SafetyNet 380, September 21, 2016
We regret to inform our subscribers that there has been another workplace fatality in Victoria: the 23rd this year.
Victorian HSRs: Registration to attend the 2016 VTHC HSR Conference (details below) is now open. Register now!
Remember: 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.
Fatality: Otway Ranges Shire
It with great sadness that we report that a 58 year old Otway Shire worker died in hospital last week after suffering critical head injuries at the shire's Elliminyt depot on the morning of September 6. According to reports in the Geelong Advertiser, Mr Owen James was loading the back of a truck when he was struck by a front end loader. Mr James' son said his father spent eight days in a coma before his life support was switched off last Wednesday. This fatality, which is the 23rd this year, has not yet been reported by WorkSafe. Source: The Geelong Advertiser
VTHC HSR Conference registrations open
The event you've all been waiting for will take place on Tuesday October 25. The conference is once again being held at the Melbourne Convention Centre. The VTHC has applied for, and is awaiting confirmation of, s69 approval, which means that as long as HSRs give their employers at least 14 days' notice, the employer must allow them to attend on paid leave - that is, must ensure that they are paid for the day.
Deputy HSRs are also welcome, however there is no obligation for the employer to provide the paid leave - though many do. For more information, go to this page. And remember, you can register NOW through the VTHC - the process is very easy and straightforward. Once you have registered, you will receive a confirmation email, as well as a copy of the approval when this is provided by WorkSafe.
Consultation Research Project - Victorian HSRs have your say!
Be part of a bona fide research project on consultation. This is one of the most common gripes HSRs have: their employer does not consult. So.. have you completed the consultation survey? If you haven't, then please do so 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. The project has had ethics approval, and participation 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.
VTHC Injured Workers Support Network first win
In last week's SafetyNet subscribers read about the scathing Ombudsman's report on Victoria's workers' compensation insurers. On Thursday, a group of the newly formed VTHC Injured Workers Support Network demonstrated in front of the offices of Allianz. As well as being a part of the demonstration, Gerald Wilkie, who lost his arm in a horrific workplace incident, launched a petition on Megaphone.
As a direct result, Allianz agreed to meet this Monday with a delegation from Trades Hall, including Gerald. The results were almost instant: in a letter to VTHC Secretary Luke Hilakari received yesterday, the company states: "First and foremost, Allianz apologises for the use of language in a few internal referred to in the Ombudsman's report that recognised staff for the termination of claims." Secondly, Allianz has now approved the surgery Gerald had been waiting months for - and could not understand why there was a delay.
There is still much more to do - Allianz was just one of the insurance companies named in the report. But this has shown that action can lead to results, and this has been an important victory for the fledgling Injured Workers Support Network. If you are interested in joining the Network, email Sam Hatfield.
I work in a hospital where cleaners working in an underground car park are not allowed to wear hi visibility vest over their uniforms because it covers their uniforms. They have been told they cannot wear it for the purpose and temporary time of cleaning in a car park. The cleaners have asked before and have been shut down by their boss who in turn reports to the OHS manager. I am trying to find out where the cleaners stand and if there are laws protecting them whether they are part-time, casual or full time worker. I don't think it matters right?
Under the OHS Act (and all the similar WHS/OHS Acts around the country), the employer or 'person conducting a business or undertaking' has a duty to ALL employees/workers, irrespective of their employment status. The duty is to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health (so far as is reasonably practicable) - and this includes safe systems of work as well as identifying risks and then taking action to eliminate/minimise them.
So…if there are risks to do with cars and poor lighting in the carpark, then the employer/PCBU (and this could be either the cleaning company or the company which runs runs the carpark) MUST take actions to eliminate or minimise the risks to those workers undertaking cleaning duties. The actions should include both ensuring adequate lighting in the carpark and also providing/ensuring the workers have high vis clothing as well as probably also providing information supervision and training.
Take a look at this page on duties of employers.
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.
Brimbank Victoria: asbestos removal from Brimbank Park overdue
Fed up Brimbank residents have called on the state government to rid Brimbank Park of asbestos. They are blaming red tape for inaction to remove the asbestos, eight months after it was discovered at the park's western entrance. Greens Western Metropolitan MP Colleen Hartland raised the issue in State Parliament last Wednesday, asking Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D'Ambrosio when remediation might occur. "While we support Parks Victoria consulting with the Indigenous community, it's ridiculous that eight months down the track we haven't seen any action," Ms Hartland said.
Between three and five hectares of land between Green Gully Road and Kulin Wetlands has been fenced off since February after scattered fragments were identified as "lower risk" broken asbestos cement sheeting. The asbestos was discovered in December last year on both sides of the Taylors Creek access trail.
Read more: Asbestos removal in Brimbank Park overdue, says environmental group, Green MPs Star Weekly
Asbestos in more home renovations: DIYers are less likely to know dangers
New research undertaken by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has found that an increasing number of DIY home renovators do not feel they are informed enough about asbestos, despite the number of home renovations requiring asbestos removal rising in the last two years. Almost a quarter of all home renovations in the last two years required asbestos removal, yet half of home renovators did not obtain an asbestos assessment from a qualified professional. 74 per cent of DIYers did some home renovations themselves, even where they also used professional tradespeople.
Read more: Asbestos present in more home renovations, but DIYers are less likely to know about the dangers – new study. ASEA Media Release
WA: Yuanda to blame for asbestos in Perth hospital
A two-month investigation by Western Australia's Building Commission has found that Chinese building products giant Yuanda was to blame for deadly asbestos in roofing panels at the $1.2 billion Perth Children's Hospital. The interim report released last week concluded that the principal contractor on the project, John Holland, was not responsible for the presence of asbestos, though it was found to be deficient in controlling dust exposure. Building Commissioner Peter Gow blamed flaws in Yuanda's procurement processes in China, where asbestos is not illegal. Yuanda has been at the centre of controversy since the discovery in July that it supplied asbestos-laced products to Perth Children's Hospital and the 1 William Street tower in Brisbane. The company is also being investigated by the Australian Border Force.
The CFMEU, which raised the alarm after workers were showered in dust, said the report failed to address why John Holland had not halted work on the hospital project when it was discovered days earlier that Yuanda's products in Brisbane were contaminated with asbestos. Source: The Australian
WA: Asbestos left in schools
WA's Labour education spokesperson, Sue Ellery, is asking the state's education authorities to explain why asbestos was left in ten WA schools for up to a year after it was found. Asbestos is still present at four of those schools. Inspections carried out by the WA Education Department in 2015 identified the asbestos-containing material with risk rankings of one and two, which under the department's own Asbestos Management Plan anything ranked as one or two should be removed or action taken "to negate any potential health risk." Read more: Perth Now
Serafina - her story
ADFA (Asbestos Diseases Foundation Australia) has produced a new video of Serafina, a brave Australian who has been living with mesothelioma for 9 years, telling her story and warning home renovators to seek professional help in assessing and removing asbestos. Watch the video on Facebook
ASEA: International Asbestos Awareness and Management Conference
The program for the 3rd International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management, 13 - 15 November at the Adelaide Convention Centre (ACC) has been released - and more information on speakers and sessions is now available. 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.
World Trade Centre: 15 years on threat of mesothelioma lingers
Last week on September 11, the US commemorated the many lives lost when the World Trade Centre Towers were brought down. But 15 years later, there are still a plethora of effects that are being felt and will continue to be felt for many years, one in particular is asbestos. During the massive clean-up of the 9/11 rubble, the toxic cloud created by the collapse of the twin towers contained more than 400 tons of asbestos. The exposure to asbestos has led to several severe health issues including the aggressive cancer mesothelioma. While many health officials are awaiting official numbers of asbestos-related cases the World Trade Center Health Program has seen more than 5,000 people for 9/11 related cancer issues. These numbers alone are increasingly alarming; however, it is predicted that the number will only increase due to the long latency period of 20-50 years after exposure before mesothelioma is evident.
Read more: 15 Years Later And The Threat Of Mesothelioma Still Lingers Around WTC Workers The Huffington Post
Hospital find sparks calls for asbestos ban
Calls for a Pacific-wide ban on asbestos-containing products have been made following a fire at a hospital in Gizo, capital of the the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. The premises had been remediated by the Pacific Community's environmental programme (SPREP) prior to the July fire. Unfortunately, tests undertaken by local inspectors after the conflagration established that the debris was contaminated with asbestos. The topic of a Pacific-wide ban on the import of asbestos products will be raised at a SPREP meeting in Niue, an island country in the South Pacific Ocean, later this month.
Read more: Solomon's hospital fire sparks call for Pacific-wide ban on asbestos
UK: Firefighters' guide to occupational cancer prevention
The UK firefighters' union FBU says occupational cancer is a 'serious threat' for firefighters. In response, the union has produced an initial guidance document which highlights the basic principles to follow to prevent unnecessary contamination with smoke, fumes, chemicals and other hazardous substances before, during and after incidents. The union says FBU officials will be asked to raise these issues with management and at health and safety committee meetings. It adds that some fire and rescue authorities have already taken steps to address the problem, but says 'our aim is that it will soon be on the agenda in every brigade.' The union says its publication, which includes a 10-point action plan, is only initial advice. "The FBU is looking at medium and longer term options," it notes. "As a member you can start to make a difference today by adopting the principles suggested in this document."
Read more: FBU publication notice and initial guidance, Contaminants – protection against cancer. Source: Risks 768
Bangladesh: Government and brands share factory deaths blame
The deaths of at least 31 workers in a 10 September fire at the Tampoco Foil factory in Bangladesh shows the 'callous disregard' of the Bangladesh government for workers' safety, the global union confederation ITUC has charged. It added that also to blame for the tragedy was the failure of multinational companies doing business with the factory to take responsibility for the lives of workers in their supply chains. The workers died when a boiler exploded in the factory building, an old structure to which extra floors had been added, spreading fire and eventually causing the building to collapse. The cramped building, full of flammable materials, was entirely unsuitable for a factory, and according to information received by the ITUC, had only one working exit. Factory owner Syed Mokbul Hussain, a former member of parliament, is being sued by the parents of one of the deceased, for culpable homicide. Major multinational companies, including British American Tobacco, Mondelez and Nestlé have been publicly named as using the factory in their supply chains. Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: "These global brands all claim to have strict supplier standards to protect workers from just this kind of tragedy. When companies make bogus claims to regulators and shareholders there are real sanctions, but when it comes to protecting workers' lives there are no legal consequences." She added: "There is no substitute for the rule of law; however, even the most basic right for workers to form unions to protect their rights and safety is routinely suppressed by the Bangladesh government. Yet again, the need for legal accountability and compliance across global supply chains is evident and we call on governments, starting with the G20, to make this a reality as a matter of urgency."
Read more: ITUC news release. IndustriALL news release. Source: Risks 768
Female health professionals' higher risk of suicide
New research conducted by the University of Melbourne and Deakin University has found that female health professionals are at twice the risk of suicide than women in other professions. The combination of occupational stress, home life pressures, and ready access to prescription drugs proved a "toxic cocktail" of risk factors for female doctors, according to the study.
The study found medical professionals are exposed to higher rates of stress than other professions, due to long working hours, work-family conflicts, and fears of making mistakes. These stresses are associated with the development of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, often worsened by exposure to trauma through contact with patients and their families. In addition however, female health professionals also experience "gender role stress", such as pressures to undertake childcare and household roles.
While the rate of suicide among male medical professionals was similar to men in other professions, the study found male nurses and midwives suffered a disproportionately high rate of suicide.
The authors concluded: "An understanding of the specific stressors and risk factors experienced by women in these professions may shed additional light on targeted prevention strategies. Attention should also be given to the high rate of suicide among men, including those employed in health care. Strategies targeted at health professionals should also pay heed to the higher rate of suicide among professionals with access to prescription medicines."
Source: Female health professionals at a greater risk of suicide, report finds The Age.
Read more: Allison J Milner, Humaira Maheen, Marie M Bismark and Matthew J Spittal. Suicide by health professionals: a retrospective mortality study in Australia, 2001–2012 (Open Access); Med J Aust 2016; 205 (6): 260-265. doi: 10.5694/mja15.01044
Bullying leads to increased incoherence in workers
European researchers have warned that being bullied at work reduces workers' sense of coherence and makes them more neurotic. Using survey data from almost 5000 Danish workers, collected in three waves over four years, the researchers from Sweden and Denmark found that those who transitioned from not being bullied to being bullied at work frequently experienced a decrease in their sense of coherence that reflects how a person perceives the day-to-day world. Being frequently bullied can lead to increased nervousness and emotional instability or increased self-doubts regarding the ability to handle life situations. They also found that a shift from 'bullied' to 'non-bullied' led to decreased neuroticism, and increased extraversion and sense of coherence.
Read more: Roger Persson, et al: Relationship Between Changes in Workplace Bullying Status and the Reporting of Personality Characteristics. [abstract] Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 58, Issue 9, September 2016. Source: OHS Alert
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.
WorkSafe's latest Safety Soapbox was sent out September 16. In this edition's editorial, Dermot Moody, Manager of WorkSafe's Construction Program, talks about the need for electricians to take precautions to prevent electric shocks. On 31 August this year, an electrician died on a domestic extension project in Camberwell. The death was the second for 2016 involving an electrician and follows the death of an electrician while repairing lights at a shop in January. WorkSafe provides basic advice on electricians doing electrical installation work on construction sites.
The edition also has a number of news items from around the state and Australia. Attached to it is the list of notifiable incidents from 29 August - 8 September 2016 during which there were 50 Reported Incidents including: 18 lacerations, 15 near misses, 5 fractures, two fatalities, one amputation, one electric shock and 8 'unknown'. The two fatalities were the electrocution death in August, and the death of a worker after suffering chest pains onsite. The 'near misses', included the wall of a garage collapsing; a collision between a crane counter weight with an 80 tonne mobile crane boom, and more. Read more: September 16 Safety Soapbox
WA: Safety Alert on chlorine gas
WorkSafe WA has issued a safety alert: Worker exposed to chlorine gas at aquatic centre following an incident where a person was exposed in a workplace incident. The worker attempted to refill an unlabelled 100-litre chemical storage and dosing drum in a plant room at the facility. The storage and dosing drum had sodium hypochlorite solution which was used to dose liquid chlorine into two smaller pools at the facility. The worker incorrectly added sulfuric acid to the drum, causing the two chemicals to react and generate chlorine gas. The worker immediately left the plant room and was spared from significant injuries.
Safe Work Australia news
National Safe Work Month
In 2016 Safe Work Australia will be supporting National Safe Work Month by developing resources for businesses, a resource kit, hosting the workplace participation reward program and sharing stories and statistics about work health and safety. To find out more - how to get involved, to download the resource kit and more, visit the National Safe Work website.
Safe Work will also be running its Virtual Health and Safety Seminar series in October, and invite anyone who is interested to subscribe. Read more.
Scientific evaluation of workplace exposure standards
Safe Work Australia has announced it will evaluate the workplace exposure standards for more than 600 chemicals to ensure worker health and safety in Australia is comparable with latest evidence and international best practice. Exposure standards are specified in the model Work Health and Safety Regulations as mandatory legal limits to assist in protecting the health of workers and minimise exposure to airborne contaminants in the workplace.
This is welcome news as it has been some years since a systematic review was done - potentially putting many thousands of workers at risk.
The evaluation follows a public consultation process held by Safe Work Australia late last year, examining the role and use of exposure standards and how they could be effectively reviewed and maintained. This process noted that many of Australia's workplace exposure standards are out of date and there was support for mandating a smaller number of exposure standards on the basis of risk. In addition, many submissions suggested the need to streamline the list of exposure standards and to update the standards to reflect current knowledge of health effects. Public consultation sessions will also be held and members of the public are invited to subscribe to the 'Chemical exposure standards' mailing list on the Safe Work Australia website.Fatality statistics
There has not been an update since September 6, at which time there had been 117 fatalities reported to Safe Work Australia. 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).
Safe Work has now released the monthly fatality report for April 2016, during which there were 18 work-related notifiable fatalities - the same number as in March. All were male: 14 were workers and four were bystanders. Of these fatalities, two workers and two bystanders died as a result of an incident on a public road, and two workers and one bystander died as a result of an air incident.
Of the 18 fatalities, three fatalities each involved a vehicle accident - public road crash, vehicle accident - air crash and being hit by moving object other than a vehicle. Two fatalities each resulted from a fall from a height and vehicle accident - other. Seven fatalities occurred in Transport, postal & warehousing workplaces; six in Construction workplaces; and two in Agriculture, forestry & fishing workplaces. Arts & recreation services; Health care & social assistance; and Electricity, gas, water & waste services workplaces had one fatality each. To download the report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
New SWA publications
There have been no updates to the Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage since the last edition of SafetyNet.
UK: Refinery giant fined £400,000 after serious injury
Valero Energy UK Limited has been fined £400,000 (AD$688,620) following a serious injury at its Pembroke Refinery. The access tower walkway that provided gangway access to a stationary oil tanker on 5 March 2012 had dropped 3.5 metres, causing operator David Thomas to be trapped by a slack wire rope. The 55-year-old was left dangling over the side of the walkway but used his experience as a rock climber to grab a cross beam to take the weight from his legs. He was rescued by his fellow workers and was later flown to hospital where he spent 17 days. He suffered fractures and lacerations to both legs and a dislocated knee, requiring a knee replacement. The prosecution said the poor design of the access walkway had caused the incident. He said a maintenance firm employed by Valero had reported various issues and had warned of "a potentially fatal accident waiting to happen." An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found multiple failings leading up to the incident. Among the list of criminal shortcomings, the company had failed to carry out adequate investigations into previous related incidents in September 2011, February 2011 and August 2010. Valero Energy UK Limited - previously known as Chevron - pleaded guilty to a single criminal safety charge at an earlier hearing. The Judge said while the equipment had significant design problems, Valero had failed to act after a series of incidents, adding the "strident" warning from the maintenance firm had proved to be true. Read more: HSE news release Source: Risks 768
NZ: Hamilton City Council sentenced after zookeeper killed by tiger
In what seems a shockingly low penalty, New Zealand's Hamilton City Council has been ordered to pay reparations of $5,180 to each of zookeeper Samantha Kudeweh's two children. Ms Kudeweh was killed by a tiger while working at Hamilton Zoo last year.
The Council was also ordered to pay fines of $38,250 after pleading guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure Ms Kudeweh's safety. The Council pleaded guilty on June 9 2016 and was sentenced last week at the Hamilton District Court.
A WorkSafe investigation into Ms Kudeweh's death on September 20 2015 revealed that Hamilton City Council, as the owner and operator of Hamilton Zoo, failed to take a number of practicable steps to ensure the safety of Ms Kudeweh. This included a lack of mechanical and safety features to prevent two gates between the cat chute and the main enclosure being open at the same time, not having a two keeper system in place, or warning signs to indicate that a tiger had not been secured.
Source: WorkSafe NZ news release.
USA: Industries queue up to defend their toxins
A new US chemical safety law has triggered an immediate response from chemical producers – a rush to make sure their favourites are the back of the queue for official scrutiny. The Frank R Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st Century, passed into law in June this year, gave the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority needed to evaluate and regulate the tens of thousands of commercial chemicals it oversees in the US. The new law was hailed as a more transparent 'new risk-based safety standard', replacing the Toxic Substances Control Act's (TSCA) cost-benefit analysis that required EPA to include commercial considerations when deciding on chemical restrictions. "But many industry group comments suggest we've not heard the last of the old argument," writes chemical safety journalist Elizabeth Grossman. She says on the 'keep off' list are top causes of occupational cancer, including asbestos, benzidine dyes and vinyl chloride monomer. While industry groups are actively defending the toxic substances they produce or use, other stakeholders are calling on EPA to make these high risk substances a priority. Senator Barbara Boxer, the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee's ranking Democrat, has written to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy asking that asbestos be among the first 10 chemicals the Lautenberg Act considers. "The EPA's proposed choices are due by mid-December," writes Grossman. "They will reveal whether the Lautenberg Act will move to restrict hazardous chemicals of great concern to workers and work sites."
Senator Barbara Boxer's news release. The Pump Handle blog. US EPA webpage.