SafetyNet 375, August 17, 2016
Welcome to our latest edition!
Just a reminder that to get news between editions, please follow our We Are Union: OHS Matters Facebook page. If you're an OHS rep, and passionate about health and safety, then join the We are Union Network page, a safe place to raise and discuss issues: check it out - and ask to join.
Hi hoping you can advise me.
I am a bus driver and have been an HSR for over four years. As a driver, I work to a schedule with sign on and sign off times. I am on the road driving with no access to computer or phone, only my personal mobile. Until recently, I have been paid for my time when consulting with management outside of my designated working hours (although I didn't claim all of my time) and I use my personal phone and home computer to research and access information.
This week I claimed for time in which I carried out my role as an HSR as I always do. However, I was told that my position is voluntary and that I will only be paid for training, the monthly meeting or special projects (which have to be agreed beforehand). Can you advise if this is correct and if this is the norm for HSRs with similar occupations?
Well, your employer is right in one thing: the position of HSR is voluntary: that is, elected HSRs are not paid as HSRs and should not get paid an allowance. However – under section 69(1)(d) of the OHS Act - the employer has the legal obligation to allow an HSR "to take such time off with pay as is necessary... for exercising his or her powers... or taking part in any (approved) course of training."
WorkSafe's Employee Representation guide (which is a great resource for HSRs) makes it clear how this should work:
The guiding principle is for the HSR not to be disadvantaged in any way for taking on the role of HSR. WorkSafe's position on payment is that the HSR, when exercising their powers as an HSR or performing any of the functions the OHS Act gives them, must be paid as if at work, including shift or other allowances to which an employee is entitled. (p33)
Also, as you're a bus driver, and not in a static workplace, it's not practicable to provide you with the facilities you need on the bus. However, there should be some recognition that you should not be spending a lot of your own time doing research, meeting with your DWG and so on. Consequently there should be some discussion and agreement that you get some PAID TIME at the 'base' to access a computer and do other things. See this FAQ Facilities and Time Off for more information.
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: update
If you haven't yet checked out the VTHC'S submission to the Independent Review into Victoria's Occupational Health and Safety Compliance and Enforcement are now being loaded onto the Review's website, click here to download the PDF document. The Women's team also put in a submission which should also appear on the Review website shortly. Check out the other submissions on this page of the review website.
Remembering Tony Medina, CFMEU Organiser
Last week Dave Noonan, National Secretary of the CFMEU Construction and General, wrote an article: Thinking of my Friend Tony Medina, a Victorian CFMEU organiser who died of mesothelioma eight years ago - he was just 43. Why the article now? Dave Noonan writes: "I've been thinking of him a lot lately, because of the discovery of asbestos on two construction sites in Brisbane and Perth. The lethal product that has been proven to cause cancer was uncovered, not by Yuanda, the company that imported and supplied the product to construction sites, not by the government in which we trust to control what comes through our borders, not by the employer on whose job it was used, but by the union delegate on the job. Though 13 years have passed since the ban on use and importation of asbestos in Australia came into effect, the product is finding its way into the country and onto our workplaces, leaving workers potentially exposed to it without their knowledge."
UK: HSE responds to Yuanda concerns
Responding to concerns raised by a coalition of civil society groups disturbed about the possibility of UK imports of asbestos-containing building materials from China - following the discoveries in Australia (see SafetyNet 373 ) - the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has taken preliminary action to ascertain whether or not the products used and practises followed by Yuanda (UK) Co. Ltd. are in compliance with national legislation. Welcoming the steps taken by the HSE, which are detailed in an email dated August 11, 2016, asbestos victims, trade unionists and campaigners have reiterated the need for the regulator to act decisively to ensure that British workers and members of the public are not exposed to illegal asbestos imports. The HSE's preliminary enquiries included establishing the company's relationship with Yuanda Australia, looking at their supply chain and the specification and quality assurance and quantity of materials imported into the UK. The HSE has also sampled and analysed of selected materials from key Yuanda UK construction sites. Read more: IBAS Update
India: Minister commits to end asbestos use
In an interview with the Times of India, Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave said: "Since the use of asbestos is affecting human health, its use should gradually be minimised and eventually end. As far as I know, its use is declining. But it must end." The Minister was both right and wrong simultaneously. Yes, the use of asbestos should end but no, consumption in India is not declining. According to preliminary data for 2015, usage last year was estimated at 380,000 tonnes; asbestos exposures are routine occurrences for millions of workers in India. His remarks have led to a great deal of discussion internationally with regard to the potential impact on India's position on listing chrysotile on Annex III - substances which must have prior informed consent. To date, India has voted against this. Read more: Will look for alternatives to carcinogenic asbestos: Environment Minister. Times of India
ASEA: International Asbestos Awareness and Management Conference
Just a quick reminder of ASEA's conference 13 - 15 November at the Adelaide Convention Centre (ACC). More information here. There is a special price for community/non-profit organisations, as well as an early bird deal which closes September 30. Register here. Presentations and highlights from the 2015 ASEA Conference can be downloaded from the ASEA website.
Health union calls for more staff to deal with assaults
Workers from Victoria's Thomas Embling psychiatric hospital and their union, the Health and Community Services Union, are calling for more staff to deal with increasing assaults at the facility. They held a four-hour stop work meeting on Tuesday, with about 40 staff protesting outside the office of Mental Health Minister Martin Foley.
HACSU's secretary, Lloyd Williams, said there had been 468 violent attacks on staff between April and August of this year. "Our members out at Thomas Embling hospital are absolutely fed up with the under resourcing and understaffing at the mental health facility," Mr Williams said. Read more: ABC News online
Foreign crew left for dead off Australia's coast
Emergency supplies were rushed to 20 crew members left for dead by the foreign owners of a coal ship stranded off Queensland's coast. The International Transport Workers' Federation Australia (ITF) said 20 Chinese nationals aboard the Five Stars Fujian were left stranded off the Port of Gladstone since July 19, since the owners "vanished." The crew members told ITF inspectors they had not been paid for more than two months and basic food supplies were due to run out Monday.
ITF Australia Assistant Coordinator Matt Purcell said the conduct was shameful: "For the owners to abandon their crew, virtually leaving them for dead, is beyond shocking. Even when they were being paid, the crew was barely receiving $2 an hour, which is well below international standards." Read more: The Age; MUA Media Release
International Union News
ITUC: HesaMag on Women at Work
The European Autumn/Winter (#12) edition of HesaMag, from the European Trade Union Institute, contains a special report, Women at Work: in search of recognition, which has a number of articles on women's OHS and women in OHS. In addition, there is a round-up of news, and a disturbing article on the use of pesticides in Europe: "A daily silent Bhopal". A single, individual subscriptions (with a hard copy in the mail) is free. Multiple copies incur a cost.
Read more: HesaMag#12: Women at Work: in search of recognition; Past editions can be accessed and downloaded from the ETUI website. Information on how to subscribe
UK: Racist abuse is a trade union issue
The Trade Union Council (TUC) has called upon employers to combat the rising tide of racist abuse that has been reported since the EU referendum. According to a new TUC report, there has been a major spike in reports of racist and xenophobic incidents since the referendum: the National Police Chiefs' Council reported a 57 per cent increase in hate crime in the days following the referendum. This was on top of the Home Office observing an 18 per cent increase in hate crimes in 2014/15, and reports from charities that Islamophobic and anti-Semitic incidents had more than doubled. Often the abuse is aimed at workers with those in transport, the NHS, retail, social care and the public sector in general bearing the brunt. The TUC has published a guide to combatting racist abuse which emphasises this is very much a trade union issue and unions must ensure that employers protect and support their staff. The guide for workplace representatives gives advice on how to deal with abuse in the workplace, taking a clear risk assessment approach that seeks to ensure that unions are a major part of any response. TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said "We need to stand up for modern British and trade union values, respect for difference, dignity at work, and a deep opposition to racism and extremism. Trade unions have long been a part of the fight against racism, but we can and should do more, as should the government and employers across the UK."
Read more: TUC guide [pdf]; TUC Blog 5 ways to combat racism in the workplace; TUC action plan [pdf] Source: Risks 763
Indonesia: Union centre calls for greater enforcement following deadly fire
The Indonesian Trade Union Rights Center (TURC), an NGO supporting workers' rights, has called for greater enforcement of the law following a fire at the construction site of the 27-story Swiss-Belhotel in North Jakarta recently, in which two workers were killed and 12 injured. Surya Tjandra, the Director of the TURC said employers were clearly not complying with national laws on health and safety or protective equipment and that there was little enforcement or punishment: "The law regarding work safety should be enforced without negotiation. If there are companies that cannot provide work safety, they deserve punishment." Mr Surya also criticised the level of inspection and claimed there was far less awareness or public concern about occupational risks than in other south east Asian countries, claiming that incidents such as the recent two deaths were "treated as normal". Read more: Jakarta Post Source: Risks 763
Study reports on asthmagens in the workplace
Recent research released by Safe Work Australia shows 47% of male and 40% of female workers were exposed to one or more asthmagens in their workplace.
The Extended Australian Work Exposure Study (AWES–2) examined the types of work and workers most likely to be exposed to asthmagens (substances that cause asthma) in their workplace. Additionally, it found that workers could be exposed to more than one asthmagen depending on the types of tasks undertaken at work.
"Farmers and animal workers are most likely to be exposed to asthmagens," said Safe Work Australia Director of Research and Evaluation Dr Fleur de Crespigny. "Men in the study who worked with metal or wood and in food preparation also had a high exposure probability, while women were more likely to be exposed to asthmagens if they worked as carers, cleaners, in food preparation or as nurses." Dr de Crespigny said the the rate of new cases of occupational asthma and work-aggravated asthma could be reduced if information from the research were used to focus preventative efforts. Read more on Asthma
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:
- 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
Joint Cross Border Construction Program extended
WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWork NSW will extend the joint Cross Border Construction Program by three years,but focusing on young worker safety and involving additional agencies like NSW Fair Trading and the Victorian Building Authority. The Program began in June 2013 and saw inspectors from the two regulators visiting buildings sites to provide information and advice on obligations. From 419 site visits, inspectors issued 182 improvement notices, 15 prohibition notices and one penalty notice for safety breaches like lack of fall protection, poor electrical standards, unsafe mobile plant and poor site security, the regulators said. The next phase of the Cross Border Program will commence on Monday, 29 August, in the Mulwala/Yarrawong, Cobram/Barooga regions.
Read more: NSW Media Release
NSW: new video alert - Working with Hot Oil
Working with hot oil can cause burns as well as slips, trips and falls. SafeWork NSW has released a new video alert Working with Hot Oil which provides tips on how to avoid hot oil injuries in the workplace.
Safe Work Australia news
The SWA site has been updated and shows that there have now been 109 fatalities had been reported - this is nine more workers killed in the past week. Four of these fatalities were in the Agricultural, forestry and fishing industries, and two in Construction. The fatalities this year:
- 33 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 32 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 16 in Construction;
- 6 in Arts & recreation services;
- 5 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services;
- 3 each in Mining; and in 'other services';
- 2 each in health care & social assistance; Information media & telecommunications; Retail trade; professional, scientific & technical services; and 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).
SWA has now released the monthly fatality report for March 2016, during which there were 18 work-related notifiable fatalities: 11 male workers, two female workers, three male bystanders and two female bystanders. Of these fatalities, seven workers and three bystanders died as a result of an incident on a public road and one worker died as a result of an air incident.
Of the 18 fatalities, nine fatalities involved a vehicle accident - public road crash and two resulted from electrocution. The remaining seven fatalities were all different types of incidents.
Nine fatalities occurred in Transport, postal & warehousing workplaces and six in Agriculture, forestry & fishing workplaces. Public administration & safety, Construction and Mining workplaces had one fatality each. To download the report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
New Guide for developing mobile phone policy
The National Road Safety Partnership Program has produced a video to support a new WHS guide which encourages safer phone use while driving through responsible workplace culture. A coalition of Australian road safety authorities, research institutes, motoring clubs, peak medical bodies, insurance and telecommunications companies has released the first ever comprehensive national Mobile Phone Use in Vehicles Policy Guide (Guide) to protect workers from unsafe driving conditions.
The Guide to Developing an Effective Mobile Phone Policy can be accessed here. (You may need to register on the NRSPP website).
Building company prosecuted and fined for fall, plant and systems breaches
In February 2015 a WorkSafe Inspector attended a site where twenty residential double story town houses were in construction. The principal contractor was Langdon Building Pty. Ltd. The inspector observed a worker working on top of a trestle erected above the second storey floor - there was no fall protection at either end of the 3.2 metre scaffold. by failing to control the risk of a potentially fatal or serious fall, the company failed to provide a safe system of work. The Ballarat Magistrates court found it was reasonably practicable for the company to ensure that complete perimeter guard-railing was provided where there was a risk of a fall. Langdon Building pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $6,000 plus $16,887 costs.
Plastering company convicted and fined after worker sustains serious spinal injuries
Precision Plastering was last week convicted and fined $25,000 (plus $5000 costs) after a worker was seriously injured when he fell from an incomplete scaffold at a construction site in Ocean Grove. The company pleaded guilty in the Geelong Magistrates' Court of breaching work safety laws for failing to ensure the workplace was safe and without risks to health.
In September 2015 the worker, a subcontractor was moving plaster sheets, working on a platform made of steel scaffolding which had no protective guard rails. He fell over 2 metres and broke cervical bone seven and fractured his skull.
WorkSafe's Acting Executive Director of Health and Safety, Melinda Collinson, said Precision Plastering had failed completely in their duty of care. "There is just no excuse for an incident like this to have occurred in a workplace," Ms Collinson said. "Falls are a leading cause of serious injury and death on construction sites in Victoria and appropriate safety guarding must be installed when working from heights."
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
To check for updates, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Comcare: Cleanaway faces up to $12m in fines
Cleanaway Operations Pty Ltd, formerly Transpacific Industries Pty Ltd, and a 'self-insurer' under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission, was this week charged with eight breaches of the Commonwealth WHS Act, relating to an August, 2014 truck crash in Adelaide. Each of the charges has a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.
The fully loaded Cleanaway sewage tanker crashed with three cars at an intersection on the South Eastern Freeway, killing two motorists and seriously injuring two others, including the tanker driver. Comcare alleges Cleanaway failed to provide adequate training and supervision to the truck's inexperienced driver. This included instruction on safely negotiating the freeway's steep descent from the Adelaide Hills, using arrester beds and driving a heavy vehicle with a manual gearbox. It is also alleged Cleanaway did not maintain a safe system of work to ensure driver competency.
Read more: Comcare Media Release
The company has a poor safety record: it is expected that it will be sentenced over two other WHS breaches, which also have a maximum fine of $1.5m each, in the Adelaide Magistrates Court in early October. The charges relate to an incident in July 2013, when a fire broke out from a large distillation tank at Cleanaway's Wingfield Chemical Waste Processing Plant near Port Adelaide, and injured a worker.
In May last year, Cleanaway was fined a record $363,000 under the old Commonwealth OHS Act, after one of its trucks (which had defective brakes) caused a car crash that killed a non-employee motorist in Perth in February 2011.