SafetyNet 360, April 27
Tomorrow is International Workers Memorial Day - please stop and remember the 6,300 people who die each day because of industrial incidents or work-related disease around the world.
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April 28: International Workers Memorial Day
Tomorrow is International Workers Memorial Day - a day in which we don't only remember and mourn those workers everywhere who have died as a result of their work, but also when we rally and vow to fight for the living. We believe that every workplace death can be prevented - and that with strong unions, elected HSRs and a strong regulator, workplaces will get safer and fewer workers will be killed or injured. It is shocking to think that a worker dies every 15 seconds somewhere in the world from a work-related incident or disease. And that there are more than 2.3 million work-related deaths per year.
If you are able to, come to the VTHC event on April 28 at the 'Rock' at the corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton South, which starts 10.30am: everyone is welcome. There will also be an event organised by GARDS/Asbestos Council of Victoria and the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council at 11am in the Centenary Rose Garden, Commercial Road, Morwell.
For those who are unable to leave work and attend, it's not too late to organise your own short event at work. Using the VTHC OHS Unit kit to help, hold a very short meeting, put your tools down, and take a moment to think about workplace safety. Then take a photo and post on it on social media. The kit is available to download as a PDF of the kit on the We Are Union website. Anyone on Twitter should be using #IWMD2016 and #ToolsDownDay. And if your management gives you a hard time - tell them that Safe Work Australia is urging workplaces do something to mark the day: Safe Work Australia Media Release.
Can management at the office where I work enforce a rule under OHS: "No sandwich toasters"? This is a standard sandwich toaster with flat hot plates that is switched on at the power point only. However, it has a temperature cut off and on. Staff particularly like using the toaster but our OHS department has categorically told us to remove it.
This might be my first 'OHS Myth' question! People often use 'OHS rules/laws' as an excuse for prohibiting something, when this is actually a myth.
Firstly: Where is the sandwich toaster?
If it's in a dining area, then I can't see any reason why it would be banned. There's nothing in our OHS legislation that bans any type of electrical equipment in workplaces - in fact, the employer is expected to provide 'adequate facilities' for workers and the Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment has a section on dining areas and facilities (see this FAQ) While not specific, it does state: "Food warming facilities, such as a microwave, need to be provided."
The only thing that the employer MUST do, is ensure that the equipment is safe – for example, making sure it's working properly and that the cord is in good nick. And it's a good idea to have it tested and tagged eventually – this doesn't need to be done if new, but is recommended every five years. (see this FAQ for information on the 'rules' for electrical equipment in workplaces)
So, in conclusion, I suggest that you ask to meet with the OHS people and ask them to show you where in the OHS legislation it says you can't have a sandwich toaster - or what their reasons are for wanting to prohibit it. (Of course, if it's in the office itself, then it shouldn't be there!)
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.
Andrews Labor government to pledge $228m to asbestos removal in schools
The Andrews government has committed to spending more than one billion dollars to build new schools and renovate those in the worst condition. The government's second budget, released today, also features $228 million for asbestos removal and school maintenance, as part of a $1.1 billion education package.
Source: The Age
Australian asbestos diseases groups go to Canberra
A number of people from unions and asbestos diseases support groups, including some who are suffering asbestos related diseases, went to Canberra last week to meet with various politicians to plead for funding for the national effort against Australia's asbestos legacy. Senator Lee Rhiannon was deeply affected by the meeting, and spoke about their issues in Parliament.
Senator Rhiannon told the Senate: "I met with women who have lost their husbands. I met a young woman who contracted mesothelioma as a young girl - she just picked it up from where she was living. I was told of a very disturbing and what I believe is a heartless approach from the Turnbull government." She congratulated Labor for setting up the Asbestos Eradication and Safety Agency (ASEA), saying "ASEA is ready to work with the Australian Border Force in ensuring that (asbestos-containing) products do not come into Australia, and dealing with them if they do. But what is very shocking, and I do see the cruel side of the government here, is that it is refusing to sign off on $3 million - only $3 million - that has already been allocated. It is not new money. It is money that is sitting there but, for various reasons, the Minister for Employment is saying that she needs to have a review before this money can be given."
ASEA's CEO Peter Tighe, advised Senate estimates that the lack of funding was preventing the agency from implementing the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness - developed with and signed off by all states and territories. So what has Minister Michaelia Cash done? On 30 March this year, she announced a five week performance and financial review of the agency. Senator Rhiannon concluded, "I have to say that this week we have seen that
this government, whose main tactic for the past weeks and since we have
come back here, has been blatantly anti-union and in fact anti-worker."
Read more: Senator Rhiannon's address to the Senate
Call for an asbestos-free South Asia
The South Asia Strategic meeting on ban of asbestos took place in Brac Inn in Dhaka on April 23. The strategic meeting brought together 20 advocates, activists, victims and trade unionists from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Nepal who are working towards a ban of asbestos.
The meeting sought to have focused discussions on building strategies nationally with the sub-region and work on coordinated activities in South Asia in terms of diagnosis, compensation and advocacy working towards a ban in the region.
In Bangladesh, since its inception in 2013 the Bangladesh Ban Asbestos Network (B-BAN) has been working on raising awareness, education, identifying affected workers and communities especially in Chittagong and B-BAN has the backing of the regional and global advocates for the complete ban of asbestos in the country.
Source: The Daily Star
France: Asbestos whistleblowers documentary
On April 17, a film about the work of French whistleblowers who denounced asbestos and pesticide scandals was premièred in two cities in the department of Tarn, southern France. The film followed the work of an asbestos factory worker, a farmer and scientists: Henri Pézerat and Dr. Annie Thebaud-Mony. The director of the film Peter Pézerat quotes his father Henri's belief that workers were "the sentinels of the toxicological risk, occupational or environmental."
See: "Les Sentinelles," un film-hommage aux lanceurs d'alerte sur les grands scandales sanitaires ["The Sentinels," a film tribute to whistleblowers on major health scandals]. Source: IBAS
Spain: Toxic debris endangers public health
In an essay published online last week, chemical engineer Eva Jimenez examines the response, or rather lack of response, by municipal and federal authorities to the dumping of asbestos waste in the Ramabujas River and surrounding areas. Since 2004, the paltry levels of fines and the lack of political will to engage with this environmental problem have created a dangerous stalemate which leaves the public at risk of contracting deadly diseases through the inhalation of chrysotile (white) and amosite (brown) asbestos fibers liberated by mounds of toxic waste which are sited in close proximity to residential areas.
See: El amianto en el Polígono: la historia interminable [Asbestos in the industrial area: The Neverending Story]. Source: IBAS
Farmer seriously injured in tractor rollover
In what could easily have been another fatality, a farmer suffered serious crush injuries when a tractor rolled over at a farm, 15 km from Horsham. It appears the man had been trapped under the tractor for several hours when he was freed by emergency crews on Saturday morning. He was reportedly working alone at the farm when the incident occurred.
According to WorkSafe statistics, almost 30 per cent of all workplace deaths in Victoria occur on farms, despite the fact that agriculture employs just three per cent of Victorian workers. In addition to this, 10 farmers every week are injured seriously enough to make a worker's compensation claim.
Investigations improve workplace safety
Researchers from the Italian Service of Prevention, Health and Safety at Work (SPISAL), the University of Padova and other institutions have found that post-incident regulatory interventions spark a "complex chain of events" that reduce workplace injuries and deaths. They said these findings echoed previous studies linking proactive OHS regulators and good safety outcomes.
In their analysis of 795 manufacturing workplaces subjected to incident-related SPISAL interventions they found that the all-injuries rate fell by an average of 24 per cent after inspections, while severe injuries (including fatalities) fell by 36 per cent.
"These changes occurred immediately and persisted for two years," the researchers said. The effects of "programmed" inspections, on the other hand, weren't significant, they found. The results indicated that a serious workplace injury coupled with sudden attention from OHS regulators, insurance companies and courts pushed employers to improve the work environment and employees to raise their safety standards.
Another recent study found that workplace inspections "with penalties" reduced injuries by an average of 19 to 24 per cent annually in the two years following inspection, the researchers said.
Read more: R Agnesi, et al, Statutory prevention of work injuries in Italy: an effectiveness evaluation with interrupted time series analysis in a sample of 5000 manufacturing plants from the Veneto region. [Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 73, Issue 5, April 2016. Source: OHSAlert
Better pay can fix mental health problems
A new study has found that low-paid workers who received the UK's national minimum wage in April 1999 reported a decline in symptoms of depression for at least 22 months afterwards. The researchers discovered that receiving the minimum wage was equivalent to the effect of taking antidepressants. Their paper, published in the journal Health Economics, concludes that wage rises for low-paid workers reduce feelings of anxiety and depression partly, at least, because they are under less financial strain.
Lead author Dr Aaron Reeves, from Oxford University's Department of Sociology, said: "This study proves that wage rises significantly improve the mental health of low-paid workers. This suggests that the new national living wage is likely to have a similar positive effect in the short-term for low-wage workers." Professor David Stuckler, also from Oxford, added: "Our study found that increasing wages for low-income workers can have as powerful an effect on mental health as prescribing antidepressants." Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, commented: "So far, it has focused on jobs and profits of employers but, as our research shows, increasing the income of the lowest paid can make an important contribution to their mental health at a time when the NHS faces unprecedented pressure."
Read more: University of Oxford news release. Aaron Reeves, Martin McKee, Johan Mackenbach, Margaret Whitehead and David Stuckler. Introduction of a national minimum wage reduced depressive symptoms in low-wage workers: a quasi-natural experiment in the UK, Health Economics, [full article] published online ahead of print, April 2016. Source: Risks 747
Good ventilation needed for desktop 3D printers
A new study shows that desktop 3D printers release produce airborne nanoparticles that should be controlled to avoid hazardous exposures. According to the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH), 3D printers have become more common in homes, schools and libraries as their prices have reduced. But a study by FIOH and the University of Helsinki had confirmed nanoparticles are emitted into the air when printers are used. FIOH notes: "Printing every once in a while is not very harmful, but we should recognise the exposure and attempt to reduce it in places where people are exposed to printing daily."
Anna-Kaisa Viitanen, a research scientist at FIOH, commented: "Exposure can be reduced by acquiring an encased printer that has been designed with emission management in mind, by avoiding staying in the same room with a printer for longer periods of time or, most reliably, by directing the emissions out of the indoor air." The study identified pollution arising from use of both ABS and PLA, the two most common plastic mixtures. It added treating the printed objects with chemicals is an integral part of 3D printing and is typically used in printing on an industrial scale. "When chemicals are used in post-processing, it is important to perform a risk analysis of these chemicals and people must use the correct protective equipment," Viitanen said.
This study confirms two Australian reports published in December 2011: Nanoparticles from Printer Emissions in Workplace Environments and Brief Review on Health Effects of Laser Printer Emissions Measured as Particles (Safe Work Australia).
Read more: FIOH news release. Source: Risks 747 More on the hazards of nanotechnology
OHS Regulator News
Charges laid over burns
WorkSafe has now laid charges against the operators of a North Geelong KFC where a 16 year old teenager sustained horrific burns in August last year (see SafetyNet 334). At the time, WorkSafe investigated how he received third degree burns to his hands, face and arms while working in the KFC kitchen. He was flown to a Melbourne hospital where he spent some time in an induced coma.
A WorkSafe spokesman told the Geelong Advertiser that Mettle Pty Ltd had been charged with failing to provide or maintain a safe system of work, and failing to provide appropriate information, instruction, training or supervision.
Source: The Geelong Advertiser
Safe Work Australia fatality statistics
There has been no update to the statistics on fatalities Australia-wide since April 20, at which time 41 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work Australia - this is ten more workers killed at work since the previously reported update on April 8 - each one preventable. 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 November 2105 during which there were 29 work-related notifiable fatalities - compared to 21 in October 2015. The report can be downloaded from the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Queensland Coroner 'startled' by lack of heat standard
In an inquest into a worker's death, Queensland Coroner John Hutton criticised "buddy" systems and said he was "startled" to discover that there was no construction-industry standard relating to high temperatures. This is a common misconception: where they exist, heat policies on construction sites have been hard fought by workers and their unions.
In January 2013, the McConnell Dowell fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) employee was doing concreting formwork in high temperatures and humidity at Santos's natural gas project near Roma when he began to feel unwell, and rested under a shade tent. He was given water and advised to sit in a vehicle's air-conditioned cabin, and later driven to the camp clinic, where he was treated with oral fluids and watermelon. At 8pm, the worker collapsed in his room, was taken by ambulance to hospital, but died that night after his condition deteriorated rapidly and he .
The Coroner found McConnell Dowell's policies and procedures for working in heat – such as providing shade tents and a proposed "buddy system" where pairs of workers looked out for each other – were typical of the industry at the time, but "shown by the circumstances of 9the worker's) death to be inadequate". He said, "In the course of the inquest I was somewhat startled to learn that there is in effect no industry standard or 'best practice' in relation to the management of heat in the heavy construction industry. The policies which are in place appear to me to have been constructed on the basis of very rudimentary and innocent risk assessments, essentially uninformed by either meteorological science or medicine."
Read more: Coroner's Report [pdf] More information on Heat.
Comcare Awards - nominate quickly
Remember the nominations for the 2016 Comcare Work Health and Safety Awards close at 5pm Friday 13 May 2016. If your workplace is covered by Comcare system, consider nominating. The Awards will be presented during the 2016 Comcare National Conference on 13 & 14 September in Canberra, and recognise individuals' and organisations' excellence in workplace health and safety, rehabilitation and return to work.
Read more: 2016 Comcare Work Health and Safety Awards
15 year old killed: $450,000 fine
Lilford Farms Pty Ltd, is a company involved in the cultivation, picking and sales of vegetables on approximately 20 acres of farm land. On 15 November 2014, a 15 year old employee of a labour hire business owned and managed by his father was driving a forklift where snow peas were being picked. Three children (two of whom had no prior farm work experience), had been left unsupervised to work on a commercial farm; because the keys were left in the ignition of the forklift, it was accessible to those three children. They were not certified to operate it but had not been instructed not to use it, and by leaving the keys in it, this created a risk of serious injury or death. At approximately 10.30am the 15 year old was killed when the forklift he was driving tipped over. Lilford pleaded guilty in the Wangaratta County Court and fined $450,000. We can only assume that the company was also convicted.
Meat processing company convicted fined $30k after worker's hand caught in meat tenderiser
On 9 November 2014 an employee of Tabloid Holdings Pty Ltd, a commercial and retail meat production and processing company, was operating a meat tenderiser. The worker was a cashier, and although not trained in use of the tenderiser had not been instructed to not use it. At some time before the incident the tenderiser was taken out of service due to the broken guard and faulty interlock. There was another machine on site that was normally used, however this was also out of service. Another worker returned the faulty meat tenderiser back into service so that he could use it, and left it there. Whilst using the tenderiser, the cashier reached into the danger area, wearing gloves, to clear a piece of meat that had become jammed in the plant. The gloves became entangled with the moving parts, her fingers were dragged in, and she suffered multiple lacerations and fractures to four fingers on her right hand.
There was a clear risk of serious injury to employees using the tenderiser due to the broken guard and faulty interlock, exposing persons to risk of entanglement with the danger area. The company had no safe operating procedures in relation to the tenderisers, and did not have a lock-out tag-out system for defective plant. The company pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $30,000 plus costs of $3,386.
Poor trench work leads to $18k fine
On 7 January 2015, three employees of Integra Civil Pty Ltd, a property development company, were working in a trench without a trench shield. The section of trench being dug intersected with a large sewer pit and several smaller sewer pipes that crossed through the trench. One of the workers explained that when they found a cross over pipe they would continue to use the shield to lay sewer pipes. However, when the trench shield did not fit because of the cross-over pipes they would simply lift the shield over the existing piping, which meant that people in the trench were not working within the trench shield. This created a risk of serious injury to or death. Integra pleaded guilty to breaching the OHS Act, and was without conviction fined $18,000 plus $3,000 costs.
Employer fined for failing to notify WorkSafe and preserve incident site
On 29 November 2014 Active Event Entertainment Pty Ltd, an event management business, was operating an obstacle event known as 'The Stampede'. During the event, a participant was seriously injured on the 'Slip and Slide' obstacle. The person was taken to hospital and required immediate treatment as an inpatient. The company failed to notify WorkSafe of the incident immediately or in writing within 48 hours and failed to preserve the incident site. Active Event Entertainment was found guilty of three charges and was, without conviction, sentenced to pay a total fine of $2,500 plus costs of $3,336.
Panel repair company fined for failing to comply with notice
On 25 August 2014, Inspectors issued two improvement notices under the Dangerous Goods Act to Melbourne Accident Repair Centre Pty Ltd, a car panel repair company. The contraventions were: (a) an ignition source was located less than 2 metres from the paint mixing and decanting areas at the rear of the spray booth; and (b) failure to maintain an oxy/acetylene set, with perished hose and with no flashback arrestor on the hose. The company failed to comply with the notices by the compliance date of 9 October 2014, pleaded guilty and was without conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $2,000 plus costs of $577.50.
Source: WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings page.
Northern Territory: Company fined $160k over death of three non-employees
Government-owned Airservices Australia was last week fined $160,000 over the deaths of three architects, who were killed when an Airservices firetruck struck their vehicle. Darwin Federal Court Justice Richard White found the company had breached the now-repealed Commonwealth OHS Act 1991 in failing to take all reasonably practical steps to protect the health and safety of its workers and members of the public.
On 7 August 2011, a 30-tonne Airservices firetruck went through a Darwin red light and hit a Mitsubishi Triton, killing the driver of the Mitsubishi, and two passengers – all award-winning Australian architects.
The three firefighters in the truck weren't injured.The crew, driving with its emergency lights and sirens on, had been responding to a NT Fire and Rescue Service request for help with a large fire at a cold storage facility. In the 2013 coronial inquest, Coroner Greg Cavanagh found the firetruck was going too fast through the intersection, and the firetruck's crew wasn't adequately trained on how to "proceed in emergency conditions" or given speed-limit guidelines. Justice White agreed, and found Airservices failed to train its staff appropriately in driving under emergency conditions on a public road, and failed to conduct an appropriate risk assessment for such a scenario.
SA: Engineer charged over amusement ride fatality
SafeWork SA is prosecuting an engineer who inspected and verified the safety of an amusement ride involved in the death of an eight-year-old girl at the Royal Adelaide Show in September 2014.
Safe is Safe Pty Ltd and Hamish Munro have both been charged with a Category 1 offence under the State's WHS Act by SafeWork, which alleges the offence involved an element of reckless conduct without reasonable excuse. The maximum penalty faced by Munro is $300,000 or five years jail or both.
The Crown Solicitor's office is assessing the evidence with a view to potentially prosecuting other parties associated with the Airmaxx 360 amusement ride.
U.S.A: Massachusetts firefighters want fire retardants banned
Amid growing concern that flame retardants are responsible for elevated cancer rates in firefighters, Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing legislation that would go further than any other US state's in banning the use of chemicals meant to slow the spread of fires.
Fire officials and environmental advocates, who have joined forces to support the restrictions, contend that at least 10 chemicals used in flame retardants endanger firefighters, while doing little to stop fires. They support two bills that would prohibit manufacturers and retailers from using the chemicals in children's products and upholstered furniture and authorize state environmental officials to ban other retardants they designate as health risks.
"This is a vital public safety matter that we should be addressing," said state Senator Cynthia Creem, a Newton Democrat who sponsored one of the bills. "As the industry has become aware of the risks, we need to do more to protect our families and firefighters." But chemical industry officials say that evidence linking the chemicals to cancer remains uncertain, and that the retardants play an important role in public safety.
Read more: Mass. firefighters seek ban on flame retardants The Boston Globe