SafetyNet 284, 10 July 2014
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I'm an HSR for a group of security guards. Our job involves monitoring the public in an exhibition space as well as entrances and exits. While we are required to move around a bit, we are basically in the one location. Last week we came in to find that the chairs that we are able to use from time to time had been removed. This means we now have to stand all day. What can we do?
Standing all day can create a risk of fatigue, and while there is nothing specific under Victoria's OHS legislation (the Act and the regulations) which addresses working standing up, employers have a legal duty of care under Section 21 of the Act to provide for employees, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes ensuring that systems of work are safe and without risks to health. So, although standing is a natural human posture and by itself poses no particular health hazard, working in a standing position for long periods of time and on a regular basis can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs, general muscular fatigue, lower back pain, and stiffness in the neck and shoulders - all in a relatively short time. This means that your employer needs to take this into account and implement controls to reduce the risk as much as reasonably practicable.
Further, by removing the chairs without any discussion, your employer has breached Sections 35 & 36 of the Act – that is the requirement to consult with the HSR/s and affected workers when proposing any changes to the workplace or to the conduct of work.
I suggest that you immediately raise both of these factors with your employer, and request that until such time as there has been adequate consultation, the chairs which have been removed are replaced. If you don't get a satisfactory response, then you should consider issuing a PIN. For more information on the problems of working standing up and what HSRs can do about it, go to this page on the site.
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
The VWA has extended the closing date (it appears not enough nominations were received) - so you have just ONE DAY to nominate your HSR or OHS Committee. It is important that union HSRs are recognised for the fabulous role they have in the workplace. Information and nomination process on the VWA Awards website.
Ongoing ramifications from Mr Fluffy asbestos contamination
It has been announced that Employment and public service Minister Eric Abetz will lead the Abbott government response to the Mr Fluffy asbestos crisis. The ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher was seeking to meet with him urgently after discussing the need for Commonwealth co-operation with Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Jamie Briggs. Ms Gallagher said Commonwealth funding was essential to efforts to either clean up or demolish homes with the deadly loose-fill asbestos present in the ACT and New South Wales. Last week she announced emergency payments of up to $10,000 for households affected by the crisis. Ms Gallagher has also called for a new system to alert tradespeople and potential renters to homes containing Mr Fluffy asbestos. But she wants the system to allow homeowners to keep their locations secret from the general public – agreeing with affected homeowners that their right to privacy outweighs the benefits of publicly identifying the sites.
On the other hand, the ACT real estate industry has called for the release of the list of Mr Fluffy homes to help agents keep track of these properties. Real estate agents and property managers have joined the peak industry body in calling for the 1049 Mr Fluffy homes list to be made available to enable the checking of homes they manage or list for sale. They say they are in a difficult situation because while they are aware of the importance of full disclosure they don't have all of the information. More than 200 real estate industry members attended an asbestos forum on Wednesday held to explain the situation and obligations the sector faced. The ACT government issued guidelines real estate agents last month following the Real Estate Institute of the ACT call for clarification over the disclosure issue.
Sources: Canberra Times Eric Abetz to lead Federal Government response to Mr Fluffy asbestos crisis ABC News Mr Fluffy homes: Asbestos warning system called for by ACT Chief Minister and Brisbane Times Real estate agents call for list of Mr Fluffy homes
UK: Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) warns government of asbestos in schools
British architects have said that many UK schools are 'crumbling' and need to be replaced. In a report setting out its demands for the next government, Riba warned that more than three-quarters of schools contained asbestos and criticised the construction and refurbishment programme established to replace the Labour-era scheme scrapped by the current Conservative Minister, Michael Gove. The Riba report said: "Apart from filling to the brim, British schools are also crumbling, creating poor learning and teaching conditions. Of the 29,000 schools in Britain, 80 per cent of the stock is beyond its shelf life, and a significant part of the school estate is in poor condition and insufficiently maintained."
Read more: Yorkshire Post
Italy: CEO Accused of Wilful Murder by Italian court
Public Prosecutors in Torino (Italy) have charged Stephan Schmidheiny, the former owner-CEO of the Swiss Eternit Asbestos Group, with the wilful murder of 213 people who worked for Eternit or lived in Casale Monferrato, the town where the company's asbestos-cement factory was located. The cases in this action, known as Eternit bis, relate to exposures after 1976; the deaths took place between 1989 and 2013. Schmidheiny had previously been convicted of wilful environmental disaster for other asbestos-related deaths.
See: La Stampa L'ex ad di Eternit accusato di "omicidio volontario" [Former CEO at Eternit accused of "intentional homicide"].
Truck Drivers Memorial - Alexandra
The Victorian Truck Drivers Memorial is an initiative of the Creative Ministries Network's (CMN) Work Related Grief Support program. WGS supports the families who have lost loved ones in work related circumstances. This memorial is dedicated to truck drivers who died in the course of their work in the trucking industry. The first annual Memorial Service was held at the Alexandra Truck Show on June 8, 2013, and will be held annually on the Saturday of the Queen's Birthday weekend, as part of the Alexandra Truck, Rod and Ute show. On June 7 this year CMN unveiled the memorial wall at Alexandra with 500 people in attendance. The service honoured 70 truck drivers who had lost their lives.
Families who wish to apply to have their loved one included on the site or have their name added to the memorial, can download an application form and can also upload a photo on a related Facebook site.
Read more: Victorian Truck Drivers' Memorial website
Who are the Creative Ministries Network?
Based in Melbourne, CMN is an agency of UnitingCare Victoria and Tasmania. It utilizes both arts and faith to assist the members of the community. It is committed to developing personal and societal relationships that are restored by healing, justice and reconciliation and seeks to celebrate and serve this vision. CMN is committed to understanding "who we are" in relation to Australia's history and our relationships with indigenous peoples. Creative Ministries website
Tasmania: Mt Lyell Copper mine to close
It was announced yesterday that the Mt Lyell copper mine, just outside Queenstown Tasmania, will close. The Australian Workers Union, which covered most of the workers at the mine, has said the announcement was a devastating shock to their members, their families and the Queenstown community.
The mine was shut down six months ago after three workers were killed in two seperate incidents. Then a rock fall in a crucial ventilation shaft last month seemed to seal the mine's fate, with the owners opting to put the troubled operation into care and maintenance. Approximately 200 workers have now been made redundant; while 38 will stay on for a few months to rehabilitate the area where the rock fall happened and another 15 will look after the site. While the owners, Copper Mines of Tasmania, have said exploration will continue, reopening the mine will not be considered for at least 18 months.
Source: ABC News Online
International Union News
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work releases publication on stress
Work-related stress is expensive. Tackling stress and psychosocial risks can be viewed as too costly, says the Agency, but the reality is that it costs more to ignore them. Stress affects performance and leads to absence from work. If prolonged it may result in serious health problems such as cardiovascular or musculoskeletal diseases. This report, 'Calculating the cost of work-related stress and psychosocial risks', summarises the studies focusing on this area. The main costs for individuals relate to health impairment, lower income and reduced quality of life. Organisations are affected by costs related to absenteeism, presenteeism, reduced productivity or high staff turnover. Health care costs and poorer business outcomes ultimately affect national economies and society.
A pdf of the report can be downloaded free from this page of the Agency's website.
Firefighters and cancer
Two Australian researchers, Dr Lin Fritschi and Dr Deborah Glass, have published a commentary on two cohort studies on cancer risk in firefighters recently published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. One was based on employment records from three US cities which had been linked with State Cancer Registries and the National Death Registry, and the other was a cohort drawn from census data from five Nordic countries linked with each country's National Cancer Registries. According to the authors, these were both well-conducted cancer incidence studies which included large numbers of firefighters and had long follow-up periods. There were small but statistically significant increases in standardised incidence ratios (SIRs) for all cancers in both studies.
A new finding that emerged from the studies was an increase in mesothelioma. The authors state that the increase in risk is likely to be due to asbestos exposure in burning buildings, during clean up and also perhaps a result of the asbestos protective gear which used to be widely worn by firefighters. These are the first studies to show a statistically significant increased risk of mesothelioma for firefighters. Worldwide asbestos production and use rose rapidly in the period from 1940 to 1970; and so firefighter exposure will have become more likely over this period. The long latent period between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma development, (potentially over 40 years), the probability of contracting mesothelioma would be more likely to be identifiable in recent cohorts. Although asbestos is no longer used in many of these countries, there is still a large amount of the substance 'in situ'.
Source: Fritschi, Lin & Glass, Deborah Firefighters and cancer: Where are we and where to now? [extract] Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oemed-2014-102230
OHS Regulator News
Safe Work Australia
Model laws review to 'reduce red tape' – limited time for comment
The Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) this week released an Issues Paper and Consultation Regulation Impact Statement: Improving the model Work Health and Safety laws. The OBPR says the purpose of the current review process, as agreed by COAG, is to "investigate ways in which model WHS laws could be improved to reduce red tape and make it easier for businesses and workers to comply with their work health and safety responsibilities". However, the proposals are widely seen as 'diluting' the WHS regime – without even having given it the time to be properly bedded down. The Issues Paper raises a number of specific matters, such as the powers of union officials (entry permit holders) to enter workplaces, examine records, etc, and the power of HSRs to request assistance, and direct that unsafe work cease and asks what impact (positive or negative) such powers have had on 'your organisation'. The paper suggests that HSRs 'may not be competent' to direct a cease work!
We are concerned that the Issues Paper seems to be targeted to employers (or PCBUs), rather than workers and unions, and that we have been given so little time to provide comment. While the Victorian government has chosen not to adopt the model WHS legislation, Victorian unions are concerned that any reduction of the rights of HSRs and/or union officials in the model will affect our legislation eventually. HSRs have had the right to seek the assistance of any person, and order that unsafe work cease since 1985 – and there have been no problems with how they have exercised these rights. Union officials were given entry rights in 2004, when the ARREO Entry Permit was introduced - also with very few problems.
Stakeholders have been given only until August 1 to provide comment. Keep your eyes open as we will be inviting health and safety reps to tell their stories.
Occupational Disease Indicators report released
The fifth edition of the Occupational Disease Indicators report has been released by Safe Work Australia. The report examined eight priority disease groups: mental disorders, noise-induced hearing loss, occupational cancers, musculoskeletal disorders, infectious and parasitic diseases, respiratory diseases, contact dermatitis, and cardiovascular diseases. Decreasing trends were observed for five of these eight groups. The report uses data from a wide range of sources, including compensation schemes, the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System, Hospital Morbidity Database and Cancer Incidence and Mortality books.
The report includes new data on rates of:
- workers' compensation claims for priority disease groups (2009–10 to 2010–11)
- disease notifications for infectious and parasitic diseases (2011 to 2013)
- hospitalisation for respiratory diseases (2009–10), and
- mesothelioma diagnoses (2009 to 2010).
For each priority disease group there is also information on:
- characteristics of diseases and their known causes
- occupations at highest risk, and
- prevention policies aimed at minimising exposure to workplace hazards and preventing the occurrence of occupational diseases.
The report can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia website.
Senate committee report on Comcare amendments
The Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee, which investigated and reported on the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill 2014, has endorsed the legislation which makes it easier to self-insure with Comcare if a corporation is currently required to meet workers compensation obligations under two or more workers compensation laws of a State or Territory. This is despite hearing evidence from the ACTU and various unions that the proposed changes will drive up premiums for single-state employers, increase red tape and reduce worker protection. The only conclusion we can draw from this is that the Government has, once again, been influenced by the 'big end of town'.
The legislation also excludes compensation for injuries sustained on off-site breaks or by a person engaged in misconduct. The Labor Senators said Comcare currently provides no "active health and safety monitoring" in "most regions", and the Government has "failed to provide answers as to whether an increased health and safety inspectorate would be introduced". Both the Labor Party Senators and the Australian Greens issued dissenting reports, and urged the Senate to reject the Bill.
Read more: The report (and the dissenting reports) can be viewed or downloaded as a single document, or in separate parts from this page of the Committee's website.
Queensland: two farm fatalities in two days
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has issued two Incident Alerts following two farming fatalities in two days. The first fatal incident occurred on 3 July near Googa Creek, South West Queensland, where a man died when he became trapped between his vehicle and the gate of a property. It appears the man was entering the property when he exited his vehicle to open the gate. This Alert has links to information on plant and farming.
The second Alert was issued following a fatal incident which occurred on 4 July 2014 in Hobartville, Central Queensland. A young worker died from head injuries when the motorbike he was using to muster cattle collided with an anthill. The rider was not wearing a helmet. The Alert has links to information on quad bikes.
In both Alerts, the regulator urges employers and organisations to consider the effectiveness of their safety management systems in preventing incidents such as these from occurring at a workplace.
Victoria: Nothing to report
Late addition - July 10, 4.00 pm After checking out the VWA prosecutions summary database in the morning, and then sending out
SafetyNetat 2.30pm, our editor, Renata, checked the VWA site again.. only to find there had been prosecutions added. So, in the interests of keeping up to date, please note the following:
Metcash Trading Limited: fined following forklift incident
Metcash Trading Limited (Metcash) was fined $5,000.00 without conviction and costs in the amount of $4,940 in the Werribee Magistrates Court on March 18, 2014. The company had pleaded guilty to breaching sections 23(1) and section 23(2) of the OHS Act after an incident on 22 January 2013, when a truck driver who was making a delivery and unloading the truck at the Metcash workplace, was struck on his right leg and injured by the forklift.
On 20 June 2014, following an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the appeal was allowed and the company was re-sentenced in the Melbourne County Court to pay a fine of $20,000 without conviction and to pay costs in the sum of $4,940.
Wholesale/retail business to donate to charity
On June 20, Nightingale Electrics Pty Ltd, a wholesale/retail business in Altona North, was placed on an adjourned undertaking for 12 months with a condition that it donate $20,000 to the Lighthouse Foundation within 3 months (and ordered to pay costs of $2,802). This arose when, in February and April 2013, a Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) inspector observed an unsafe system of work - the same area of the warehouse was used to receive and dispatch stock by fork-lift. The company had no traffic management plan in place and had failed to control the risk of pedestrians and mobile plant colliding. The inspector also observed that the same risk existed within the warehouse, where employee pedestrians were working in close proximity to fork-lifts. The company pleaded guilty to one charge under section 26, and one charge under section 21(1) & (2)(a) of the Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004.
Dangerous Goods conviction and fine
In February 2013 a Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) inspector observed multiple contraventions in relation to the use, storage and handling of dangerous goods at PRS - Chemical Improvement Company, a Williamstown company which manufactures cleaning products. On 30 June 2014, the company pleaded guilty to 10 charges under s 45 of the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 and 1 charge under s 26 of the OHS Act. In the Melbourne Magistrates' Court, the company was convicted and fined $11,000 and ordered to pay $3,097 costs.Source: VWA Prosecutions Summary Database
Texan law to make storage of dangerous chemicals safer 'adds burden'
Texas Republicans are pushing back against proposed legislation drafted in response to the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion, which killed 15 people in April last year. According to the Houston Chronicle, the lawmakers are complaining that the proposed regulations, such as requiring that ammonium nitrate be stored in non-combustible containers, would 'overburden storage facilities with complexity and cost'.
Source: The Pump Handle Blog. Read more: Houston Chronicle