with regard to the first issue of lighting. The employer has a duty under s21 of the Act to provide and maintain so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. The Compliance Code for Workplace Amenities and Work Environment provides advice about lighting which the employer needs to follow in order to comply with the general duty. This is from the Code:
133. Lighting from natural and/or artificial sources needs to be provided for employees to ensure working conditions that are appropriate to the nature of the work, the location of the work and the times at which the work is performed.
134. If the workplace is a building, employers need to comply with the lighting specifications contained in the Building Code of Australia, part F4.2 to F4.4 Light and ventilation and Table 3 (which is on page 26 of the Compliance Code) where applicable.
135. The lighting in a workplace needs to allow employees and others to move about easily. It needs to allow them to carry out their work effectively, without adopting awkward postures or straining their eyes to see.
136. Some tasks may require local lighting in a particular area in addition to general lighting for the workplace or different lighting at different times of the day. For example, employees loading a transport vehicle outdoors will have different lighting requirements when they work at night than they will during the day.
137. Factors that employers need to consider when providing lighting include:
- the nature of the work activity
- the nature of the hazards and risks in the workplace
- the work environment
- illumination levels, including both natural and artificial light
- transition of natural light over the day
138. The lighting provided needs to improve the visual environment and be free from glare including reflective glare, flicker and stroboscopic effect."
Fluorescent lights can flicker and that's why they often have a special covering…
Officewise also has advice on the quality of light:
"Quality of light
This refers not only to the level of lighting, but also to other factors which have a significant impact on how well we are able to perform a task. These include:
- the number of lights in use – having the correct number of lights will provide evenness of lighting over the area;
- the type of lights, e.g. fluorescent tubes, tungsten and halogen lights – the most common type of office lighting is fluorescent, most resembling natural light and long-lasting. Fluorescent lights can provide different qualities of light, such as white, warm, natural, daylight or colours;
- the type of light fittings used – the design of light fittings can influence the direction of lighting;
- the position of the lights – lights should be positioned to illuminate the workstations;
- how colours appear under them; and
- maintenance of the lighting system.
All these factors need to be taken into account when designing lighting for office environments. A lighting designer should be consulted for designing lighting in a new office area."
So – it could be that the light is TOO bright, or that your headaches are from the set up of your computer station Take a look at this FAQ on Lighting, as well as others in this section of the site; for example, on Workstations. You could also contact WorkSafe's Advisory line and get some advice from the regulator, and take this to your employer.
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.
More information on last week's Ask Renata
After the journal went out last week, another subscriber from NSW questioned Renata's response that unless someone is in training, and being supervised, within sight and sound, by a licensed operator, then that person cannot operate a forklift.
Luckily, a third subscriber, also from NSW and knowledgable sent in the following: ".. with regards to the HRW Class LF Forklift Licence, your answer was correct. In NSW you have to be enrolled with a RTO to obtain a log book. Then with the log book and as you said being directly supervises by a Qualified Operator within Earshot and vision may operate the Forklift."
Ballarat Hospital: Union wants action on alleged bullying now
The Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) has written to Victoria's auditor-general about concerns that most mental health staff at the Ballarat Hospital are being bullied and verbally abused by managers. A report commissioned by the hospital itself last year revealed staff reported being yelled at and criticised by their superiors, being denied meal breaks, working considerable amounts of unpaid overtime, and made to conduct home visits alone, even in high-risk situations. Everyone interviewed by the consulting firm reported a culture of bullying and intimidation in the mental health ward.
The auditor-general is due to hand down a report on the prevalence of bullying and harassment in the state's public health sector in December. HACSU's submission to the audit singled out Ballarat Health, saying it had raised similar issues nearly nine years ago. In a statement, Ballarat Health Services said it rejected the claims entirely and that the alleged findings were not consistent with its experience, policies and procedures to prevent bullying. It is also being reported that WorkSafe is investigating the bullying claims. The union has said that until such time as the investigations are complete, supervisors should be stood down.
Read more: Toxic Culture The Courier
Family gets US$3.5 million settlement after woman who laundered husband's clothes dies
The family of a woman from Florence in Alabama, was last week awarded US$3.5 million (AUD$4.77 million) after the woman died of a lung disease that the family says was caused by her having laundered clothes that had been exposed to asbestos. A federal judge issued a judgment in favor of Melissa Bobo and Shannon Bobo Cox, the daughters of Barbara Bobo. Mrs Bobo's husband died of asbestos-induced lung cancer in 1997 after having done clean-up work after asbestos insulation was installed at the Athens-based Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Mrs Bobo laundered her husband's work clothes for more than two decades and died in 2012 after having been diagnosed with a rare lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure. While the new item does not specify what it is, it is likely that it is mesothelioma.
Read more: Times Free Press
Spain: Another case of take home exposure
A legal commentary published last week entitled "Judgment Day" examined the landmark decision issued in June 2015 by the Superior Court of Catalonia which found Uralita, formerly one of Spain's major asbestos-cement manufacturers, guilty of the asbestos-related death of a worker's wife who was exposed to asbestos brought home on her husband's work clothes. This type of 'take home exposure' has caused fatalities all over the world, including in Australia.
See: Condenada URALITA a indemnizar al marido por la muerte de su esposa, quien lavaba y planchaba durante años su ropa de trabajo impregnada de amianto [Uralita condemned to compensate husband for the death of his wife, who for years washed and ironed his asbestos-covered work clothes]. Source: IBAS
Colombia: Government Calls for Asbestos Ban
At a Congressional hearing in Bogota last week, Ministers recognized that the country's asbestos use was not only an occupational hazard but also a public health hazard, and declared the Colombian Government's willingness to implement a national ban within five years. Minister of Labor Luis Eduardo Garzon proposed creating a technical committee, led by the Ministry of Health, to allow stakeholders input to the formulation of a just transition policy which would provide employment for 6,000+ asbestos sector workers.
See: Asbesto no es problema de salud ocupacional, sino de salud pública: Gobierno [Government: Asbestos is a public health problem not just an occupational health issue]. Source: IBAS
UK: Rising Mortality from Mesothelioma
A graph produced by historian Dr. Geoffrey Tweedale provides visual evidence of the inexorable rise in the number of UK mesothelioma deaths between 1968 and 2013. According to data released this summer by the Health and Safety Executive and the Office of National Statistics, there were 2,538 deaths from mesothelioma in Great Britain in 2013; between 2010 and 2014, 11,011 people died from this disease with rates increasing by 13% over this period.
See: UK mesothelioma mortality graph. (broken link) Source: IBAS
News was just coming in of a fatality at a transport depot in Sydney yesterday (Tuesday). NSW WorkCover attended a site where a worker had died from crushing injuries received while coupling trailers.
Queensland report on FIFO advocates improved accommodation
The Queensland government's Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee's report into into long distance commuting work practices and fly-in, fly-out arrangements recommends that proposed new minimum accommodation standards "advise against" motelling and "hot-bedding" arrangements and that the state discrimination statute outlaw job advertisements that exclude workers who live near projects with non-residential workforces.
"Motelling" involves allocating workers a different room for each work cycle; when that worker returns to complete another cycle, they are located in a different room for that period - so it's like living in a motel. "Hot-bedding" is even worse: two workers on opposite shifts on the same day use the same bed. When one worker gets up and goes in to work, the other come back to that same room to sleep in the bed.
The CFMEU's mining and energy division submitted that these arrangements are detrimental to all workers, but particularly females. The union said workers reported that the arrangement created many problems: a "lack of community among workers, less security for female workers, increased fatigue and less privacy".
The parliamentary inquiry concluded that these practices increase mental health difficulties and contribute to an additional layer of stress and that minimum standards should be implemented to address the concerns raised by FIFO workers.
Read more: Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee webpage, Media Release: Parliamentary committee into FIFO makes recommendation to create choice for workers [pdf]and report [pdf].
International Unions News
New Zealand: Union holds firm to account for work death
A New Zealand logging company is facing a hefty legal bill after a union body took a private prosecution when enforcement agencies refused to bring charges after a workplace death. M and A Cross Limited was fined NZ$25,000 (AUD$22,800) at Rotorua District Court and ordered to pay reparation of NZ$105,000 (AUD$96,000) to the family of 45-year-old forestry worker Charles Finlay. He was killed on 19 July 2013 at a forestry work site in the Taumata Forest. National union federation CTU took the private prosecution after Worksafe New Zealand refused to lay charges. Maryanne Butler-Finlay said making sure her husband was not blamed for his death had been paramount for the family. "It's always been about just trying to clear his name and make sure the industry itself is safer for everybody. And I think that we've attained that, there's still a long way to go but the industry is certainly changing." Speaking in August after the firm agreed to plead guilty, outgoing CTU president Helen Kelly said: "If the CTU hadn't sought justice then M and A Cross Ltd would never have taken responsibility for Charles' avoidable death. Justice would never have been served." Source: Risks 723
UK: Over half of teachers could quit within two years
More than half of teachers are considering leaving the profession in the next two years, the UK teachers' union poll has revealed. The joint NUT and YouGov survey found 53 per cent of teachers are looking to quit, mainly due to low morale and high workloads made worse by cuts in pay and the number of teachers and support staff. Teachers are working up to 60 hours a week, the teaching union found. It is calling on the government to take action to address the issues of workload, pay and low morale. NUT general secretary Christine Blower said that teachers felt the Department for Education's (DfE) efforts to tackle workload have been "totally inadequate." She said: "The government's current priorities are both wrong and profoundly out of step with the views of teachers. They are the essential cause of the growing problems with teacher supply." She warned that the emergence of the problems coincided with ballooning class sizes, with nearly one million more children starting school over the next decade. "We now have a perfect storm of crisis upon crisis in the schools system. The long-term erosion of teacher pay is further contributing to low teacher morale," the NUT leader argued. She added that the Department for Education "remains wilfully and recklessly unable to see that they are the cause of teacher misery across England." The Department for Education this week announced the creation of three teacher workload review groups.
Read more: NUT news release. DfE news release. Source: Risks 732
Global: Massive mobilization by IndustriALL affiliates to STOP Precarious Work
On 7 October unions around the world joined IndustriALL's global campaign to STOP Precarious Work. In Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Pakistan, Serbia, Kenya, Ghana, Armenia, India, Brazil, Germany, Belgium, Cameroon, USA, Canada, Cambodia, Macedonia, Peru, Brazil, Bangladesh, Japan, Indonesia, Chile, Belarus, Russia, Madagascar, USA, Canada, Australia, Austria, Ukraine…workers and affiliates raised their voice to denounce the increase of precarious work and the bad working conditons of precarious workers.
Read more: IndustriALL
Occupational exposure to noise linked to coronary heart disease
US Researchers have recently confirmed a link between occupational exposure to loud noise and coronary heart disease (CHD). They also found the association between work-related bilateral high-frequency hearing loss (defined as an "average high-frequency hearing threshold" of equal to or greater than 25 decibels in both ears) and CHD was "particularly strong" for those who were younger than 50 years, less educated and current smokers.
In the study 5223 people (between 20 and 69 years old) participated in an audiometry exam by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2004. The researchers said the study confirmed the previous finding that chronic exposure to loud occupational noise, indicated by bilateral high-frequency hearing loss, is associated with increased prevalence of CHD. "It was notable that there were no significant associations of CHD with any types of hearing loss for participants who were not exposed to loud noise in the workplace or leisure time, suggesting that it was chronic exposure to occupational noise that was responsible for the observed association between bilateral high-frequency hearing loss and CHD outcomes."
Read more: Wen Qi Gan, et al, Exposure to loud noise, bilateral high-frequency hearing loss and coronary heart disease. [Abstract], Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 15 September 2015. Read more on Noise
Polybrominated flame retardant affects childhood development
Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health have demonstrated that prenatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) has serious effects on childhood development. PBDEs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are a class of brominated hydrocarbons used as flame retardants. According to the EPA, PBDEs are used to treat fabrics, upholstery, and polyurethane foam. They also pose a serious occupational risk to fire fighters.
While the use of PBDEs has been phased out in the last decade, they are still ubiquitous, with significant exposure to them. Further, PBDEs bioaccumulate in the food chain, and have been detected in fish, surface water, and even in the air. Researchers have now linked them to attention deficit and impulse control problems in children, and the US EPA reports that PBDEs are possible endocrine disruptors.
In the study, 210 mother-child pairs were taken from a cohort from the World Trade Center Study that followed the September 11, 2001 disaster. The researchers assessed children's behavior starting when they were three and every year after until age seven. They determined PBDE exposure at birth by analyzing cord blood samples. The children with the highest exposure to the flame retardant had double the attention problems of their less-exposed peers, even after the researchers controlled variables including age, maternal IQ, ethnicity, mother's marital status, maternal demoralization, and prenatal exposure to cigarettes. Consequently, the study concluded that exposure to PBDEs before birth might lead to inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in children.
Read more: Flame Retardant PBDE Causes This Disturbing Effect On Childhood Development, Research Indicates Inquisitr
Nontoxic flame retardant derived from dopamine
Flame retardants are nasty chemicals. NICNAS, the body responsible for the notification and assessment of industrial chemicals in Australia, has been reviewing the safety of a number of widely used brominated fire retardants. Unfortunately, they have been widely used in many countries. A Duke University study in 2014 found flame retardants in the blood of every child it tested, and American women's breast milk contains 75 times the level of flame retardant of that found in studies of women in Europe, where some of the chemicals are banned. Exposure has been linked to health problems ranging from cancer to preterm birth, as well as lower IQ and attention problems in children. Women with higher levels of flame retardant in their blood take longer to get pregnant, and animal studies have linked the chemicals to lower fertility in men.
In September, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) published their discovery of a flame retardant that is nontoxic and will not accumulate over time in the body. It is made entirely from dopamine - the neurotransmitter in the human brain associated with reward and pleasure. The researchers studied marine mussels, which secrete a mucus-like "glue" made of dopamine that allows them to stick to nearly any surface, including Teflon, widely considered nonadhesive. The researchers found that the dopamine-based coating performs well as a fire retardant: the dopamine retardant reduces a fire's intensity 20 percent better than retardants on the market.
Read more: Christopher Ellison, et al Bioinspired Catecholic Flame Retardant Nanocoating for Flexible Polyurethane Foams [absract] Chem. Mater., 2015, 27 (19), pp 6784–6790; DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.5b03013 Publication Date (Web): September 9, 2015 Source: Newsweek .
OHS Regulator News
Victoria's WorkSafe Week 2015
Apart from the VTHC HSR Conference, there are many other sessions being run both in Melbourne and around Victoria - for more information and to register, go to the special WorkSafe Week 2015 website.
Safe Work Australia
As at October 12, 126 Australian workers have been killed while at work. The fatalities have been in the following industries:
- 42 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 30 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 16 in Construction;
- ten in Mining;
- six in Manufacturing
- five in Electricity, gas, water & waste services;
- four each in Arts & Recreation services; and in Administrative & support services
- three in 'other services'
- two each in the Retail trade; and in Accommodation & food services
- one each in Health care & social assistance and in Public administration & safety.
More information on which industries the fatalities occurred in is accessible on the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities page.
The latest SWA monthly fatality report is for June 2015 – during which there were 15 work-related notifiable fatalities. The report can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
Remember too that Safe Work Australia is currently running activities and event during for National Safety Month, including the agency's free Virtual
Seminar Series, which will broadcast daily on the latest WHS research and safe
work design. More information on National Safety Month
Victoria: Company fined $60,000 following crush injuries to driver
Silk Contract Logistics Pty Ltd a logistics and warehousing business, was last week fined $60,000 for a breach of s26 of the OHS Act - failing to maintain a safe workplace. On 13 February 2014, a 20 tonne shipping container was delivered to the company's Tullamarine warehouse. The container had to be opened in order for a forklift to unloaded it. The company's procedure for opening containers required the use of restraining straps to prevent the doors from fully opening and permitted controlled access to the containers in case of goods having shifted during transit - however this procedure was not maintained at the workplace, creating a risk of serious injury or death from impact by falling objects if a restraining strap or rope was not used.
On this occasion, the delivery driver opened the container without using restraining straps or ropes. Part of the load had shifted and a pallet (weighing about 350kg) struck him from height, causing a fractured skull and cheekbone, bruising on the brain, cuts above his left eye, air pockets in the lung and a suspected fractured rib. The company pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court and was fined $60,000 plus costs of $6,125 - without conviction.
NSW: Caltex agrees to spend $800,000 in enforceable undertaking
As a result of breaches of NSW's WHS Act, Caltex Australia has committed to spending more than $800,000 on developing an all-industry mobile app for managing contractors and on other initiatives, after already spending $400,000 on improving workplace safety. The company entered into an enforceable undertaking with SafeWork NSW, instead of prosecution, after 157,205 litres of unleaded petrol was accidentally released from a storage tank at its Banksmeadow Terminal during a transfer task in July 2013. The petrol spill was stopped
when a fire brigade officer waded through the petrol and turned off the valve
to the tank. As a result of the incident, a firefighter was injured and two workers were taken to hospital and treated for exposure to the chemical.
Read more: SafeWorkNSW Caltex Enforceable Undertaking
NSW: Demolition company fined $120,000 after worker's skull pierced by steel bar
A Sydney demolition company has been fined $120,000 over an incident in 2013 where a worker's skull was pierced by steel bar that flew into the cabin of the excavator he was operating. NMK Pty Ltd was found guilty in the District Court after being charged by SafeWorkNSW with breaching that state's WHS Act for failing to instruct workers and failing to ensure that the front safety screen of the excavator was closed when in operation.
On Friday 16 August 2013, an 18 year old worker was operating the excavator as part of demolition and excavation work for a block of residential units. While filling the sifting bucket of the excavator with a load of concrete and steel reinforced bar, a steel bar flew into the cabin of the excavator, piercing the worker's skull and penetrating approximately 10cm into his brain. Fortunately the worker did not suffer a significant brain injury as a result of the incident.
SafeWork NSW's investigation found that, at the time of the incident, the glass front screen of the excavator was open and that site supervisor had observed the worker operating the excavator with the window open prior to the incident but failed to instruct him to close it.
Read more: SafeWork NSW Media Release
Japan: First Fukushima community declared 'safe' for humans
On 12 March 2011, residents in Naraha, a town in Fukushima's prefecture, were told to evacuate immediately. A day earlier, the north-east coast of Japan had been shaken by one of the most powerful earthquakes in history. The earthquake set off a 14m tsunami that killed almost 19,000 people and triggered a triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
In September, Naraha was declared 'safe' - but local officials are having to confront the reality that almost five years after the nuclear meltdown, many of the town's residents will not return, having simply started again elsewhere, including the thousands who now live in temporary housing or private accommodation in the nearby city of Iwaki.
Read more: The Guardian .
Global: HP and Dell suspend use of interns in China factories
An investigation by Danish human rights group Danwatch has found that thousands of Chinese students are being compelled by their schools to work on the assembly lines of some of the world's biggest electronics manufacturers, making servers destined for European universities. The Danwatch probe into conditions on the assembly lines of Wistron Corporation in Zhongshan, China, which manufactures servers for HP, Dell and Lenovo, found students working against their will for often between 10 to 12 hours a day for up to five months. They would not be allowed to graduate unless they completed the placements. The Danwatch report, 'Servants of Servers', found European universities spent £340m (AUD$713.7m) on mostly HP, Dell and Lenovo/IBM servers in 2014.
"Many students are forced to complete irrelevant internships, working overtime almost daily, and working night shifts. These conditions violate the Chinese labour contract, as well as the standards on internships set by the Chinese ministry of education. Furthermore the forced internships violate the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) convention on forced labour," the report noted. Students interviewed for the report noted they were "depressed" and exhausted. When presented with the finding, HP and Dell replied to Danwatch that it had sent unannounced independent auditors to the factory almost immediately. Although denying claims of forced labour, they did acknowledge "concerns" at Wistron's plant, including students working overtime and night shifts. Both HP and Dell have temporarily suspended the use of interns on their production lines and committed to "investigate the practices at Wistron to be sure" forced labour is not being practiced there. Pauline Overeem of the GoodElectronics network, which published the Danwatch report, said: "The problem of forced student labour in the electronics industry is widespread in China, Thailand and the Philippines. But the case of the Wistron factory in Zhongshan doesn't stand on its own. It is good to know that HP and Dell take these signals seriously, but it is high time that brands and manufacturers across the board take determined action to ensure decent working conditions without any form of forced labour at their suppliers."
Read more: Servants of Servers (Chapter One - other chapters on this page too), Danwatch/Good Electronics, 2015. Source: Risks 723