SafetyNet 392, February 8, 2017
Welcome to our third edition of the year - and for various reasons (including our recently broadcast webinar) this edition will also be shorter than normal.
The tally of work-related fatalities on the WorkSafe News website was updated last week to show that there has been one fatality in Victoria since the beginning of the year. The person, who was on their lunch break at the time, was one of those killed in the CBD car rampage on January 21. Our sincerest condolences to the family - and to all the families who lost a loved one in the tragedy.
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: Take a look at our Work-Related Cancer Webinar
World Cancer Day was last Saturday February 4. To mark the day and focus on what HSRs can do, the VTHC OHS Unit ran a webinar on Work-Related Cancer earlier today. As there were a very limited number of places available, the video of the webinar is available here.
HSR wins - have you told your story yet?
The VTHC OHS team are asking HSRs to send in your success stories and contribute to our new publication: the Health and Safety Hero Handbook. We've had some fabulous contributions from HSRs in a wide range of industries. But we want more! So if you or your HSR have a 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. Click here to submit your story online. Nothing will be published (either online or in hard copy) without prior permission - and yes, it's possible to remain anonymous. Be part of our movement!
Want to work in the VTHC OHS Unit? Last chance!
The closing date for applications for a job as a full-time OHS Online Organiser at the VTHC OHS Unit is this Friday, February 10. If you're interested and want to find out more, check out our advertisement on Ethical Jobs
Can anybody issue a PIN when staff have been waiting many months to get an issue fixed? We have asked our HSR to to finally issue a PIN, but he has said that he will give the employer another 4-5 months to rectify the problem. This is not acceptable to us as staff have already been waiting up to 12 months.
No, generally only the elected HSR for the DWG can issue a PIN – EXCEPT in one of the following scenarios:
- The HSR is unable to exercise his/her rights (due to absence or another reason) then the deputy (where there is one) can act in the role and issues the PIN; or
- The HSR is unavailable, and the members of his/her DWG approach the HSR of another DWG and ask that HSR to deal with the notice issue the PIN
It seems to me that your HSR is not properly representing the members of the DWG – giving the employer ANOTHER four or five months to address an OHS issue that has been outstanding for many months already is clearly unacceptable. Either the HSR is too timid to issue a PIN OR he has not received proper training!
Has this HSR been in place for at least 12 months? If so, then the DWG can, by resolving in writing that he no longer represent them, elect someone who will! I recommend that the DWG take steps to replace him. I suggest the following:
- First check with the HSR – tell him you as the DWG members want him to follow this issue up by issuing a PIN. If he still does not wish to follow through, then let him know that he has two options: either resign as HSR or expect notification in writing (which must be signed by at least 50 per cent of the members of the DWG) that he no longer represents them.
- This step will trigger an election - which the members of the DWG need to run. The person elected should then raise the issue with the employer, and if this consultation does not lead to resolution, then issue a PIN. The new rep should also enrol in a training course at the VTHC as soon as possible (but has the right to exercise all his/her powers, including issuing a PIN, immediately on election. Note: this is not the case under the WHS legislation in states other than Victoria).
- If he wants to remain HSR, but is unsure about how to issue PINs (or a bit scared) then maybe he needs to come to the VTHC and undertake a refresher course: HSRs have the right to, and really need to, do one of these every year.
Hopefully this can be done swiftly - as the workers have had their health and safety put at risk by this long-standing problem. If you need help with any of this, then I strongly recommend that you contact the union and seek assistance.
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.
NSW: Asbestos disease peak coming in 2020
The ABC has reported that a doctor who has treated numerous people for asbestos-related illnesses in northern New South Wales is 'expecting a plethora of cases' over the next few years. Doctor Ray Jones, who worked at the Aboriginal Medical Service in Grafton for 15 years, said the peak incidence of mesothelioma in Australia was not due until 2020, because the disease took decades to develop.
Read more: ABC News online.
NSW: Company challenges asbestos-removal order
Australian company Robin Johnson Engineering (RJE) is fighting demands it remove asbestos-contaminated materials from China it unwittingly used in portable buildings. RJE did not know the fibre sheeting it imported from China contained asbestos and used the material for more than 60 portable buildings at various locations across Australia. The company is challenging a SafeWork NSW order in the Industrial Relations Commission that asbestos-containing flooring be removed from a switch room at the Taralga wind farm, south-west of Sydney. In court documents, RJE argues removing the tainted material would create a significant risk but there would be no risk if it was left untouched.
Mark Morey from Unions NSW said the imported asbestos must be removed, and not considered in the same category as "legacy" asbestos — materials which were present before a ban was implemented in 2003. "To say that people who import it out of a technicality can get out of any responsibility for cleaning up their mess is a very bad precedent to be set," he said.
The company claimed the law had not been breached because the wind farm operator had not directed or allowed anyone to work on the asbestos, and had no plans to do so.
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.
Toxic Ships, Dying workers
News released last week by organizations nearly 5,000 miles apart confirm the existence and scale of an unfolding disaster in shipbreaking on tidal beaches in South Asia which accounted last year (2016) for 87% of all tonnage dismantled. Research by the Brussels-based NGO Shipbreaking Platform and the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation revealed multiple failures by the shipping industry to safely manage the disposal of end-of-life vessels and the deadly impact of hazardous working practices on the lives of shipbreaking workers. Conditions in Bangladesh's yards are "known to be the worst;" in 2016, 22 workers died with a further 29 suffering serious injuries
Read more: IBAS
Truck Driving: One of the deadliest workplaces in Australia
A truck cabin is among the deadliest workplaces in Australia, new research shows. A Macquarie University study, which surveyed 559 truck drivers, found a high proportion are forced to work long and dangerous hours carrying unsafe loads to avoid losing their jobs.
The report, released last week at a road safety summit organised by the Transport Workers' Union (TWU), revealed that 82 per cent of truck drivers reported working more than 50 hours per week - and more than 10 per cent of said they worked more than 80 hours a week! More than one in eight (13 per cent) said they were unable to refuse an unsafe schedule.
TWU National secretary Tony Sheldon said data from Safe Work Australia showed that last year one out of every three workplace deaths involved a transport worker. He said the Macquarie University report documents a supply chain which "puts all the pressure on drivers at the bottom and none of the accountability on the top". He said, "It shows how this supply chain pits transport operators, which prioritise safety and employ experienced, trained drivers, against operators which cut corners and force drivers to take risks".
According to Mr Sheldon, the Federal government's abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal had contributed to the safety problem: more than 2500 truck drivers and other road users died in truck crashes in the 10 years to 2014.
Read more: TWU Safe Rates Campaign
Don't forget: the sun can kill
Today and tomorrow are going to be scorchers - and no doubt there will be more hot days in the next few weeks - so check that your employer has taken steps to protect workers from the dangers of UV radiation. Outdoor workers receive up to ten times more exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation - putting them at significantly higher risk of skin damage and skin cancer. Each year 200 melanomas and 34,000 other skin cancer diagnoses in Australia can be attributed to UV exposure in the workplace.
CCV has many useful resources for workplaces:
- UV Safety Training;
- Policy template and best practice support;
- Brochures and other resources;
- SunSmart App and widget.
International Union News
USA: Trump era dangers for Latino workers
The Trump administration's crackdown on undocumented workers living in the US could increase the already sky-high fatality rates among Latino workers, safety advocates have warned. They say Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show the number of Latino workplace deaths spiked during the Obama presidency, with more Latino workers dying in 2015 than in any year since 2007. The increase in deaths can be attributed to these workers' fear of deportations and other consequences of speaking up about unsafe working conditions, according to Jessica Martinez, the co-executive director at the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. Because Obama deported record numbers of undocumented workers, workplace deaths rose too. Martinez said her organisation expects the problem to get worse under Trump. "When you combine the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump administration with the likelihood of decreased enforcement, it's a very scary situation," said Martinez. "Our fear is that fatalities will rise because of fear and also because of a lack of employer compliance." Sam Robele of the National Guestworker Alliance, an advocacy group for foreign workers who obtain temporary visas to work in the United States says that these workers are also now more at risk. "Whenever there is an increase in the criminalisation of undocumented workers, it puts more pressure on workers to stay in the job that they are in, to not complain, to look the other way when there are hazards," Robele said. He said making a stand over work safety and as result "potentially being deported and separated from your children, most people aren't gonna risk that." Read more: Payday Report. Source: Risks 786
Chemical industry emboldened by Trump's new UN ambassador
The woman chosen by president Donald Trump and now confirmed as the US ambassador to the United Nations has launched a scathing attack on the international body which could embolden an industry lobby angry at the UN's role in assessing chemical cancer risks. During her confirmation hearing , Nikki Haley said: "When we look at the United Nations, we see a chequered history… any honest assessment finds an institution that is often at odds with the American national interest and American taxpayers."
Haley was signalling that international agencies will have to answer to an 'America First' administration hostile to global policymakers. One already in the crosshairs is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is under the purview of the UN's World Health Organisation.
After industry criticism of recent cancer assessments by the agency, notably on the pesticide glyphosate (active ingredient in Roundup), and calls spearheaded by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) for the US to cut funds to IARC, Republican lawmakers rallied to the industry call. Read more: Cancer Hazards
Health care workers and others at increased risk of ALS
A recent study has identified a link between a substance used in the healthcare industry and the deadly motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as well as a positive association between the disease and two occupations. ALS is a disease which affects both lower and upper motor neurons. Death usually occurs within three to five years after onset of symptoms related to ALS.
Researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institute and the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, looked at the records of 5020 Swedes diagnosed with ALS. They found it was most prevalent in the precision-tool manufacturing industry, and among glass, pottery and tile workers.
They also identified a statistically non-significant association between medical services work and ALS, but noted that a stronger link was identified in previous research. Previous studies also found that exposure to lead, other metals, solvents and the carcinogen formaldehyde might be associated with its development.
In this study, there was no overall association between occupational exposure to metals and increased ALS risk, however they found an association between exposure to formaldehyde and cases of ALS among Swedes younger than retirement age (65).
Read more: Occupational exposures and the risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Tracy Peters, et al, [abstract] Sweden, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 74, Issue 2, February 2017. Source: OHSAlert
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe Victoria News
Blitz on falling objects at construction sites
WorkSafe Victoria inspectors will 'zone in' on the risk of falling building materials and equipment at construction sites that can cause injury or death during a three-week blitz across Victoria. The first of almost 1000 inspections of commercial, residential and industrial construction sites began this week to ensure builders are controlling the risk of falling objects.
According to WorkSafe statistics, more than 860 construction workers have been injured since 2010 by falling objects. Injuries are commonly caused by falling building materials such as bricks, tiles, concrete and timber.
WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said ensuring loose building materials and tools were secured at building sites could make the difference between life and death. "Each year WorkSafe investigates serious injuries and countless near-misses involving falling objects at construction sites," Ms Williams said. "We know that even a small tool or a bolt falling from a building site can cause life-threatening injuries. That's why every builder must assess their site throughout the day and identify materials or objects that could fall in or outside of the site boundaries."
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Safe Work Australia news
The SWA website has not been updated since our last edition: 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 remains that for August 2016, during which there were 15 work-related notifiable fatalities, five fewer than in July 2016. To download the report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
UK: University fined after experiment nearly kills students
A university has been fined after two students became seriously ill after a botched laboratory experiment. Students at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle were learning about the effects of caffeine as part of a sports experiment. Part of the course included a practical exercise where volunteer students would take quantities of caffeine to demonstrate the impact. Two of the volunteer students drank a solution with 100 times the amount that should have been taken as part of the experiment. After consuming the equivalent of 300 cups of coffee, they immediately suffered from dizziness, blurred vision, vomiting, shaking and rapid heartbeat. They were rushed to hospital in a life threatening condition. They needed dialysis to rid their bodies of the excessive levels of caffeine. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that protocols set out for the experiment were not followed. The instructions were to use 200mg tablets but as they were not available the students were provided with caffeine in a powered form, leading to a situation where the students miscalculated the amount of powder to use and overdosed the two volunteers. The University pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £400,000 (A$656,000) and ordered to pay costs of £26,468.22 (A$43504). HSE inspector Cain Mitchell said: "The university completely failed to control the risks during these experiments and two young students were made seriously ill which resulted in intensive care treatment for a number of nights. In other reported cases people have died after taking doses which were less than those administered to these two students." Read more: HSE news release. Source: Risks 786
Europe: Lobbyists fight against workplace cancer protection
Industry lobbyists from across Europe are waging a well-resourced campaign to block measures to protect workers from substances that can cause cancer and other serious health effects. The campaign has already stalled progress for a decade, with an unambitious and scaled back European Commission proposal for revising the EU Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive only emerging in May 2016. The industry is now lobbying hard to prevent improvements to the directive, proposed in a paper under consideration by the European Parliament's Employment Committee. In January, nine of the biggest industry lobby groups in Brussels sent a joint letter to members of the committee, urging the lawmakers to drop amendments that would promote stricter exposure limits, better monitoring of employees' health, or the addition of other dangerous substances to the regulation. The letter notes the industry groups "have strong concerns that proposing lower limit values for a number of substances and considerably extending the scope of the directive, will only lead to drawn-out and difficult discussions with the Council and Commission. This will not be good for worker protection, nor for the credibility of the EU and its decision-making process." The committee is scheduled to vote on the proposed changes on 28 February 2017.
Source: Risks 786
Severed fingertip: unsafe system of work, no information or training, no notification
Natex (Australia) Engineering Pty Ltd a repetition and general engineering company, has been fined $21,000 plus $4,564 costs following an incident where a worker lost the tip of a finger. On 10 September 2015 an employee was undertaking a general clean-up of a storage area at the rear of the loading dock at the workplace. In the area there were at least two metal waste bins (stillages) for scrap metal recycling. Forklifts were used to place the stillages in the area and remove them. Although the company had a Forklift Policy, it failed to enforce it, and had no traffic management plan in place. It also failed to inform or instruct its workers on the Forklift Policy. There was a risk of serious injury or death to employees due to the risk of pedestrians coming into contact with forklifts and/or the load carried by forklifts. On the day of the incident, a forklift was driven into the storage area to pick up the front stillage. As it was lifted, it rocked in place and struck the edge of another stillage. The worker who was cleaning the area was resting his hand on the edge of the stillage at the time: his hand was caught between the two stillages, and the top joint of his ring finger was severed as a result. He was admitted to hospital for surgery that day. The company did not notify WorkSafe immediately that a notifiable incident had occurred. Although the company pleaded guilty to breaching s21 and s38 of the OHS Act, it was fined without conviction.
Company fined $25,000 for failing to provide safe system of work; training, etc to workers
Stable Australia Pty Ltd, trading as Stable Engineering, provides steel fabrication and engineering services to heavy industries. On 23 January 2015, an employee truck driver was delivering 10m long pipe spools which had been loaded onto the trailer by other employees. While the truck driver was unstrapping the pipe spools, a pipe spool rolled off the side of the trailer. An investigation found: the plant was unsafe (stanchion mounting points in the trailer were clogged and no stanchions could be, or were, used); the company failed to ensure a safe system of work (it failed to identify the risks associated with use of side load restraints, including ensuring the adequacy of sideways restraints for loads on the plant) and it failed to provide training to its employees regarding load restraint, including sideways load restraint, on the plant. Stable Engineering pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $25,000, p0lus $3,000 costs.
Skincare manufacturer charged, not convicted, over severed hand
Syndet Works Pty Ltd, a manufacture of products for cosmetic skin care, has been fined $10,000 (plus $3,242 costs) without conviction following an incident in March 2015 where a worker's hand was severed. The employee was operating an item of plant, the 'Plodder', that produces bars of soap. The Plodder is an extruder that processes soap mixture into a compressed line. The mixture is poured into an in-feed hopper and processed by a slowly moving energized screw. The hopper was not guarded, creating a clear risk of serious injury from entanglement when the rotating screw was energised. The worker was performing the shutdown procedure on the machine, where the screw was switched in reverse, the soap mixture pulped back up into the hopper, and then removed by hand. While doing this, the worker's hand became entangled with the rotating screwand was severed. Although the company pleaded guilty, it was fined without conviction.
Food company agrees to Enforceable Undertaking after worker burnt
Patties Foods Ltd, a manufacture of baked goods, has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking. Under the EU, the company agreed to implement improvements, conduct local industry 'OHS information sessions', fund participation of a number of non-employees/contractors in Cert IV WHS training, make donations and sponsor the Victorian Police Legacy Child Safety Handbook.
The incident occurred on 15 June 2015: an employee was operating the pie-line, a piece of plant which cooked product and moved it along. That morning, the worker had been instructed to flush out the pie-line, which involved releasing pressure by opening a valve, removing a flush cap on a fill line and then allowing product to run directly into a bin. Once empty the line is then flushed with water. This created a risk of serious injury to employees as there was no mechanical or electrical interlock to provide release pressure/stored energy in the line. The worker began to carefully remove as he was aware there would be some pressure in the line. As soon as he began to loosen the cap it blew off and he was covered in the hot pie fill in the line. He sustained superficial burns to his face and neck, but luckily had no ongoing injuries.
Source: WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.