SafetyNet 413, August 2, 2017
This week has seen the release of a disturbing report on harassment at Australia's universities. We also report on several research papers on asbestos - a continuing scourge on workers everywhere.
To keep up to date and 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.
What has changed in the 2017 OHS Regulations? Part II
We had a successful webinar this week, Part II on what's changed in Victoria's new OHS Regulations. We had NUMBER of participants, many of whom were able to ask questions. Both Parts I is available here. - and Part II will be loaded up soon. So if you missed one or both, or want to go over some parts of it, please do.
Hi Renata. Can a casual employee be an OHS rep? I am being encouraged by colleagues to become an OHS rep. I have been at the company for almost two years and work 40hrs per week. Most employees at this manufacturing company are long term casuals.
Yes, absolutely! Casual employees have the right to be elected as health and safety representatives by their fellow workers.
It's unfortunate that the rate of casualisation in the Australian workforce has continued to increase at alarming rates, meaning that in many workplaces – such as hospitality and other services – almost all the staff except management are casuals. Employers have been increasingly employing workers as 'casuals' when in reality these workers long term regular patterns of work
As long as the DWG elects you, then you're the OHS rep. Make sure that you attend training – as the elected rep you are entitled to attend a five day initial training course of your choice. If possible a course either here at the VHTC or at the union you would be eligible to join. Our courses understand that an elected rep's role is to represent the workers – not the employer. The initial course is a five day course – and you are entitled to be paid your normal weekly wages, that is, not be any worse off for having attended the training. (See this page which sets out the rights of OHS reps and also what the employer must pay, etc)
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.
August 26: Free forum for migrant communities
Let's talk about Workplace Health & Safety
The Victorian Trades Hall Council, the main organisation representing trade unions in Victoria, has been fighting for workers' rights for over 150 years. Migrant workers get injured more than other workers. The VTHC wants to help all workers and so we have organised this free event so that we can hear about the experiences of migrant workers and their communities. Guest speaker will be the Honourable Robin Scott, Minister for Multicultural Affairs. The forum will be followed by a light lunch.
Health and safety: fundamental union business
The CFMEU this week loaded a video on Twitter outlining how last year the ABCC turned up at a site the day after a fatality - a worker was killed after he fell 20 metres, dying in the arms of the delegate 'Chucky' and CFMEU organiser Theo. When the ABCC arrived (then called the FWBC - 'Fair Work Building Commission') the union says all it wanted to know was: What was the union doing there? Did they give 24 hours' notice? and Did they have permits? Check out the short video here.
August 1: World Lung Cancer Day
Yesterday was World Lung Cancer Day. According to the Lung Foundation, lung cancer is Australia's biggest cancer killer. It's one of the more common cancers contracted by workers: Contributing work-related factors which must be eliminated are exposure to chemicals such as asbestos and those in environmental tobacco smoke. While Australia banned asbestos in all forms in 2003 - it is still legal to mine, use and export it in many other countries - including the U.S.A.
National: CFMEU calls for better testing
The CFMEU has used the senate inquiry into non-conforming building products to call for better testing of all imported building materials and higher penalties for those bringing asbestos products into Australia. Aaron Cartledge, Construction and General South Australian State Secretary, CFMEU, says many young workers do not recognise asbestos and an education program should be mandatory for all apprentices. Cartledge said in interviews on the ABC that stricter penalties are also necessary because it is hard to pursue Chinese manufacturers. He said the cheaper price of these products including combustible cladding is false economy because it is costing developers and consumers more in the long term.
Read more: Senate standing committee on Non-conforming building products homepage.
NSW: Asbestos find triggers union closure at Opera House
Tests at the Sydney Opera House this week have confirmed the presence of asbestos fibres, prompting the union to instruct electricians to stop working on its $200 million renovation. The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) ban covers any work that involves accessing risers and penetrations that carry electrical services between floors and through walls, as well as work on troffer ceiling lights. ETU NSW assistant secretary Justin Page said that despite the presence of asbestos being confirmed almost a week ago, almost all of Downer electricians had still not received asbestos awareness training or been provided with procedures for safely working with asbestos. Mr Page added, "The union is extremely concerned that, almost a week after tests confirmed the presence of asbestos in work areas, the builder Laing O'Rourke and electrical contractor Downer have failed to undertake adequate risk assessments."
One of the union's main concerns is that Laing O'Rourke had failed to identify the asbestos earlier, and has it to redo all risk assessments. The ETU was also calling on Downer to provide all workers with training in asbestos awareness and on working safely with the hazardous substance. Source: OHSAlert. Read more: The Sydney Morning Herald; Nine.com.au News
ACT: Regulator requests files from Harvey Norman Outlet
Last Friday WorkSafeACT issued a issued a notice under the Work Health and Safety Act for Harvey Norman Fyshwick to provide documents and a risk assessment plan for managing potentially contaminated goods, saying, at the time, it had not yet received a comprehensive asbestos assessment for the warehouse from the retailer.
Work Safety Commissioner Greg Jones said a risk assessment - of how goods currently stored in the warehouse, or those that were stored there and then sold or moved since February 2017, are to be managed - had also been outstanding at the time of the demand. The regulator had issued a prohibition notice on the warehouse in June after upgrades to the warehouse ceiling damaged some sections of bonded asbestos roof panels, causing them to become friable. The notice is still in force.
Read more: WorkSafe issues demand to Harvey Norman over asbestos contamination at Fyshwick warehouse, The Canberra Times
QLD: Company fined $100,000 in asbestos breach
A Queensland employer that charged a client for the costs of controlling asbestos during repair work, but didn't provide any of the controls and exposed workers and others to asbestos dust, has been fined $100,000 for WHS breaches.
In January 2015, Roofmasters Pty Ltd was engaged to repair the storm-damaged roof on an asbestos-containing building leased to a business that sold and repaired tools. The job quote included the costs of working with asbestos – such as providing workers with appropriate suits, gloves and masks, installing a plastic frame to catch asbestos debris, and disposing of waste at an approved centre – and Roofmasters prepared a safe work method statement that identified the asbestos hazard and necessary controls.
However, Roofmasters workers who attended the site weren't advised of the presence of asbestos or provided with the SWMS. They didn't use any PPE, hadn't been trained in identifying and handling asbestos, and used powered screw guns on the roof, creating and exposing themselves, tool shop staff and members of the public to significant quantities of white dust, it found.
Acting Magistrate Robert Walker fined Roofmasters $100,000 from a maximum $1.5 million, plus $1000 in costs, for breaching s32 of the State WHS Act. Source: OHSAlert
ASEA 2017 News:
Summit - November 26 - 28, 2017
A reminder to register for the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency's 4th annual event, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Summit 2017, which is being held at the Old Parliament House, Canberra between 26th-28th November 2017. If you haven't yet checked out ASEA's short promotional video for the Summit - watch it here. Book tickets here. Take advantage of the generous early bird discounts (book by September 22).
New smoking bans in place
The Andrews government this week introduced new laws banning smoking in outdoor dining areas. Victorians and their families will be able to enjoy a meal outside, away from the deadly dangers of second-hand smoke - and hospitality workers in these areas will no longer be exposed to these toxic fumes. The new laws took effect on August 1 - coincidentally, World Lung Cancer Day.
The ban covers all restaurants, cafés, take-away shops and licenced premises, including beer gardens, courtyards and footpath dining where food, other than snacks, is served. Smoking will also be banned at food fairs and organised outdoor events such as street and community festivals, local school fetes, sporting events or craft markets where there are food stalls. Read more: Victorian government media release; Environmental tobacco smoke.
University staff welcome commitments to stop sexual violence
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) says that responsibility for responding to the findings of the national survey on sexual harassment and sexual assault at Australian universities lies with university managements. The Change the course report shows that sexual assault and sexual harassment are occurring to varying degrees across most areas of university life. Across all university settings, the Commission found that women were three times as likely as men to be sexually assaulted in 2015 or 2016 and almost twice as likely to have been sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016. 51 per cent of all university students were sexually harassed in 2016.
"For too long students and staff at Australian universities have been ignored, criticised and often silenced for speaking out on sexual violence on our campuses," said Jeannie Rea, NTEU National President. "The NTEU views sexual harassment and sexual assault as a critical issue affecting the work and lives of students and staff."
Following yesterday's release of the Australian Human Rights Commission National Report on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault at Australian Universities, all universities will be releasing findings for their institutions. "We are expecting every university to address the issues in general, and those specific to their campuses. This is not an occasion for rankings and comparisons, but for sharing good practices and shedding bad ones," explained Rea.
The NTEU strongly supported Universities Australia in commissioning an independent survey to bring out in the open the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault facing students - undergraduate, postgraduate, domestic and international."The NTEU would have preferred that staff were included in this survey, but respect the decision to respond to student demands for action, following the lack of follow through on the findings of National Union of Students (NUS) surveys on students' experiences," said Rea.
"Staff have also suffered from the silencing of reports of sexual
harassment and assault in their workplaces, and the preference of some
managements to deal with these matters as isolated incidents. The NTEU
urges further investigation into the prevalence of sexual harassment and
assault of staff.
Read more: NTEU Statement; Australian Human Rights Commission media release and Change the course: National Report on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault at Australian Universities Buzzfeed. The Age
Cambodia: female workers suffer mass faintings
Women working in Cambodian factories which supply some of the world's best-known sportswear brands are suffering from repeated mass faintings which have been linked to conditions. Over the past year more than 500 workers in four factories supplying Nike, Puma, Asics and VF Corporation were hospitalised. In the most serious episode, over three days in November, 360 workers collapsed. The brands confirmed the incidents. These women had worked 10 hour days, six days a week and reported feeling exhausted and hungry. Excessive heat was also an issue in three factories, with temperatures of 37C. Unlike in Vietnam, where factory temperatures must not exceed 32C, Cambodia sets no limit, though if temperatures reach a "very high level" causing difficulties for workers, employers must install fans or air conditioning. (Note: this vagueness also applies in Australia!)
Unions have said that the uncertainty
of work - most of the 600,000 textile workers are on short-term
contracts - were also a source of stress and exhaustion.
Read more: The Guardian
Italian workers died at higher rates at Wittenoom than Australian workers
Researchers from Australia and Italy compared mortality from asbestos-related diseases among Italian and Australian workers employed at Wittenoom. Italians were the largest of 52 migrant groups employed at the Wittenoom blue asbestos mining and milling operation. The researchers established a cohort of 6500 male workers from employment records and followed up at state and national mortality and cancer registries.
1031 Italians and 3465 Australians worked at Wittenoom between 1943 and 1966. The Italian workers were employed there for longer, although the concentration of exposure was similar. The mesothelioma mortality rate per 100 000 was higher in Italians than Australians, and the risk of mesothelioma was greater than twofold in Italians at the lowest asbestos exposure category (<10 fibre years/per mL).
The researchers concluded that a hierarchy in migration, isolation and a shortage of workers led to Italians at Wittenoom incurring higher cumulative exposure to blue asbestos and subsequently a greater rate of malignant mesothelioma than Australian workers Poor working conditions and disparities between native and foreign-born workers has had a detrimental and differential impact on the long-term health of the workforce.
Read more: Alison Reid1, et al: Migration and work in postwar Australia: mortality profile comparisons between Australian and Italian workers exposed to blue asbestos at Wittenoom [Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma
Canadian researchers have released the results of a study into the costs of lung cancer and mesothelioma associated with asbestos exposure.
The researchers estimated the lifetime cost of newly diagnosed lung cancer and mesothelioma cases associated with occupational and para-occupational asbestos exposure for calendar year 2011 based on the societal perspective. The key cost components considered were healthcare costs, productivity and output costs, and quality of life costs. There were 427 cases of newly diagnosed mesothelioma cases and 1904 lung cancer cases in Canada attributable to asbestos exposure in 2011 for a total of 2331 cases. They estimated the economic burden was $C831 million in direct and indirect costs for newly identified cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer and $C1.5 billion in quality of life costs based on a value of $C100,000 per quality-adjusted life year. This amounted to $C356.429 and $C652,369 per case, respectively.
The researchers concluded that the economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma associated with occupational and para-occupational asbestos exposure is substantial. The estimate identified was for 2331 newly diagnosed, occupational and para-occupational exposure cases in 2011, so it was only a portion of the burden of existing cases in that year. They said their findings provided important information for policy decision makers for priority setting, in particular the merits of banning the mining of asbestos and use of products containing asbestos in countries where they are still allowed and also the merits of asbestos removal in older buildings with asbestos insulation.
Read more: Emile Tompa, et al: The economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma due to occupational and para-occupational asbestos exposure [Full article - open access] Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Brake industry pressure against asbestos bans in North America
In an article in the American Journal of Public Health: "Ain't Necessarily So!": The Brake Industry's Impact on Asbestos Regulation in the 1970s, authors David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz detail "the activities in the early 1970s of the Friction Materials Standards Institute, an industry trade association, to stifle earlier attempts to regulate asbestos use in brake linings, one of the oldest and most obvious sources of asbestos exposure to mechanics, among others." They used internal corporate documents, unavailable until recently, but now accessible at toxicdocs.org
In the introduction to the article they say: "Canada is proposing a ban on asbestos, and the US Environmental Protection Agency has listed it among the first 10 materials it is investigating under the new Toxic Substances Control Act revisions. However, this effort is currently running up against enormous industry and political opposition." This and other industry lobbyists have been extremely successful: today asbestos is banned in the United States in a few products, such as corrugated paper and flooring felt, but it is still legal in brakes and clutches and a host of construction and industrial materials, such as vinyl floor tiles, roofing materials, and cement pipe, among others
Source: Rosner, D and Markowitz, G: "Ain't Necessarily So!": The Brake Industry's Impact on Asbestos Regulation in the 1970s [Abstract] (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print July 20, 2017: e1–e5. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303901)
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe Victoria News
Reminder: Seminars around the state
As part of the Small Business Festival Victoria, WorkSafe is holding a number of free WorkSafe seminars in Geelong, Warrnambool, Shepparton, Traralgon and Ballarat, August 3 - 29th. To register for one of these seminars, go to this page of the WorkSafe website.
Latest edition of Safety Soapbox
The latest edition was posted on July 28. The editorial is by Steve Darnley and is on the use and availability of battery drills. He says: "Over the last 30 years the battery drill has evolved and become more powerful, versatile and with longer battery life. However, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of wrist, hand and facial injuries resulting from battery drill use. This appears to be most prevalent amongst apprentices."
As usual, there are a number of other
items in the edition including a link
to an EnergySafe Safety Alert on Split air-conditioning units. Also attached to the electronic email
is the list of reported incidents for the period rom 7 July to 20 July 2017 with
74 incidents reported to WorkSafe. There were numbers of potentially fatal falls, electric shocks and serious 'near misses'.
Access the July 28 edition of Safety Soapbox here - the list of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.
ACT: Occ Violence policy and plan for schools launched
Last week, Yvette Berry, the ACT Minister for Education, launched an Occupational Violence Policy and Management Plan with the Australian Education Union ACT Branch. The new policy aims to ensure public school staff are safe and confident in doing their job. The minister said, "Every child has the right access education and every worker has the right to be safe at work." She added, "While schools are rightly student centred, schools must also provide an environment where staff are safe and remain confident in their workplace. The new Occupational Violence policy outlines our commitment to effectively respond to occupational violence while the management plan provides a future direction for staff about how the government will provide the skills, support, resources and culture required to ensure staff remain safe at work."
Read more: ACT government media release. Occupational Violence policy [pdf] and Management Plan [pdf]
Safe Work Australia News
August: Tradie month
August is Tradies Health Month, and Safe Work Australia is calling on tradies to make their health – and the health of their co-workers – a priority. SWA will be publishing a collection of data, videos, resources and information on its website.
SWA CEO Michelle Baxter said while tradies make up almost one-third (30%) of Australia's workforce, they represent over half (58%) of serious claims for workers' compensation. "Our research shows that the most common cause of injury involves muscular stress while lifting, carrying or putting down objects and the most common type of serious claim involves traumatic joint injuries. In particular, the construction industry is hazardous by nature and we work collaboratively with regulators, industry, unions and the community to identify the causes of injury and finding solutions to help tradies stay safe at work," said Ms Baxter. "Ultimately, we want every tradie to go home to their family, free from harm."
Australian tradespeople make the second highest number of serious claims related to musculoskeletal injuries compared with other occupations. The state health and safety regulators are supporting Tradies Month through social media and other campaigns.
Source: SWA media release and website; Tradies National Health Month website.
There has not been an update to the SWA work-related fatalities page since July 20, at which time 103 workplace fatalities had been reported to the national body. To check for updates and full figures for 2017, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.
The latest monthly fatality report published remains that for March 2017, during which there were 22 work-related notifiable fatalities. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Fair Work Ombudsman makes it easier to report workplace concerns
To make it easier for migrant workers to report workplace concerns, the Fair Work Ombudsman has launched an Anonymous Report tool in multiple languages. This tool has been developed to overcome some of the barriers that migrant workers face when dealing with workplace issues.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has also updated and expanded the translated information available on our website. Our translated information now includes downloadable resources, videos and topic based information about pay, leave, ending employment and issues in the workplace. The translated information can be found on this page of the Fair Work Ombudsman website. Read more: Fair Work Ombudsman media release Migrant workers anonymous reporting tool
Company convicted and fined $275,000 for worker fatality
The JMAL Group Pty Ltd, a towing company specialising in transporting mobile plant, was this week convicted and fined $275,000 following the death of an employee in August 2015. On 5 August an employee was tasked with loading and transporting a 66 boom lift crane from a depot at Williamstown to Melbourne Airport with a Kenworth Prime Mover connected to a low loader trailer.
The usual procedure was to load the plant to be transported in the public road outside the depot. There was no documented traffic management plan in place for this procedure, exposing employees and road users to the risk of death or serious injury due to potential collisions. With no documented plant, employees could not and were not provided with any induction. At about 4.55 am on that day, a member of the public was driving a delivery van along the road outside the depot . It was dark and raining. The driver saw the cage of a crane, with no lights, was in the centre of the road. He tried to stop but the side of his van hit the cage. The van driver stopped, and found a man, the JMAL Group employee was in the cage and injured. The employee subsequently died. JMAL Group pleaded guilty and was with conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $275,000 plus $12,000 costs.
Worker crushed - auto parts company convicted, fined $10,000
R&J Todio Car Parts Pty Ltd, operator of an auto wrecking yard selling second hand cars and parts, was charged with three counts of breaching the OHS Act. Charges 1 and 2 relate to an incident on 7 May 2016 in which a trainee mechanic was assisting a qualified mechanic change the clutch on an Isuzu truck at the workplace. The mechanic asked the trainee sitting in the cabin of a truck to start the engine and push in the clutch - the truck moved forward pinning the mechanic against a wall. He suffered a fractured pelvis and internal injuries, requiring him to spend a month in hospital and several surgeries.
There was no system of work was in place for the task which put employees, including the trainee mechanic, at risk of serious injury. Between 9 May 2016 and 29 August 2016 WorkSafe Inspectors attended the workplace on eight occasions and issued 15 improvement notices. The third charge was in relation to non-compliance with an improvement notice that required the offender to address the risk of cars toppling over and crushing persons due to their unsafe stacking. The company pleaded guilty and was with conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $10,000 plus costs of $4,027.
For updates go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Queensland: PCBU fined $200,000 after fatality
In February 2015, a Kelstra Pty Ltd worker was using an excavator to load building waste onto a truck when a piece of scrap metal flew into the excavator cabin, struck him on the head, and killed him. The Court heard material could enter the cabin because the windows were missing and the door was defective and could not be closed. It found that at the time of the fatality, Kelstra's managing director, Gregory Bruce Dakin, knew about the defects and the risk of objects entering the cabin because of two similar near misses, but had failed to address the issue.
After pleading guilty to breaching s32 of the Queensland WHS Act, Kelstra was fined $200,000 (plus costs). Dakin, was also charged, and entered a $50,000 undertaking not to breach the WHS Act for the next two years. Unbelievably, the Richlands Magistrates Court declined to record convictions against the two defendants. Source: OHSAlert
UK: Company fined £1.2m after explosion
A chemicals company has been fined £1.2m following an explosion at its site at West Thurrock, Essex. Luckily, only two people suffered minor injuries following the blast, which happened during the operation of the hydrochloric acid (HCl) burner on 26 September 2013.
Chelmsford Crown Court heard that the newly installed HCl burner being used by Industrial Chemicals Limited had only been used a handful of times when the explosion occurred. The plant site had been under construction for several months and was undergoing commissioning. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that in an attempt to the address risks from chlorine, the company routed the vent gas containing mostly hydrogen through to the plant emergency scrubber where it was able to come into contact with oxygen or chlorine which found an ignition source and then exploded.
Industrial Chemicals Limited of Stoneness Road, West Thurrrock pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999, was fined £1.2 million (A$1.98m) plus costs of £35,854 (A$59,112). Read more: HSE media release.
USA: 100,000 pages of chemical industry secrets revealed
For decades, some of the dirtiest, darkest secrets of the chemical industry have been kept in Carol Van Strum's barn. The damp 80-year-old structure in rural Oregon housed more than 100,000 pages of documents obtained through legal discovery in lawsuits against Dow, Monsanto, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the Air Force, and pulp and paper companies, among others.
As of late July, those documents and others that have been collected by environmental activists will be publicly available through a project called the Poison Papers.
Read more: 100,000 Pages of Chemical Industry Secrets Gathered Dust in an Oregon Barn for Decades — Until Now, The Intercept
India: 'Political murder' as 39 sewer workers die in 100 days
A human rights activist has exposed horrific death rates in workers cleaning India's sewers. "Nobody takes responsibility for the deaths in sewers," said Bezwada Wilson on hearing of the deaths of four men while cleaning a tank in Vasant Kunj last week. Calling the deaths 'political murder', Wilson said he had petitioned repeatedly the lieutenant governor and chief minister of Delhi and the National Human Rights Commission, even the prime minister, on the problem, to no avail. Wilson, one of the founders and the national convenor of Safai Karmachari Andolan, a campaign to end 'manual scavenging' in sewers, pointed out that in the past 100 days, 39 people had died across India while cleaning sewers. "This is not the first incident of the kind, just a part of regular occurrences," he told the Times of India. Wilson said that despite providing documents on 56 men who had died cleaning sewers, the authorities had not identified them, so there was no prospect of their families getting any compensation. "Who will take action under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which prohibits anyone from allowing a human to go into a sewer?", Wilson asked. "The administration will simply claim that since 2013, nobody is entering sewers and cleaning has been mechanised. But the truth is not a single sewer in the country is cleared using mechanisation." Wilson said that there is much talk about smart cities and bullet trains, but there is a need for smart sanitation too. "If 39 deaths in 100 days don't matter to the country, then this is one of the biggest challenges for our democracy," he said.
Read more: Times of India. Sabrangindia. Safai Karmachari Andolan. Source: Risks 810