SafetyNet 306, December 18, 2014
Welcome to SafetyNet 306 – the last edition of our now weekly OHS journal for 2014. Expect the next edition late January.
The year has passed almost too quickly – and as we go into the summer break, the VTHC would like to remember those Australian workers who lost their lives either at work or due to the work they did. We remember their families at this sad time, and vow to keep fighting for safer and healthier workplaces. We will also continue to fight against the push for deregulation, and work to ensure our regulators do what they are supposed to do: ensure compliance with the law. Finally, all of us at the VTHC OHS Unit wish all our subscribers and their families a safe and happy end of year.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them in to Renata firstname.lastname@example.org and please follow us on Twitter @OHSreps
Another quad bike incident
On Tuesday this week a Wodonga woman was taken to hospital with extensive injuries after a quad bike crash on a farm. The 65 year-old woman sustained facial and possible spinal injuries when she was flung over the handlebars of the bike. Police said she had been riding through long grass on a West Wodonga property when she struck a concealed object. The woman was immobilised and taken in a serious but stable condition to Albury hospital, but may need to be taken to Melbourne. The VWA is investigating the incident.
Update: Friday, December 19 Unfortunately we have received the very sad news that the woman passed away. The VWA issued a media release yesterday, listing seven fatalities in Victoria over the past seven weeks. The lastest occurred on December 14: a hay contractor in his 60s died on a farm in Nar Nar Goon North after being struck by a tractor as it rolled down an embankment.
Sources: The Border Mail; VWA Media Release Workplace incidents claim seven lives in seven weeks .
Queensland: Man dies under Grasstree underground coal mine wall collapses
A man has been crushed to death under a wall which collapsed on him in an underground mine in central Queensland. According to police the 45-year-old miner was pressure grouting a wall on an underground roadway when part of the wall came away and struck him in the Anglo American Grasstree underground coal mine near Middlemount, north-west of Rockhampton, about 11pm on Thursday last week. He was given medical attention at the scene and brought to the surface where he was pronounced dead by paramedics.
A Department of Natural Resources and Mines spokesman said the mine was evacuated and all operations at the mine were suspended by Anglo American until the incident could be investigated by two senior mines inspectors and an investigator.
It is the second workplace death in the Grasstree mine this year. An initial investigation by the Mines Inspectorate found in that an electrician who died in May, may have been overcome by inert gas in a restricted area.
Source: ABC News online
Is there a minimum break time between finishing and starting shifts on different days? I thought it was 8 hours but can't find any reference to this?
There's nothing on minimum hours between breaks in OHS legislation as there isn't such a level of specificity on any matter. However, the employer has a general duty of care when it comes to ensuring that the systems of work are safe and without risks to health, monitoring the health and safety of employees, and also consulting with them and their elected HSRs when proposing changes. The duty to provide a safe and healthy working environment includes identifying the hazard of fatigue and ensuring action is taken to ensure risks to health and safety are minimised.
Where you will (or should) find this – that is, the actual number of hours break between shifts – is in your EBA. It used to be the awards, but was taken out of many awards during the 'award simplification' process. When considering what needs to be done to ensure health and safety, the employer must take into account the 'state of knowledge' – and in this case the 'standard' break between shifts, as it was in many awards, is arguably relevant 'state of knowledge'.
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.
NSW: Independent investigation into Mr Fluffy homes
An update from WorkCover NSW reports that the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities (HACA) has engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an independent investigation into loose-fill asbestos in New South Wales, and is providing free ceiling insulation testing to identify the full extent of affected homes across the State. [HACA is comprised of NSW government agencies that have a role in the management, monitoring and response to asbestos issues and is chaired by WorkCover NSW.]
- As of 11 December, 1243 premises in the 26 council areas have registered for the free sampling service. These LGAs have been identified through the analysis of archival government records. A breakdown of sampling requests by LGA is available on the NSW WorkCover website
- Licensed asbestos assessors are currently undertaking inspections and testing of properties.
- As of 11 December, 384 properties had been tested, and all samples returned a negative result.
- Testing is ongoing.
WorkCover says concerned residents in homes built before 1980 should call 13 10 50 to see if they are eligible to have their property tested and assessed for the material. Despite what the NSW government is doing, however, a heart-breaking story of how a young couple bought a 'Mr Fluffy' home unwittingly just four months ago demonstrates that different processes in NSW and the ACT can have terrible consequences.
The NSW parliamentary inquiry into Mr Fluffy asbestos insulation has in fact recommended the State Government implement a buyback and demolition scheme for all contaminated homes – as is now already occurring in the ACT. (See Final Report: Loose-fill asbestos insulation) There are 59 houses that are known to be contaminated in NSW, but the real figure could be much higher. Once the numbers were clearer, the committee said NSW should follow the ACT's lead by urgently establishing a taskforce to develop and implement a buyback scheme to demolish affected homes. The committee also made recommendations to protect tradespersons from exposure to loose-fill asbestos.
Read more: Independent Investigation into Loose-Fill Asbestos WorkCover NSW; Bungendore family faces financial ruin, despite council being warned of contamination and Parliamentary inquiry recommends NSW buyback, demolition scheme ABC News Online
Canada: Asbestos top cause of workplace death
Asbestos exposure is the single largest on-the-job killer in Canada, accounting for more than a third of total workplace death claims approved last year and nearly a third since 1996, new national data obtained by The Globe and Mail show. The 368 death claims last year alone represent a higher number than fatalities from road accidents, fires and chemical exposures combined. Since 1996, almost 5,000 approved death claims stem from asbestos exposure.
Despite this, the federal government - long a supporter of the asbestos industry - continues to allow the import of asbestos-containing products such as pipes and brake pads. Ottawa has failed, for example, to caution its citizens about the impact that even low levels of asbestos can have on human health. Canada's government does not clearly state that all forms of asbestos are known human carcinogens. Dozens of other countries including Australia, Britain, Japan and Sweden have banned all forms of asbestos. Canada was one of the world's largest exporters of asbestos for decades, until 2011, when the last mine in Quebec closed, and its legacy is unfortunately everywhere.
Read more: Asbestos revealed as Canada's top cause of workplace death Business News Network
** Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.**
Another attack on a bus driver
Last week two women allegedly bit, spat and punched a bus driver after being asked to pay for their fare during a trip in the Melbourne surburb, Dandenong. Over the past few years, bus drivers in Victoria have been subjected to stabbings, robberies, assaults and abuse – many of them unpublicised. A spokesperson from the TWU told SafetyNet: "Unfortunately this happens more often than we like; it is the main reason for (the union's) push for security screens. At this stage we have a committee with reps from the TWU, BAV (Bus Association Victoria), PTV and the Operators." The committee met Tuesday to discuss progress on a prototype security screen which is being developed to go into new buses coming on line. There will be trials of the prototype over the coming months. The union said, "It is a simple concept, but we believe it will protect drivers from vicious and random attacks in the future, and if the feedback is positive it can be easily retrospectively fitted into the existing fleets."
The spokesperson added that there have also been a number of undercover operations undertaken by the Transport Police, but that these were too few and far between to have any impact.
Read more: ABC News online
Melbourne: Trains pulled after parts explode
Inverter units which exploded beneath carriages and caused by a series of electrical faults led Metro to pull three trains off the rails this week. It has been reported that the fault is limited to the Siemens fleet, introduced in 2003. These trains suffered major brake failures in 2006, when they were also pulled from service for safety reasons after a series of platform overshoots. That problem has since been fixed. The trains were pulled from service following crisis talks between Metro management and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, which raised fears that it was potentially unsafe for maintenance staff to work near them.
Read more: The Age
International Union News
UK: Pilots' Union issues warning on drones dangers
Strict regulations will need to be introduced before large drones are allowed to appear in the UK's skies, the pilots union BALPA has said. Commenting after a near collision between a drone and a plane landing at Heathrow, the union said the remotely piloted craft were putting passenger jets at "real risk". The pilot of the Airbus A320, which can carry up to 180 passengers, spotted the drone when the jet was travelling at an altitude of 700ft on its approach to the runway at the UK's busiest airport. In a report published this week, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) gave the incident in July an "A" rating, meaning there was "serious risk of collision". BALPA had told a House of Lords committee in October that "safe drone zones" were needed to protect planes. Commenting after the publication of the report on the Heathrow incident, the union said that the rapid increase in the number of drones operated by amateur enthusiasts now poses "a real risk" to commercial aircraft. The union's general secretary, Jim McAuslan, said drones could cause a repeat of the "Hudson River experience", when a plane was forced to land in water in New York in 2009 after birds were sucked into its engines. He said: "The risk of a 10 kilogram object hitting a plane is a real one that pilots are very concerned about. A small drone could be a risky distraction for a pilot coming into land and cause serious damage if they hit one." The union leader added that there was an urgent need for rules to be tightened before much larger unmanned cargo planes - potentially the size of a Boeing 737 - took to the skies.
The warning is just as important in Australian skies, where authorities recently announced that water-bombing helicopters relied on by firefighters during large, out-of-control bushfires will have to be grounded if a drone is spotted nearby. With recreational drone ownership exploding into the thousands over the past year, air safety regulators and the nation's aerial firefighters fear drones are a very real threat to safety, and they warned amateur operators to stay well away.
Source: Risks 684; Firefighting helicopters to be grounded if drones spotted in bushfire areas, authorities say ABC News Online
UK: Two jailed after site death convictions
The commercial director of a construction company has been jailed for three years and three months after being convicted of manslaughter. A safety consultant was also jailed for nine months on criminal safety charges following the death of a worker crushed during a basement excavation. The 37-year-old was an employee of Siday Construction, contracted to provide building services to a residential property in October 2010. Work included the excavation of the basement and the underpinning of the supporting walls. The man was working in an unsupported trench when the side wall collapsed and he was fatally crushed. Siday commercial director Conrad Sidebottom was found guilty of manslaughter while self-employed safety consultant Richard Golding was convicted on health and safety charges. The specialist prosecutor said the tragic death was preventable and inexcusable. She said, "These men did not fulfil their duties, with a haphazard attitude to the safety of the employees working in the house. Their failures led to these tragic consequences, which should never have occurred."
Source: Risks 684
Antimicrobial triclosan linked to liver cancer
Recent research has confirmed that the commonly used antimicrobial additive triclosan [5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy)phenol; TCS] is a liver tumour promoter. TCS is a synthetic, broad-spectrum antibacterial chemical used in a wide range of consumer products including soaps, cosmetics, therapeutics, and plastics. The general population is exposed to TCS because of its prevalence in a variety of daily care products as well as through waterborne contamination. TCS is linked to a multitude of health and environmental effects, ranging from endocrine disruption and impaired muscle contraction to effects on aquatic ecosystems.
A long-term feeding study finding is that TCS enhances hepatocyte proliferation, fibrogenesis, and oxidative stress, which may be the driving force for developing advanced liver disease in mice. TCS strongly enhanced hepatocarcinogenesis after diethylnitrosamine initiation, accelerating hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development. Although animal studies require higher chemical concentrations than predicted for human exposure, this study demonstrates that TCS acts as a HCC tumour promoter. The authors concluded that the relevance of TCS liver toxicity to humans should be evaluated.
Source: Yueh, MF et al: The commonly used antimicrobial additive triclosan is a liver tumor promoter. [Abstract] Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2014 Dec 2;111(48):17200-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1419119111. Epub 2014 Nov 17.
VWA issues Silo Alert following a collapse
The VWA has issued this Alert to highlight the potential danger of silos collapsing during transfer of grain and/or fertiliser products into or from silo storage. Recently a person died when a grain silo unexpectedly collapsed. The person was working alone and may have been transferring grain into the silo at the time of the collapse.
Silo failure or collapse places persons working on or in close proximity to the structure at risk of death or serious injury. The Alert provides advice on control measures which need to be taken. Read more: Silo Collapse Safety Alert
Safe Work Australia
Australia-wide fatalities 2014
As of December 16, 175 fatalities had been notified to Safe Work Australia – this is three more people killed in the past week. The fatalities: 44 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing; 43 in Transport, postal and warehousing; 28 in Construction; 15 in Mining; 12 in Manufacturing; 10 in Arts & recreation services; six in Accommodation & food services: five in Wholesale Trade; three each in Electricity, Gas & Water Services and in Administrative & support services; two each in Health care/social assistance and Public administration & services; and one each in Government administration & defence; and 'other services'. All of us at the VTHC OHS Unit offer our condolences to those 175 families who will be spending their first Christmas/New Year without a loved one – and we sincerely hope that no more workers are killed before December 30. Unfortunately this is unlikely, as this time of year is often the most dangerous.
Read more: Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities
The latest monthly fatality report released by SafeWork Australia is for September, 2014. During September, a total of 18 work-related deaths were notified – 13 workers and five 'bystanders'. Of the 18 fatalities, Vehicle incident–public road crash, Trapped in machinery and Pedestrian hit by vehicle-public road each had 3 fatalities. Vehicle incident–not on a public road and Crushing each had 2 fatalities. The remaining 5 fatalities were all different types of incidents including Hit by unattended vehicle–not on a public road, Hit by falling object, Drowning, Fall from a height and Hit by unattended vehicle–public road. Transport, postal and warehousing workplaces accounted for the greatest number of these fatalities – a total of six. Read more: Monthly reports can be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Monthly Fatalities Reports page.
SWA releases the Australian Workers' Compensation Statistics 2012-13
Safe Work Australia has released the Australian Workers' Compensation Statistics 2012-13 report. This is the 21st annual report that uses preliminary data from the National Data Set for Compensation-based Statistics (NDS). The report provides a summary of workers' compensation statistics for the 2012-13 financial year and includes:
- trends over time
- an overview of time lost and compensation paid
- an analysis of serious claims among younger and older employees, and
- profiles of the Retail trade and Manufacturing industries.
Key findings from the report include:
- there were almost 118,000 serious workers' compensation claims in 2012-13
- males accounted for 63 per cent of serious claims in 2012-13, despite males comprising 52 per cent of the workforce
- the average age of an employee with a serious claim was 42 years old
- labourers had the highest incidence rate of serious claims of all occupations in 2012-13 - more than twice the national rate, and
- the Agriculture, forestry & fishing industry had the highest incidence rate of serious claims by industry - nearly double the national rate of 11.1.
Read more: The Report can be downloaded from this page of the Safe Work Australia website.
FWC: Anti-bullying jurisdiction
None of the 189 anti-bullying applications made to the Fair Work Commission in the September quarter resulted in a "stop bullying" order. Approximately a quarter of applications (49) were withdrawn early in the case management process and a further 16 per cent (31 applications) were withdrawn further in the process but prior to formal proceedings. Another quarter (48) of the applications were resolved during the course of proceedings – but of the 15 applications then finalised by a decision of the Commission, all of them were dismissed under s587 of the Act. Of the reported cased, several were dismissed because the person who was allegedly bullied was no longer employed at the site.
Read more: FWC Quarterly Reports can be downloaded from this page
SA: Empire Pavers prosecuted after man's legs trapped
A South Australian company, Empire Pavers, which failed to provide adequate guarding for a machine, has been convicted and fined over an incident in which a worker's legs were fractured. In August 2012, the employee was operating a paver stacking machine when an empty metal tray jammed. With the machine still running, he entered through a gap in the fencing and kicked the tray in an attempt to dislodge it. His trouser leg got caught and pulled his legs toward the in-feed section, where he became trapped. The lack of guarding allowed him to do this. He suffered fractures to both legs and spent more than three months in hospital. He was unable to return to work for about 18 months. Because of the employer's early guilty plea, the court allowed a discount of 40% - the employer was convicted and fined $48,999.
NSW: Firm fined $160,000 after fatality
A NSW District Court this week fined Robertsons Painting and Decorating Pty Ltd $160,000 for two OHS breaches after an employee died at work on January 24, 2011. The man was on an elevated work platform (EWP) with a second worker when it fell. They were thrown from the EWP, resulting in the death of the worker. The second man was not injured but "could well have been injured or killed", presiding judge Michael Finnane said. Neither man was supplied with a safety harness or required to use one. Neither wore a hard hat. Neither was licensed to work on an EWP or had a certificate of competency to operate the equipment, although the law required they did. Judge Finnane imposed a $150,000 fine on Robertsons for failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees, particularly the two painters. He also fined the company $10,000 for failing to ensure people not in its employ were not exposed to safety risks arising from its activity. This charge related to an electrician who was working on the ground in premises next door. Judge Finnane said the electrician "managed to get away" when the EWP fell. The EWP did not strike him but "clearly it could have".
USA: First Retail Workers Bill of Rights passed in San Francisco
On December 5, a Retail Workers Bill of Rights officially became law following two unanimous votes of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The law, coming into effect January 5 and expected to impact 40,000 hourly employees, is the first of its kind and could help set precedent for struggling workers throughout the US. It applies to businesses with 20 or more locations worldwide and 20 or more employees in San Francisco. The Retail Workers Bill of Rights consists of two pieces of legislation — one that addresses hours and retention protection and another that addresses fair scheduling.
The law's five major provisions will require corporate retailers to offer more hours to part-time employees before hiring additional part-time workers; curb erratic scheduling practices by requiring employers to post schedules at least two weeks in advance; require employers provide two to four hours of pay at a worker's regular rate if the worker is required to be on-call, but the employer cancels the shift with less than a day's notice; requires equal treatment of part-time workers with respect to starting pay and access to unpaid time off and promotion opportunities; and lets workers keep their jobs for at least a 90-day pay period after a company is bought or sold. The bill of rights also protects contracted employees who work at the covered businesses, such as janitors (cleaners) and security guards.
Read more: San Francisco passes nation's first Retail Workers Bill of Rights, addressing erratic scheduling and part-time work Sources: ScienceBlogs; The Pump Handle
USA: Cancer deceit of the petrochemical giants exposed
The petroleum industry has known for decades that benzene, one of its most important products, is a potent cause of cancer in humans but has spent millions on a cover-up, a new evidence database reveals. Internal memorandums, emails, letters and meeting minutes obtained by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) in a year-long investigation suggest that America's oil and chemical titans, coordinated by their trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, spent at least $36 million on research "designed to protect member company interests," as one 2000 API summary put it. CPI says many of the documents "chronicle an unparalleled effort by five major petrochemical companies" to finance benzene research in Shanghai, China.
Benzene, which is produced from crude oil to make plastics, lubricants, dyes, adhesives and pesticides, is also a key component in petrol (gasoline). According to CPI, "it is 17th most produced chemical in the US." Benzene is known to be a potent human carcinogen, causing leukaemia and other cancers. In 2004, a US National Cancer Institute study suggested there's no safe threshold for people working with the chemical. CPI's review of around 20,000 pages of internal records reveals the petrochemical industry went to great lengths to rebut studies showing harmful effects of benzene in low doses. This included touting how the expected results of a proposed study in China could be used to reduce liability and combat stricter regulation. Critics say such documents expose this Shanghai study for what it is: An industry attempt to buy scientific evidence.
"It's all about influencing science to get what industry wants," said Myron Mehlman, formerly chief toxicologist at Mobil, who became a whistleblower in 1989 after the company fired him for complaining about benzene levels in its gasoline. He sued Mobil, winning a $7 million judgment. Mehlman remembers hearing about the Shanghai study in 2005 and immediately firing off letters to 45 executives at sponsoring companies. "I knew the scientists would do whatever it takes and whatever the industry needs done," he said. In response, he said, he got a consortium form letter that "just re-confirmed how the study is being done for a single purpose - to get desirable outcomes."
Read more: Benzene and worker cancers: 'An American tragedy'. (Center for Public Integrity) ; Exposed: Decades of denial on poisons - evidence database compiled by the Center for Public Integrity, Columbia University and City University of New York. The 'dirty dozen' documents from the database. Source: Risks 684