SafetyNet 303, November 28, 2014
Welcome to SafetyNet 303. It's been very eventful as it's been Asbestos Awareness Week – and with the Victorian election this weekend, we could be seeing many changes in the area of OHS in our state. We hope our subscribers find the journal interesting and useful. If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them in to Renata email@example.com and please follow us on Twitter @OHSreps
subsidiary fined only $250,000 for fatal wall collapse
Grocon Victoria Street Pty Ltd (a Grocon subsidiary company) was last Friday fined $250,000 over the a Melbourne CBD wall collapse that killed three people, after pleading guilty to breaching s26 of the State OHS Act in failing to ensure "the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it" were safe. It faced a maximum fine of just $305,000 - significantly lower than the $1.1m maximum it would have faced if the matter had been heard in the Victorian county court. The fine is exactly what the company's legal team had requested, saying this sum would "reflect the part it played in the fatal collapse the wall." The company's defence barrister Ross Ray said construction faults in the wall were not known until after it collapsed and because it was built in accordance with a building permit, there had been no need to recertify it. He said Grocon Victoria Street recognised it should have done more but believed itself to be a client of Aussie Signs and relied upon its expertise. "We are a client, and a client of a company that was regarded as appropriately expert," Mr Ray told Melbourne Magistrates Court. Further, the company itself revealed that the VWA had withdrawn other charges relating to the incident against Grocon Pty Ltd and Grocon Builders (Vic) Pty Ltd.
The CFMEU has pointed out the incongruity of the small fine in comparison to the union's fine for "speaking out" on safety issues. CFMEU Victorian Branch Secretary, Mr John Setka, said, "[Friday]'s sentence … brings into stark contrast the approaches our governments take to industrial disputes and criminal liability for workplace fatalities. Our industrial dispute with Grocon has always been about safety.
we fight to protect the safety of building workers and the public, Liberal
politicians call for our deregistration.
Yet when Grocon pleads guilty to its role in the deaths of three young
people, the same politicians are silent.
Tony Abbott embraces Daniel Grollo as a member of his Government's
Business Advisory Council," he said. "Three young lives were lost because of
the failures of Grocon to properly ensure workplace safety and the company was
fined $250,000. In contrast, the CFMEU
was fined $1.25 million over a dispute with Grocon about serious safety
Read more: The Age: Grocon subsidiary fined $250K over Swanston Street wall collapse and CFMEU statement
Meanwhile, Eric Abetz
accuses union of being 'pro-drugs'
In what could be seen as an election Federal Employment Minister Eric Abetz has said the CFMEU is "pro-drugs" on Victorian building sites because is opposes the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry 2014, which commenced in October. The Code requires contractors on projects valued at $10 million or more to conduct random workplace drug and alcohol tests, and demonstrate best-practice security measures, such as CCTV monitoring and biometric scanning, to prevent fraud and theft on sites. However, it has less advice on what tenderers should include in their health and safety management plans than in the previous 1999 Code.
Abetz said the new Code imposed higher safety standards by, for example, reducing the risk of alcohol-affected workers entering construction sites, and accused State Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Natalie Hutchins of falsely claiming the new rules wouldn't improve safety.
Fines in the UK to be
SafetyNet reads in this week's TUC Risks e-newsletter that the UK government is proposing increases in corporate manslaughter fines to up to £20m (A$36m) under tougher sentencing proposals. Punishments for companies found guilty of health and safety, as well as food safety and hygiene offences should also be significantly increased, according to the Sentencing Council. The recommendations are contained in draft guidance (out for consultation) for judges in England and Wales. The council says fine levels should be large enough to have an economic impact that will bring home to an organisation the importance of operating in a safe environment. There have been only four convictions for corporate manslaughter in England and Wales since the legislation was introduced in 2007. The new guidelines suggest that judges should impose fines in relation to the size of the convicted organisation. For large firms, this could mean fines of up to £20m for corporate manslaughter and up to £10m (A$18m) for criminal health and safety offences resulting in a fatality.
Source: Corporate manslaughter fines up to £20m proposed Risks 681
If an employee is given a first written warning, with no counselling as required by the internal policy, could this be considered bullying or harassment? The reason for the warning was that the employee completed her timesheet in advance as she was going to be attending a medical appointment.
In my view the employee should challenge the written warning on the basis that there was no intentional wrong doing and that management did not follow the company's own internal procedures. A written warning presumes not just an error but intention and I recommend the employee seek the advice and assistance of the union (I hope she is a member). However, the employee should have notified management (in writing or at least verbally) that she needed to attend a medical appointment - rather than fill in her time sheet in advance.
Specifically in relation to your question as to whether this would/could be considered to be bullying/harassment – the short answer is no. This is because with relation to bullying, the definition requires the actions to be both 'repeated' and 'unreasonable'. This is the definition of bullying in the VWA Guidance Note:
"Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety."
With regard to harassment – it's the same – a once-off incident would not be classified as harassment.
are entitled to issue employees with written warnings – but clearly these need
to be fair and based on some evidence that the employee intended to act
inappropriately/etc. Remember that this
is the first written warning only, and there need to be at least two more. However,
it goes on the employee's file, and so I think she does need to challenge it
and seek to have it removed.
Go to the Bullying section of the site for more information.
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.
Asbestos Awareness Week: November 24 - 28
This has been Asbestos Awareness Week with many stopping to remember the many lives lost to this deadly fibre. The Asbestoswise Commemoration Service at St Paul's Cathedral was very moving and the wonderful people from the Bernie Banton Foundation made sure hundreds of passers-by in Federation Square got information on asbestos and its legacy in Australia. The Foundation also launched Bernie Banton Day today - November 27, which is the seventh anniversary of Bernie's death.
It's not too late to do something in your workplace – at least asking your employer for the register, and doing a workplace inspection.
Read more: Asbestos Awareness Week 2014
Education union demands better
asbestos removal plan: Labor makes welcome commitment
Asbestos Awareness Week kicked off with a front page article in last Sunday's Age: on the election-eve plea to both major parties from teachers and principals for asbestos to be fully removed from all Victorian schools. A state government audit, accessed by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, revealed some schools are so contaminated that buildings need to be cordoned off or cleaned up immediately.
Of the 368 audits released, only 30 schools audited (8 per cent) were asbestos-free. The remaining 92 per cent contained asbestos, and of those schools, five were in the highest risk category (requiring immediate clean up); 72 were in the second-highest category (triggering restricted access and removal of the asbestos as soon as possible); and 255 schools were of medium risk (requiring enclosure or sealing the asbestos while removal plans are put in place). The findings were withheld by the education department for months, only to be released after the caretaker period formerly began three weeks ago.
"We've always had the view that asbestos needs to be removed and it is too much to expect principals to just know where the asbestos is," said Meredith Peace, Branch president of the Australian Education Union. "It's not good enough for governments to expose staff and students to asbestos exposure when it is such an occupational health and safety issue."
On Tuesday night the AEU hosted a forum for its members on the issue of asbestos in schools and what needed to be done. Yesterday, the Victorian Labor Party announced it would safely remove all asbestos from public schools by 2020. Ms Peace said the commitment will ensure Victorian children and school staff will be able to learn and teach in a healthy and safe environment free from asbestos.
additional commitment to provide an extra $100 million to escalate the
identification and removal of asbestos in the short term will mean that some of
the worst affected buildings, classrooms and portables will be made safer
sooner," she said. "This week is Asbestos Awareness Week. The AEU has been
calling on the government for over 12 months to put in place a plan to remove
asbestos from our schools. We made a further plea to major parties after the
recently released State Government audit found over 300 Victorian schools were
plagued with asbestos. We welcome this
commitment by the Labor Party, and believe they have given voters a real choice
for putting education first in Saturday's election," said Ms Peace.
Read more: Asbestos in Victorian schools needs urgent removal demands WorkSafe The Age; Daniel Andrews Media Release AEU Media Statement AEU Welcomes Labor Announcement To Remove Asbestos In Schools
Unions put James Hardie on notice
Unions will take legal action to block any application to the Supreme Court to have asbestos victims paid compensation in instalments. In a unanimous vote, the ACTU Executive committed to the action in response to a shortfall in the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund (AICF) set up to compensate asbestos sufferers.
ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said the average mesothelioma victim dies within 155 days of diagnosis. "Asbestos victims do not die by instalments and should not be paid in instalments," Mr Oliver, pointing out that today marks the seven year anniversary of the death of asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton. "It is deeply disappointing that seven years on from his tragic death, unions and asbestos victims are once again fighting for James Hardie to do the right thing," Mr Oliver said.
obtained legal advice showing there is nothing in the asbestos compensation
fund agreement to stop James Hardie from making a one-off ex-gratia payment to
top up the fund. "James Hardie has projected profits between US $205 - $235
million in 2014-15, pays little to no tax and its CEO earns $11 million a year,
and it is outrageous that its management is seeking to avoid its moral
obligation to fully compensate the victims of asbestos-related disease and
cannot shirk that responsibility."
ACTU Media Release and Feature on This Working Life: Asbestos victims do not die in instalments
ACT: First valuations of Mr Fluffy
The Canberra Times this week reported that the first valuation of a Fluffy home has been delivered to officials, with plans to get through as many as 800 valuations - two for each of 400 homes - by Christmas. Asbestos Taskforce head Andrew Kefford has also confirmed that the list of 1021 Mr Fluffy homes would be made public in the first half of 2015. This may not please many homeowners who have argued strongly to keep their addresses private.
week, the ACT health and safety regulator met with the removalists' peak group
after concerns from homeowners that removal companies would refuse to pack and
move their gear. The agency reassured removalists that it was safe to move
contents from the Fluffy homes, but they were told not to go into the subfloor
or ceiling, and not to go into half-renovated homes. They were also advised to
send their workers to an asbestos awareness course, and were advised to wear a
P2 mask for areas in homes where contamination had been found. But Work Safety
Commissioner Mark McCabe confirmed neither would be compulsory.
Read more: The Canberra Times ABC 7.30
Italy: Eternit billionaire's
asbestos conviction overturned
In disappointing news which could have serious consequences for activists in Brazil, Italy's Supreme Court in Rome has overturned the ruling convicting Swiss industrialist Stephan Schmidheiny for his part in the deaths of factory workers exposed to asbestos. The finding that the statute of limitations had passed comes more than a year after the Turin Court of Appeals sentenced Schmidheiny to 18 years jail and fines of €90 million (almost A$131 million). Eternit left Italy 25 years ago, but trade unions and the Italian asbestos victims' association, Afeva, who brought the case jointly, now intend to take it to Strasbourg. The previous ruling had held him responsible for the deaths of almost 3,000 people because he had allowed toxic asbestos dust from the production of roofing materials and pipes to circulate on the factory floor. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said, "It's not possible that in some instances there are rules that, with time, leapfrog the demands of justice – because there are no time limits on pain and grief".
are likely to be particularly dismayed by the court's decision. The country is
the world's third-largest asbestos producer – at 300,000 tons per year – and a
major consumer. Asbestos has been used extensively in Brazil, mostly
in the form of cement for roof tiles and roofing panels, plasterboard, and
domestic and industrial water tanks.
Read more: Eternit billionaire's asbestos jail term overturned and Italian supreme court's asbestos ruling could have major implications for Brazil
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more – go to the Asbestos section on the site.
union calls BHP to end 100% FIFO
Last week at BHP Billiton's annual general meeting, workers called on the company to end 100% fly in, fly out. BHP's central Queensland coal operations were barely mentioned in the opening addresses – but Ken Ingrey, a central Queensland BHP employee, and CFMEU representative, asked why local workers were being told to move to Brisbane or Cairns to work at BHP's Caval Ridge and Daunia coal mines. He then presented a union petition, which BHP chairman Jac Nasser said he would carefully consider.
CFMEU mining and energy division national
vice-president Wayne McAndrew said Mr Nasser's guarantee he would read the
petition was a good result. "We're not against FIFO at all when it's used
appropriately," he said, "But we certainly don't support 100% FIFO. It take
away choice not just from the locals who can't work there but from the FIFO
workers." The Queensland Labor party announced last month it would stop
100% FIFO at mines near regional centres, while the LNP said it did not foresee
a future need for 100% FIFO operations in new mine developments.
Source: The Daily Mercury Protesters gather at BHP Billiton meeting
And this week the CFMEU released the results of its recent FIFO/DIDO survey (see SafetyNet 294). The new research finds that commuting mineworkers are facing personal and family stress, extreme job insecurity, fatigue and lack of choice over their working and living arrangements. The survey of almost 1500 workers across northern Australia also found almost 70 per cent fear they will be targeted or sacked if they raise concerns with their employer; 58 per cent reported both personal and family stress, and 80 per cent said fatigue was a big issue.
CFMEU Mining and Energy General Vice President
Wayne McAndrew said the survey exposed a number of disturbing trends in the
resources industry. "The high level of job insecurity reflects the current
cost-cutting drive that is seeing companies ruthlessly slash jobs at any suggestion
of a compromise on profits," he said. "Permanent jobs are being cut or replaced
by insecure, lower-paid contract work across our industry."
Read more: CFMEU Media Release Stress, job insecurity, lack of control: the real story for commuting mineworkers.
protest RMIT garment forum
Last week, RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia co-hosted a forum with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Employer Association (BGMEA). The BGMEA has a track record of campaigning against workers' right to organise independently at their workplaces and the implementation of internationally recognised Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) standards. The BGMEA played a critical role in organising the release from prison in August 2014 of factory owner Delwar Hossein, who faces charges over the deaths of 130 workers at his factory, Tazreen Fashions (see item, below). A coalition of unions and activist groups issued a statement in protest against the forum. "RMIT's willingness to host a forum in conjunction with the BGMEA about the Bangladeshi garment industry shows an alarming lack of awareness of the nature of the garment industry and the BGMEA." Said Dr Colin Long, NTEU Victoria Secretary and VTHC President. "Garment factory owners in Bangladesh are largely ruthless exploiters of their workers, encouraged and abetted by the brand buyers in countries like Australia," said Dr Long.
Read more: Protest statement
Event: Wednesday December 3 - Report from Bangladesh
The AAWL is hosting an important meeting following a very recent union solidarity tour to Bangladesh. Members of the National Tertiary Education Union, including Dr Colin Long and AAWL representatives spent a week in the country, following up on a trip earlier this year.
The meeting commences at 6pm (to 7.30pm), in the Evatt Room at the Victorian Trades Hall Council All welcome. Read more: Meeting leaflet [pdf] and Facebook Event page
Bangladesh: Tazreen Fire Tragedy – two years this week
On November 24, 2012, 130 workers were killed and hundreds more injured in the fire at the Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh. Following the fire, a group of activists, anthropologists and photographers went to investigate. They found multiple violations: no fire exits; cartons, stacks of thread and cloth obstructing staircases and hallways on every floor; a high-voltage electric transformer on the ground floor; a boiler on the second floor by the women's stairs.
Allegations of negligence were made in various other
reports, most notably from a home ministry investigation report which suggested
that this was a case of "death by negligence" of the owner. The report also
recommended that the owner be brought under the land's criminal law (A/34 of
the Penal Code). However, the activists now write: "Although some legal steps
were taken against the owner, to our surprise, we noticed that the question of
the legal liability of the owner began to lose its focus in the public
discourse. Instead, a regime of compensation took over." They comment that not
only NGOs, but also global unions and their local counterparts have shifted
their focus from the goal of dealing with structural negligence to the short
term goal of securing compensation.
Read more: Death by negligence and its normalisation The Daily Star
government resurrects bad Bill to cut injured Comcare workers' rights
Many vulnerable injured workers would be unjustly denied support or compensation under Comcare if the Federal Government's proposed changes are passed by Parliament, a senior Slater and Gordon lawyer has warned. The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 was suddenly brought on for debate on Monday by the Government.
Senior Comcare lawyer Rachael James said the
Bill was seeking to open up the small Comcare scheme nationally by allowing
employers to exit state schemes and save money and at the same time removing
protection for injured workers. "This change will leave just 44 national
Comcare health and safety inspectors who are predominantly based in Canberra to manage
compliance – this will create a huge gap in protection for workers,
particularly those who work in regional areas," Ms James said. The Bill would also abolish the jurisdiction
of state health and safety regulators, meaning that employers would not have to
comply with state health and safety laws, exposing workers to high and
potentially deadly risks in the name of cutting red-tape.
Read more: Slater and Gordon Media Release
New Zealand:Unions press for safer workplaces
The New Zealand government should act after a series of highly critical reports and upgrade the country's failing workplace safety system, the national union federation CTU has said. Presenting its submission on a Health and Safety Reform Bill to parliament's Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, CTU vice-president Richard Wagstaff said: "The government has now instituted or supported three thorough inquiries into the state of workplace health and safety. These reviews have been unanimous in their recommendations for change and the government must now stay the course and respect their findings."
CTU says the Health and Safety Reform Bill
contains several important measures such as stronger duties on directors of
companies, shared responsibilities for companies that share a workplace,
greater powers for health and safety representatives and stronger enforcement
measures. "We are concerned that some
employers are trying to undermine the recommendations of these inquiries by
weakening the Bill. The arguments for doing so rest on flimsy evidence and we
call on the Committee to challenge scaremongering and weak evidence by
submitters," Wagstaff said. The CTU believes changes to worker participation
requirements are a "crucial weak link" in the Bill. It notes many weaknesses in
worker participation were identified by an Independent Taskforce and says some
changes from their recommendations in the Bill are a backwards step. The union
body says that a default system of worker participation should be retained and
health and safety committees must be strengthened.
Read more: NZCTU news release.
FIFA overlooks migrant
deaths and abuse in Qatar
International Unions have condemned a report of a FIFA investigation into the selection of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup that concluded there were only minor concerns that "were not serious enough to warrant re-opening the process". Human rights groups and unions campaigning to hold Qatar to account for the mistreatment of the migrant workforce in the country said these concerns had been ignored by FIFA. Global union confederation ITUC has indicated 4,000 workers could die building the infrastructure for the event to be hosted by Qatar in 2022. The UK's TUC Stephen Russell, writing in the Stronger Unions blog, noted that the emphasis on corruption was a diversion. "On the other hand, we have full, corroborated proof that hundreds of migrant workers return home in body bags, despite the best efforts of the Qatari regime to prevent the plight of migrant workers being revealed," he said, calling for a reform of the country's labour laws. A new report from Amnesty International concludes Qatar's authorities "are lagging severely behind on efforts to address the rampant abuse of migrant workers' rights.
Read more: Amnesty International news release and report, TUC Stronger Unions blog and TUC Playfair campaign. Source: Risks 681
And today: Workers jailed for
The ITUC is outraged that today Qatar arrested and plans to deport 100 striking migrant workers. The global unions federation says this is a gross violation of the most fundamental workers' rights. According to local news website Doha News, "The men, who hail from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, are construction workers employed by two subcontracting companies – Qatar Freelance Trading and Contracting as well as Qatar Middle East Co. They worked on construction sites that included the recently renovated Sheraton Doha hotel." About 800 workers have been on strike over the past few days, protesting against breaches of employment contracts and poverty wages. Having signed contracts before leaving their home once they arrived in Doha their passports were confiscated and contracts torn up. They were then forced to work for wages one-third lower than promised. Witnesses have reported that a supervisor attacked workers with a plastic pipe when police arrived to start the arrests, and those arrested are believed to be heading for the notorious Doha Detention Centre where migrant workers are often held incommunicado for long periods before eventual deportation.
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said, "Qatar's brutal
disregard for migrant workers is on display once again. The 'labour reforms' promised by the
authorities add up to nothing, and FIFA, the athletics body IAAF,
multinationals and others which are getting a free ride on the back of modern
slavery in Qatar should be ashamed to be in league with a dictatorship like
Read more: ITUC Media Release
Global: Union campaign
wins cargo safety code
Sustained campaigning by the global transport union federation ITF has helped secure an international code of practice on safety in the packing of cargo containers. ITF's road, rail, dockers' and seafarers' sections all participated in the campaign, which has now seen the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) governing body endorse a code of practice on the safe packing of cargo transport units. This means the code now has the approval of all three agencies that developed it – ILO, the International Maritime Organisation and UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe). The process was kicked off three years ago, when ITF lobbying led to an ILO global dialogue forum on safety in the container supply chain and then to the creation of a working group. The code sets out practical guidelines on packing and securing (including for fumigation and dangerous goods), safe handling, receipt and unpacking. It also addresses training and the chain of responsibility. Mac Urata, ITF inland transport secretary, said the code "is hugely important, as it can be turned into national legislation to make packing, weighing, loading and transporting containers safer for workers and reduce accidents." He added: "We encourage our affiliates to step up the pressure in their own countries so that as many governments as possible adopt its provisions and get them implemented." Canada has already adopted the code's provisions into national legislation.
ITF news release and the ITF container safety
Walmart workers protest on Black Friday
As momentum grows in the United States for a significant rise in the federal minimum wage, workers around the country are gearing up for action this Friday against one of the biggest villains standing in the way of decent wages: Walmart. Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States and possibly the world: a retail chain that stretches around the globe (but hasn't yet made it to Australia) and raked in US$16 billion ($18.5 billion) in profits last year.
Majority owned by the family of its founder, Sam Walton, collectively worth more than US$152 billion ($175 billion), equivalent to 43% of the American population combined, three-quarters of its 1.2 million employees in the US earn less than US$25,000 (A$29,000) a year and even though they work for the richest family in America, struggle to provide food for their families.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black
Friday, is traditionally of the biggest on the US shopping calendar. Stores offer
big discounts at special Black Friday sales. But for the past three years,
Black Friday has meant something else as Walmart employees have protested in
growing numbers for higher wages, respect at work and the right to organise
into a union. This year, workers at 2234 Walmart stores are planning to go on
strike with a basic wage of US$15 ($17.30) an hour and the right to access
full-time work ranking as their key demands. Tomorrow is Black Friday.
Read more: This will be a Black Friday to remember This Working Life AFL-CIO Blog Stand with Walmart Strikers on Black Friday
Salon workers' health
Decreased lung function, breast cancer, miscarriage, depression and neurological disease - these are just a few of the health and disease risks that salon workers disproportionately face while on the job, according to a new report on the impact of toxic chemicals within the beauty and personal care industry. Women's Voices for the Earth, a non-profit working to eliminate toxic chemicals from workplaces, homes and communities, released "Beauty and Its Beast: Unmasking the Impact of Toxic Chemicals on Salon Workers" which highlights decades of research on beauty care workers in the US and proposes a number of recommendations and policy solutions for creating healthier working conditions. The report lists more than a dozen chemicals to which salon workers are regularly exposed, some of which can be avoided by using safer alternatives. For example, dibutyl phthalate, which is found in nail polish, is a reproductive toxin and can cause birth defects; toluene, which is found in nail glue and hair dye, is associated with liver damage and pregnancy loss; ammonium persulfate, which is found in hair bleach, can lead to asthma and dermatitis; and formaldehyde, which is found in nail hardener and keratin hair straighteners, is linked to cancer and dermatitis.
With regard to skin conditions, the report cites a number of
studies have found that workers' skin problems began early in their careers —
for example, one study of hairdressing students in Australia found that nearly
60 percent were already experiencing skin problems on their hands.
Read more: Beauty and Its Beast: Unmasking the Impact of Toxic Chemicals on Salon Workers Report [pdf] Science Blogs Source: The Pump Handle
Workers in the riskiest jobs know less about
European research has found that those workers exposed to the highest risks know less than workers in lower-risk roles about safety. Not surprisingly, a link has also been identified between active regulators and "favourable" safety climates.
Looking at 24,534 workers from 27 countries (who participated in the 2010 European Working Conditions Survey), researchers from German, Norwegian and UK universities found that though most said they were well-informed about workplace health and safety issues, almost 2500 (10.1%) felt they weren't. Low knowledge was more common among young and less experienced workers, production industry workers, skilled agricultural and fishery workers, shop and market sales workers, as well as temporary workers and those in small businesses.
They found the average
level of knowledge varied between European countries, and that this was
"partly explained by the frequency of labour inspectorate visits and by
the proportion of companies with a defined health and safety plan". Countries
with higher numbers of inspector visits and defined plans had a "stronger
emphasis on the implementation and control of health and safety regulations and
create a more favourable safety climate at the organisational level".
Nico Dragano, et al, Who knows the risk? A multilevel study of systematic variations in work-related safety knowledge in the European workforce. [abstract ] Germany, Norway and UK, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, November 2014.
Sleep disorders prevalent in firefighters
Heart attacks and motor vehicle crashes are the two leading causes of death for firefighters in the United States: sleep disorders are independent risk factors for these. In a national sample of almost 7000 firefighters, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) examined the prevalence of common sleep disorders and their association with adverse health and safety outcomes. The researchers found that sleep disorders are highly prevalent among firefighters.
The study, led by Laura K Barger PhD, associate physiologist in BWH's Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine on November 13, 2014.
"Our findings demonstrate the impact of common sleep disorders on firefighter health and safety, and their connection to the two leading causes of death among firefighters," said Barger. "Unfortunately, more than 80 per cent of firefighters who screened positive for a common sleep disorder were undiagnosed and untreated."
The researchers found that
a total of 37.2 per cent of firefighters screened positive for sleep disorders
including obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, shift work disorder and restless
leg syndrome. Firefighters with a sleep
disorder were more likely to report a motor vehicle crash and were more likely
to report falling asleep while driving than those who did not screen positive. Also, firefighters with sleep disorders were
more likely to report having cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and
anxiety, and to report poorer health status, compared with those who did not
Read more: Press Release Sleep Disorders Found To Be Highly Prevalent in Firefighters Brigham and Women's Hospital
The latest edition of VWA's Safety Soapbox was sent out yesterday (November 26). In this edition Steve Darnley discusses the dangers of snakes on construction sites – particularly in hot weather. The newsletter also has news on safety recalls, various activities, prosecutions in other jurisdictions, and its regular 'Absolute Shocker', which this week is on nail guns: "At least one nail gun injury is treated in Victorian hospital emergency departments each day."
There were a large number of incidents (59) notified to the VWA since the last edition (for the period November 6-19), including six electric shocks, numerous lacerations, and few potentially serious near misses. November 26 Safety Soapbox edition online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Benalla inspection next
Next week (starting Monday), VWA inspectors will be in Benalla giving local employers and workers health and safety information and advice as part of VWA's ongoing Safe Towns campaign.
Read more: VWA News
VicRoads/VWA: Summer =
cricket, BBQs and road works
In a joint campaign, VicRoads and the VWA are urging drivers throughout Victoria are being urged to slow down and be aware of road workers when driving through road work sites this summer. They say that every day from November to April more than 2,000 road workers, at hundreds of sites across Victoria, will working on roads to to benefit all Victorians.
VicRoads Chief Executive John Merritt was joined by Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) Executive Director Health and Safety Len Neist, to launch a safety campaign targeting drivers, industry and road workers. Mr Merritt said, "We're asking road workers to ensure they follow strict on-site safety guidelines. We're asking industry to ensure they have strict guidelines in place to ensure worker safety, and we're asking all Victorian drivers to behave appropriately when travelling through work sites."
Neist said that road workers were vulnerable because of their proximity to
traffic, exposure to conditions and their use of heavy machinery. Mr Merritt
added, "So we're calling on Victorian drivers to do their bit and treat our
road workers and their work sites with the respect they deserve, so that they
can go home safely to their loved ones. That's what we want for our road
workers and for all road workers."
Read more: Vicroads Media Release
Release of three
On Friday last week, SWA released three reports which examine exposures to the carcinogens:
- Australian Work Exposures Study: Lead and lead compounds
- Australian Work Exposures Study: Formaldehyde
- Australian Work Exposures Study: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
The reports were commissioned by Safe Work Australia using data from the 2011–2012 Australian Work Exposures Study (AWES) to:
- estimate the prevalence of work-related exposure during relatively common workplace activities
- identify the main circumstances of those exposures, and
- identify the use of workplace control measures designed to decrease those exposures.
The reports do not specifically focus on high risk industries or industries where high levels of exposures might occur, but are designed to help inform future work health and safety policy development for workplace chemicals. There were common findings in the three reports. For example, many of the AWES respondents who had probable exposures to these carcinogens: were male; worked in technical occupations, and worked in the construction industry. However, a high proportion of respondents probably exposed to PAHs were farmers burning wastes, repairing farm equipment or clearing fire sites.
great concern to unions is that where information on the use of controls was
collected many respondents reported either using very low order controls: that
is respiratory protection equipment (RPE) or not using any controls at all to
prevent exposures. Given the toxicity of
these substances, the best way to reduce risk of contracting cancer is to
implement higher order controls – that is elimination or substitution.
Source: SWA Media Release
Scaffolds and potential electric shock
Red & Blue Scaffolding (RBSA) a company which supplies, erects, maintains and dismantles scaffolding, mast climber work platforms, hoists, monorail and winch systems and swing stage platforms pleaded guilty to failing to provide a safe system of work and also breaching regulations. The company had been contracted to construct scaffolding. On 14 November 2012, erected scaffolding at the workplace was noted to be in contact with a tiger tail sheathed insulated powerline. The scaffold was approximately 600 mm from non-tiger tailed powerlines. The scaffold as constructed was within the "No Go Zone" for overhead powerlines. The company had no permit to erect the scaffolding. Also, the company's site specific safe work method statement for the scaffold erection in relation to powerlines was deficient, incomplete and ambiguous; and failed to ensure that the scaffold (plant) that was exposed to an electrical hazard in accordance with Regulation 3.5.39(b) of the OHS Regulations. It was fined $15,000 (once again without conviction) plus costs of $4781.
2 – Scout
Association of Australia
enters into Enforceable Undertaking
On 19 November 2014, The Scout Association of Australia, Victorian Branch entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the VWA in relation to an incident which occurred on 12 June 2013, when a volunteer had his thumb and forefinger severed whilst using the wood splitter. An investigation revealed the Scout Association had failed to provide a safe system of work and failed to provide information, instruction, training or supervision (breaches of Section 21(2) of the OHS Act).
3 – Rare
In a rare prosecution involving asbestos, a company, Colbrico, was contracted to conduct demolition and refurbishment works to a single story old library at St Monica's School in Kangaroo Flat. On 29 August 2013, the company initiated demolition work without requesting a copy of the asbestos register – thus failing to identify asbestos in the area. The company pleaded guilty to breaching sections 21(1) and 2(a) of the OHS Act for failing to provide and maintain healthy and safe systems of work, and was placed on an adjourned undertaking for 12 months with a special condition to pay $2,000.00 into the Court fund, plus costs of $3,245.00. The company was not, however, convicted – despite this potentially placing many people at risk of asbestos exposure.
Source: The VWA Prosecution result summaries
China: Another mining tragedy
A coal mine fire has killed 26 workers and injured 50 others in Northeast China's Liaoning province early Wednesday, according to the state-owned Liaoning Fuxin Coal Corporation. About an hour before the fire broke out at 2.30am, a 1.6-magnitude quake was recorded at a city near the coal mine. Local government is investigating connections between tremor and the fire.
Hengda Coal has halted operations in all of its mines for safety checks. The company employs more than 4,600 people. Built in 1978, the Fuxin mine is one of the largest coal producers in northeast China with an annual production of 1.5 million tons, employing some 4,660 workers.
This is not
the first time such an accident has occurred in the mine. Last year, eight
workers were killed during a gas leak in a Fuxin Coal mine. A deadly blast
happened in a coal mine owned by the company in February in 2005, killing 214
people and injuring 30.
Read more: 26 killed in state-owned coal mine fire in Northeast China. China Daily