SafetyNet 409, June 28, 2017
In one of the worst weeks for a long time, five Victorian workers lost their lives in just seven days. Last Tuesday two Victorian agricultural workers were killed in two separate incidents. And yesterday morning, in just two hours, two more workers were killed. Then today we got the tragic news that Dr Patrick Pritzwald-Stegmann, the heart surgeon who was attacked at Box Hill Hospital last month, died from his injuries yesterday. This brings our tally of 2017 fatalities to 17. The VTHC sends our condolences to the family and friends of these workers. This is why we fight for health and safety.
Join the fight, be informed: 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.
Four workers killed in Victoria in one week
Two people were killed at work in country Victoria in less than 24 hours last week. Yesterday, two more workers were killed. All of these were in separate incidents. These deaths bring the number of Victorian workers killed in incidents this year to 16.
A 55-year-old man was killed after the spreader truck he was driving rolled down a hill at Limestone, south of Yea, at about 5pm on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 20. The worker was spreading lime across the top of a steep hill when the vehicle rolled - he was thrown from the cabin and crushed as the vehicle rolled down the hill. In the second incident, a 45-year-old man was loading manure into a stationary truck at a chicken breeding farm at Freshwater Creek near Geelong. He was killed when he fell from the vehicle.
WorkSafe's Executive Director of Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said these deaths highlighted the need for every farm to make safety their number one priority. "Agriculture employs just three per cent of Victorian workers but accounts for almost 30 per cent of all workplace deaths," Ms Williams said.
Then, in even more tragic news, two more workers were killed yesterday. A stablehand in her late 40s was killed after falling from a horse during a training session just before 9am at Bendigo Jockey Club. WorkSafe believes the woman was taking part in barrier work when her horse suffered an injury and stumbled. The woman fell to the ground and was struck by her horse. The horse was subsequently put down.
Soon after 10am, a carpenter was killed after falling from the first floor of a house being built at Kalkallo, just north of Melbourne. The carpenter, in his late 60s, was installing flooring on the first floor of a double storey house when he fell to the ground.
Ms Williams, said it had been a horror week for Victorian workers and their families. "Each of these deaths is a tragedy that is devastating for their families, their workmates and their communities," WorkSafe Victoria is investigating all the incidents.
Read more: Two workers die in country Victoria in less than 24 hours and Horror morning as stablehand and carpenter die in separate incidents. WorkSafe Media Releases
Boxhill surgeon attacked last month dies
Yesterday Dr Patrick Pritzwald-Stegmann, the heart surgeon and father of two who was attacked at Box Hill Hospital last month, died from his injuries. Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann had been in intensive care since May 31, after undergoing emergency brain surgery.
The cardiac and thoracic surgeon was heading home after work when he became involved in an altercation with a man which resulted in him being punched in the head. It is understood he was concerned about people smoking near the hospital entrance when the alleged assault occurred.
The incident has led to calls to improve security for staff at hospitals and health facilities across the state. Both the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation said it was a "tipping point", and many doctors and nurses had real fear about their safety at work.
Read more: ABC News online;
Friday June 23: ElementFive/VCON Action
Following last Friday's snap action outside the head office of developer VIMG who hire construction company ElementFive/VCON, things got ugly. A site manager employed by VCON, which has one of the worst safety records in Victoria, was arrested and charged after sending an email which allegedly threatened to track down one of the VTHC's safety organisers, and saying he would "attack you and your family". Element Five/VCON have seen 124 Worksafe visits, 104 serious incidents and the death of a worker in the last 2 years. Nobody should be made to feel unsafe at work. Whether you're a construction worker, or someone who looks out for the health and safety of all workers, we all have a right to come home safe at the end of the day. More and more people, unionists and members of the public, are signing the petition which calls on developers to dump this company (see: Ditch dodgy builders ElementFive/VCON).
Read more: Building manager arrested, charged over threats to 'attack' union organiser,The Age
6 July Young, Black and Deadly: The Young Indigenous Activists Changing Australia
Next week is NAIDOC week and there's a fabulous event being organised by the VTHC Young Workers team with special guest Aretha Brown - the 16 year old Indigenous activist and emerging leader from Melbourne. The team is finalising arrangements for several other guests.
What: Young, Black, and Deadly: The Young Indigenous Activists Changing Australia
When: 6pm, Thursday 6 July
Where: Meeting Room 1 at Trades Hall. 54 Victoria St, Carlton South
More information and RSVPs here
Tuesday June 27: Webinar on 2017 regulations (Part 1)
The VTHC's first Webinar on the 2017 OHS Regulations was held last night - hopefully participants found it interesting and informative. If you were unable to participate, but would like to check it out, or if you did and would like to download the power point presentation, go to this page. You can watch the webinar, which goes for about 40 minutes and also send in questions. So if you have any questions, whether you participated or not, please email these in to Renata. We plan to make these and the answers available on the site as well. We will be running the second part in the coming weeks.
The process of amending the Regulations section of our site, is progressing, so you can check the summaries there. WorkSafe's comprehensive guides to the OHS (and the Equipment Public Safety) regulations 2017 can be downloaded from this page of the WorkSafe site. It's a lot of detailed information, but you can 'cheat' by checking a summary of the changes that we think HSRs and workers should know about on this page of our website.
With cold weather across a number of Australian states, Renata received several questions this week about what temperature would be considered warm enough, or whether there's anything in the law that sets a minimum temperature to work in. Below is an amalgamation of several of these which came from workplaces as varied as a supermarket, a take-away window at a popular 'family restaurant', an office and workers in the foyer of a large hotel.
What temperature should a workplace be to be considered as warm enough in winter to work in? I really need to know as ours is freezing!! Our uniforms are very light - suitable for summer only really.
There's nothing specific in our occupational health and Safety law – but the employer has a legal duty under s21 of the OHS Act to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health (so far as is reasonably practicable) and also to monitor the conditions at the workplace and the health of workers (see this page on our site)
Then there's a Compliance Code which sets out what the employer needs to do.. specifically, the Victorian Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment includes provisions in relation to temperature:
- Workplaces that are buildings need to be capable of maintaining a temperature range that is comfortable and suitable to the work. Workplace temperatures that are too high or too low can contribute to fatigue, heat illness and cold-related medical conditions. (Para 122)
- Optimum comfort for sedentary work is between 20°C and 26°C, depending on the time of the year and clothing worn. Employees undertaking work requiring physical exertion usually prefer a lower temperature range. (124)
- The means of maintaining a comfortable temperature will depend on the working environment and the weather and could include any of the following (125):
- air conditioning
- electric heating
- open windows
- building insulation
- the layout of workstations
- direct sunlight control
- controlling airflow and the source of draughts
- a work and rest regime
- All heating and cooling facilities need to be serviced regularly and maintained in a safe condition (126)
See this page on our site for more information on Cold.
And don't forget that the employer also has a duty to consult with workers on a large range of matters including identifying and controlling hazards and risks. So, your employer should be:
- monitoring the conditions – what IS the temperature?
- Implementing means to get the place warmer
- finally, 'ppe' - warmer uniforms!
Basically then, you and your fellow workers need to raise the issue with the boss, propose some solutions and demand that some action be taken. (By the way, all other jurisdictions have similar provisions in their Act, regulations, and codes.)
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: government should adopt standalone dumping offence
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) says the NSW government should consider creating a standalone asbestos dumping offence and a new regulator to confront the dumping black market. The ICAC made the recommendations after finding former rugby league player Craig Izzard, a dumping inspector, engaged in serious corrupt conduct, helping offenders avoid detection in exchange for cash, mobile phones and firewood. In a report released last week, acting ICAC commissioner Reginald Blanch issued 15 recommendations to the Environment Protection Authority and the NSW government to reduce corruption risks associated with waste investigations
Read more: Tipping fees fuelling asbestos dumping black market. The Canberra Times
ANU Report: living in Mr Fluffy home linked to mesothelioma
An Australian National University report has proven there is a link between living in a house with loose-fill asbestos (a Mr Fluffy home) and developing mesothelioma. The ACT Asbestos Health Study driven by the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health examined the health effects of living in a house with loose-fill asbestos insulation in the ACT. The study provides information on domestic exposure to loose-fill asbestos in the ACT and on the health concerns of current and recent residents of Mr Fluffy houses. The researchers found that the rate of mesothelioma was 2.5 times higher in men who had lived at an affected residential property (ARP) than in men who had not. This corresponds to four extra cases of mesothelioma in male ARP residents between 1984 and 2013 (i.e., additional to the number expected to occur in this group, even if there had never been loose fill asbestos in these houses). The findings of the ACT Asbestos Healthy Study were released on Wednesday, 21 June 2017. The report comes as the 729th Mr Fluffy home is knocked down as part of the ACT Government's 2014 demolition scheme. Available to download are the final report, ACT Asbestos Health Study: Component Four Data Linkage Study (PDF, 853KB), and Frequently asked questions (PDF, 93KB), and prior reports can be downloaded from the ANU website here.
ASEA 2017 Summit - November 26 - 28
Registration is now open for the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency's 4th annual event, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Summit 2017.
The Summit will take place in the stunning setting of Old Parliament House, Canberra between 26th-28th November 2017 and will take on a new format from the previous conferences. During the two-day Summit, we will provide delegates with a real opportunity to be a part of Australia's next National Strategic Plan to manage asbestos. This year, there will be a major focus on debate and ASEA wants all those with an interest in asbestos to have input in how best everyone can work together to create an asbestos-free Australia. ASEA has produced a short, but informative, promotional video for the Summit - watch it here. Book tickets here. Take advantage of the generous early bird discounts (book by September 22).
International Union news
ITUC Global Rights Index 2017: Violence and repression of workers on the rise
The number of countries experiencing physical violence and threats against workers has risen by 10 percent in just one year, according to the annual International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index. Attacks on union members have been documented in fifty-nine countries, fuelling growing anxiety about jobs and wages.
The report shows that corporate interests are being put ahead of the interests of working people in the global economy, with 60 per cent of countries excluding whole categories of workers from labour law.
"Denying workers protection under labour laws creates a hidden workforce, where governments and companies refuse to take responsibility, especially for migrant workers, domestic workers and those on short term contracts. In too many countries, fundamental democratic rights are being undermined by corporate interests," said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.
Read more, and download the report, infographs and more here.
UK: Why the TUC fights deregulation
Many of those killed or made homeless by the devastating Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June were union members, and unions are now actively supporting the affected families. The TUC has said while this is the first priority, "it is clear that we cannot see Grenfell Tower as a 'one-off' disaster but as something that is much more symptomatic of the society we live in and the value that it places on human life, especially the lives of the poor, the dispossessed and the vulnerable." In an online commentary, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson noted: "From a health and safety point of view I also feel incredible anger that so many warnings were ignored. Tower block fires have already been the subject of several inquiries after the 1999 fire in Irvine and the 2009 Camberwell fire. There have also been horrendous fires in tower blocks abroad – the best known being Melbourne and Dubai. It is not that we did not know the dangers, simply that the government did not act, and when tenants' groups did speak up their voice was ignored." He said the tragedy was in part testimony to "the government's ideological obsession with deregulation." A long succession of warnings to ministers from inquests, parliamentary groups and experts went unheeded.
The FBU, the UK firefighters union, has called on the government to ensure that the victims of the disaster and other key parties such as the union be central to the recently announced public enquiry. The union says the inquiry must also be broad enough to address the immediate causes of and response to the London tower block disaster. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said, "This inquiry needs to look not just at the immediate causes of the fire and the response to it, but also at who was responsible for the building and for any alterations made to it." He added: "But it also needs to look much wider at the regulations and the regime that now operates in building control, planning and fire safety. All of these have seen significant changes in the recent past as part of an agenda of deregulation and cutting so-called 'red tape'. Those who took those decisions are going to have to start facing the consequences."
The union is also concerned for its members as counselling services available to those who responded to the disaster were drastically cut under Boris Johnson when he was Lord Mayor of London, prior to taking on the role of foreign secretary in Teresa May's minority government. Read more: Risks 805
UK: Temperatures 'soar' over 30 degrees
The TUC, UK's peak union council, is urging employers to 'cool it' as temperatures 'soar' in a 'heatwave'. With temperatures soaring over 30 degrees Celsius, the TUC has repeated its call on employers to temporarily relax their workplace dress codes during excessive hot weather. It says where people are working outdoors, employers should consider reviewing working times so that, where possible, work is done in the morning and afternoon, rather than around midday when temperatures are highest. It adds that bosses can also help their workers keep cool by letting them come to work in more casual clothing. The TUC would like to see a change in the law to introduce a new maximum indoor temperature, set at 30 degrees Celsius – or 27 degrees for those doing strenuous jobs – with employers obliged to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24 degrees. This may amuse many Australian workers, who sometimes have to endure temperatures in the 40s! We would agree, however, that legislation should specify both maximum and minimum temperatures. In the UK, staff are not expected to work when the temperature drops below 16 degrees Celsius - or 13 degrees if they do physically demanding work
Read more: TUC news release. Source: Risks 805 And more on our site: Working in Heat; and Cold.
Pakistan: Major project leads to deaths
The local Government of Punjab has invested a lot of political prestige in the construction of the new modern rail based mass rapid transit system, the Orange Line Metro Train, for the city of Lahore. In its determination to build the line as quickly as possible the lives of workers are being sacrificed with regulations and health and safety being overlooked. Last week, four workers were badly injured when they fell from a crane. It is estimated that at least 25 workers have been killed so far, with the worst single incident occurring in January this year when seven workers were burned to death.Clearly both the company and the local government see the lives of workers, many of them migrants from poorer rural areas, as totally expendable. Read more: 25 killed since launch of train project; Source: AAWL Mininews
Bangladesh: Textile mill fire shows need to extend safety accord
A devastating fire in a Bangladesh textile mill in early June highlights the need to extend and expand a groundbreaking safety accord scheduled to end in May 2018, labour rights campaigners have said. The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which was established four years ago to improve structural, electrical and fire safety in Bangladesh's garment factories, is in the process of being renegotiated. While the Accord covers 2.5 million workers in the ready-made-garment industry, workers in Bangladesh's textile mills are not covered. On 1 June 2017 a fire broke out at Pakiza Textile Ltd in Savar, Bangladesh, injuring at least 21 workers. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), this fire "demonstrates the ongoing dangers to textile workers in Bangladesh, many of whom are producing goods as part of global apparel supply chains." CCC's Ineke Zeldenrust said: "Workers in textile factories often work for the same garment brands as those in Accord-inspected factories, but still have to risk their lives in unsafe workplaces. Brands should be aware that proper due diligence does not stop at those workers that stitch their clothes, but also covers the workers who are spinning, weaving and dyeing their textiles." CCC and its partner organisations said that ensuring that the textile industry is covered by a transparent and inclusive programme of safety inspections is 'an essential step' towards preventing future injury and death.
Read more: Clean Clothes Campaign news release. Source Risks 805
Study links contaminated air on planes to pilot deaths
Contaminated air on planes is a health risk to pilots and crew and could 'degrade' flight safety, a new study has found. The research led by the University of Stirling showed a clear link between being exposed to air contaminated by engine oil and other aircraft fluids, and a variety of health problems. The study examined more than 200 air crew and found many had been exposed to a number of substances through aircrafts' contaminated air. They uncovered a clear pattern of acute and chronic symptoms, ranging from headaches and dizziness to breathing and vision problems. One test looked at pilots' health and showed 88 per cent of the 219 people examined were aware of exposure to contaminated air. Almost two-thirds reported specific health effects while 13 per cent had died or experienced chronic ill health. Ninety-three per cent of the incidents involved symptoms ranging from in-flight impairment to incapacitation. Almost threequarters included adverse symptoms in more than one crew member, with anywhere between 10 and 23 different symptoms reported in relation to almost half of the events. Dr Susan Michaelis, of the University of Stirling's occupational and environmental health research group, said: "This research provides very significant findings relevant to all aircraft workers and passengers globally. There is a clear cause-and-effect relationship linking health effects to a design feature that allows the aircraft air supply to become contaminated by engine oils and other fluids in normal flight. This is a clear occupational and public health issue with direct flight-safety consequences."
Read more: Stirling University news release. Susan Michaelis, Jonathan Burdon and C Vyvyan Howard Aerotoxic syndrome: A new occupational disease? [Full text, PDF], Public Health Panorama, volume 3, issue 2, pages 198-211, June 2017. The Guardian. Source: Risks 805
Last chance to have your say in two Australian research projects
1 - Working in heat
The research for the University of Adelaide national project to better understand the circumstances underpinning workplace injuries that occur in hot conditions is continuing to June 30. The project will be examining the relationship between hot weather and workplace injury, and exploring stakeholders' and workers' perception in order to aid in the prevention of heat-related occupational injuries. To find out more, go to this page. HSRs and those who have had an injury while working in hot conditions are invited to participate - and there are a number of ways you can share your experiences. Closing date is 30 June. For more Information contact Alana Hansen: email or telephone (08) 8313 1043.
The Monash University research on workplace aggression from patients, from patients' carers or relatives, from other persons external to the work setting, and from co-workers is open until July 11 - so you have a little longer for this one. If you are a nurse, midwife, or care worker, please take this survey. If you know one, share the survey with them! Read more and access the survey here.
For more information, contact Dr Danny Hills via email or on 03 99055440.
OHS Regulator News
SafeWork Australia Fatality statistics
The SWA page was updated last Friday: since 22 June, 85 workplace fatalities had been reported to the national body - this is nine more workers's deaths notified in less than a two week period. Of these, five were in agriculture/forestry/fishing, and two each in transport/postal/warehousing and construction. The workers killed were in the following industries:
- 32 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 20 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 15 in Construction;
- 4 in Manufacturing
- 3 Arts and recreation services
- 3 in Electricity, gas, water and waste services
- 3 in Public administration and safety
- 2 in Accommodation and food services
- 1 in Mining
- 1 in Rental, hiring and real estate services
- 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 webpage).
The latest monthly fatality report published is that for January 2017, during which there were 22 work-related notifiable fatalities - this compares to eight notified in December. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Company agrees to enforceable undertaking
Belgravia Health & Leisure Group Pty Ltd ('Belgravia') manages the operations of the Lake Mountain Alpine Resort in Marysville. On 4 September 2015, two employees and another person were removing a felled tree that had fallen at the resort. There was no safe work method statement or Job Safety Analysis (JSA) for this work. There was a risk of serious injury or death as workers could be struck a falling tree. While cutting the tree, it "flung back" pinning one worker to the ground, seriously injuring him. It was reasonably practicable for the company to have a system of work with documented risk assessment and safe operating procedure for felling hazardous trees. Belgravia was charged with two breaches of the OHS Act: s 21 for failing to have a safe system of work for felling hazardous trees, and s 23 for also exposing people other than their employees to risk due to the lack of a safe system of work. The company submitted an Enforceable Undertaking to WorkSafe which was accepted on 6 June 2017 and all charges were withdrawn.
Lack of SWMS costs demolition company over $30,000
Budget Demolition & Recyclers Pty Ltd is a demolitions, asbestos removal and house goods recycling company based in Bittern. On 12 February 2015, the company demolishing a residential dwelling at Cowes. An employee was operating a Hitachi excavator close to overhead powerlines, creating a risk of death or serious injury by electric shock and/or electrocution. In fact, the bucket of the excavator came into contact with the powerlines. The company should have had a Safe Work Method Statement for the demolition work before that work commenced and made sure the work was performed in line with that statement. It was also reasonably practicable for the company to get a Permit To Work from the relevant asset manager prior to commencing the demolition work. Budget Demolition & Recyclers pleaded guilty and was, with conviction, fined $25,000 plus $5,221 costs.
Restaurant convicted and fined after worker's hand caught in mixer
In February last year an employee of FX National Pty Ltd (a company in the restaurant industry) was cleaning a dough making machine when his hand got caught in the mixer's rotating arm. His middle finger was broken in two places and required surgery. It was found that workers would clean the mixer by lifting the guarding and wiping down the bowl while the mixer was operating. The machine's guarding should have shut it off when lifted. Further, there was no emergency stop button on the mixer. The company failed to identify the risks to employees, and failed to develop a safe system of work - which would have been to tag and lock out the mixer while it was being cleaned. FX National also failed to provide any information, instruction and training to its employees. The company pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $15,000, plus $5,221 costs.
For updates go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
NSW: $90,000 fine after worker's skull pierced by steel bar
A Sydney construction company has been fined $90,000 over an incident in 2013 where an 18 year old worker's skull was pierced by a steel reo bar that flew into the cabin of the excavator he was operating. In August 2013, the worker was operating the excavator as part of demolition and excavation work for a block of residential units being built in Lindfield.
While filling the sifting bucket of the excavator with a load of concrete and steel reinforced bar, a steel bar flew into the cabin of the excavator, piercing the worker's skull, penetrating to about 85mm. Fortunately the worker did not suffer a significant brain injury. Principal contractor ProjectCorp Pty Ltd had sub-contracted NMK Pty Ltd to perform the excavation and demolition works at the site.
SafeWork NSW's investigation found that, at the time of the incident, the glass front screen of the excavator was open and that NMK's Site Supervisor had observed the worker operating the excavator with the window open prior to the incident but failed to instruct him to close it.
ProjectCorp pleaded guilty to the charge alleged by SafeWork NSW under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for failing to ensure that the excavator was operated by sub-contractors in accordance with the operator's manual, in particular, that the front safety screen of the excavator was closed when in operation. In September 2015 co-defendant NMK Pty Ltd was found guilty of breaching sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and fined $120,000 in relation to the same incident. This judgement brought total fines for the incident to $210,000.
Read more: SafeWorkNSW Media Release