SafetyNet 281, 5 June, 2014
We hope you found the last SafetyNet interesting. We are back into the 'swing of things' with lots happening in the area of occupational health and safety.
Wharfies prepare to escalate safety campaign
The death of Anthony Attard, father of three, Maritime Union of Australia delegate and representative on the enterprise bargaining committee in his workplace, Toll Group, on 20 May sent shockwaves through the close-knit wharfie community. MUA officials spent several days in the workplace supporting members in the aftermath of the tragedy.
But after the shock has come anger at a watering down of safety on the wharves since the election of the Abbott Government. In a safety alert sent to members after the tragedy, the MUA said serious safety issues had been identified that needed to be fixed before work could again begin at Toll's Port of Melbourne facilities. These included lack of a decent traffic management plan, lack of a dedicated spotter and flagman to coordinate the safe movement of people and vehicles on and off the vessel, and lack of commitment to training by Toll.
According to the union there is a safety crisis in stevedoring, with wider safety issues in the industry extending beyond Toll: wharf workers being 14 times more likely to die on the job than the average Australian worker. The MUA said the Abbott Government has blocked a stevedoring code of practice and 12 other lifesaving codes of practice, which have been described as "red tape". The union said: "The Abbott government has instructed AMSA to begin dismantling Marine Order 32, the safety bible for wharfies for over 80 years. This is a disgrace and will worsen the carnage."
In further disturbing news this week, The Age reported that the stevedoring code of practice, slated to replace national guidance material, being developed by Safe Work Australia jointly with regulators, stevedoring companies and the union, is again under threat. The Australian Logistics Council has criticised the draft code, saying it should ''not go ahead at all''. The MUA said the comments were disgraceful, and showed how little regard the stevedores industry had for worker safety. "This month, we have seen yet another worker killed on our waterfront in what was another preventable accident," said Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith, "And to have the logistics council (on the board of which Toll Holdings sits) come out a week after one of our mates has died on the job and want to reduce waterfront safety is just unacceptable…"
Read more: MUA Media Release The Age Safety code rejection angers dock union
Another mining fatality
A worker was killed while operating machinery at the Goldfields Brightstar mine in WA last Monday May 26, bringing the state's death toll in the mining sector to four in five months. WA mines and petroleum minister Bill Marmion has called for a greater commitment to resource industry safety and the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) to invite industry submissions for new health and safety supervision guidelines.
CFMEU campaign 'Stand up. Speak out. Come home'
Last month the national office of the CFMEU launched a campaign which tells the real life stories of what happens when workers are unable to speak out about dangers at work. It features workers and families from the union's three divisions. It shows the vital role of the union in taking a stand, and how this is under attack by governments and employers.
In related news, the Victorian branch of the CFMEU has called on the Napthine Government to end its misuse of police resources and its ideological campaign against safe building sites. Since the government's direction to builders on all State Government projects in February to call the police and have officials and safety officers arrested when entering sites to investigate safety breaches, there have been over 200 serious safety incidents. CFMEU Construction Division Secretary, John Setka said, "Safety on building sites is a matter of life and death. Denis Napthine needs to stop playing politics with workplace safety."
You Tube Videos One and Two Visit and promote the campaign website CFEMU Vic branch Media Release
ACT: Kenoss Contractors, senior manager charged over 2012 worker fatality
WorkSafe ACT has charged construction company Kenoss Contractors, and one of its senior managers, over the death of a worker two years ago. The 48 year old worker died in hospital after he received an electric shock while working for the company at a site in Turner. His was one of three construction site deaths which led to the Getting Home Safely report, which delivered a scathing assessment of safety awareness in the sector. If found guilty, the senior manager could face a personal fine of $300,000 and the company more than $1 million under new nationally consistent work safety laws. WorkSafe ACT's Mark McCabe said the charging of a senior manager was a turning point. "That will be one of the first charges of that nature in the country we believe under this new legislation," he said. The group will face court later this month.
Read more: ABC News
What rights, if any, does a worker have to refuse to operate a MEWP (Scissor lift) that has not been serviced in the last 3 months?
Under common law a worker has the right to refuse to undertake unsafe work – this usually means something he/she has a reasonable belief will put his/her health or safety at immediate risk. Also, under both the Fair Work Act, and the Victorian OHS Act, a worker cannot be sacked (or penalised, or threatened etc) for raising a concern with OHS. So, under the law, a worker does have the right to refuse unsafe work.
In addition, under the OHS Act the employer has a general duty of care to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health – and this includes ensuring that plant is safe, properly maintained and so on (this is under Section 21). And there are more particular requirements under the Plant chapter of the regulations, such as ensuring that any hazards that may be associated with the particular item of plant are properly identified, and then controlled.
In this particular case, why are you particularly concerned with the MEWP and that it has not been serviced for 3 months? Is it that the standard period for servicing is more frequent, and that your concern is that it is not in proper working order? As noted above, a worker has the right to refuse unsafe work – but there needs to be a good reason which can be demonstrated. In this case, if for example it can be shown that the MEWP is not working properly, or if there has already been an incident, then this may be justifiable. If you have an elected HSR (health and safety rep), then the HSR can take action in place of the individual employee, and put a Cease Work on the item of plant – see this page, which outlines actions that can be taken both when there is an immediate risk and when the risk is not immediate
If there haven't been any incidents, and the danger cannot be shown to be imminent, then I would recommend raising the matter with the employer (the HSR should do this), and put in a request for maintenance to be done as soon as possible. If there is no proper response, then the HSR can issue a PIN which requires action from the employer (but not immediate – must give at least 8 days). See this page on How to use a PIN
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.
Nominate your HSR or committee for an award
The role of HSR or OHS Committee member is a voluntary one, and although the experience can be a very satisfying one, many HSRs will tell you their role often brings headaches and problems. While there is ample evidence that a workplace with an active and well-informed HSR is a safer workplace, some employers don't make a rep's life easy. So, if you have a dedicated HSR (or Committee) and want to show your appreciation, then nominate him or her (or the entire committee) for an award. Still called the 'WorkSafe Awards', these are announced during the annual 'WorkSafe Week' in October. Nominations close July 4, so there's not much time. Winners are then entered into the National Safe Work Australia Awards. Readers will remember that our 2013 winner, Ambulance Paramedic Jedda McGlinchey, not only won HSR of the Year in Victoria, but was also awarded the national prize. See SafetyNet 280.
Information on the Awards and nomination process on the VWA WorkSafe Awards website.
Anti-bullying laws have not led to rise in complaints
Reports in the media reveal that the numbers of cases taken to the Fair Work Commission since the introduction of the anti-bullying laws have been lower than expected. Instead of the 67 formal complaints a week which had been expected by the Commission, there have been an average of about seven a week since January. And despite 200 calls per week to the phone helpline, only one order to stop bullying in the workplace has been granted.
ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said employer groups had predicted a flood of complaints as a result of the new legislation. This had not eventuated because ''reporting bullying is a difficult and courageous step for workers'', he said. ''We need to spread awareness so people know their rights, workers understand the new laws and know where to go when they want bullying to cease.''
Source: Sydney Morning Herald. More information on Bullying
Orica applies to ship stockpile of toxic waste to France for incineration
Multinational chemical company Orica has been reported as applying to ship its 15,000 tonne stockpile of the controversial suspected carcinogen hexachlorobenzene (HCB) to France. The chemical, which is a by-product of solvent manufacturing, has been stored at Botany in Sydney's south since 1991 after two failed attempts to send it overseas. Australia has no disposal facilities and a previous plan to ship some of the waste, produced between 1963 and 1991, to Denmark fell through in 2010 when the Danish government reneged on the deal after protests by Greenpeace. There were similar protests in 2007 when Orica tried to export it to Germany. Orica has said it has lodged an initial application with the government to export 132 tonnes of HCB to a facility in France operated by Tredi SA. If successful, the rest of the stockpile would follow. Groups here say that there is enough of the chemical to warrant the company building appropriate facilities.
Read more: The Guardian
Government must come clean on future of Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency
The ACTU warns that the possible abolition of Australia's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) will put lives in danger. ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick last week called on the Abbott Government to stick to its pre-election commitment and continue supporting the agency including ensuring it is adequately funded into the future. "Demonstrating that the Government doesn't understand the critical work of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann recently released a paper which lists the agency under the heading of 'Misuse of separate bodies for public relations purposes' where it described it as being part of "window dressing" for political purpose," Mr Borowick said.
"This is completely incorrect and ignores the shocking local death toll and great suffering of so many Australians. It also flouts the continued danger asbestos poses and the necessity for a safety agency to exist. When the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency was established by the Labor party it had both the now Prime Minister, Tony Abbott and the now, Employment Minister Eric Abetz's support…. A U-turn now would be mean the Abbott Government has snubbed public concern, turned their back on a major issue of safety and dismantled an agency set up to prevent asbestos-related disease in this country. The Government must explain its plans for the future of Australia's Safety and Eradication Agency immediately," said Mr Borowick. The call follows the revelations on the ABC's PM program of the deadly legacy of "Mr Fluffy" in over a thousand Canberra homes. The program reported: "Angry residents are now organising for a battle with state and federal authorities. But this has happened just as the Federal Government is to shut down a national asbestos watchdog."
Ms Brianna Hesletine, a Canberra home-owner who has recently formed the Fluffy Owners and Residents Action Group, disputes the Federal government's claims that the ASEA is merely 'window dressing'. She said that by speaking out about Mr Fluffy, ASEA's CEO Peter Tighe had made everyone aware of the seriousness of the problem. Ms Heseltine said, "what we have with the national body is an overarching protocol and way of ensuring safety and sharing of information across borders that we don't have otherwise."
ACTU Media Release Sydney Morning Herald Axing of asbestos watchdog shocks head ABC Radio PM Asbestos contamination: the deadly legacy of Mr Fluffy
Third Asbestos-related Diseases Indicators 2014
Safe Work Australia has released its third Asbestos-related Diseases Indicators report. Only mesolothelioma and asbestosis are reported, as it is impossible to pinpoint lung cancers caused solely by exposure to asbestos. The annual number of new cases of mesothelioma increased from 156 in 1982 to a peak of 674 in 2007. The number of new cases declined slightly to 667 in 2010. Mortality data shows the annual number of deaths resulting from mesothelioma increased from 416 in 1997 to 606 in 2011. With regard to asbestosis, between 1998-99 and 2009-10 there were 1394 asbestosis-related hospitalisations, 97 percent of which were of male patients. There were 102 accepted asbestosis-related compensation claims in 2011, the lowest number observed since 2002. Asbestosis was the underlying cause of 125 deaths in 2011
The report can be downloaded from this page of the Safe Work Australia website.
Vale: Ray Colbert, Queensland Asbestos advocate
It with great sadness that SafetyNet reports that Ray Colbert, Secretary of the Asbestos Related Diseases Support Society Queensland (ARDSSQ) passed away on May 21 at the age of 67. Ray was a cornerstone of the asbestos support community in Queensland and he served as a model for many of us. He was heavily involved in the James Hardie campaign for compensation. One of his great achievements was to travel from Toowoomba to Brisbane in his wheelchair equipped with oxygen supply to raise money for asbestos research.
Read more: ARDSSQ website
Increased James Hardie profits good news for asbestos disease sufferers
News that James Hardie will allocate a substantial sum of money to meet its increasing obligations to asbestos victims next financial year is good news for asbestos disease sufferers. The company has announced it will pay more than $122 million to the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund (AICF) on 1 July, 2014, after it doubled its full year profit. Slater & Gordon senior asbestos lawyer Margaret Kent said it was a relief asbestos victims would continue to have access to compensation in the immediate future. "It is pleasing to see James Hardie getting its house in order," Ms Kent said. "Many Australian may have wished to see the end of James Hardie when it became clear its asbestos products were capable of causing harm and when the company was exposed for attempting to shirk its responsibilities. While the company no longer manufactures asbestos, it continues to make profits and a portion of its earnings are re-directed into the AICF every year.
James Hardie must pay 35 per cent of its cash flow into the AICF under a 2005 agreement with the NSW government and unions. According to James Hardie's annual report, it received 608 asbestos-related claims to the year ending March 31, far above the 540 it was expecting. Claims in WA and SA rose, while Victorian claims were steady and those in Queensland dropped.
Slater and Gordon solicitors Media Release
WA Government announces review of asbestos compensation law
Unions have welcomed the WA State Government's investigation into current compensation laws. AG Mischin has referred the inquiry into compensation for people suffering asbestos-related diseases to the WA Law Reform Commission, which will investigate changes to the "once and for all" rule and whether courts should be able to award extra damages to people when their disease develops after an initial judgment. It will investigate whether additional claims can be made for all personal injury claims or just asbestos victims.
In WA, victims cannot claim more compensation if they develop more serious health complications, such as mesothelioma, after being exposed to asbestos. In Victoria, NSW and South Australia, people can seek interim damages. The referral comes after Labor Opposition MP Kate Doust introduced a private member's Bill last year proposing sufferers be allowed to seek provisional damages and damages for the loss of capacity to care for a family member.
Source: The West Australian
First WA asbestos prosecution
In the state's first asbestos-related prosecution, SGS Australia Pty Ltd was fined $55,000 after it pleaded guilty to failing to identify the presence and location of asbestos at one of its workplaces. A WA WorkSafe inspection in June 2010 had identified asbestos at the workplace, which was confirmed when SGS subsequently commissioned an inexpensive asbestos assessment. Although the company made an attempt to address the asbestos issue at other workplaces, it did not ensure that information about asbestos at its workplaces was passed to relevant parties, including outside contractors who worked at their sites.
As in the rest of the country, WA's work safety laws require an asbestos register to be established in workplaces that may contain asbestos, and warning signs must also be in place in areas containing asbestos.
New Zealand: Asbestos big killer and government must do more
Shockingly, it is still legal for asbestos-containing materials to be imported and used in New Zealand; it's only 'raw' asbestos that has been banned. Last week, New Zealand's Council of Trade Unions called on the nation's government to follow Australia's lead and ban the importation of all products containing asbestos. There are increasing fears that the demolition and rebuilding in earthquake-damaged Christchurch will create a time bomb for asbestos-related disease. CTU Policy Director, Bill Rosenberg said, "Asbestos causes cancer. No exposure is safe. We have known this fact since at least 1986 when the World Health Organisation declared just that…. New Zealand is out of step with many other countries around the world as we fail to have a plan in place to eliminate asbestos. Banning all importation of asbestos products is a critical step. In Australia and the U.K., asbestos products are strictly banned at the border." The CTU is calling for the government to urgently introduce a range of other protections, including notification of asbestos-related work, upgrade of registers and monitoring of workers.
Read more: NZ CTU Media Release Asbestos: biggest workplace killer – Government must do more now ABC PM program, May 27 NZ trade unions exert pressure to ban asbestos importations From IBAS, Countries with National Asbestos Bans.
Italy: Executives Guilty of Manslaughter
On May 23, 2014, a criminal judge in Taranto, in Southern Italy, sentenced 27 (in some reports, 28) directors of a steel producing company (Italsider and Ilva) to a total of 189 years in jail for environmental disaster and manslaughter caused by occupational exposures to asbestos and other carcinogens. The charges relate to 28 workers whose mesothelioma-caused deaths the judge accepted were directly connected to their work with and exposure to asbestos. The sentences handed down ranged from four to nine and a half years. The court proceedings lasted two years, and during this time workers, doctors, engineers and others described hazardous conditions prevalent at the factory.
See: Cronaca Ilva, condannati 27 ex dirigenti per le morti da amianto [Ilva, 27 former executives sentenced for asbestos deaths]. Also RaiNews
Meanwhile, in Rome: Asbestos Activists Call for Action
Members of the Italian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed were joined by representatives of trade unions CGIL, CISL and UIL at an asbestos demonstration in Rome on Friday, May 30. Activists distributed asbestos awareness information in several piazzas in the city to coincide with the launch of a new asbestos online initiative by the authorities in Rome. The slogan "Liberate Rome from asbestos" was seen on placards and leaflets. Source: IBAS
Further to concerns regarding the potentially serious effects of the Federal budget on workplace health and safety, read the VTHC's latest e-Bulletin and learn more from an industrial perspective.
International Union News
US: Charts illustrating worker fatalities
The US union group the AFL-CIO has reported on a Huffington Post article which includes nine charts illustrating the toll of workplace deaths and injuries in America – showing very clearly the key takeaways from the AFL-CIO's recent Death on the Job report. These charts explore the issue of who the 4,600 who die on the job each year are and what is contributing to their deaths.
Read more: The State of America's Deadly Jobs in 9 Charts AFL-CIO Death on the Job Report
Qatar: Global unions set conditions on 2022 World Cup
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is demanding that next month's FIFA Congress impose labour rights conditions on Qatar if it is to be allowed to host the 2022 World Cup. The ITUC Congress, held in Berlin last week, heard that over 1,000 workers have been killed building the World Cup infrastructure. The migrant workforce is particularly vulnerable as it is subject to "kafala" – a form of modern-day slavery. ITUC general secretary, and former ACTU president, Sharan Burrow said: "Qatar is a slave state. Workers are dying and if FIFA does not act (it) shares culpability for the thousands of workers trapped in Qatar." She added: "FIFA president Sepp Blatter has finally conceded the decision to award Qatar the World Cup was a mistake. But Qatar's promises on labour laws have been purely cosmetic and it is time for FIFA to stand up for human rights." The global union body wants an end to the kafala system and the introduction of a minimum wage and union and labour rights. The latest news is that FIFA may be reconsidering holding the World Cup in Qatar – this is due to allegations of bribery and corruption at the time the event was awarded to that country.
ITUC news releases: "Kafala is alive and well in Qatar" – although it may have a new name and International Unions set conditions on Qatar World Cup Source: Risks 655
Turkey: Campaign for mine safety in Turkey targets precarious work
Turkish unions have been very active in their campaign against illegal and irresponsible outsourcing and subcontracting in the country following the Soma mining disaster, being labelled as industrial homicide (SafetyNet280). Joint mass demonstrations of unions with miners who survived Soma have been held in several Turkish cities, notably Istanbul. The main demands have been on the government to account for the murders and injuries at Soma, and to abolish the dangerous subcontracting system in Turkey, where a large percentage of miners are precarious workers. Legislative protection of workers' rights have weakened in the country since 2002, with the government now intending to open sub-contracting to main industrial and mine production through new legislation.
The total number of temporary workers in Turkey has today risen to 2.5 million. Precarious workers in Turkey's mines are vulnerable and underpaid. Their right to collective organizing and bargaining is blocked, they are unskilled and inexperienced, and mine employers pay temporary workers low wages and no overtime or health insurance.
Read more: IndustriALL Media Release
Report: 1000 aircraft smoke/fume incidents over five years
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released a report, An analysis of fumes and smoke events in Australia from 2008 to 2012, which was a joint initiative of Australian aviation safety agencies. The study was undertaken in order to further the understanding of the nature and impact of fumes and smoke related occurrences in relation to the safety of aircraft operations in Australia. The study found that over 1,000 fumes/smoke events were reported to both the ATSB and CASA over the 5-year period. The ATSB states that from a flight safety perspective, most were 'minor in consequence', with only one flight crew incapacitation event and a further 11 minor injury events to crew. It also pinpointed the British Aerospace BAe 146 as the aircraft type most commonly involved in fumes/smoke events when taking into account flying activity. A former Ansett flight attendant was awarded $140,000 in the NSW Dust Diseases Tribunal in 2010 after she had been exposed to fumes in the cabin of that aircraft.
While the majority of the incidents may have had low safety impact, the report raises concerns for airline crew, some of whom are considering taking legal action because they believe the fumes contribute to a 'toxic soup' of chemicals and radiation on board aircraft. The researchers did not examine the long-term health implications of exposure to these fumes. According to the Herald Sun, there were occasions when the fume exposures were much more serious than the report suggested. The paper cites a case in 2009, when fumes on a Qantas flight from Melbourne to Cairns were so bad the plane had to be diverted to Canberra.
Sources: The Herald Sun; ATSB Report
Diesel responsible for 6 per cent of lung cancer deaths
According to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, an estimated 6 per cent of lung cancer deaths in the USA and UK – approximately 11,000 deaths per year – may be due to diesel exhaust. The researchers estimate that 4.8 per cent of lung cancer deaths is due to occupational exposure – while 1.3 per cent is due to environmental exposure. Truck drivers and miners exposed to diesel fumes over their working lives face a risk that is 70 per cent higher than the risk considered 'acceptable' under US occupational standards.
Source: ETUI HesaMag #09 2014
17 common chemicals identified linked to breast cancer
A recent US research report, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, has identified a number of common chemicals as being linked to breast cancer. As it is not ethical to expose humans to chemicals to undertake research, Ruthann Rudel and her team at the Silent Spring Institute analysed substances that have been studied in both humans and rodents and found the results were largely consistent. Rudel is research director at the Institute, a nonprofit organisation studying links between the environment and women's health, in Newton, Massachusetts.
The group identified 102 "high priority" chemicals for breast cancer prevention and consolidated many of them into 17 groups. These include flame retardants, perfluorinated compounds in coatings to resist stains, by-products of water disinfection, dry-cleaning fluids and other solvents, benzene, which is in vehicle exhaust and tobacco smoke, and diesel. The researchers also recommend seven ways women can minimize their exposure to these chemicals – none of these take account of potential occupational exposures, however.
Rudel, Ruth, et al: New Exposure Biomarkers as Tools For Breast Cancer Epidemiology, Biomonitoring, and Prevention: A Systematic Approach Based on Animal Evidence. Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1307455 [abstract; the full study, including the list of chemicals, can be downloaded from this page]
Sources: Huffington Post Dangerous Chemicals Linked To Breast Cancer: Report Philly.com Greenspace: Chemical exposure and breast cancer risk
Brain effects of solvent exposure not reduced by time
A study recently published in Neurology has found that workers exposed to solvents on the job may experience memory and thinking problems decades late. Occupational exposure to paints, degreasers, adhesives and glues is common for some workers, and has been linked to memory loss, reduced cognitive processing speed and difficulty staying focused.
"We do know that in the short term, certain chemicals at work – solvents – are known to affect cognitive health, but there isn't a lot done that has looked at the long-term impact on cognitive function, particularly after people retire," said Erika Sabbath, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, who led the study. She said there is little known about what causes common problems of older people (with memory, reasoning or task-switching) or how to prevent them. Her group wanted to see if there were certain patterns of lifetime exposure to solvents that predicted cognitive problems after retirement. They analysed data from 2,143 male retirees. Of the sample, 26 percent had been exposed to benzene, 33 percent to chlorinated solvents and 25 percent to petroleum solvents. Ten years into retirement the men were given eight tests measuring their memory and thinking.
The researchers found that the effects on cognitive function of exposure to solvents 30 to 50 years earlier didn't necessarily fade. A total of 59 percent of the participants had impairment on between one and three of eight tests, 23 percent had impairment on four or more tests and 18 percent had no impaired scores.
Sabbath, E, et al: Time may not fully attenuate solvent-associated cognitive deficits in highly exposed workers [abstract] doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000000413 Neurology May 13, 2014 vol. 82 no. 19 1716-1723. Source: Reuters Health
Analysis of Mesothelioma Risk
Australian and Italian researchers have published findings based on data from six cohort studies of asbestos-exposed workers and two cohorts of individuals with residential exposure. The study was published in the journal Thorax. The scientists concluded: "the rate and risk of pleural malignant mesothelioma [MM] increased until 45 years following first exposure and then appeared to increase at a slower power of time since first exposure. The rate of increase in peritoneal MM over the 10-50 years since first exposure continued to increase."
See: Reid, et al Mesothelioma risk after 40 years since first exposure to asbestos: a pooled analysis. [Abstract] Thorax. 2014 May 19. pii: thoraxjnl-2013-204161. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2013-204161.
Canadian scientists develop nanoparticle exposure test
Readers of SafetyNet will be aware of the ever-increasing use of the emerging nanotechnology both in workplaces and in consumer products. There have been on-going concerns with potential health effects of exposure to nanoparticles of different chemicals. One of the problems has been the difficulties of measuring actual exposures. Researchers from the University of Toronto have developed the first test for exposure to nanoparticles. While undertaking research to develop cancer treatments involving nanoparticles, they noticed that some mice changed colour and others became fluorescent (they glowed when light of certain colours were shone on them) after being exposed to increasing levels of different kinds of nanoparticles. The researchers, led by Professor Warren Chan, found that the nanoparticle levels in the skin were proportional to those in other organs and to the dose the animals were given. The simple skin test provides an alternative to killing the lab animals and testing the organs. As Professor Chan says, scientists still do not know whether nanoparticles are toxic once they get inside the body - and no one knows what levels of nanoparticles humans are being exposed to. Despite this, the Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory compiled by the Washington-based Wilson Center now contains more than 1,600 consumer products around the world, from sunscreen to electronics.
Read more: CBCNews
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe name change announced
Following a puzzling decision by Mr Gordon Rich-Phillips, the Minister responsible, WorkSafe has formally changed its name to 'Victorian WorkCover Authority'. The announcement was made on Friday on Twitter – although the decision was made last year. We say the decision is 'puzzling' because Victoria's OHS regulator has spent millions of dollars in media campaigns over the years, very successfully making the 'WorkSafe' brand recognisable to Victorians. The change to the overarching name 'VWA', encompassing workers compensation as well as occupational health and safety, will in our view detract from the regulator's OHS profile. A media campaign to be launched soon to promote the new Workplace Injury, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (WIRC Act) which comes into effect on July 1, is a case in point. The tagline is: "We've made it simpler. From July 1 WorkCover laws will be simpler." This refers to the WIRC Act – but people may be confused and believe it is the OHS laws which will change. VWA now has an animated feature on its site explaining the new Act.
More information on the Name change and the WIRC Act
Victoria: Safety Soapbox
A couple of editions of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox were sent out while Renata was on leave. The latest was issued last Wednesday May 28. This edition has links to stories of incidents at construction sites: a worker trapped 28 floors up at a Melbourne high rise in the CBD, and that of the death of worker in Sydney, after he fell in what the police say are 'mysterious' circumstances, as he was not employed at the site and should not have been there.
Oddly, this edition of Safety Soapbox did not have information on the incidents notified to WorkSafe, as have previous editions.
Download May 28 Safety Soapbox
Safe Work Australia
Statement on Psychosocial Health and Safety and Bullying in Australian Workplaces
Safe Work Australia last week released a statement on Psychosocial Health and Safety and Bullying in Australian Workplaces as its response to Recommendation 18 of the 2012 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment report, Workplace Bullying: "We just want it to stop", which requested an annual update of trends in workers' compensation data relating to psychosocial health and safety generally and workplace bullying specifically.
According to the statement, the frequency of rate of Mental stress claims has fallen since 2001-02, while the rate for the subcategory Harassment and/or Bullying has increased. The data in the statement is based on workers compensation statistics, which Safe Work acknowledges 'may not be the best way of looking at trends in work-related Mental stress, as the ability to lodge a claim may be influenced by the legislative process and other external factors'.
However, as pointed out by Kevin Jones in his SafetyAtWorkBlog, the report has a major flaw in that it combines the data for bullying with that of harassment – even though these are two very different and separate hazards
Read more: Safe Work Australia Psychosocial Health and Safety and Bullying in Australian Workplaces
As at 27 May 2014, 72 Australian workers have been killed while at work and reported to Safe Work Australia.
The fatalities: 30 in Transport, postal and warehousing; 17 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing; eight in Mining; four in Construction; three each in Manufacturing; Electricity, Gas & Water Services; and Arts & recreation services; two in Accommodation & food services and one each in Health care/social assistance; and Rental, hiring & real estate services. The overall numbers of fatalities has decreased over the past two years, with 78 fatalities at the same time last year, and 87 at the same time in 2012.
Read more: Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities
The latest monthly fatalities report is that for February 2014, during which there were nineteen work-related fatalities notified: seven were bystanders, and twelve were workers. The fatalities were twelve male workers and five male and two female bystanders. Of these fatalities, eleven people died as a result of incidents on public roads. The monthly report can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
HSIS – Hazardous Substances Information System Database Updated
Safe Work Australia has completed an update of the Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS) database to incorporate hazard information published after assessments conducted by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS).
This update adds 112 new chemicals to the HSIS database and amends the existing entries of 4 chemicals. As part of this update the consolidated lists available on the HSIS website have also been updated to reflect the data currently in HSIS..
Download the full list of the scheduled changes to the HSIS database.
From Workplace Health and Safety Queensland:
- Published on the website, new guidance material, developed in consultation with the HWSA working group, Preventing and responding to work-related violence [pdf]. The South Australian regulator has also published this guidance [pdf], with minor changes.
- A new film on Quad Bike safety – A Rush of Blood: The Miles Paterson Story. Miles Paterson is lucky to be alive and says he has learnt one thing: quad bikes are dangerous. While they are a useful piece of equipment, quad bikes can be deadly when used incorrectly or in difficult terrain.
- eSafe Rural Newsletter, with a number of other interesting rural-related health and safety items
Victoria: Grocon and Aussie Signs charged over wall collapse
On April 28, WorkSafe Victoria laid criminal charges against the Grocon group and Aussie Signs over the collapse of a wall in Swanston Street in which three pedestrians were killed in March last year. The Grocon group faces six charges and signage firm Aussie Signs, contracted to hang advertising signs on the wall, faces two charges. Three arms of the Grocon group – Grocon Pty Limited, Grocon Builders (Vic) Pty Ltd and Grocon (Victoria Street) Pty Ltd – are each charged with one count of failing to ensure "persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from the conduct of your undertaking" and one count each of failing to ensure a workplace was safe and without risks to health. Aussie Signs faces the same two charges.
On October 6, 2011, an employee of Grocon contracted Aussie Signs to construct an advertising hoarding 80.5 metres long and 3.2 metres high and attach it to a masonry wall on the site's Swanston Street boundary. The hoarding was constructed and attached to the wall between October 10 and October 14. WorkSafe alleges Grocon failed to perform key safety checks and obtain a building permit for an 80-metre hoarding it had attached to the wall, it failed to produce a detailed design for how the wall and hoarding were to be braced, did not obtain a risk assessment on how wind would affect the wall or have a structural engineer assess the wall after the hoarding had been attached.
Grocon representatives appeared before Melbourne Magistrates Court on May 19 for a short administrative hearing, while Aussie Signs appeared in court for a similar hearing on May 21. The companies are scheduled to return to court on August 25.
Read more: The Australian Grocon charged over wall collapse and The Age Grocon 'failed to conduct safety checks' before fatal Swanston Street wall collapse: WorkSafe
Victoria: Paul Anthony Friend
Friend, trading as La Trobe Roofing and Spouting Surfaces, provides roof plumbing services to domestic builders in the Geelong area. On 18 September 2013 an employee and subcontractors of Friend were observed by a WorkSafe Inspector working on the roof of a partially constructed domestic dwelling in Newcomb. There was no perimeter railing in the area of the roof they were working on and the railing that had been erected was held together with duct tape and without a bottom rail.
Friend pleaded guilty to one charge under Section 21 of the OHS Act relating to unsafe plant and unsafe systems of work. On 16 May 2014 in the Geelong Magistrates' Court, Friend was convicted and fined $20,000 and ordered to pay costs of $2,703.
Victoria: Scaffolding company pleads guilty after worker injured
Red & Blue Scaffolding Pty Ltd was engaged to erect scaffolding at a construction site in Brunswick. On 12 November 2012 two Red & Blue employees were operating a swing stage at the top of the scaffolding, which, as it moved upwards dislodged a 900mm long scaffold standard (a vertical or upright metal pole). The standard fell and hit an employee of another subcontractor who was working at about first floor level to the west of the scaffolding. He suffered serious head and neck injuries. Red & Blue pleaded guilty to one charge Section 21 of the OHS Act. On 13 May 2014 in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court, the company was fined $15,000 without conviction and ordered to pay costs of $3,097.
Source: VWA Prosecutions Summaries
ACT: Two companies convicted and fined after fatality
In a shocking case, two companies, SITA Australia and labour hire company Adecco Industrial Pty Ltd, have been convicted of negligence for failing to comply with safety duties, but fined only the maximum allowable sum of $5000. 57-year-old Geoffrey Gowan was crushed to death by a truck-mounted crane used to pick up large rubbish bins at the Evatt shops in 2009. ACT Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker found his induction had been inadequate and no reasonable measure to instruct, train or supervise him to operate the machine had been taken. He had been employed for only one week and had operated the machine only once before his death.
Ms Walker raised concerns that the only penalty available to her was a maximum $5,000 fine. She told the court prosecutors elected for a summary offence, instead of a charge which would have seen sentencing in the ACT Supreme Court, where the maximum penalty would have been up to $750,000. "Because of the prosecution's election any penalty I impose will be completely out of kilter with current sentencing practices," she said. Mr Gowan's family is outraged by the fine; his daughter-in-law has said it was not acceptable. "It's a done deal they've killed somebody and they get to walk away."
Read more: ABC News Online
Europe: Bladder cancer neglect
According to the European Parliament (EP), too little attention is being paid to bladder cancers. WHO figures report 120,000 new cases of bladder cancer diagnosed in the EU in 2012, with 10% thought to be related to workplace exposure to toxicants such as aromatic amines, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In October of last year, the EP hosted a 'policy expert roundtable' to identify possible ways of improving the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care of these cancers, releasing a report in February of this year. The EP's recommendations to the European Commission take in the Directive on the protection of workers against carcinogens and mutagens, whose revision has been stalled since 2004. The experts recommended that the new Directive should include a right to screening for workers exposed to risk factors, including after they have ceased work. The latency period means that bladder cancers tend to appear after the age of 55.
Source: ETUI HesaMag #09 2014
UK: Heinz sentenced after engineer's life-changing injury
Global food producer Heinz has been fined in the UK for serious criminal safety failings after an engineer had his hand severed when it became trapped in live, unguarded machinery. A 49 year old self-employed engineer was servicing a potato peeling machine at Heinz's manufacturing plant in Norfolk, on the first day of a maintenance shutdown in June 2013. As he tried to retrieve a dropped bolt, he climbed down from the peeling machine which was electrically isolated and put his hand into the slurry pump below containing a screw auger, which severed his right hand. He has had to undergo eight separate operations on the stump. He is now unable to drive, work or carry out many day to day tasks. The incident was investigated by the UK's regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, which prosecuted Heinz Manufacturing UK Ltd for a criminal safety breach. Norwich Magistrates' Court was told that a protective grate bolted on top of the slurry pump to prevent access was absent, enabling the man to reach into dangerous parts of the machine including the screw auger. HSE said the guard had possibly been absent for some time. HJ Heinz Manufacturing Ltd was fined £50,000 (A$90,445) and ordered to pay costs of £9,661 ($A17,476) after pleading guilty a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
Source: Risks 655 HSE news release and food industry webpages
USA: Child tobacco workers in danger
Children working on tobacco farms in the United States are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides and other dangers, a major report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed. While US law prohibits the sale of tobacco products to children, children can legally work on tobacco farms. According to HRW the world's largest tobacco companies buy tobacco grown on US farms, but none have child labour policies that sufficiently protect children from hazardous work. The 138-page report, Tobacco's hidden children: Hazardous child labor in US tobacco farming, documents children vomiting, suffering nausea, headaches, and dizziness, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning or 'Green Tobacco Sickness'. Many also said they worked long hours without overtime pay, often in extreme heat without shade or sufficient breaks, and wore no, or inadequate, protective gear. Margaret Wurth, children's rights researcher at HRW and co-author of the report, said: "It's no surprise the children exposed to poisons in the tobacco fields are getting sick. Tobacco companies shouldn't benefit from hazardous child labour. They have a responsibility to adopt clear, comprehensive policies that get children out of dangerous work on tobacco farms, and make sure the farms follow the rules."
Read more: HWR news release and full report, Tobacco's Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming. NPR. Source: Risks 655