SafetyNet 403, May 17, 2017
This week police and ambulance unions call for action on PTSD; Bus union wants national approach to violence; and much more...
And if you're into social media: get active in OHS, be involved. Go to 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.
Our office is being closed down and staff are being re-located into other offices. I am being transferred to one in which the staff numbers will increase from seven to nine or ten. The office has just one toilet for all the staff both men and woman. This does not seem adequate to me. What should the ratio be?
There are no 'ratios' or numbers of toilets mandated in the law – the OHS Act requires the employer to provide 'adequate facilities' for the welfare of employees (See Duties of Employers)
What the employer 'needs to provide' to comply with the Act is set out in the Compliance Code for workplace amenities and work environment. It states that while usually separate toilets need to be provided in workplaces where there are both male and female employees, in workplaces where the total number of people who normally work at the workplace is 10 or less, and there are two or less employees of one gender, one unisex toilet may be provided. (The unisex toilet comprises of: one closet pan, one washbasin and means for the disposal of sanitary items).
So, for example, a workplace with two male and eight female employees, or with one female and three male employees, could have just one unisex toilet, because there are 10 or less employees in total, and two or less employees of one gender. So, unfortunately, unless in your new office there are more than three workers of one gender, then one unisex toilet is considered to be ok. See this page for more information and a link to the code.
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.
Meet Craig, Health & Safety Hero
How do you engage your DWG so that they'll come to you about health & safety issues?
Craig tells us how he does it - watch the video here.
Have you sent in your story yet? Tell us how you improve health & safety at work.
Victorian government amends school asbestos plan
An article in today's Age - Government abandons ambitious pledge to make schools 'asbestos free - has revealed that the Victorian government has confirmed that it has 'backed down' from its pre-election promise to make all Victorian schools asbestos-free by 2020.
James Merlino, Deputy Premier and Minister for Education, said at State Parliament's Public Accounts and Estimates Committee on Tuesday, "The commitment was a state-wide audit and removal of asbestos that posed an immediate risk to students … we are delivering our election commitment in full."
In fact, the Labor Party policy document stated: "An Andrews Labor Government will set a goal for all Victorian schools to be asbestos free by 2020. Our $100 million plan will provide funding to conduct a full audit, remove immediate risks and accelerate the retirement of old portable classrooms. Labor will invest $50 million to restart the Government school audit program and remove asbestos that poses an immediate risk to staff and students. Less urgent cases that take more time to be identified (sic)."
The union position is and always has been that there must be a prioritised asbestos removal program implemented in workplaces, with the ultimate goal being to make Australia asbestos free as soon as possible. Under the previous (Coalition) government, schools' asbestos registers were allowed to get out of date, meaning that the condition of asbestos in those schools was not being properly monitored.
President of the Australian Education Union Victorian Branch Meredith Peace, said: "All asbestos in our schools needs to be removed. We have always supported the Andrews Governments' commitment to eradicating asbestos in public schools and they are to be commended for the work completed so far. Principals have been working with the Department to make sure school premises are safe for staff and students, and they'll continue to do that.
"The health of our children and staff in schools is too important and government must commit the funding required to eradicate asbestos once and for all."
NOTE: in the original article, the AsbestosWise information officer was quoted as saying that 'in general, asbestos in soil is safe.' This is a misquote, and of course, all asbestos contaminated soil is hazardous, needs to be removed by a Class A asbestos removalist and is of particular concern when found in school grounds as it puts the health of playing children at great risk. The sentence has since been removed from the article.
Tribute to Lou Williams
In the Senate last week, Senator Lisa Singh rose to pay tribute to the life and work of Lou Williams, who died on April 18 of mesothelioma. The text of her speech and a youtube link can be accessed here.
NSW: James Hardie legacy sites
The City of Parramatta Council is working with the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and other state government authorities under the guidance of the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities to re-assess the risk of contamination at properties around the Parramatta local government area where James Hardie may have disposed of asbestos waste materials.
This collaborative cross government approach will help to ensure an appropriate, scientific and risk-based resolution is adopted throughout the assessments and to prioritise the protection of the environment and community. Read more: SafeWork NSW Notice
The fight to ban asbestos in Indonesia
Recent events in Geneva which saw a failure to get chrysotile listed on the Rotterdam Convention (see SafetyNet 402) have revealed the power of the asbestos industry – and, in Indonesia, a powerful determination to fight it. This article, Battling asbestos, one step at a time, tells the story of a courageous woman, Siti Kristina, who worked with asbestos in Indonesia for 23 years, now suffers an asbestos-related disease, and went to Geneva to tell her story. "I just want to say that I have asbestos-related disease," she said before leaving. "I want to share that with the meeting in Geneva. I have experienced it. So it is not a myth. Asbestos causes disease. Don't hide it."
Part of the problem facing anti-asbestos campaigners in Indonesia is that, officially, Indonesia has never had a case of asbestos-related disease - and therefore, no successful claim for workers' compensation that acknowledges the link between asbestos-related disease and occupational exposure to asbestos. Wira Ginting, head of the NGO Local Initiative for Occupational Health and Safety Network (LION) which is part of a network of organisations campaigning for a ban on asbestos in Indonesia says the problem needs to be acknowledged before it can be solved. "There is huge, massive consumption of asbestos. But on the ground, there is no case of asbestos-related disease. For some people, it provides proof in support of the asbestos lobby's position. Asbestos is strong, flexible, heat-resistant and, above all, cheap. Why tighten regulation – let alone consider a ban – if nobody is getting sick?"
Read more: Battling asbestos, one step at a time, Inside Story
UK: Asbestos review shows 'shocking' official complacency
An official review of how the UK's workplace asbestos laws are operating has exposed the 'shocking complacency' of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), according to the Trade Union Council (TUC). Hugh Robertson, the union body's head of safety, is critical of a proposal to reduce the frequency of the legally required medical examinations of those undertaking the highest risk 'licensed' work from every two to three years, which he says 'seems totally irresponsible.' He adds that he 'was staggered by the level of complacency that there is throughout the review.' A key concern is the repeated statement in the HSE document that the 5,000 UK deaths a year linked to asbestos are the result of past exposures when the carcinogen was "less well-regulated than today". Robertson is also concerned that HSE fails to acknowledge that self-reporting of asbestos exposures can be misleading, as workers today are no longer working directly with asbestos so are far less likely to be aware of their exposures. While the paper concludes retaining the regulations is justified, "nowhere did the paper look at the possible effect of improving controls," he says. "We did not get any calculations of the effect on death rates if the government were to require employers to remove the millions of tons of asbestos that is still in place." He notes asbestos can be found in an estimated half a million workplaces and around a million homes. "Over 50,000 people have died in the UK from mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure, several tens of thousands more have died from lung cancer or other asbestos-related diseases. Tens of thousands more will die because of exposure that they have already had," Robertson notes. "How many more will die over and above that will depend on what we do now. The fact that government and regulators see the status quo as the best option is a damning indictment of our health and safety system." Read more: TUC Stronger Unions blog. Post implementation review of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, [pdf] HSE, 2017.
In Victoria: the employer must arrange for medical examinations at least every two years for workers doing removal work, and also both before commencing employment and within 30 days of ceasing removal work employment.
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. These are usually held in the morning on the third Wednesday of every month 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 . Asbestoswise also holds a Bereaved Group which meets monthly. More information, contact: Shirley Bare by phone 0412 537 819 or by email.
Police and Ambulance unions call for action on PTSD
Almost a year ago, the Police Association and the Ambulance Employees Association called on Police Minister Lisa Neville to introduce legislation under which Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSC) would be automatically accepted an occupational illness and facilitate their members having their workers' compensation claims accepted.
While Minister Neville seemed to support the change last June, according to Steve McGhie, ambulance union state secretary, the government has been preoccupied and it was no longer a priority. "I would say it is a priority issue for us," he said. "Sometimes with paramedics, the process is more damaging than the injury and it just complicates, exacerbates, the injury because they've got to fight tooth and nail for their claim and have to go over it time and time again."
Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt also called on the government to act. "Our members are still waiting too long for urgently needed treatment and we know that can have tragic consequences," Mr Gatt said.
Read more: Victorian government 'cold' on laws for police, paramedics with PTSD, say unions. The Age
Over 22% truck drivers experience mental health issues
The Transport Workers' Union has begun a plan to tackle mental health issues across the transport industry after a new survey showed over one in five truck drivers have said they experienced mental health problems. The initiative will provide training across the union to ensure organisers and delegates are equipped to deal with mental health issues among workers, and also move towards engagement of employers and clients on developing workplace policies on mental health.
The plan is one of a number focuses on the crisis in transport, along with low pay, poor conditions, and high injury and fatalities rates, which will be discussed by the Transport Workers' Union at the union's National Council in Fremantle this week.
"There are many reasons why transport workers are more vulnerable than other professions to mental health problems: long hours away from family and the stresses that puts on relationships; low pay and poor working conditions; and in the case of truck drivers, high injury and fatality rates. This initiative will seek to provide support to those living with mental health problems but also to make recommendations on what needs to be done to tackle them," said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.
Read more: Information on driving and stress. Transport Workers Union Media Release
Bus union calls for national action on violent passengers
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) has launched a national safety campaign in response to the death of Brisbane bus driver Manmeet Alisher last year. The campaign includes advocating for an audit of violent and antisocial hotpots around the country.
Brisbane City Council's review of Mr Alisher's death recommended installing emergency buttons, a new rear exit window in the city's buses and safety barriers for drivers. The RTBU welcomed the changes, but national secretary Bob Nanva said a stronger, national approach was needed. As well as the audit, Mr Nanva said, "... we want to work with employers and state governments to look at local workplace initiatives to try and put a stop to these incidents from ever happening again."
Read more: Rail, Tram and Bus Union launches audit of violent hotspots after Brisbane bus driver's death ABC news online. More information on Violence.
15 June: International Justice Day for Cleaners and Security Guards
UNI, the global union for skills and services, has announced the International Justice Day for Cleaners and Security Guards for 2016. On Thursday, 15th June 2017 cleaning and security unions will be gathering on all continents for a day of global solidarity and strength to highlight the fight of cleaners and guards for decent jobs, safe work and respect. As part of the action, UNI is inviting people to send in a "Yellow Glove" Solidarity Selfie, and there's a competition to find the world's worst cleaning/security contractor and worst client. To find out more, and to access resources such as a tool kit, click here.
UK: Workers at risk from government's Brexit plans
Britain's peak union council, the TUC says that health and safety protections for workers are at risk from government's Brexit plans. The TUC has published a new briefing, Protecting Health and Safety after Brexit, which warns trade unionists and working people that health and safety protections are at risk from the government's plans. Although the government has set out its intention in a white paper to transfer all existing health and safety protections from EU law to UK law, there are no guarantees for what happens afterwards. The TUC says that the next government must make sure that a commitment is written into the Brexit deal to, as a minimum, match present and future EU standards for workplace health and safety. Otherwise existing protections will be vulnerable to erosion and repeal. Read more: TUC Media Release
Turkey: Families still suffering three years after disaster
The third anniversary of the Soma mine disaster that killed 301 workers, was particularly sombre this year as it coincided with Mothers' Day. The authorities banned a planned rally and commemoration by support organisations and deemed that only a commemoration at the cemetery was appropriate. While some compensation has been paid to miners' families, the owners of the mine are still to face justice. The situation for workers remains dire in Turkey, with many dismissed workers resorting to extreme measures, such as hunger strikes, to win back their rights.
Read more: Turkey remembers 301 lives lost in deadliest disaster, Daily Sabah. Source: AAWL Mini News
USA: The story of the brave "radium girls"
This was a popular story last week, so we've decided to re-run it. Just over a hundred years ago, young women painting watch dials with luminous radium paint not only started to literally glow in the dark themselves, but soon began to suffer terrible effects. This terrible story is another example of companies knowingly putting their workers' lives at risk and then doing everything they can to deny liability. However, it's also a story about how some of these women, some no older than girls, fought for justice, not only for themselves, but for the hundreds of others still at risk. Their brave and tenacious efforts finally led to a change in the US compensation laws.
Read more: The Forgotten Story Of The Radium Girls, Whose Deaths Saved Thousands Of Workers' Lives, Buzzfeed
APHEDA Annual Raffle
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is the global justice organisation of the Australian Union movement. It has over 40 training projects, working through 30 separate project partners in 15 countries, assisting many different communities in Southeast Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East, Southern Africa and the Caribbean. It is also running an international campaign on Asbestos: Not Here, Not Anywhere. One of its main fundraising activities is its annual raffle.
- 1st Prize: $8,000 Travel Voucher
- 2nd Prize: $2499 Bike
- 3rd Prize: $500 Book Voucher
(Tickets $5 Each)
What can you do?
Order books to sell APHEDA raffle tickets at your workplace or approach your workplace or union to order multiple books. The raffle will be drawn on Thursday June 8 Find out more: APHEDA 2017 Raffle.
Australian research project on working in heat
A team led by researchers at the University of Adelaide is undertaking a national project to better understand the circumstances underpinning workplace injuries that occur in hot conditions. The project is funded by the Australian Research Council and will be examining the relationship between hot weather and workplace injury, and exploring stakeholders' and workers' perceptions. The ultimate aim is to facilitate resources to aid in the prevention of heat-related occupational injuries.
The project website provides several opportunities for people to participate in this research and have their say.
- Online questionnaire surveys are available for health and safety professionals and health and safety representatives. These are anonymous and will take 10-20 minutes to complete. Questions relate to heat-associated risks, experiences of injuries, and implications for productivity loss.
- Interested people can also make general comments about their experiences and views on the prevention of heat-related injuries via a short (5 minute) online survey.
- People who have had an injury while working in hot conditions can participate in a confidential interview (face-to-face or via telephone) lasting 30-60 minutes. Interview participants will receive a $50 gift voucher.
Disinfectant use and asthma
European researchers have found that those who are exposed to disinfectants, even for short periods of regular use, are twice as likely to suffer from asthma than those not exposed. The researchers from Germany's University Hospital of Munich and other European institutions surveyed more than 2000 people aged between 19 and 24 on how often they are exposed to disinfectants and household sprays.
They found that compared with "no use, high use of disinfectants was associated with a more than twofold increased odds of incident asthma". They also identified a link between low to medium use of disinfectants and remittent asthma, and a weak association between high usage of other household sprays and asthma incidence.
Numerous studies have examined the role of disinfectants and other cleaning products in the development of asthma, providing adequate evidence to suggest an association between the disease and occupational exposures. All previous studies involved adults, so this study examining younger participants most likely to have just started using cleaning products regularly strengthens the study's results because they were able to observe effects at the beginning of a user's exposure, strengthens the results because they were able to observe effects at the beginning of a user's exposure.
Read more: Tobias Weinmann, et al. Association of household cleaning agents and disinfectants with asthma in young German adults. [Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first May 2017 doi: 10.1136/oemed-2016-104086 Source: OHSAlert
OHS Regulator News
Public Comment on Compliance Codes
With the Minister's approval, eight draft Compliance Codes have now been issued for public comment. These are:
- Hazardous Manual Handling Compliance Code
- Hazardous Substances Compliance Code
- Plant Compliance Code
- Confined Spaces Compliance Code
- Demolition Compliance Code
- Facilities in Construction Compliance Code
- Excavation Compliance Code
- Noise Compliance Code
The links to these proposed codes are on this page. Summaries of proposed changes to the codes can be found here. Public comment, which closes on Friday June 9, can be submitted online or by using a submission form.
New OHS regulations now available
The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations 2017) and the Equipment (Public Safety) Regulations 2017 (EPS Regulations 2017), which will take effect on 18 June 2017. These are available to download from the Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents page of the Victorian Legislation website. The Regulations section of the OHSReps@work website will be updated before the new regulations take effect.
Reminder: WorkSafe Victoria updating website so please help!
Victoria's regulator is gradually updating its website, section by section. This means that many links on the OHS Reps@Work website may be broken. If you come across any broken links, please please send Renata an email! Thank you!!
NSW: Quad bike campaign
A confronting new advertising campaign aimed at reducing the number of people killed or injured in quad bike accidents will begin airing across regional NSW this week. It follows Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean's recent announcement of free training and a free helmet for those who complete the course.
"These new television ads are designed to make people think twice about the way they use quad bikes," Mr Kean said. "Quad bikes are not toys. People need to prioritise safety when using these vehicles, especially when it comes to young people. The last thing anyone wants to see is another person seriously injured or killed as a result of a quad bike incident. This is about keeping people as safe as possible."
Read more: Ministerial Media Release
Safe Work Australia News
National body has new website too!
A reminder that Safe Work Australia has a new website - so please contact Renata if you come across any broken links on the OHS Reps@Work site, Thank you!!
As of 11 May, 57 workplace fatalities had been reported to SWA - six more people died since the last update. These were in the following industries:
- 22 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 13 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 9 in Construction;
- 3 Arts and recreation services
- 2 in Electricity, gas, water and waste services
- 2 in Mining
- 2 in Manufacturing
- 1 in Accommodation and food services
- 2 in Public administration and safety
- 1 in Retail Trade
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 published remains that for December 2016, during which there were eight work-related notifiable fatalities: six male workers, one female worker, and one female bystander. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
There have been no new OHS prosecution summaries loaded onto the WorkSafe website since last week.
For updates, check the: WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
NT: Employer fined after fatality
S. Kidman and Co Ltd was fined $200,000 from a maximum $1.5 million in the NT for WHS breaches after a worker in the NT was killed by a 345kg pole. Chief Judge Dr John Lowndes reportedly found that the employer failed to ensure adequate control measures were in place after planning an inherently dangerous task.
In February 2012, an S. Kidman and Co cattle station diesel mechanic was killed when the large metal pole fell from a skid steer loader and landed on his abdomen. NT WorkSafe issued the employer with a number of improvement and prohibition notices, before informing the Office of the Coroner, in January 2014, that it had finished its investigation and wasn't taking further action.
The Deputy Coroner then found that a mechanical defect on the skid steer loader and the operator's inexperience contributed to the pole falling on the mechanic, and the Director of Public Prosecutions charged the employer with breaching sections 19 and 32 of the Territory WHS Act, at the request of the mechanic's family.