SafetyNet 358, April 13
It has been another tragic week in Victoria, with a young man dying in a horrific workplace incident last Saturday, April 9. In the lead up to International Workers' Memorial Day, on April 28, the reasons we must fight for the living - and mourn the dead - remain frighteningly clear.
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Worker Killed at Recycling Plant
A 34 year old worker was killed in a horrific workplace incident at a paper recycling plant in Dandenong South just after midday last Saturday, April 9. According to police, he had been working near an industrial compactor at plant on Cahill Street when he was injured. He died at the scene. It has been reported that he was crushed to death. Worksafe Victoria, which has released a very brief statement, is investigating and police will prepare a report for the coroner. The death of this young man is now the seventh in Victoria this year. This is another tragedy which was, without doubt, preventable.
April 28: International Workers Memorial Day
International Workers Memorial Day is just a couple of weeks away. This is the day that we remember and mourn for the dead, but also fight for the living. We must continue our fight to ensure that workers' health and safety at work are protected. Each death is a tragedy. Each death is preventable.
As we have done for many years, the VTHC will be holding an event on April 28 at the 'Rock' at the corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton South, commencing at 10.30am. We invite workers and families to attend. There is also an event run by GARDS/Asbestos Council of Victoria and the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council at 11am in the Centenary Rose Garden, Commerical Road, Morwell.
For those who cannot attend these events, the VTHC OHS Unit is preparing a kit to assist workers and unions to organise their own event at work. We are asking workers to hold a very short meeting, put their tools down, and take a moment to think about workplace safety. We're asking workers to take a photo and post on it on social media. The kit will be available soon - email Sam Hatfield for a copy. Anyone on Twitter can already start using #IWMD2016 and #ToolsDownDay
We want to know what YOU think
If you haven't yet taken the OHS Network's Justice in Health & Safety Survey, please do so now. Tell us about your OHS experience and what you think needs to change. It only takes a few minutes, so please give it to your fellow workers, and start the OHS conversation at work. You can take the survey online or download the PDF to print out and send back to us.
Labour Day VTHC Dinner
The 2016 VTHC Labour Day Dinner will be held in the Members Dining Room at the MCG on Friday 29 April 2016 from 7pm to midnight. Tickets for the event, which includes a three course meal and beverage package, cost $140 per head. To purchase tickets or for further details please email Kris McClelland or by contact her phone on 9659 3586 as early as possible to avoid missing out.
We have been told that there is a student in our network of schools who has tuberculosis (TB). Do we need to get vaccinated?
I recommend that the first thing would be for the HSR to approach management and seek the following information:
- Is it active?
- What precautions are being put in place?
- What particular school or what groups of staff might be at risk of infection? (if they give 'Privacy' as an excuse to not give you any useful information, take a look at this page on the Privacy legislation. There are exemptions for occupational or public safety reasons.
In Australia, all children are offered TB vaccination (the BCG vaccine) usually at school around twelve or thirteen years of age. The vaccination does not give 100 per cent protection, but it does protect against the more serious forms of the disease. This may mean that most of your work colleagues have been vaccinated in the past. But I think management should check with staff that they have all been vaccinated anyway. Any staff member who does not know, or can't remember, or is concerned and/or is at risk should be tested for immunity to TB and given the BCG vaccination if they test negative or if their immunity is in doubt.
Read more on Tuberculosis on the website. Also check this page of advice from the Education and Training Department for Principals on Infectious Diseases. Finally, and importantly, contact your union for more advice and support!
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.
Do better pay rates for truck drivers improve safety?
This question is at the core of why the Transport Workers' Union supports not only the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT), but also the Safe Rates remuneration order, which, had the Commonwealth Government and employer groups not intervened, would have commenced on 4 April. (see SafetyNet 357).The government has been insisting that there is no evidence which links better pay to improved safety - and has promised that it will abolish the RSRT.
Earlier this week, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, speaking on RN Breakfast, said, "The evidence is that if you ensure that people travel safely in terms of safe rates you will get proper outcomes … you will get improved safety."
Well, an article in today's The Conversation
'fact checks' Mr Albanese's assertion. The conclusion? Looking at
several reports, including the latest commissioned by the Commonwealth
Government by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the answer is YES. A number of
studies have found "a significant link between scheduling pressures,
unpaid waiting time, insecure rewards and access to work, and hazardous
practices such as speeding, excessive hours and drug use by drivers."
Read The Conversation's FactCheck.
Australian Homebuyers ignorant of asbestos
New research has found that home buyers and homeowners, though aware of the deadly dangers of asbestos, do not know where it might be found in the home, and do not realise that small DIY jobs, as well as major renovations, pose a risk of exposure to asbestos.
The study also found that homebuyers assume that building inspection reports include an asbestos assessment – which is not the case. The research, commissioned by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), found that while almost all homebuyers and renovators are aware of asbestos, and most agree it is a hazard, it's not a front-of-mind issue for them when buying a house or undertaking DIY renovations.
"With around 12 deaths per week from mesothelioma, Australia has one of
the world's highest rates of asbestos-related disease and death," CEO Peter Tighe said.
Read more: Out of sight, out of mind: research finds homebuyers in the dark about asbestos ASEA Media Release; Home buyers and DIY renovators still in the dark over asbestos risk, study Domain
ACT: Mr Fluffy dump site to be cleared
The former Fluffy asbestos dump site in the ACT may contain approximately 5550 drums, 1700 crates, shipping containers and a range of other contaminated materials buried when the loose-fill asbestos was removed from the ceilings of homes in the territory 25 years ago. Part of the dump is now the site of a planned road extension. The ACT government commissioned a test of the site for contamination before the road is built, and tabled the findings last week.
The findings reveal the site was used to dump the asbestos insulation removed from more than 1000 Canberra homes between 1985 and the early 1990s. The loose asbestos was placed in steel drums and shipping containers, to be buried three metres below ground.
The consultancy company found no evidence that the loose Mr Fluffy asbestos had contaminated the site. However, the three to four metres of clean fill that was supposed to have capped the site probably was not as thick or as clean as claimed.
Read more: The Canberra Times
Queensland: Asbestos contamination ruins holiday
A family's holiday in Caloundra, Queensland, ended up a nightmare due to a bad asbestos removal job at a neighbouring property. When they arrived from Brisbane, they saw workers removing and renovating gutters and roofing which appeared to be asbestos on an older building next door. A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) spokesman confirmed the investigation had revealed the removal work on the guttering was being performed by an unlicensed asbestos removal operation and the job had been shut down. Read more: The Sunshine Coast Daily
Kiribati: An asbestos wasteland
A National Geographic article last week revealed the asbestos contamination on Banaba Island, Kiribati. IT tells of how asbestos dust covers the floors of the island's crumbling colonial houses, buildings, schools and even the field where people plant cassava. Children use the broken pieces of asbestos sheeting found everywhere to make toys and skateboards. The environment is already littered with scrap metal, industrial waste, and oil sludge. Read more: Living on a Tropical Island - and an Asbestos Wasteland National Geographic
Italy: Criminal Investigation of Asbestos Deaths
Stefano Puppo, a public prosecutor from Genova, is investigating complaints by several of Italy's trade unions regarding the asbestos deaths of hundreds of people employed by the Sanac company. The actions of five former corporate officials are under scrutiny. Until its demise at the end of the 1990s, Sanac had been the dominant player in Italy's refractory industry for over 50 years. Potential charges that could be brought include manslaughter and negligent injury.
See: Amianto killer: indagati cinque ex dirigenti della Sanac [Killer Asbestos: five former Sanac executives under investigation]. Source: IBAS
Philippines: Pressure Builds for Asbestos Ban
Ban asbestos campaigners from the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) are urging members of the public and politicians to support the passing of Senate Bill No. 89 to ban asbestos. The TUCP has sponsored an online petition calling for national action on this known carcinogen to increase pressure on the government which has been deliberating on this issue for a number of years. In 2013 and 2014 the Philippines imported 2,651 and 2,805 tonnes of asbestos, respectively, for use in asbestos building products in homes, public buildings and workplaces.
Read more: Urge the Philippine Senate to pass the bill banning asbestos. Source: IBAS
Presenteeism: Don't fall into the trap
As the sniffle season approaches, many workers, especially casuals or those in precarious employment, too often go in to work when they should really stay at home. In fact, this is not only bad for these workers, but not doing our economy any good either. A recent report indicates that sick workers dragging themselves into work are costing the Australian economy more than $34 billion a year.
Pathology Awareness Australia (PAA) commissioned the report from the Centre for International Economics. John Crothers, the chair of PAA, said while workers might think they were doing the right thing, they risked
infecting colleagues and lowering overall workplace productivity.
Read more: Presenteeism costs economy $34 billion a year through lost productivity, report shows, ABC news online. Presenteeism - what is it?
International Union News
UK: Regulator to be half the watchdog it was
The Health and Safety Executive, the UK's health and safety watchdog, is not the regulator, enforcer or guide it used to be – and things could be about to get a lot worse, the Trade Union Council has warned. The union body was commenting after the HSE's new business plan revealed huge cuts to the watchdog's government funding over the next three years. It follows earlier cuts and a dramatic decline in workplace safety inspections and enforcement. A new HSE strategy document says everyone must "act together" but includes no new targets, concrete plans or regulatory proposals. "The HSE's Business Plan for 2016/17 gives some insight into why," notes TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. "In 2009/10, before the coalition government came to power, the HSE received £231 million from the government. In 2019/20 it will receive £123 million. A reduction of 46 per cent in ten years." HSE's already dramatically curtailed government funding will drop by more than 12 per cent over the next three years, according to the business plan.
Source: Risks 745
U.S: 29 miners killed; CEO sentenced to one year in prison
A U.S. federal judge last week sentenced former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to 12 months in prison - as a result of the deadliest US coal mining incident in more than four decades. The company's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia exploded on April 5, 2010, killing 29 men. Blankenship was acquitted in December of three felony charges over his direct personal responsibility for those deaths and for lying to investors and regulators. But he was convicted one misdemeanor count on conspiracy to violate federal mining safety standards. The sentence, which included a $250,000 fine for his crimes, was handed down by District Judge Irene C. Berger six years and one day after the tragedy.
Blankenship is thought to be the first chief executive of a major U.S. corporation to be convicted of workplace safety related charges following an industrial incident. He continued to maintain his innocence in court. "It's important to me that everyone know that I am not guilty of a crime," he said. "Don Blankenship killed those 29 men with greed as surely as if he had fired a gun at them," said environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. "He is a sinister creature of unrestrained capitalism."
Following the sentencing, those who lost family grappled with a mix of vindication from the
fact that Blankenship would serve time in jail and frustration at the
former executive's refusal to take personal responsibility for the
catastrophe. "For six years, he never apologized," said a man whose brother died at Upper Big Branch, and who was himself a former
miner. "He's got family to hug him. I've got tombstones."
Read more: The Wall Street Journal; Desmog.
Bangladesh: Worker dies, guards fire on protesters
Seven people, including a 16-year-old boy, were injured after guards at a shipbreaking company in Bangladesh opened fire on people protesting against the death of a worker. Mohammad Sumon was killed instantly when a truck transporting scrap steel from the Kabir Steel yard in Chittagong, ran him over on 28 March 2016. On hearing about the tragedy, locals, co-workers and Sumon's family members gathered at the scene. According to reports, factory authorities at Kabir Steel took the body inside and refused to hand it over to his relatives. Global union IndustriALL reports: "With grief and anger they started to protest, blocking the Dhaka Chittagong highway in front of the factory for about two hours demanding punishment to the guilty. Factory guards, reportedly acting under orders from Kabir Steel, then opened fire on the demonstrators, injuring seven people." The union body has written to the prime minister of Bangladesh to condemn the shootings. "We demand an investigation into why such brutal force was used against the protesters and the guilty must be punished," said IndustriALL's general secretary, Jyrki Raina. "We can no longer afford to continue the business as usual attitude as workers risk their lives every day at Bangladesh's shipbreaking yards. IndustriALL calls upon the government of Bangladesh to ensure that accident victims are provided appropriate compensation and to punish employers who operate shipbreaking yards with gross negligence."
Read more: IndustriALL news release. Source: Risks 745
Parkinson's disease cluster found in north-west Victoria
Researchers have found a cluster of Parkinson's disease cases in Victoria's north-west, and have said there needs to be an investigation into a possible link to pesticides used by farmers there.The study by Monash University and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health found rates of Parkinson's disease were between 34 and 78 per cent higher than average in Buloke, Horsham, Northern Grampians and Yarriambiack. This was an exception to the rule that Parkinson's does not differ between urban and rural locations. Parkinson's currently affects over 27,000 people in Victoria.
Barley and pulses (chickpeas, broad beans, lentils and vetches) are farmed in the four regions. The researchers said further study was needed to investigate a possible link between farming practices and the risk of Parkinson's. Professor Ashley Bush said other studies had reported a greater risk of Parkinson's in rural areas and this work builds on international studies dating back more than 15 years that have found strong links between certain pesticides and Parkinson's. Over the past few years, SafetyNet has reported on research linking pesticides such as organophospates (for exampleSafetyNet 277) Read more: ABC News Online; Pesticides to blame? Parkinson's disease cluster in north-west farming region, The Age; Prevalence of Parkinson's in Victoria: A new Research Report, Parkinson's Victoria
Europe: Worker participation makes work safer
Firms across Europe are far less likely to undertake risk assessments where there is an absence of effective worker participation, a survey has found. The findings come in the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER-2), for which almost 50,000 establishments from 36 European countries were interviewed in 2014. EU-OSHA director Christa Sedlatschek said the findings highlighted the importance of worker participation in managing occupational health and safety. "The second enterprise survey has confirmed the findings of the first: worker participation is vital in implementing safety and health measures at work - 85 per cent of establishments with formal employee representation carry out risk assessments, but this worryingly drops to only 64 per cent of establishments without such representation."
The survey found levels of psychosocial risks in European workplaces are high, with 77 per cent of establishments reporting at least one psychosocial risk factor in the workplace. The importance of effective regulation and enforcement of workplace health and safety was highlighted by the survey. The most commonly reported reason for addressing occupational health and safety issues was to fulfill legal obligations, reported by 85 per cent of establishments.
Read more: EU-OSHA news release. Source: Risks 745
OHS Regulator News
Victorian Government to undertake mine safety research
A new high-tech research project in the Latrobe Valley will make open-cut mining safer for Victorian workers and the community. Minister for Energy and Resources Lily D'Ambrosio launched the $2.2 million 'Batter Stability project' at Energy Australia's Yallourn Mine in Gippsland on Monday this week.
Researchers from Federation University will carry out the five year project at the Yallourn Mine site with technical support from the Victorian mining regulator, Earth Resources Regulation. It involves geotechnical and hydrogeological studies of mine batters, which are the sloping pit walls between the top of the mine and the pit floor.
These slopes can become unstable due to the interaction of surface
and ground water levels, excavation work and the structure and strength
of soils and rock. In worst-case scenarios, a slope could collapse or create a sink hole
putting the safety of workers, the community, public infrastructure –
such as roads – and the environment at risk. Ms D'Ambrosio said, "The findings from this research project will be used to make open cut mining in Victoria safer for workers and the community."
Read more: Making Victorian Mines Safer With Cutting-Edge Research Minister's Media Release
Safe Work Australia fatality statistics
As at April 8, 31 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work Australia - four more since the previous update on April 1. The fatalities this year have been in the following industries:
- 7 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 9 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 5 in Construction;
- 3 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services;
- 2 in Information media & telecommunications;
- 1 in Arts & recreation services;
- 1 in Public administration & safety;
- 1 in 'other services';
- 1 in health care & social assistance; and
- 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 October 2015 during which there were 21 work-related notifiable fatalities - compared to 26 in the month of September. The report can be downloaded from the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
As reported last week, Comcare has opened the nominations for the 2016 Comcare Work Health and Safety Awards. Many Victorian workers come under the Comcare system - particularly since the Howard Government allowed companies operating around Australia to apply for 'self-insurer' status (read more). The awards will be presented during the 2016 Comcare National Conference on 13 & 14 September in Canberra. The Awards recognise and reward excellence in workplace health and safety, rehabilitation and return to work achieved by individuals and organisations covered under the Comcare scheme. Comcare administers the awards with the assistance of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC). Nominations and all supporting material must be submitted by 5pm Friday 13 May 2016.
Read more: 2016 Comcare Work Health and Safety Awards
Director prosecuted for refusing entry to inspectors and abusing them
Shaun Victor Arendtsz, the director of Just Commodore Wrecking Pty Ltd ("JCW"), a car wrecking business in Ravenhall, was prosecuted due to his behaviour towards WorkSafe Inspectors. On 14 May 2015, the Inspectors entered JCW's workplace to follow up on a safety notification the regulator had received, reporting that cars were stacked on top of each other and the top car had fallen off, blocking a common-way used by pedestrians.
The Inspectors identified themselves as WorkSafe inspectors, produced their identity cards for inspection and asked to speak with the person in charge. The person to whom they identified themselves was Arendtsz. One of the inspectors explained the reason for the visit, the contents of the complaint and requested that they be allowed to enter. In response, Arendtsz said they needed an entry permit to do this. One of the Inspectors informed him that they had a right to enter under section 98 of the OHS Act. Arendtsz went to look up the section on the internet, returned after about 15 minutes, and stated: "you're right…you can enter but before you do you have to get the cops, by the time you come back I would have killed this f**king bastard." The Inspector told him to calm down - but Arendtsz responded "Get the f**ck out of here." They decided to leave due to this behaviour. As they walked out the front door Arendtsz picked up a car seat and threw it towards them. The employer intentionally hindered or obstructed the Inspectors in the performance of their functions or the exercise of their powers - breaching section 98 of the Act. Arendtsz pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $2,000 plus costs of $2,000.
Source: WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings page.
Europe: Two thirds support ban on glyphosate
A survey of more than 7,000 people across the EU's five biggest states backs prohibition of the most widely used agricultural chemical - glyphosate. A prohibition on the herbicide ingredient was backed by three-quarters of the Italians, 70% of the Germans, 60% of the French and 56% of the Britons surveyed.
Glyphosate is used in best-selling pesticides made by Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta, but the herbicide has divided scientific opinion. The World Health Organisation's cancer scientists last year classified it as "probably carcinogenic to humans" while the EU's European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) declared it "unlikely" to pose a public health risk.
The resulting arguments over best scientific practice and industry involvement in the legislative process ended with the European commission unable to pass a proposal to relicense the substance for another 15 years. With 11 of the EU's 28 states now thought unlikely to back relicensing, the new poll will add momentum to environmental opponents of the controversial chemical.
Read more: Two-thirds of Europeans support ban on glyphosate, says Yougov poll The Guardian