SafetyNet 277, 6 March, 2014
Welcome subscribers to Edition 277 of SafetyNet: your free online journal providing the latest OHS news, both local and international. We encourage readers to use the information they find useful, and let us know what you think. Also, please consider 'following' us on Twitter @ohsreps Thank you!
VTHC welcomes rare discrimination prosecution
Last week SafetyNet noticed a tiny item in the Herald Sun: 'Asbestos sacking fine'. The item related to a Brunswick panel beater being fined $35,000 in the County Court for having sacked a worker who raised concerns over an occupational health and safety matter – that is, we assume a breach of Section 76 of the Act. When work was stopped at Woods Auto Repairs following dislodging of asbestos in the ceiling, a 'worried worker' refused to work two days later, 'despite tests indicating the air was clean' resulting in the employer sacking him. While the Court fined the employer, this was without a conviction being recorded. Unfortunately, the VTHC has been unable to get any further information on the case, despite contacting WorkSafe.
Source: The Herald Sun
International Women's Day
While there is a lot happening around Australia, we should all stop and remember the past struggles – and the fight we still have on International Women's Day, celebrated around the world on 8 March. While women workers are better off in Australia than they are in many other countries, we still earn appreciably less than our male counterparts in the same or similar jobs, and still experience higher levels of discrimination and harassment.
Internationally, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has released a statement for IWD 2014, "calling time on gender-based violence in the world of work". The statement says that violence against women at work, whether at their actual place of work or on the way to and from work, can take on multiple forms, including: physical assault; verbal abuse and threats of violence; bullying; psychological abuse; sexual harassment; and "economic violence".
A rally to mark International Women's Day and to continue women's right to equality is being held in Melbourne this coming Saturday 8 March at 1pm at the State Library - Corner La Trobe and Swanston Streets. Read more:Rally notice on Facebook
Firefighters call on Coroner to probe Hazelwood mine safety
The national firefighters union is asking the Victorian Coroner to launch an inquiry independent of government into whether the Hazelwood mine operator had sufficient fire safety systems installed when the toxic fire broke out. The UFU wants an investigation to 'drill down' into the causes and consequences of the mine fire, now in its third week. "Firefighters and the community are being put at unnecessary risk," Peter Marshall, UFU secretary, told The Age. "There should be an inquiry into what fire protection was there, and find out if it was operable and had been properly maintained." Firefighters at Hazelwood have said equipment such as water mains and sprinkler systems had been removed from the disused section of the mine, and that the mine had not been adequately rehabilitated with soil and clay to reduce the risk of fire taking hold.
Meanwhile, the ABC reports that environmental toxicologist Dr Peter Dingle says some residents near a fire burning in a Victorian open cut mine are reporting symptoms similar to those experienced by cigarette smokers.
Sources: The Age, UFU Bulletin
ACTU: Employers' heartless disregard for workers
The ACTU has said the employer push to stop the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from considering bullying claims that occurred before the new laws came into effect "demonstrates heartless disregard for workers" and lets employers off the hook.
ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick said the new laws – which came into effect on January 1, 2014 – meant a worker could now lodge an application with the FWC seeking an order that bullying stop. "It's in everyone's interest to stop stressful, damaging and sometimes deadly workplace bullying as soon as possible," he said."However what employers are now pushing for would mean that bullying victims would need to endure months more abuse. A worker would need to continue to be bullied for some time into the new year before they could try and prove the behaviour is repeated and ongoing and seek the assistance of the FWC to have it stopped." Mr Borowick says the employers' claim the bullying laws would have retrospective operation if bullying that occurred last year were able to be taken into account by the FWC is simply not true.
In other news, there have been issues raised by lawyers in the field - not only the above issue, but also of the difficulty of demonstrating "repeated conduct" and of what constitutes "'work" in this era of widespread social media (Article in the Law Institute Victoria ). Authors Maurice Blackburn Principal Josh Bornstein and lawyer EmelineGaskewrite: "There may be circumstances in which the FWC will find that a worker was bullied 'at work' even where the bullying conduct in question includes, or solely constitutes, social media posts and messages that are made outside of working hours. The more closely connected the victim's experience of bullying is to the performance of work, the more likely it is that the FWC will find that the victim was bullied at work."
While the numbers of complaints to the FWC have remained low, in January the anti-bullying website received 28,000 views/week, and the helpline more than 200 calls/week.
ACTU Media Release Employers push to force bullying victims to suffer longer
I have recently been elected as the OHS rep for my DWG. What is a good way to get an overall view of the issues my members have?
Reps have a number of powers under the OHS Act which facilitate identification of issues, and enable them to represent the concerns of their DWG members. These include the right to inspect the workplace, the right to have access to any information relating to actual or potential hazards and the health and safety of DWG members, and the right to be consulted.You should make sure you speak with members regularly, including during inspections or in regular meetings. You may consider doing a preliminary survey of the DWG members – or a survey on a specific issue which one or more members have raised.
Please send any OHS related queries in to 'Ask Renata'- your query will be responded to as quickly as we can, within a couple of days at the latest.
Change to Group Work program: Community sector job stress
The structured group work program on job stress for workers in the Community Services Sector, which began March 4, has been amended to a six week program. It is an opportunity to share experiences, gain strength and learn techniques and tools to reduce work stress individually and collectively. People are welcome to go along for sessions 2 – 6 for a cost of only $125. If you are interested, or would like more information, please call Dr Lorraine Harrison asap on 0438307002
Location: ASU office, 116 Queensberry St, Carlton South.
Time: Tuesday evenings, 6-8pm.
Legal firms call for Victorian asbestos schools register
Following the latest asbestos incident in a Victorian school (see SafetyNet 276) two prominent legal firms (Maurice Blackburn and Slater & Gordon) have called for the State Government to set up a centralised schools' asbestos register. The Education Department (DEECD) itself says that 1200 out of Victoria's 1520 government schools contain asbestos.
Maurice Blackburn asbestos legal team leader Jane McDermott said Victoria was lagging behind states such as New South Wales and Queensland, which had introduced registers that contained information about the existence and location of asbestos-containing materials at schools.
According to the media, Department spokesman Simon Craig rejected the call for a centralised register, saying were already supported through the department's Asbestos Management Program, which offered advice via a 24-hour hotline, training sessions and scheduled audits from expert contractors."Schools are ultimately responsible for updating and maintaining their asbestos register and are supported by the Department through the Asbestos Management Program," Mr Craig said.
Dare we suggest the Management Program is failing? Under the OHS Regulations, the ultimate responsibility for asbestos, including maintenance of registers, remains with the employer – that is, the Department. The AEU, the teacher and principals union, is also of the view that DEECD is the employer and therefore responsible for ensuring audits, checks, resourcing around asbestos and other issues.
Read more: Northcote Leader Summary of the Asbestos regulations
Asbestoswise looking for a new part time Executive Officer
Asbestoswise, a membership-based charitable organisation working with people living with an asbestos related disease and providing information to those who may be at risk of asbestos, is advertising for this position. Asbestoswise is looking for a person with social media "smarts" who is familiar with not for profit governance, has experience of fundraising techniques and is able to develop relationships with our key stakeholders and is comfortable dealing with budgets and budgetary control. Knowledge of asbestos related disease and its prevention would be an advantage, but is not essential. For more information, a position description and application details contact the organisation at: email@example.com (Applications close March 18).
CEPU DVD on Asbestos
The Plumbing Trades Employees Union (PTEU) have invested in a DVD which highlights the health risks of working with asbestos.As at June 2013, the AMR (Australian Mesothelioma Registry) had 619 people diagnosed with mesothelioma. There is no national data on asbestosis, another hideous disease caused by Asbestos exposure.
Considering the widespread use of asbestos in building, construction and manufacturing during the post-war decades there will certainly be more, as yet undiagnosed, cases of asbestos-related diseases among workers from these industries, placing workers in the plumbing trades at high risk.The DVD is aimed at young workers, in a language that young workers can identify with. Narrator Kevin Sheedy, an ex-plumber himself, says "It's a hidden killer, you can't smell it or see it, but the microscopic fibres work their way into your lungs. It can be 20 years before it starts taking affect." Steve Rocco and Chris Giblin of the PTEU OH&S Unit add, "If you have any reason to believe that something may contain asbestos: Stop, don't risk it, and don't let your mates risk it. Talk to your employer, supervisor, Union, or your Health and Safety Representative. If you see something, say something." The DVD's information is extremely useful for anyone who suspects there may be asbestos in their home or office.
It will be launched at World Plumbing Day on 11th March 2014 at the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre (PICAC) by Peter Tighe, CEO of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA).
View the DVD online: CEPU Asbestos information page
Advance notice: Geelong Asbestos information session April 30
Asbestoswise will be holding an information session on asbestos in Geelong on Wednesday April 30. The speakers at the event will be:
- Mr David Clement, Asbestoswise President
- Ms Shirley Bare, Asbestoswise Support Group Facilitator
- Mr Tim Gooden, Secretary of the Geelong Trades Hall Council
- Ms Jane McDermott, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers
- Ms Maria McGarvie, Slater & Gordon Lawyers, and
- Dr Jonathan Burdon, Consultant Respiratory Physician
Everyone is welcome. Time: 2pm Location: Geelong Trades Hall, 127 Myers St, Geelong.
More information or to RSVP: contact Renee Webb at Asbestoswise – 03 9654 9555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Maximum damages for mesothelioma increased in NSW
The NSW Dust Diseases Tribunal has awarded a mesothelioma sufferer $350,000 in general damages, effectively increasing the maximum level of such damages by more than 20 per cent.The former Amaca Pty Ltd (formerly James Hardie and Co Pty Ltd) worker was also awarded $259,714 for loss of earning capacity, past economic loss and loss of life expectation. Up to this case, the general damages awarded by the Dust Diseases Tribunal had been no greater than $290, 000.
Read more: Case Law Colin McMaster Rodgers v Amaca Pty Limited (formerly James Hardie& Co Pty Ltd) t/as Amaca  NSWDDT 1 (21 January 2014)
IARC Scientist unequivocal over support for complete asbestos ban
An article by Bernard Murphy on the IBAS website reports on the 'clear calls for a complete global ban on the trade and use of asbestos' earlier this month during the unveiling of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) World Cancer Report 2014.
"Asbestos is a discrete carcinogen; it is causing attributable, deadly and, in most cases, untreatable disease – so, yes, it should be banned," said Dr Bernard Stewart, co-editor of the IARC's 630-page, five-year update on the state of cancer science, during the Q&A that followed its presentation to the media in London on February 3rd.
Read more: IBAS website
New Zealand: Asbestos regs 'woeful'
New Zealand needs to follow Australia's lead and ban the importation of asbestos containing products, the rail union said this week. KiwiRail has pulled its forty DL locomotives from the network after asbestos was detected in the soundproofing of the drivers compartment.
"Our regulations in this area are inadequate", said Wayne Butson, General Secretary, Rail and Maritime Transport Union."Rather than a weak, labelling-only approach, New Zealand needs to take a stronger stance and stop the importation of asbestos containing products fully. Australia's stronger regulations (which have banned the import of asbestos since 2004) ensure companies are held accountable for their actions. Australian engineering firm Bradken faces a fine of up to $850,000 for importing locomotives from China that contained asbestos."
RMTU Media Release
Hong Kong: Asbestos banned from April 4, 2013
An asbestos ban – which is being implemented under the Air Pollution Control (Amendment) Ordinance 2014 – will take effect in Hong Kong on April 4, 2014. A letterfrom the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department states that the "import, trans-shipment, supply and use of all forms of asbestos and asbestos containing materials will be banned except goods in transit and registered proprietary Chinese medicine." This action has resulted from a concerted campaign by grassroots ban asbestos activists in Hong Kong.
Source: IBAS Secretariat
Nurses' health poor or average
A Southern Cross University survey of almost 5500 nurses has found many are suffering from musculoskeletal conditions, obesity and mental health problems. When rating their own health – it's somewhere between ''poor'' and ''average''.
The Australia-wide survey also found they were a rapidly ageing workforce, with approximately 40 per cent aged 50 and over.The study found 30 per cent had a chronic illness and half of those required time off work in the year before the survey. The most common conditions reported were musculoskeletal - such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and back problems - followed by obesity and mental health afflictions.More than half felt that stress affected their health and 46 per cent said weight management was a problem. Factors such as shift work contributed to limited opportunities for regular exercise and poor diets.
Read more: Sydney Morning Herald Nurses battling their own medical crisis
Safer bus designs?
More commonly than might be imagined, Melbourne's bus drivers are put at risk of injury by increasing levels of passenger aggression. The Transport Workers Union has welcomed reports that bus operators are researching designs for lockable barriers to separate drivers from their customers, similar to those used in trams.
Bus Association Victoria chief executive Chris Lowe estimated about 200 drivers fall victim to physical or verbal abuse every year, but that many cases went unreported.He said many drivers were suffering with anxiety and depression, and that abusive passengers were a major cause of their stress.
Mike McNess, senior passenger vehicles organiser with the Transport Workers Union, said drivers were behind the push for "security screens", and that several trials were already under way. "The old days when a bus driver was treated as a community figure are gone - now they are becoming a target," said Mr McNess, "The attacks are escalating and becoming more frequent.We can't control the community, but we can control the safety of our drivers."
Industry leaders are also calling for the State Government to impose tougher sentences on those who attack bus drivers — just as planned for those assaulting emergency services workers.
Read more: Herald Sun
WA: Patrick – putting stevedores at risk?
Stevedoring company Patrick is disputing union claims that workers walked off the job in Fremantle after an accident because of safety concerns. The Australian reports a man in his 50s was struck and injured by a container on the morning of Friday February 21, and was taken to Fremantle Hospitalin a stable condition.
Highlighting the fact that wharfies are 14 times more likely to die on the job than the average Australian worker, MUA Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said that campaigning and organising around safety is a main priority for the union. "The MUA's continuing campaign for better workplace safety standards has rapidly developed arising out of the spate of waterfront deaths, particularly in 2010 but there have been other fatalities subsequently and prior," Mr Smith said.
MUA WA Branch Secretary Christy Cain said the Fremantle accident followed a Fair Work Commission decision which ordered workers at the terminal to increase their work rate."We have serious concerns about this industry putting profits before safety," he said.But Patrick's owner Asciano said it suspended work at the site while initial investigations into the accident took place.
Readers may remember that Patrick Stevedoring is the only company against which WorkSafe Victoria had successfully prosecuted for breaching S76 of the OHS Act. In January 2011, the company, a subsidiary of Asciano, was found guilty of discriminating against an OHS Representative, and was fined $180,000. The company, which had pleaded not guilty to all counts, appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and confirmed the conviction.
Source: The Australian MUA Media Release
TWU: Truckies 'caught in cross-fire'
The Transport Workers' Union has released a statement confirming it fully supports the ongoing investigations into safety issue at Cootes Transport, "because unsafe trucks shouldn't be on our roads." However, "hard working honest drivers who no fault of their own have been risking their safety in unsafe vehicles are now facing losing their livelihoods as the pressure on the company hits its bottom line" – and a sad consequence of the investigation is that hundreds of Cootes employees could lose their jobs as the company loses major fuel contracts. The union says its officials and delegates will be meeting with the company to get a full briefing and to ensure that where staff are to be made redundant they receive their full entitlements.
Read more: TWU news release Cootes woes to cost $47.3m as drivers face uncertainty
International Union News
Short film: Who pays? The Human Cost of Electronics
SafetyNet has previously run several items on the appalling working conditions of workers in electronics companies like Foxconn in countries such as Korea and China. This short (9 minute) US documentary reveals the hazards of the industry in China profiling workers poisoned by chemicals and their struggle for compensation.Thousands of young people in China enter export factories to make the West's favourite electronic gadgets, only to find they have contracted occupational diseases or worse, leukemia, by the age of 25.
The main protagonists in the film are young workers, many of them teenagers, from China's electric factories who are struggling to get compensation after having been injured by faulty machinery or poisoned by leukemia-causing chemicals they handled at work.They have been filmed in hospitals, hotel rooms and at home in their villages where they often return, discarded by their employers. In some cases these incidents happened after the workers – who receive virtually no training regarding the hazards – had only been in their jobs for days or weeks.
Short version of the film and Film Website
Cambodian Garment Workers to Rally
Cambodian unions have been a long, intense struggle since end of 2013 voicing their demand for a bare minimum wage of US$160 per month. Workers have lost their lives in police shootings; union leaders have been arrested; and many continue to be in prison. On March 8, International Women's Day, 15,000 Cambodian workers will peacefully assemble in Freedom Park in Phnom Penh and ask the government and opposition to discuss the issue of wages. If there is no result from the discussions, they have resolved to begin a nationwide strike again on March 12. Cambodian unions are seeking donations for transport, food and water – for a strike fund. Please help and contact email@example.com or AFW Southeast Asia Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
Majority of sun-exposed workers not protected
New Australian research has found that fewer than ten per cent of the more than two million Australian workers exposed to solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) are fully protected by sunscreen, protective clothing and hats, and working in the shade. Further, it found workers under the age of 35 were the least likely to use all four methods of sun protection.
Based on a survey of 4993 workers, 1100 (22%) were exposed to the sun at work: 629 (57.2%) of these exposed to a high level, 349 (31.7%) exposed at a medium level and 122 (11.1%) exposed at a low level. Farmers, painters, plumbers, heavy vehicle drivers, animal and horticultural workers and handy persons had the highest exposure. Of those exposed, almost 95 per cent used at least one form of sun protection for more than half of their outdoor working time, with protective clothing (80.4%) and hats (72.2%) used most frequently. This is not satisfactory to provide adequate protection.
The researchers, from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, recommended that employers develop formal sun safety policies and then monitor worker compliance to reduce the risk of workers developing skin cancer.
Renee Carey, et al: Occupational exposure to solar radiation in Australia: who is exposed and what protection do they use? [Full article] Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Volume 38, Issue 1, February 2014.
Read more on the site: Sunlight - UV Radiation
Job strain increases risk of heart disease
A recent meta-analysis of nine observational studies on job strain and hypertension has revealed that job-related psychological stress is at least an indirect risk factor for heart disease. They found the review showed positive associations between high blood pressure and job strain (i.e. psychological stress from high workload and low decision-making power). As this is a risk factor for heart disease, the researchers recommended further research on job strain and other stress factors which increase morbidity among working populations.
Babu, G & Ors: Is hypertension associated with job strain? A meta-analysis of observational studies, [Abstract ] Occupational & Environmental Medicine (Occup Environ Med2014;71:220-227 doi:10.1136/oemed-2013-101396)
Industrial chemicals are damaging our brains
Industrial chemicals including some common pesticides and solvents may be behind the increasing number of cases of neurodevelopmental disabilities among children, researchers warn. Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York, published their findings online in the journal Lancet Neurology.
They concluded voluntary controls are not working, and a precautionary approach should be adopted internationally to stem the "silent epidemic" of neurological and other disorders caused by chemical exposures. The new study follows similar research by the authors published in 2006 in which they reviewed clinical and epidemiological studies and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic and toluene.
This current review updates that list and adds six other developmental neurotoxicants: manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides), tetrachloroethylene (a solvent), and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (often used as flame retardants). Manganese has been linked to diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills, and solvents have been linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour, the authors write. The effects of neurotoxicity can be society-wide, the authors note, as loss of IQ points may bring down earnings thereby affecting GDP. "The presumption that new chemicals and technologies are safe until proven otherwise is a fundamental problem," the authors write, adding: "Voluntary controls seem to be of little value." The call for an international strategy that takes a precautionary approach to fully evaluate new chemicals before they hit the markets. Testing on industrial chemicals and pesticides already on the market should also take place, they say. "The problem is international in scope, and the solution must therefore also be international," Grandjean said.
Philippe Grandjean, and Philip J Landrigan. Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity, The Lancet Neurology, volume 13, issue 3, pages 330-338, March 2014, published online ahead of print 14 February 2014 [Abstract].
Source: Risks 643 Also in The Conversation
Organophosphates and Parkinson's disease
There is a general consensus that pesticides are involved in the aetiology of Parkinson's disease (PD), although associations between specific pesticides and the risk of developing PD have not been well studied. This study examines the risk of developing PD associated with specific organophosphate (OP) pesticides and their mechanisms of toxicity. The study adds to the strong evidence that OPs are implicated in the aetiology of idiopathic PD. However, the authors conclude that studies of OPs at low doses reflective of real-world ambient exposure are needed to determine the mechanisms of neurotoxicity.
Wang, A et al:The association between ambient exposure to organophosphates and Parkinson's disease risk [Abstract] Occup Environ Med. 2014 Jan 16. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2013-101394
Killer kidney disease linked to Monsanto weedicide, phosphate fertilizer
Recent research suggests a herbicide developed by US-based Monsanto and contaminated fertilizer may be behind an epidemic of mystery kidney disease in Sri Lanka and South America where rice and sugarcane is grown.
N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine or Aminophosphonate, a widely used herbicide better known as glyphosate, could be helping carry heavy metals toxic to kidneys, occurring naturally and in agro-chemicals such as phosphate fertilizer, the researchers said. Other researchers have earlier found Arsenic in hair and nails of victims and even healthy individuals in the affected areas. The researchers cite findings saying the affected rice growing areas are naturally rich in heavy metals including Nickel, Chromium, Cobalt and others.
Channa Jayasumana, et al: Glyphosate, Hard Water and Nephrotoxic Metals: Are They the Culprits Behind the Epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology in Sri Lanka? [Abstract– full article can be downloaded] International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Source: Lanka Business Online, Sri Lanka.
Mental health impact of foreclosure ripples throughout communities
A US study which has implications in the current Australian environment has found that the mental health effects of 'foreclosure' (loss of home) go beyond the individual to the community at-large. While previous studies focussed on and confirmed that people who experienced foreclosures also experienced symptoms of depression, researchers from Chicago wanted to look at the broader effect on communities, examining 'neighborhood-level foreclosure rates' and their association with onset of depressive symptoms in older adults.
The researchers examined data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, focusing in on older adults ages 57 years old and older in Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago. They found a "dramatic uptick" in reports of depressive symptoms among older adults who lived in communities most affected by the foreclosure crisis. In other words, a rise in foreclosures was found to be a risk factor for depression in older adults. Depressive symptoms were associated with increases in mortgage default notices, with homes coming under the ownership of banks and with increases in properties going to auction.
Read more: The Pump Handle Science blog
Cagney, K, et al The Onset of Depression During the Great Recession: Foreclosure and Older Adult Mental Health. [Abstract] American Journal of Public Health: March 2014, Vol. 104, No. 3, pp. 498-505.doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301566
Quad bike report to be released
According to a report funded by NSW WorkCover and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), children under the age of 16 should be banned from riding quad bikes, helmets should be compulsory for all riders, and manufacturers should provide training courses. The transport and road safety research unit at the University of New South Wales is heading the study, which looked at stability, handling and safety features of quad bikes. In the past 14 years, some 140 Australians have been killed in quad bike incidents. Last year, 21 children under the age of 16 were injured. Of the 21 fatalities last year, three were children. The report is due to be released in April.
Source: The Age Quad bike safety: Ban children and make helmets mandatory
Safe Work Australia
As of 26 February 2014, there were twenty-two workplace fatalities reported to Safe Work Australia. The fatalities:10 in Transport, postal and warehousing; three in Agriculture, forestry and fishing; four in Mining; two Accommodation & food services and one each in Manufacturing; Health care/social assistance; and Arts & recreation services. The overall numbers of fatalities has decreased over the past two years, with 32 fatalities at the same time last year, and 28 at the same time in 2012.
Read more: Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities
Also, Safe Work Australia has released the November 2013 monthly fatalities report - there twenty work-related fatalities reported to the state and territory OHS regulators that month, with 14 of the deaths involving vehicles on or away from public roads. Two of these were bystanders. Of the non-vehicle-related incidents, three people were fatally crushed, two died in falls and one was electrocuted.
- From the EU: In the past few months, several new tools have been published in OiRA - the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work's Online Interactive Risk Assessment site. This takes the total number of online interactive risk assessment (OiRA) tools available to 15. The new tools cover different sectors including hairdressing, catering and private security. They have been developed in several countries including Belgium, Spain, Lithuania and Greece and by EU social partners. Approximately 50 more tools are currently under development. Visit the OiRA website
Victoria: Four fatality related prosecutions
- Melbourne Water Corporation
The Melbourne Water Corporation (MWC) was convicted and fined $400,000 in the Melbourne County Court after pleading guilty to breaching the OHS Act. In December 2011 an employee of an MWC contractor was retrieving samples at a sewerage treatment plant, fell through a gap in a walkway and into a "return activated sludge" channel, and drowned.The Court found MWC was aware that slotted walkway grates occasionally dislodged or went missing at the plant, and failed to ensure they were bolted in place.
- Elliot Engineering Pty Ltd
In February 2011 a worker employed by Elliot Engineering Pty Ltd was crushed to death by a steel panel inside a shipping container. The company defended charges of failing to provide a safe work environment, and failing to provide adequate information, instruction, training or supervision to employees, but has been convicted in the Melbourne County Court, and has been fined an aggregate sum of $400,000. The company has 'form' as it had been already fined $60,000 for safety breaches in early 2010, after a worker's foot was amputated in a forklift incident. Prosecution Summary
- Dechi Pty Ltd
Also in the Melbourne County Court, Dechi Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to ensure subcontractors completed site-specific safe work method statements before undertaking high-risk work, and failing to ensure a site under its control was without risks to health and safety. The charges arose after a sole trader, cleaning windows at a Dechi-controlled workplace, fell from an extension ladder and sustained fatal head injuries. The company was fined $150,000. Prosecution Summary
- Worker prosecuted under S25
An individual worker, a sweeper driver, was involved in asphalt resurfacing works on Canterbury Road, Bayswater when on 30 November 2011 the street sweeper he was operating in reverse struck and killed another worker at the site. The driver pleaded guilty to one charge under section 25 of the OHS Act 2004 (failing to take reasonable care of others). Judge Allen, in the Melbourne County Court, sentenced him to a Community Corrections Order for a period of 2 years with the following special conditions:
- Perform 500 hours of unpaid community work over a period of 2 years
- Be under the supervision of a Community Corrections Officer for a period of 2 years
- Undergo mental health assessment and treatment
- Undergo courses as directed
SA: Employer fined after amputation
After a worker's fingers were severed a South Australian employer has been fined $51,000 for failing to ensure a safety audit of its business. After discovering no safe guarding could be fitted, Softwoods Timber Yards Pty Ltd, discarded the machine.
In November 2011, the worker was feeding a piece of timber through a spindle moulder machine's cutter blades when the blades seized and rejected the timber, causing the timber to move and the worker's glove to catch in the blades.The blades severed three of his left-hand fingers and part of his thumb.
15 months before the incident, a risk manager had audited the business, but the spindle moulder had not been audited because it was temporarily out of use at the time.
NZ: Pike River deal not to prosecute?
The ABC reports that relatives of the victims of the Pike River coal mine disaster in New Zealand are disgusted at revelations a possible deal was done to drop charges against the mine's boss. A letter made public last week reveals the lawyer for former chief executive Peter Whittall wrote to the prosecution offering to make a $3 million payment to victims' relatives conditional on the case not proceeding.
Two months ago, the New Zealand government scrapped 12 health and safety charges against the Australian, who was the CEO of Pike River Coal in 2010, when underground explosions killed 29 men including two Australians. The letter, obtained by the opposition Labour Party under freedom of information laws, shows that two months before the case was discharged, Mr Whittall's lawyer had written to Crown Law with the multi-million dollar proposal.
"New Zealand's justice system is an absolute joke.To find out today that $3.4 million to pay compensation to families was a condition that everything is dropped and Peter Whittall walks away scot-free is disgusting," said the widow of one of the men killed. "That's blood money and he has the blood of 29 men on his hands."
Read more: Pike River mine disaster letter uncovers possible deal to drop charges against boss Peter Whittall
USA: Workplace injuries cost businesses more than a billion dollars each week
According to Knowledge at Work, a US site, the 2013 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, the most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses in 2011 amounted to $55.4 billion in direct workers' compensation costs. This translates into more than a billion dollars spent by businesses each week on the most disabling injuries. Even more shocking, however, is that many US workers are not entitled to compensation.
USA: Rocky Flats workers no longer need to prove cancers are work-related
Former workers at Golden's Rocky Flats Plant, which manufactured plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons, no longer have to reconstruct their own personal histories of radiation exposure in order to receive medical compensation.
It is now presumed that, if they worked at the Cold War machine shop or other designated nuclear weapons sites for at least 250 days between April 1, 1952, and Dec. 31, 1983, their cancers - if one of 22 specified by the government - are work-related.Covered diseases include multiple myeloma and cancers of the brain, breast, colon, thyroid and liver, among others, if onset was at least five years after first exposure.
Former Rocky Flats workers have filed about 6,000 claims, but two-thirds have been denied. To date, 2,347 Rocky Flats claimants have received a total of $304 million, the U.S. Department of Labor reports.Federal authorities have rejected earlier attempts to include the majority of Rocky Flats workers in the cohort. Barrie, co-petitioner in the most recent attempt, said the decision does nothing to help her husband, former Rocky Flats worker George Barrie, because he doesn't have cancer.
Read more: Denver Post
USA: EPA proposes changes to Agricultural Worker Protection Standard
The EPA has issued its proposed changes to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for public comment. The main changes, which target how pesticides are used and increased training, are:
- Increased frequency of mandatory trainings (from once every five years to annually) to inform farm workers about their legal protections, including restrictions on entering pesticide-treated fields and surrounding areas, decontamination supplies, access to information and use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Expanded mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides; prohibiting entry into pesticide-treated fields until residues are at a safe level.
- First time-ever minimum age requirement: Children under 16 will be prohibited from handling pesticides, with an exemption for family farms.
- No-entry buffer areas surrounding pesticide-treated fields to protect workers and others from exposure from pesticide over-spray and fumes.
- Measures to improve the states' ability to enforce compliance including requiring employers to keep records of application-specific pesticide information, farmworker training and early-entry notification for two years.
- PPE (respirator use) according to OSHA standards to ensure respirators provide protection, including fit test, medical evaluation, and training.
- Make available to farm workers or their advocates (including medical personnel) information specific to the pesticide application, including the pesticide label and Safety Data Sheets.
- Continues the exemptions for family farms.
Such measures, while increasing protections for workers, do not address the hazard, the pesticides, at source.
Read more: EPA website
USA: Free pizza after Chevron fracking explosion kills
One hundred residents of tiny Pennsylvania town Bobtown, where a fracking well exploded into a deadly tower of flame, killing one person and burning for five days, have received an apology in the form of a pizza coupon. Chevron Appalachia Community Outreach sent the residents a certificate entitling them to a large meal ('Special Combo Only') and 2-litre fizzy drink from Bobtown Pizza following the 11 February tragedy. The gift certificates came with a letter dated 16 February assuring residents of the US $250 billion company's dedication to safety: "Chevron recognises the effect this has had on the community. We are committed to taking action to safeguard our neighbours, our employees, our contractors and the environment." According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the intense fire posed an "incredible risk to the workers who eventually put it out after days." Nineteen workers were on the well pad during the explosion, a company spokesperson said. Chevron's offer has not impressed some recipients, one of whom tweeted: "Worst apology ever: Sorry our... well exploded. Here's a free pizza." In a statement to CNN, Chevron stated that the corporation "offered a token of appreciation" to neighbours who were affected by the events.
Source: Risks 644
Ecuador: Big win for Chevron
In more Chevron news, the New York Times reports that last week the company won a major victory in its long-running fight to not pay the US$19 billion in fines imposed by an Ecuadorian court for polluting the Ecuadorian rainforest. A federal judge in Manhattan ruled that a two-decade legal effort to punish the company was marred by fraud and corruption, making it increasingly likely that the oil company would be ultimately successful in beating back the legal and financial challenge.
The award against Chevron was one of the largest judgments ever imposed by a court for environmental pollution, and it appeared to pit a mighty corporate Goliath against powerless peasants and the principal lawyer who represented them, Steven R. Donziger, as a brave David….and winning. But in this recent ruling, while United States District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan did not dispute that pollution occurred in the Ecuadorean Amazon, he supported Chevron's complaint that Mr.Donziger, a Manhattan lawyer, and his litigation team engaged in a conspiracy and criminal conduct.
Read more: New York Times
Japan: Worst spill in 6 months is reported at Fukushima
In what its operator said was the worst spill at the Fukushima nuclear plant in six months, last week approximately 100 tons of highly radioactive water leaked from one of the hundreds of storage tanks at the devastated plant.
New York Times
Nepal: Seven months pregnant and working in the fields
Women in Nepal do the lion's share of agricultural work, and it's common for them to continue working in the fields throughout pregnancy. But this can seriously affect their health, and that of their unborn child. In recent years, Nepal has made a big push to improve the health of pregnant women. The government has built new birthing centres, is covering the cost of delivering babies in clinics, and has given out medication to prevent excessive bleeding, which can be fatal.These efforts are working. The country has seen a dramatic drop in the number of women dying during childbirth. However, in Nepal heavily pregnant women continue to work hard because they have to support their families, and it is part of the culture.
Read more: Public Radio International
Sweden: Proposal to tax hazardous substances
Sweden is proposing a hazardous chemical tax on consumer goods in a bid to achieve a toxic-free everyday environment.Consumer goods subjected to the tax would be those containing hazardous substances on a list that would be drafted for each product group, according to the Swedish Chemicals Agency, Kemi. According to the Agency, the suggested taxation on clothes and shoes is considered necessary due to the increasing numbers of products containing chemicals that are hazardous for both the environment and health. The following list of substances has been suggested: phthalates, allergenic or carcinogenic dyestuffs and antibacterial agents.
Read more: PRLog Press release