SafetyNet 349, February 3, 2016
We welcome our subscribers to the second edition of SafetyNet for 2016. Subscribers will have received SafetyNet 348 on Monday - apologies for the inconsistent date - it was ready to send last week, but a glitch in the process meant it was sent late.
For those of you who are reading this in an email - have you checked out our new-look site? We would appreciate everyone having a browse, and also sending in your views and any glitches/errors you might find. Thank-you!
You are invited to the launch of the OHS Activist Hub.
An online space for HSRs and professionals passionate about OHS to share experiences about how to win healthier and safer workplaces. The hub gives you access to resources to refresh your knowledge of your rights and techniques and tactics to improve health and safety at work.
Meet OHS activists, have some pizza and be the first to hear what's next for OHS campaigns in 2016.
Thursday 25th February, 5.30-6.30pm
Meeting Room 1 (Access via Victoria Street Entrance)
Trades Hall, 54 Victoria St, South Carlton
Like our We Are Union: OHS Matters Facebook page to find out and keep up to date on the OHS angle of everything in the news and upcoming campaigns!
Work on reviewing OHS Regulations well under way
Victoria's OHS Regulations are due to sunset in 2017. For the past six months, the social partners (Unions and employer organisations) have been working with WorkSafe to review the current regulations and develop drafts which will be released for public comment later this year. The VTHC and our affiliates are working hard to ensure that the requirements in the regulations are not weakened and, where possible, protections to workers improved. As well as the regulations, the regulation-related Compliance Codes will be amended. Also, several new draft Compliance Codes are being developed (eg Manual Handling, Hazardous Substances). Keep your eyes on this journal, as we will be asking HSRs and workers to make submissions on major issues. We will provide information to facilitate this.
Labor proposes greater penalties for employers who exploit workers
In 2015 there were several high profile cases of many workers being underpaid and forced to work in extremely unsafe workplaces. Many of these workers were vulnerable young people on working visas, or workers on 457 temporary work visas. This week, the federal Labor opposition has announced it is looking at substantial increases in penalties for employers who deliberately underpay their workers, and will consider a new criminal offence for cases involving intentional or reckless behaviour.
Bill Shorten and workplace relations spokesperson Brendan O'Connor, unveiled the policy on Monday, citing recent examples such as Myer sub-contractors engaging cleaners on sham contracts, underpayment, exploitation and intimidation of 7-Eleven workers, sham contracts for Pizza Hut delivery drivers paying them as little as $6 an hour and the substandard pay and atrocious conditions for workers at chicken meat processor, Baiada.
Unions agree with the Labor Party that these cases are just 'the tip of the iceberg' - we are continually coming across cases of workers afraid to speak up.
Read more: ALP Media Release Labor's Plan to tackle serious cases of worker exploitation.
Does my employer have to test and tag brand new cords or electrical equipment?
No, the Australian standard states that it can be assumed that new equipment (so long as it was manufactured in accordance with Australian standards) should be considered as having been tested. However, your employer should ensure that all new equipment is inspected prior to use for any 'obvious damage'. Your employer then has a duty to ensure that any plant (including electrical equipment) is used properly, maintained and checked as necessary. The Australian Standard recommends how often certain types of equipment should be tested subsequently to purchase.
Read more: Electrical Equipment - What are the laws/guidelines? and Electrical cords and extension leads
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.
Australia: Third wave of asbestos disease
A paper published yesterday in the Medical Journal of Australia by respiratory physician Bill Musk and other clinicians advises doctors to consult patients regarding their likely exposure to asbestos as many will have been exposed directly or as bystanders to fibers liberated during work to repair, renovate or demolish contaminated buildings. Asbestos-containing construction materials, such as Fibro (asbestos-cement), were used in many Australian homes built in the 20th century. Exposures such as these are responsible for many of the cases being diagnosed as part of the 3rd wave of asbestos-related diseases. So while the overall rate of asbestos-related cancers is slowing, there is growing concern about home exposures. A December, 2015 article in The Conversation explores the on-going threat of asbestos, here and globally.
Read more: Arthur W (Bill) Musk, Nicholas H de Klerk and Anna K Nowak, Asbestos Exposure: challenges for Australian clinicians, Med J Aust 2016; 204 (2): 48-49. doi: 10.5694/mja15.01072; and Asbestos exposure increasingly happening at home, research shows, The Age. Why the health threat from asbestos is not a thing of the past. The Conversation
AsbestosWise Vacancy: Committee of Management Member (voluntary)
Do you want to part of the movement to reduce the impact of asbestos exposure on our community's health? Asbestoswise is a non-for-profit organization seeking Expressions of Interest from suitably qualified volunteers for up to 3 non-executive positions on the Committee of Management.
Asbestoswise provides information and
referrals, support group activities and advocates for a society free
from the risk of asbestos exposure and the impact of Asbestos Related
Disease (ARD). The role of the Committee of Management is to ensure that
the strategic objectives are achieved and that risk is appropriately
managed whilst upholding the interests of members and other key
For further information please contact the President, David Clement on 0422 524 566 or go to the website for full position description. Applications Close: Feb 29th 2016
Italy: Action on asbestos imports from China
Three types of illegal asbestos imports from China have been found on sale in Pescara, Italy by officials from the Ministry of Health. Tests undertaken by regional authorities identified the presence of compressed white asbestos fibers as insulation for the contraband thermos flasks. The Ministry of Health ordered they be withdrawn from sale and issued an alert to warn the public of the hazard posed by these products. Asbestos was banned in Italy in 1992. Australia has an on-going problem with Chinese imports of various products, such as brakes and building materials, which contain asbestos.
See: Thermos con amianto: nuovi ritiri a Pescara. L'allerta lanciata dal Ministero della salute per due prodotti cinesi [Thermos with asbestos: new withdrawals in Pescara. Warning by Ministry of Health over products from China]. Source: IBAS
Italy: Inside Naples' Asbestos-lined Ghetto
Over 300 people in Naples have been living in asbestos-lined containers since their homes were destroyed in the 1980 earthquake that rocked this region of southern Italy, killing 3,000 people and leaving 280,000 homeless. They have been living in the metal containers, provided as temporary accommodation, for 18 years. The health and hygiene in the 'suburb' is appalling. The real danger in these metal cages, however, is the invisible one - asbestos. Before it was banned in the 1990s, asbestos was widely used because of its ability to retain heat. "Until now, the asbestos hasn't had any effect on us, but our time will come," said one resident, Mario. He has five children, one of whom is disabled. Read more: Vice News
UK: Renewed warning after teacher dies of asbestos cancer
UK unions have warned the death of a teacher from an asbestos cancer shows that school staff and pupils are still at risk of deadly asbestos diseases. The alert came after Lincolnshire coroner recorded that the woman, who taught in schools in the county from 1968 to 1995, died as a result of mesothelioma. She had provided written testimony before her death detailing the presence of asbestos in display boards in the classrooms where she worked. NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: "The death of yet another teacher reinforces the reason why the issue of asbestos in our schools needs to be effectively dealt with." She added: "The problem has been brought to the attention of successive governments for decades yet still there is no long-term strategy for the complete removal of asbestos from schools. It is a gross dereliction of duty to children and school staff that this silent killer remains in schools." NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "Data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the union's own casework demonstrates that in too many schools statutory and good practice provisions relating to the management of asbestos are being flouted. This government fails to take seriously health and safety concerns, has cut funding to the HSE, has failed to secure the compliance of employers with health and safety provisions and has consequently increased the risks to employees." Source: Risks 736
Canada: Union calls for national asbestos registry
A Canadian union leader has called for a national registry of the location of asbestos materials. The call from Philip Venoit, president of Vancouver Island Building and Construction Trades Council, came after latest figures from Statistics Canada revealed new cases of mesothelioma had doubled across the country, from 276 cases in 1992 to 560 cases in 2012. Venoit has written to the Prime Minister's Office and to several provincial premiers and mayors across the country. He has had no response from the PMO or from premiers, but says several mayors have expressed support. He called on federal, provincial and municipal governments to develop a national registry of all public buildings and vessels, such as navy ships, "and to make that registry online and available to all restoration and construction workers." He added the registry should identify the types of asbestos products in the buildings – such as floor tiles, ceiling tiles, insulation, drywall and pipe cladding – and provide instructions on how best to remove that material. "The baby boomer generation is well versed in asbestos," he states in his letter, but warned: "We are on the eve of mass retirement with a new generation of workers who know very little of the harmful effects asbestos exposure can cause." He urged the government to develop a national apprenticeship programme to ensure young workers know how to safely work with asbestos, and said the federal government should ban imports of asbestos.
Read more: Globe and Mail. CTV News. RightOnCanada. Source: Risks 736
Want to know about Asbestos laws and more? Go to the Asbestos section on the site.
International Union News
UK: UCATT exposes hidden migrant site deaths toll
The UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is being urged to review urgently its work methods and record keeping, following new evidence on migrant worker deaths. An investigation by construction union UCATT found that of the seven construction workers deaths in London in 2014/15, five were migrant workers. UCATT says the findings were not immediately apparent, as HSE fatality statistics do not record the nationality of workers. Jerry Swain, UCATT's regional secretary for London and the South East, said: "Each of these deaths was an individual tragedy. It is essential that issues such as different safety standards and methods of working in countries, language issues and whether the deceased were new to the construction industry are properly considered in order to prevent future fatalities. This is simply not going to happen if the HSE continues to fail to address and record the nationality of workers who suffer a fatal accident." UCATT called for changes to the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) tick-box health and safety test. It said workers should not start on a site until they have completed a minimum of a one day safety course - a legal requirement in Australia for some time. "Anyone can be taught to pass a tick box exam. That does not mean that they will not endanger themselves or their colleagues when they are working in construction," Swain said. "A proper safety course with a thorough assessment of a worker's understanding of safety must be the minimum requirement before they go on site."
Read more: UCATT news release Source: Risks 736
UK: Prison Officers Union seeks judicial review on smoking in prisons
The prison officers' union POA is seeking a Judicial Review on the continuing risks posed by smoking in prisons - something that has already occurred in Victoria. A phased move to smoke-free prisons was announced by the UK government in September last year. POA says contact with Treasury solicitors since then has led the union to doubt "that a smoking ban will ever be implemented to protect the health and safety of both staff and prisoners from the damaging effects of second hand smoke. Indeed the effects of new psychoactive substances which have been rife in our prisons and continue to harm the health of prisoners and staff alike. The POA will now pursue the application to the High Court within the legislative timeframe."
Read more: POA statement. Source: Risks 736
Global drive to tackle bullying at sea
New guidance to combat bullying and harassment at sea has been developed by the industry body the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the global union the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF). The ITF/ICS guidance sets out what shipping companies, seafarers and seafarers' organisations can do to help prevent bullying and harassment from becoming a serious problem. As well as providing advice on company policies on reporting, complaints and grievance procedures, the guidance addresses the responsibilities of seafarers and their employers to use these procedures appropriately and for being aware of any harassment or bullying that might occur within the maritime workplace. This includes any instances of cyber-bullying.
ICS/ITF Guidance on Eliminating Shipboard Harassment and Bullying [pdf]. Nautilus publication alert.
Europe: Unions push for better laws on work cancers
Unions will work throughout the Dutch Presidency of the European Union to develop a preventive approach to occupational cancer. During this presidency, which runs from January to June, the Dutch government has expressed a desire to update the EU Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, a longstanding union objective. A new report from the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) says the union objective is to "eliminate occupational cancer." Promoting a six-point preventive charter, it urges unions to run a political and awareness campaign. The ETUC report notes: "At workplaces trade unions are demanding that dangerous substances and processes are eliminated or substituted with less dangerous ones. Likewise we are seeking to improve work organisation in order to avoid or minimise exposures to night and shift work. To reinforce this work we are calling for improvements to the legislative framework at EU level and we are seizing the opportunity created by the initiative of the Dutch Presidency."
Read more: ETUC news release and report, Why we need to focus on work-related cancer. Source: Risks 736
Fragrances and health report
An article this week in Mother Jones explores the fraught issue of chemicals and fragrances. The fragrance industry, with projected global sales of US$40 billion this year, insists it ensures the safety of its products through a rigorous system of self-regulation administered by its trade group, the International Fragrance Association. But Women's Voices for the Earth, a small US consumer advocacy group, recently outlined some troubling flaws in the industry's methods and identified scores of chemicals used in its mixtures as toxic substances.
In May 2010, under pressure from Women's Voices and others, the International Fragrance Association released a list of about 3,000 chemicals used by its members. Women's Voices presented its analysis (Unpacking the Fragrance Industry [pdf]) in November 2015: it reported that over 1,000 of the listed ingredients also appear on official listings of worrisome chemicals. The United Nations, for instance, has more than one-third of the fragrance chemicals flagged with the word "warning" and explicitly labels 190 of them a "danger." The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization, lists seven of the ingredients as possible human carcinogens. Fifteen of the chemicals, Women's Voices noted, are banned from cosmetics in the European Union. Also, there's a new documentary film - Stink! - which examines trade secrets issues of fragrances in depth.
Read more: Is "Fragrance" Making Us Sick? Mother Jones; Perfumes and scents: chemicals too! - on our site
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe Alert: Maintenance and repair of commercial vehicles
This Alert was issued by WorkSafe Victoria following an incident where an employee who was a passenger in a commercial heavy vehicle sustained fatal injuries as a result of a road accident. The Alert provides guidance about the risks associated with failing to maintain and repair components in a commercial vehicle (vehicle used for carrying goods or fare-paying passengers). It also highlights the importance of conducting regular inspections, maintenance and servicing of commercial vehicles.
WorkSafe Victoria Safe Towns Shepparton
Safe Towns, now in its tenth year, is a workplace safety program aimed at improving safety outcomes in Victoria's workplaces. The program involves a concentrated workplace inspection blitz by WorkSafe inspectors at targeted locations throughout the year. Prior to each blitz, local employers are notified and invited to attend an information session to prepare for a visit from an inspector. This gives employers time to carry out safety checks and fix potential problems before inspectors arrive. The next blitz will be held March 7 -11, with the employer lunch to be held on March 1.
More details: Safe Towns
UK companies cop huge fines
While the Essendon Football Club was recently prosecuted and fined $200,000 (see below), three firms in the UK have been fined £1m (A$2.03m) or more.
The first was Civil engineering giant Balfour Beatty, fined £1m following the death of a father-of-four repairing a barrier on the A2. The 37 year old was killed when he was struck by the arm of a crane in October 2012.
In the second, one of the UK's largest gas distributors was also fined £1m after a worker became trapped in a ruptured gas main. On 24 June 2014, National Grid Gas (plc) was supervising repairs to the gas main when sub-contract worker was trapped between two gas pipes after one of them burst, breaking his femur.
In the third prosecution port operator C.RO Ports London Limited was fined £1.8m (A$3.66m) after ignoring workers. An Essex maritime terminal worker was seriously injured when his arm became wrapped around a powered capstan, while mooring an ocean-going vessel. The company plead guilty to criminal safety offences that contributed to the incident. The prosecution followed an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which found that, on 6 June 2014, the injured worker was one of a 3-person team securing a vessel's heavy mooring ropes to land. The fingers of his left hand became caught between the rotating drum of a powered capstan and a heaving line. This caused his left arm to be dragged in and wrapped tightly about the rotating drum which was a few centimetres in diameter. The worker suffered multiple fractures and nerve and ligament damage.
Read more: Risks 736
Essendon Football Club prosecuted and fined $200,000
Between December 2011 and February 2013 the Essendon Football Club conducted a supplements program that was not properly controlled, putting players health at risk due to the administration of potentially harmful substances. It was found that it would have been reasonably practicable for the club to have provided a system of work to ensure an appropriate procedure in the administration of the supplements. Between 15 January 2012 and September 2012 the club did provide such a system however failed to maintain its use. The club pleaded guilty to both charges and was convicted and fined $50,000 on the first and convicted and fined $150,000 on the second plus $20,000 in costs.
WorkSafe Statement in relation to Essendon Football Club sentence
Cabrini Health fined $50,000 after woman struck by bin
Cabrini Health Limited, Malvern was fined $50,000 (plus costs of $4,500) without conviction after an incident in which an elderly woman was injured when knocked to the ground by an overfilled 660 litre waste bin. It pleaded guilty to breaching the OHS Act 2004 for failing to ensure people other than employees were not exposed to risks to health or safety.On 30 July 2014, the elderly woman and her daughter were in the elevator foyer to the hospital's underground car park. As the daughter was paying for her ticket, the woman, who was standing behind her, was struck by a bin loaded with cardboard waste as it was wheeled through the foyer by a cleaner. The elderly woman, who was using a walking frame, was knocked to the floor, suffering head injuries and a fractured hip requiring surgery. She remained in hospital for 10 days.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said employers had to consider risks to the public as well as their employees when undertaking any activity. "We know that hospitals are incredibly busy, and there is a lot of close proximity between the public and staff. But due care has to be taken to ensure the public is protected from any form of injury while employees go about their duties," Ms Williams said.
WorkSafe Media Release
Company fined following forklift injury
Linde Material Handling Pty Ltd, an Australia-wide company involved in the sale, hire and service of forklifts, was fined $18,000, plus costs of $3,895 (without conviction) following an incident where a truck driver's hand became entangled in the mast and mast channel of a forklift. On 10 October 2014, a Linde employee was loading forklifts onto a truck using another forklift. At the time, the company had no traffic management plan for loading and unloading trucks with powered mobile plant, creating a risk of serious injury as a result of being struck by, or entangled in, a forklift being used for this task. On that day, the driver of the truck was standing about a metre from the employee's forklift observing the loading process. Once the loading was complete, he asked the forklift operator to lift him onto the truck on the tynes. Though the employee said he knew it was the wrong thing to do, he did it anyway. Whilst he was being lifted, the truck driver's right hand became entangled causing bruising and some lacerations.
Manufacturing company fined after worker's leg broken
Australian Façade Manufacturers Pty Ltd, a manufacturing company that produces composite panel, modules and façade and sub-frame systems for the construction industry, was fined $40,000 (plus costs of $3,895) as a result of an injury caused by a collapsing facade. On 18 March 2015, two employees were tasked with lifting and loading a 500 kilogram façade module onto a flatbed truck. There was no safe system of work associated with the task of lifting, transporting and loading façade modules at the workplace. Employees undertaking the task would be at risk of crushing injuries as a result of losing control of a suspended load. On 18 March 2015, an employee of the offender sustained a broken leg when the façade collapsed on his leg while undertaking the task. The court found it was reasonably practicable for the offender to control the risk by implementing a safe operating procedure for lifting, transporting and loading façade modules which included the identification of the risks and the associated control measures. The company pleaded guilty to breaching s21(1) and 21(2)(a) of the OHS Act, and was fined without conviction.
ILO urges Bangladesh to accelerate safety efforts in the garment sector
The International Labour Organisation last week urged Bangladesh to complete the remediation process in the garment sector to ensure the safety of workers. Srinivas Reddy, country director of the UN agency expressed his concern over the safety of garment workers during a garment exporters' seminar organized by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and The Daily Star. "Please feel the urgency in the remediation issue and fix the safety issues so the brands and buyers are not in an embarrassing position and have to compromise their brand image," said Mr Reddy. Read more: Safety Culture OHSNews
H&M still delayed on safety in Bangladesh
New research by the International Labour Rights Forum, cited in the Guardian last week, finds that 90% of H&M's factories in Bangladesh are still behind schedule in making mandated safety repairs, and there continue to be significant delays in the most essential life-saving renovations. For example, 55% of H&M's preferred suppliers still lack adequate fire exits. While H&M is seeking positive press around its annual report release, the IRLF is asking for people to sign their petition http://laborrights.org/hmpetition, and encourage friends to take action to "turn up the pressure on H&M".
Read more IRLF Media statement [pdf]
EU:Improved information on chemicals for workers
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has recently revamped its website to enable workers to access improved information on chemicals to which they are exposed at work. The ECHA has developed a new feature, Infocard, which enables users to view at a glance the key properties of more than 120 000 substances. RISCTOX, the ETUI database on chemicals, has been a source of inspiration for the new ECHA website and the ETUI staff has been involved in its development.
Read more: ECHA Media Release Know more about the effects of the chemicals we use in Europe