SafetyNet 305, December 11, 2014
Welcome to SafetyNet 305. As we rapidly approach the end of the year and the summer break, readers need to remember that this time is often the most dangerous for workers. It's been a time when there is an increase in workplace fatalities: maybe this is to do with end of year fatigue, or other factors. But it is certainly a time when there needs to be increased vigilance, particularly on the part of the major duty holder: the employer. If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them in to Renata firstname.lastname@example.org and please follow us on Twitter @OHSreps
Vic Govt announces inquiry into Fiskville
The Fiskville fire training facility in Victoria is to be the subject of a joint parliamentary committee investigation into concerns firefighters were exposed to toxic chemicals between 1970 and 1990. More than a dozen people linked to the Fiskville site have died of cancer, including whistleblower Brian Potter, a former fire chief who suffered from a series of cancers over a period of 15 years.
A 2012 report by Professor Robert Joy confirmed firefighters were exposed to chemicals through water used in training, but nevertheless concluded that the facility was "safe" and the cancer risk "low"! The report found the Country Fire Authority did not act quickly enough to address concerns about the chemical exposure.
Premier Daniel Andrews said Fiskville was a cause of "significant concern" to those who trained there and those who still work there today. He said the inquiry, which would be formed as soon as Parliament resumed, would go back as far as the 1970s and also examine the health effects on employees, nearby residents and visitors to the site who were exposed to toxic smoke and chemicals.
National secretary of the United Firefighters Union, Peter Marshall, welcomed the investigation, saying it vindicated the campaign by firefighters to "pursue the truth about what happened at Fiskville". He said they knew that in the early 1990s the CFA was told the chemicals they were using for hot fire training could cause cancer. Firefighters are among the healthiest workers at the start of their careers, yet too many suffer work-related cancers after 10-20 years of employment. (see Research item, below). Source: ABC News Online. Read more: Fiskville Investigation and Report
And today, the Queensland Government publicly announced it will introduce presumptive legislation to recognise occupational cancer for Queensland firefighters. The United Firefighters Union of Australia welcomed the news, and noted that the newly elected Victoria Andrews Government has previously pledged to do the same. In 2012 the Australian Parliament unanimously approved legislation ensuring firefighters employed federally, in the ACT and in
airports, are covered if they contract 12 types of
cancer. Similar legislation has since been passed by the State Governments of Tasmania, WA and SA.
Read more: UFU National Bulletin
Another forklift tragedy
A nine-month-old boy who underwent emergency surgery after sustaining serious head injuries when he was struck by a forklift at a Geelong business last Saturday evening has tragically died. It appears the accident occurred about 6.20pm at the Blackley Automotive business on the Bellarine Highway in Geelong, where the father was an employee. Initial reports suggest the man, his wife and their three children lived on the site. Police and the VWA are investigating the incident. Just one month ago, a two year old boy was killed after being run over by a forklift at Lynford, near Gatton in Queensland.
the press calls these 'tragic accidents' the reality is that these incidents should never have occurred and the children should never have lost their lives. Children must never be in the same
place as forklifts and other dangerous equipment, and those with
management and control of workplaces must take every action necessary to
ensure that children are kept out.
Read more: Baby boy hit by forklift in Geelong workshop on Saturday dies ABC News Online; The Age
End of year functions – Advice from Slater & Gordon
Labour law firm Slater and Gordon has produced advice on end of year functions. They say while these are great at the end of a hard year, there are legal implications and pitfalls that come with too much Christmas cheer at the office party - for both employers and employees.
"Employers who are hosting an annual Christmas party need to be mindful of their responsibility for their workers. They are obliged to supply food and non-alcoholic drinks plus options for people to get home after the festivities," their blog states.
The firm also recommends ensuring that before the event the company is clear with staff about relevant rules such as the code of conduct, anti-discrimination and workplace bullying policies; and social media policies. "If something goes wrong, employers, for example, could end up being sued for sexual harassment or negligence depending on the circumstances or the extent of the actions." If someone were to be injured while at the party, then they would be able to claim workers' compensation. NSW WorkCover has also released a Media Release with advice.
Read more: Christmas party behaviour at work – everyone's responsibility Slater and Gordon blog; NSW Media Release: Make your end of year celebration a safe one
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland issued an Alert yesterday: it is investigating an incident that occurred on Wednesday 3 December 2014 at a workplace in Edmonton. A worker who fell through a fibreglass sheet to the concrete floor 5 metres below later died in hospital without regaining consciousness. The regulator says the alert is "a reminder for you and your organisation to consider the effectiveness of your safety management systems in preventing an incident like this from occurring at a workplace." The alert also has links to further information on Working at Heights and Falls.
WHS Queensland is also investigating a fatality which occurred yesterday at a school carols by candlelight event at Ipswich, west of Brisbane. A 20-year-old worker was crushed while dismantling a merry-go-round ride at Collingwood Park State School on Tuesday night and died at the scene. The carols event had concluded and most people attending the event had gone home. Police and workplace health and safety officers are investigating the cause of the accident. Source: ABC News online; WHS Queensland Alert
Is there a requirement for unisex bathrooms (commercial use - Bar & Restaurant)?
There is not any such specific requirement under occupational health and safety legislation, but under the Victorian OHS Act, the employer has a legal duty under Section 21 to provide 'adequate facilities' for employees.
What an employer should be providing in order to comply with this duty is set out in the Workplace amenities and work environment Compliance Code. In fact, an employer needs to provide separate facilities for men and women, UNLESS there are fewer than 10 total employees, or two or fewer employees of one gender (see this page for more information: Toilet facilities - what should workplaces have? )
In your case, however, I'm not clear whether the toilet facilities are also to be used by the public - I can only provide advice on what should be provided by employers for employees at workplaces.
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.
International Research: The Global Spread of Asbestos
Researchers from the US and India have undertaken research to assess and quantify current global patterns of asbestos production, export and use; to examine global patterns of asbestos-related disease; and to examine barriers to an asbestos ban. The authors reviewed the biomedical literature describing patterns of asbestos exposure and disease; review of documents from national governments, UN agencies, and NGOs on asbestos production and use.
They found that despite widespread knowledge of the hazards of asbestos and bans on any use of asbestos in more than 50 countries, an estimated 2 million tons of asbestos continue to be used around the world each year. They acknowledged that although this amount is significantly less than peak annual consumption of nearly 5 million tons two decades ago, significant amounts of asbestos are still used in India, China, Russia, and some developing countries. This use of asbestos is responsible for disease today and will cause still more asbestos-related disease in the years ahead. Real and artificially manufactured controversies regarding asbestos such as arguments about the relative hazards of different asbestos fiber types and fiber sizes have impeded bans on asbestos.
The authors concluded: "All forms of asbestos pose grave dangers to human health. All are proven human carcinogens. There is no continued justification for the use of asbestos. Its production and use should be banned worldwide."
Read more: Arthur L. Frank, T.K. Joshi, The Global Spread of Asbestos [abstract] [Full Text] Annals of Global Health. Published Online: October 15, 2014
International: On-board Asbestos Hazard
Despite the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea declaring in 2002 that all new ships should be asbestos-free, maritime experts report that the vast majority of vessels are still being constructed with asbestos. As a result of confusion over documentation required to verify that a ship is free from the asbestos risk, decisions often taken by national authorities and shipowners continue to put maritime workers at risk. Experts recommend that build contracts should include a clause stating that 'asbestos-free' means 0% and that an asbestos absence certificate be issued by an independent ISO 17020 accredited asbestos specialist.
Source: IBAS. Read more: 85% of new ships still contain asbestos
New Zealand: Earthquake Asbestos Hazard Report
A report released by Work Safe New Zealand into the management of the asbestos hazard by the Earthquake Commission (EQC) has found significant flaws in the oversight process. An analysis of the work of contractors engaged to undertake home repairs following the 2011 Canterbury earthquake established that there had been: a widespread lack of asbestos awareness, failure to properly assess sites and inappropriate and dangerous working practices. Although the EQC's safety system and management of the asbestos risk were inadequate, experts are quoted as saying that the risk to workers and the public remained low.
Source: IBAS. Read more: Asbestos risk 'very low' in quake repairs Stuff.co.nz
Colombia: Landmark Asbestos Conference
On November 5-7, 2014, as part of a series of events to raise awareness of asbestos hazards in Colombia, an Asbestos Conference was convened in Bogotá. On the second day of the conference, international speakers addressed a wide range of subjects; amongst them was Dr. Barry Castleman from the United States who spoke about Criminality and the Asbestos Industry - internationally. He highlights the corrupting influence of asbestos industry representatives on the judicial, political and legislative processes in countries all over the world. This talk has been uploaded to YouTube with Spanish subtitles. Although long, it is a very interesting presentation, well worth a look.
Source: IBAS. Presentation by Dr Barry Castleman: Criminality and the Asbestos Industry
Italian scientists finally admit to asbestos-related conflict of interest
In 2012, Carlo La Vecchia and Paolo Boffetta published an article in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention (EJCP) entitled Role of stopping exposure and recent exposure to asbestos in the risk of mesothelioma. In the article, the authors stated that they had no conflicts of interest and that the article was funded by the Italian Association for Cancer Research. Both these statements were untrue. Dr. La Vecchia and Dr. Boffetta were acting as consultants and expert witnesses for various companies facing criminal charges related to asbestos exposure. The Italian Association for Cancer Research had not funded the article.
Read more: Scientists publish Erratum to disclose their conflicts of interest
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more – go to the Asbestos section on the site.
TWU: Qantas safety incidents due to cutbacks
A series of recent incidents involving Qantas planes appear to demonstrate a pattern involving maintenance performance at the airline, the Transport Workers' Union has said. The union says that major changes at Qantas involving cuts to the workforce and outsourcing of staff are having an effect. Maintenance standards have dropped since the savage cuts were made with lower training required for the outsourced workforce both in Australia and overseas. Qantas now has less direct control over the people whose job it is to ensure their fleet is operational and safe. "This is an airline with a great reputation but the decision to strip back its highly experienced workforce has lowered standards. I would urge Qantas management to sit down with its workforce to ensure standards are maintained so that Qantas remains viable in the future," said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.
Read more: TWU Media Release Concerns Over Qantas Flight Turn-Backs
International Union News
UK: Employers in pregnancy 'time warp'
A new report from the UK's TUC has concluded that the attitude of many employers to the protection of pregnant women at work is decades behind the times. The union body says despite 40 years of protective legislation, the sacking, bullying and sidelining of expectant mothers remains commonplace. 'The Pregnancy Test', launched last week, notes that evidence of poor employer attitudes towards mothers-to-be can be seen in the rise in the number of cases taken to employment tribunals. During the recession, tribunal complaints involving pregnant women went up by a fifth, and in the five years from 2008 to 2013, more than 9,000 women took their employers to a tribunal. Problems facing women in pregnancy and motherhood go beyond pay discrimination and a lack of flexible working options, the TUC report notes. Survey findings published in the report include examples of workers being sacked for being pregnant, receiving unpleasant comments and negative reactions to their pregnancy announcements, and being given dangerous jobs to do. Other concerns included being disciplined for pregnancy-related sickness absence.
Source: Risks 683 TUC news release and full report, The Pregnancy Test: Ending discrimination at work for new mothers. [pdf]
Global campaign victory: Turkey ratifies ILO C176
Years of campaigning led by IndustriALL Global Union has resulted in a major win for Turkish miners. Turkey's Parliament finally approved the ILO Convention 176 on safety and health in mines on 4 December. The Convention itself was written by an IndustriALL predecessor organization and first adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in June 1995. IndustriALL's mining union affiliates from around the world, especially Australia's CFMEU, the NUM, USW, ROSUGLEPROF and IG BCE, have long campaigned alongside Turkish unions and lobbied the Turkish government to ratify C176.
Those unions conducted a solidarity mission to Soma one month after the 13 May industrial homicide of 301 mineworkers. That delegation committed to escalate the campaign for C176 ratification in Turkey, determined to honour the miners' deaths. The avoidable accident at Soma was followed by 18 more deaths at the Has Sekerler coalmine near Ermenek in October. IndustriALL reacted to that accident by writing individually to all 535 members of the Turkish Parliament on 29-30 October, demanding C176 ratification. Turkey is now the 30th country to ratify C176.
Read more: IndustriALL Media Release
International Union Federation, IndustriALL's Global Worker: edition Number 4
The latest edition of IndustriALL's magazine has a number of interesting articles, including two with an Australian connection. The first is an interview with Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and formerly ACTU President: The world needs a pay rise. 180 million workers in the world are members of trade unions, making the ITUC the largest democratic organization in the world. But this is only seven per cent of all workers, which is not enough, Ms Burrow: the target is set at 200 million by 2018. The second is a profile of the CFMEU: Founded in 1915 as the Australasian Coal and Shale Employees Federation, IndustriALL Global union affiliate the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has evolved into one of Australia's largest national trade unions representing over 120,000 members.
Read more Global Worker IndustriALL
Firefighters at higher risk of melanoma and prostate cancer
A new Monash University study has found that firefighters are at greater risk of developing some cancers, compared to the Australian public. The study, commissioned by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), the national Council and peak body for fire and emergency service agencies, is the first large-scale study of firefighters' cancer and causes of death in Australian paid and volunteer firefighters.
Lead researcher, Associate Professor Deborah Glass, from Monash University's Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, said the study found that firefighters faced a higher risk of some cancers. "In particular we found that paid firefighters were at greater risk of melanoma and prostate cancer, especially after multiple exposures or prolonged service," she said. "We also found that volunteers, on the whole, do not appear to have significantly elevated risks of cancer as a result of their firefighting role, however further analysis may need to be completed for those volunteers who have attended a very high number of fires." There was some evidence that male volunteer firefighters who had served for more than 20 years had an elevated risk of prostate cancer.
Read more: Monash University Media Release
The latest edition of VWA's Safety Soapbox was sent out yesterday (December 10). As the last edition for the year, Allan Beacom, Manager, Construction Practices at the VWA, sends an end-of-year message to subscribers, asking for their help in extending the safety message to the hundreds of employers and their workers who, on a day-to-day basis, have little interaction with VWA or relevant industry representatives. He says, "There remain too many workers in the construction industry whose only interface with safety may be online induction training and the occasional exposure to generic safe work method statements."
This edition also has a special feature warning those in charge of sites to ensure they do not become "adventure playgrounds" over the Christmas break, by paying particular attention to site security. There were even more incidents (72) notified to the VWA since the last edition (for the period November 20 – December 2), including 17 instances when pieces of plant or equipment fell from height; several falls - including a man falling from a roof whose injuries were unknown; seven electric shocks, numerous lacerations including serious ones; a serious head injury; a number of potentially serious near misses; and a fire in a mine.
December 10 Safety Soapbox edition online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Safe Work Australia
As of December 10, 172 fatalities had been notified to Safe Work Australia – three more in the past week: two in construction and one in Arts and recreation services. The fatalities: 43 in Transport, postal and warehousing; 43 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing (recording an extra five fatalities); 28 in Construction; 14 in Mining; 12 in Manufacturing; 10 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
SWA Report: Risk taking and rule breaking in Australian workplaces
Safe Work Australia has released a new report: Attitudes towards risk taking and rule breaking in Australian workplaces, based on 1052 employers, 520 sole traders, more than 1300 workers and nearly 700 health and safety reps surveyed in the Perceptions of Work Health and Safety Survey 2012-13. The results have led SWA to urge employers assess whether it is their work processes that are encouraging employees to break safety rules after establishing a link between risk taking and high fatality and injury rates. Results include that transport, postal and warehousing companies are "much more" likely than others to break safety rules and to allow their employees to take risks "to complete work on time".
Basically – employers in this sector turn a blind eye to this practice, admitting that workers "bend rules to achieve a target" and that they are "under pressure from work mates and management to break safety rules". It also found that labourers are more likely than other workers to accept risk taking and rule breaking.
Download the report from this page of the SWA website
From VWA: An Alert - Worker's head struck when using a bed borer issued to provide advice after an incident in 2013 where a person sustained life threatening head injuries whilst carrying out work using a bed borer. Bed borers are used to create underground holes through soil for installation of pipes and services.
SA: Workplace explosion highlights the dangers of cutting empty drums
The South Australian Industrial Court has fined Toyota $33,000 plus costs after a worker suffered second degree burns in a workplace incident at its Port Augusta dealership. The company was prosecuted under the former Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Act 1986 for failing to provide and maintain a safe system of work, and also failing to provide information, instruction and supervision as was reasonably necessary.
In October 2012, an apprentice mechanic was using an angle grinder to cut a hole in a steel oil drum when the drum exploded. The worker sustained second degree burns to his chest and forearms. The apprentice was employed by the Motor Trade Association Group Training Scheme Inc and was at the workplace under a traineeship arrangement.
SafeWork SA Executive Director, Bryan Russell said employers had to be vigilant in managing their workplace risks, especially if there are young workers on site. "This case highlights the vulnerability of young workers who can be at increased risk of workplace injury due to lack of experience, maturity and awareness," he said. "It is essential that they receive proper induction, supervision and training to keep them safe at work. Workplace injuries can be avoided by people working together to make sure that no-one is placed in unsafe situations." Mr Russell added, "In any case, cutting an empty drum or container is dangerous because hazardous chemicals can remain in drums and containers even when they appear to be empty."
Source: SafeWork SA Media Release More information on Young Workers and OHS
Bangladesh: Mineral processing where women do the hard work
In what is a dirty job that can lead to lifelong health problems, women in Munshiganj, Bangladesh, spend their days shovelling and sorting waste coal, armed with little more than a spade and a make-shift sieve. They wear no protective clothing and often work in bare feet. The women reportedly earn as little as A$17 a week and due to the amount of toxic dust that gets stirred up, they often go on to suffer lung disease.
Read more: At the coal face: Mineral processing factory in Bangladesh where the women do all the hard work The Daily Mail
China: 21 construction workers rescued 35 hours after tunnel collapse
Twenty-one construction workers, trapped when part of a tunnel they were excavating collapsed the night of 5 December, were rescued after an intensive 35-hour-long rescue effort by more than 600 people. The workers were near the exit of the tunnel that was to be part of a high-speed highway in the Longyan district of Fujian, when they heard a rustling sound followed by a large bang behind them and everything went black. "We were trapped inside. It was really scary at that time," said one of the rescued workers.
The successful rescue follows a number of workplace disasters in China over the last few months in which hundreds of workers have been killed. Two separate coal mine disasters killed at least 37 people late November and a fire at a food processing plant killed at least 18 workers on 16 November. These incidents followed a massive factory fire in Kunshan that killed at least 75 workers on 2 August 2014.
Source: China Labour Bulletin