SafetyNet 345, December 2, 2015
Welcome back to SafetyNet – after a break of a few weeks (more than we initially thought!), we are back. This is a short edition though, as I've only had one day to put it together - more to come next week! In this time the OHS Reps @ Work website has been prepared for a facelift which will make the site easier to navigate. We will be working on updating some of the information on the site, and if any of our readers come across errors or broken links, we would appreciate you sending those in to Renata.
While the journal has been off-line, there have been many items on our Facebook page We Are Union: OHS Matters as well as Twitter. So please 'like' our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter: @OHSreps
Thank you! Renata
Workplace fatalities – November a tragic month
A farmer was killed on Monday October 26 when he was crushed between a utility vehicle and a pole on his parents' dairy farm at Princetown, in Victoria's south-west. The man, 45, died at the scene. At the time of the release, WorkSafe said it had begun an investigation into the incident. Local paper had more details: Port Campbell police Senior Constable Scott Thompson said the farmer was using a ute to jump-start a ride-on lawn mower. He said the farmer had leaned into the ute to start it. The ute was in gear and it jumped forward and pinned the man between the ute door and a shed pole, he said.
Every fatality is a terrible tragedy and avoidable - but much worse was to come, with eight worker fatalities in the following month, November, making it the worst month for workplace fatalities in Victoria in more than a decade. WorkSafe is investigating each of these tragic incidents.
- November 30: A 41-year-old man working at a poultry farm at Lethbridge, near Geelong, was struck by a forklift late at night. The worker suffered a number of injuries and died at the scene.
- November 22: A 49-year-old farmer as found late in the evening underneath a quad bike on a property at South Purrumbete, east of Cobden, in Victoria's southwest.
- 19 November: A 42-year-old man fell to his death while removing a downpipe from a two-storey home at Hamlyn Heights in Geelong.
- 12 November: A 25-year-old refrigeration mechanic was electrocuted while doing maintenance work on an air conditioner at a factory in Braeside.
- Also on 12 November: A 29-year-old worker was killed at a business in Keysborough when a piece of equipment fell off a forklift and crushed him.
- 10 November: a 76-year-old farmer was crushed by his tractor after it rolled over at Loch, in South Gippsland.
- 9 November: A 64-year-old contractor died in an explosion at a housing development site at Harkaway in Melbourne's outer east.
- 4 November: A 76-year-old farm worker was electrocuted while maintenance was being undertaken on a pump at a farm at Anakie, near Geelong.
According to WorkSafe statistics, November and December is the most dangerous time of year for Victorian workers.
"Our figures show that since 2005, almost 25 per cent of all workplace fatalities have occurred in the final two months of the year," WorkSafe's Executive Director of Health and Safety Marnie Williams said. "Of the 23 workplace fatalities in 2014, seven occurred in November and December, which is almost a third. "So we are asking everyone to take the time every day to plan their work safely.
"The simple fact is that every workplace fatality is preventable. If employers have the safe systems in place to protect their workers, if people stop to plan each day with safety in mind, and if everyone works together to identify and eliminate or reduce risks, then workplace fatalities can be prevented," Ms Williams said. "The upcoming Christmas holidays should be a time of joy. It should not be a time families are mourning the loss of a loved one who has died at work."
Read more: WorkSafe Media Releases Renewed call for extra care following 7th death in three weeks; Tragic end to month as eighth worker dies
Woman suffers horrific injury in Shepparton
Also in November, a young woman in her 20s was scalped after becoming entangled while cleaning machinery at Kalafatis Fresh Produce in Shepparton East. An Ambulance Victoria spokesperson said the worker had been "caught in a conveyor belt" before having a large section of her scalp and neck torn off. She was rushed to the Goulburn Valley Base Hospital before being flown to The Alfred hospital in Melbourne several days later.
WorkSafe Victoria investigators attended the scene, looking into the cause of the incident. A WorkSafe spokesperson said at the time that investigations were ongoing, with the organisation unable to provide further comment until official findings were made.
VTHC Health and Safety Reps Conference
It seems like a long time ago, but the VTHC Health and Safety Reps Conference, held on October 27, was a huge success. 1200 HSRs registered and heard from a range of academics in the area of health and safety, WorkSafe representatives including Executive Director of Health and Safety Marnie Williams and inspectors, union officials and HSRs. Those attending also filled in a number of surveys: for the VTHC to assist in identifying priorities for 2016; for Monash University on what their workplaces are like in terms of 'OHS lead indicators'; and finally for asbestoswise on asbestos exposure and registers. We will provide updates and results from the surveys in coming editions of SafetyNet.
Read more: An update and available presentations have been loaded onto this page of the OHS Reps @ Work website.
WorkSafe awards – congratulations to all the winners
WorkSafe Victoria's annual Health and Safety Awards were announced during Health and Safety Week at an event open to the general public. The VTHC would like to congratulated this year's Health and Safety Rep of the Year: Sean Mathews, Eastern Health (Ringwood) – who is a proud union member and ANMF Health and Safety Rep of the Year. Sean was first elected as HSR in October 2011, and was re-elected in January 2015. As HSR Sean intervened and took on a leadership and advocacy role in support of Eastern @ Home Oncology Nurses who had been working in an unsafe environment for several years. This directly led to a relocation of the staff to a suitable work environment, relocation of parking (in relation to loading / unloading) for work vehicles, and a change in the management of cytotoxic waste (previously stored in an office environment) for the nurses at Eastern @ Home. He instigated an OHS and Infection Prevention and Control audit that led to resolution of the issues.
While WorkSafe says "Sean is a very measured and reasonable HSR who is able to link all of his concerns and issues to the OHS legislation and is willing to work with management to resolve the issues", it also points out that Sean is unafraid to escalate issues where required to improve the work environment for his DWG. When accepting his award, Sean thanked the valuable assistance provided to him as an HSR by the ANMF health and safety team.
Read more: WorkSafe Awards Health and Safety Rep of the Year - Sean Matthews
A special mention
OHS ACHIEVEMENT: Timboon P-12 School.
With the support of WestVic Dairy, Timboon has created the Timboon Agriculture Project (TAP) to link the school more closely to the farming community and to promote farm safety among its students. The purpose of the TAP is to integrate agriculture into the curriculum to support student learning and to increase applied learning opportunities to provide students with opportunities to develop a range of skills, experiences and understanding beyond the boundaries of curriculum. TAP into Farm Safety is the conduit to build awareness among Year 5 students, their families and the community of health and safety in the farming environment and to underpin their learning with real world experiences both in and out of the classroom.
Read more: Timboon P-12 School
I was wondering whether I can be made to drive a forklift at without a license - or can I refuse?
Hello – I see that you are in NSW. Forklifts are dangerous pieces of plant, and incidents involving forklifts often result in serious injuries and even fatalities. Consequently, under all state and territory OHS/WHS regulations, including those of NSW, a person must hold a licence in order to operate a forklift (see this page on the NSW regulator's site and the page on Forklift Safety our site)
This means it's illegal for your employer to require a person without a license to operate a forklift - this is breaking the law. You, or anyone else without a licence not only has the right to refuse to do so, but a duty to do so. Anyone who operates a forklift without a licence is also breaking the law. The only exception is when someone is in training and is permitted to operate a forklift without a licence until such time as that person is competent enough to be assessed. The trainees must be within sight and sound of a licensed operator at all times. It is not sufficient that there is a licensed operator SOMEWHERE on the premises.
Coincidentally, there was a recent prosecution of a company in Victoria for just this reason. HOA Australia Pty Ltd, an importer and wholesaler of Asian grocery products, employs about 30 employees. On 9 December 2014, an employee was driving a forklift in the warehouse when another employee hopped onto the tines of the forklift to get a lift. The driver yelled at him to get off and when he did, his foot became trapped under a wheel of the forklift resulting in serious crush injuries to his leg and foot. A WorkSafe investigation found the driver of the forklift did not hold a high risk work license to drive a forklift. The company pleaded guilty and was fined $4,000 without conviction, and ordered to pay costs of costs $2,827.
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.
OHS Regulator News
New WorkSafe asbestos guidance
- A step by step guide to managing asbestos in workplaces - provides practical information on the management of asbestos in workplaces
- Labelling asbestos in workplaces - a very thorough and informative guide
New Inspectors and investigators
Twenty five new WorkSafe inspectors and investigators graduated on December 1 from an intensive occupational health and safety (OHS) induction training program and will start work to help Victorians continue to return home safe every day. WorkSafe says that the addition of the new personnel to "the frontline" will increase the regulator's ability to work with Victorian employers and workers to improve safety in workplaces across the state, as well as enforce compliance with OHS legislation.
The new inspectors have backgrounds in a wide range of industries including health services, construction, electrical, oil and gas and manufacturing. The new inspectors and investigators are the latest recruits to join WorkSafe, following a further 20 recruits that graduated earlier in the year.
WorkSafe inspectors conducted around 40,000 workplace visits in 2014–15 and issued more than 16,000 notices for breaches in relation to OHS. The comprehensive work by investigators into serious incidents and alleged breaches in relation to OHS contributed to WorkSafe's commencement of 114 prosecutions in 2014–15.
Read more WorkSafe News
Large company fined $600,000 in multiple charges
Thiess Services Pty Ltd was carrying out conservation and maintenance works for Melbourne Water along the banks of the Patterson River in Patterson Lakes. The company had built and operated a barge along the river designed to carry approximately five tonnes. In 2010, NSW Maritime assessed the barge and raised concerns about stability during the loading and transportation of a 5.3-tonne excavator, and issued a Certificate of Survey placing limits and conditions on its operation, including that it had to be "operated in accordance with loading conditions in a NSW Maritime approved stability book onboard". While the designer of the barge advised Thiess it could operate the barge in Victoria lawfully without a stability book, he recommended that one be obtained. The company put the barge into operation without one, however.
On 19 April 2012 (charge 1) a 15-tonne excavator was loaded onto the barge. As the barge was pushed off the river bank, it began to tilt dangerously. The operator was asked to reposition the boom of the excavator to counteract the tilt. The barge made its way along the river without further incident.
On 27 April 2012 (charge 2) a 13-tonne excavator was loaded onto the barge, the operator having been told that it could carry 15 tonnes. When the barge started to lean, the operator was asked to correct the balance by moving the boom but the barge capsized and the excavator sank to the bottom of the river. The operator escaped the excavator cabin but he suffered three broken ribs, a lung infection, a smashed top dental plate, an enlarged heart, and psychological injuries. Two other men on the barge were also thrown into the water but escaped physical injury.
Thiess had failed to provide a stability book to operators of the barge. Had a stability book been available, persons trained in its use would have been able to identify that the excavators loaded onto the barge could not be safely transported across the river. On 4 August 2015 Thiess Services was found guilty in the Melbourne County Court on both charges. On charge 1, the defendant was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $250,000. On charge 2, the defendant was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $350,000.
Wool processor convicted over truckie injury
Laverton-based wool processing business Victoria Wool Processors (Aust.) Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined $75,000 (plus $17,000 costs) over an incident in which a truck driver suffered serious spinal injuries.The business was convicted of breaching the OHS Act for failing to provide a safe working environment to people other than employees.
On 30 July 2013, the driver drove his truck and two trailers to the unloading area at the workplace to deliver wool bales. Once in the unloading area, he got out of his truck, began winding up restraining straps on the bales, and was struck by a falling wool bale which knocked him to the ground. The bale, weighing almost 140 kilograms, had been dislodged by a forklift driver while unloading bales on the other side of the truck.
The man suffered three fractured vertebrae and as a result of his injuries had to have two vertebrae fused together and two steel rods inserted along his spine. His knee also suffered damage and required time in a full-length splint.
The court heard that Victoria Wool Processors (Aust.) Pty Ltd failed to provide adequate information, instruction and training in regard to safe operating procedures for the unloading of trucks, and failed to supervise compliance with such procedures. The court also heard that the workplace failed to provide a designated safe area for truck drivers to wait during unloading and loading.
"This case is a prime example of a business that has failed to understand and control the risks inherent with their operations and, as a result, a person has suffered life-changing injuries," said WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Marnie Williams. "There were clear risks to health and safety at this workplace where forklifts and truck drivers were present in the same busy unloading area. This, coupled with a total absence of information, instruction and training in regard to safe operating procedures, was simply unacceptable. Employers have a responsibility to ensure appropriate risk assessment is carried out and that all workers who come into contact with their operations are appropriately inducted and trained."
Source: WorkSafe News
Co-op fined for inadequate guarding
Pyrenees Hay Processors Co-Operative Limited, is a co-operative involved in the processing of hay, has been fined $15,000, plus costs of $3,317 for a failure to adequately guard plant and provide a safe working environment. On 22 November 2014 an employee of the co-op was carrying out research and development work on a new production line which was to be attached to the existing machinery. The new production line included a point where one conveyor belt ended and another one started. The employee noticed that one of the conveyors was not moving and reached over the front guard to check and the tips of his fingers became entangled with a chain and sprocket mechanism. There was a risk of serious injury to the worker because only the front of the chain and sprocket mechanism was guarded, and the worker was exposed to the danger area during the research and development work. The new area of plant was not operating at other times.
It was reasonably practicable for the co-op to fit fixed rear guarding, or an interlocked physical barrier, or a presence sensing safeguarding system in respect of the chain and sprocket mechanism. Pyrenees Hay Processors Co-Operative Limited pleaded guilty, but was fined without conviction.
Source: WorkSafe prosecutions summaries - check the page for these and other prosecutions not reported on.