SafetyNet 417, August 30, 2017
The 'ask' this week is for all our subscribers to please sign a petition urging the federal government to amend its 'toxic' law changes which will see potentially highly toxic chemicals coming into Australia assessed only by industry.
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.
Liberals' Toxic Chemical Disaster legislation - do something!
The Turnbull Government is proposing to introduce new legislation where 99 per cent of new chemicals will no longer need to be assessed by or even notified to an independent government regulator. This is clearly a step in favor of employers that will result in workers being exposed to dangerous chemicals at their workplace. the ACTU, the VTHC and unions such as the AMWU have made submission after submission and appeared before a Senate Inquiry urging that the legislation be amended.
Now we are asking you, workers and ordinary Australians to sign the AMWU petition to stop this terrible legislation being introduced in its current form. Please sign it, and share it with all your contacts.
Migrant Workers Health and Safety Forum
Let's talk about Workplace Health & Safety
The VTHC's Migrant Workers Health and Safety Forum, held last Saturday, was a great success, with over 40 participants attending, hearing and sharing their experiences with health and safety at work. Some of the stories were horrific - demonstrating how much we all need to do to improve the working conditions of workers not born in Australia. Check out our Facebook page here and here for photos.
The VTHC's webinar on asbestos, ASEA, and the VAEA was run on Monday this week. Co-hosted by Assistant Secretary of Victorian Trades Hall Council, David Cragg, and the OHS Unit's Roxanne Chaitowitz, the webinar provided an interesting union perspective on asbestos and asbestos regulation. It's important to remember that despite banning all forms of asbestos in 2013, Australia has one of the world's highest rates of asbestos-related diseases and a legacy of asbestos contaminated materials (ACMs) in our built environment. If you missed the webinar and want to listen/take a look, check next week's journal as we'll be loading it up on the We Are Union OHS website soon.
Hi Renata. How close are workplace lunch room bins need to be in respect to the eating area and food storage area? The Code of practice only requires that the bins be 'vermin proof' but says nothing about their location.
Yes, you're right, the Workplace amenities and work environment Compliance Code does not mention distances nor location. Like many things/issues, the Act, the regulations and even the codes (which do provide a level of detail) are often not very specific. So it all comes back to the employer's general duty of care to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health (so far as is reasonably practicable). This includes identifying hazards and risks and then taking actions to eliminate or minimise them.
So, if there's a problem with the bins – too close, too smelly, not emptied often enough – and this is causing concern, then it's a legitimate OHS issue which should be raised and discussed between the HSR/workers and the management - with a view to resolving it. (for more information see: Duties of Employers and the FAQ on Dining facilities.)
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.
First Aid - is your workplace compliant?
Under the general duty of care, employers (or PCBUs for those jurisdictions with the WHS legislation) are required to provide 'adequate facilities' for the welfare of employees/workers. Renata often gets queries regarding first aid facilities, first aid officers and first aid kits. This week, SafetyCulture's OHS News reports that, according to the Australian Red Cross, only 13 percent of Australian workplaces are compliant with the First Aid national code of practice, while over 65 percent of Australian employers are unaware of their First Aid obligations. What about your workplace? Is your employer aware that in order to comply with section 21 of the OHS Act, the company needs to implement the First Aid Compliance Code? The code provides for two 'approaches' in determining what needs to be implemented: the 'prescribed approach' or the 'risk assessment approach'. If you're concerned that your workplace is one of the 87 per cent which is NOT complying, then check out these FAQs: First Aid - what are the requirement? and First Aid Kits.
Bendigo: fire crews exposed to asbestos
Victoria's EPA has confirmed CFA crews were exposed to asbestos during a controlled burn in Flagstaff (in the Central Goldfields) in mid-August. The Central Goldfields Shire Council requested the burn-off to be done by the Carisbrook CFA at the former Penney and Lang abattoirs site. The EPA issued a clean-up notice to Central Goldfields Shire Council and the asbestos was quickly removed.
Source: The Bendigo Advertiser
Asbestos: ongoing risk for home renovators
In a long piece in the Fairfax press this week, Tania Segelov, a lawyer who has represented hundreds of sufferers of asbestos-related diseases over the past two decades and was previously appointed to the Federal Government's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Council, looks at the ongoing risks asbestos poses to millions of Australians in their own homes. She makes the point that although there are strict laws which regulate asbestos in workplaces, there are currently no regulations covering the identification of asbestos in the residential sector. She says, "No state or territory requires people selling or leasing a home to obtain a survey that identifies products containing asbestos within the home and provide that information to buyers or tenants. Standard building reports also fail to cover asbestos, usually saying little more than "assume asbestos is present" if the property is a certain age."
Read more: Ongoing risks from home renovations, The Age
Canada: Asbestos exposure comes at a very high price
New Canadian research has confirmed that asbestos isn't just the biggest industrial killer of all time, it is also a massive drain on the economy, new research has confirmed. Canadian researchers estimated the lifetime cost of newly diagnosed lung cancer and mesothelioma cases associated with occupational and para-occupational [typically exposed family members] asbestos exposure for the calendar year 2011, including healthcare, productivity and output, and quality of life costs. They said in the year there were 427 cases of newly diagnosed mesothelioma cases and 1,904 lung cancer cases attributable to asbestos exposure. They estimated the economic burden at $C831 million* in direct and indirect costs for the total 2,331 newly identified cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer and $1.5 billion in quality of life costs. The calculation is based on a value of $100,000 per quality-adjusted life year. This amounts to $356,429 and $652,369 per case, respectively.
The authors conclude the cost is "substantial", but add: "This burden estimate is large; yet, it is only the tip of the total economic burden, since it includes only 2,331 newly diagnosed occupational and para-occupational cases from one calendar year." They add that the estimate does not include other occupational diseases that are associated with asbestos exposure, such as pleural plaque and several other cancers, and non-occupational exposure, "so our estimate of the societal economic burden of new cases in Canada is likely a conservative one."
*(NOTE: the Canadian dollar is about the same as the Australian dollar)
Read more: Emile Tompa and others. The economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma due to occupational and para-occupational asbestos exposure [full text], Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published Online First 29 July 2017. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2016-104173 Source: Risks 814
Violence still a big issue at our hospitals
Last week a health care worker was viciously attacked by three men while on a break outside the Dandenong Hospital. The patient transfer officer was knocked to the ground and kicked by a gang after he was asked for, and refused to supply, a cigarette. A colleagues, who suffered some minor scratches and bruising during the incident, came to his aid, as did a passer-by. A Monash Health spokesperson said the victim and his colleague were treated in the hospital's emergency department, and both were discharged on on the same night.
Melbourne surgeon Dr Michael
Wong, who was stabbed 14 times by a patient in 2014 at the Footscray
hospital, said the Dandenong incident demonstrated that work to improve
hospital security had failed - and that hospitals were becoming more
dangerous. He said that, more than three years after he was attacked, he
felt less safe at work now than ever. "Why would I feel safer? Three
months ago a surgeon in Box Hill was killed on the job, so it doesn't
exactly back that up," Dr Wong said. "Whatever may have been done since
my attack hasn't had any effects ... if it had, [Box Hill heart surgeon
Patrick Pritzwald-Stegmann] would not have died. If anything it's
Read more: The Border Mail. Source: OHSIntros
One third of emergency doctors report being bullied
In April and May this year, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) conducted a survey all ACEM trainees, Fellows, Specialist International Medical Graduates, Certificants and Diplomates to identify unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. The survey found that:
- 34 per cent of people surveyed said they had experienced bullying;
- 21.7 per cent experienced discrimination;
- 16.1 per cent experienced harassment, and
- 6.2 per cent experienced sexual harassment.
As a result, the ACEM has announced it will immediately move to address the problem: it will consult with members to prepare and publish an Action Plan by the end of November that addresses the survey findings. "The College is committed to its role of upholding the highest possible professional standards in emergency medicine," said ACEM President Professor Tony Lawler. "We have taken the initiative to understand the extent of these behaviours among members and trainees. The survey identified that bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment are distressingly common in the emergency care environment in Australia and New Zealand."
Read more: Media release ACEM to tackle bullying and harassment
International union news
NZ: Union wins workers the right to clean drinking water
New Zealand's First union was shocked to discover that workers employed in kiwi fruit orchards in the north of New Zealand had been denied access to clean drinking water. When the workers asked for drinking water they were told they could drink the irrigation water from a tap next to toilets not connected to a sanitation system. The water was unfit for human consumption.
Turners and Growers, a subsidiary of the German based international trading and services group BayWa, initially responded to the union demand for drinkable water by defending its offer of irrigation water to its employees. But through their union, the workers insisted that the universal right to clean drinking water be respected and the company has since installed filters at five locations at the site. T&G made a 2016 profit of NZ$32.4 million (A$29.6m). Source: IUF
UK: Official study recognises the value of safety reps
The 'valuable' role and 'expert insight' of workers and their health and safety reps has been recognised in a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) study of updated safety practices in the ports industry. The research, which looked at the impact of a code of practice on safety in docks introduced in 2014, examined the impact of more extensive 'worker engagement'. The HSE, UK's OHS regulator, said this "goes beyond consultation and refers to the extent to which workers contribute to decisions that affect their health and safety." The report found that a positive example from the ports 'leadership' was important in creating and sustaining effective worker engagement, adding: "Listening to and acting on workers' concerns and ensuring that feedback is provided on issues raised was also important in facilitating and/or sustaining worker engagement." It noted: "Health and safety representatives played an important role in increasing attention to health and safety and were generally supported in their role." The report confirmed findings of earlier studies, concluding: "Involving employees and H&S [health and safety] representatives in assessing the risks of a workplace or work activity is valuable as they have an expert insight on the risks involved. Further, workers are more likely to understand and comply with procedures in place to control risks if they have been involved in developing them."
Read more: HSE publication notice and full report, Leadership and worker engagement in the ports industry [pdf], Research report RR1089, 2017. Source: Risks 814
Rana Plaza owner jailed for corruption
The owner of the Rana Plaza, Sohel Rana has been found guilty of corruption in a Bangladesh court for failing to declare his personal wealth to the country's anti-graft commission. He received the maximum three-year sentence. The Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in 2013, killing at least 1100 people and injuring hundreds of others. It was the worst industrial accident in Bangladesh's history, and led to widespread criticism of global retail practices.
Rana and 37 others, including government officials, could receive the death penalty if they are found guilty of murder over the complex's collapse. He and 17 others have also been charged with breaching building codes while adding three further floors to the original six-storey building. Rana was arrested several days after the accident as he tried to flee to India.
Despite an international outcry at the time, not enough has changed. Although the government has made small moves to improve workers' rights to join unions, activists are still being attacked.
Read more: Rana Plaza collapse: Sohel Rana jailed for corruption and Union Activists Threatened, BBC News
Prolonged standing at work linked to heart attacks
A new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has found that workers who stand on the job most of the time are at greater risk of heart disease than workers who predominantly sit. Even after taking into account a wide range of personal, health and work factors, those who mainly stand are twice as likely as those who mainly sit to have a heart attack or congestive heart failure.
Dr Peter Smith, the senior scientist at the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health (IWH) who led a team of researchers from IWH and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), said: "Our results suggest that workplaces also need to pay attention to the health effects of prolonged standing, and target their prevention programmes accordingly." The study followed 7,300 workers from Ontario, Canada, aged 35-74 for 12 years who were initially free of heart disease. Even after adjusting for a wide range of factors - personal, health conditions and health behaviours - the risk of heart disease was still twice as high among people who primarily stood on the job compared to those who primarily sat. In fact, the unadjusted risk of heart disease among people who stood on the job (6.6 per cent) was even slightly higher than among daily smokers (5.8 per cent).
"A combination of sitting, standing and moving on the job is likely to have the greatest benefits for heart health," concluded Smith. "Workplaces need to apply this message not just to workers who predominantly sit, but also - in fact, especially - to workers who predominantly stand." That said, workplaces need to look beyond physical job activity to truly protect the cardiovascular health of workers, Smith adds. "Prevention programs that focus solely on physical job activity, while ignoring other conditions such as the psychosocial work environment, are unlikely to lead to meaningful changes in cardiovascular risk," Smith says.
Read more: IWH news release. Peter Smith, et al: The Relationship Between Occupational Standing and Sitting and Incident Heart Disease Over a 12-Year Period in Ontario, Canada [abstract], American Journal of Epidemiology, kwx298, August 2017. More on the hazards of standing at work from Hazards and on our website. Source: Risks 814
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe Victoria News
Latest edition of Safety Soapbox
WorkSafe is back on track with Safety Soapbox, with an edition posted on August 25 - just one week after the previous edition. In this week's editorial Steve Darnley from WorkSafe's Construction Program writes about hand lacerations: one of the most frequent types of injuries reported to WorkSafe. He says. "These reports are just the tip of the iceberg, as many are not reported for various reasons."
There are a number of other items in the edition including links to updated WorkSafe information, to a Safe Work Australia video on electrical safety on construction sites, and more. Also attached to the electronic email is the list of reported incidents for the period from 4 - 17 August 2017 with 66 incidents reported to WorkSafe. (Note - there may have been an error in the previous edition as the number of incidents and period has since been changed). There were several potentially fatal incidents, including this one where the worker sustained a fracture to his leg: An excavator was digging a trench on site and reversed away from the trench. When the excavator stopped, a worker moved behind it to remove some pipe. The operator did not realise this and reversed again, running over the worker's left leg. Access the August 25 edition of Safety Soapbox here - the list of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.
ACT: WorkSafe to focus on young workers
WorkSafe ACT has announced that its next proactive audit will focus on ensuring young workers remain safe in the workplace. Work Safety Commissioner, Greg Jones said young people, including apprentices and trainees, were often more vulnerable to unsafe work practices than other workers. "This is because they may be inexperienced in the work they are doing or with more general work practices," Mr Jones said. "This proactive audit will focus on work health and safety requirements for employers of young workers as well as ensuring there is an appropriate level of supervision and support, training and proper induction to worksites and workplaces."
The predominant focus for the audit would be on industries and trades of high risk for apprentices and young workers such as construction, electrical and utilities trades, hospitality, retail, hairdressing and butchery. Mr Jones said that ensuring workplaces and worksites had policies and support in place to prevent and address bullying and harassment would also be a key focus.
Source: WorkSafe plays safe for young workers. psnews.com.au
Government announces huge increases in OHS penalties
Western Australia's McGowan Government will increase penalties for workplace safety offences to bring that state into line with other States and ensure penalties better reflect the importance of a safe workplace.
The amendments will increase penalties for businesses which commit safety offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1984 for the first time since 2004. The new penalties will be consistent with the national model Work Health and Safety Act, with a further increase for inflation (1.14 per cent) from 2010. Harsher penalties for offenders include increasing the maximum term of imprisonment from two to five years. First offence fines for body corporate offenders will also drastically increase, Level 4 first time offences will increase from $500,000 to more than $2.7 million. Level 1 penalties will increase from $50,000 to $456,000. Read more: WA Government Media Release
Regulator to look at violence in aged care
WorkSafeWA has announced it will be launching a proactive inspection program on the management of violence and aggression in residential aged care facilities. Beginning next month, the program will focus on reducing musculoskeletal and psychological injuries due to workplace violence. It will continue over the following six months in metropolitan and regional areas of the State.
WorkSafe A/Director Sally North said last week that inspectors would primarily look at how employers prevented and responded to aggressive incidents and injuries, and how they were dealt with on a long-term basis. "Inspectors will proactively visit residential aged care facilities to assess the systems in place to prevent and manage incidents of violence and aggression," Ms North said.
Read more: Inspection program looks at aggression in residential aged care WorkSafe WA Media Release
Government introduces 100 per cent FIFO ban
New mines in Queensland will no longer be allowed to use an entirely fly-in, fly-out workforce if nearby towns have suitable candidates, under legislation passed by that state's parliament.
The Strong and Sustainable Resource Communities Bill 2016, first introduced by the Palaszczuk Government in November last year, requires that big new projects (100-plus employees) within 125km of a regional centre with at least 200 residents give "fair opportunities" to locals once operational. The legislation is backed by penalties of up to $244,000 per offence for corporations that advertise or advise that residents of nearby communities are ineligible for employment on projects. Several inquiries in the past have highlighted the stresses on FIFO workers - with high levels of suicide and depression.
More laws to improve safety in construction
Late last week the Palaszczuk Government passed new chain of responsibility laws for dangerous building products as well as new laws to give the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) a greater role in ensuring safety in the building industry. Under these new laws the QBCC will take into account the conduct of a company, including their record of safety, when considering the suspension or cancellation of a licence. The laws also create an obligation on QBCC licensees to notify the QBCC about activities on a building site that might present a work health and safety issue.
Read more: Queensland Government Media Releases: Palaszczuk Government leads the way with new building product safety laws and Tough new laws to prevent building industry tragedy
Tasmania: Chainsaw fatalities coroner recommendations
Coronial investigations into six chainsaw-related fatalities in Tasmania have found they all could have been prevented by complying with the applicable industry code and Australian Standard, or using PPE. Coroner Simon Cooper stressed that even workers with extensive practical experience are unlikely to use safe chainsaw techniques in the absence of formal training. He noted that the Tasmanian Forest Safety Code highlights the importance of risk assessment and basic safety equipment, and requires all manual tree felling work to be carried out in accordance with AS 2727-1997, Chainsaws – Guide to safe working practices. He said that compliance with these would have prevented the fatalities. The coroner recommended:
- all chainsaw operators be required to undergo approved chainsaw training and regular practical re-assessment;
- only accredited chainsaw operators be permitted to sell chainsaws;
- landowners be required to ensure people using chainsaws on their land are appropriately qualified;
- children under the age of 16 be banned from owning or using chainsaws; and
- compliance with the code and Australian standard to prevent further fatalities.
Safe Work Australia News
Power Tools - Final broadcast for Tradies MonthTSWA's final broadcast for Tradies Health Month shares important safety tips when using power tools at work to ensure your own and others' safety. Power tools come in various shapes, sizes, voltages and varieties. Yet, irrespective of the size of the tool or how it's powered, the principles of safe use apply equally to all. Watch this video, produced by the Roofing Tile Association of Australia, to learn more. The seminar is also available as a podcast.
October is National Safe Work Month
Remember that October is National Safety Month during which the national body, as well as the state and territory OHS/WHS regulators will run activities, seminars and more. SWA is urging people to "commit to improving health and safety in your workplace and share your knowledge and experience" this October.
- Share their safety initiative on social using the hashtag #safeworkmonth,
- Enter the Workplace Reward for a chance to win $5000 (woo hoo!)
- Subscribe on the website to keep up to date on all things National Safe Work Month.
SafeWork Australia Fatality statistics
As at August 28, 115 workplace fatalities had been reported to the national body - five
more since the last update on August 2. Two of the five fatalities were in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector, two in construction and one in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector. The workers killed were in the following industries:
- 48 in the Transport, postal and warehouse sector;
- 24 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- 20 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 remains that for April 2017, during which there were 13 work-related notifiable fatalities. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
There have been no updates on Victorian prosecutions since the last edition of SafetyNet. To check the past prosecutions and for any updates before next week, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Thailand: Toxic heavy metals in residents near mine
A report on the health impacts has confirmed that people living near a gold mine in Thailand's Phichit province have been exposed to higher than average levels of heavy metals. Although the study found that many samples of blood and urine showed exposure to dangerous levels of arsenic and manganese - which posed a serious health threat - it did did not conclusively identify a specific link to pollution from the Akara Resources' Chatree gold mine that has operated in the area.
Read more: The Nation, Thailand.
Qatar: 3154 Indian workers die since 2004
Data provided by the Indian embassy in Doha in response to an RTI request has revealed that between 2004 and 2017, 3154 Indian workers died in Qatar country, with more than 200 workers dying each year since 2007. The embassy refused to provide data regarding the causes of death, however.
In a recent article, Youth Ki Awaaz reminds readers that the abuse faced by migrant workers in Qatar has been well documented. In May 2015, in its report titled "Promising Little, Delivering Less", Amnesty International heavily criticised the Qatar government's response to address the widespread exploitation of migrant workers who had come to build the infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The report said that there were instances of migrant workers not being paid their due wages or being paid late, having their passports confiscated by their employers, working in hazardous conditions, forbidden from joining or working in trade unions, among other instances of exploitation. Since then there have been more reports.
Read more: The Abysmal State Of Indian Workers In Qatar: RTI Reveals Over 2500 Deaths Since 2007,Youth Ki Awaaz