SafetyNet 298, October 23,
Welcome to our latest edition of our weekly journal – we hope subscribers find the information useful and interesting.
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Vale Gough Whitlam
The VTHC OHS Unit mourns the passing of a great man on Monday this week – Gough Whitlam, Prime Minister of Australia from 1972-75. His Labor Government introduced many reforms in a short time, but two reforms eventually made a huge difference to women workers: taking up the fight for equal pay, and establishing parental leave for Commonwealth employees. The Whitlam Government sought to change working conditions that were unfair to women, and did so by improving the Commonwealth Government's own workplace conditions. On June 18, 1973, the Whitlam Government passed the Maternity Leave (Australian Government Employees) Act 1973. This legislation provided 52 weeks of leave for mothers (12 of which on full pay). It also outlawed discrimination against Commonwealth employees because of their pregnancy, and legislated to provide rights relating to the preservation of employment and status. Among his government's other achievements are: recognising China, abolishing conscription and withdrawing all Australian troops from Vietnam, establishing Medibank, introducing needs-based school funding, extending tertiary education, reforming family law, boosting the arts, indexing pensions, voting at 18, one vote-one value and Aboriginal land rights, removing sales tax on contraceptives, and much more.
Read more: Whitlam Government Achievements and Women and Social Reforms; The Age: Gough Whitlam dead: Martyr for a moment, hero for a lifetime and ACTU Media Release
Ten deadliest jobs in Australia
This week Fairfax newspapers carried an article which listed the ten deadliest jobs in Australia based on 2012 workplace fatalities. The findings were taken from comparison website Life Insurance Finder. They correlate with the SafeWork Australia figures, regularly reported on in SafetyNet. The article also lists the number of injuries. The five most deadly industries listed are:
- Transport, postal and warehousing (65 deaths per year; 1.4% of all workers)
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing (53 deaths per year; 1.3% of all workers)
- Construction (30 deaths per year; 1.3% of all workers)
- Manufacturing (18 deaths per year; 1.8% of all workers)
- Public/government administration, safety, defence (13 deaths per year; 0.4% of all workers)
Read more: Life Insurance Finder Press Release: Truckies, posties and warehouse workers top the list of Australia's most dangerous jobs, The Age
I think we use ammonia in our workplace – can you tell me what the health effects are, if any?
I wouldn't be surprised if you do use ammonia – it's one of the most widely used industrial chemicals in the world - both its pure form and as a feedstock for a wide variety of other chemicals. Ammonia itself is used as a fertiliser, in many alkaline cleansers, such as window and floor cleaners and as a refrigerant gas. It is also used in the manufacture of fertilisers (such as ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, ammonium hydrogen phosphate, and urea); of nitric acid (used to manufacture dyes, fibres and plastics, and explosives) and of cyanides (used in manufacturing synthetic polymers, such as nylon and acrylics, and in the extraction of gold).
Ammonia certainly does has health effects – and so has limitations in terms of what workers can be exposed to (that is, exposure standards). Over eight hours, the TWA (Time Weighted Average) is 25 parts per million, or 17 mg/m3. The STEL (Short Term Exposure Limit is 35 parts per million or 24 mg/m3.
The Symptoms/Effects of ammonia poisoning can include: Cough; Chest pain (severe); Difficulty breathing; Tearing and burning of eyes; Throat pain (severe); Rapid, weak pulse; Collapse and shock; Severe burns if contact is longer than a few minutes; Severe stomach pain; Vomiting.
the strong smell of ammonia is a good indication that the levels in the air are
rising, and at the level it can be first detected it does not cause any major
problems. Nevertheless, your employer has
a duty to ensure that workers are not exposed to ammonia at levels at which
there are harmful effects.
More information on the Hazardous Substances Regulations and Exposure standards
Please send any OHS related queries in to 'Ask Renata' - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.
Stress claims rising to
truly scary levels
According to an article in yesterday's Age, job-related stress is a growing problem in Victorian workplaces with 58 compensation claims for psychological injuries being approved every week. On top of this, there would be countless rejected claims. For the first time, mental disorders have overtaken wounds to become the state's third-leading workplace injury.
annual number of claims for mental disorders has risen by almost 470 in five years
while the annual amount paid out in compensation has soared by 45 per cent to
$273 million. Of great concern to unions, however, is the increasing tendency
to shift the focus from addressing work-related stress factors to a more
generic 'mental health' perspective. This opens the door to employers looking
at the general 'mental health' of their employees. A VWA spokesman quoted in
the article says, "(the Authority) continues to work closely with employers and
employees about the need to provide safe workplaces, with focus on preventing
both physical and mental injuries."
Read more: Job stress compo claims surge to $273 million The Age; More information on Stress
Unions have no confidence in James Hardie
Following a meeting with the company this week, unions have been left with little confidence James Hardie will honour its responsibility to compensate asbestos victims. ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver met senior management to discuss the shortfall in the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund set up to pay out claims to asbestos sufferers.
James Hardie is seeking to rely on the draw down facility in the fund that was agreed to by previous state and federal governments to cover shortfalls. "James Hardie needs to recognise that the assumptions used to set up the compensation fund may no longer be adequate – the sad reality is that more people are dying and at a much younger age than was predicted," Mr Oliver said. "Tax payers should not be forced to foot the bill. I am deeply disappointed that James Hardie's management were rigid and not prepared to be flexible…. James Hardie has a moral obligation to compensate the victims of asbestos-related disease and cannot transfer that responsibility."
calling on James Hardie to resolve the fund shortfall to ensure asbestos
victims receive lump sum payments - not instalments. Mr Oliver said comments by
the company's senior staff were insulting and dismissive of asbestos victims
who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. "James Hardie made it quite clear that they
believe paying compensation to asbestos sufferers in instalments is an
appropriate solution to the shortfall, with a representative stating people want
an upfront payment if they 'want a trip to Vegas'. For James Hardie to
trivialize the needless deaths of thousands of Australians with such a comment
is disgraceful." Mr Oliver said he would
be meeting the NSW Government to discuss the issue further – he also said he
was "deeply disappointed to have received no response from the Prime Minister
Tony Abbott on this matter."
Source: ACTU Media Release
Asbestos dump sites may be sleeper
Following last week's revelations of the still-contaminated Wunderlich factory site in Sunshine, Dr Peggy Trompf, a Sydney occupational hygienist experienced in dealing with contaminated sites and buildings has said that old forgotten asbestos dump sites may be the "sleeper issue" for future generations. Dr Trompf, the director of Industrial Health Matters, has warned it is an issue needing to be addressed, particularly in light of urban renewal projects and the development of housing projects on former industrial sites. "This is going to be a health and safety issue for the future," says Dr Trompf, who has consulted on many large sites. "New housing estates and apartment blocks are being built on ground where asbestos and other metals might be broken up, and even buried in the ground. In the northern areas of Sydney there are market gardens and other types of industry which used big storage sheds that were made of asbestos, she says. "In many cases those sheds were smashed down."
By the end
of last week, the Sunday Herald Sun was
reporting that it had heard of another 17 possible deaths (in addition to the
16 first reported) and seven further people sick as a result of exposure to the
Read more: The Sydney Morning Herald Old asbestos dump sites may be a sleeper issue The Herald Sun Asbestos toll rises from factory of death as fallout continues
BHP Billiton appeals record meso
In July this year, the NSW Dust Diseases Tribunal found BHPB negligently exposed a former Newcastle Steelworks employee and mesothelioma sufferer to lethal levels of asbestos dust at work between 1979 and 1981, and awarded him $2.2 million in loss of earnings, loss of expectation of life and other damages. The Tribunal determined that during the time of his employment, BHPB knew of the dangers of asbestos dust. Senior asbestos lawyer Joanne Wade of Slater and Gordon (the firm that acted for the worker ), said she believed BHPB's appeal against the decision was "baseless" and unfair on the dying man. "This company has argued every available legal point for the duration of this case and it now continues to do so," Wade said. Source: OHSAlert
November 16 – 18, 2014
ASEA's 1st International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management: "Working towards an asbestos free Australia" (Crown Casino November 16-18) is fast approaching. Editor of the OHS Reps@Work website and SafetyNet will be there as a panellist for Asbestos and "DIY" session. Asbestoswise will also be present at the ASEA stand – happy to give information and advice.
Read more: ASEA Conference including program information, and registration details.
Asbestos Awareness Week
– November 24 - 28
Start planning for Asbestos Awareness Week – the last week in November. There are a number of events scheduled, but if you're unable to attend one of these, then consider organising something in your workplace. This could include a minute's silence for the thousands of Australian workers and members of the community who have become victims of this toxic substance; checking that your employer has an up to date register as required by the regulations; or a short information and training session.
Read more: Asbestos Awareness Week 2014
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more – go to the Asbestos section on the site.
International Union News
Global: Unions meet in Mongolia
On 22 October the leaders of IndustriALL Global Union's Rio Tinto Network met in Mongolia on to plan the next moves in the worldwide campaign to improve worker rights at the mining giant. It follows a two-day conference where unions, government officials and civil society groups gathered to discuss the labour agenda for socially sustainable mining in the global south.
The Network is focusing support in Mongolia, where Rio Tinto has invested billions and mine workers are particularly vulnerable. The company has a US $6 billion investment in the vast Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in the Gobi Desert. Workers there are represented by IndustriALL affiliate the Federation of Energy, Geology and Mining Workers' Trade Unions of Mongolia (MEGM). Last year, Rio Tinto was condemned by Mongolia's Supreme Court for wage discrimination against Mongolian nationals and unfair dismissal. The company also faced international criticism for sacking thousands of workers in the country without adequate consultation.
Rio Tinto's blind pursuit of profit at any cost in Mongolia has caused disputes with unions as well as environmental, community and indigenous groups. Together with its mining trade union affiliates, IndustriALL Global Union has an ongoing campaign calling for an end to bad corporate behaviour at the expense of workers at Rio Tinto operations around the world.
Following the meeting, Australia's CFMEU Mining division has released a very informative video, Rio Tinto and "Direct Engagement" in which Professor Bradon Ellem untangles the jargon behind Rio Tinto's anti-union management approach, which it calls "direct engagement". Read more: IndustriALL Media Release
Workers press for Ebola protection
Hanna Majanen, from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Liberia, summed it up best: "It is the things you do automatically that are difficult. People will touch their face, rub their eyes and bite their fingernails. These are the things you forget." She says protecting health workers means not only following strict procedures on wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) and ensuring maximum standards of hygiene in every aspect of work, but ensuring psychological back-up for those treating Ebola patients, and limiting rotations. Health workers have always been among the fatalities in Ebola outbreaks, notably in Sudan and the then Zaire where the virus first came to light in 1976. But the West Africa epidemic highlighted their extreme vulnerability. According to WHO, in its Ebola Response Roadmap Situation Report for 17 October, 423 health care workers had contracted Ebola, with 239 confirmed or suspected deaths. Ebola cases in healthcare workers exposed treating patients in US and Spanish hospitals show the risk isn't confined to West Africa.
Further, groups of workers outside of healthcare
settings may face risks without any of the protective infrastructure and
equipment. Up to 200 cleaning workers at New York's
LaGuardia Airport took strike action last week,
seeking more durable gloves, as well as goggles and face masks for certain jobs
that involve exposure to urine and faeces. They claim they often encounter
hypodermic needles, vomit and blood. According to Amity Paye, a spokesperson
for the union SEIU: "At least once per week an employee is sprayed with
lavatory sewage from a plane, a mishap workers dub a 'baptism'."
Source: Risks 676. Read more: Ebola Response Roadmap Situation Reports, WHO, 2014. SEIU news report.
Health and Safety News
The latest ITUC bulletin has just been sent out. It begins with a quote from Sharan Burrow, ex ACTU President and now the General Secretary of the ITUC: "Work shouldn't be hell, it shouldn't hurt and it certainly shouldn't kill. Work should be fulfilling, safe and worthwhile. Union organisation can make this happen. Working together, we make work healthier and we make work better." This month's newsletter has articles on the response of some companies to the Cambodian garment workers demand for better pay; the Turkish mine disaster; why Pakistan's garment sector needs unions; and more.
Read more: ITUC October Health and Safety News Subscribe on this page
asbestos link found
Scientists now believe many cases of a common lung disease that were assumed to be of no known cause are in fact the result of exposure to asbestos. Researchers from Imperial College London found a correlation between death rates in England and Wales from the known asbestos-related conditions asbestosis and mesothelioma and from "idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis" (IPF).
In findings presented to the European Respiratory Society (ERS) international congress in Munich, Germany, they warn that at present people with a history of asbestos exposure may be missing out on appropriate care, as they are not currently able to access new treatments for IPF. The researchers say asbestosis is the name given to the lung fibrosis developed by people with a known history of exposure to asbestos; IPF is an identical condition, just without the asbestos association being made. Their analysis of UK Office of National Statistics data revealed national and regional correlations between the three diseases.
This supports the theory that a proportion of IPF cases are
due to "unknown" exposure to asbestos. They also identified high rates of IPF
deaths in particular regions in the North
West and South East of England with a history of
shipyard work and potential exposure to asbestos dust. Lead researcher Dr Carl
Reynolds from Imperial College London said: "The findings are consistent with
the hypothesis that a proportion of IPF cases are likely to be caused by
unknown exposure to asbestos. More research is needed in this area, particularly
as patients known to have asbestos exposure are not currently considered to be
candidates for new treatments for IPF and this may be inappropriate."
Source: ITUF News Item. Read more: ERS Press Release
linked to depression
US researchers investigating whether pesticide exposure was positively associated with depression noted that few previous studies considered the episodic nature of depression or examined individual pesticides. They analysed data for 10 pesticide classes and 50 specific pesticides used by 21,208 applicators enrolled in the Agricultural Health Study 1993–1997 who completed a follow-up telephone interview in 2005–2010. After weighting for potential confounders, the fumigants aluminum phosphide and ethylene dibromide; the phenoxy herbicide (2,4,5-trichlorophenoxy)acetic acid (2,4,5-T); the organochlorine insecticide dieldrin; and the organophosphate insecticides diazinon, malathion, and parathion were all positively associated with depression in each case group, with odd ratios between 1.1 and 1.9.
Read more: John D Beard, et al. Pesticide Exposure and Depression among Male Private Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study Full article Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1307450.
and Safety Week
For those not attending any of the VWA's Health and Safety Week activities – the Authority kept the Tweets coming to anyone who follows them on Twitter. While this provided a 'taste' of what was being presented, too often these were not clear, being out of context. The Tweets can be read on the VWA News website. Those attending were promised that at least some of the presentations would be placed on the VWA Health and Safety Week website 'soon'.
Bullying: WorkCover NSW
makes belated apology
It was reported in the media last week that NSW's workplace safety regulator, WorkCover NSW, made a belated and unconditional apology to bullied employee Wayne Butler. The apology came four months after a joint parliamentary committee found that bullying at WorkCover is rife. The cross-party committee urged WorkCover to make a public apology to staff including Wayne Butler, an employee it was forced to reinstate after it sacked him for dubious reasons.
A letter by Vivek Bhatia,
chief executive officer of the WorkCover Safety, Return to Work and Support, apologised
for the way Mr Butler had been treated during an investigation and for his
dismissal, saying the regulator accepted he had been exonerated and completely
cleared of all allegations. Deputy President of the NSW Industrial Relations
Commission Rodney Harrison described an investigation WorkCover conducted into
Mr Butler as little more than a "witch-hunt" and characteristic of
Read more: WorkCover NSW bullying: Wayne Butler receives belated apology for poor treatment and dismissal Sydney Morning Herald Public Hearing 28/10/2014 - Review of the inquiry into allegations of bullying in WorkCover NSW and Information on Bullying
assessments will be adopted to reduce 'red tape'
The Prime Minister has announced that as part of the Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda, the Government will "examine opportunities for greater acceptance of international standards and risk assessments" – part of its plan to "cut red tape and foster a lower cost, business friendly environment with less regulation".
According to the PM, businesses must "often" undergo regulatory approval processes which "duplicate" processes already completed elsewhere, adding to costs and providing "little or no additional protection." Consequently, the Government has decided that if a system, service or product has been approved under a "trusted international standard or risk assessment" then Australian regulators should not impose any additional requirements – without 'demonstrated good reason'.
The Government has already decided to enable Australian manufacturers of medical devices the option of using European Union certification in place of TGA certification. It has also stated it will also require the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) to increase its acceptance of international risk assessments of industrial chemicals made by reputable international regulatory authorities such as the European Union regulator. Further, the PM invites businesses to submit examples of "unnecessary divergence" from international standards to the 'cutting red tape' website.
reality, NICNAS has done a great deal of work examining international
assessments and has entered into some agreements regarding acceptability.
However, conditions of use in Australia,
as well as our unique environment, have meant that some additional level of
assessment is nevertheless required. We fear that these changes are another
example of deregulation – in the interests of profit, not safety.
Read more: PM's Media Release
Safe Work Australia
As of October 21, 140 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work Australia – five more since the last report. The number of fatalities recorded against each sector sometimes changes from one report to another – we assume this is done following receipt of more accurate information.
fatalities: 37 in Transport, postal and warehousing; 31 in Agriculture, forestry
and fishing; 21 in Construction; 14 in Mining; 11 in Manufacturing; eight in
Arts & recreation services; five in Accommodation & food services; four
in Wholesale Trade; three in Electricity, Gas & Water Services; two in
Health care/social assistance; and one each in Administrative and support
services; Government administration & defence; Public administration and
services, and 'other services'.
Read more: Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities.
SafeWork Australia has also now released the monthly fatality report for July. During this month, 19 work-related fatalities were reported: 13 were workers (all male), and six were 'bystanders' – three male and three female. Of the 19 fatalities, four each involved a Vehicle incident–public road crash or a Fall from a height andtwo were the result of being Hit by moving object other than vehicle. The remaining nine fatalities were all different types of incidents. Monthly reports can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
SA: Presumptive cancer
laws extended to volunteer fire fighters
On Monday this week the South Australian Labour Government announced that volunteer firefighters who contract cancer would be covered by presumptive cancer comp laws. Deputy Premier John Rau and Emergency Services Minister Tony Piccolo made the announcement that automatic workers' compensation would be granted to Country Fire Service (CFS) volunteers diagnosed with one of 12 types of cancer, such as primary site brain cancer or leukaemia.
career firefighters who contracted cancer would be automatically entitled to
compensation, but volunteers either had to attend 175 fires over a five-year
period or prove their disease was linked to firefighting to be eligible. Rau said, "The new scheme will open up
the availability of automatic compensation to all current operational CFS
volunteers and will be applied retrospectively from 1 July 2013." Piccolo said the incident thresholds would be
removed, and the presumption would remain in place for 10 years after a CFS
volunteer ceases operational activities.
Source: SA Government Media Release Agreement reached on CFS cancer compensation laws (from News Centre Archive )
- From the UK's HSE: A "Noise and Vibration Partnership Group" formed by industry groups and the regulator has developed new resources, including posters on Hand-Arm Vibration and Noise – download from this page
- From the Western Australia's Department of Mines and Petroleum's (DMP): a series of videos to assist workers in the resources industry to correctly identify potential hazards in the workplace. There are currently three videos in the "Know Your Hazards" series which focus on three key areas of concern when rigging, dogging and lifting – centre of gravity, friction and tensile strength.
Prosecutions: none to report
The VWA Prosecution result summaries has not been updated since last week. The last prosecutions reported were from October 2.
WA: Crushing Services International fined $115,000
over death of electrician
A Fortescue Metals Group contractor has been fined over $100,000 for the death of an electrician at the iron ore miner's Christmas Creek operations in WA. On August 14, 2013, the electrician was greasing a motor when he was fatally crushed by a ladder attached to a tripper unit at the top of the Pilbara mine's ore processing facility.
Crushing Services International was charged with failing to provide a
safe working environment and initially fined $225,000 - reduced to $115,000 for
an early guilty plea, the company's remorse, previous clean record, and
assistance and cooperation in the investigation.
Source: Perth Now.
McCabe Transport fined $336,000 for truck driver fatigue breaches
The NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) has convicted the directors of McCabe Transport and ordered them to pay more than $336,000 in fines and costs for breaches of heavy vehicle fatigue laws. The agency investigated the Unanderra based company and, earlier this year, laid 235 charges for fatigue management offences committed in 2011 and 2012. A comparison of driver log books with other items such as fuel receipts, toll statements and loading and unloading records at various pick-up and delivery sites, revealed discrepancies. The offences mainly related to false and misleading work-diary entries, and to the hours worked by the driver in terms of fatigue breaches (i.e. driver's worked past the maximum allowable work time without rest).
China: shocking pollution affects Beijing
Thousands of runners were forced to battle thick smog to take part in the Beijing Marathon. Many athletes wore masks to run the race. Organizers refused to postpone Sunday's marathon, instead increasing medical staff and advising the elderly and people with respiratory conditions to reconsider their participation. Beijing's environmental centre put Sunday's air at the most serious level on China's air quality index - warning children, the elderly and the sick to stay indoors, and everyone else to avoid outdoor activities. The level of small pollutant particles - PM2.5 - which can embed themselves deep in the lungs, reached close to 350 micrograms per cubic meter in parts of Beijing as the racers lined up. The World Health Organization recommends a daily maximum average exposure of 25 - one-fourteenth of the level runners had to face on Sunday.
Read more: Runners choke to finish contaminated Beijing Marathon Deutsche Welle, Germany