SafetyNet 414

SafetyNet 414

SafetyNet 414, August 9, 2017

Sitting could be harming your brain!  Read about this research and more in this week's edition.

A huge shout out to our comrades in the UK this week: we have many items sourced from the TUC Risks newsletter - always a mine of great information!

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.


Union News
OHS Regulator News
OHS Prosecutions

Union News

What has changed in the 2017 OHS Regulations? Part II
Need to keep up-to-date with last month's webinar? We've got you sorted!

Simply click here to listen to an audio recording of the webinar, or to download a copy of the PP slides. If you have any questions from the webinar that you would like to see answered, send them in to Ask Renata. We'll be compiling all Q&As into a document to download soon, so get in quick!

Ask Renata
Hi Renata, We are currently having a roster review at our work; some staff are wondering if there are any applicable OHS laws that prohibit working 7 night shifts in a row (11pm-7am).

Unfortunately there are no specific laws on shift arrangement or rostering – but this is because OHS legislation in Australia is 'objective based' can covers all hazards and risks in workplaces. Remember the employer has a general duty of care to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing and maintaining 'systems of work that are safe and without risks to health' but is not 'prescriptive' – that is, it does not mandate HOW this should be done. See this page on Duties of employers

Shift arrangements and rosters certainly come under 'systems of work' and poor shift arrangements/rosters pose risks to workers in terms of fatigue – both at work and also for the journey to and from work. There are a number of risk factors which need to be considered – including number of shifts in a row, type of work, night work and so on.

WorkSafe has published a guide: Fatigue Prevention in the Workplace which may be helpful, but there are other publications from other regulators as well (check this page).

I would strongly recommend doing the following:

  • Contacting your union for advice and assistance
  • Ensuring that there is proper consultation prior to changes being introduced, taking into account workers' views and concern. Remember that the employer has a duty to consult under sections 35 & 36 of the Act.
  • Ensuring that there is a review of whatever roster is introduced after a period of time to identify and address any issues.

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.

When: Saturday August 26, 10am - 1pm
Where: New Council Chambers, Trades Hall, 54 Victoria St, Carlton South
Contact: email Sam Hatfield or Paul Sutton for more information.  Register here

Back to top

Asbestos News
Opera House exposure highlights need to remove asbestos
In last week's SafetyNet we reported that workers at Sydney's iconic Opera House had been exposed to asbestos - and the fallout is continuing. The Opera House has announced it will launch an independent inquiry while the ETU has accused the builder of not observing safety protocols after the discovery on Monday July 24 - meaning that over 5o workers may have been exposed.

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency has now called for an urgent national program of removal of high risk asbestos. The Agency's CEO Peter Tighe said while there were regulations in place to manage asbestos in buildings and avoid risk to human health, the management regime clearly failed on this and other occasions to protect people from harmful exposure.

"There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos. It is unacceptable that 25 (now 50) workers were exposed for a week before authorities were informed and steps put in place to protect the workers.

"There is clearly a breakdown of the system and it has failed in the duty of care for workers at the Sydney Opera House this week. Next week, it will be somewhere else." Mr Tighe said, "We really need to move from management of asbestos to a proactive program of removing high risk asbestos from Australian buildings," and concluded ""The time is up for asbestos in Australia. All levels of Government and the community must face the challenge of removal of asbestos from our built environment."
Read more: Workers' exposure to asbestos at Sydney Opera House highlights need to shift focus from managing to removing asbestos ASEA Media Release; TUC eradication guide [pdf]

UK: Million pound fine after school asbestos crime
Three companies have been fined a total of more than £1m (A$1.62m) after workers were exposed to asbestos in a school that was still occupied by schoolchildren. A former trading division of contractor Balfour Beatty, its client and its demolition contractor have together been fined £1.27m (2.09m) after exposing workers to asbestos during a project to create new premises for an expanding primary school. The exposure took place in July 2012 at a school in east London, which was being converted. The school was partially occupied at the time, with pupils later having to be bussed to another site during remedial works. The Court heard that on 24 July 2012 a worker removed part of a suspended ceiling in one of the ground floor refurbished rooms at the school and identified suspect asbestos containing materials. Asbestos fibres were subsequently found in numerous areas in the school. An HSE investigation found that although an asbestos survey was completed, there were multiple caveats and disclaimers which were not appropriately checked. An HSE inspector said: "The principal contractor and contractors on site did not review the survey report in detail, and did not take into consideration the multitude of caveats. Therefore the work undertaken did not adopt the high standards of control expected for working where there was the potential to expose workers to asbestos."
Read more: HSE media release; Unison press release Source: Risks 811

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).

Read more on Asbestos in the home and Asbestos in the workplace

NSW: Crane collapse injures three workers
Up to 200 people were unable to return home last weekend while emergency services worked to secure a crane that collapsed into an apartment complex at Wolli Creek in Sydney's south. Three workers were injured when the crane fell, with the construction union condemning the incident as "not good enough".

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) NSW state secretary Brian Parker said early investigations indicated it was a mechanical or engineering fault with the crane that caused it to collapse. "We are very, very concerned about this particular issue," he said. "In this day and age, and all the expertise we have, it's not good enough. We have seen cranes catch fire, fall out of the sky, but not cranes that collapse onto buildings that have residents."  The union is calling for a stop on any further erection of cranes until investigations are complete. "It could have been a major disaster here today and we could have seen many lives lost," Mr Parker said.  SafeWork New South Wales was notified of the incident. Read more: Crane collapses on apartment block. ABC news online

Back to top

UK: Fire Union publishes its first submission on Grenfell fire
The UK Fire Brigades Union have published their submission to the Inquiry into the Grenfell fire which has just finished consulting on its terms of reference. The Union believes the public inquiry into the disaster must look at the failures in the fire safety regime that led to the worst blaze in the U.K. since WW2. They say that in addition to the reasons behind the fire happening and spreading so quickly, the inquiry must consider the capacity of fire and rescue services nationally to respond to fires of this scale along with any matters that have impacted on the fire safety regime over recent years and have created the environment where these defects, acts and omissions could arise. The submission also states that the FBU believes that the inquiry must examine the wider, long term regulatory regime that contributed to the fire. The submission, from FBU General secretary Matt Wrack claims: "There has been a long-running deregulation agenda, under the euphemisms of 'better regulation' or 'cutting red tape' as well as a 'soft touch' enforcement agenda that has emphasised the impact on business rather than compliance with safety standards. The inquiry should examine the impact of this on the robust application of fire safety provision."
Read more: FBU submission; FBU press release. Source: Risks 811

The same edition of Risks reports that following the fire, the TUC has welcomed the government's announcement of an independent review of building regulations and fire safety.  According to the Government, the review will look at current building regulations and fire safety with a particular focus on high rise residential buildings. In particular, it will examine the regulatory system around the design, construction and on-going management of buildings in relation to fire safety as well as related compliance and enforcement issues.

Also 'generally welcomed' by unions is an announcement by the police that they were investigating possible corporate manslaughter changes in the aftermath of the tragedy, which led to the death of an estimated 80 people.

UK: Safety professionals call for action on diesel
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) - the professional health and safety officers body - has called on the UK government to reduce worker exposure to cancer-causing diesel particulates.

Responding to the UK's newly published Air Quality Plan, IOSH is encouraging the government to support its No Time to Lose campaign, which aims to tackle the burden of occupational cancer and help to offer solutions to businesses looking to reduce the impact of diesel particulates. According to IOSH the government's plan fails to address the cancer-causing elements of diesel exhaust emissions. It is estimated that more than 650 people die every year in Britain of lung or bladder cancer linked to exposure to diesel exhaust fumes at work, in addition to approximately 800 new cases of cancer caused by diesel-exhaust-fumes exposure are registered each year. Bus, car and lorry (truck) maintenance engineers, bus and lorry drivers, fork lift truck drivers and other warehouse workers, tractor drivers, miners and construction workers are just some examples of occupations that are exposed to diesel exhaust in the course of their work. Unite the Union has produced a resource page on the dangers of diesel exhaust, which includes a link to their own guide for safety representatives on tackling the issue. Since June 2012, diesel exhaust emissions have been classified by the International Agency for Research into Cancer as a Group 1 Carcinogen, which means that they cause cancer in humans.
Read more: IOSH press release; No time to lose campaign; Unite resources page. Source: Risks 811 More information on Diesel Fumes.

Seafarers' mental health deteriorating
A report by Cardiff University into the health of seafarers between 2011 and 2016 has found that sleep quality has reduced in the period 2011‐2016. The research showed that fatigue scores for seafarers have risen over this period and there was also a deterioration in some aspects of seafarers' mental health. Responses to a questionnaire suggested an increase in psychiatric disorders amongst serving seafarers; more felt their health was less robust than that or others. The researchers made a number of recommendations, including that ship operators ensure that effective means of screening out daylight are provided in all seafarer cabins, minimise exposure to environmental factors which disturb sleep, even when this requires that they prioritise crew welfare over commercial concerns and place sufficient numbers of seafarers on board in order to produce a reduction factors such as long working hours. The report also called on ship operators pay more attention to the protection of seafarers' mental health by providing better access to facilities and amenities on board to help seafarers to relax. The rise in fatigue was previously highlighted in an international report earlier this year. Trade union Nautilus International has been running a strenuous campaign on the issue of fatigue at sea.
Read more: SIRC Report [pdf]; Nautilus press release; and campaign. Source: Risks 811

USA: Unions slam Trump administration slashes to worker safety
Following an earlier decision to delay proposed new workplace standards on beryllium and silica the US regulator OSHA has thrown out four proposed regulations and postponed three other initiatives. The withdrawn rules include provisions regarding combustible dust exposure, construction noise, vehicles driving in reverse at factories and construction sites and chemical exposure standards. Other OSHA regulations governing emergency response and preparedness, infectious diseases in health care and a rule that would make a series of fixes to the existing cranes and derricks in construction rule have been moved to the "long-term actions" list, signalling that the Trump administration has no intention to move them forward. The decision follows the appointment of a new Secretary of Labor Andrew Puzder, who is on record saying workers are "overprotected". Peg Seminario of the AFL-CIO union federation slammed the cuts and said that the White House "is abandoning protecting workers from health and safety hazards." She said "There's no surprises here. They are implementing what they said they would do, which is to move aggressively on deregulation. So for anybody who thought that President Trump didn't mean what he said, this is one area where he is fully keeping his campaign promises. What you see is, basically, that the Trump administration is abandoning protecting workers from health and safety hazards. They're turning their backs on the future." Since the Trump administration took office there has been a huge rolling back on regulatory protection with 860 proposed rules being delayed or withdrawn in the first five months. Read more: News report. Source: Risks 811

Back to top


Too much sitting - bad for the brain too?
There has been much research on the potential negative effects on our health of sitting for long periods. A 2016 literature review showed that prolonged unbroken sitting time is associated with a range of health problems including musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers and premature mortality. Sedentary behavior has been linked to poor glycemic control and increased risk of all-cause mortality. (see Sedentary Work for more information).

Now it seems that physical inactivity and prolonged sitting may also affect our brains. Researchers from the University of Western Australia, in collaboration with the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, are examining the prolonged negative impact of sitting on our brains. In the current project, the researchers highlight the role of glycemic control in maintaining brain function. They suggest that reducing and replacing sedentary behavior with intermittent light-intensity physical activity may protect against cognitive decline by reducing glycemic variability. They concluded that more research is needed to understand the impact of poor glycemic control on brain function and whether practical interventions aimed at reducing and replacing sedentary behavior with intermittent light intensity physical activity can help slow cognitive decline.
Read more: Wheeler, M, et al: Sedentary behavior as a risk factor for cognitive decline? A focus on the influence of glycemic control in brain health [Full text] Alzheimer's & Dementia Translational Research & Clinical Interventions; Could too much sitting be bad for our brains? An article by the authors discussing their research in The Conversation  

NSW: experiences of injured workers
Previous research, based on data, into injured workers and return to work had indicated that if they can maintain their work-related connections, their chances of recovery are significantly heightened. Researchers from Sydney's Macquarie University, conducted two hour interviews with injured workers and found their experiences not what they expected. The researchers identified three 'themes':

  1. A prevailing expectation that managers would maintain meaningful engagement with the injured worker, even while the worker was away. Too often this did not occur. In fact, this was sometimes totally discouraged. As a result, those with psychological injuries reported a greater tendency to keep them hidden since they feared what would happen if the invisible became visible.
  2. A noticeable change in attitude among managers as soon as workers lodged their workers' compensation claims. This change was negative.
  3. (Un)reasonable adjustment: in the majority of cases, managers expressed impatience, became inflexible, engaged in harassment, ignored injury recovery plans, refused to modify duties, and applied substantial psychological pressure to get employees to return and perform.

Underpinning these experiences was a perception among managers that most workers' compensation claims are exaggerated. The researchers concluded: "not only that the NSW Workers' compensation system is failing to deliver a timely and durable return to work for many injured workers, but also that, for many, problematic and often pathogenic interactions with employers and insurers are resulting in exacerbated and secondary injuries and negative social and vocational consequences."
Read more: Louise Thornthwaite, Raymond Markey Return to work after workplace injury: Injured workers, insurers and employers [abstract] Australian Journal of Social Issues. Source: Is claiming workers' compensation is career suicide The Age

Brain damage in US football players
A study of American football players' brains has found that 99 per cent of professional National Football League (NFL) athletes tested had a disease associated with head injuries. 202 deceased players were studied, 111 of them from the NFL. All but one former National Football League player were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) which is a degenerative disease found in people who have suffered repeated blows to the head. It is found in professional athletes in American football, rugby, ice hockey, boxing, wrestling, rodeo riding and other contact sports. It causes a build-up of so-called tau proteins which can disable neuro-pathways and cause memory loss, impaired judgment, confusion and a variety of other mental health issues. In 2015, a federal judge approved a class-action lawsuit brought against the NFL by thousands of players, who had alleged they had suffered brain damage as a result of concussions. The NFL in 2016 acknowledged for the first time that there is a connection between CTE and football.
Read more: Mez, J, et al Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football [abstract] JAMA. 2017;318(4):360-370. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.8334 Source: Risks 811

Back to top

OHS Regulator News

Safe Work Australia News
Reminder: August is Tradie month
August is Tradies Health Month, with Safe Work Australia and the state/territory regulators 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.It is probably no surprise that trades workers make the second highest number of serious claims related to musculoskeletal injuries compared with other occupations. Source: SWA media release and website; Tradies National Health Month website.

Seminar: Electrical Safety - protecting you and your workmatesAccording to Safe Work Australia, electrical shocks are a major cause of serious injury or death in the trade industry.

This video/seminar reminds viewers to take the time to consider a number of things before starting work around electricity, like checking for a current test tag and any cable damage; plugging your tools into an RCD box; and following the Safe Work Method Statements.It is also important to remember to remove distractions and make sure you are OK to work safely. Check it: Electrical Safety - protecting you and your workmates 

Publications reviewed and re-released
A number of Safe Work Australia publications, have recently been revised and re-issued on 28 July 2017. The 2014-15 Injury Denominator Data that was supplied to Safe Work Australia included an incomplete population, impacting the serious claim incidence and frequency rates for 2014-15. This data has now been corrected. Previous copies of the documents are now out of date and should be discarded.

These make interesting reading. 

SafeWork Australia Fatality statistics
As at August 2, 110 workplace fatalities had been reported to the national body - seven more since the last update on July 20. That's seven more families who have lost a loved one. Four of the fatalities were in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector and two in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector. The workers killed were in the following industries:

  • 46 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
  • 23 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
  • 18 in Construction;
  • 4 in Manufacturing
  • 5 Arts and recreation services
  • 3 in Electricity, gas, water and waste services
  • 3 in Public administration and safety
  • 2 in Accommodation and food services
  • 2 in Mining
  • 1 in Rental, hiring and real estate services
  • 1 in Retail Trade
  • 1 in Health care and social assistance
  • 1 in 'other' services

The numbers and industries may vary as Safe Work receives more detailed information (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 is that for April 2017, during which there were 13 work-related notifiable fatalities. Of these, seven were male workers, four male bystanders, one female bystander and one female worker. Six fatalities occurred in Transport, postal & warehousing workplaces, two each occurred in Agriculture, forestry and fishing, Arts and recreation services and Construction workplaces, and one occurred in a Retail trade workplace. The number of notified fatalities is nine fewer than the 22 reported in March and comes after a 'horror' three months - there were 20 in February and 22 in January. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.

Back to top


Victorian prosecutions
Plumbing company fined for poor work systems

Damian Ruth Plumbing Pty Ltd ("DR Plumbing"), a plumbing contractor which also engages sub-contractor licenced plumbers, has been fined $10,000 over an incident in April 2016. A 19 year old work experience employee was assisting in the removal and replacement of roof sheet, flashings and box gutters at Her Majesty's Theatre. The previous day, an area of approximately 6m x 3m of roof sheeting had been removed - but the underside of the awning (of decorative aluminium panels) was not touched. These panels were not load bearing, however. This created a risk of serious injury or death to employees and to pedestrians walking below the awning. On the 27th, the worker was told to remove the nail heads from the canopy purlins and to remove rubbish from the roof. Although he was wearing a harness, it was not connected to the safety line rope. He was walking on the roof over the section that had previously been removed, and in doing so, stepped on the steel beams. He fell through the decorative panels onto the footpath below.  He broke his right wrist, had a laceration to his arm which required eight stitches and had bruising to his back. DR Plumbing was charged with breaching s21(1) & (2)(a); and s23(1) of the OHS Act. The company pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, and was fined without conviction.

Caravan manufacturer convicted and fined
Campbellfield company Supreme Caravans Pty Ltd manufactures and sells caravans. As part of the manufacturing process, employees use a mounted Minimax SC4 W Panel Saw to cut pieces of timber and other materials. The panel saw had a guard which could be lowered over the blade during operation - but  there was no safe system of work to ensure that the guard was always lowered over the blade as close as possible to the material being cut, and prior to the cut commencing; that only one piece of wood or material was cut at any one time; that push sticks were available to ensure an operators hand was kept at a distance from the blade when cutting material; and so on. In addition, the company failed to provide the necessary information, instruction and training for the safe operation of the panel saw. On 28 January 2016, an employee was cutting a piece of timber on the panel saw. As he was sliding the timber along the guide with both hands, the timber moved sideways, and he raised his right hand up to cover his eyes in case a piece of timber flew up. In doing so, his left hand made contact with the blade and the little finger on his left hand was severed and the tendons in the hand were cut and damaged. Supreme Caravans pleaded guilty to breaching s21(1) & (2)(a)&(e) in the Broadmeadows Magistrates Court, and was with conviction fined $15,000 plus costs of $4,624.

JMAL Group - fined $275,000 over truck driver's death
In last week's SafetyNet we reported that towing company JMAL Group had been fined $275,000 over the death of a truck driver. Since our journal, WorkSafe has issued a media release in which executive director of Health and Safety, Marnie Williams commented that the incident was a tragic reminder that failing to have safe systems of work in place put the lives of workers and the public in danger. "The risks around loading and transporting machinery are well-known, and there is no excuse for businesses that specialise in this type of work not having systems in place to manage these risks," Ms Williams said. "In this case, a failure to have a simple traffic management plan in place has cost a family a loved one and put another road user in serious danger."

For updates go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.

Comcare: Cleanaway facing more charges
Cleanaway Operations Pty Ltd has been charged with more WHS breaches, and is facing fines of up to $4.5 million. In August 2015, a recycling truck contracted to Cleanaway was manoeuvring to pick up a skip bin at Ford's Broadmeadows (Vic) Assembly Plant, when it hit and killed a Cleanaway labour-hire employee.

According to Comcare, which undertook an investigation, the Director of Public Prosecutions will allege the Cleanaway failed to implement effective traffic management procedures at the Ford facility, conduct a risk assessment or use control measures like barriers or exclusion zones. It has been charged with three breaches each carrying a maximum penalty of $1.5m.

The matter is listed for mention in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 24 August. Cleanaway also has to attend a directions hearing in the Adelaide Magistrates Court on 11 August, in relation to eight alleged breaches of s32 in South Australia. As reported in SafetyNet 375, that case involved a crash which killed two motorists and seriously injured two others, including the truck driver, in Adelaide in August 2014. Cleanaway could be fined up $12m under those charges.
Source: OHSAlert

Back to top




Please send in your occupational health and safety questions to Renata. We will respond within a few days.

Ask a question


Please complete the form below to subscribe to the SafetyNET Journal email newsletter.

Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

Your details


Have you had your initial training yet? Want to do a refresher course? Register online!

OHS Training