SafetyNet 395, March 1, 2017
It's been a bad week for Australia's lowest paid workers - those whose wages will be cut are also likely to have poorer health and safety outcomes.
We must keep up the fight to make our workplaces as safe as possible: 'like' our We Are Union: OHS Matters Facebook page, and 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.
Cut in penalty rates will affect OHS
There has been much discussion this week of the Fair Work Commission's decision to cut Sunday penalty rates for workers in the hospitality and retail industries. The decision was made despite the fact that labour costs fell substantially in 2016 and productivity improved significantly, according to ABS national accounts data released this week. Company profits have increased by a massive 20.1 per cent, while wages and salaries have decreased by 0.5 per cent. When the penalty rates are cut, some workers could lose more than $75 per week.
The effect of this on workers who are among the lowest paid will be devastating - and this will increase any stress they are already under. Increased stress can lead to increased incidents in the workplace, increased incidence of disease (such as hypertension, heart attacks) and increased mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and so on. Read more: Stress
VTHC welcomes Vic Govt commitment to Common Law rights
At this week's announcement of WorkSafe Victoria's mid-financial year results, the Minister for Finance, the Honorable Robin Scott emphasized the Victorian Government's commitment to continuing to provide common law rights to all Victorians. He added it would be seeking nominations from representative bodies for a new Working Group, established to examine issues around lodgement of common law claims and costs and report to the Board by September of this year.
Dr Paul Sutton, OHS lead organiser at the VTHC OHS Unit, said: "Common law claims exist to ensure that those workers who suffer terrible, debilitating illnesses and injuries at work are looked after for the rest of their lives. Common law claims prevent injured workers from having to exist purely on welfare and provide dignity into old age. Any attack on common law claims is an attack on injured workers. VTHC welcomes the news that the Victorian Government and Minister Scott stand by common law claims."
VWA Board Chairman, Mr Paul Barker, had told a large group of stakeholder that the scheme is continuing to be financially viable at the same time as a 'substantial' drop in the number of injuries and that the regulator would be focussing on being a 'preventative-led organisation.'
However, although the overall number of claims per million hours worked had dropped in Victoria, VWA's Chief Executive Officer, Ms Clare Amies reported that the number of long term (>4 weeks) claims had increased, as had the number of workers not yet back at work six months after their injuries, and that there had been an increase in mental injury claims across government. In other words, while there had been some improvements, there were still areas where there was work to do.
The 2030 Strategy, currently being developed, will:
- be 'prevention-led',
- focus on the needs of workers and employers,
- seek to offer tailored products, services and support,
- improve the use of analytics and data, and
- simplify WorkSafe's business
However, the 2030 Strategy will not change its role as regulator.
For fewer workers to be injured in the first place, WorkSafe must increase its compliance and enforcement activities, provide more support to HSRs and ensure that employers comply with their duties under the law, including the duty to consult.
HSRs current and former - send in your win stories
We all know how much HSRs achieve in the workplace representing their DWGs and making sure their employers take action to make the workplace healthier and safer. Too often their achievements and efforst are not recognised; in fact, often they end up in the firing line. So if you have a story, or if you think your HSR deserves to be recognised, participate in our HSR Hero project. 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. Here's a good one:
HSR Reps win: Electrical shocks
This week the unit received a union delegates' worksite newsletter, done by them to keep members informed. In it was a great example of how important HSRs are. Here it is (with minor edits to de-identify the workplace):
"Over the past few weeks there have been multiple electrical problems and electric shocks in a section of the assembly line. Unfortunately the issue wasn't addressed as promptly as we all would have liked but Thanks to two HSRs reps and their persistence, production came to a standstill one day last week, and a safety sweep was performed. The findings from this sweep were: a number of damaged cords and all terminals were replaced and wiring has been now checked. Further, the sweep is to be conducted site-wide to prevent this occurring again. If you notice a computer with damaged cords please inform your HSR so it can be locked out immediately!"
Well done to all the HSRs at this manufacturing site!
Shouldn't my place of work (a factory) have a refrigerator or cooler in the break room? Is it unhealthy and risky for the employees to eat perishable foods that have been sitting at room temperature (in summer especially) for more than 4hrs? !
You are correct – under s21 of the Victorian OHS Act (2004), your employer has a general duty of care to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing adequate facilities for the welfare of employees.
While the Act is not more specific, the Compliance Code for Workplace Amenities and Work Environment sets out what employers need to do as a minimum (but qualified by 'so far as is reasonably practicable') to comply with this duty. The Code is more than simply 'guidance' and employers should comply.
As a minimum workers must have somewhere to have their meals and breaks, and somewhere to store food and boil water. "This needs to include a refrigerator big enough to store perishable foods for all employees using the facilities." See this page on our site for more information. Read through and you'll see that your employer is actually breaking the law.
I recommend that your HSR take this up with your employer - if he or she doesn't get anywhere, then the next step is to issue a PIN.
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.
Australia Post rally - justice demanded for injured workers
This week members of the Injured Workers Support Network Victoria staged a rally and demonstration outside the Australia Post Office in Melbourne's CBD. Australia Post is a self insurer that has been rewarding its executives for delaying or intimidating workers out of making workers compensation claims.
They also have some of the worst behaviour-based safety policies we've seen. The CEO of Australia Post was paid $5.6 million of taxpayers' money a year while they made the workers they injured wait for medical treatment to make their books look better so that management can get fat bonus cheques.
Injured workers 'mailed' Australia Post a post-card demanding to fair treatment. Sign the petition and tell Australia Post to treat injured workers with dignity and respect!
Read more: Australia Post grilled on allegations of rorting workers' injury claims for bonuses Sydney Morning Herald
Family sues operators of Wunderlich factory
69 year old Samual Azzopardi died of mesothelioma in February last year, and now his family is suing the operators of the former Wunderlich cement factory where his father Charlie used to work. His His father used to come home covered in dust and fibres from his job, exposing his family to asbestos. Mr Azzopardi was also exposed to asbestos a second time when he used Wunderlich's asbestos cement sheets to renovate his parents' bungalow, according to Michael Wilson QC address to the Victorian Supreme Court on Monday. His widow is suing Wunderlich operators Seltsam Pty Ltd for loss and damages that their alleged negligence caused her husband's estate. News came in today that the company and family settled out of court yesterday
Read more: Vic company sued over asbestos death, news.com.au; Asbestos victim's family settle lawsuit, Yahoo7 News
Cambodia: Ministry to examine asbestos
The Cambodian Ministry of Labour last Thursday announced the formation of a new working group tasked with gathering data on the precise prevalence of asbestos and its adverse effects in the Kingdom. Minister Ith Sam Heng said the group would be compiling data to prepare a national action plan and an effective prevention program on the risks of asbestos.
Dr Leng Tong, director of the ministry's Department of Occupational Safety and Health, said the group will gather information on asbestos products imported to the Kingdom and how many workers fall ill due to asbestos. It will also receive training from other countries, such as Australia, which has banned the use of asbestos. Source: The Phnom Penh Post
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.
April 28, 2017: International Workers' Memorial Day
Since unions first commemorated it in Canada in the 1980s, International Workers Memorial Day on 28 April has become a global day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work.
Globally, the International Labour Organisation estimates that 2.34 million people die each year from work-related accidents and diseases. From these fatalities, the majority or 2.02 million are from occupational and work-related diseases. Hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually – asbestos claims 100,000 lives.
In 2017 the international theme for the day is 'Good health and safety for all workers whoever they are' and will focus on inequalities in occupational health and the role unions play in narrowing the inequalities gap. There are ideas and resources, including a terrific poster which can be downloaded from the International Workers' Memorial Day website. The day is also remembered by governments and other organisations such as the ILO - but for us it is and will always be a day for unionists to remember the dead and fight for the living.
Vital to take precautions in the sun
This week has been another hot one - so it's vital that employers protect their workers from the effects of our sun's UV radiation. Outdoor workers get up to ten times more exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation than others and they are at a much higher 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
New Zealand: Families of miners killed at Pike River mine lose appeal
Last week a New Zealand court rejected two families' appeal for former Pike River Coal chief executive, Peter Whittall, to face criminal charges for the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
VLI Drilling International pleaded guilty to three charges and were fined $NZ46,800 ($A43,721) while Pike River Coal was convicted of nine charges and fined $760,000 ($A710,006). The company was also ordered to pay $110,000 ($A102,764) to the families of each of the victims and the two survivors, totalling $3.41 million ($A3.19million). However, the company was in receivership at the time and was unlikely to ever make any payments.
Mr Whittall subsequently offered to pay the sum if the prosecution dropped the charges against him. His insurers eventually compensated the families.
Ms Anna Osborne and Ms Sonya Rockhouse, who lost their sons in the disaster, claimed the offer and payment represented an unlawful bargain to stifle the prospect of prosecution against Mr Whittall and appealed. The court rejected that argument. It confirmed the twelve charges against Mr Whittall were dropped by Worksafe on the basis that while there was sufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution, there was a low likelihood of success due to the unavailability and unwillingness of some witnesses. The appeal court added the decision to drop the prosecution was lawful.
NZ Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff said the Court's ruling "allows a deal to be struck. WorkSafe allowed an unrepentant defendant, to get his insurer to make a payment to the victims, in return for WorkSafe dropping the charge."
Read more: The Press and Journal; CTU Media Release; Source: Risks 789
The health burden of viscose rayon
On last Monday night's edition of ABC Radio National's The Health Report, Dr Norman Swan interviewed Paul Blanc, the author of a new book: Fake Silk. The Lethal History of Viscose Rayon. According to the book there is a huge burden of serious brain and heart damage among workers in the manufacturing process which has been known for over a hundred years and yet continues to this day – even in rich nations. Paul Blanc is Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and head of UCSF's Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The problem is the use of the chemical carbon bisulphide in the process to make viscose, rayon and other materials such as cellophane and synthetic sponges. The process begins with wood pulp or some other source of cellulose, such as bamboo. This is then ground up, bleached, caustic added, and after a while, it gets placed into carbon disulphide, turning it into a yellowy toxic syrup that is forced through tubes into a bath of sulphuric acid. Then the cellulose is regenerated as thread, or a thin film, which is pure cellulose again. The carbon disulphide "flies off" - unfortunately into the air that the workers are breathing, unless special precautions are taken, which most of the time they are not.
Exposure to carbon disulphide leads to both neurological and cardiovascular effects: from the 19th century right through to the 21st century, there are reports of workers developing acute psychosis, madness. More recently studies have shown an increased death rate from heart attack and stroke.
The discussion illustrates how big business fights to prevent such news getting out, resists spending money to protect workers, and how exposure standards do not necessarily protect workers. The current exposure standard for carbon disulphide in the USA is 20 parts per million, despite its own research agency recommending that the level be significantly lower than that, one part per million, 20 times more protective.
Read the transcript; listen to the program by clicking here. ABC News online
Cancer is a byproduct of industrial policy
A leading US expert has said that much of the past effort against cancer has fixated on the wrong enemies, with the wrong weapons. Professor Devra Lee Davis, writing in The Hill has said while effort was focussed internally on genetic factors, the external influences – what we breathe, drink, eat and absorb through our skin – is being overlooked. According to Professor Davis, "the great majority of cases of cancer occur in people born with healthy genes as a result of carcinogenic exposures at work, home, and school." But she said the failure to recognise this has "less to do with science, and more to do with the power of highly profitable industries that rely on public relations to counteract scientific reports of risks. Studies of identical twins tell us that most cases of cancer do not arise because of inherited defects. Only one in 10 women who develop breast cancer is born with defective genes. This means that most cases come about because of ways that our healthy genes interact with the world around us." She added: "The list of workplace causes of cancer provides a litany of largely ignored factors. Women who work at night – like nurses or those who work in electronics – have lower levels of melatonin and higher rates of breast cancer. Men who work with chemicals or electromagnetic fields have higher rates of brain cancer and leukaemia. Those who work with wood dust and formaldehyde have higher rates of nasal cancer." She concluded: "If we had acted on what has long been known about the industrial and environmental causes of cancer when this national war first began, millions of lives could have been spared — a huge number of casualties for which those who have managed the effort against the disease thus far must answer."
Read more: The Hill.Devra Davis The Secret History of the War on Cancer (Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Feb; 116(2): A90.) Work Cancer Hazards blog. Source: Risks 789
Farm work cancer risk from pesticide spills
Farmworkers who have a high pesticide exposure event - such as a spill - are more likely to experience molecular changes to their DNA that may lead to prostate and other cancers, according to a large study of pesticide applicators. Environmental Health News reports the research, part of the ongoing US Agricultural Health Study that is monitoring the health of more than 57,000 private and commercial pesticide applicators, adds to growing evidence that high exposure to certain pesticides may spur prostate and other cancers in people handling the chemicals. Researchers have long suspected pesticides may play a role in the elevated cancer rates among farmers and others who apply pesticides. Earlier findings of the same study have reported higher rates of prostate cancer linked to pesticide exposures. The current paper, published in the journal Environmental and Molecular Mutagensis, included 596 male pesticide applicators. It found men who experienced a "high pesticide exposure event," meaning a spill or other accident that would leave them highly exposed, were more likely to have elevated levels of DNA methylation in a gene linked with increased prostate cancer risk. This type of exposure to pesticides would be "unusually high," said lead author Dr Jennifer Rusiecki, an assistant professor of medicine at Uniformed Services University in Maryland.
Read more: Environmental Health News. Work Cancer Hazards blog.JA Rusiecki and others. High pesticide exposure events and DNA methylation among pesticide applicators in the agricultural health study, [Full article] Environmental and Molecular Mutagensis, volume 58, number 1, pages 19-29, January 2017. Source: Risks 789
Air-conditioned offices - are you freezing?
During the summer months, we get dozens of inquiries about the heat and believe it or not, freezing temperatures in offices. in this week's edition of his Radio National program Great Moments In Science, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki explains why women often shiver while men are happy in today's air conditioned offices - because 'air conditioning standards are sexist'! Apparently, air conditioning in commercial buildings has been set using a 50 year old standard (US Standard 55) which might suit '40 year old men dressed in 60's business suits' but 'that's left women out in the cold'. This is a light-hearted program that provides an explanation for a serious workplace issue.
Check it out on the RN website.
OHS Regulator News
NSW launches safety campaign
SafeWork NSW has launched a new $3.2 million campaign aimed at making NSW the safest state to work in Australia. The campaign, Safety starts with you, has been developed in response to alarming statistics about workplace injuries and illnesses in NSW.
In 2015/16, SafeWork NSW received reports of 30,902 major workplace injuries and illnesses, and 60 fatalities. The economic burden of workplace incidents in NSW is an estimated $17.3 billion, or 3.7 per cent of gross state product. Executive Director of SafeWork NSW, Peter Dunphy, said while NSW has made good progress in improving workplace health and safety over the past decade, more work needs to be done.
"Since 2005, there has been a 49-per-cent drop in the number of workplace fatalities in NSW, and a 39-per-cent reduction in serious injuries and illnesses," Mr Dunphy said.
Read more: SafeWorkNSW Media Release
Safe Work Australia fatality statistics
As of 27 February, 28 fatalities had been reported to SWA - this is seven more than the previous update on 16 February:
- 10 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 4 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 6 in Construction;
- 2 Arts and recreation services
- 3 in Electricity, gas, water and waste services
- 1 in Manufacturing
- 1 in Accommodation and food services
- 1 in Public administration and safety
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).
SafeWork Australia has now released the monthly fatality report for September 2016, during which there were 9 work-related notifiable fatalities, nine fewer than in August 2016, seven male workers and two male bystanders. Of the nine fatalities, four fatalities involved a vehicle accident-public road crash and two from being hit by falling object. The remaining three fatalities were all different types of incidents including fall from a height, pedestrian hit by vehicle-other and hit by moving object other than a vehicle. To download the report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Bakery fined after worker's fingers amputated
A bakery in Altona North was last week fined $40,000 without conviction (plus costs of $3974) for breaching the 2004 OHS Act after a worker's fingertips were amputated by a machine filling pastries with custard. Pinnacle Bakery & Integrated Ingredients Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court for failing to provide and maintain safe plant and failing to provide appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision.
On 2 December 2015, the worker was operating a machine used to fill pastries with custard. One of his tasks was to manually refill the machine because the filler pump was broken. The company was aware the machine had been malfunctioning all day but decided to keep it in operation. After noticing that the custard was not dispensing equally into the pastry casings, the worker reached into the machine to clear a blockage. His hand became stuck and the tips of three of his fingers were amputated. Both his supervisor and line manager had left the factory before the incident.
WorkSafe Victoria Media Release
Breaches of asbestos regs: no fines
Two companies were recently prosecuted for storing asbestos-containing materials, contrary to the requirements under the Asbestos chapter in the OHS Regulations. In both cases, materials containing crocidolite, amosite or chrysotile asbestos were found in a number of bins. The material was unbagged and not labelled. It is unclear whether the two were connected.
Both companies, On Spot Bin Hire and Demolition Pty Ltd and Yarra Valley Waste Management Pty Ltd, had pleaded guilty to breaching the OHS Regulations in the Heidelberg Magistrates court, and were without conviction sentenced to an adjourned undertaking for a period of 12 months and to pay costs of $3,430.
For updates, check the: WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
UK: Bus company convicted after worker's fatal fall
Bus company Go Ahead London has been convicted of a criminal safety offence after a worker was killed when he fell from a ladder. Southwark Crown Court heard that on 26 May 2011, the 56-year-old was using a ladder to access the top of a fuel tank when he fell backwards two and a half metres, suffering fatal head injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company did not implement and keep to their own procedures for managing contractors. As a result they failed to manage their contractors effectively and ensure that they conducted work in a safe manner. Go Ahead London was found guilty of a criminal safety breach and was fined £600,000 (almost $A968,500) and ordered to pay costs of £78,531 ($A126761). HSE inspector Neil Fry said: "This is a tragic case which could have been entirely preventable; if the company had managed their contractors effectively then the worker would have returned home safely from work." Read more: HSE news release.