SafetyNet 344, October 21, 2015
Welcome to our latest SafetyNet – we've been promising shorter versions of the journal - and this one is certainly shorter, with the upcoming VTHC HSR Conference. Also, due to some exciting work being done on our website, we won't be producing a journal for the next two weeks at least. However, for up to the minute OHS news, follow us on Twitter: @OHSreps where we will be posting regularly. And in even more exciting news: The OHS team now has a Facebook page! So check it out and 'Like' it.
Thank you! Renata
VTHC Health and Safety Reps Conference: October 27 but not too late to register!
The registration for the conference next week through the WorkSafe website has now closed. However, there are about 50 spots left, so if you've arranged with your employer to attend, and you haven't previously registered then contact Sam Hatfield (or by phone on 9659 3569), by midday Friday October 23.
West Gate Bridge Collapse Memorial
"45 years ago 35 workers went to work and didn't come home. It was Thursday - pay day - and they would've all had weekend plans," CFMEU Construction Division's Secretary John Setka recalled the day he got picked up from school early because his father had been working on the West Gate Bridge when it collapsed. His father survived the tragedy, and went on to have a great relationship with his grandkids much later.
Others, like Yvette and Giselle Pram, were 12 and 14 when their dad didn't come home. Last week they laid flowers at the memorial, as they have done every year, and recounted how their father had ordered the latest model Ford the day before, and how it arrived the day he died. "There were rumours that is wasn't safe, that something had been removed too early. But really the families were never told the truth about what happened until decades later," they said.
45 years on, survivors and family of those who died still gather in a sea of high vis on the side of the river and underneath the bridge to remember those who died in a preventable tragedy. There were a couple of hundred there last week. We remember those who died in industrial incidents so we can do everything we can to make sure it never happens again.
Read more about the West Gate Bridge Collapse: Pat Preston on the bridge; West Gate Bridge 40 years on
Hi Renata. Can I be delegated the role of fire warden? If so can i refuse? My employer has told me and others that we are wardens and that they don't have to provide training or induction. Is this correct?
I don't agree with your employer on a number of issues. Being a fire warden could be considered as taking on 'other duties' and so could be either written into someone's job description as part of say higher duties, or allocated to people who might be interested - perhaps on the basis of an allowance being provided. However, if you are being told that you must take up this role because you are an elected HSR, then the answer is no, as HSRs have no 'duties'. (see this page for more information on the role of the HSR).
With regard to the employer saying that they do not have to provide any training or induction: this is not in any way acceptable! Fire wardens play a very important role in the event of an emergency - not just fires, but during evacuations which may be necessary for any other reason. As a minimum, fire wardens need to know the system, the warning signals, the exits, the best way out, how to ensure everyone is out, and even how to use extinguishers!
The employer has a duty of care to have an emergency evacuation plan in place, and also to ensure that employees receive as much information, training and supervision as are necessary to enable them to carry out their functions/work in a manner that is safe and without risks to health. Add to this the duty to 'others' … just imagine what would happen if someone were injured directly as a result of a poor plan or untrained fire wardens!!!
At the VTHC, once we had an emergency evacuation plan done, and the wardens in place – we received training, provided by the MFB (who run a 'business' as do a number of other providers). Check out this page on the site for general info on fires and emergency evacuation.
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.
Doctor stabbed at Thomas Embling psychiatric facility
There are reports in today's media that the man who shot dead two students at a Melbourne university campus 13 years ago, Huan Yun Xiang, yesterday stabbed a doctor at a psychiatric hospital. The doctor is recovering in hospital with non-life threatening injuries after being attacked by a patient during an interview at the Thomas Embling facility in Fairfield.
Staff at the hospital said they feared for their safety and blamed inadequate support for a string of violent attacks at the facility. The Health and Community Services Union State Secretary Lloyd Williams said violence towards staff was increasing and called for an urgent review into staffing and security levels at the hospital. "Yesterday is an example of what [regularly] occurs at the hospital," Mr Williams said. "Back in 2008 we had a multiple murder in this unit, where a patient murdered two other patients. That was a knife attack. Here we have another knife attack."
He added. "I think it was more good fortune than good management that it wasn't a more serious injury. We're concerned there's a high level of violence from patients to staff, where there is a high level of assaults occurring. Thankfully they weren't life-threatening injuries, but nonetheless this is an extraordinary concerning situation and is entirely unacceptable."
Read more: ABC News Online More on Violence at work.
Insecure work: Victorian government inquiry background paper released
In September of this year, the Minister for Industrial Relations, the Hon. Natalie Hutchins MP, announced an inquiry into the labour hire industry and insecure work in Victoria, to investigate the practices of labour hire companies, insecure work, sham contracting and the abuse of visas to avoid workplace laws and undermine minimum employment standards. Last week, the inquiry, chaired by Professor Anthony Forsyth of the RMIT University Graduate School of Business and Law, released a background paper calling for submissions related to the terms of reference from interested parties.
The inquiry is also keen to hear the
experiences and views of labour hire workers, employers of labour hire
workers and owners of labour hire agencies. As the inquiry will look at
the social impact of insecure work, contributions from family and
friends of labour hire workers are also encouraged. There will be a
number of public consultation meetings run around the state to
Read more: Inquiry into the Labour Hire Industry and Insecure Work - download the background paper; find links to the Terms of Reference and information on proposed dates and locations of public consultations. For an interesting discussion, see SafetyAtWorkBlog Insecure work inquiries should embrace and expand the safe system of work
NSW: Asbestos increasingly dumped in Sydney's suburbs
The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Sydney's fringes are increasingly being used as a dumping ground for asbestos waste by unscrupulous builders and renovators wanting avoid costly and labour-intensive legal disposal. Truckloads of asbestos-contaminated construction material removed from demolished and renovated buildings are being tipped onto roadsides, bushland, parks and even in the middle of isolated roads.
The NSW EPA says that though asbestos makes up only eight per cent of illegally dumped waste across NSW, it was the most difficult to clean up due to the high cost and health and safety implications. Across the whole of the state there are fewer than 100 facilities licensed to take asbestos waste: they charge about $300 per tonne and require asbestos sheets to be delivered in bundles wrapped in heavy-duty builders' plastic and sealed with duct tape. Contaminated soil needs to be wetted down and placed in tied bags. In the Sydney metropolitan area there are only 10 licensed tips. There are similar issues in all Australian states and territories - even worse elsewhere. In any case, this is no excuse for people to break the law and put the community's health at risk.
Read more: The Sydney suburbs serving as a dumping ground for asbestos waste Sydney Morning Herald
NSW: Unions NSW calls for asbestos removal fund
The Labor Council of New South Wales (Unions NSW), representing 800,000 Australian workers belonging to 67 unions and 8 labor councils, has proposed that a scheme be set up and funded by the construction industry to remove asbestos from buildings to prevent illegal tipping of contaminated debris which has become a common problem throughout the state. Unions NSW said the funds required could come from the imposition of a small levy on new construction materials; further, asbestos removal costs should be tax deductible.
Read more: Solve asbestos dumping problem and lift safety with construction levy, says Unions NSW. Sydney Morning Herald
International Asbestos Conference: Brisbane November 22 - 24
The conference which this year is being held in Brisbane is getting closer - and ASEA has said that it's not too late to register. The program and the speakers look fabulous - and ABC journalist Matt Peacock, will be facilitating. The guest speakers from both Australia and overseas, will be most interesting.
Read more: ASEA Conference page and to register.
UK:Most Sheffield schools contain asbestos
Campaigners and politicians have called for drastic action amid revelations eight out of ten schools in Sheffield contain asbestos. Figures obtained by the local newspaper, the Star, revealed 86 per cent of primaries and 35 per cent of the city's secondary schools contain the potentially deadly dust. John McClean of the union GMB, who coordinates the joint union campaign on asbestos in schools, said: "What I would say to parents who may be concerned is: Check the management plan at the school. Every school should have plans detailing where the asbestos is and how much of a risk is posed." He added: "Every council in the country will tell you that they manage it fine and it is not a problem. But what we're saying is: 'Tell us how you do that'. It's all about transparency and educating people on the issue." He warned state schools were being denied the funds to make their premises safe. "This current government has an ideological drive towards academies and free schools – but funding should be spread evenly across the board."
Read more: The Sheffield Star. Source: Risks 724
UK: MPs call on government to set eradication timetable
A new publication issued by MPs calls on the Government to set a timetable for the eradication of asbestos contamination from the national infrastructure. In the report published today by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, MP Ian Lavery, Chair of the Group, said: "We believe that the Government needs to start now on developing a programme to ensure that asbestos is safely removed from every workplace and public place so that we can end… this dreadful legacy which has killed so many people, and will continue to kill until asbestos is eradicated."
The TUC's General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The effects of exposure to asbestos at work continue to cause thousands of deaths every year. Yet asbestos is still with us in around half a million workplaces and public buildings across the UK. As a result, more than 15 years after the use of asbestos was banned, hundreds of thousands of workers are still put at risk of exposure every day. The proposal from the all-party group for the safe removal and disposal of asbestos from all workplaces and public buildings is the only way of ensuring that future generations do not have to live with the continuing legacy that asbestos will leave unless action is taken now."
Read more: The asbestos crisis. Why Britain needs an eradication law.[pdf] TUC Media Release. Source: IBAS
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.
ACTU: Three workers killed each week
The ACTU held its annual OHS/Workers Compensation conference in Canberra last week, where union organisers and health and safety officers met to look at what the union movement needs to do to address the unacceptable level of death and injury in Australian workplaces. The latest official figures show there have been 126 workplace fatalities in Australia already this year. The Safe Work Australia statistics for the year up to 12 October reveal workers are dying at a rate of three every week. Data from SWA also shows 531,800 workers are injured – 118,000 of those seriously – each year, costing Australia more than $60 billion annually. Michael Borowick, national secretary of the ACTU, said: "Worker safety is just another in a string of issues where the government is prioritising its big business backers, rather that supporting the rights of everyday Australians. With three workers losing their lives every week on average in Australian workplaces so far this year, it's clear that this is an area that needs more attention, not less." He said workplace safety regulations and compensation for workplace injuries and diseases "are not prohibitive red tape to be cut in a misguided deregulation drive, they are a sensible, best-practice approach to ensuring workers can get on with their jobs without having to worry about the risk of injury or death. Employers, governments and unions must work together to ensure safety is at the highest level in our workplaces because we can do a lot better than we currently are."
Read more: ACTU Media Release.
WA: Government responds to FIFO inquiry recommendations
Last week, the WA government responded to The Impact of FIFO Work Practices on Mental Health: Final Report. The report was tabled in parliament in June of this year. It found that FIFO practices could lead to a heightened risk of mental health issues, but that further data was needed to better understand the impacts.
The state government has said it will implement about half of the recommendations from the parliamentary inquiry into the mental health impacts of fly-in, fly-out practices on workers. It has said it will support calls for FIFO workers to engage more with local communities, but has not agreed to encourage even-time rosters and less motel-style accommodation.
Among the report's 30 key recommendations, the state government agreed to keep count of the number of FIFO workers in WA and develop a searchable Coroner's Court of WA database to monitor suicide trends. It will also consider commissioning an independent study involving more than 1000 workers and their families to research the mental health impacts of FIFO practices.
Labor's shadow mental health minister Stephen Dawson said he was disappointed the state government had not supported all the recommendations in the report, instead referring many to separate committees to "consider further". He feared not implementing the recommendations as soon as possible could have dire consequences on people's mental health.
Read more: FIFO rosters, dongas to stay: WA government responds to mental health report. WA Today
International Union News
UK:Union body says someone experiences work-related stress every two minutes
The UK's peak union council, the TUC, this week revealed that every two minutes, a worker somewhere in the UK is made ill through stress at work. Workplace stress is a huge problem across the UK. It leads to 11.3 million lost work days and accounts for 39 per cent of all work-related illness. The mental symptoms of stress range from sleeplessness and listlessness through to clinical depression and suicide. The physical effects range from appetite loss and nausea through to heart damage and stroke.
To coincide with European Health and Safety Week – which runs this week and is focusing on workplace stress – the TUC has published new advice on managing stress at work.
The guidance highlights three key points:
- Stress is not a weakness or your fault: it can affect anyone at anytime.
- Don't suffer in silence: but instead talk to someone like your union rep, a friend, your GP or a support service.
- Stress-related illnesses caused by work are preventable. Employers have a legal responsibility to reduce or remove anything at work that could make you ill and that includes workplace stress.
UK: Working while sick is on the increase
New research done in the UK has found long hours and a focus on operational demands over employee wellbeing is fuelling an increase in in the numbers working while sick. Nearly a third of employers reported an increase in people coming to work while they are ill, according to the annual CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management Survey. The survey of nearly 600 employers found that 31 per cent of employers had seen an increase in 'presenteeism' in the last 12 months. It also showed that presenteeism was more likely to have increased where there was a culture in which working long hours was seen to be the norm, and where operational demands took precedence over employee wellbeing. Employers that had noticed an increase in presenteeism were nearly twice as likely as those that hadn't to report an increase in stress-related absence, and more than twice as likely to report an increase in mental health problems amongst their staff. Ben Willmott, CIPD's head of public policy, commented: "This is the fifth year in a row in which 30 per cent or more of employers have reported an increase in employees coming into work when they are ill. It's a real concern that the problem of presenteeism is persisting, as we might have expected it to drop during the economic recovery as people tend to feel more secure in their jobs." He concluded: "The message to businesses is clear: if you want your workforce to work well, you have to take steps to keep them well and this means putting employee health above operational demands."
Read more: CIPD news release. Morning Star. Information on Presenteeism. Source: Risks 724
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.
In the October 15 edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox, Ashley Bracken from WorkSafe's Construction Program reminds readers about ensuring site structures can resist high winds, following the number of wind incidents reported in this edition's list of reported incidents. Spring time in Victoria exposes construction sites to the strongest winds of the year; with wind gusts regularly exceeding 120km/h. These winds play havoc with loose materials such as roofing material, unsecured scaffold planks, sheet ply and construction waste all of which can be blown around and off the site.
were 55 Reported Incidents (attached to Safety
Soapbox) in the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries from 24 September - 7 October 2015, and include: include: 15 near misses, eleven each of fractures and lacerations, four punctures and ... seven 'unknowns'! As usual, several of the near misses could have had tragic outcomes.
Access the October 15 Safety Soapbox edition online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Queensland: Government restores HSR and Union rights
A Bill restoring HSR and entry powers passed Queensland Parliament last week, although a clause imposing additional injury-notification requirements on employers was defeated. The Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015, to commence on a date to be fixed by proclamation, reverses the changes that the previous State Liberal/National Party Government made to Queensland's mirror WHS Act in April last year.
These changes, driven by political, not health and safety grounds, included removing the right of HSRs to direct 'ceaseworks', requiring HSRs to give 24 hours' notice before a person (eg a technical expert or a union official) could enter the workplace to assist them, and requiring WHS entry permit holders to give 24 hours' notice before entering a site to investigate suspected safety contraventions.
Queensland Employment and Industrial Relations Minister Curtis Pitt told Parliament that reinstating HSR powers and immediate entry rights "restores consistency with the nationally harmonised model of work health and safety laws". He said giving trained HSRs the ability to direct unsafe work to cease is particularly important because they are better placed than other workers – particularly young workers and those from non-English speaking backgrounds – to identify workplace hazards and risks.
Source: OHS Alert
NSW: Forklift safety warning
NSW's Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello last week issued a strong warning about working safely around forklifts. Between July 2012 and July 2014, 1,360 workers were injured in forklift incidents, including five fatalities, at a cost of $15.8 million to the NSW workers compensation scheme. "Creating a safe workplace should be the number one priority for every business," Mr Dominello said. "Workplace incidents involving forklifts often result in serious injuries and operators need to be conscious of pedestrians at all times." SafeWork NSW has advised businesses to implement traffic management plans to reduce the risk of forklift incidents.
Read more: NSW Forklift Safety Warning
Tasmania: Worker killed in dairy factory may have been electrocuted
WorkSafe Tasmania is investigating the death of a workers at a dairy factory in Pyengana in north-east Tasmania. Paramedics responded to an emergency call yesterday (Tuesday) and tried to resuscitate the 56-year-old man. Police have said the worker may have been electrocuted. WorkSafe is conducting an investigation into the cause of the man's death.
Safe Work Australia
There has been no update since October 12, at which time the national authority had been notified that 126 Australian workers had been killed while at work so far this year. The latest monthly fatality report remains that for June 2015. To check on updates: see the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities page.
WA: Pearling company admits breaches in death of young diver
Paspaley Pearling Company, one of Australia's leading pearl companies, has been fined $60,000 for failing to provide a safe workplace, following an investigation after the death of young diver Jarrod Hampton in April 2012. The company pleaded guilty to failing to provide a safe workplace after the regulator's investigation into the fatal incident. WorkSafeWA said it was the young man's second day as a "drift" diver when he surfaced prematurely. According to the WorkSafe, "The skipper was notified and thought that Mr Hampton was continuing with the dive when he disappeared below the surface." The skipper then called off the dive and a deckhand pulled Hampton aboard by his oxygen line. Witnesses reported it took between five and 10 minutes to bring him aboard, where attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. Worksafe said at the time of the death, Paspaley "did not have a written emergency procedure for the rescue and retrieval of an incapacitated diver from the water, and the crew on board the vessel had not practised any emergency drills in preparation for such an event."
Mr Hampton's parents and brothers, who travelled to Perth from Melbourne, were reported to be 'utterly disgusted' with the low fine. Speaking outside the court, Robyn Hampton said she was appalled the fine was only about a third of the $200,000 maximum penalty. "As far as I'm concerned I don't believe the court had any idea of the implications of this incident." The VTHC agrees that a $60,000 fine for a multi-million dollar company which had no procedures in place seems little more than a slap on the wrist.
Read more: Pearling company Paspaley admits workplace safety breach after diver Jarrod Hampton's death ABC news online. See also ABC Four Corners July 2012 program: The Price of Pearl - the program investigated Mr Hampton's death and reveals the shocking conditions under which 'drift divers' worked.
NSW: Employer fined after seven workers poisoned
Environmental Treatment Solutions Pty Ltd (ETS) was earlier this month fined $67,000 after two employees mixed incompatible dangerous goods, creating a toxic gas that ended up hospitalising themselves and five other workers. The company pleaded guilty to breaching the State Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 in failing to adequately instruct or supervise the two employees and, through the employees' actions, adding sodium hydrosulphide to acidic material.
In February 2014, ETS's on-site chemist instructed the two workers to pour bags of caustic soda that were on a pallet into a concrete fixation bay containing acidic waste. Underneath these bags, however, were bags labelled "sodium hydrosulfide", which they added to the waste without reading the warning labels or seeking advice from the chemist. This created a chemical reaction that caused the release of about 42 kilograms of highly toxic hydrogen sulphide gas into the atmosphere. Three employees, including one of the two men and the chemist, lost consciousness, and four other employees suffered symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, chest tightening and headache. All seven employees were taken to hospital for monitoring, while a police officer who responded to the incident and an independent contractor at the site were also taken to hospital for observation.
Saudi employer chops off domestic worker's hand
It has been reported that an Indian domestic worker living in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, was in hospital after her right hand was allegedly chopped off by her employer. She had been working for a family in the city for three months, and had repeatedly reported mistreatment to her family back in Chennai, India. When her employer learned that the woman, Kasturi Munirathinam had taken her complaints to the authorities, the woman of the house allegedly severed her right hand, according to the Times of India.
Because of the brutal nature of the crime, Indian diplomats in Saudi Arabia told the paper, the investigation would be handled by the General Intelligence Directorate (al-Mukhabarat al-Aamah), the country's principal intelligence agency.
Read more: The Age.
EU: Consultation on BPA and PFOA restrictions
Two draft opinions proposing restrictions on Bisphenol A and PFOA use have been opened to comments. The Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC) opinions are based on Bisphenol A in thermal paper and pentadecafluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), its salts and PFOA-related substances. SEAC prepares opinions of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) related to the socio-economic impact of legislative actions on chemicals in the REACH process. Final decisions are made by the European Congress.
Read more: Food Quality