SafetyNet 374, August 10, 2016
Welcome to our latest edition: news on the review, controversy over asbestos imports, research and much more.
Victorian subscribers: If you under 30 or have DWG members/friends/family who are, then complete/ask them to complete the VTHC's 'snapshot' survey before August 21.
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We have an ongoing issue in my workplace with a leaking roof. With the recent heavy rains, the roof has been leaking - and continues to do so even when it's not raining! The 'leak', at times a continual flow of water, leaves a pool of water on the floor, where there is lots of forklift movement. It is also leaking over the top of the conveyor belt. I have raised this issue with management, who has informed the maintenance department. This is where the issue comes to a stop and nothing else has been done. I've been considering what steps I should take next, as I believe it is a breach of Section 21 of the Act. Any advice?
You are right.. A leaking roof is a hazard and creates a number of potential risks:
- Plant/machine safety
- Electrical risks
- Slippery/wet floors – for both forklifts and people
- Unpleasant work environment – potentially unhealthy as well (mould, damp, etc)
By not addressing and dealing with the issue, the employer is in breach of S21(1) and 21(2)(b) and (c) - see this page on the site.
So.. there's no doubt that the employer must get onto the problem and fix it asap. This may mean taking some immediate short term actions to control the risk to workers, (eg shutting down the machines the water is dripping on; closing off the area to forklifts or whatever) until such time as it's more permanently fixed. It's not satisfactory to send the problem off to maintenance and just wait while nothing happens. Specialist plumbers who do roof work will quite probably need to be brought in.
What you can and should do is to formally let the management know (in writing) that you've raised it before, giving dates if you can; that it hasn't been fixed; and that you're concerned about the ongoing risks. Then put some 'asks' and a date you want some action by. Don't give them heaps of time, but ask that they get back to you by say, the end of the day, with what action they are planning to take. Alert them that as the HSR you have some options which you may need to follow if the matter is not addressed:
- While there may not be an immediate risk now, if there were to be heavy rain, this might eventuate, and if so, you will consider ordering a Ceasework, under s74
- If it's not an immediate risk, but you are not satisfied that action is being taken in a timely manner, you could issue a PIN.
(read more here on how to resolve issues)
- Call your union for assistance
- Call an inspector (under s75)
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.
Independent OHS Review: where it's at
Submissions to the Independent Review into Victoria's Occupational Health and Safety Compliance and Enforcement are now being loaded onto the Review's website. As of this afternoon, several submissions from unions (the CFMEU, the ANMF, the AMIEU - meatworkers, and the SDA), employer groups (the MBA, VECCI, ACCI, HIA, the AiGroup) and individual submissions, including several submitted through the VTHC Portal, were available to read. To check out the VTHC's final submission - which has the responses from the submissions to our portal attached - click here to download the PDF document. It should also appear on the Review website shortly. Check out the other submissions on this page of the review website.
Reminder: VTHC Young Workers snapshot survey
If you haven't completed the Young Workers Centre survey for young Victorian workers under the age of thirty to create a snapshot of life at work, please do so now. And tell everyone you know to go to the survey and fill it out now. Closing date: Sunday 21st August.
Victoria's Draft Asbestos Regulations puzzling
In light of the many recent reports of building materials containing asbestos being discovered on construction sites around the country, one of the more puzzling, and extremely worrying, proposals in the draft regulations out for public comment (see below), is one regarding buildings constructed after 2003. As explained in the supporting documentation:
"The duty to identify asbestos and prepare an asbestos register applies to all workplaces in Victoria regardless of the age of the building. Legislative prohibitions on the mining, manufacture, import and use of asbestos have progressively been introduced by States and Territories since the late 1980s, concluding with a national prohibition on the use of all asbestos since 31 December 2003.
It is proposed to allow a person to assume asbestos is not present if the building, structure, ship or plant was built or made on or after 31 December 2003 and no asbestos has been identified and asbestos is not likely to be present."
This has serious implications regarding the duties of a person who manages and controls a workplace, and someone demolishing or refurbishing a workplace: the 'assumption' means that the requirements under Divisions 5 and 6 do not apply... that is, to identify asbestos, keep a register and so on. The VTHC, and no doubt many affiliates, will be opposing this proposed change.
Asbestos Importation Report released - finally
The Asbestos Importation Review Report [pdf] was finally released last week. A potted history: following multiple representations by the ACTU, Minister Eric Abetz initiated a review into asbestos importation, prior to losing the Employment Portfolio. Following her appointment as Employment Minister, Senator Cash lost control of the review to Peter Dutton, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. The report, which was undertaken with no public consultation, was handed to Minister Dutton 5 months ago, but only released last week.
According to the ACTU "the report shows the Federal Government is dangerously negligent when it comes to controlling asbestos importation in Australia." The report, done by Swedish firm KGH Border Services, highlights problems not only with staff resourcing in the Australian Border Force, but a general belief within that organisation that even if they catch importers, they are unlikely to be prosecuted. The report makes several recommendations to improve the existing management process in asbestos importation. In a media release, Senator Nick Xenophon was highly critical of Border Force not allocating the resources and effort needed to tackle the issue - and said he would be introducing legislation to require mandatory testing of all products that may contain asbestos from countries that have failed to have appropriate regulatory and certification measures in place.
In comments which have been universally condemned, Dutton tried to pass the buck: first he blamed Labor's $700m cuts to customs for failed asbestos checks. Then he tried blaming the union, and the cost of commercial construction in Australia. "You look at buildings, hospitals, roads, where you've got heavy CFMEU involvement – they talk about a 40% additional cost in building a block of units because of CFMEU involvement – and obviously that has some behaviours, including driving builders to use this product which is completely unacceptable," he said in an interview on 2GB. "There are a number of reasons that they're cutting corners – one is that they are being driven into the ground by the CFMEU and these other thugs… walking around on building sites, including bikies employed by the CFMEU."
In an interview on the ABC, Dave Noonan, National Secretary of the CFMEU said that Dutton's intervention was 'bizarre and nonsensical', and the real problem was asbestos products being brought in from China, with no process from the Border Force to properly address the risk despite being put on
notice about it years ago.
Read more: ACTU Statement; Senator Nick Xenophon Media Release; Peter Dutton denounced for suggesting import of asbestos is CFMEU's fault The Guardian
Asbestos 'far from a legacy issue'
In an oped piece in this week's Guardian, Theodora Ahilas, head of Maurice Blackburn's asbestos and dust diseases national practice, and a Principal and Director in the Sydney office, writes that the many recent discoveries of imported asbestos show " the fight to eradicate this deadly mineral is not only far from over, it cannot be limited by national boundaries, particularly when we live in a global economy." She explains that because asbestos remains an accessible and cheap building material, it is attractive to developing countries - and that India, China, Indonesia and Thailand are all importing huge amounts of asbestos. The World Health Organisation estimates 125 million people around the world are exposed to asbestos in the workplace each year - but that many millions more are exposed. Australia must not only take steps to ensure asbestos does not continue to be imported here, she says, but must also be part of a 'campaign to bring a world-wide end to the mining and the use of asbestos.'
Read more: The Guardian; Please sign Ron's petition demanding the Federal government "Stop asbestos importation NOW"
ASEA: International Asbestos Awareness and Management Conference
The international speakers for its conference 13 - 15 November at the Adelaide Convention Centre (ACC) have been announced. These include Kathleen Ruff - Founder and Head, RightOn Canada (ROCA). A long-time human rights activist and board member of the Rideau Institute. Kathleen Ruff is a former director of the Court Challenges Program and a former director of the BC Human Rights Commission.
Once again, the conference will be facilitated by Matt Peacock, senior journalist with the ABC. You can now register here and programme details will be available soon, please keep an eye on these pages and Twitter or Facebook for updates. Presentations and highlights from the 2015 ASEA Conference can be downloaded from the ASEA website.
Coalition's clamp down on right of entry laws could cost lives
Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash has confirmed the Coalition will remove unions' access to lunchrooms and place limits on visits to workplaces. She also said the Federal Government planned to allow the Fair Work Commission to clamp down on any visits that are deemed "excessive".
The announcement of these intentions, at a 'cosy' lunch with the mining sector, has alarmed the ACTU. "Despite the views of the Minister, right of entry is about ensuring workers are safe so that people don't get injured or, at worse, die. It's also about working peoples' right to join a union and discuss issues that affect them at work, whether it be pay, conditions or leave," said ACTU Secretary, Dave Oliver. "There are around 600,000 workplace injuries in Australia each year. Every day union officials are working with workplace OH&S reps to reduce this number and ensure people make it home in one piece." Read more: ACTU Media Release
International Union News
Scotland: Women's health and safety toolkit
The Scottish TUC women's committee has produced a tailored health and safety kit on working women's health and safety at work. It notes: "In workplaces where mainly or only women work, hazards are often unrecognised or under-researched. In workplaces where mainly men work, women are often expected to wear inappropriate safety clothes and differences between workplace health issues for men and women are insufficiently addressed." It adds: "Health issues that only affect women need to be central to the agenda alongside those that only affect men. Above all prevention is better than cure – we want healthy, safe workplaces and working lives for all." The new women's health and safety toolkit, which includes a series of checklists and detailed information on a wide-range of topics, was produced with the help of affiliates.
Read more: STUC Women's health and safety toolkit.
Brazil: Workers pay tribute to Rio Olympics victims
On July 28, construction workers in Brazil paid tribute to colleagues killed in the rush to complete facilities for the Olympics. The ceremony, 'Lives lost at the worksites of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro: Tribute to Workers', was organised by the global site unions' federation Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI). "Every death is a great failure and when 11 people have died you can tell something is very wrong. It is a result of bad planning, bad safety conditions and insane work pressure. No worker should have to die just because the organisers are running behind the schedule," said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the BWI. Last year BWI repeatedly raised the alarm regaring the unsafe and dangerous working conditions in the final stretch of the works for the Summer Olympics. According to safety body FUNDACENTRO there was an increase in the number of incidents as the deadline for the completion of the facilities grew closer. "There is a lack of responsibility for workers' lives. The objective of the ceremony is to push the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to commit to create tools to guarantee safer working conditions for the workers in the preparations of the Olympic Games," said Nilton Freitas, BWI's representative for Latin America and Caribbean region.
Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, released a statement on the eve of the opening ceremony, in which he says that during such an event, the rights of workers and the poor cannot be forgotten.
Read more: BWI news release. Source: Risks 762; The Olympic Games must respect workers' rights while celebrating the human spirit IndustriALL
Trichloroethylene and kidney cancer
In a study which supports the World Health Organisation's classification of trichloroethylene (TCE) as a kidney carcinogen, researchers from St Olavs University Hospital and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology identified 17 cases of kidney cancer in 997 male former train repair workshop workers - more than twice the expected (7.5) number of cases.
They found 14 had had long-term exposure to TCE, while the other three had had some occupational exposure. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified TCE as carcinogenic to humans in 2012, but in 2013 a major study found no increased risk of kidney cancer with exposure.
"In the present study of 997 train repair workshop workers with long employment and follow-up time, we were able to show an increased risk of kidney cancer of borderline statistical significance," say the researchers. "We have also shown that most workers who acquired kidney cancer had been exposed
to TCE for many years. Together with other evidence, this supports the view that TCE is a kidney carcinogen, and that an association can also be found in workers from the Nordic countries."
Source: Morten Buhagen, et al, Norway, Association Between Kidney Cancer and Occupational Exposure to Trichloroethylene [abstract] Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Online first August 2016 doi:10.1097/JOM.0000000000000838.
And more evidence that sedentary work is 'deadly'
A new study has found that desk-bound workers who do low amounts of exercise face a greatly elevated risk of an early death. A team of international experts found sitting for at least eight hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60 per cent. The study of more than one million adults published in The Lancet suggested sedentary lifestyles now pose as great a threat to public health as smoking and cause more deaths than obesity. The study recommended that workers who spend several hours each day at their desk should change their routine: a five-minute break every hour, as well as exercise at lunchtimes and evenings. An hour of brisk walking or cycling spread over a day was enough to combat the dangers of eight hours sitting in the office, the researchers said.
Lead author Professor Ulf Ekelund, from Cambridge University and the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, said: "We found that at least one hour of physical activity per day... eliminates the association between sitting time and death." Many office workers, especially commuters, would find it hard to avoid long periods of being seated but should make every effort to break up their day with short walks, the scientists said.
Unions have pointed to the need for employers to address problems caused by bad job design, long working hours and too few breaks. The UK's TUC last year published a detailed action guide for health and safety reps to help them address this issue.
Read more: Ulf Ekelund et al. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women, [Full text] The Lancet, published online 27 July, 2016. The Lancet physical activity series. The Guardian and accompanying article. Sydney Morning Herald. Source: Risks 762
WorkSafe Victoria News
Review of the OHS and EPS Regulations
Remember: The draft OHS Regulations, EPS Regulations and the Regulatory Impact Statements are now available for public comment, which closes Friday 9 September 2016. Go to the dedicated website - for the draft documents and materials which provide a clear overview of the changes proposed. For those interested, WorkSafe is holding a series of free information sessions to assist in understanding the proposed changes and the public comment submission process:
- Bendigo - 2pm, 10 August 2016
- Ballarat - 10am, 11 August 2016
- Geelong - 2pm, 16 August 2016
- Melbourne CBD - 1pm, 31 August 2016
It's easy to register for the sessions on the website.
Submissions can be made online, via email or by post. The VTHC will be developing a submission - so if you have any issues you would like to raise, please send them through to OHS Info. Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was posted August 5 – in this edition's editorial Barry Dunn, WorkSafe's Construction Program Strategy Manager writes about the Safe Worker and Traffic (SWAT) campaign, which commences on 15 August 2016. SWAT is a joint initiative by WorkSafe's Construction Program, VicRoads and industry to promote safe traffic management at construction roadside worksites. The newsletter also includes items of interest from other jurisdictions.
The list of Reported Incidents in the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries from 14 - 27 July is attached to the e-journal. There were 63 Reported Incidents, including two fatalities - one worker suffered a cardiac arrest, and another was found dead in his truck cabin. In
addition there were 19 lacerations, 16 near misses, five fractures, three electric shocks, two crushes and one amputation and puncture. The near misses included the collapse of a three metre high scaffold, a wall collapse, several occasions of plant striking gas and power lines, and more.
Access the August 5 Safety Soapbox online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Safe Work Australia news
As at August 5, (just three days since the last update reported in SafetyNet last week), 100 fatalities had been reported to SWA - three fatalities in three days. Two of these fatalities were in the Transport, postal and warehouse industries, and the third was in Construction. The fatalities this year:
- 32 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 28 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 14 in Construction;
- 5 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services;
- 5 in Arts & recreation services;
- 3 in Mining;
- 3 in 'other services';
- 2 in health care & social assistance;
- 2 in Information media & telecommunications;
- 2 in Retail trade;
- 2 in professional, scientific & technical services;
- 1 in Accommodation & Food services; and
- 1 in Public administration & safety.
The numbers and industries may vary as Safe Work receives more detailed information (to check for updates, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities page).
The latest monthly fatality report remains that for February 2016 - already reported on several times. To download the report, and to check for more recent updates, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
UK: Farm machinery biggest killer on farms
The UK's HSE has released the Fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain 2015/16 report [pdf] which showed that farm machinery continued to be one of the biggest killers on farms, accounting for more than one third of fatal injuries. The UK regulator's latest Agriculture e-bulletin focuses on using machinery safely.
Abattoir labour hire worker loses arm in unguarded machine
G & K O'Connor Pty Ltd is a company which processes meat for export. On 18 March 2015 a labour hire employee was cleaning conveyors and augers leading to a bone crusher. The drain hatch at the base of the feeder auger was not guarded, and when open, had no interlock device to cease power to the auger. The auger was required to be open during cleaning. A system of work had developed whereby the machinery would be left on during cleaning as it made it easier to clean. On that day the worker reached into the hatch with a 30cm metal pole to try to dislodge a bit of meat stuck in the bottom drain. His arm was dragged into the machine, which amputated it just below the elbow.
WorkSafe found It was reasonably practicable for the company to eliminate or reduce the risk to employees to require them to turn off all plant by the isolators during cleaning, and to install an interlock device on the drain hatch that ceased power to the feeder auger when the drain hatched was opened. The company pleaded guilty and was without conviction placed on an adjourned undertaking to make a $60,000 contribution to the Court fund and to pay costs of $1,376.
Company cops fine for unlicensed asbestos removal work
Building company Concept Dimensions Pty Ltd was sub-contracted by a homeowner in Eaglemont to demolish part of the home and do some building work. Part of the demolition the owner asked the company to do was to remove approximately 30 square metres of eaves, which then requested employees to do on 17 April 2015. The eaves were later analysed and found to contain Chrysolite asbestos. The volume of asbestos on site was greater than 10 square metres and took longer than one hour per seven day period to remove. As neither the building company nor its employees held an asbestos removal licence, this was a breach of the Asbestos regulations. The company pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $2,500 plus $3,000 costs.
To check for updates, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
SHARPS's Sit-in marks the 300th Day
August 1, 2016, marked the 300th day of a sit-in that the advocacy group SHARPS began on October 7, 2015, after Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. walked out of negotiations with them and imposed its own rules on occupational-disease victims who, often out of financial and emotional desperation, sought quick compensation from the company.
On July 28, to mark the 300th day milestone, SHARPS activists and Samsung cluster victims held a rally at Samsung D'light, the company's exhibition space, in south Seoul, where they have erected impromptu shrines for victims and been encamped for nearly a year. Seoul's humid heat wave, the hottest in two decades, could not diminish the spirits of more than 200 participants rallying with SHARPS. The rally showed SHARPS' advocacy has emerged as the source inspiration for people who have lost their next-of-kin to corporations that put profits ahead of people and a government that prioritizes corporations over people. Read more: SHARPS website