SafetyNet 391, February 1, 2017
We are already into February - and this is our second edition of SafetyNet. After the bumper edition last week, this week's will be shorter.
A reminder: join the hundreds of people who follow our We Are Union: OHS Matters Facebook page. For those who are HSRs and/or passionate about health and safety, join the Network page, a safe place to raise and discuss issues: check it out and ask to join.
World Cancer Day: Join our Work-Related Cancer Webinar
Given World Cancer Day falls on a weekend this year, the VTHC OHS Unit will be running a webinar on Work-Related Cancer at 12.30pm on Wednesday February 8. The webinar will mark the day and provide HSRs and others with the opportunity to learn, contribute and ask questions. Renata Musolino, editor of SafetyNet and Dr Deborah Vallance, National OHS Officer with the AMWU will be co-hosting the webinar, with help from Amy Jenkins and friends! Everyone is welcome to join in. RSVP/more information here.
HSR stories - keep them coming in
Last week we launched our call-out to HSRs to send in their success stories and contribute to our Health and Safety Hero Handbook. They've started coming in - almost 20 so far. But we want many many more!! So if you or your HSR have a good story to tell about how you used your rights and powers under the Act and contributed to a safer or healthier workplace - then send it in now. Go to Click here to submit your story online. Be part of our movement!
Want to work in the VTHC OHS Unit? Apply now
The closing date for applications for a job as a full-time OHS Online Organiser at the VTHC OHS Unit is fast approaching - applications must be in by February 10. If you're interested and want to find out more, check out our advertisement on Ethical Jobs
We are negotiating a new EBA, at our workplace at the moment. The issue of early starts (for example 5.00am) has been raised. My union is proposing that the number of early starts that can be allocated to a worker should be restricted to three in a row. However my employer is adamant there should be no restriction all. As the HSR, I believe there should be a limit. Is there a regulation or something somewhere that indicates that there should be? Surely excessive early starts could lead to fatigue?!
There is no regulation under OHS law that addresses shift hours or early starts. However your employer has a general duty of care to provide and maintain (so far as is reasonably practicable) a working environment that is safe and without risks to health – and this includes providing safe and healthy systems of work. (See Duties of employers)
The employer also has a duty to consult when proposing changes to things such as systems of work which may affect the health or safety of employees (See Duty to consult). Note, this is consultation required under the OHS Act, and is not the same as consultation required for EBA negotiations!
So.. in my view the issue is not necessarily when each shift begins, nor even how many early starts there are in a row, but rather issues such as:
- How many hours of work are worked?
- Do workers have enough time between the end of one shift and the beginning of the next one to properly recover?
- What other concerns/issues do the members of the DWG have in terms of health or safety? For example: personal safety in the early hours.
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: Russian mafia to blame for international push of asbestos building products
Officials from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) have told Senate Inquiry hearings in Brisbane this week that the Russian mafia is the force behind a powerful international pro-asbestos lobby. The hearings are part of the Senate committee investigation into sub-standard and potentially lethal building products such as asbestos and how they are making their way into Australia.
The CFMEU's Construction Division Assistant National Secretary, Brad Parker told the inquiry the lobby was one of the big challenges for the Oceania region. "It's commonly known within the anti-asbestos movement internationally that the pro-asbestos lobby is the Russian mafia," he said. "They work in a way where they intimidate, they're engaged in corrupt activity. There's been rumours circulating, certainly, of money crossing hands with international politicians."
In a media release, the CFMEU said the Australian Border Force is hopelessly under resourced to intercept the arrival in Australia of illegal asbestos products and other dangerous non-conforming building products. "Minister Dutton is putting the health and safety of the Australian people at risk by turning a blind eye to cheap imported building materials that do not comply with Australian law", said Mr Parker. "Non-conforming building products touch nearly every part of our daily lives. From Asbestos that kills to cheap glass that explodes, to flat pack kitchens reeking of formaldehyde."
The CFMEU has also said that, in partnership with other unions and asbestos disease support and advocacy groups, it will be campaigning for tougher penalties for those companies found to be breaking the law, better training for workers to identify asbestos product, and a strengthening of border protection against harmful cheap imports.
Read more: CFMEU Media Release; ABC News online;
ACTU also calls for stronger penalties and better border protections
The Australian Council of Trade Unions too says the Turnbull Government must take immediate action to protect Australians from exposure to imported products containing life-threatening asbestos. In its submission to the Senate Inquiry, the ACTU makes 11 recommendations addressing the ineffectiveness of existing importation bans on asbestos, These include including that:
- the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission makes greater use of its powers to recall asbestos-containing materials, and improves the Australian product safety system to provide greater protection against asbestos exposure;
- Australia reviews its free-trade agreement with China with the aim of strengthening provisions that prevent the importation of asbestos-containing materials from Chinese suppliers;
- Australia introduces laws requiring the removal and disposal of illegally imported asbestos (where it is safe to do so), with culpable importers covering the costs; and
- customs laws be reformed to facilitate a greater number of prosecutions of entities and individuals that illegally import asbestos-containing materials.
Read more: ACTU Media Release
It seems like everyone and every organisation concerned about the dangers of asbestos is on the same page on this..
ASEA wants strict liability laws
In its most recent submission to the Senate inquiry, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has recommended strict liability laws that would require State and territory WHS regulators to penalise and issue removal orders to all supply chain parties involved in the illegal importation of asbestos. It said punitive measures needed to be enforced to ensure imported products don't contain asbestos. "Considering the legacy issues we already have in Australia and the fact that Australia has a zero-tolerance policy on asbestos, any breach of the regulation should not go without consequence," it said. Check out the submission here.
More information on the inquiry Parliament House website
ASEA: Correction to last week's item "Changes at the top"
In last week's SafetyNet there was an item on changes ASEA announced by Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, in December. Mr Peter Tighe has not been replaced: he continues in his role as ASEA CEO. Sincerest apologies!
Man who contracted mesothelioma from playing in school yard as a child dies
An Aboriginal man, who as a schoolchild played in asbestos tailings which contaminated the small New South Wales community of Baryulgil, near Grafton, this week died from mesothelioma. Ffloyd Laurie, 55, is believed to be the first victim of the nearby James Hardie asbestos mine whose only exposure to the deadly dust was as a child. Mr Laurie was diagnosed with the asbestos cancer in July last year. Many others who grew up at Baryulgil now fear that they may also develop the deadly cancer.
Read more: ABC news online
Asbestoswise support groups
Victorian asbestos diseases support and advocacy group Asbestoswise has many years of experience providing support to workers and families. The organisation holds regular Support Group meetings. The next Mesothelioma Support Group meeting will be held on Wednesday February 15, 11am - 2pm, at the South Melbourne Community Centre, Cnr Park St and Ferrars Place, Sth Melbourne. The group provides support to those diagnosed with mesothelioma, their carers, families and close friends. It meets the third Wednesday of every month. Asbestoswise also holds a Bereaved Group which meets monthly. More information, contact: Shirley Bare by phone 0412 537 819 or by email.
Canada: move to ban asbestos a 'win for public health' but long overdue
Canada will ban asbestos use by 2018, in what many health advocates say is a victory for public health, albeit one that is long overdue.
The federal government's move will eventually reduce the rate of asbestos-related diseases. But as we know in Australia, there is hard work, as the country deals with the deadly legacy of asbestos which is in everything from homes and hospitals to elementary schools and universities.
The decision brings Canada in line with more than 50 other countries, that have banned the known carcinogen and comes after decades of lobbying from health experts, labour unions and those who have lost family members to asbestos-related diseases.
Canada began mining asbestos in the 1870s, and became one of the world's largest producers, before its last asbestos mines closed in 2011. Read more: Globe and Mail
BE TRADES HALL TRAINED: VTHC OHS Training Centre
Don't settle for any training other than that provided by your union or the VTHC. HSRs are elected by their fellow workers to represent them. We understand what HSRs need and have been training effective HSRs for many years. Remember that under Section 67 of the OHS Act, both HSRs and deputies have the right to attend the training course of their choice (in consultation with their employer). Below are the dates for the next few courses at the VTHC OHS Training Centre - if you haven't yet booked in your course for this year, do it now. The full set of dates until June, including Comcare courses, is on the Training program page where you can download a registration form or register online. Contact Lisa Mott on (03) 9663 5460 for any training related queries.
|HSR Initial OHS training course||HSR Refresher OHS Training Courses*|
* HSRs are entitled to attend this course every
International Union News
UK: New plan to help union reps banish work stress
A new TUC-backed guide is set to help trade union health and safety representatives tackle workplace stress. The resource, produced jointly with the UK regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), is designed to help union representatives work with employers to find practical solutions to work-related stress. Last year 7 in 10 respondents to a TUC survey of more than 1,000 health and safety representatives identified stress as the top concern in their workplace. The new guide is based on the HSE 'management standards' in handling stress. It breaks down the causes of work-related stress into six key areas: demands; control; support; relationships; role; and change. The handbook proposes that a group – made up of representatives from every level of the organisation – gathers information on the current situation in the workplace and carries out a risk assessment based on the HSE standards. The group can then identify solutions such as tackling a long hours culture, improving workplace practices or increasing staffing levels. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Workers are increasingly suffering from the effects of workplace stress as pressures of long hours and low job security are taking hold across the UK. But it's in no-one's interest to have an overstretched workforce, as anxious staff are less productive and are more likely to take time off. And the HSE standards provide the best way of tackling the issue." She added: "Union representatives have a key role to play in working with employers to tackle this problem once and for all. Stress is preventable if workers have reasonable workloads, supportive managers and a workplace free from violence, bullying and harassment. Anyone worried about their workload or being unfairly treated at work should join a union, to get the support they need and their interests represented at work."
Read more: TUC news release. Tackling workplace stress using the HSE Stress Management Standards, TUC and HSE guidance for health and safety representatives [pdf], January 2017. Source: Risks 785
Bangladesh: Garment brands exploiting kids
Major brands are implicated in the exploitation of child labour in garment factories in Bangladesh, a report has concluded. Researchers from the Stop Child Labour coalition found low wages and long working hours at firms supplying multinationals including C&A, The Gap, H&M, Esprit and Marks and Spencer play a key role in the decision of parents to take their children out of school and allow them in to work. The Branded Childhood report, which includes extensive interviews with the parents of child labourers, notes that almost 50 per cent of the textiles produced in Bangladesh are exported to European Union brands and retailers. It adds that in the country more than 3.5 million children aged between five and 17 are in work. Gerard Oonk, senior advocacy officer with Stop Child Labour, said "companies should assess the impact of their purchasing practices and the consequences for the workers and their children." He added: "The various disturbing stories in the report make it clear that urgent action is needed and companies should quickly work towards the payment of a living wage that enables adult workers to meet their basic needs."
Read more: Stop Child Labour news release [pdf] and full report. Source: Risks 785
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe Victoria News
Safety Alert: Safe use of flammable refrigerants
This safety alert concerns Class 2.1 Flammable refrigerant gases and provides guidance to occupiers of premises on how to control the risk of fire and explosion from refrigeration and air-conditioning systems containing flammable refrigerants.
Queensland: New road rules for quad bikes and utility off-road vehicles
Under changes to road rules, which come into effect today, children under the age of 8 will be prohibited from riding quad bikes and utility off-road vehicles being used on road, as well as any child of any age if they are not yet capable of sitting with their feet flat on the floor and hands on handholds in Queensland. In addition, the operator of a quad bike or utility off-road vehicle and their passengers are now required to wear a motorcycle helmet on Queensland roads and road-related areas. A $365 fine will apply for failing to comply with the helmet requirements, plus three demerit points.
According to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, the new requirements apply on roads and road related areas only - meaning that children and others will continue to be at risk on farms and similar 'workplaces'.
Safe Work Australia news
As of 30 January ten fatalities had been reported to SWA:
- 5 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 1 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 1 in Construction;
- 2 Arts and recreation services
- 1 in Electricity, gas, water and waste services
The numbers and industries may vary as Safe Work receives more detailed information (to check for updates and full figures for 2016, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities page).
The latest monthly fatality report was for August 2016, during which there were 15 work-related notifiable fatalities, five fewer than in July 2016. These were: 12 male workers, two female bystanders and one male bystander. Of the 15 fatalities, four fatalities each resulted from a vehicle accident - public road crash and being hit by falling objects, three fatalities resulted from electrocution and two resulted from a fall from a height. Vehicle accident - other and hit by moving object other than vehicle accounted for the remaining two fatalities. To download the report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
China: Smog grips Beijing as big factories pollute over the Lunar New Year
According to a researcher affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, various big metals factories in and around Beijing kept up production over the Lunar New Year, compounding pollution in the capital on the weekend. Chai Fahe, from the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Science, said increased passenger traffic over the holidays also compounded the poor air quality.
The capital was blanketed in smog on Saturday, with levels of PM2.5, the fine pollutants most hazardous to human health, peaking at 547 micrograms per cubic metre, according to ministry data. The reading was above the air quality index's upper limit of 500, and double the threshold considered hazardous.
Read more: South China Morning Post
No further updates have been made to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage since the last edition of SafetyNet.
NSW: Engineering business fined $225k over worker's death
A mechanical and engineering business has been fined $225,000 over the death of a worker at its Cobar workshop in 2014. A 30 year old diesel mechanic was fatally crushed when a load frame from a 20 tonne underground haul truck slipped from its supports and fell on him at PJL Pty Ltd's Cobar workshop on 16 May 2014.
SafeWork NSW's investigation found that the load frame was supported on steel cylindrical stands and wooden blocks when it fell. The cylindrical stands were propped-up on the wooden blocks which were unable to handle the load. The wooden blocks then split, causing the load frame to fall on the worker, resulting in fatal crush injuries to the man.
Executive Director of SafeWork NSW, Peter Dunphy said the business failed to follow its own policy of stopping a job if it could not be completed according to instructions and that a safe system of work should have been developed specifically for the job.
Read more: SafeWork NSW Media Release