SafetyNet 379, September 14, 2016
Victorian HSRs: an URGENT request for you to complete the online consultation survey asap. Also, last chance to register for the Injured Worker and OHS forum on September 10 (see more information on both items, below)
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.
Victorian Ombudsman and VTHC critical of Workers' Comp system
An Ombudsman report released this week has found Victoria's workplace compensation scheme is failing some of those it is supposed to be helping. Ombudsman Deborah Glass has found that financial incentives mean some WorkCover insurance agents unreasonably delay or deny claims. She describes the extra burden on injured workers as 'immense'. The investigation was sparked by 500 complaints to the Ombudsman about WorkSafe and its agents in 2014–2015. In an interview on the ABC's PM program, she said insurers are 'working the system' to deny injured workers what they are entitled to.
The potential consequences are horrific. The Age reports on one such case: the medical entitlements of a mother-of-two, unable to work due to a stress disorder arising from workplace sexual assault and harassment, were unexpectedly cancelled by insurer CGU. The company also denied a request to cover medical expenses for the mental health care she required, despite overwhelming medical evidence.The woman took her own life. Four days later, her family was notified that the medical panel had found in her favour and CGU would be reinstating her entitlements.
Victorian Trades Hall Secretary Luke Hilakari said, "Dealing with WorkCover and battling insurance companies can be an isolating, frustrating experience that pushes many to the brink" and said the Ombudsman's report had revealed a 'massive scandal'. He said the report offered a chilling insight into the issues plaguing our workers' compensation system.
Key recommendations from the investigation call for a review of dispute resolution processes within the system and improvements in oversight of complex claims by WorkSafe. Both the regulator and the State government have promised improvements. WorkSafe's Chief Executive, Claire Amies, said in a statement "WorkSafe will do everything it can to improve the service provided to injured workers so that, whenever possible, they can recover and return to work as soon as it is safe to do so."
Read more: Ombudsman Media Release and Report: Investigation into the management of complex workers compensation claims and WorkSafe oversight [pdf]; ABC online; ABC's PM story with interviews; The Age. WorkSafe's Response to the Report
VTHC forum a success: Network launched
Given the release of the Ombudsman's report (see above), the timing of the VTHC's OHS and Return to Work Forum held on Saturday September 10 was very appropriate. The Injured workers and OHS Forum hosted by the VTHC OHS Network Volunteers was a great success, with 79 people attending. Of these, 49 signed up for further involvement, including 25 who signed up to attend facilitator training.The Injured Workers Support Network was launched at the Forum. The launch and forum follows on from health & safety representatives' submissions to the Independent Review of WorkSafe's Enforcement and Compliance Activities. Several submissions came from people who had suffered injuries in the workplace and spoke about the lack of support making them want to commit suicide.
In launching the Network, Victorian Trades Hall Secretary Luke Hilakari said, "Nobody deserves to be sick or injured simply because they got up that day and went to work. We know that injured workers want to have a collective voice and speak out for safety. We know they want to support each other through difficulty. That's what this support network will allow them to do."
The audience heard form two injured workers Jamie Scicluna a young dad forced to live in his car with his infant child because of the WorkCover system and Annie Rutter President of the Injured Nurses Group who was exposed to Glutaraldehyde in her time as a nurse which has left her unable to work. Also Slater & Gordon Lawyers, Union Assist Conciliation Advisors and Rowan Kernebone from the Injured Workers Support Network NSW.
More information will be available on our sites soon, including the presentations made on the day, upcoming activities and how to join the Network.
Consultation Research Project - Victorian HSRs we need your input!
Have you completed the consultation survey? If you have: thank you very much. Your input is appreciated - if you can, spread the word. If you have not completed the survey: do it NOW! This research is being done by HSR and OHS Network member Vasalia as part of her Masters in OHS at La Trobe University, and will feature in this year's HSR Conference.
Participation in this study is voluntary and anonymous. The online questionnaire should only take 20 minutes to complete. The consultation survey is on our website - please complete it now, and also share with other HSRs in your workplace.
Hi Renata. We have just purchased a new three step, step ladder for use at our preschool. It measures 78cm from the top step to the floor. does this height require a "working at height risk assessment ?"
While the Prevention of Falls regulations in Victoria must be implemented for work being done at above 2 metres, the employer still has a general duty of care to ensure that safe systems of work are in place at all times. Even though the top of the stepladder is well under 1 metre, there is still a risk of injury. People have been injured in such cases. So, the answer is that there does need to be something done – an assessment of when the stepladder is used and how, and providing training for staff on use, checking its condition, checking it is stable, and so on.
Take a look at this page on stepladders which has information on care and use.
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.
CFMEU: Crisis escalating as 15th Black Lung case missed
The CFMEU has said there are now 15 miners officially confirmed with Black Lung disease - the latest having originally being cleared on two separate occasions by nominated medical assessors and radiologists.
The miner has worked in underground longwall mines for 36 years - most recently in the Carborough Downs mine in Central Queensland, where four other cases of Black Lung disease have been identified. Despite being given a clear bill of health by medical professionals following an x-ray in May 2015, the disease was picked up months later when the mine commenced a full review of all existing medical records with internationally recognised Black Lung disease expert Dr Bob Cohen, from the US.
CFMEU Mining and Energy Division Queensland District President, Stephen Smyth said that the system is still in crisis and failing to identify Black Lung disease despite a supposed focus on the illness. "It is unbelievable that this disease was missed twice by Australian health professionals in less than a year," Mr Smyth said.
Read more: CFMEU Media Release
Tertiary Education Union: academics doing 26 million hours unpaid overtime
In today's The Australian, Jeannie Rea, president of the National Tertiary Education Union debunks some myths:
"With half of the teaching in universities being done by academics employed by the hour, four out of five research-only staff members on fixed-term contracts and one in two staff members precariously employed, it is hard to accept the headline 'Thriving unis could absorb some cuts'. This contentious assessment was made in the LH Martin Institute's paper Financial Health of Australian Universities last week. Authors Ian Marshman and Frank Larkins argue that most universities may be able to manage the government's proposed 20 per cent cut in funding per government-supported student.
An NTEU survey with 7000 respondents found that much of this increase in labour productivity is not a result of clever strategy or managerial capability, as suggested by Marshman and Larkins. It's largely because of 26 million hours of uncompensated work undertaken by university staff. This unpaid work represents a donation of about 16,000 full-time jobs or about $1.7 billion in unpaid labour. Coincidently, $1.7bn is equivalent to the operating surplus generated by universities in 2014."
Read more: Surpluses no pointer to health of universities.The Australian
Tas: Asbestos fears close hotel development site in Hobart's Macquarie Street
A hotel construction site in central Hobart has been temporarily shut down after a suspicions of asbestos in concrete building material. About 80 construction workers on the site were told to stop work when sampling from the material, known as infill, was tested for the potentially deadly fibre.
Richie Hassett from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) was called to the site and said he was concerned about the finding. "Management contacted me with some issues about asbestos on site, the site's been shut down at the moment and there's some remedial works being done as we speak," said Mr Hassett. The union said the sub-contractor that supplied the infill obtained it from a nearby demolition site that was contaminated with asbestos.
Read more: ABC News online
ASEA: International Asbestos Awareness and Management Conference
ASEA has announced that the major partner CBUS will be once again sponsoring the conference this year. CBUS is the national industry super fund for more than 732,000 members and over 108,000 employers in the Australian building, construction and allied industries. With strong commitment to members' long term physical and mental health, CBUS manages over $34 billion in members' funds, making it one of the largest industry funds in Australia
As announced, the program for the 3rd International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management, 13 - 15 November at the Adelaide Convention Centre (ACC) has been released. View the full program 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.
UK: Delayed retirement leads to rising ill-health job loss
In research which should be of interest to Australian workers, the UK's peak union council, the TUC has found that about one in eight (12 per cent) workers is forced to stop working before state pension age due to ill-health or disability. Postponing the pension: are we all working longer? finds that almost half a million (436,000) workers who are within five years of state pension age have had to leave the workplace for medical reasons. The analysis also reveals a stark North-South divide, with ill-health retirements much less frequent in the relatively affluent south. Further, the report reveals that those who have worked in the lowest paid jobs – including cleaners, carers, those working in the leisure industry and those doing heavy manual jobs – are twice as likely to stop working before retirement age due to sickness and disability than managers or professionals. Workers aged over 50 now make up one in three (30 per cent) of the workforce – up from fewer than one in four (24 per cent) in 2000. The report finds that nearly half (49 per cent) of 60- to 64-year-olds stopped working before their official retirement age. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Raising the state pension age is an easy target for chancellors of the exchequer wanting to make stealth cuts. But these figures show that we must hold off on any further rises in the pension age until we have worked out how to support the 1-in-8 workers who are too ill to work before they even get to state pension age." She added: "People should be able to retire in dignity with a decent pension when the time is right. Older workers have a crucial role to play in the labour market but we can't expect the sick to wait longer to get a pension when they may need financial support more than ever."
Read more:TUC news release and report, Postponing the pension: are we all working longer? [pdf] TUC Touchstone blog Morning Star. Source: Risks 767
Few workplaces address signs of domestic violence
A Canadian study has found that more than one in three workers believe they have colleagues who are victims of domestic violence, but few have seen evidence of employers taking steps to help victims or mitigate associated problems, like poor performance.
The Western University, Ontario, study on the impacts of domestic violence (DV) in the workplace found that 40 per cent of the 8429 participants believed they had recognized a DV victim and/or perpetrator in the workplace. DV victims were significantly more likely to report recognizing victims and perpetrators in the workplace, and recognized more DV warning signs. Among participants who believed they knew a coworker who had experienced DV, 49.5 per cent thought the DV had affected their coworker's ability to work. For those who knew a coworker perpetrating DV, 37.9 per cent thought their coworker's ability to work was affected by the abusive behavior.
The researchers concluded that their findings had implications for a coordinated workplace response to DV. Further research is urgently needed to examine how best to address DV in the workplace and improve outcomes for victims, perpetrators, and their coworkers.
Read more: Jennifer MacGregor, et al: Domestic Violence in the Canadian Workplace: Are Co-workers Aware? Safety and Health at Work, Volume 7, Issue 3, September 2016.
WorkSafe Victoria News
October is WorkSafe Month
WorkSafe Victoria has now made the entire month of October WorkSafe Health and Safety Month. WorkSafe says it is the 24th year such an event has been run. The state-wide program kicks-off on Tuesday 4 October and concludes 27 October 2016 with events as far and wide as Mildura, Shepparton, Bendigo, Echuca, Swan Hill, Melbourne, Suburban Melbourne and Geelong (and more). The regulator says the purpose of the diverse calendar of events is to raise awareness of WorkSafe and the role it plays in the community to deliver excellent workplace safety and return to work outcomes.
Read more and check out the events.
More inspectors out in Victorian workplaces
Seventeen recruits have completed an intensive training course and graduated as Occupational Health and Safety and Return to Work inspectors. The new inspectors - 10 men and seven women - have backgrounds across health care, construction, manufacturing, transport, agriculture and chemical engineering.
Three Return to Work inspectors will be based in Melbourne while 14 OHS Inspectors will move into roles across Melbourne, Geelong and the Latrobe Valley.
WorkSafe inspectors make more 40,000 visits to Victorian workplaces each year. Inspectors provide practical guidance on hazard identification and risk control, promote consultation between employers and workers on health and safety matters and assist businesses in complying with Victoria's health and safety laws.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
NSW: Safety Alerts
SafeWork NSW has issued two safety alerts in the past week:
- Skid steer loaders which highlights the importance of providing and maintaining safety systems to prevent foreseeable hazardous operations involving skid steer loaders
- Heavy vehicles or trailers hitting or crushing workers which highlights the risks of workers being hit or crushed when working on heavy vehicles and trailers.
Safe Work Australia news
Report on the Agricultural Industry
Safe Work Australia has released a new publication, Work Health and Safety in the Agricultural Industry. The report identifies key risks faced by workers in the agricultural industry and provides statistics on injuries, fatalities and workers' compensation, including how the agricultural industry compares with other industries.
Key findings include:
- The fatality rate in the agricultural industry is significantly higher than the all industry average, but in line with the overall downward trend, it has fallen by 24 per cent since 2003.
- About three quarters of fatalities involved vehicles and approximately a third of fatally injured workers were aged 65 and over.
- The rate of serious workers' compensation claims fell by 14 per cent between 2000-01 and 2012-13.
- Over half of serious workers' compensation claims resulted from body stressing injuries or being hit by moving objects.
Two reports on work-related injuries
Two further reports of interest:
- Statistics on Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders
This report provides statistics on workers' compensation claims that involved musculoskeletal disorders.
- A Comparison of Work-Related Injuries Among Shiftworkers and Non-Shiftworkers
Research has shown that the injury rate for shiftworkers is higher than the injury rate for non-shiftworkers. The aim of this report is to determine whether the elevated risk of shiftwork affects all groups of shiftworkers or only particular groups of shiftworkers. This is achieved by analysing statistics from a nationally representative survey that was undertaken in 2013–14.
The report also analyses the characteristics and outcomes of work-related injuries to determine whether there are significant differences between shiftworkers and non-shiftworkers.
Review of the model Work Health and Safety Regulations for diving work
Safe Work Australia is seeking feedback on how the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations for diving work could be improved. Workers and businesses involved with diving work, regulators, work health and safety professionals and other interested stakeholders should comment on three options put forward in the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement on review of the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations for Diving Work. The options were developed these options after consulting with the diving industry, training organisations, work health and safety regulators, unions and industry representatives about their experience with the current regulations. Comment is due by September 30.
Read more and access the documents on the Safe Work Australia website.
As at September 6, there had been 117 fatalities reported to Safe Work Australia - this is three more notifications since the last update (two of these were in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries). The fatalities this year:
- 34 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 34 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 17 in Construction;
- 6 each in Arts & recreation services, and in Electricity, gas, water & waste services;
- 4 in Mining;
- 3 in 'other services';
- 2 each in Accommodation & Food services; Health care & social assistance; Retail trade; Information media & telecommunications;professional, scientific & technical services; and
- 1 each in Public administration & safety; Administrative & support services; and Wholesale Trade.
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 March 2016, during which there were 18 work-related notifiable fatalities. To download the report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Worker's hand entrapped: Envelope manufacturer convicted and fined
Vermont envelope manufacturer Agman Nominees Proprietary Limited, has been prosecuted over an incident on 4 June 2015, when an employee operating an envelope making machine was injured. The man was attempting to clear an envelope stuck in the delivery section - he had stopped the envelopes going in while the machine was still running. He opened the guard to the delivery section to remove the stuck envelope and the plant did not stop, as it should have. The worker's fourth and fifth finger on his right hand were caught in the cylinder of the machine. Agman Nominees pleaded guilty to breaching the OHS Act by failing to ensure that the maintenance of the interlock switch of the guard on the plant was capable of stopping the rotating rollers before an operators hand could reach into the machine. The company was convicted and fined $20,000 plus costs of $3,386 in the Ringwood Magistrates Court.
Worker's arm trapped: Recycling company fined without conviction
Shred-X Pty Ltd, a paper and other waste product recycling company has been fined $20,000 without conviction over an incident on 25 March 2015, in which an employee was injured working on the paper sorting line (a conveyor belt). This conveyor and an adjacent conveyor both had slide guards at the point where the roller and conveyor met, which prevented access to the nip point created by this meeting. The guarding did not prevent access to the danger point of the plant at the receiving end, creating a risk of serious injury to employees if the slide guard was removed. On the day of the incident, a piece of paper became stuck in the nip point of the adjacent conveyor belt. The worker left her work station and went to remove it, sliding the guard off and reaching into the nip-point to do so. When she put her hand inside the guarded area the glove she was wearing became entangled in the conveyor and pulled her arm into the nip point. She sustained injuries to her arm. The company pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $20,000.00 plus $3,386 costs in the Sunshine Magistrates Court.
It is interesting that although the two cases above were very similar, and resulted in the same level of fine, one employer was convicted, while the other was not. The two cases were heard in two different courts, by two different magistrates.
To check for updates, go to the Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Energy company fined $300,000 for fatality
Essential Energy has been convicted and fined $300,000 following the death of an electrical worker at Bulahdelah, NSW in September 2013. The 47 year old man was fatally electrocuted when an electrical conductor he was holding became reenergised as it came into contact with, or in proximity to, energised overhead conductors while it was being lowered to the ground.
SafeWork NSW's investigation revealed that although Essential Energy knew of the risk of keeping the top conductors energised while workers removed the bottom conductors, it chose to keep them energised for "service delivery" reasons. Essential Energy was charged with breaching the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW), for failing to comply with its duty under section 19(1) to ensure the health and safety of workers.
Executive Director of SafeWork NSW, Peter Dunphy said the incident could have been easily prevented. "While Essential Energy has statutory obligations regarding service delivery and customer service considerations, the restringing, re-tensioning or removal of conductors should have been prohibited where conductors were strung continuously above, below or adjacent to other energised high voltage conductors." he said. "Every worker should return home to their family at the end of the working day and this outcome demonstrates that businesses must make the safety and wellbeing of workers their number one priority." Read more: SafeWork NSW Media Release
Sole trader fined $160,000 for tractor death
A sole-trader PCBU has been convicted and fined $160,000 (from a maximum $300,000) after a casual employee died when the tractor he was operating rolled off a worksite slope, over a retaining wall and onto the street. The worker was found unconscious next to the tractor and died at the scene from his injuries.
Gregory Paul Dunn, trading as That's Slashing and Tipper Hire, pleaded guilty to breaching the State WHS Act for failing to ensure fixtures, fitting and plant were without risk to the health and safety of a worker.
The NSW District Court heard the tractor was fitted with a roll-over protective structure (ROPS) that prevented injury in a similar rollover incident several months before the fatality. At the time of the death, the ROPS was folded down and partly corroded, indicating it had not been used for some time, and the tractor's seat belt buckle had been removed. Dunn told SafeWork that this was the first time he let the worker operate the tractor unsupervised, and he had told him to leave the ROPS up unless he needed to drive under anything low, the Court heard. He did not, however, provide the worker with the tractor's manual, and removed the seat belt buckle a week before the incident because it wasn't functioning properly.
"The objective seriousness of the offence and the need for general deterrence warrant the imposition of a substantial fine," said District Court Judge Andrew Scotting in imposing a fine of $160,000, after a 20 per cent reduction for Dunn's guilty plea.
Source: OHS Alert
EU: Resources on workplace harassment and violence
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) says that s**ual harassment and violence in the workplace often lead to very serious consequences for the victims. The organisation has produced two infographics which show key data on these issues, explaining the concepts and highlighting the need to take these issues very seriously.
More: Take a look and spread the information. Healthy Workplaces Campaign on stress and psychosocial risks.
UK: Company director jailed after worker's death
A company director in the UK has been jailed for 12 months following the death of one of his workers. Paul Williamson, who was 51, died on 29 January 2014 when a remote controlled Mobile Elevated Working Platform (MEWP) he was loading on to a truck fell from the ramps and crushed him. Manchester Crown Court heard he had not been adequately trained on the use of the ramps, the lorry or the MEWP. There was no risk assessment in place and no safe system of work had been created for the equipment, which had only been in operation for eight days. The gradient of the ramps was above the manufacturer's specification and they were not secured to the lorry. The MEWP, a Spider 1800, toppled and crushed the father-of-three. Thorn Warehousing Ltd company director Kenneth Thelwall was charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act, sentenced to 12 months in prison and ordered to pay costs of £4,000 (AD$7000). He was also disqualified from being a company director for seven years. The firm was charged with a criminal safety offence and fined £166,000 (AD292,840) and ordered to pay £10,400 (AD$18,346) costs. The company is currently in administration. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Helen Jones said: "Kenneth Thelwall failed in his duty as a director to protect his workers. He was involved in the day-to-day running of Thorn Warehousing Ltd and should have ensured the company provided Paul Williamson with the right equipment and training to carry out his job. Had he done so Mr Williamson would still be alive today." She added: "This case should act as a stark warning to all company directors of their personal responsibility to protect their workers' health and safety and the tragic consequences when they fail."
Read more: HSE news release. Source: Risks 767
US: Protecting workers from lead exposure
Lead poisoning returned to the the US national consciousness this year through the tragic events in Flint, Michigan, where the town's drinking water was badly contaminated. Drinking water is only one of many exposure routes. Due to outdated federal workplace safety standards, acute and chronic occupational lead exposure is occurring too often and can harm workers and their children, who may be exposed prenatally or through lead dust carried into the home. Environmental Health News reporters write of the need to protect workers and their families by updating federal workplace lead standards based on the latest scientific research.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates workplace lead exposure at the national level through two standards, the general industry standard and the construction industry standard. They write that both of these standards are severely outdated, based on information available in the 1970s instead of the latest scientific and medical evidence.
Commentary: Lead exposure beyond Flint - protecting our nation's workers Environmental Health News