SafetyNet 285, 17 July
Welcome to our second weekly edition of the SafetyNet journal – we hope you enjoyed reading the first one last week. We've received a couple of positive comments, so let us know what you think by dropping Renata a line at firstname.lastname@example.org You should also start receiving our regular e-news in the next week or so. And remember, please 'follow' us on Twitter - @OHSreps
Right of HSRs to seek the assistance of 'any person' under threat
It was reported in the media last week that VWA inspectors have been told to restrict union officials from investigating safety complaints amid claims of escalating political interference in the regulator. Briefing documents given to WorkCover safety inspectors last week said they must follow new Napthine government guidelines restricting union officials' ability to act on site safety issues – specifically on construction sites. However, the VWA documents tell inspectors to inform union officials refused access by an employer to a site due to federal permit related issues that they must comply with the FWA (that is, hold a valid federal entry permit). This is despite Section 58(1)(f) of the Victorian OHS Act – a provision which allows HSRs to invite anyone, including union officials, on site to assist them with a health and safety issue.
It is of great concern to the VTHC and our affiliates that the Napthine government's erroneous interpretation of the OHS Act, which it is imposing on government construction sites, is now being rolled out and applied to all Victorian workplaces by the VWA. The regulator is, apparently, in the process of amending a number of important guidance documents to reflect this advice.
"Right of Entry" can be downloaded from this page of the Department of Treasury and Finance website, and is one of several fact sheets on Compliance with the Victorian government's Construction Code. Read more: The Age Workcover in push to restrict union officials safety probes'
I work for a council and we have a very small service centre with two or three paid employees. The centre has a number of volunteers, however. Do we need to have a committee and an HSR elected there?
All employees have the right to be consulted on OHS matters – either directly or, if they are represented by an HSR, through that HSR. In a situation like the one you refer to, it may not be very useful to have an HSR for such a small number of workers, and a committee would not be workable. However, under the OHS Act, the employer must consult with employees on how consultation will take place. There are a number of possibilities in this case for example: modifying an existing DWG to include the service centre. This would mean that the workers would be not only included in that DWG and represented by an HSR – but they would have the right to participate in the election and even put their hands up to be elected.
If there are volunteers at the centre, then this is another matter. When it comes to volunteers, the employer has a duty to them under Section 26 of the Act, but is not required by law to consult with them. The employer may wish to establish a means to ensure that they are consulted (after the employees) and their views are taken into account, however.
electing an HSR is a right that employees have under the Act.. not a duty. In any
case, the employer's duty to provide and maintain for employees a working
environment that is safe and without risks to health (and consulting with
employees on identification of hazards and risks, and controls implemented)
See these pages on the site: Duty to Consult; and Duties of Employers
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.
SunSmart program at risk
Cancer Council Victoria has set out its 'Election priorities' in preparation for the upcoming Victorian election. The Council says, "Whoever wins the next state election should be working hard to improve cancer outcomes".
One of the listed priorities is saving the SunSmart program. The SunSmart program tackling the major health issue of sun exposure and cancer was established by Cancer Council Victoria in 1988, with financial help from the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth). The Council says that since the program began, more than 103,000 skin cancers and more than 1000 deaths have been prevented. A large part of the SunSmart program focusses on outdoor workers, many of whom are at a very high risk of developing skin cancers. Although the SunSmart program plays a critical role in delivering outcomes relating to key objectives of the existing Victorian Skin Cancer Prevention Framework, VicHealth funding ends in 2016 as a result of a shift of focus, and this will put the ongoing future at risk.
Cancer Council Victoria is urging the next State Government to continue funding
the SunSmart program beyond 2016 because it saves lives as well as health
Read more: Cancer Council Election priorities
Cancer Council Victoria supports National
Management Plan related to asbestos
As noted above, CCV has issued its 'Election priorities' – and one of these is 'Protecting workers from cancer'. The document states: "Most occupational cancers are avoidable provided the risk of exposure is appropriately and adequately managed. Cancer Council Victoria supports research, education, regulatory and legislative measures that effectively prevent workplace or environmental exposure to substances likely to cause cancer, particularly asbestos." The priority states: "Cancer Council urges the next Victorian Government to support the National Management Plan related to asbestos; and to support improvements to the Accident Compensation Act 1985 framework in relation to occupational diseases by updating the Proclaimed Diseases List to the most recent ILO list (revised in 2010), and by creating a systematic process for reviewing, monitoring and updating the list."
Read more: Cancer Council Election priorities
ACT: homeowners can apply for
According to media reports on the weekend, home owners in the ACT concerned they could be living in a Mr Fluffy house will be able to confirm whether their residence was part of the loose-fill asbestos removal program. The ACT Planning and Land Authority has begun a new building file search process where residents can lodge a form online to discover whether they live in a Mr Fluffy home. The form can be found on the ACTPLA website, and homeowners will be told whether their home was not part of the program or was part of the program and likely still contained the insulation, or was part of the program but had since been demolished and replaced. As at the end of last week, 800 people, of whom 700 are homeowners, had already registered.
Read more: Canberra Times ACTPLA New building file search
UK: secret deal between government
In the UK it appears that the Conservative government has struck a 'behind closed doors' deal with the insurance industry – one which, if implemented, would boost the profits of the multimillion pound insurance industry at the expense of people dying from the fatal asbestos disease, mesothelioma. When the government introduced The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) to Parliament in April last year, mesothelioma claims were exempted from the Act's requirement that claimants pay legal costs. But following a 'sham' review, the Ministry of Justice announced last December its decision to remove the exemption. A document has now been published on the Parliament website, against the wishes of the insurance industry body, the Association of British Insurers (ABI), who fought and failed to block its public disclosure.
Read more: Left Foot Forward 'Behind closed doors' deal between government and insurance industry comes to light
EU: European Commission Quits HQ
At a meeting in Brussels on July 8, 2014 work progressed on plans to relocate European Commission personnel currently working in the asbestos-contaminated Jean-Monet building in Luxembourg. Asbestos has been identified in false ceilings, fire doors and floor tiles. Sixteen hundred people work at these premises, leased by the EU. Three cases of asbestos-related disease have been diagnosed amongst people who worked there. Officials pledged to follow the precautionary principle to prevent further health repercussions to building users: "even though asbestos does not pose an immediate danger, this is an untenable situation," said a Commission spokesman. A working group was constituted to explore all options to relocate all staff from the Jean Monet building by the end of the year.
See: Luxembourg: amiante dans le bâtiment Jean-Monnet [Luxembourg: asbestos in the Jean Monnet Building].
Italy (and elsewhere): The Great
Eternit asbestos trial
Last week we reported that Italian prosecutors had 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. A new book published by International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) and a number of asbestos activist organisations, Eternit and the Great Asbestos Trial, provides a wealth of information on not only the trial, but also the background to the company, interviews with key players and much more. It is available free online.
Download the book (or chapters) from this page of the IBAS website
Brazil: Top Award for Fernanda
Giannasi, Asbestos campaigner
This year on Brazil's national day of justice, August 11, retired Labor Inspector and leader of the Brazilian movement to ban asbestos Fernanda Giannasi will be honoured in the Palace of Justice when she is awarded the country's highest distinction: the Order of Judicial Merit for Labor (Ordem do Merito do Trabalho) at a prestigious ceremony in Brasilia. The official presentation will be made to Ms. Giannasi by Minister César Augusto Carvalho. The decision to honour her was made by the Ministers of the Higher Labour Court in recognition of her "tireless work to ban asbestos in Brazil" and was made official on July 3, 2014.
Read more: IBAS item
Spain: Death of Courageous Union
Fernando Soto, a Spanish political and trade union leader who was imprisoned for 17 years under the Franco dictatorship for his union activities, has died at the age of 75 from mesothelioma on July 9, 2014. Mr. Soto was a metallurgist who had worked with asbestos in the aircraft manufacturing industry. He also worked for a short time at the notorious asbestos-cement factory in Seville belonging to the Uralita Company. Mr. Soto was a Member of Parliament and Senator and was awarded the Medal of Andalusia in 1998 for his union career.
See: Fallece el sindicalista Fernando Soto Martín a los 75 años [Unionist Fernando Soto Martin Dies at 75].
Vietnam: Experts Call for Asbestos
At a meeting organized by the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations in Hanoi in early July, experts called for asbestos to be banned due to the human health hazard posed by asbestos-containing products. Research by the Ministry of Health documented the deadly risk not only to workers but also to people living near asbestos processing facilities or under asbestos roofs. Replacing asbestos with safer products is possible as well as advisable said Dr Le Van Trinh, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Labour Safety Science and Technology Association.
See: Asbestos use in construction a labour hazard: experts.
28th Anniversary of Moura Mine tragedy
Yesterday (Wednesday) was the anniversary of the day the Queensland community of Moura was hit with disaster, when a massive explosion at No. 4 mine claimed 12 lives, on 16 July 1986. 19 men were working underground when disaster struck; seven were able to help each other to the surface through clouds of dust and gas, but the other 12 were killed instantly. The evidence presented to the inquiry following the tragedy was disturbing; that section of the mine had been closed for two years before the day of the explosion because of high levels of methane gas. Poor roof stability and crumbling coal pillars made it a "difficult operation". The union provided expert evidence and made constructive suggestions to the inquiry – many of which were adopted as formal recommendations.
Ten years before, in September 1976, thirteen men had been killed in a Moura mine. Eight years after the 1986 explosion, in August 1994 eleven miners were killed in an explosion at the Moura No 2. mine. This is why Andrew Vickers, General Secretary of CFMEU Mining & Energy Division, the union launched its work safety campaign 'Stand Up. Speak Out. Come Home.' Read more: CFMEU (Queensland) Media Release Remembering the human cost of coal and Andrew Vickers: Why we will never take a backward step
Safe Rates campaign
Around Australia last week, Safe Rates supporters and Transport Workers Union (TWU) members took action outside Coles stores, asking the supermarket giant to support Safe Rates and safer roads. The union says that in its race to cut costs, Coles is pushing road transport rates and conditions 'Down Down'. According to the union Coles has met with Liberal Party MPs, seeking abolition of Australia's road safety watchdog - the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Coles' attack on road safety has a tragic price. With 330 road deaths each year in truck crashes, it's their members' families that pay the cost of Coles. The union is asking the public to sign their petition urging Coles to:
- Sign the Safe Rates Charter
- Support the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal
- Sign the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord
Drivers being made to work unsafe hours too often leads to tragic consequences. Subscribers may have heard of the tragic car crash in which a Walmart truck rear-ended US actor and comic Tracy Morgan's limousine, killing Morgan's friend and fellow comic James McNair and injuring three other passengers in the vehicle. Morgan is now reported to be suing Walmart. It seems the driver had begun his shift more than 13 hours earlier, is in violation of US transport regulations. The driver has pleaded not guilty to death by auto and assault by auto charges.
The suit claims Walmart was "careless and
negligent in the ownership and operation of its motor vehicle" and alleges that
the driver was so fatigued after a more than 1,126-kilometre commute to work
that he fell asleep behind the wheel of the truck and crashed into the limo. The lawsuit also said the truck's
sophisticated collision-avoidance systems, which automatically brake the truck
when they sense slower traffic, failed to function. "Walmart knew or
should have known that one of the truck's most important safety features was
Read more: TWU Safe Rates and ABC News online
Union Choir: appeal for funds
Many subscribers will know the Victorian Trade Union Choir – they regularly sing at the Workers' Memorial Day event and other union/worker functions. The Choir is halfway through their crowd-funding project to raise $5000 to fund a Victorian regional tour of their sell-out music-theatre show I'll be there: a moving, funny and inspiring show that brings the rich history of the labour movement to life through personal stories and political songs.
The Choir needs the help of supporters to make this happen – and so they can pay award wages to the musical director, stage director and lighting technician, and hire appropriate venues as well other costs. Please support them!
UK: Firefighters to strike over 'vicious' pension attacks
Firefighters in England and Wales are will strike
on eight consecutive days this month, saying that the government's "vicious"
proposals on firefighters' pensions are unacceptable, unworkable and
unrealistic. The strikes, which were due to start on 14 July, are the union
FBU's response to government moves that they say would see firefighters paying
more, working longer and receiving less. The union sought urgent talks with the
fire minister on the weekend over the proposed changes and planned action, but
got no response. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: "The government must
realise that firefighters cannot accept proposals that would have such
devastating consequences for their futures, their families' futures - and the
future of the fire and rescue service itself." FBU points out that a recent
academic report on firefighter fitness by the University of Bath undermined the
government's proposals. The study found that higher fitness levels are required
for firefighting than those suggested by the government in its defence of a
shift from a pension age of 55 to 60. FBU says many firefighters would not meet
the fitness requirements to continue working until 60, and would lose both
their jobs and a large part of their pension as a result.
Source: Risks 662 Read more: FBU news release and Union seeks urgent talks
US: Revelation temp worker died days after safety device removed
Salinas was a temp worker for CSC Sugar, a company supplyng sugar to Snapple
and Ben & Jerry's. Salinas, along with many other workers at the plant,
bagged sugar for the company. Their work, however, was constantly interrupted
because big clumps of sugar regularly clogged the hopper, forcing workers to
climb inside and remove them with shovels. On February 25, 2013, Salinas went
missing, only to be found buried deep underneath sugar in the hopper he had
been unclogging. A subsequent investigation found that a safety device that had
been installed to address this threat had been removed only 13 days before
Salinas' death. Why? Because it slowed down production. The device - which had
prevented clumps from forming, thus reducing the need to climb into the hopper
- had originally been installed after safety concerns were reported to the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Read more: AFL-CIO Blog
India: Over 70 construction workers killed in two disasters
In the last fortnight, the race for profits has claimed the lives of over 70 Indian workers in the southern town of Chennai. The first tragedy was the collapse of a building under construction which was being built on reclaimed swamp lands. Many of the workers were migrants from adjoining provinces. In the second tragedy, just one week later, a warehouse wall collapsed on another group of workers, killing eleven. Deaths like these demonstrate that profits come before the lives of workers for capitalists and governments. Only through independent unions are we going to create safe working environments. Source: AAWL MiniNews
Global: Football (soccer) players' union urges action on concussion
Following the end of the World Cup, Fifpro, the world players' union, has accused Fifa of failing to protect players over its treatment of concussion, saying football is in the dark ages regarding the issue. It warned of the potential for lawsuits worth hundreds of millions of dollars for those injured, following the final in which Germany's Christoph Kramer was allowed to play on after a blow to the head, before being replaced. This was only one of several incidents during the Cup where players continued, despite receiving knocks to the head.
Fifpro wants a protocol regarding concussion to
become part of the rules and for Fifa to review the laws of the game to
compensate a team if they go down to 10 men while a head injury is being
Read more: The Guardian Dangers of concussion are ignored, says players' union after World Cup
Maternal exposure to aromatic hydrocarbons leads to low
Researchers from the US undertook a study on the effect of exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on pregnant workers. They said that despite the fact that some of the highest maternal exposures to PAHs occur in the workplace, there had been just one previous study of occupational PAH exposure and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Using interview data combined with detailed exposure assessment and data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, they found that the only statistically significant adverse pregnancy outcome was 'small for gestational age' (SGA).
Source: Peter H Langlois, et al: Maternal occupational exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and small for gestational age offspring [abstract] Occup Environ Med 2014;71:529-535 doi:10.1136/oemed-2013-101833
OHS Regulator News
Farming remains priority
In a rare media release, the VWA has said that, according to new figures released yesterday, farm injury claims fell by more than 14 per cent in the past 12 months and are now at a 10-year low. However, farming remains one of the most high-risk industries in the state. Over the past decade, 53 people have been killed in workplace incidents on Victorian farms while almost 4600 farmers or their employees have been injured seriously enough since 2004 to make a WorkCover claim.
director of health and safety, Len Neist, said while the significant fall in
injury claims was pleasing, the number of claims remained far too high. Mr Neist said that unguarded machinery,
untidy workshops, poorly stored chemicals and inattention when it came to
manoeuvring vehicles were among the most common safety issues identified. He also said older farmers continued to be
overrepresented in the number of farm fatalities each year. "So it's important
that if you are heading out on the tractor for the day, or fencing in the back
paddock, to let someone know where you'll be."
Read more: VWA Media Release
Safe Work Australia
Lowest number of work-related
fatalities in eleven years
Australian workplaces have recorded the lowest number of fatalities in 11 years according to data released by Safe Work Australia (SWA) this week in the report Work-related Traumatic Fatalities, Australia 2013.
report found that 191 workers died from injuries received at work in 2013. The
worker fatality rate in 2013 was 1.64 fatalities per 100,000 workers. Male
workers had a fatality rate of 2.80 while female workers had a rate of 0.28. Distressingly,
the fatality rate for self-employed workers (4.39 deaths per 100,000
self-employed workers) was three times higher than the fatality rate for
employees (1.31). SWA's media release states: "This is partly due to the high
fatality rates in the Agriculture, forestry and fishing and Transport, postal
and warehousing industries, both of which also have a higher than average
proportion of self-employed workers."
Read more: Safe Work Australia Media Release
As of 14 July 2014, 97 workplace fatalities were reported to Safe Work Australia as having occurred this year.
fatalities: 37 in Transport, postal and warehousing; 24 in Agriculture,
forestry and fishing; eleven in Mining; eight in Construction; five in
Accommodation & food services; three each in Manufacturing; Electricity,
Gas & Water Services; and Arts & recreation 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 106 fatalities at the same time last
year, and 110 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.
From the VWA:
- a Safety Alert: Danger of freestanding masonry walls The Alert states: "Recently a worker died after a brick wall collapsed onto him on a construction site. This is the latest in a series of serious incidents involving masonry walls collapsing on construction sites. Other incidents have also resulted in deaths or serious injuries. Often these walls have lacked the lateral support provided by permanent wall returns or other sections of the final structure such as wall or floor frames, or roof structures; which had yet to be installed." The Alert provides advice on control measures.
- Guidance and advice on Managing lead-based paint removal outlining legal duties and implementing the hierarchy of control to minimise exposure of workers.
From Work Safe Western Australia an OSH checklist for the catering industry
Victoria: late notices
Soon after posting the last edition of SafetyNet, a number of prosecutions summaries were posted on the VWA website. These were later added to the online version of the journal, and involved the following companies:
- Metcash Trading Limited
- Nightingale Electrics Pty Ltd
- PRS - Chemical Improvement Company
Details can be checked in SafetyNet284.
NSW: Employers found liable for workers' skin cancers
Two recent compensation cases in NSW confirm it's the employer's duty to provide PPE for outdoor workers. In one case the worker, a former council garbage collector, who had been exposed to sunlight for 19 of the 23 years he was employed, developed multiple skin lesions. In 2011 he had surgery to amputate his left leg above the knee due to a squamous cell sarcoma. While employed he usually wore shorts and a singlet, and though provided with a hat, was rarely able to wear it as it blew off continually. Apart from the final three years of his employment, he wasn't provided with sunscreen, and continually got sunburnt while working.
The second case involved a former Department of Motor Transport (now Roads and Maritime Services) field liaison officer, who was diagnosed with a skin cancer condition in June 2009, and died in December 2012. He worked for the Department between 1942 and 1962, and his duties included driving and conducting interviews mostly outdoors. He generally wore shorts and short-sleeved open-neck shirts, and was not provided with hats or sunscreen at any time during his employment. After leaving the Department, his work did not involve outdoor work.
comments: any worker whose job requires them to be outdoors
needs to make sure the employer provides adequate and appropriate PPE and
sunscreen. If possible, the work schedule should be varied so that work is not
done during the worst part of the day for UV exposure. Read more: UV Radiation
Source: OHS Alert
Chile: how the Chilean miners survived 69 days underground
On August 5, 2010, at the San José Mine near Copiapó in Chile's Atacama Desert, 33 miners were caught underground for 69 days when a single block of granite-like stone, as tall as a forty-five-storey building, broke loose and fell through the layers of the mine, knocking out sections of the Ramp and creating a chain reaction as the mountain collapsed.
In 2007, the Chilean government had ordered the San José Mine to close after an explosion killed a geologist's assistant. The mine had reopened after its owners assured the government that they would take a series of steps to improve safety, such as installing systems to monitor the constantly shifting rock inside the mountain. Many of the steps were never fully carried out. 56 year old Jorge Galleguillos, one of the oldest men in the mine, had been filing safety complaints with the mine's managers.
Yorker has a long,
but interesting, feature which details the experiences of the men, and how they
were able to miraculously survive for 69 days.
For two weeks the men had very little food and water, and almost starved
to death, before a drill broke through and they were able to get enough
provisions from the surface to keep them alive.
The men were finally brought up, one by one, on October 12.
Read more: The New Yorker 69 Days: The ordeal of the Chilean miners