SafetyNet 355, March 16, 2016
This is a short-ish edition of our weekly journal, due to the Labour Day public holiday in Victoria on Monday.
Please remember, to get updates between our weekly journals, join the hundreds of people who follow our We Are Union: OHS Matters Facebook page.
Remembering why we celebrate Labour Day
At a time when employers and the Federal government are attacking penalty rates, it's worth pausing to remember why we celebrate Labour Day. On 21 April 1856, stonemasons working on the University of Melbourne walked off the job for better conditions - the first steps towards enshrining the 8 hour day in our society. After many years, the 8 hour day became the standard working day for all workers.
However 160 years later, union members are again battling for work/life balance and a fairer deal at work. The battle now is to ensure our penalty rates are secure, and our work and workplaces are safe and without risks to health. On Monday, Labour Day, Victoria's Minister for Industrial Relations Natalie Hutchins called on the Turnbull Government to rule out any cuts to penalty rates as thousands of Victorians spent the day at work.
In a submission to the Fair Work Commission's review of penalty rates, the Andrews Labor Government unequivocally supported the protection of Victoria's most vulnerable workers, many of whom rely on penalty rates to make ends meet. Meeting with hospitality workers in Thornbury, Ms Hutchins said penalty rates compensate people working unsociable hours during weekends, public holidays and on shift work whilst the rest of us spend valuable time with our family and friends.
One in six Victorians workers relies on award wages. Approximately 374,000
Victorian usually work Saturdays in their main job and about 213,000
usually worked Sundays in their main job. The Minister said, "Retail, hospitality and accommodation workers should not be treated any less favourably than workers in other sectors, creating an unfair, two-tier system of entitlements and an under-class of Australian workers."
Read more: Media Release Labor Government Stands With All Victorian Workers This Labour Day and on the site The Eight Hour Day
Is my employer forced to give the employees a kettle or an urn to boil water or is this just a favour in the workplace?
I am frankly shocked that there would be employers who refuse to provide their workers with boiling water! Under s21(2)(d) of the OHS Act, the employer must provide 'adequate facilities' for the welfare of employees. The Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment sets out what an employer needs to do to comply with this duty. Basically, when it comes to facilities,"Employees need to have access to hygienic facilities for preparing and eating meals while at work."
Specifically with regard to boiling water:
- Boiling water and clean drinking water need to be provided for dining rooms and dining areas. The water supply needs to be separate from any basin used for washing hands. An appliance that provides boiling water as required is desirable, but an electric jug may be appropriate in workplaces where a small number of staff are present. At workplaces remote from a fixed room or building, the water may either be boiled on site or transported there, provided that it arrives as hot as practicable.
- There needs to be sufficient water to supply those employees dining at one time. The water always needs to be of drinking quality. The code has as a reference document the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011), National Health and Medical Research Council.
For more information on Dining facilities, and a link to the Code, go to this page on the website. 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.
VTHC OHS Unit launches OHS Network Group
Trades Hall is bringing together Health and Safety Reps, Injured Workers, Allied professionals and anyone with a passion for improving Health and Safety into one space. Together we will campaign to win justice for workers and suffering families who have been robbed by a workplace injury or death. Everyone deserves to come home at the end of the day, in the same condition as when they left for work.
Subscribers already know about our We Are Union: OHS Matters Facebook page. Now we have a group: the We Are Union: OHS Network. This Facebook group will be a safe space for people passionate about OHS to share knowledge and support each other. If you are interested in joining, please go to the page. In order for the moderators to ensure that its members are genuine, we ask that you give us a few details about yourself - which we guarantee will not be shared with anyone.
Victoria: Only three per cent of schools free of asbestos
The Age this week ran an article revealing that according to audits, only three per cent of Victorian state schools were asbestos-free at the start of last year, 2015. But the headline is misleading and doesn't tell the whole story!
In response to the article, the Andrews Government confirmed it will still meet its November 2014 election promise of eradicating the dangerous substance from all schools by 2020. Since the election, it has already identified high-risk asbestos in almost a third of the state's schools and removed it.
Last week, Education Minister James Merlino and Federal Member for Chisholm Anna Burke helped turn the first
sod in the next stage of a $5 million upgrade at Ashwood High School. The accompanying Media Release confirmed that the state Budget had provided $344 million to renovate, refurbish or rebuild 83
schools. This will fund the first stage of an extensive asbestos-removal
program so that families can be assured their children are being
educated in safe schools. The government also set aside $42 million in last year's budget to demolish or replace asbestos-riddled portables, has almost finished auditing all schools and will remove the material during works to modernise 67 schools. This compares very favourably to the amount spent by the previous state government ($7.5 million).
Read more: The Age;Victorian Government Media Release $5 million Upgrade Begins at Ashwood High School
New research to improve diagnosis
The Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) has begun new research that aims to improve diagnosis of mesothelioma - one of the most aggressive forms of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Researchers are currently analyzing molecular markers of patients diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma hoping to identify the diseases more easily. The research is being funded by a $25 thousand grant from Slater and Gordon's Health Projects and Research Fund.
ADRI Senior Research Scientist Dr. Ruby Lin said the diagnosis of mesothelioma is difficult, especially in cases where biopsies are not available. "Traditional methods of diagnosis often leave sufferers of malignant pleural mesothelioma with a very poor outlook by the time they are diagnosed," Dr Lin said. "We're trying a novel approach for these patients by working to find non-traditional diagnostic and prognostic markers by looking at the molecular structure of their blood. This would allow for the early identification of malignant pleural mesothelioma in people with a known history of asbestos exposure and could even improve their outlook." Read more: Slater and Gordon Media Release
Bullying in the health sector: Vic Government launches strategy
Minister for Health Jill Hennessy last week launched the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Victoria's strategy to address widespread bullying, discrimination and harassment in the state's health system. The strategy was developed following the AMA Victoria's Setting the Standard Summit last November where 180 people including Ms Hennessy, doctors, students, hospital leaders, college representatives and authorities discussed cultural change in the medical profession.
Ms Hennessy said, "A climate of bullying and harassment in the workplace is an unhealthy culture and it is simply unacceptable. No change is not an option.That's why the Government is currently developing a comprehensive strategy to address the challenge of workplace bullying and harassment in health services.
"We are also requiring every Victorian public health service to
demonstrate a commitment to occupational health and safety through their
Statement of Priorities agreements," she said. "This means all public health services must now implement strategies
that will promote a positive workplace culture and prevent bullying."
Read more: Taking A Stand Against Bullying And Harassment In The Health System Victorian Government Media Release. More information on Bullying and Harassment
International Union News
UK: Don't treat women like skivers, period
Last week a Bristol (UK) company hit the headlines for its plan to implement a 'period policy', including the option for women to take time off. In a move that was generally well-received, Bex Baxter, the director of Coexist, said it was an attempt to synchronise work with the body's natural cycles. However the peak union council, the TUC, has sounded a note of caution. "While it feels counter-intuitive to argue against more paid leave, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that menstrual leave policies aren't a good thing and there are better ways of ensuring that women get time off when they need it," commented TUC women's equality officer Scarlet Harris. She said a leave policy "based on our troublesome wombs could have the unintended consequence of further entrenching the existing discriminatory attitudes that too many employers have towards women in the workplace." She added: "If employers can get their sickness policies and workplace cultures right, there should be no need for specific periods of leave." The TUC women's equality officer proposed a different solution. "Instead of menstrual leave policies, how about employers and government stop perpetuating the myth that workers on sick leave are workshy skivers? By all means, let's challenge the taboos that surround menstruation and women's bodies in general but we also need to challenge the workplace cultures that prevent women from taking the time off they need."
Read more: TUC Touchstone blog. Source: Risks 742 and on the site: Women and OHS
Study: range of occupations linked to thyroid cancer
A recent study which examined 462 cases of thyroid cancer recorded in the Connecticut Tumour Registry has identified seven occupational groups that are at increased risk of thyroid cancer. The researchers found health diagnosing and treating practitioners; nurses; building cleaners and pest controllers; janitors and other cleaners; cooks and food preparation workers; retail salespersons; and customer service representatives and financial managers all showed an increased prevalence in the cancer.
They found that healthcare practitioners, health diagnosing and treating practitioners and nurses showed a "significantly increased risk" of thyroid cancer, especially after more than 10 years in the occupation. This increased risk to healthcare workers such as dentists, physicians, pharmacists and medical technicians, the researchers noted, had been widely reported and largely attributed to exposure to radiation from diagnostic radiography.
The increased risk for ground cleaning and maintenance workers, especially those employed as building cleaners and pest controllers, could be explained by their exposure to various cleaning chemicals like petrochemicals, solvents and pesticides, which had been linked to thyroid cancer in previous studies.
Radiation from using electromagnetic field-generating computerised cash registers and microwave ovens could explain the increased risk of the disease in retail salespeople, cooks and food preparation workers. According to the researchers, the notable increase in tumours among white-collar workers like financial managers, customer service representatives and general managers had also been reported in previous studies, but findings were inconsistent and needed to be confirmed with further investigation.
Read more: Occupation and Thyroid Cancer: A Population-Based, Case-Control Study in Connecticut. [abstract] Yue Ba, et al, US, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 58, Issue 3, March 2016. Source: OHSAlert
Association between pesticide exposure and risk of diabetes shown
There are many factors in the development of diabetes mellitus (Type 2), with a strong genetic component as well as many environmental and lifestyle influences. Emerging evidence suggests that environmental contaminants, including pesticides, might play an important role in the development of diabetes. Researchers from the UK and Europe undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies that assessed the association between exposure to pesticides and diabetes.
From eligible cohort studies, case-control studies and cross-sectional studies, the researchers extracted information on study characteristics, type of pesticide assessed, exposure assessment, outcome definition, effect estimate and sample size, identifying 22 studies which assessed the association between pesticides and diabetes. They concluded that epidemiological evidence, supported by mechanistic studies, suggests an association between exposure to organochlorine pesticides and Type 2 diabetes.
Read more: Exposure to pesticides and diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis.[abstract] Evangelou E, et al Environ Int. 2016 Feb 20;91:60-68. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.02.013.
Pesticides and cognitive impairment
Background exposure to organochlorine (OC) pesticides was recently linked to cognitive impairment and dementia in cross-sectional and case-control studies. A recent study has demonstrated that background exposure to OC pesticides is linked to the risk of developing cognitive impairment in elderly.
Plasma concentrations of three OC pesticides (p,p'-DDE, trans-nonachlor, and hexachlorobenzene) were measured among 989 men and women aged 70 in the Prospective Investigation of the Vasculature in Uppsala Seniors (PIVUS). They validated cognitive impairment by reviewing medical records. During the ten year follow-up, 75 subjects developed cognitive impairment. When weight change from age 70 to 75 was considered in analyses, elderly with incident cases before age 75 were excluded to keep the prospective perspective, leaving 795 study subjects and 44 incident cases.
The researchers recommended that the role of chronic exposure to low dose OC pesticides in the development of dementia should be further evaluated in other populations.
Read more: Association between background exposure to organochlorine pesticides and the risk of cognitive impairment: A prospective study that accounts for weight change [abstract], DH Lee, et al Environ Int. 2016 Feb 12;89-90:179-184. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.02.001.
OHS Regulator News
Victorian Government Increases Fines
The Minister for Finance (and Workcover) Robin Scott last Wednesday March 9, introduced the Treasury and Finance Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 in Parliament which increases the maximum penalty for a body corporate that recklessly endangers a person at a workplace from 9000 units (equivalent to $1,300,000) to 20,000 units (over $3,000,000). Mr Scott told the Parliament that the current maximum penalty for breaching s32 was the same as for breaching s21 (the duty to eliminate or reduce safety risks so far as is reasonably practicable), despite the offence of reckless endangerment requiring a "far greater degree of culpability than an offence under s21".
Read more:The Bill [pdf] and Explanatory Memorandum [pdf]. SafetyAtWork Blog.
Queensland may introduce own anti-bullying jurisdiction
The Industrial Relations Legislative Reform Reference Group, which undertook an independent review of Queensland's IR system, has recommended the state government introduce its own anti-bullying jurisdiction. The Group was appointed by the state Labour government to undertake the review in August 2015.
"Queensland's industrial relations laws were last comprehensively reviewed in 1998, more than 17 years ago," said Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace, and said the IR Review made a series of recommendations around promoting a fair and balanced industrial relations framework and strengthening the independence of the QIRC.
"Job security, domestic violence, gender equality, the effects of
changing technology and work-life balance are some of the other key
areas highlighted in the review," she said. The group found 'considerable merit' in adopting an anti-bullying jurisdiction in the state's IR system, explaining that it would likely encourage organisations to review and upgrade their dispute resolution processes to better manage complaints internally.
Read more: IR Review paves way for modern, updated industrial relations laws Queensland Govt Media Release
Fatality in Tasmania
A farmer was killed last Friday afternoon while working with machinery at a property in Tasmania, about 50km south of Launceston. According to reports, the man was working with machinery used for gathering rocks and boulders when he was fatally injured.
Paramedics arrived at the scene shortly after the incident but the man could not be revived. He was declared dead at the scene.
Safe Work Australia fatality statistics
The latest update on national fatalities remains as at March 7, when 22 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work Australia. 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.
Worker suffers burns to face and up
BPL Melbourne Pty Ltd, a Laverton North business producing animal food, has been convicted and fined $40,000 after pleading guilty to breaching s 21(1) & 21(2)(a) in the Melbourne County Court over an incident in which a production supervisor was seriously burned. On 2 February 2012, the injured worker was clearing a blockage in the tallow line area of the pipeline. There was a fall risk, as in order to access the area, the worker had to climb up and down an unsecured ladder, carrying a valve. He then needed to replace the valve after cleaning it, using both hands and a tool while standing on the ladder. Before he cleared the blockage he had closed an isolating valve lever so as to prevent hot liquid flowing backwards from the finisher but could not isolate the area from operation using a "lock-out, tag-out" process. This created a burn risk, if the lever was knocked. After cleaning the valve, he went back up the ladder to reinstall it. The ladder slipped and hit the isolating valve's lever, causing hot tallow to flow, burning his face, neck and torso.
It was deemed 'reasonably practicable' for the company to control the fall risk by installing a fixed work platform underneath the pipeline, so that the task of clearing blockages could be performed on a solid construction. It was reasonably practicable for the offender to control the burn risk by: ensuring that any valve relied upon to isolate the opening in the pipeline was "locked out and tagged out" whenever blockages were being cleared, and secondly devising an adequate and complete written task instruction for the job.
Anonymous call re unsafe scaffolding leads to prosecution
A WorkSafe inspector, acting as a result of an anonymous call regarding unsafe scaffolding, attended a construction site in Geelong, where Alice Homes Pty Ltd, a family owned and operated residential home building company, was constructing a two storey home.
The inspector found two workers laying bricks at the second storey level. There were several problems with the scaffold they were standing on: top and mid rails missing on some sections, no kickboards and an unsecured ladder was being used to access the scaffold. The scaffold the two workers were working from was 3 metres from the ground with a maximum height of 4.5 metres.This created a clear risk of death or serious injury had someone fallen. The company was not able to provide evidence that a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) had been prepared for this work as required under r5.1.9 of the OHS Regulations. Alice Homes pleaded guilty and was without conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $3000 plus $3000 costs.
Plumbing Company Owner prosecuted for unsafe working at height
Benjamin Joseph Grech, operator of roof plumbing business 'Ballarat Roof Doctor and Hytech Plumbing', had been engaged to supply and install roof plumbing works to the canopy of a Caltex Service Station under construction in Sebastopol. On 13 August 2014 a WorkSafe inspector observed Grech and an apprentice laying roof sheets at a height of approximately six metres from a vehicle mounted elevated work platform (EWP), which required work at height outside the EWP's workbox. The canopy had been partially roofed and the unroofed section had incomplete safety mesh fitted under it. A mobile access tower was partially erected on one side of the canopy, but was incomplete. A hand-rail was partially installed around the perimeter of the canopy, however this too was incomplete. Grech and his apprentice were wearing harnesses - but it was deemed reasonably practicable that there be a completed mobile access tower on one side of the canopy frame, an installed hand-rail around the entire canopy frame, and safety mesh under the entire canopy frame. Greach pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $2,000.
Peru: Children 'used in oil leak clean-up'
In a report, the BBC says it has seen first hand how children are being used to help clean up a huge oil leak in the Peruvian Amazon. More than 3,000 barrels (about 477,000 litres) of crude oil leaked from a pipeline in the jungle in at least two incidents on January 25 and February 4. Representatives of indigenous communities attributed the incidents to a lack of maintenance of oil company Petróleos del Perú (PETROPERÚ) NorPeruano Pipeline. A state of emergency has been declared. The state-owned oil company denies using child labour to help contain it.
Read more: Oil Spills Stain Peruvian Amazon Scientific American; the BBC report: Indigenous Community in Peru suffers after oil spill, and watch the video, BBC News
South Africa: Gold miners win landmark silicosis scheme
Former South African gold miners and relatives of deceased ex-miners have reached a landmark settlement in their long-running legal battle against Anglo American South Africa Ltd and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. The 4,365 claimants sued the mining companies for the dust-related lung diseases, silicosis and silico-tuberculosis, which they claim resulted from working in unsafe, dusty conditions in the mines. The overall value of the settlement is estimated to be more than R500 million (A$42.05 million). A total of R464 million (A$39.02 million) will be paid into the Q(h)ubeka Trust for distribution to those affected or bereaved relatives. In addition, Anglo American and AngloGold will fund the costs of the Trust and related medical evaluations. In order to qualify for compensation, claimants will need to be medically diagnosed with silicosis and to have worked on Anglo American or AngloGold mines for at least two years. Richard Meeran from Leigh Day, one of the law firms that negotiated the deal, said: "This settlement is a triumph for justice and accountability. It will bring much needed financial relief to the victims and their families. This settlement scheme provides a model and, we hope, the necessary impetus for an industry-wide settlement for all gold mining silicosis victims." A separate class action on silicosis is currently being considered by the courts.
Read more: Victory at last for South African gold miners Leigh Day Solicitors. Source: Risks 742