SafetyNet 354, March 9, 2016
Welcome to the latest edition of our weekly journal. Please remember, to get updates between our weekly journals, join the hundreds of people who follow our We Are Union: OHS Matters Facebook page.
Another worker and I attended the Initial OHS training course two weeks ago. As we don't live or work in the town where the course was held, this meant driving there and back, staying in and paying for accommodation and buying meals. Could please provide me with some advice regarding what should be paid to us to reimburse us for our out of pocket expenses?
A fundamental principle of the OHS Act is that an HSR should not be disadvantaged in any way for having taken up the voluntary role of HSR – which is, and must remain, unpaid. The relevant advice from WorkSafe is on page 39 of the Employee Representation Guide. You should have received a copy of this booklet during your course.
Who pays for the costs associated with attendance at training?
If, when establishing a DWG, the employer and employees agreed to the election of multiple HSRs and deputy HSRs, the employer will need to cover the costs outlined above for all HSRs and deputies to ensure they can all effectively undertake their functions.
So, note that the above clearly states that HSR training is a work activity, and so any extra costs are to be covered by your employer. If you have a problem with this, then contact your union, or WorkSafe for further assistance.
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 Women's Day - a sea of purple
The IWD Rally and March took place yesterday, March 8, International Women's Day. There were hundreds there - a sea of purple. Everyone who participated had a wonderful time, listened to inspirational speakers, and will be back next year. The international theme for IWD this year - Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality - is still appropriate in Australia. As demonstrated in the results of the latest ACTU study, released at the launch of the WRAW Festival on Sunday, there is still a lot we need to fight for. The Gender Pay Gap – Over the lifecycle report [pdf], shows that women lose more than one million dollars over a lifetime as a result of inequity and are financially disadvantaged at every stage of their lives.
The inequity starts early: young girls typically receive 11 per cent less pocket money and it persists into retirement: women's superannuation balances are on on average less than half those of men. And in-between? The same story: Graduating women begin their careers earning less than their male colleagues. Women comprise 60 per cent of higher education graduates and 46 per cent of the workforce, but earn on average 17.2 per cent less than men, while their take-home pay is at least 30 per cent less when part-time earnings, bonuses and overtime are included.
Read more: Women are still losing out on pay at every stage of life, new report reveals ACTU Media Release
We should remember the history of IWD, even if briefly: The earliest Women's Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York; it was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. The union became very active and involved in electoral politics, in part as a result of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire
on March 25, 1911, in which one hundred and forty-six shirtwaist makers
(most of them young immigrant women) either died in the fire that broke
out on the eighth floor of the factory, or jumped to their deaths. Many
of these workers were unable to escape because the doors on their
floors had been locked to prevent them from stealing or taking
unauthorized breaks. More than 100,000 people participated in the
funeral march for the victims. IWD also remembers this tragic event, and the many since in which women have died.
ILO Report and Statement on International Women's Day
The ILO's Director-General yesterday released a statement for IWD: Getting to Equal by 2030, The Future is Now. "Let's work together to achieve genuine gender equality and women's empowerment in the world of work. Decent work for women brings decent lives for all," said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. Despite the 'transformative agenda' adopted by the United Nations last year, continuing and unacceptable gender gaps in the world of work persist and are captured with alarming clarity by a new ILO report, Women at Work: Trends 2016.
The report shows the enormous challenges women continue to face in finding and keeping decent jobs. It demonstrates the persistently unequal earning power of women and men. It lays out the imbalance between paid and unpaid work and between hours worked by each, and the difficulty women have in gaining access to adequate maternity protection and pensions.
Read more: ILO Statement
Emergency service workers: Increasing numbers of psychological injuries
An article in this week's Age has revealed that at least five Victorian police officers, paramedics and firefighters are taking leave for psychological injuries every week, as new data shows worsening mental health among emergency workers. Workers compensation insurance claims for mental health injuries have surged 25 per cent in five years for emergency services personnel, with 305 claims lodged in 2015.
Psychological injuries now make up almost a quarter of all worker compensation claims from Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria, the State Emergency Service and the state's fire agencies. This increase in claims comes at the same time as Victoria Police raises concerns about traumatic stress and suicides within the force, and carries a high-level mental health review. Three police employees have taken their lives already this year.
WorkSafe Victoria's chief executive, Clare Amies, told The Age that mental health problems were a serious issue in emergency service workplaces, and had become a "top priority" for the regulator. "These people go into work every day doing pretty tough things … meeting people who are also going through bad situations," she said. "But it is the responsibility of the employer to make sure that there are systems and structures within that environment to reduce the risks of being physically or mentally injured, and supports in place if it does happen."
In the article, paramedic Al Briggs, explains how it wasn't one single incident, but a series of fatal incidents, which led to stress building up over time, consuming him, keeping him awake nights: "You just pick up ghosts," he said.
Read more: 'You just pick up ghosts': mental health crisis deepens for emergency workers The Age
Labour Hire Inquiry hears submissions of poor OHS and maltreatment of workers
Victoria's Minister for Industrial Relations, Natalie Hutchins, last week congratulated the independent inquiry into labour hire and casual work in Victoria on completing its comprehensive round of public hearings across Victoria. The Inquiry had heard evidence suggesting widespread and serious problems, including poor occupational health and safety practices, maltreatment of workers and backpackers on visas, as well as underpayment of award wages, tax avoidance, non-payment of superannuation, and even, in some instances, allegations of illegal conduct.
Evidence has also suggested unfair and unscrupulous treatment of workers in a number of industries including horticulture, education, food processing and transport. Minister Hutchins said, "While most labour hire companies are doing the right thing by workers, sadly the evidence from these public hearings have unearthed disturbing allegations of worker exploitation."
The inquiry will now consider the evidence put forward – alongside the submissions it has received from more than 90 organisations across the union movement, employer and industry associations, welfare and church groups and ethnic agencies, and submissions from more than 630 individuals.
Read more: Labour Hire Inquiry Evidence Reveals Disturbing Worker Exploitation Minister Hutchins Media Release
Union: 1,000 Queensland coal workers could have black lung
The CFMEU Mining Queensland division has said that 1,000 miners in that state could have black lung. The union says the Mines Department has a backlog of 150,000 X-Rays, and based on what has been discovered to date, there is potentially a 16 per cent occurrence of the deadly disease, or approximately 1,000 workers affected by it. What is emerging it that many coal miners either were not X-Rayed at all, or if they were, these have gone missing. This means that even more miners could have the disease.
The union is sure that many workers diagnosed with the condition years ago were never followed up, and the numbers of those not diagnosed could be very high. Jason Hill, the CFMEU Queensland Health and Safety Officer, said "What we're projecting is that we're going to have 60 per cent of current and retired coal mine workers with pneumoconiosis."
Read/see more: CFMEU Submission to the Senate Black Lung Disease Inquiry, and ABC 7.30 program video and transcript.
SA: Charged for dumping 60 tonnes of asbestos
A man is facing a substantial fine and conviction after admitting to illegal dumping tonnes of asbestos-contaminated waste along a popular South Australian walking trail. In the Environmental, Resources and Development Court this week, the man pleaded guilty the unlawful disposing of more than 60 tonnes of waste soil on the Kidman Trail, in the Adelaide Hills.
Authorities said the soil was "contaminated with asbestos" when it was dumped on a public reserve on February 7, 2015, and at various other places. The 29 year old faces a maximum penalty of a $120,000 fine, two years' jail or both, after pleading guilty yesterday to two counts of unlawful disposal of waste at his first court appearance. The case is being prosecuted by the Environmental Protection Authority, after a referral from Mt Barker Council, which acted on an original tip-off. The environmental watchdog has asked the court to impose a conviction and a fine for polluting the environment and intentionally, or recklessly, breaching environment protection laws.
Source: The Adelaide Advertiser
ASEA issues Autumn Newsletter
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency has released its third ASEA matters newsletter, Autumn 2016. Its leading article reflects the growing concern of asbestos imports: "Asbestos imports continue despite ban", in which it reports that it has provided evidence to the Senate Inquiry demonstrating that despite being banned since 31 December 2003, the deadly material keeps coming in. In further news, the agency has established the Building, Construction and Demolition Sectors (BCDS) Committee to provide advice on issues relating to the management of asbestos in those sectors and the implementation of the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness 2014-18. Read more: ASEA Newsletter
Netherlands: Asbestos-related lung cancer figures
Even in countries where most mesothelioma cases are accurately diagnosed, the recognition of asbestos-related lung cancers remains problematic. Researchers in the Netherlands using three different modelling methods predicted that the number of Dutch cases that would occur between 2011 and 2030 would be between 6,800 and 17,500. Given the discrepancy in these figures, the authors of this paper concluded that the "accurate estimation of the impact of asbestos exposure on the lung cancer burden remains a challenge."
Read more: Van der Bij S, et al Expected number of asbestos-related lung cancers in the Netherlands in the next two decades: a comparison of methods.[abstract] Occup Environ Med. 2016 Feb 8. pii: oemed-2014-102614. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2014-102614. Source: IBAS
Brazil: Court condemns asbestos 'unions'
On February 11, 2016, the Regional Labor Court of Campinas confirmed the verdict of a lower court in a civil case brought by the Ministry of Labor against the actions of industry-backed "trade unions." These bodies – nicknamed "yellow unions" – have made agreements with asbestos companies and associations supporting the controlled use of asbestos. The courts found that these arrangements were highly damaging to the interests of workers. Although several states and municipalities in Brazil have banned asbestos, the federal government supports the industry mythology that asbestos can be used safely under controlled conditions. Source: IBAS
Find out more about Asbestos in the workplace
Reminder: VTHC Young Workers Centre
The Young Workers Centre at Victorian Trades Hall is a one-stop-shop for young workers who want to learn more about their rights at work or who need assistance in resolving workplace issues. The YWC can deliver training to young people in high schools, TAFEs, universities and young community groups, and provide information and advice on issues young workers face, including:
- Bullying and discrimination
- Workplace rights
- Health and safety
- Social movements and unionism
you are a worker in Victoria, 30 years old or under, and you are having
issues at work - or know of one - please contact the YWC for legal
assistance on issues such as underpayments,
dismissals or health and safety.
To find out more, visit our website or call us on 1800 714 754. Follow our young worker campaigns on Facebook.
Chemical spill closes Princes Freeway lanes near Little River
In what is a concerning incident, thirty-six people had to be hospitalised after a chemical spill at a service station south-west of Melbourne last Wednesday. Almost 100 litres of butyl acrylate, a chemical used as a paint thinner, leaked from a tank on the back of a truck parked at the BP service station on the Princes Freeway at Little River. The driver smelt a chemical as he drove along the freeway to Geelong, where he was due to make a delivery to a factory. He drove into the service station and stopped, but the chemical continued to leak and fume. While the substance is "non-toxic", its fumes, which could be smelt more than a kilometre away, can cause coughing fits and watering eyes. Nevertheless, at least one person became unconscious - so the immediate effects of the exposure were serious in some cases. The incident closed the Princes Freeway. Police, ambulance crews, the CFA and WorkSafe were all on the scene.
Read more: The Age
International Union News
UK: Drone near-misses prompt new union action call
UK pilots are calling for research into what would happen if a drone hit an airliner, after 23 near-misses around UK airports in a six month period last year. Reports from the UK Airprox Board have revealed the incidents happened between 11 April and 4 October 2015. In one incident a drone passed within 25 metres of a Boeing 777 near London's Heathrow Airport. UK pilots' union BALPA wants the government and safety regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to back research into how serious a strike could be. The incident at Heathrow was one of 12 that were given an "A" rating by the independent board, meaning there was "a serious risk of collision." It is the most serious risk rating out of five. BALPA wants the Department for Transport and the CAA to back research into the possible consequences of a collision with a passenger jet. Steve Landells, the union's flight safety specialist, said there was a large amount of data on the effects of bird strikes on planes, but he said specific drone research was needed because "birds don't have a big lump of lithium battery in them." The union is concerned that these powerful batteries on board drones could start an engine fire. It is now asking the government and the safety regulator to help pay for tests to determine the potential consequences of a drone strike. Source: Risks 741
UK: Four believed dead in power station tragedy
A worker has been killed in a building collapse at Didcot power station and three others are "highly unlikely" to be found alive, according to police. The derelict building in Oxfordshire toppled on 23 February - the power station collapsed while its workers were preparing the structure for demolition. Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service chief fire officer David Etheridge said there had been "no signs of life detected" in the search for the three workers trapped in the rubble. Five other workers were hospitalised and around 50 were treated for dust inhalation. Construction union UCATT said the incident was "potentially the worst construction incident since January 2011 when four workers in Great Yarmouth died following the collapse of a steel structure they were erecting". Acting general secretary Brian Rye said: "In 21st century Britain, everyone should be coming home from work safe and sound at the end of the day. There is no reason for it to be otherwise." Read more: Thames Valley Police update. UCATT news release. Coleman Group news release. Source: Risks 741
UK: Ministry of Defence reprimanded over training deaths
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is to receive a formal reprimand over the deaths of three soldiers on a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons in July 2013. Reservists Edward Maher, James Dunsby and Craig Roberts fell ill while on a training march. Mr Roberts and Mr Maher died during the exercise, while Mr Dunsby suffered multiple organ failure as a result of hyperthermia and died on 30 July 2013. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found a failure to plan, assess and manage risks associated with climatic illness during the training. These failings resulted in the deaths of the three men and heat illness suffered by 10 others on the march. HSE said if MoD had not been covered by Crown immunity, it would have faced criminal prosecution for the failings identified. HSE head of operations Neil Craig said while military training is inherently hazardous, "such testing needs to be managed effectively. The MoD has a duty to manage the risks during training exercises. It failed to do so on this occasion." He added: "Since the incident HSE has worked closely with the MoD to ensure it has learned lessons on how it can reduce the risk of similar tragedies occurring in future without compromising or changing the arduous nature of the essential training and testing they need to provide."
Read more: HSE news release. Source: Risks 741
Study: brief walks help combat office fatigue
In a laboratory-based study, Swedish researchers have identified a strategy for tackling persistent fatigue among sedentary workers. They found that three minutes of low intensity walking every 30 minutes significantly reduced fatigue in participants compared to workers who remained sedentary over a seven-hour period.
They also found that sedentary workers became more fatigued than their active counterparts from the fourth hour of each seven-hour working day, remaining so until the end of each shift. The researchers said prolonged sitting could significantly affect work productivity and cognitive health, especially among office workers who were "particularly vulnerable to prolonged uninterrupted sedentary behaviour". The study was the first experimental study of how walk breaks could impact on cognition "under conditions that might correspond to a typical sedentary office".
These findings support previous studies showing there could be a causal relationship between sedentary behaviour and fatigue, and that light activity could counteract this fatigue. The researchers also said their results demonstrated the effectiveness of intermittent light exercise, but the long-term effects and implications of prolonged sitting warranted further study.
Workers are increasingly more sedentary, leading not only to fatigue,
but also increasing their risk of developing conditions such as
diabetes. (Read more on Sedentary Work)
Read more: Patrik Wennberg, et al, Sweden: Acute effects of breaking up prolonged sitting on fatigue and cognition: a pilot study. [pdf - full] British Medical Journal, Volume 6, Issue 2, February 2016. Source: OHSAlert
OHS Regulator News
Fatality in Queensland - Alert issued
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has released a safety alert highlighting the risks associated with removing guards and using incorrect discs on angle grinders after a worker was fatally injured while operating an angle grinder.
The worker died after his chest was struck with a part of a broken disc last month - due to the high impact of the projectile it caused fatal internal injuries. According to the Alert, "One major contributing factor is the use of cutting discs that are too large for the angle grinder. In some cases, the guards have been removed and the grinder fitted with a 14 inch (356 mm) cut-off disc."
SafeWork NSW new video safety alert: Working in extreme heat
The NSW regulator has issued a new video on Working in extreme heat - it warns that this can affect not only outside workers, but those working indoors as well. It advises employers to consult with their employees regarding the hazard, possible control measures and so on. The video goes through a number of things employers can do, as well as the potentially fatal effects of heat. The video can also be downloaded, together with some factsheets, on the Heat-related illness topic information page.
In addition, in the same newsletter, the regulator warns employers to ensure their workers are protected from the sun. According to the University of Western Australia's Australian Work Exposures Study, which surveyed 5023 workers aged 18 to 65, more than 90 per cent of outdoor Australian workers may be inadequately protected from harmful sun exposure. Read more on Heat and UV Exposure
Safe Work Australia fatality statistics
As at March 7, 22 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work - this is seven more deaths since February 17, when the latest update had been provided. The fatalities this year have been in the following industries:
- 7 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 5 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 5 in Construction;
- 1 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services;
- 1 in Public administration & safety;
- 1 in 'other services';
- 1 in Information media & telecommunications;
- 1 in professional, scientific & technical services
More information on which industries the fatalities occurred in is accessible on the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities page.
The latest monthly fatality report remains that for September 2015 during which there were 26 work-related notifiable fatalities - compared to 14 in the month of August. The report can be downloaded from the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
MacDonalds franchisee fined without conviction for horrific burns
A MacDonald's fast food franchise owner, whose lawyer had argued that a conviction following the serious burns sustained by a young worker would be too harsh [see SafetyNet 353], got his wish. Even though Wilbridge Securities Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching s21(1) & 21(2)(a) of the OHS Act, the company was this week without conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $45,000 plus costs of $20,000.
The court heard that the "safe operating procedure" for the task of filtering and changing oil in fryers was that waste oil had to be filtered then drained into an enclosed portable oil caddy, or an alternative approved sealed container. The oil caddy then had to be pushed to an oil tank behind the restaurant where it was pumped out. This procedure meant no worker would be directly exposed to hot oil. The 22 year old employee had previously reported issues with emptying the oil caddy, so used alternate means - that is: wearing a safety apron and safety gloves, manually decanting the hot oil from the bottom of the fryer into an open large blue bucket. Once full, he carried the bucket outside for disposal. Service continued around the employee whilst he changed the oil. On November 12, 2013, another employee, a shift manager, was walking past a bucket full of hot oil when she slipped and fell. Her arm landed in the open bucket, which then overturned and spilled its contents onto her lower body. She suffered third and first degree burns and later required skin grafts.
Caravan manufacturer convicted and fined $80,000 following amputation
Jurgens Australia Pty Ltd, a caravan manufacturing company, has been convicted and fined over an incident in September 2014, when a worker had two fingers amputated while operating a table-mounted router to cut grooves into a wooden panel. In 2011 WorkSafe had previously issued an improvement notice on this router for being unsafe - compliance was achieved when a Perspex guard was fitted over the blades of the router, putting some distance between the operator's hands and the blades. Despite this, Jurgens knowingly allowed an unsafe system of work to develop, which involved operators removing the guard when cutting certain grooves. This created a clear risk of serious injury. Prior to the incident, the company failed to conduct a plant risk assessment to identify hazards associated with use of the router, nor did it develop any safe operating procedures, safe work method statements, and also failed to instruct and train its employees. On 16 September, as the employee was cutting grooves into the panel, it became stuck on the table. His hand continued to move towards the blades of the unguarded router, came into contact with the blades and two fingers were severed. The company pleaded guilty to a single, rolled-up charge and was with conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $80,000 plus costs of $3,975.
Increase of fine, conviction added for entangled hand
In December of last year, Kensington food processing a packaging company, Melbourne Chef (Aust) Pty Ltd, trading as Ellies & Sons Catering, was prosecuted over an incident where a worker's hand was dragged into a vegetable cutter, resulting in three fingers being partially severed. The incident occurred one year after another worker had caught his hand in the same machine, severely injuring a finger. At that time, after WorkSafe attended, the company had agreed to remove the machine from service - which it did temporarily only. By returning the machine to service, it placed workers once again at risk of entanglement. The offender was initially sentenced to pay an aggregate fine, without conviction, of $30,000 plus costs of $3,895. [see SafetyNet 347]
On appeal on March 7 in the Melbourne County Court, the initial orders were set aside and the offender was sentenced to pay an aggregate fine with conviction of $45,000, with the initial costs order reimposed.
NSW:Vege farm and farmer fined over worker's fall
An Austral tomato farm and its director have been fined $165,000 after a worker fell from a roof at the farm in 2013 and died. The 60 year old farmhand was attempting to remove plastic covering on the roof of a hot house at Austral Hydroponics' tomato farm when he lost his balance and fell approximately 2.5 metres, suffering a fractured spine, spinal cord damage and tetraplegia. The worker died as a result health complications while in hospital following the incident.
Executive Director of SafeWork NSW, Peter Dunphy said the incident was another example of how safe work systems could have prevented a tragic incident. "By failing to provide appropriate equipment, training, instruction and supervision to prevent workers falling from heights, the business committed a significant breach of safety laws," Mr Dunphy said.
Read more: SafeWork NSW Media Release
China: Coal gas outburst kills 12 in NE China mine
Twelve miners have been confirmed dead and another was injured after a gas outburst occurred in a coal mine in northeast China's Jilin Province last Sunday, rescuers said on Monday. The rescue work ended on Monday morning, after rescuers brought the one injured to hospital while confirming the other 12 trapped miners dead. The incident occurred around 11:20 a.m. Sunday in Songshu Mine owned by Tonghua Mining Industry Co. Ltd. in the city of Baishan.