SafetyNet 278,20 March, 2014
Welcome subscribers to Edition 278 of SafetyNet: your free online journal providing the latest OHS news, both local and international. Please promote the journal to others, and use the information as you wish in your workplace. And why don't you 'follow' us on Twitter @ohsreps ? Thank you!
International Women's Day
On the occasion of IWD, the Public Sector Union (CPSU) released the results of its seventh annual What Women Want survey of over 11,000 women. It found women are working longer hours, going to work sick and juggling greater caring responsibilities. National Secretary Nadine Flood said: "Our members do important work for the community, and value having working conditions that allow them to juggle both work and family responsibilities. But they are telling us that if those conditions come under attack then they can't do both to the best of their ability. This Government has signalled that it wants to wind back many of those conditions that make a working woman's life manageable. An attack on those conditions is an attack on women in the workforce."
Ms Flood said that a Federal Government plan to wind back carers/personal leave flew in the face of the evidence in the survey, which found that nearly a quarter of women often came to work sick, and nearly nine out of ten did so at least once or twice a year. Other key findings include:
- More than half (56%) of those looking after children worked extra hours
- Almost one in ten (9%) women are working an additional 10 hours a week on top of their normal hours
- More than a quarter (27%) said they did not receive any compensation for the extra hours worked
- 38% have dependent children
- 64% of women who look after parents/parents in law and dependent children work full-time
- A quarter said they felt insecure or very insecure about their jobs, citing budget cuts as the most common reason
Read more: CPSU Media Release The full report can be downloaded from this page.
The ACTU also released an update of its work related to women's work and work rights: Australian Unions – We're fighting for women in 2014. And in response to news that there are more women in unions than men, a Sydney Morning Herald article The typical new unionist: not a hard hat in sight, and most are women
Bullying news: FWC says past bullying is admissible
Further to the item in the last edition of SafetyNet regarding whether the Fair Work Commission (FWC) should be able to consider bullying behaviour that occurred prior to January 1 this year – the Commission decided in a test case that it can when determining applications for stop-bullying orders, and rejected an employer's claim that bullying was legally "neutral" (that is, not unlawful or improper at the time) before the new anti-bullying provisions took effect.The ACTU had argued '…if a worker has experienced bullying at least once since the new laws came into play and there is a risk that it will continue, then previous incidents should be admissible simply to demonstrate that this is ongoing, damaging behaviour and the FWC needs to order it to stop.'
The Full Bench (President Justice Iain Ross, Vice President Adam Hatcher and Commissioner Peter Hampton) found that when determining "future rights" (such as preventing ongoing bullying) on the basis of past conduct, there was no requirement for the past conduct to be unlawful or improper.It stressed, however, that past bullying behaviour could be unlawful, constituting assault or an OHS breach. The case involved a worker on extended sick leave, who claimed she was bullied at work for six years from November 2007, with the most recent incident occurring in May 2013. Her employer, with the support of the AiGroup, had raised a number of jurisdictional objections to her application.
Sources: WorkplaceOHS; OHSAlert ACTU Media Release
Nurses and Midwives: Seminar on Bullying
The ANMF will be hosting a seminar on 'The Prevention of Workplace Bullying' at ANMF House, at 540 Elizabeth Street Melbourne, on 2 April 2014. Speakers include Ms Anna Lee Cribb, from the Fair Work Commission, consultants experienced in the field, and ANMF OHS staff. Further information including registrations and speaker details can be found here.
For further enquiries please contact Ms Kathy Chrisfield, OHS Unit Co-ordinator on 03 9275 9344
The National ANMF is also asking people around the country to sign a petition to the Prime Minister. The union says the G20 Summit is an opportunity for Australia to make dementia a global health and economic issue. The petition is to show Mr Abbott that international action is needed to get more funds for research and for the diagnosis, treatment and care of people with dementia. Sign now.
I am a teacher in post-secondary education. Over the past few weeks the rooms have been extremely cold to the point that it is making people ill. I have reported it several times and have been told that they will try to resolve the problem – but nothing has happened. What can we do?
There is no legislated temperature range to which employers must adhere. However, under Section 21 of the OHS Act, the employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, "provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health". This covers matters such as temperature and ensuring that plant (eg air conditioning systems) are properly maintained. Being too cold is a health and safety issue as it can have an impact on musculoskeletal injuries, as well as also being an issue of comfort.
While there are no regulations on the temperature and conditions at the workplace, the Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment provides advice on what employers need to do in order to comply with Section 21. On workplace temperature:
- Workplaces that are buildings need to be capable of maintaining a temperature range that is comfortable and suitable to the work. Workplace temperatures that are too high or too low can contribute to fatigue, heat illness and cold-related medical conditions. (Para 122)
- Optimum comfort for sedentary work is between 20°C and 26°C, depending on the time of the year and clothing worn. Employees undertaking work requiring physical exertion usually prefer a lower temperature range. (124)
- The means of maintaining a comfortable temperature will depend on the working environment and the weather and could include any of the following (125):
- electric heating
- open windows
- building insulation
- the layout of workstations
- direct sunlight control
- controllling airflow and the source of draughts
- a work and rest regime
- All heating and cooling facilities need to be serviced regularly and maintained in a safe condition (126)
Also, under Section 22 the employer has a duty to monitor the conditions at the workplace (which would include temperature) and the health and safety of employees.
This means that you should be able to raise with the employer that if the temperature is below 20°C, then it's really too cold, and that action needs to be taken. As a start, the air conditioning system needs to be checked and if necessary, maintenance organised. Other things that might be considered include: closing off air ducts; moving furniture; opening windows to allow warmer air to come in; and so on. There are possibly a number of 'practicable' actions the employer should be taking. But it seems the source of the problem, and therefore where action should begin, is the air conditioning system.
Read more: Duties of employers and more advice on Cold
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.
MUA issues national safety alert on basket lifting
The Maritime Union (MUA) has found it necessary is issue a national safety alert due to growing concern in the industry about the practice of basket lifting steel in preference to more accepted alternatives such as either double wrapping, reeving or choking loads. The alert states:
"Basket lifting is not recommended safe practice under national safety guidelines.Safe Work Australia's National Guidance Material Working Safety with General Cargo – Steel Products favours double wrapping over basket lifting to ensure a positive grip on entire load throughout loading/discharge (page 23). These guidelines are still in force and should be followed."
The alert provides advice to health and safety representatives and delegates to:
- thoroughly risk assess the practice of basket lifting
- work with the employer to identify a safe system of work
- take into account the state of knowledge in the industry, which clearly favours double wrapping
- If, after following this process in good faith, workers have a reasonable concern, of a serious risk from an immediate or imminent hazard, advise them they should cease work and make themselves available for other duties.
MUA News Story
CEPU DVD on Asbestos launched on World Plumbing Day
The DVD Kevin Sheedy and the CEPU talk Asbestos was launched last week at PICAC on World Plumbing Day by Mr Peter Tighe, CEO of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. Established by the World Plumbing Council in 1990 as a means of highlighting the important role played by the industry, World Plumbing Day is celebrated every year on March 11 with activities in a growing number of countries including the United States, Canada, New Zealand, China, the UK and India.
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 email@example.com
USA: Property owner jailed for exposing residents to asbestos
The owner of an apartment complex in Kent (USA) was last week sentenced to 15 months in prison for violating the Clean Air Act by knowingly exposing residents and workers to airborne asbestos. Stanley Xu, 53, pleaded guilty in October for failing to protect residents from asbestos exposure after a pipe ruptured in December 2009. Xu knew the ceiling material contained asbestos but used untrained and uncertified workers to clean up and dispose of the hazardous waste. The US EPA had filed complaints against Xu and his companyin 2006 for paint contamination at another apartment complex he owns. He was cited a year later by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries for failing to conduct an asbestos survey before construction work at another complex.In 2010, four of the company's seven complexes had been named in asbestos-removal violations, according to state records.
Read more: The Seattle Times
Royal Commission into Home Insulation Program begins
The Abbott government's Royal Commission into the previous Labor government's Home Insulation Program began in Queensland last Monday. The purported reason for the Royal Commission is to ascertain whether the government had ignored safety concerns. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been called to appear at the commission, as have former environment minister Peter Garrett and former senator Mark Arbib, who co-ordinated government stimulus programs. Labor says the commission is a political witch hunt, but the government argues the public has a right to know more about how four insulation installers died and why there were not greater checks in place.
On Tuesday the Commission heard that three of the four installers who died had not been trained, and all four had had very little experience in the industry. It should be remembered that it is the employers who have a legal duty of care under OHS/WHS legislation to employees – to provide safe systems of work and the necessary information, training and supervision.
Breaking a decades-long convention that cabinet documents remain confidential for 30 years, the Abbott government has already released all documents relating to the program to the commission, sparking great controversy.
Read more: The Brisbane Times
NSW: more problems at Barangaroo construction site
One of the largest construction projects in Sydney could be set back months after a massive underground fire broke out at Barangaroo last week, closing major roads and forcing thousands of people to be evacuated from nearby buildings.The fire may have been started by welding sparks.
The safety record of site developer, Lend Lease, has been subject of CFMEU criticism: this was the second fire on one of its Sydney construction sites in the past 18 months and a worker was killed at Barangaroo in January. CFMEU NSW secretary Brian Parker said there would have been up to 40 workers in the underground area when the fire broke out, and it was only through "luck" that no one was killed. Workers held a union meeting on the northern end of the site and called for the Premier Barry O'Farrell to meet to discuss the concerns of the construction unions. Mr Parker said unrealistic demands are being placed on workers to get jobs completed in short time frames, and said a full audit of all construction sites by WorkCover was needed.
WorkCover NSW subsequently announced commencing an investigation into the Barangaroo fire – ensuring the site was preserved to allow proper investigation. This was followed by the launch of a six-week work health and safety blitz of commercial construction sites across Sydney and hot spots in regional NSW. The CFMEU, however, is calling on the regulator to extend the blitz to 12 months, to provide a more realistic picture of safety issues in the industry. Mr Parker said, "Building sites change a number of a times over the course of a year, and in many cases safety issues become more paramount as developments increase in height and scope."
Read more: Sydney Morning Herald CFMEU Media Release WorkCover NSW Media Releases Barangaroo investigation commences and WorkCover rolls out construction safety blitz
Cootes Transport trucks facing NSW roads ban
The day SafetyNet 277 was sent out, the ABC reported that the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) had given the company 14 days to show cause why it should not be deregistered. At the end of the 14 days, RMS has the power to suspend or cancel the rights of Cootes trucks to travel on NSW roads. Cootes has been the focus of a major safety crackdown since one of its fuel tankers was involved in a fatal crash on Sydney's northern beaches in October last year.
Read more: ABC Online
And trucking company McCabe Transport will have 235 fatigue-related charges heard in a Sydney court, following the company's successful court application to have the case moved from Illawarra.The 235 charges relate to four McCabe Transport drivers who allegedly failed to record work time in October, November, and December 2011. Allegations of drivers working 23-hour days, shooting up heroin before getting behind the wheel and operating defect-riddled trucks emerged in February after the Unanderra trucking company was charged.The allegations were made by a number of former employees of the trucking company, who asked to remain anonymous.
Source: The Illawarra Mercury
International Union News
From the TUC: Safety & Migrant Workers - guide for safety representatives
This UK guide aims to help safety representatives and other union officials work with migrant workers to make sure that their rights are protected. While it covers the safety of people who go to the UK to work permanently, temporarily or seasonally, it has some useful advice for Australian unions and reps, particularly in relation to workers on Section 457 visas. There are likely to be many more such workers, following the Abbott Government's March 12 reopening of a 457 visa loophole to allow employers to hire an unlimited number of workers without scrutiny. The TUC report concentrates on migrant workers with low English language skills or with vulnerable employment or residency status.
The Guide can be downloaded from the TUC website.
Canada: B.C. firefighters can now claim heart disease as job related stress
British Columbia's Liberal (progressive) government last week moved to amend the Workers' Compensation Act to restore heart disease, removed 15 years ago, as a presumed job-related disease in firefighters to be recognized by WorkSafeBC.This means firefighters who suffer heart disease, including heart attacks, can file workers' compensation claims without having to individually prove their condition is job related. Heart disease now joins at least 10 other diseases, including leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, bladder and brain cancer that WorkSafeBC presumes are job-related for firefighters. 22-year veteran firefighter, and Vancouver Island vice-president of the British Columbia Professional Firefighters Association, Mike Rispin, said "It's the stresses we face when we enter these buildings and work extremely hard under extreme conditions of heat.'' Association president Michael Hurley said too many firefighters with heart conditions over the past 15 years gave up on their compensation claims because of the onerous process of proving their condition was job-related.
Read more: OHS Canada
Qatar: another report on the denial of workers' rights
Another International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) report exposes how far Qatar will go to deny workers their rights ahead of a critical FIFA Executive Committee meeting on Thursday 20th March in Zurich. Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said Qatar is a government which takes no responsibility for workers, and its response to criticism is focused on public relations.During a site visit to Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, the ITUC General Secretary found 38 workers from India, Nepal and Thailand living in squalor with mattresses on the floor in makeshift rooms underneath the bleachers or stadium seats.
FIFA responded to the ITUC photographic evidence of conditions at Al Wakrah Stadium by describing the situation in Qatar as "complex." The Supreme Committee, responsible for the entire 585,000 m2 Al Wakrah precinct development, denied any responsibility for the workers, saying they were not covered by the Supreme Committee Workers' Welfare Standards designed to appease international unease with labour abuses in the country. The report The Case Against Qatar sets out the broken system for workers in Qatar, how Qatar fails the test of international law and provides new evidence on working conditions.
Indonesia: Deadly collapse at Rio Tinto mine preventable
According to a report by the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), the roof collapse resulting in 28 deaths in the Grasberg mine in Indonesia in May 2013 could have been avoided. The roof on a non-operational underground tunnel collapsed during a safety training session at the Freeport-McMoran's Grasberg copper mine in Indonesia killing 28 miners and injuring ten others.
An investigation into the accident was held, from which IndustriALL Global Union affiliate CEMWU (FSPKEP-SPSI) was barred from active participation – but the findings were not made public. However, last week Komnas HAM commissioner Natalius Pigai said on the organisation's website: "PT Freeport had the ability to prevent this from happening but didn't. The lack of effort jeopardized the lives of others. The gravity of this case is serious." He also found that human rights violations were committed and called on the government to follow up the commission's report by thoroughly investigating the incident to uncover any indications of negligence.
Read more: IndustriALL Media Release
More studies show risks of sedentary work
A UK study has found that workers who spend most of their day seated, do not adequately compensate with physical activity out of work hours. Researchers from Leicestershire University and other institutions looked at 170 full-time office workers, and found participants were "highly sedentary" during work hours, spending up to 71 per cent of their time sitting or reclining. This compared with an Australian study which found Australian office workers sit for between 66 and 82 per cent of the working day. The researchers found that workers who spent the most time seated at work, also tended to spend more time sitting after work and on weekends than workers who spent less time seated at work. This puts such workers at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, they also suggested that these workers were at higher risk of musculoskeletal injuries and 'impaired work performance.'
Stacy Clemes, et al, Office Workers' Objectively Measured Sedentary Behaviour and Physical Activity During and Outside Working Hours. [Abstract ] United Kingdom, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 56, Issue 3, March 2014. Read more on the site: Sedentary Work
Open plan offices linked to higher absence rates
A recent study of 1852 employees working in a range of different types of offices and the sick leave they took (both in terms of days and 'spells') found a significant excess risk for sickness absence of short sick leave spells in the three types of open-plan office: small, medium and large. In a gender separate analysis, this outcome remained for women, whereas men had a significantly increased risk in flex-offices. For long sick leave spells, a significantly higher risk was found among women in large open-plan offices and for total number of sick days among men in flex-offices.
Christina BodinDanielsson, et al: Office design's impact on sick leave rates, [abstract – full text freely accessible] Ergonomics, 57:2, 139-147, DOI: 10.1080/00140139.2013.871064
WorkSafe issues advice to workplaces on Hazelwood fire clean up
Victoria's OHS regulator has advised employers and employees who undertake any cleaning as a result of the Hazelwood coal mine fires to take into account a list of health and safety issues, including dust, working at heights, potential exposure to asbestos and electrical hazards.
Read more: Cleaning workplaces affected by the Hazelwood coal mine fire
Latest edition of WorkSafe Safety Soapbox
The latest edition of WorkSafe's newsletter Safety Soapbox was sent out this week. The main item covers the joint border safety visits carried out by WorkSafe Victoria and WorkCover NSW inspectors.
Since the last edition of the Safety Soapbox (Feb 19), there were 64 incidents serious enough to be reported to WorkSafe Victoria from the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries, including 22 lacerations, 13 fractures, four electric shocks and 22 near misses. Several of the 'near misses' involved gas mains or pipes being cut or damaged indicating a lack of proper checks prior to the job. Anyone undertaking digging works should contact Dial before you dig – the national Referral Service for Information on Underground Pipes & Cables. The notifiable incidents list can be downloaded from the Safety Soapbox for more information.
Victoria and NSW working together on 'border builders'
Inspectors from WorkCover NSW and the Victorian WorkCover Authority last week visited construction sites in Mildura and Wentworth to raise awareness of the similarities between each state's safety laws and the ease of working across the border. The visits were conducted to dispel the myth that construction companies have to comply with a different set of work health and safety laws if they operate across the border.General Manager of WorkCover NSW's Work Health and Safety Division, John Watson said the project's focus was on making border construction sites safer and more productive. "WorkCover NSW recently launched a project to improve safety in the NSW house construction industry after more than 150 workers were seriously injured or killed on the job in the last two years," Mr Watson said. "Workers in this industry also have more than double the workers compensation claims for permanent disability than any other industry."
Read more: WorkCover NSW Media Release
Agriculture: High fatality rate
According to a recent Radio National Bush Telegraph program, although the agriculture sector employs only three per cent of the workforce, it makes up a quarter of workplace deaths each year, making farming more dangerous than working in construction or mining. Farmers say their work is usually outdoors, involves working with heavy machinery and livestock - activities with inherent and difficult to control risks.While mining and construction have many similar risks, the numbers of fatalities in these industries have reduced. The program canvases the possible reasons, including that many farms are family-run with children, 'old people' and visitors often 'on-site'.However, experts on the program make the point that risks on farms can be controlled in similar ways to other industries - but that agriculture has been slower than other industries to react to fatalities
Source: Bush Telegraph March 11 Program ABC Radio National
Changes introduced to Commonwealth compensation legislation
A Bill introduced into Federal Parliament yesterday will make it easier for non-Commonwealth employers to join the Comcare scheme, and remove compensation for off-site 'recess injuries' and deaths or serious injuries is the result of workers' 'wilful misconduct'.
The changes facilitated by the Bill are in line with the Abbott Government's "deregulation agenda", and will allegedly "reduce the regulatory burden on the economy" by implementing the recommendations of the 2012-13 Hanks and Hawke review of the Commonwealth SRC Act.
It should be noted, however, that the review did not recommend removing coverage for off-site recess injuries, but according to the Explanatory Memorandum, a 2004 Productivity Commission inquiry found that injuries sustained during "an ordinary recess" in employment should only be compensable if they occur at the workplace or during employer-sanctioned events.
Source: OHSAlert Read more: Canberra Times
Safe Work Australia
As of 18 March 2014, there were thirty workplace fatalities reported to Safe Work Australia. The fatalities:15 in Transport, postal and warehousing; four in Mining; three in Agriculture, forestry and fishing; three in Manufacturing; two Accommodation & food services and one each in Construction; Health care/social assistance; and Arts & recreation services. The overall numbers of fatalities has decreased over the past two years, with 43 fatalities at the same time last year, and 36 at the same time in 2012.
Read more: Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities
Also, Safe Work Australia has released the December 2013 monthly fatalities report: there twenty four work-related fatalities reported to the state and territory OHS regulators that month, with 20 of these being workers, and four being bystanders. The monthly report can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
Queensland: Coroner recommends different approach to small business
In an article which provides food for thought for the Victorian government, OHS journalist and commentator Kevin Jones looks at a recent Queensland Coroner finding following the death of a man in a small business. The Coroner recommended that 'policy makers and advisors of WHSQ consider the circumstances of Mr Forster's death to see what else may reasonably be done or done better to educate very small business operators in order to foster a culture of workplace health and safety into their operations.' Jones says, "Victoria is the most likely to mirror the UK actions [of reducing OHS requirements on small business], particularly as its WorkSafe organisation continues with its restructuring and (ridiculous) rebranding, and Victoria's conservative government continues to see OHS as a red tape issue for small business."
Read more: Coroner calls for fresh approach to OHS in small business SafetyAtWorkBlog
- From the UK's HSE (the OHS regulator): Two publications on electrical safety in the entertainment industry: Electrical safety for entertainers and Electrical safety at places of entertainment
- The Massachusetts-based Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) has released a fact sheet on Hexavalent Chromium. Hexavalent chromium compounds are a toxic form of chromium and are used in a variety of industrial processes and products.Hexavalent chromium compounds are human carcinogens, mutagens and developmental toxicants and are acutely toxic. Non-hexavalent chromium compounds do not pose the same level of concern with regard to either chronic or acute toxicity.
Comcare: to prosecute John Holland
Comcare has filed legal proceedings in the Federal Court against three John Holland entities, for alleged contraventions of WHS laws that resulted in a worker's death on 30 December 2011 at a John Holland Pty Ltd workplace which was part of the Perth City Link Rail Project, where a John Holland Group Pty Ltd employee was struck and killed by an out-of-control hi-rail vehicle.The hi-rail vehicle had been manufactured by John Holland Rail Pty Ltd by connecting rail wheels to a JCB Fastrac Tractor to enable it to operate on rail tracks as well as conventional roadways.
Comcare is prosecuting John Holland Pty Ltd for failing to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety of its employees and contractors; John Holland Group Pty Ltd for failing to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety of its employees; and John Holland Rail Pty Ltd for failing, in manufacturing plant it reasonably expected to be used by relevant employees, to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the plant was designed and constructed so that when properly used, it was safe for relevant employees.
Source: Workplace OHS
USA: Chemical industry seeking to derail chemical regulation update
In August 2013, following a number of catastrophic chemical incidents, President Obama issued an Executive Order on chemical facility safety. On March 6, Chemical Safety Board Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee "The United States is facing an industrial chemical safety crisis." Yet while the Senate committee is pressing the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help prevent future chemical disasters, federal legislation has been introduced that would, if enacted, impair current chemical safety policy and make it harder for the public to obtain information about chemical hazards, either in industrial storage tanks or consumer products.
In a situation not unlike that in Australia, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the US law regulating chemicals in commerce, was enacted in 1976 and not updated since. Among other problems, TSCA allowed approximately 60,000 chemicals in use when the law was passed to remain on the market without full safety testing and without any publicly available comprehensive information about their environmental or human health effects. Currently more than half of all US states have enacted laws that either restrict the use of individual chemicals or require reporting on how they are used. These state-level actions have come in response to growing scientific evidence of potential adverse health effects of numerous widely used chemicals, and how difficult TSCA makes it for the EPA to restrict chemical use.Environmental health advocates and industry representatives agree that TSCAis badly in need of revision.
Released on February 27th, the draft Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA) is being offered as the House bill to reform TSCA. The CICA would preempt such regulations, prevent states from acting independently and also prevent state and local governments from collecting information about chemicals from companies that make or use them. Of course, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has welcomed the CICA, calling it "a balanced approach" that "will provide Americans with more confidence in the safety of chemicals." It's worth noting, however, that the chemical industry spent more than $61 million on lobbying in 2013.
Read more: The Pump Handle Science Blog Chemicals in commerce: Will industry-promoted legislation undermine existing laws?
USA: BP ok to bid for oil leases in the Gulf
Just days before the US Department of Interior opened a new round of bids for oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico, the EPA has pronounced BP, the 'incorrigible corporate scofflaw of the new millennium', once again fit to do business with the government.
According to the Center for Progressive Reform, the US government's decision that BP has paid its debt and should once again be eligible for federal contracts is 'a disgrace'. The Centers' blog states: "Not only does it let BP off the hook, it sends an unmistakable signal to the rest of the energy industry: That no matter how much harm you do, no matter how horrid your safety record, the feds will cut you some slack."
Readers of SafetyNet will remember BP's latest 'incident': the Deepwater Horizon explosionin the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 and deposited 205 million gallons of crude oil along the southern coast of the United States. In 2005 there was the explosion at the company's Texas City refinery, which killed 15 and injured 180 – despite the refinery's plant manager begging BP's second in command worldwide for money to address severe maintenance problems that jeopardized safety at that plant after a consultant surveying refinery workers reported that many thought they ran a real risk of being killed at work.
Read more: EPA Declares BP a 'Responsible Contractor' Makes It Eligible Again for Federal Contracts in the Gulf Center for Progressive Reform blog
European Union: Chemical industry secretly manipulating US-EU trade negotiations (TTIP)
A leaked document [pdf] from the December 2013 round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations exposes the extent of chemical industry influence over secretive ongoing US-EU trade negotiations. Chemicals industry proposals to TTIP wouldbadly effect on the regulatory environment, slowing down the implementation of precautionary decisions on toxic chemicals, undermining democratic decision making and stifling the innovation of safer alternatives.
A report published last week by Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and ClientEarth reveals that the leaked proposal from lobby groups, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the European Chemical Industry Council, would damage future protective legislation on toxic chemicals.
For years the US government and the chemical industry have complained about protective EU chemicals laws being a trade barrier, with some industry groups calling it 'the largest transatlantic trade barrier'. The major aim of the TTIP is to minimize what it calls 'technical barriers' to trade. Its actions could weaken the implementation of vital laws to protect people and the environment. The report also shows that the leaked proposals would have a particularly damaging effect on legislation concerning chemicals that interfere with hormonal systems, such as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs are found in everyday products such as sunscreens, deodorants and children's toys.
Read more: ClientEarth/CIEL joint report - Toxic partnership: A critique of the ACC-CEFIC proposal for trans-Atlanticcooperation on chemicals [pdf]
Japan: the unskilled and destitute targeted for Fukishima clean up
On online ad seeking workers willing to carry out the hazardous decommissioning of the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reads: "Out of work? Nowhere to live? Nowhere to go? Nothing to eat? Come to Fukushima."
The plant's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), has been shifting its attention away to rebuilding another facility, leaving the complex cleanup to an often badly managed, poorly trained, demoralized and sometimes unskilled work force that has made some dangerous errors. Regulators, contractors and current and former workers recently interviewed say the deteriorating labour conditions are a prime cause of a string of large leaks of contaminated water and other errors that have already damaged the environment and, in some cases, put workers in danger. Experts fear that in the worst-case scenario struggling workers could trigger a bigger spill or another radiation release.
Read more: The New York Times