SafetyNet 304, December 4, 2014
Welcome to SafetyNet 304. Our Victorian subscribers will be well aware of the state election last weekend, which saw the loss after just one term of the Coalition Liberal/National government. We don't yet know all the implications of a new Labor government, but there are changes afoot already. As always, we hope our subscribers find the journal interesting and useful. If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them in to Renata firstname.lastname@example.org and please follow us on Twitter @OHSreps
Labor win in Victoria: Implications for OHS?
The Labor Party won Victoria's State election on the weekend – so what are the possible implications for the state's occupational health and safety. Based on the party's pre-election platform, the incoming Labor government will undertake a review the OHS Act as well as the WorkCover Authority's enforcement policies. It also specifically targeted labour-hire: "Labor will... ensure that labour-hire arrangements cannot be used to compromise workers' safety, suppress claims lodgement or avoid employers' responsibilities for premiums, return-to-work obligations and responsibility for workplace accidents." It is likely that Robin Scott, Minister for Finance, will be responsible for WorkCover - a responsibility he had while in Opposition.
Ambulance Paramedics: apart from promising to resolve the long-running industrial dispute, Premier-elect Daniel Andrews has pledged to change the culture at Ambulance Victoria. He has promised $100 million to reduce response times, upgrade ambulance stations, vehicles and equipment, and to review call taking and dispatch procedures at the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority – all of which are positive in terms of improved health and safety outcomes.
Ambulance Employees Association Victoria (AEAV) general secretary Steve McGhie said paramedics would now have a voice as part of a ministerial working group, the Ambulance Performance and Policy Consultative Committee, to fix issues such as hospital ramping, response times and dispatch issues. The union today congratulated Jill Hennessy MP, who has been named as Minister for Health, and Minister for Ambulance Services.
Nurses: Labor has said it will put nurse-to-patient ratios into legislation - an important commitment as US research has found that increases in the ratio lead to increased patient deaths. Director of the United States' Centre for Health Outcomes, Professor Linda Aiken, told the Nurses Union in Queensland this week that after researching hospitals across 30 countries, she found those with lower nurse-to-patient ratios had fewer deaths. She said that for every patient added to a nurse's workload for common surgery, there is a seven per cent increase in the risk of a patient dying. Read more: Nurse workloads a key factor in rising patient deaths, says researcher. ABC News online.
Labor also pledged to allow private eligible midwives, with a collaborative arrangement, access to public hospitals to provide birthing services. The new government has pledged to boost safety for nurses with a $20 million fund designed to upgrade facilities, and conduct a bed audit amid plans to increase hospital beds. Read more: Boost to Victorian paramedics and nurses Nursing Careers Allied Health
Schools: Prior to the election, Daniel Andrews set a goal to remove all asbestos from Victorian public schools by 2020, and committed $100m to conduct a full audit, remove immediate risks and accelerate the retirement of old portable classrooms. (see SafetyNet 303) Read more: AEU media release AEU welcomes new State Government's pledges to education
Fatality at Adelaide hospital site
A construction worker who was injured at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital site on Thursday last week, died of his injuries on Friday. He had been working on an elevated work platform – a 'scissor lift' – at the time of the incident. The 54-year-old man was crushed between the scissor lift and a concrete slab above, suffering injuries to his neck, head and back. Safe Work SA placed a prohibition notice on the use of scissor lifts to work on the exterior of the development.
The 1400 workers walked off the site on Thursday while the Safe Work SA investigated the incident to identify any breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) as well as all parties with potential responsibility for workplace safety. Inspectors were meeting with senior representatives from Hansen Yuncken and Leighton Contractors (HYLC), the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU), Health and Safety Representatives, crews and site personnel.
On Friday morning, the union and the consortium behind the project agreed work should stop out of respect for the man and while an investigation continued. Union secretary Aaron Cartledge said workers were too traumatised and distraught to return to work this morning. Work was then suspended until Tuesday this week, with the regulator announcing it would deploy additional inspectors "to maintain an active and visible presence" when work recommenced.
Read more: Construction worker on new Royal Adelaide Hospital site suffers critical injuries The Advertiser; Workers at Royal Adelaide Hospital construction site vote to walk off job after scissor lift accident ABC Online Worker injured at site of new Royal Adelaide Hospital dies The Transcontinental
A Current Affair: The
push for greater work safety
Two workers injured at work and now suffering long-term consequences, told of their experiences on last night's A Current Affair. Both incidents were avoidable had proper work practices been in place. The item also featured Dr Gerry Ayers, the CFMEU Vic Branch OHS Co-ordinator.
Check out the ACA story
Can you please tell me what my employer is required to provide with regards to working outside in the sun and heat. We work in security, and are expected to walk around for at least eight hours a day with minimal access to shade. Hope you can help.
The employer has a general duty of care under Section 21 of the OHS Act to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health (so far as is reasonably practicable) and specifically to provide and maintain safe systems of work. Also, under Section 22 of the Act the employer must monitor the health of employees, and monitor the conditions at the workplace (includes heat/temperature/etc). See Duties of employers. But there is nothing more specific in the OHS Act or in the regulations.
This does not mean, however, that your employer can just expect you to work on hot days and do nothing – and put your health and safety at risk: both from UV Radiation, from fatigue caused by heat and even heat stress. The employer must take steps to either eliminate or minimise the risks to your health and safety. The VWA has guidance material – the Workplace amenities and work environment Compliance Code, and a Guidance Note: Sun protection for construction and other outdoor workers. Go to these pages on the site: Sunlight - UV Radiation; Heat; and When is it too hot to keep working? for more information and for links to these documents.
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.
Visa 457 workers exploited; system rorted
According to the latest audit by the Fair Work Ombudsman, more than one in five foreign workers in Australia on a 457 visa are either not being paid properly or not doing the job they were brought here to do. Inspections by the Fair Work Ombudsman for July, August and September have revealed salary and occupation concerns at 107 of 504, or 20 per cent, workplaces employing 457 visa holders. Previous audits done between September 2013 and June this year had identified underpayments/improper work in 16 per cent of employers. The audits were obtained by the Transport Workers Union under Freedom of Information laws and also revealed increasing numbers of employers not providing Fair Work inspectors with required information on the visa holders. The union is demanding an explanation from the Department of Immigration as to why these employers have not been prosecuted or struck off from bringing in overseas workers under the scheme.
In September, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison released a report by a four-member panel which he said had found "no evidence to back widespread rorting claims by the previous Labor government when they referred [to] 10,000 visa rorters." He subsequently announced changes which will make it easier for employers to import labour by relaxing English-language requirements, fast-tracking approvals processes for larger companies with "good employment records" and reducing income thresholds.
TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said the latest audit results provided evidence of rorting and exploitation within the 457 visa system. "Skilled migration should be viewed as supplementary to up-skilling, training and employing local workers," Mr Sheldon said. "With over one million people currently on some form of temporary visa, Australia has effectively outsourced 11 per cent of its workforce at a time when unemployment is at its highest in a decade." The union also has specific health and safety concerns over abuses of the 457 visa system in road transport.
FOI Figures show spike in 457 Visa abuse TWU Media Release; Audits Audit reveals fresh 457 visa concerns The Age
Remembering Lyall Watts – Asbestos Campaigner and friend
A memorial gathering for family and friends will be held family and friends will be held on Saturday (December 6, 2014) at 1 pm at the Great Northern Hotel, 644 Rathdowne St Carlton North. Lyall passed away on November 15 after a long and brave battle with mesothelioma. His family invites all those who knew him to attend.
Read more: Vale Lyall Watts
Asbestos fears after Brisbane storm
Residents of Fairfield, a Brisbane suburb, fear asbestos which became dislodged during last Thursday's powerful storm, has dried out and become airborne. They say Brisbane City Council had not acted on calls before the potentially deadly substance began breaking up on Saturday. The southside suburb was one of the worst affected in the powerful storm, which Premier Campbell Newman described as the biggest to hit Brisbane in almost 30 years. The damage bill was expected to top $100 million. Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said people should immediately dampen asbestos with water, and keep it wet, if they saw any of the material among storm debris. "We ask that if people are concerned about building materials that may be asbestos, to please water it immediately, before contacting council," he said.
Read more: Fairfield residents fear post-storm asbestos threat The Brisbane Times
US: ADAO December Newsletter now available.
The US based Asbestos Diseases Awareness Organisation (ADAO) this week released its December e-newsletter, in which President Linda Reinstein talks of her recent trip to Australia to speak at ASEA's 1st International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management. There are also a range of other items on asbestos developments in the US.
Read more: ADAO E-Newsletter
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more – go to the Asbestos section on the site.
Increasing numbers of principals threatened
According to a national survey of 3675 principals and assistant principals from primary and secondary, independent, Catholic and government schools, the number of principals threatened with violence by parents has risen by a third in the past 12 months. A quarter reported receiving threats from angry parents, up from 19 per cent in 2013, and a quarter also said they had been physically abused, mostly by children. Author Associate Professor Philip Riley said The Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey Report, produced by the Australian Catholic University and the Teachers Health Fund, reveals a cultural shift in Australia.
The survey also found that "burnout" among principals was double the rest of the population, with almost half reporting working between 46 and 60 hours per week, and a quarter working more than that – an overall an increase of on average five hours a week extra work. Threats of abuse were seven times those faced by the average worker.
Professor Riley made four recommendations in the report, including introducing policies for professional support, increasing professional development in skills for the emotional aspect of the role, reviewing work practices and resource shortages, and to establish an independent authority to tackle bullying and violence.
Read more: More school principals threatened by violent parents The Age
WA FIFO Inquiry consistent with CFMEU survey
In a recently released discussion paper, a WA parliamentary committee has warned that a gap in safety legislation is exposing FIFO workers to bullying and other risks at accommodation facilities, and said that Rio Tinto is 'underplaying' the impact of FIFO work on mental health. The Western Australian Education and Health Standing Committee, in its ongoing inquiry into fly-in-fly-out work arrangements, has found a "significant overlap in terms of the population most at risk of mental health problems" and the "predominant demographic characteristics of the FIFO workforce" (males between 25 and 44). Rio Tinto claimed the FIFO lifestyle "is not a direct cause of suicide or mental ill-health", the mining giant said. However, the report found however, it is possible that it is a "causal factor" which may be "significant". The report states, "It is the Committee's view that Rio Tinto underplays the impact of the unique aspects of FIFO work practices upon an individual's mental health." These aspects include remoteness and social isolation; workplace culture; and standard of accommodation.
See: Shining a Light on FIFO Mental Health: a discussion paper [PDF]. The Inquiry into mental health impacts of FIFO work arrangements will table its final report in March next year. Source: OHS Alert
Australian public sector: increased bullying and absenteeism
The latest State of the Service report has found the federal bureaucracy is suffering from bullying, sick days and poor staff management. The annual report provides the most in-depth look at the trends and capabilities across the 160,000-strong Australian Public Service (APS). The public service has lost approximately 8,000 workers in 2013-14 after the Federal Government promised to axe 16,500 positions over three years as part of its budget savings measures. The report released earlier this week is based on survey responses from 100,000 workers.
It found that the workforce had "uncomfortably high perceptions of bullying" and an "unexplained rising trend in unscheduled absence". Among those surveyed, 17 per cent of employees reported having been bullied or harassed in the past 12 months. A further 21 per cent of employees said they had witnessed another employee being subjected to what they perceived as bullying or harassment in the same time period.
A possible explanation of the 'rising trend' in unscheduled absences may be the nature of the workplace, the increase in job insecurity and the resultant low morale.
Read more: Public service sees increase in bullying, absenteeism, according to new report ABC News online; State of the Service report: Sick days and bullying high among public servants The Age; More information on Bullying
International Union News
India: 30 year anniversary of world's worst industrial disaster
On the night of December 2, 1984, an "accident" at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, released at least 30 tons of the highly toxic gas methyl isocyanate, as well as several other poisonous gases. The pesticide plant was surrounded by shanty towns, which meant more than 600,000 people were exposed to the deadly gas cloud that night. The gases stayed low to the ground, causing victims' throats and eyes to burn, inducing nausea, and many deaths. Almost half of the pregnant women who breathed the gas spontaneously aborted. Locals recall seeing friends dying while vomiting or foaming at the mouth. Estimates of the death toll vary from as few as 3,800 to as many as 16,000, but government figures now refer to an estimate of 15,000 killed over the years. Survivors affected experienced blindness, cancer, neurological disorders, and psychological damage. Toxic material remains today, and 30 years later, many of those who were exposed to the gas have given birth to physically and mentally disabled children.
The tragedy was not an 'accident' but the result of negligence by the US parent company Union Carbide. Six security mechanisms that should have stopped the escape were in fact inoperable because of lack of maintenance or lack of care. The thousands of victims are still fighting for adequate compensation, for adequate medical support and for the area to be cleaned up.
Read more Bhopal: The World's Worst Industrial Disaster, 30 Years Later (feature has 28 photos) The Atlantic; Thirty Years After Bhopal's Union Carbide Disaster, Gas Leak Survivors Are Still Suffering Vice News
Fat chance of avoiding night shift weight gain
According to new US research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), working night shift can increase the risk of developing obesity as sleeping during the day burns fewer calories than at night. The study found that night shift patterns disrupt the metabolism of employees, causing them to use less energy than they normally would over the course of a day. The effect was particularly pronounced when the employees were trying to sleep during the day as, despite suffering more disturbed sleep, they burned between 12 and 16 per cent fewer calories than when sleeping at night.
The findings may help to explain why people working night shifts are more likely to suffer from obesity and related conditions such as heart disease. Lead author Dr Kenneth Wright, director of the sleep and chronobiology laboratory at the University of Colorado, said lower energy use may accentuate the poor diet and lack of exercise that is often seen in night shift workers. He said: "Specifically, the 52-59 kcal lower total daily energy expenditure on night shifts, if recurrent without a reduction in food intake, would contribute to weight gain. As little as 50 kcal excess calorie storage per day can increase weight over time and if increased exhaustion and fatigue levels associated with shift work results in reduced physical activity levels, this would promote weight gain." Shiftwork has been associated with a range of health problems including reduced brain function and an increased risk of breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Read more: Andrew W McHilla, Edward L Melanson, Janine Higgins, Elizabeth Connicke, Thomas M Moehlmana, Ellen R Stotharda, and Kenneth P Wright, Jr: Impact of circadian misalignment on energy metabolism during simulated nightshift work, PNAS, Published online before print 17 November 2014, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1412021111 Source: Risks 682 More information on Shift Work
Feature on Coal Seam Gas ('fracking'): Toxic Fissures
A lengthy feature in OHS Canada examines the issue of "flowback fluids" - returning high-pressure fluids injected into the ground to fracture the rock formation and release natural gas or oil. These have been linked to the deaths of four workers who appear to have suffered from acute chemical exposures during flowback operations at well sites in Williston Basin in North Dakota and Montana since 2010. As Canada's oil-and-gas boom continues to fuel projects that involve hydraulic fracturing, the author examines how much – or how little – is known about what goes on underground. There is a big push to access coal seam gas in Australia as well, and as in Canada and the US, there are a large number of chemicals being used. Many of these have not been assessed for use in this way.
Read more: Toxic Fissures OHS Canada
Safe Work Australia
As of December 2, 169 fatalities had been notified to Safe Work Australia – this is ten more since November 19. The fatalities: 43 in Transport, postal and warehousing; 43 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing (recording an extra five fatalities); 26 in Construction; 14 in Mining; 12 in Manufacturing; nine in Arts & recreation services; five each in Accommodation & food services and in Wholesale Trade; three in Electricity, Gas & Water Services and in Administrative and support services; two each in Health care/social assistance and Public administration and services; and one each in Government administration & defence; and 'other services'.
Read more: Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities
The latest monthly fatality report released by SafeWork Australia remains that for August, 2014. Monthly reports can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
From WorkCover NSW: Serious about safe business - a new small business safety pack with tools to help businesses identify what needs to be done to make the workplace safer - and outlining how to do it. The regulator says the pack is a practical approach to help small business achieve compliance and contains six advice sheets and a checklist to determine how they rate.
From WorkCover Queensland:
- Four short films on mobile plant and EWP (Elevated Work Platforms) safety have been published by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. The films highlight hazards when loading, unloading and working around mobile plant, as well as loading and unloading EWPs and using them safely. They focus on common and not so common risks and look at control measures that can be used to better protect workers. They can be viewed on YouTube. Access from this page
- Concrete pump delivery – industry guidelines Concrete pumping is widely used to deliver pre-mixed concrete and in the manufacture of pre-cast and tilt-up panels, concrete formwork, slab construction, concrete paving and concrete spraying.
From Work Safe Tasmania: Storage and Use of LPG at public events [pdf] This guideline applies to the minor storage and use of liquefied petroleum gas (LP Gas) at public events such as festivals, major sporting events, fetes and local markets.
China: Second mining tragedy in two days
At least 11 people were killed last Thursday in the second deadly coal mine accident to hit China in two days, pointing to continuing safety issues in the industry despite a major decline in deaths among miners in recent years. The official Xinhua News Agency said 19 people were working in a mine in the southern province of Guizhou when an explosion ripped through the shaft early in the morning. There was no immediate word on the condition of the eight survivors. Just two days before a coal mine fire killed 26 and injured 50 in Northeast China's Liaoning province.
Source: The Washington Post