SafetyNet 361, May 4
We welcome our subscribers to the latest SafetyNet Journal - a short edition due to a very very busy week.
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April 28: International Workers Memorial Day
As you will all be aware, last week we commemorated International Workers' Memorial Day. The event at the Trades Hall was both sombre and inspiring. 25 sets of boots/shoes were put out as the date, age and circumstances of each fatality was read out. The large crowd also heard from Ron - a bricklayer living with asbestosis - who said he was sick of attending his mates' funerals. If you haven't yet signed Ron's petition to Peter Dutton asking that asbestos imports cease, then do so now.
On that day we remembered the dead and promised to fight for the living. The time has come for meaningful penalties for companies whose workers die due to lax safety. Sign the ETU petition to make industrial manslaughter a crime across Australia.
Go to the We Are Union OHS Matters Facebook page for photos and video of the event at Trades Hall.
Our employer supplies and launders our uniforms and safety boots, which are stored at the workplace. We wear our own clothes/footwear to and from work. On a recent rainy day, an employee wearing thongs slipped over on her way out. The company has now imposed a policy that no thongs can be worn to and from work. Can they tell us what we can or can't wear to work? Also the area where she slipped has been of high concern for a number of months since the walkway was repainted with yellow strips which are high gloss finish with no grit in the paint.
While your employer can't tell workers what they can and can't wear in their own time, it's generally accepted they have the right to have rules regarding inappropriate/unsafe footwear (and even clothing) while on the work site as long as it is reasonable and not discriminatory. This would be particularly the case if, as in the example you've given me, the footwear may have contributed to the worker slipping.
HOWEVER – you also say that the area where the worker slipped has been of high concern for a number of months since they repainted the walkway; making it very slippery. So, while the thongs may have been a contributing factor, there were also other factors - within the control of the employer to do something about.
Under Section 21 the OHS Act, the employer has a duty to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health… and in addition, under section 26 of the Act, the 'person' (company/whatever) who manages and controls workplaces, also has a duty to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health." (see Duties of Others)
Consequently, your employer must now address the issue of the slippery walkway, in consultation with affected workers, and the HSRs. Do you have an elected health and safety rep? if so, then get the rep to formally raise this issue – if it's been months, and the issue has been raised, then it's probably time for a PIN to be issued. (see this page on Resolution of issues). If you don't have an HSR, then contact your union for assistance in electing someone.
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.
Long time union OHS Officer recognised
At the VTHC Labour Day dinner last Friday night, the dedication of one of our most experienced and knowledgeable Union OHS Officers was recognised: Ms Gwynnyth Evans, OHS and WorkCover Officer with the AMIEU (Australian Meat Industry Employees' Union) received the VTHC Meritorious Services Award. Gwynnyth has worked with health and safety reps, members and all workers seeking to maintain and improve the health and safety at workplaces, and achieve justice for those injured on the job. She has also worked tirelessly to improve the working conditions of workers overseas. Congratulations, Gwynnyth, the recognition is well-deserved!
Government restores ASEA funding
The efforts of the union/asbestos diseases support groups delegation to Canberra recently (as reported in SafetyNet 360) clearly paid off, with the Turnbull Government addressing the funding issue in last night's budget.
The Government has effectively restored the unspent money, plus a small amount - in other words, ASEA will now have $3.4m over the next two years to complete the rollout of the National Strategic Plan and some of those innovative pilot programs which they had commenced.
The VTHC notes that it was Michaelia Cash and the Liberal Government that held back ASEA's funding. Only the tireless dedication of the union movement allied with the asbestos diseases support groups won back ASEA's funding. We especially acknowledge the efforts of the cross-bench senators who lobbied to make this happen.
Mayor fined for illegally dumping asbestos
Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie's family business has been fined $15,000 as part of an ongoing investigation of alleged unlawful waste dumping at Macka's Sand and Soil at Salt Ash. The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) issued the $15,000 fine and an official caution this week to Grafil Pty Ltd, which trades as Macka's Sand and Soil, for land pollution and breaching a clean up notice.
Almost 360 tonnes of building and demolition waste, including asbestos, was found on the Salt Ash site on October 30 during an EPA inspection
Read more: The Newcastle Herald
Asbestos-free South Asia: If not now, then when
A press release issued by groups campaigning to end the use of asbestos in Asia details discussions which took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 23, 2016. The Strategy Meeting on Asbestos 2016 was hosted by the following groups: Bangladesh Ban Asbestos Network (B-BAN), Asian Ban Asbestos Network (A-BAN) and the Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC). The purpose of the gathering was to "have focused discussions on building strategies nationally with the sub-region and work on coordinated activities in South Asia." B-BAN's Repon Chowdhury called on the government to ban asbestos straightaway and develop a national roadmap to confront the country's asbestos legacy.
Read full article [pdf] Source: IBAS
Black Lung inquiry - interim report released
The Federal inquiry into the re-emergence of work disease black lung, called partly as a result of a CFMEU mining campaign, has said company doctors and safety inspectors must be trained to avoid regulatory capture*, after finding regulator and industry failures exposed workers to the fatal illness.
In an interim report – Black Lung: "It has buggered my life" – the Senate Select Committee on Health said the evidence "reveals a litany of regulator failure and regulatory capture*, industry indifference and incompetence, inconsistent risk mitigation and patchy and sometimes compromised health monitoring throughout Australia."
"The sum of all these failing parts has left Australian coal workers vulnerable to [black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis – CWP] and therefore vulnerable to early death," it says."Failure to address these failures will inevitably lead to more cases of CWP in this country."
*regulatory capture - when a person involved in administering a regulatory regime "develops a relationship with the regulated entity or industry and represents their interests in advance of the interests of the regulator".
Read more: CFMEU Make Black Lung History campaign
Interested in a job at Trades Hall?
The VTHC is seeking to employ a part-time (0.6) Women's Rights and Safety Online/Comms Organiser. The position is based at Trades Hall in Carlton, Victoria. The person will work as part of the We Are Union Women Team. The role of We Are Union Women is to educate and organise women workers about rights and safety at work and to create activism for social change to advance working women's rights. Applications close May 16. Find out more: Ethical Jobs
International Union News
Europe: anger over inaction on nano
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) says the decision by the European Commission to set up an EU Observatory for nanomaterials, instead of a Register, fails to protect workers from health risks and does not contribute in any way to the traceability of nanomaterials, and the transparency and accountability of industry. "Workers have a right to know what they are handling and being exposed to," said Esther Lynch, ETUC confederal secretary. "That way trade unions can assess risk, support the work of health and safety representatives, and demand the necessary health safeguards. That is what a Registry would enable and an Observatory cannot."
ETUC says instead of requiring companies to register annually their use of nanomaterials, an Observatory would simply collect information which may or may not be useful. Unions, non-government groups and the European Parliament were all in favour of a register, with only the industry lobby opposed. The European Commission followed the industry line. ETUC's Esther Lynch said: "I regret that the European Commission has ignored an opportunity to support risk and safety assessment of nanomaterials despite a clear and widespread wish that it should do so. The ETUC will not give up hope and will continue to push the Commission to move in a more helpful direction." She added: "It would also be easier for industry if there was one European register rather than several different national ones which is currently the case."
Australia, calls for a nanomaterial register and better regulation on
nanomaterials from unions and community groups have also been
Read more: ETUC news release. Information on Nanotechnology. Source: RIsks 748
UK: Union warning on conditions on Shell oil platforms
Offshore workers employed by a contractor on Shell's North Sea platforms are demanding the withdrawal of proposals to cut their terms and conditions. UK union Unite will meet with the Wood Group's management to press home offshore workers' opposition to further cuts. The union is concerned that continuing reductions in the workforce could make it impossible to maintain the 'rigorous' health and safety standards required offshore.
Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: "Unite has long warned that the oil and gas industry is cutting too fast and too far. Lives and safety are being put at risk and workers have had enough." He added: "Employers must not respond to the current downturn in this industry's fortunes by putting people in a position of risk. Workers are feeling increasingly frustrated that their concerns are going unheard. I repeat our call for all involved in this vital industry to be brought together in an oil and gas summit so that safety standards are not the casualty of this downturn and that the potential for catastrophe is averted." He said the union would be consulting with its membership regarding possible official industrial action. Unite Scotland says it has been calling on the industry to redouble its efforts to tackle its safety challenges by properly engaging with workers and their trade unions, "particularly in light of the recent issues with Health and Safety Executive cuts, offshore helicopter transport safety and an ageing offshore infrastructure." The union says around 50 per cent of fixed platforms on the UK continental shelf have exceeded their 25-year life span.
Read more: Unite news release. Socialist Worker. Source: Risks 748
Asia: Justice call three years after factory collapse
On 24 April, workers in Bangladesh and Pakistan remembered the dead and demanded improved factory safety, and punishment to those responsible for a garment factory tragedy in Bangladesh three years ago. More than 1,100 workers were killed and over 2,500 were injured in the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Dhaka on 24 April 2013. Affiliates of the global union federation IndustriALL formed a human chain and organised a press conference in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka to mark the anniversary. In Pakistan, IndustriALL affiliate the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) organised a rally and press conference at the Karachi press club to extend solidarity and demand justice for the victims of both Rana Plaza and the fire at Ali Enterprises in Pakistan, which killed 254 workers on 11 September 2012.
IndustriALL policy director Jenny Holdcroft said: "We must never allow
what happened at Rana Plaza to be forgotten… Most garment workers still
do not have the protection of a union and it is our responsibility to
organise them." In response to "persistent and growing violations" by
the Bangladesh government of its responsibility to respect workers'
rights, global union federation ITUC has lodged a Freedom of Association
complaint at the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The case will
be heard by the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association.
Read more: IndustriALL news release. ITUC news release. Source: Risks 748
Blood disorder cluster expanding to Samsung suppliers
April 22 marked the 200th day of the SHARPS (Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry) sit-in amid new evidence that Samsung's occupational disease cluster appears to be plaguing much of its supply chain. SHARPS is made up of independent labor unions (KCTU), human right groups, occupational safety and health groups, progressive political parties, and workers' organizations against Samsung.
An employee of Samsung Electronics' chemicals supplier has sought for workers compensation after being diagnosed with leukemia - another sign that Samsung's cosmetic efforts to improve workers safety, and attempts to deny rightful compensation to victims of its blood-disorder cluster, are backfiring as safety negligence has plagued its supply chain.
On April 28, the
31-year-old male filed for worker compensation, claiming that he has
developed acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2016 as a result of long
working hours and exposure to hazardous chemicals while working at a
Samsung supplier. Between 2012 and 2015, the worker mixed chemicals
unknown to him to make cleaners and moisture-proof insulators at a
supplier for Samsung's organic light-emitting diode operations in China.
When he worked, chemicals splattered onto his bare skin and eyes. He
often inhaled chemical fumes. Chemical stains on his work suits were
strong. Over the two years of employment, he was not given even a
single safety training session or an explanation of the chemicals he was
told to mix.
Read more: Stop Samsung
Another study links night shifts with heart disease
A new study has shown that people who work at least three nights per month are more likely to develop heart problems over the next 24 years than co-workers who stick to daytime shifts.
The study, conducted by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, analysed data from over 189,000 women working as nurses in the US.
It found that the risk of coronary heart disease was 12 per cent higher in nurses who worked night shifts for less than five years, 19 per cent higher in those who worked night shifts for five to nine years, and 27 per cent higher (!!) in nurses who worked nights for at least 10 years.
Read more: Céline Vetter, et al, Association Between Rotating Night Shift Work and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Women [full article] JAMA. 2016;315(16):1726-1734. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.4454. and
5 Ways Working Night Shifts May Affect Your Health, The Huffington Post; Read more on Shift work
OHS Regulator News
Charges laid over Wodonga fatality
Bradken, a global manufacturer and supplier of cast and fabricated products, was last week charged with breaching the OHS Act by WorkSafe following the death of a Wodonga employee nearly two years ago.
The worker was killed on July 22, 2014, at the Osburn Street foundry. The 42-year-old had been using a skid steer when he was engulfed in flames after a 276 kilogram metal casting fell and crushed him. He died at the scene despite the efforts of emergency services to save him.
Bradken Resources Pty Ltd has been charged by WorkSafe Victoria with failing to provide and maintain safe plant. A filing hearing has been listed for the Wodonga Magistrates' Court on May 16. The Border Mail reported that the incident had been the first Wodonga workplace death since 2006.
Increase in OHS maximum fines get bipartisan support
Victoria's Opposition has declared its support for the Bill that more than doubles the State's maximum OHS fine, making it higher than the maximum penalty in the harmonised jurisdictions.
Shadow Finance Minister David Morris has said that while such a significant increase "would normally raise a red flag", it appeared the current maximum penalty for breaching s32 of the OHS Act (recklessly endangering people at workplaces) did not reflect "the seriousness of the offence as the Parliament had conceived it". He said, "You need to make sure that the penalty reflects the severity of the breach of the Act."
The State Labor Government introduced the Treasury and Finance Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 to increase the maximum penalty for a body corporate from 9000 penalty units (currently $1,365,030) to 20,000 units ($3,033,400), making it higher than the maximum fine of $3 million for the equivalent breach of the model WHS Act.
In his second reading of the Bill in March, Finance Minister Robin Scott said it was anomalous that the maximum fine for breaching s32 was the same as breaching s21 (General duty of care), when the offence of reckless endangerment required a "far greater degree of culpability than an offence under s21".
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.
WA: Government will provide body worn cameras to police to reduce assaults
The Western Australia State Government is trialing the provision of body-worn video cameras to police officers in a bid to reduce assaults on police officers and increase early guilty pleas. The trial will be implemented in the Perth metropolitan area and Bunbury.
"Our police officers do an exceptional and challenging job and we will be examining if the body worn video contributes to early guilty pleas and helps to reduce assaults on officers. We will also look at whether the cameras reduce complaints against police," Deputy Premier and Police Minister Liza Harvey said.
Minister comments on quad bike death
The tragic death of an 18-year-old man in a quad bike incident in March in southern Queensland highlights the need to improve quad bike safety, according to Queensland's Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace.
Ms Grace said the fatality reinforced the importance of the State Government's Statewide Plan for Improving Quad Bike Safety, released the week before the incident. "Over the last five years in Queensland there have been round 1500 quad bike-related hospitalisations," she said. "Quad bikes have played a role in the deaths of 69 people in Queensland in the last fifteen years and that's clearly way too many."
Source: Minister's Media Release
Warning on Zika virus
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland is urging employers to conduct weekly workplace checks to identify and eliminate mosquito breeding sites, in light of recent cases of Zika virus reported in the State.
While all of these cases were contracted from overseas Zika-affected areas (like French Polynesia and Brazil), the disease is usually spread by aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are endemic in north Queensland and also found in central and south-western parts of the State, the regulator says.
Source: eSAFE newsletter.
SA: Labour Hire company fined $240k after migrant worker injured
Labour-hire company Big Mars Pty Ltd has been fined $240,000, with the SA Industrial Court stressing that under the State's WHS Act, such companies cannot delegate their safety duties to host employers.
In November 2013, a Big Mars employee (a 21-year-old temporary migrant worker from Taiwan) was cleaning meat hooks in a floor-level bath of caustic soda at the Thomas Foods International Murray Bridge Pty Ltd abattoir when he slipped into the bath. He suffered burns to all skin below the waist, and full-thickness burns to 32 per cent of his body. Big Mars admitted it did not have WHS policies regarding risk management and that it left safety considerations to Thomas Foods. It pleaded guilty to breaching the Act. Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke found it "failed miserably to carry out any of its fundamental safety responsibilities".
He found: Big Mars' onsite supervisor had no assigned safety responsibilities and had never been in the hook-cleaning room; the injured worker was not told the bath contained dangerous substances or what to do if he came into contact with caustic soda. Also, although he had asked his Mandarin-speaking supervisor to interpret his written work instructions for him, he was told to translate them himself in his own time using an online translation dictionary. Further, the English instructions were insufficient anyway!
In fining Big Mars $240,000 from a maximum $1.5 million (after a 20% discount for its guilty plea), the Industrial Magistrate noted that none of its officers attended the sentencing hearing, it made no statement of regret or contrition, it made no reparations to the worker for his uncompensated losses, and he had "little confidence" that it would comply with its WHS obligations in future.
Thomas Foods International Murray Bridge was also charged over
the incident and will appear in court in June.
Read more: Full Transcript Boland v Big Mars Pty Ltd  SAIRC 11(27 April 2016)