SafetyNet 363, May 18, 2016
There was another preventable fatality in Victoria this week: a Yarra Trams employee was struck and killed by a rubbish truck in Coburg on Monday morning.
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Fatality in Coburg
The week began with a tragedy: on Monday morning a tramways worker was struck and killed by a Moreland City Council garbage truck at an intersection in Coburg. The 63 year old man, a tram driver, was treated by paramedics at the scene before being rushed to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a critical condition, but died shortly after. The circumstances of the incident are being investigated, but it is thought that drivers swap shifts at the location.
Secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union's Tram & Bus Division Phil Altieri spoke with the tram workers involved. "Having spent the morning with the members of the Brunswick depot we can acknowledge that several factors were at play in this tragic accident," Mr Altieri said. "This incident is a stark reminder of the importance of workplace safety."
This fatality brings the number of workers killed at work in Victoria this year to 10 - although the official WorkSafe figure will be eight: Like the fatality in Apollo Bay recently where a worker was crushed to death by his truck, this fatality will be counted as a road death, even though both vehicles were work vehicles, being operated by workers in working time.
I would like to fold paper serviettes into a butterfly shape for a themed dinner at the club I work at, and sit them on the dinner plates for presentation. Is there any health or OHS regulation against doing so? One of the other workers swears that serviettes must go to the side of the dinner plate and not on top of it. Many thanks, much appreciated.
There is absolutely nothing in the OHS/WHS legislation that would prevent folding serviettes into butterfly shapes and placing them on top of the plates. This sort of thing isn't covered specifically in the legislation. This is because OHS/WHS legislation in Australia is what we call 'objective based' – that is, the duties on the employer (or PCBU) require that they provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This is called the 'general duty of care'. But the law is not 'prescriptive' – that is, it does not mandate HOW this should be done. (see Duties of Employers). From my point of view, the folding and placement of serviettes does not place anyone's health or safety at risk!
I can't imagine this would be an issue under health regulations either. If you want to make sure, then contact the local council which should be able to give you an answer. Ask the worker who claimed this to provide you with the law, or the evidence – I think what she's talking about is the 'standard' plate settings.
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.
James Hardie to reappear in Australian market
Over ten years ago, James Hardie pulled all of its marketing in Australia: it had moved its headquarters out of Australia, tried to weasel out of paying compensation, and was taken to court by the ACTU and the NSW government, which finally saw it setting up a trust from which to pay the victims of dust-borne diseases more than $1b.
Online blog site Mumbrella has reported that according to JH's Asia Pacific marketing director George O'Neil, a former fast moving consumer goods marketer with Unilever, 'the time is right to guide the 127-year-old company back into public consciousness'. The idea is to use social media – to 'tap into the goodwill that builders and home renovators had for its products, despite the long-term impact of the asbestos crisis.'
O'Neil is reported as saying, "Obviously it was a very emotional topic and all sympathy to everyone that is affected – it is a horrendous disease – and the business at the time decided that it would be better to go quiet." But now, "The younger people are, the less there is that stronger emotion, unless they are directly affected by it." He said people were liking Hardie products and the positive sentiments were replacing the negative sentiments that had surrounded the brand in the past. "The response from the millennials is, 'I know there was a problem, that's a really long time ago, and they don't make it any more'." The campaign is focussing on the use of social media. Many sufferers of asbestos diseases and their families will no doubt be very cynical about the move.
Read more: Why it took a decade after the asbestos scandal for James Hardie to return to marketing, Mumbrella
Tasmania: Union concerned untrained workers at risk
The Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) is concerned that TasWater workers are not being trained properly in the safe handling of asbestos. The state has more than 1,700 kilometres of asbestos water pipes: 25 per cent Tasmania's water pipe network.
Trevor Gauld from the CEPU said regional workers were not well-equipped to deal with the ageing infrastructure. "We're seeing situations where asbestos is not handled properly, it's not baggaged (sic) properly, it's not disposed of properly," said Mr Gauld. The union was also concerned that staff were in danger of mishandling the potentially deadly substance because they did not know the full layout of the network. "I'm still talking to guys in some of those remote or outlying depots where there are no comprehensive asbestos registers in their workplace. Workers have not been trained in the safe identification," Mr Gauld said.
Read more: Union concerned TasWater workers handling asbestos without proper training ABC News online
La Trobe Valley Asbestos diseases support group, ACV/GARDS has published its latest Newsletter. It's full of lots of news and information on their activities and the latest in asbestos news.
ASEA International Conference 2016
Save the date! The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency has set the date for its 3rd International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management: Sunday November 13 to Tuesday November 15. It will be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre. If last year is anything to go by, the Conference will have a really interesting range of guest speakers.
Canada: 'Moving forward' on asbestos ban
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in response to a question from a trade union leader at the building trades union policy conference in Ottawa last week, made the federal government's first commitment to move forward with a plan to ban asbestos. "We've actually made the commitment that we are moving forward on a ban … here in Canada," he said. "We know that its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide."
Canada continues to import construction products and automotive parts that contain the toxic fibre, but this country no longer exports the material. After the event, officials in the Prime Minister's Office confirmed the government is currently reviewing its strategy on asbestos, including looking at a potential ban. Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), said he hopes the government makes an official announcement about plans to implement a comprehensive ban before Parliament rises for the summer – but the CLC wants more than a comprehensive ban and a registry of federal buildings. Read more: CBC News
Sweden: Mesothelioma - Links to other Cancers
Using data from several Swedish registers, researchers studied the familial risk of mesothelioma in offspring. Based on their findings, the scientists concluded that the "Risk of mesothelioma was significantly increased when parents or siblings were diagnosed with mesothelioma… Mesothelioma was associated with kidney … and bladder cancers… in siblings." While shared genetic factors and environmental history may have contributed to familial clusterings of mesothelioma, the association with kidney and bladder cancers requires further investigation.
Read more: Ji J, Sundquist J, Sundquist K. Incidence and familial risk of pleural mesothelioma in Sweden: a national cohort study.[Abstract] Eur Respir J. 2016 May 12. Source: IBAS
France: Introduction of Stricter Asbestos Regime
Under a new French labor law which came into effect on May 12, 2016 asbestos audits must be conducted prior to the commencement of any building work to protect workers from hazardous exposures and prevent environmental contamination. The legal duty for the asbestos surveys resides with the owners of buildings or vessels, works' managers and others overseeing projects which might release or disturb asbestos.
See: Amiante: la loi travail crée une obligation de repérage avant travaux [Asbestos: new labor law creates obligation before starting work]. Source: IBAS
Melbourne widow wins compensation for principal husband's death
In media reports last week: the widow of an Eltham Primary School principal who took his own life has won a landmark payout. Also a principal, she is not interested in the money, but pursued the claim for his 'legacy' and to improve the working conditions of principals and teachers. After 18 months it was also officially confirmed that workplace stress was a factor in his death.
Dr Mark Thompson was a respected principal who took his own life in 2014 after being accused by a parent of discriminating their child. He was suffering from workplace stress, regularly working up to seven days a week.
A study co-authored by Dr Thompson before his death found that assistant principals were reluctant to take on the role of principal due to long hours, high levels of stress, burnout and abuse. Research by the Australian Catholic University found that attacks on principals were increasing, with one in three school leaders experiencing physical violence on the job.
Read more: Landmark payout for widow of Melbourne principal The Age More on Stress.
June 7: VTHC Women's Conference
On the eve of the federal election Victorian working women are coming together at the Trades Hall (Victoria St, Carlton) to decide what they want and how they are going to go about getting it. Join women from a diverse range of unions and women's community organisations at the VTHC's Victorian Working Women's Conference. The keynote speakers will be Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Ged Kearney, ACTU President.
The program will feature:
- A run down on what women want – results from the WRAW Chat process to date
- Perspectives on power pre and post the federal election
- Campaigning skills frameworks
- Interactive workshops facilitated by organisers & educators who are leading social change
All women are welcome. Contact your union to find out to register as part of your union's delegation. If you are not a member of a union you can register as a Community Activist.
Find out more here or contact one of our Women's Organisers on 96593 537
Reminder: VTHC Young Workers Centre
The Young Workers Centre at Victorian Trades Hall is a one-stop-shop for young workers who want to learn more about their rights at work or who need assistance in resolving workplace issues. The YWC can deliver training to young people in high schools, TAFEs, universities and young community groups, and provide information and advice on issues young workers face, including:
- Bullying and discrimination
- Workplace rights
- Health and safety
- Social movements and unionism
If you are a worker in Victoria, 30 years old or under, and you are having issues at work - or know of one - please contact the YWC for legal assistance on issues such as underpayments, dismissals or health and safety. To find out more, visit YWC website or call them on 1800 714 754. Follow their young worker campaigns on Facebook.
ACTU: OHS and Workers' Compensation Campaign Organiser
The ACTU is advertising for someone to fill the new role of OHS and Workers' Compensation Organiser. Working closely with Assistant SecretaryMichael Borowick, the elected officer with responsibility for OHS and workers' compensation, this role ensures that Australian Unions are positioned as a leader in delivering safe and healthy workplaces, fair and equitable compensation for injured workers and that these issues are part of the ACTU campaigning strategy. The closing date for applications for the position, which is permanent is 5pm 23 May.
Read more, including full job description and requirements: ACTU Jobs with Unions
Vic Government grants funding for historic Trades Hall
Victoria's nationally heritage listed home to the union movement, the Trades Hall in Carlton, is receiving much needed funding to go towards restoration. The iconic building, which is over 150 years old, is crumbling and needs millions of dollars if it is to be saved. The State Government last week announced that it has granted $10 million towards this cost. VTHC Secretary Luke Hilakari said the money would help meet the first stage of works needed to make the 1859 building safe, and restore the Old Council Chambers, New Council Chambers and provide disability access. The full cost of renovation will be about $28 million, with leaky pipes and cracked walls a major problem. Predictably, the Opposition has labelled the funding, which comes from a heritage fund, as an "outrageous" waste of taxpayers' money on Labor's "union mates".
The building does not just have symbolic value as the "People's Parliament" but is also a workplace for many of us, a centre for community and political activity, and more recently, the site of theatre and comedy events.
Read more, and see video of the some of the historic rooms: The Age
Union critical of fine for fatality
According to the CFMEU John Holland's $170,000 fine last week for the death of a worker in 2011 at the Brisbane Airport Link Tunnel is little more than a slap on the wrist. National construction secretary Dave Noonan said the fine was "obscene and tokenistic". The Comcare prosecution was the last one under the previous legislation which had lower maximum penalties.
The worker, a mechanical fitter, suffered serious crush injuries when a section of smoke duct formwork on which he was working collapsed on him. He died in hospital two days later. John Holland admitted it failed to provide training on risk or control measures for the work, or a safe system of work for the cutting of the formwork. "The CFMEU had been pushing the company to act on serious safety breaches throughout the life of the project and we were met with resistance," Mr Noonan said. "We called for an investigation into their suitability to hold a Comcare licence and it fell on deaf ears."
The union points out that since being granted a Comcare licence in 2007 John Holland has had six convictions recorded against them by the Federal Court and eight fatalities on Holland sites around Australia. Mr Noonan said workers' safety was not a priority for the Turnbull Government, given the funding allocated to Safework Australia in the budget. "$9.8 million goes to saving lives, while $34 million goes to the Fair Work Building Commission to prosecute workers and unions for taking action on safety," he said. Read more: Court fine over Qld death 'tokenistic' Yahoo7
Seventh miner diagnosed with black lung - union expects more
A 55-year-old man has become the seventh Queensland coal worker since May last year to be diagnosed with black lung disease. The CFMEU's Steve Smyth told the ABC it was terrible news for the man and his family. "We're starting to get to the stage now where the numbers are increasing," he said. "We've been aware for the last few weeks that there is a number of other coal mine workers who have this disease and we've been waiting on confirmation."
The union was aware of at least one if not two other cases."This is the tip of the iceberg and we believe that this is going to be, unfortunately, an ongoing process in the weeks and months to come."Mr Smyth said more than 100 X-rays and CT scans of other miners had been sent to the US for screening and diagnosis.
Read more: ABC News online
Another risk with night shifts identified
The bad news for night shift workers continues... A new US study of Baltimore police officers has found that night-time shifts can "flatten" workers' diurnal cortisol levels. This "flattening" has previously been linked to cancer, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and other disorders and is thought to reflect the "dysregulation" of the body's hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, which is activated by stressful events.
Researchers from the US Centre for Disease Control's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and other institutions, said that most people's cortisol levels increased immediately after waking, peaked 30 minutes later and decreased steadily throughout the day. They found that officers who primarily worked night shifts – starting between 8pm and 3am – had a significantly flatter diurnal cortisol slope than their day-shift co-workers.
The researchers said, "Night shift work is considered a stressor because it forces the body to be awake at an unnatural time, causing desynchronisation between the circadian day and the officer's occupational day." Shift workers like police officers were repeatedly exposed to multiple stressors – an issue that was "under-studied". "It is plausible that the constant circadian disruption caused by shift work influences cortisol production resulting in a flatter pattern over time," they said.
Read more: Charles, L, et al, Shiftwork and Diurnal Salivary Cortisol Patterns Among Police Officers. [pdf] Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Published ahead of print doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000000729, May 2016.
Workaholics have higher depression rates and lower work output
Researchers from Ireland recently surveyed 410 academics from three universities and found that 27 per cent were "workaholics", defined as having high work drive and low work enjoyment; and 23 per cent were "enthusiastic workaholics" with high work drive and high work enjoyment. The team from the National University of Ireland Galway found the workaholics had lower job satisfaction, greater work-life conflict and poorer psychological wellbeing than all other participants. The "enthusiastic workaholics" were, however, somewhat buffered from the negative consequences due to their high work enjoyment – but this could be threatened by increasing job demands and decreasing control.
The researchers said that research had shown that workaholism was linked to negative outcomes such as burnout, sleep problems, stress, anxiety and depression, ill health, job dissatisfaction and poor performance.
Read more: V Hogan, et al, A study of workaholism in Irish academics [abstract] Occupational Medicine, Advance access doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqw032, May 2016.
Pesticides linked to deadly nerve disease
New research has found that exposure to pesticides could affect the chances that a person will develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. There is no cure for this rapidly progressive motor neuron disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease - those afflicted eventually lose their strength and ability to move their arms, legs and body. As part of a larger study on environmental risk factors for ALS, University of Michigan researchers last week published their work on pesticide and other environmental exposures. Co-senior author Eva Feldman said she wanted to answer her patients' most frequent question: "why me?" The team studied 156 people with ALS and 128 people without the condition. All described their exposure to pollutants at work and at home, with a focus on occupational exposure. The researchers also measured toxic persistent environmental pollutants in blood to gain a more comprehensive assessment of environmental exposures.
They found these toxic chemicals in individuals both with and without ALS. Co-first author Stephen Goutman said, "We are likely all exposed without our own knowledge, from the air, water and our diet, as these chemicals can last decades in the environment. However, persons with ALS, overall, had higher concentrations of these chemicals, especially in regards to pesticides." There was no strong correlation between any particular occupation and likelihood of developing ALS, except for service in the armed forces, a link found in previous studies. Blood tests showed increased odds of ALS for those with exposure to several different types of chemicals, many of which are no longer widely used because of environmental concerns, such as the pesticide DDT. Some of the classes of chemicals studied, however, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, used as flame retardants, have only recently undergone scrutiny as potential health hazards. Other studies have linked ALS to work as a firefighter and to occupational exposures to lead and formaldehyde.
Read more: Feng-Chiao Su et al Association of environmental toxins with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, JAMA Neurology, published online first, 9 May 2016. Source: Risks 750
Low wages are an occupational health hazard
Low wages should be recognised as a genuine occupational health threat, US researchers have concluded. J Paul Leigh and Roberto De Vogli of the University of California Davis School of Medicine have said "Workers earning low wages may be at greater risk for disease and injury than workers earning high wages." In their editorial in the May edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine they say that low wages should be considered among the psychosocial factors - such as long work hours and high job strain - identified as occupational risks to health. They note "at least part of the correlation between wages and health can be attributed to low wages resulting in poor health or health behaviours rather than vice versa."
Low wages may also have indirect health effects, they add if, for example, workers are forced to choose between essentials such as rent or healthy food. The editorial notes that several lines of evidence, including UK studies, suggest higher wages lead to improvements in health or health behaviours. The paper concludes that the link between low wages and health has important implications for legislation and policies related to the minimum wage or living wage and unions. The researchers conclude: "There is little debate about the effects of hikes in minimum wages on the health of low-income employees." An official UK report published in September 2015 reached a similar conclusion, noting low pay is a workplace 'well-being' issue. In 2014, Hazards magazine warned that low pay is associated with high workplace risks. "Because low pay goes hand in hand with low health and safety standards, occupational injuries and diseases like diabetes and cancer frequently come with the job," it noted.
Read more: J Paul Leigh and Roberto De Vogli. Editorial: Low wages as occupational health hazards, [abstract] Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 58, issue 5, pages 444–447, May 2016. Are low wages an occupational health hazard? Science Daily; Low blow: Low paid work comes with high work risks, Hazards, October-December 2014.
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe's new Stress guide for employers
WorkSafe Victoria has issued a 33 page guide Preventing and managing work-related stress, A guidebook for employers (April 2016) which provides guidance to employers about controlling work-related stress in relation to its employees. The material includes topics on implementing work-related stress risk management process, organizational factors contributing to work-related stress, and early intervention. Workers and HSRs should find this information on what their employer should be doing on work-related stress interesting and helpful.
WorkSafe has also released new guidance for employers on how to review and revise risk control measures for manual handling. "As an employer, you must control the risk of musculoskeletal disorder associated with hazardous manual handling, so far as reasonably practicable. If the risk can't be eliminated, you must reduce the risk by implementing risk control measures following the hierarchy of control"
Manual Handling: review and revision of risk control measures
The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was posted May 12 – it features Steve Darnley from the construction team answering a common question from builders and 'subbies': "Why do I need to have power tools and portable electrical equipment inspected and tested when the site is protected by RCDs (Residual Current Devices also - sometimes called safety switches)?"
Duty holders need to inspect and test portable electrical equipment on construction sites. OHS law requires the duty holder to eliminate risks, including the risk of electric shock, so far as is reasonably practicable. If the risk or part of the risk cannot be eliminated the risks must be reduced, so far as is reasonably practicable.
The list of Reported Incidents in the construction, utility, quarrying and mining industries from 26 April – 5 May 2016 is attached to the bulletin. There were at total of 51 Reported Incidents, and include: 22 near misses, 13 lacerations, six 'unknowns', four punctures, three fractures and one each of burn, dislocation and amputation. Several of the reported incidents could have led to fatalities: the wall collapse on a demolition site in North Melbourne, gas lines being breached; a partial overturning of a 55 tonne crane, and many more. Access the May 12 Safety Soapbox edition online, including link to the list of reported incidents.
Government launches farmer electrical safety campaign
Victorian farmers are being urged not to attempt dangerous do-it-yourself electrical work as part of a new government electrical safety campaign.
Minister for Energy and Resources, Lily D'Ambrosio, launched the new 'DIY=DIE' campaign in Shepparton last week to remind farmers that doing unqualified electrical work is illegal and can result in death or serious injury. Energy Safe Victoria created the DIY=DIE campaign following the recent deaths of two Victorian farmers.
A 75-year-old man was electrocuted at Moorabool in November while attempting to repair a pump on a rural property, and a 21-year-old dairy farmer from Yarroweh died in January while attending to a pump in a drainage pit.
To ensure the safety of workers and property owners Energy Safe Victoria advises:
- Only licensed or registered tradespeople are legally permitted to do gas or electrical work
- A slight tingle or fuses blowing regularly are signs of a serious electrical problem that need to be investigated by a qualified tradesperson
- Never try fixing electrical equipment or getting around the problem by adding extra fuse wire or bypassing circuit breakers
- Water and electricity can be a fatal combination – always turn off a pump before clearing or checking a pump or float switch, entering the water or touching the equipment.
Read more: Minister's Media Release
Safe Work Australia fatality statistics
As of May 12, 2016, 50 fatalities had been reported to Safe Work Australia - this is nine more workers killed at work since the previously reported update on April 20. Of these, six were reported to be from The fatalities this year have been in the following industries:
- 13 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 17 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 6 in Construction;
- 5 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services;
- 2 in Information media & telecommunications;
- 1 in Arts & recreation services;
- 1 in Public administration & safety;
- 3 in 'other services';
- 1 in health care & social assistance; and
- 1 in professional, scientific & technical services
The latest monthly fatality report remains that for November 2105 during which there were 29 work-related notifiable fatalities - compared to 21 in October 2015. The report can be downloaded from the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
WA: cancer compensation extended to all firefighters
The WA government has introduced the Firefighters and Emergency Volunteers Legislation Amendment (Compensation) Bill 2016 to extend the its automatic cancer compensation laws to volunteer and other firefighters. Under the state's Workers' Compensation Act, a current member of a permanent fire brigade who contracts any one of 12 types of cancer is entitled to compensation without having to prove the disease arose from work. The Bill expands this "presumption to include State-employed firefighters, volunteer firefighters and former members and officers of a permanent fire brigade".
US: Farmers sue Monsanto
Three Nebraska farmers and an agronomist, all diagnosed with the cancer non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, have filed a lawsuit against chemical giant Monsanto alleging it of purposely misleading the public about the dangers of roundup, the world's most widely used herbicide
The company markets the glyphosate-containing product as being able to kill almost any weed – and yet that it is completely safe for humans
In March 2015, the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer categorised glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. On its website, Monsanto says the labelling of its herbicide as a possible human carcinogen conflicts with the consensus of regulatory bodies and science organisations such as the US EPA. It has sued California to keep the chemical off the state's list of known carcinogens
Similar lawsuits have been brought against the company by
agricultural workers in other US states, including California and Delaware.
Read more: Farmers sue Monsanto over alleged Roundup cancer link The Lincoln Journalstar