SafetyNet 283, 3 July 2014
By next week we hope to be sending out a shorter version of the SafetyNet journal weekly, as well as an e-news. Let us know what you think (by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org )
Also, please 'follow' us on Twitter - @OHSreps
Man killed after wall collapses on house construction site
A worker, a 30 year old carpenter who was working with another man, was killed last Monday morning when a brick wall collapsed at a housing construction site in Melbourne's Brighton East. The second man, who tried to free his colleague and called an ambulance, was not injured. Police said that emergency services were able to free the man from beneath the brick wall but unfortunately he passed away a short time later. The city was buffeted by very strong winds that day. WorkSafe (VWA) investigators attended the site. Detective Sergeant Gerry Richardson said it appeared a strong wind gust caused the wall to topple over. "We've got to look at how the wall was braced and whether that was a factor as to why the wall collapsed," he said.
On the day after the fatality, the VWA issued a warning in light of the intense low pressure system which was to cross the state. "Strong winds can occur at any time of year, so all construction companies need to be ready for days like today," VWA Executive Director of Health and Safety, Len Neist, said. "Tragically, a builder died yesterday when a brick wall fell on him at a construction site in Brighton East during strong winds," Mr Neist said. "Every year, there are serious incidents in which strong winds lead to the collapse of walls on buildings under construction."
Source: ABC News online The Age VWA Media Release Gale warning for construction sites
Child protection workers under increasing stress
The CPSU has been warning the Victorian state government of the crisis in child protection for some time. Last week a whistleblower revealed that the lives of Victoria's children were being put at risk as child protection workers were not coping with 'ever-increasing' workloads. The woman, who has over ten years' experience in the department, said that workloads had increased significantly following the death of Luke Batty at the hands of his father in February this year. From receiving approximately 10 reports per week from police and courts, a team of protective services investigators now received 15 per day which required investigation.
After a number of PINs issued by HSRs and cancelled by inspectors were then re-instated after being considered by VWA's Internal Review, DHS now has until mid-August to undertake a risk assessment of its child protection model.
While the government has recently funded an extra 23 positions to handle a predicted increase of 9000 reports this year, the Community and Public Sector Union said that was well short of the 146 child protection officers identified by the department as necessary to cope with the mounting workload. Karen Batt, CPSU Secretary, said the system was in crisis. "There are significant staff shortfalls across the state," she said.
Read more: ABC News Child protection workers failing to cope with workload since Luke Batty's death: whistleblower and DHS ordered to conduct review as child protection workers complain about workload
Health and Safety: A Fine Idea
This article, published on the This Working Life website, is the first hand account by a crane driver and dogman Richard. He says that while a lot of noise is made about 'health and safety', 'health' hardly gets a mention. In light of the pressures being applied to unions, union members and HSRs on building sites, Richard makes some pointed observations, including how many workers are afraid to speak up, and why they 'look the other way'. He looks at a number of real problems on building sites, such as JSAs (Job Safety Analyses), 'toolbox talks' and so on.
Health and Safety: A Fine Idea
With the cold weather I am wondering if there's a temperature at which workers in offices can go home. We are freezing and it's making concentration difficult.
Just like for heat, the OHS legislation (the Act and the regulations) have no set temperatures at which workers can cease work. However, your employer has a legal duty of care under Section 21 of the OHS Act to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health – so far as is reasonably practicable. Under this section of the Act, the employer must provide adequate 'facilities' and needs to follow the Compliance Code for Workplace Amenities and Work Environment.
The code states: '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.'
The code goes on to provide advice on heating and cooling. So the short answer is that workers in offices should not be freezing – and that your employer must do something to make the working environment warmer. Go to this page on the website for more information on Temperature and Humidity in Offices
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.
Last chance: Nominate your HSR or committee for an award
You've got just ONE DAY to nominate your HSR or OHS Committee. We all know that Union HSRs are the BEST HSRs, because they can rely on their members and their union to get the best, most up to date advice. Nominations close July 4, so if you're thinking about how good your HRS is, then nominated him or her straight away. Information and nomination process on the VWA website WorkSafe Awards
STOP PRESS: Closing date for nominations has been extended to July 11!
Activity around Mr Fluffy insulation disaster
Lots has been happening over the past two weeks. According to the Canberra Times at least one Canberra family is now having to face the tragedy of a family member being diagnosed with asbestosis – the likely result of exposure to Mr Fluffy asbestos which they installed in their home in the 1970s – while other families are having health checks for potential lung damage. The government has now released information revealing the extent of the problem in over 70 suburbs (the ABC news item includes a map).
Homeowners have formed the Mr Fluffy Owners and Residents' Action Group, and last week 300 met and vowed to fight for resolution of the problem. They also received a briefing from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers on what could become a multi-billion dollar class action based on economic loss. The convener of the group, Brianna Heseltine, had met with Attorney-General Simon Corbell to discuss the government's response. The group has now presented a list of requests, seeking crisis support for those displaced from their homes and calling on the government to negotiate with the Commonwealth to compensate owners for the costs of demolishing and rebuilding.
Politically: the ACT Opposition has called on the Government to allocate $5 million emergency assistance for owners of the contaminated homes; and the ACT government announced it will establish a taskforce to act as a central point of contact for Canberrans affected by the Mr Fluffy asbestos contamination. Reports are that the homeowners have reacted angrily to a taskforce, rather than getting immediate assistance.
The government has also released new asbestos guidelines for the real estate sector
clarifying what needs to be disclosed when homes containing residual Mr Fluffy loose-fill insulation are sold or leased. The four-page document for agency principals, agents and property managers underlines the responsibilities the industry has under law in relation to asbestos in residential properties. This includes disclosing that a home was once identified as containing the Mr Fluffy insulation and was part of the 1988-93 remediation program.
Sources: The Canberra Times and ABC News online
Mandatory Asbestos Awareness Training announced in the ACT
The ACT's Attorney-General, Simon Corbell announced last week new laws mandating asbestos awareness training for workers an employer reasonably believes will work with asbestos or ACM while at work. The new regulation [section 445 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation] will also mandate this training for all construction occupations. This means that approximately 12,000 workers, in 64 occupations will need to be trained before the end of September. The four-hour courses will be run by the Housing Industry Association, the Master Builders Association and the training arm of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.
Read more: ACT News and The Canberra Times
Queensland – company charged with spreading asbestos
In an incident that is almost identical to one that occurred in Chelsea, Victoria, last year, a painter who used a high pressure water spray unit to clean a customer's asbestos roof could be facing a $50,000 clean up fee after court action in Brisbane recently. The painter used a high-pressure water spray unit on asbestos containing material and pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court in May to breaching the state's Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011. The owner's property, as well as those of nearby neighbours, was contaminated with asbestos fibres.
Source: Queensland's eSafe Newsletter
Artichoke extract – a potential treatment for mesothelioma?
The oncology unit of the Regina Elena will lead, together with Canada's McMaster University, a study of thirty patients who have had exposure to asbestos, treating them with a drug product made with artichoke leaf extract developed by an Italian company. The extract, which has already passed the early stages of trial (cellular and pre-clinical laboratory animals), has now received the green light to be tested at the next phase: on human beings. The participants, patients at high risk of developing mesothelioma due to having been exposed in their occupations, or who already suffer from benign asbestos-related diseases, will be given four tablets of artichoke extract per day. They will be monitored on a quarterly basis, through serum biomarkers.
The project was presented at the International Workshop on metabolism, diet and chronic disease and, according to the researchers, if the results are confirmed in human studies would lead to a revolution in the prevention of asbestos cancers. It is believed the artichoke extract may prevent cells exposed to asbestos from becoming cancerous, multiplying and forming tumors, according to Dr Paola Muti, an Italian researcher working in Canada at the Department of Oncology McMaster University.
Read more: Vita di Donna Community
IBAS International Asbestos news roundup
To catch up with asbestos-related news from around the world, check out the June stories on the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat website. There are items from court decisions to protests, and from countries such as the UK, Italy and Australia.
Read more: IBAS June news archive
International Union News
Europe: Workplace chemicals database online
The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) and the Spanish Trade Union Institute ISTAS have developed the RISCTOX chemicals database. The risks from chemicals in the workplace are still poorly known. Yet a third of occupational disease claims recognized in Europe each year are due to exposure to hazardous substances. In Australia we have a long way to go to even recognise occupational diseases caused by chemicals.
Workers mostly have no quick and easy way to access detailed information on the chemicals they use. With this database, workers will be able to access data cards through the ETUI website on approximately 100,000 chemicals, many thousands of which can cause cancer, allergies, disrupt the hormonal system or put the reproductive system at risk. Each card specifies the chemicals classification and labelling under the (EU) regulations, its main work uses (solvent, cleaner, paint stripper, etc.), how it affects health, and the occupational diseases it causes.
The information can be called up simply by entering either the chemical's name or its identification number in the main international chemical inventories into a search box.
Of the 100,000 or so chemicals listed, the trade unions have identified nearly 570 as substances of very high concern (SVHC) for putting on their list of priority substances. These are chemicals commonly used in many workplaces including in Australia.
The RISCTOX database (in English).
Turkey: 820 workers killed by accidents in 6 months
Over 800 people were killed in work accidents in Turkey in the last six months, daily Hurriyet online reports quoting a senior trade union representative as saying after recalling that poor working conditions of coal mine workers in Soma were the main reason for the May 13 accident that killed 301 people. "820 workers were killed in accidents only in the last six months. In our talks with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, we have proposed to shut down all mines for three months so that all security precautions, including rescue chambers, could be taken. After that we'll re-open them," Kani Beko, head of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK) said at the opening ceremony of Miners' Monument on June 19. Beko said 301 workers were killed because of poor working conditions and outdated equipment. Beko's statement came at the ceremony of the opening of the monument that was renovated by Ankara's Cankaya municipality, after one month of tragic Soma coal mine accident.
UK/Bangladesh: TUC welcomes governments' call for retailers to pay into Rana Plaza fund
The TUC has welcomed a statement signed by international development minister Alan Duncan, along with ministers from six other European countries, urging retailers to donate to the Rana Plaza fund – set up for victims of the fatal factory collapse in Bangladesh last April. The statement – issued at the Forum on Responsible Business at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – expresses concern that some companies either haven't contributed at all or haven't given enough to the fund.
More than one year on from the Rana Plaza collapse, just £11m (A$19.9m) has been raised for the fund – less than half the £24m (A$43.4m) needed to pay compensation to the victims. Many of the UK high street stores who sold clothes made at the factory still haven't contributed, says the TUC. The TUC believes it's the responsibility of every company sourcing high-street fashion from Bangladesh to donate an appropriate sum so that the surviving workers and the families of those who died can start to rebuild their lives.
Over one year ago, almost 1,200 workers, most of them young women, lost their lives when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in the Savar district of Bangladesh.
Read more: TUC Statement
EMFs, Brain Tumors and Cancer Promotion
A major new study, with data from seven different countries and funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, points to a link between exposure to power-frequency EMFs at work and brain tumors. The study supports the idea that extremely low frequency (ELF) EMFs are more likely to be cancer promoters than causes of cancer. This hypothesis gained support a generation ago but has lost currency in recent years.
The new results, published online earlier this month by the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, come from INTEROCC, an international project with seven participating countries designed to investigate occupational health risks from chemicals and EMFs. The project is directed by Elisabeth Cardis at CREAL in Barcelona with $1.5 million from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (though none of the tumor cases are from the U.S.).
Source: Microwave News, Turner, Cardis, et al: Occupational exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields and brain tumour risks in the INTEROCC study [Abstract] Published OnlineFirst June 16, 2014; doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0102
OHS Regulator News
Victorian OHS regulations amended
As reported in the last edition of SafetyNet, the Occupational Health & Safety Amendment Regulations 2014 came into effect on 1 July 2014. The VWA has now produced some information, which can be downloaded from this page of their site on the thirty one changes to the 2007 regulations. The Regulations themselves are available on the parliamentary website.
Victoria: Safety Soapbox
The last edition of VWA's Safety Soapbox was sent out last week (June 24) with information specific to construction regarding the OHS Amendment Regulations 2014:
"From 1 July, principal contractors will no longer be required to prepare and maintain a health and safety coordination plan for projects under $350,000 (rather than the current $250,000 threshold)…. There have also been some amendments to remove unnecessary notification, record-keeping and administrative requirements, and some changes to high risk work licence requirements, such as a quicker turnaround time for high risk work licence applications."
There were 45 incidents were notified to the VWA for the period June 6 - 18, including 11 electric shocks, 15 lacerations and 13 near misses. Several could have resulted in very serious injuries – for example, an angle grinder slipping and hitting a worker's face; items falling 25 metres, a ceiling collapse, and gas pipes being hit.
Read more, including links to the list of reported incidents: June 24 Safety Soapbox
Safe Work Australia
As at 13 June 2014, 80 Australian workers have been killed while at work and reported to Safe Work Australia.
The fatalities: 34 in Transport, postal and warehousing; 17 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing; ten in Mining; five 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; Retail; and Rental, hiring & real estate services. The overall numbers of fatalities has decreased over the past two years, with 87 fatalities at the same time last year, and 91 at the same time in 2012.
Read more: Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities
The latest monthly fatalities report is that for March 2014, during which time there were 26 reported fatalities – of these, 21 were workers and five were bystanders. The monthly report can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
NSW: When the regulator is the bully
There have been numerous media items on the scathing report into bullying at WorkCover NSW. The NSW Legislative Council General Standing Committee said in its report that the regulator had to recognise and respond effectively to bullying in its own ranks, ensure bullying complaints are investigated independently, and perform its regulatory roles for other workplaces likewise, with "commitment and integrity". The committee also received some evidence on the NSW Government extending federal Fair Work Act (FWA) anti-bullying provisions. These provisions apply to employees of constitutional corporations and Commonwealth and territory entities, and not to state government employees. The report said WorkCover needed to "abandon its culture of denial and cover-up" and "embrace transparency and accountability … to build trust". Reasons listed for the lack of trust between the organisation and its workers included several large scale reorganisations and a forced move from Sydney to Gosford. The organisation's inability to deal with internal complaints, as well as perceptions of ineffective handling of bullying across NSW created a 'credibility issue' and was of concern to the committee. The NSW Labor Opposition has vowed to push for stronger anti-bullying laws.
Read more: The report can be downloaded [pdf]. Sources: OHNews; OHS Alert
- From Comcare – Guide to Work Health and Safety incident notification This guide provides information on how to determine whether an incident or dangerous occurrence needs to be notified to Comcare under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) and practical assistance in helping employers understand the incident notification process..
Victoria: Wall collapse exposes workers to risk
Eye Q Constructions Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $40,000 (plus costs of $4750) in the Moorabbin Justice Centre after pleading guilty to breaching the OHS Act by failing to ensure non-employees were not exposed to risks to their health or safety.
Eye Q was building residential townhouses in Highett and had engaged a bricklayer to undertake brickwork at the construction site. On 11 May 2012 a free-standing single skin brick wall was built along the eastern perimeter of the concrete slab of the townhouse. While the wall was braced on the western side, there was no temporary bracing or support on the eastern side. On 13 May 2012, the wall collapsed against the side of a bungalow in an adjoining property, putting the safety of workers and others at risk.
Last Monday, June 23, a brick wall collapsed at a home building site in Brighton, killing a man. WorkSafe was investigating the fatality.
Victoria: Fine after worker rendered unconscious
Enviropacific Services Pty Ltd, a company which deals with contaminated soils, asbestos removal and the remediation of sites as well as treatment and disposal of contaminated soil, was undertaking work to remove service station tanks and decontaminate soil at a site in Langwarrin, including backfilling of open penetrations on the site.
On 19 October 2012, a worker was driving a skid steer loader that fell into an open penetration containing contaminated water. As part of the fencing around the open penetration had been removed such, there were no physical controls were in place to fence the edge. The loader filled with the contaminated water and sank below the water line, trapping the worker inside the vehicle, and rendering him unconscious before being rescued. He was hospitalised for several days.
On 12 June 2014, in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court, the company pleaded guilty to breaching sections 21(1) and 21(2)(a) of the OHS Act, and was fined $95,000 without conviction (plus costs of $14,702).
Victoria: Meat exporter fined after electrician seriously injured
On June 16 meat exporter, Tabro Meat Pty Ltd, operator of an abattoir facility at Lance Creek pleaded guilty in the LaTrobe Valley Magistrates' Court and was convicted and fined $75,000 (plus costs of $3,200) as a result of an April 2012 incident. A subcontractor electrician was seriously injured when he walked into a drainage pit containing extremely hot liquid. Maintenance work had been conducted on the area earlier in the day in an attempt to clear a blockage but the pit had been left unattended. This latest incident brings the amount of fines against this company to over $455,000. Last year the company was fined $350,000 after a worker was fatally crushed in a rotating knocking box, and $30,000 after another worker's right middle finger was severed above the middle knuckle by a bandsaw.
Victoria: No conviction – despite non-reporting of amputation
On 18 June in the Frankston Magistrates' Court, Jordan Steel (Vic) Pty Ltd, a structural steel fabrication supplier, was fined $4,500 without conviction (plus costs of $2,500) despite not having notified the VWA of a workplace amputation and not preserving the scene as required by the OHS Act.
The incident occurred on 5 February 2013, when an employee lost the tip of his finger when using an inadequately guarded cropper to punch holes in a steel sheet. He was immediately taken to hospital and underwent surgery. The company pleaded guilty to five charges under the OHS Act [sections 21(1) & (2)(a), 21(1) & (2)(e), 38(1) &(3) and 39].
Source: VWA Prosecutions Summaries
Vic: VicRoads charges Cootes Transport
VicRoads has laid 67 charges against Melbourne-based company Cootes Transport Pty Ltd for operating unsafe heavy vehicles after having conducted inspections in October 2013 with the assistance of the heavy vehicle unit at Victoria Police. The company then voluntarily grounded its Victorian fleet after receiving 139 major defect notices for safety breaches VicRoads and Victoria Police.
The poor condition of trucks in the Cootes fleet has been the focus of ongoing investigations in NSW and Victoria since one of the company's petrol tankers crashed and caught fire in Monavale last year, killing two motorists and causing a further six people to be hospitalised.
Source: ABC News Online
From the USA: 'Decide to be safe' is not the answer
Dr Celeste Monforton, from the George Washington University School of Public Health & Health Services, has written a fabulous article on why exhorting workers to 'be safe' is so misplaced. The story is about motivational speaker Kina Repp, who in 1990, lost her arm in a piece of machinery when she was working at a seafood canning plant in Alaska. She was a college student trying to earn money for college tuition. It was Repp's first day on the job - only 40 minutes into her shift - when the machine caught her arm. Repp not only lost her arm, her shoulder blade was torn off, she had a broken collarbone, a severe neck injury and a collapsed lung. She recalls that she didn't know the machine – in fact, no-one on the site knew how to turn it off. And yet, in her talks, Repp blames herself… and promotes the message:
"No matter your safety program, it all comes down to us. We make those minute-to-minute, second to second decisions, that dictate our personal safety. You are your last line of defense in safety. It boils down to you and the choices you make."
What she, and too many other workers, misses is that it's the employer's legal duty to provide healthy and safe workplaces – that the most effective way to prevent injuries and death is to eliminate the hazards at source.
Read more: The Pump Handle
OHSA investigates Amazon after two fatalities
Deaths at two Amazon warehouses have come under investigation by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The most recent fatality occurred on June 1, when a 52 year old woman, working at an Amazon 'fulfillment center' in Carlisle, Pa, was operating a motorized pallet jack when it crashed into shelving. She died of multiple blunt-force injuries. OSHA had completed investigations into a death at another Amazon warehouse in New Jersey on December 4. A 57 year old worker, was working sorting items when he was caught by a conveyor belt and dragged. He later died in hospital. The worker had been hired by temporary staffing agency Abacus. In that case, OSHA cited five companies - Amazon subcontractor Genco and four temporary agencies it coordinated - for serious violations. Each of the five companies faces just a $6,000 fine.
Read more: Two deaths at Amazon warehouses being investigated by OSHA Los Angeles Times