SafetyNet 418, September 6, 2017
More research into artificial light and breast cancer. And have you signed the AMWU petition urging the federal government to amend its 'toxic' law changes? If not, do it now.
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.
Change Liberals' Toxic Chemical Disaster legislation - do something!
We told you last week that the Turnbull Government wants 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. The result will be less regulation for employers; and more 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.
So if you're concerned about what workers will be exposed 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.
Hi. We have recently found that our employer (a major public hospital) has a position description for HSRs. I thought the employer could not impose duties upon a HSR but can't find where I saw this in the Act.
You are spot on!
The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004 is very clear and unambiguous - reps have an important role in the workplace and they have rights and powers in order to be able to fulfill their role. Employers have a number of obligations to health and safety reps. However, elected reps have no legal duties as representatives.
Section 58(3) states: "Nothing in this Act or the regulations imposes, or is to be taken to impose, a function or duty on a health and safety representative in that capacity." (read more in this FAQ)
The other thing to 'watch' in 'position descriptions' or 'duty statements' is the tendency for employers to attempt to limit the rights of HSRs - for example, requiring them to go through several levels of management before they can issue a PIN, or call WorkSafe or the union. Make sure you check that this is not happening!
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.
Research gives mesothelioma sufferers hope
A new treatment being pioneered by Sydney mesothelioma cancer researchers has created excitement. A team of Sydney oncology experts has found injecting sufferers with missing genetic information can reverse tumour growth. "This has created considerable excitement in the scientific world," the study's principal investigator, Professor Nico van Zandwijk, said last week. Read more: News.com.au
Open letter to President of Tartarsan
An 'open letter' from a number of international organisations including IBAS, ASEA and APHEDA (Australian unions' aid and development organisation) is in response to recent comments made by President Rustam Minnikhanov of Tartarstan, Russia about the toxic nature of chrysotile (white) asbestos during a confrontation with Mr Andrey Holm, the head of Orenburg Minerals JSC – a major Russian producer and exporter of chrysotile asbestos fiber. During a meeting to discuss the state of the roads in the Kazan area, the President queried whether asbestos, a substance extolled by Holm, was a poison. According to a Russian environmental campaigner: "This is the first time an administrator of this high level questioned the safety of asbestos." Read more: Open letter [pdf]
Brazil's asbestos divide
Legislation regarding the use of asbestos in Brazil – the world's third largest producer of white asbestos – was the subject of a split decision on August 24, 2017 by the Supreme Court which upheld the right of São Paulo State to ban asbestos but failed to declare the federal law allowing asbestos use unconstitutional by one vote, despite majority support for a national ban from the nine Justices eligible to vote. This is a great victory for the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed, for its legal advisors and for the associations which invested their expertise, time and resources to challenge a dangerous law and a status quo that prioritized corporate profits over public health. There is no place in the 21st century for asbestos. Read the full article. Source: IBAS
Reminder ASEA 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).
Aldi accused of sacking worker who complained of bullying
A trainee Aldi store manager is accusing the retailer of sacking him for complaining about bullying, unreasonable overtime and the resultant mental and physical disabilities. The trainee's claim that Aldi took adverse action by issuing him a warning and dismissing him because he complained about his work arrangements and took personal leave will be heard by Fair Work in October. He alleges that about four months after starting work at a store on the Mornington Peninsula in September 2015, he complained to the store manager that he was being bullied by an assistant manager and that he was consistently rostered to work unreasonable overtime. He claims that during a performance review the store manager and an area manager said (or said words to the effect of) "This is how it is, if you can't work these hours how do you expect to work through the business?"
Then, during a meeting in February last year in which Aldi issued him with a first and final warning, the trainee further complained that he had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety as a result of the alleged unreasonable overtime. When he provided FWO advice regarding an entitlement to a 10-hour break between shifts, the trainee alleges the store manager said words to the effect of "this is the way it is, it's part of the job" and that he could accept a demotion with less pay and fewer hours if he was unhappy about it. Aldi dismissed the trainee in May last year, after he took two weeks' paid personal leave due to his mental disability and a day the following month due to his physical disability, he alleges. In its defence pleading lodged with the court, Aldi denies the allegations or that the trainee reported any mental disability or physical injury linked to his job. Aldi claims both the warning and the dismissal were due to security breaches.
International union news
Bangladesh: Assaulted garment workers fight for justice
More than 50 garment workers at Haesong Corporation Ltd in Bangladesh have been injured after being attacked by hired thugs as they took part in a peaceful protest against the sweater manufacturer on 16 August. The sit-in and strike, which took place outside the Korean-owned company's headquarters in Hizalhati, Gazipur, was organised by the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF), an affiliate of the global union IndustriALL. Among those injured were the union's general secretary and vice-president. IndustriALL reports that an NGWF organiser was also kidnapped and released many hours later. Despite multiple requests, local police have refused to file workers' complaints about the kidnapping or the attacks. The demonstration was rooted to an ongoing dispute with Haesong over unpaid wages, to which the company responded by suspending 218 workers on 4 April. The NGWF is demanding that the Bangladesh government arrests and prosecutes the factory owner, general manager and the attackers. Workers' representatives have also urged the prime minister of Bangladesh to intervene to make sure that the owner of Haesong does not flee from Bangladesh without addressing workers' demands. Amirul Haque Amin, president of NGWF, said: "All suspended workers should be reinstated and pending wages and dues must be paid immediately. The factory management must bear all expenses for medical treatment of injured workers. In the meantime, the government should investigate and take action against the police officer who refused to take workers' complaints."
Read more: IndustriALL news release. Source: Risks 815
Research: Working in hot conditions - participants wanted
A research project funded by the Australian Research Council is being conducted by the University of Adelaide, in cooperation with Queensland University of Technology, Monash University, the University of Western Australia, SafeWork SA, SA Health and Safe Work Australia. The researchers say that while a lot is known about heat-induced illness in workers, less is known about injuries that occur in hot weather. These may arise for a number of reasons including loss of concentration, sweaty hands, solar glare, hot surfaces or accumulated fatigue.
The aims of this research project are to:
- Examine the relationship between hot weather and workplace injury, and the influencing factors;
- Explore stakeholder perceptions; and
- Improve policies and facilitate resources to aid in the prevention of heat-related injury.
There are several aspects to the research. Health and safety representatives and health and safety professionals can participate by completing an online questionnaire survey that can be accessed via the project website. The survey will take 10-20 minutes to complete and questions will be centred on heat-associated risks, experiences of injuries, and implications for productivity loss. Workers who have had an injury in the heat can participate in a face-to-face or telephone interview lasting 30-60 minutes. There will also be an opportunity for other workers to make general comments about heat-related issues on the website, without being interviewed. The surveys and interview details are available on the website.
Interview participants will receive a $50 gift voucher. Otherwise participation in the project may not result in any direct benefit, but has the potential to improve health and safety policy and practice. For more information, please contact Dr. Alana Hansen, ph: 08 8313 1043, or email; or Prof. Dino Pisaniello, ph: 08 8313 3571, or email; or visit the project website.
Nanoparticles increase proteins linked to cancer
Australian researchers, headed by Dr Deborah Glass of Monash University's Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, undertook a study to determine whether exposure of workers handling engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) resulted in increased inflammation and changes in lung function. What they found was concerning: they identified increased levels of proteins associated with inflammatory responses in both workers who handle engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) and patients with cancer.
The researchers measured exposure in labs and other work spaces where no ENPs were handled, and examined blood samples from a control group of nine patients with ovarian cancer. While they found that handling, making or spraying ENPs in fume cupboards and safety cabinets didn't increase nanoparticle exposure, these workers experienced statistically significant increases of certain cytokines – the soluble serum proteins sCD62P, sCD40 and sTNFR2 – during the working week. sCD40 "acts to limit immune responses" and "has been found elevated in patients with cancer" they said. The levels were, however, much lower than cancer sufferers.
They also found that activities creating such particles (such as building work or making toast at work) increases particle numbers in adjacent workstations, and nanoparticle numbers are more likely to be high in offices with printing facilities than in ENP laboratories.
Due to their size, nanoparticles can enter the body through the airways, skin or gastrointestinal tracts and be transported in the blood and lymphatic system, bypassing barriers impermeable to larger particles and potentially initiating immune responses. These may also aggravate existing conditions like asthma, bronchitis and neurogenerative diseases, said the researchers.
Read more: Dr Deborah Glass, et al, Australia, Immunological effects among workers who handle engineered nanoparticles [abstract]. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first August 2017, Doi: 10.1136/oemed-2016-104111. More information on Nanotechnology on the site.
Light at night linked to breast cancer
Women who live in areas with higher levels of outdoor light at night may be at higher risk for breast cancer than those living in areas with lower levels, according to a Harvard University study. The large long-term study also found a stronger association among women who worked night shifts. "In our modern industrialised society, artificial lighting is nearly ubiquitous. Our results suggest that this widespread exposure to outdoor lights during nighttime hours could represent a novel risk factor for breast cancer," said lead author Peter James, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, looked at data from nearly 110,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study II from 1989 to 2013. The researchers linked data from satellite images of Earth taken at nighttime to residential addresses for each study participant, and also considered the influence of night shift work. The study also factored in detailed information on a variety of health and socioeconomic factors among participants. Women exposed to the highest levels of outdoor light at night - those in the top fifth - had an estimated 14 per cent increased risk of breast cancer during the study period, as compared with women in the bottom fifth of exposure, the researchers found. As levels of outdoor light at night increased, so did breast cancer rates. The link was stronger among women who worked night shifts, suggesting that exposure to light at night and night shift work contribute jointly to breast cancer risk. Other research by Harvard scientists based on the same Nurses' Health Study II had earlier found an association between shiftwork and breast cancer (Risks 781). Read more: Harvard University news release. Peter James and others. Outdoor light at night and breast cancer incidence in the Nurses' Health Study II, Environmental Health Perspectives [Full text], volume 125, issue 8, 17 August 2017. doi: 10.1289/EHP935 ITUC/Hazards work cancer hazards blog. Source: Risks 815
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe Victoria News
Cross-border safety program young workers focus
WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWork NSW will this week focus on young workers when they team up in Yarrawonga – Mulwala as part of this year's Cross Border Construction Program.
Groups of inspectors from the two regulators will this week visit construction sites on both sides of the border to promote strategies to reduce the risk of young workers being hurt. They will also discuss the similarities between the Victorian and NSW work health and safety regulations and address any perceived differences that employers and workers may have observed.
WorkSafe Victoria Executive Director of Health & Safety Marnie Williams said that 538 young construction workers were injured in the state during 2016, more than in any other industry. "Workers aged 15-24 are vulnerable. They often lack experience, are still developing physically and mentally, are eager to make a good impression and can be reluctant to ask questions," Ms Williams said. "Employers need to ensure their young workers not only receive the correct training and supervision, but are empowered to speak up. For young workers our message is that if you are not sure about something, stop and ask."
Read more: WorkSafe Victoria Media Release
September 28: Bullying prevention workshop
WorkSafe says, "Bullying can significantly impact a workplace" and for this reason, it is running a free workshop to provide practical information and resources on preventing workplace bullying.
Date: Thursday 28 September 2017
Time: 9:00am to 12:30pm (light lunch will be included) Registrations open at 8.30am
Location: Melbourne Sport and Acquatic Centre (MSAC), 30 Aughtie Drive, Albert Park VIC 3206
RSVP: Places are limited - register your attendance here by 21 September 2017
SA: Utilities-avoidance toolbox tools released
SafeWork SA in collaboration with industry stakeholders has developed six toolbox videos highlighting practical steps that can be taken to avoid striking underground utilities and contact with overhead power lines. SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said the initiative was aimed at educating people of the importance of taking all necessary precautions when working near utilities such as power, gas, communications, and water.
"It doesn't matter if you're a home renovator, a contractor or a major construction firm – if you're planning any form of work near utilities, this toolbox series is for you," said Mr Campbell. "The consequences of poor planning can be devastating. Workers lives could be put at risk, and essential services could be shut off to entire communities. In addition to the human cost, the financial impact can be significant for businesses and the community. Even for something as simple as installing a signpost or a fence, the importance of locating underground utilities before you dig cannot be overstated."
Read more: SafeWorkSA Media Release [pdf]. Check out the videos here.
QLD: Regulators and police in work safety blitz
The Fair Work Ombudsman has joined a Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and police operation to target worker exploitation in the farming industry in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane. A tip-off from within the industry triggered the operation, with allegations including: unsafe, substandard accommodation; unsafe drinking water; underpaying workers; and charging workers job-find fees according to Ombudsman Natalie James.
FW inspectors were currently auditing farms' employment records from the last two months, and had commenced investigations into possible breaches by several contractors. "Dodgy" labour practices were "blatantly unfair for workers, and it is unfair for responsible operators that are doing the right thing to have to compete with those who base their business models on unlawful activities", James said. "I strongly encourage all workers engaged in the sector to check out the Fair Work Ombudsman's top tips for backpackers, seasonal workers and growers."
Read more: Top tips for backpackers and seasonal workers. Source: OHSAlert
Safe Work Australia News
Reminder: October is National Safe Work Month
October is National Safety Month and 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
There has not been an update on the workplace fatalities reported to the national body since our last edition. As at August 28, 115 had been reported. 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.
Builder convicted and fined $880,000 over death of apprentice
A Moorabbin building company and its director were yesterday convicted and fined a total of $880,000 over the death of a 21-year-old apprentice at a Caulfield South construction site in August 2013. Jacbe Builders Pty Ltd and director David Fergusson pleaded guilty in the Melbourne County Court to one charge each under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 for failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment. The company was fined $700,000 and Mr Fergusson was fined $180,000. This is one of the highest fines under the OHS Act to date.
The court heard that the company was carrying out carpentry work at an apartment complex on Hawthorn Rd. After the foundations had been laid and a block wall built to just above the level of the first floor, Fergusson and his apprentice installed first floor trusses and laid the first floor. After this, the block wall was completed up to the second level, and they returned to the site to begin carpentry work on the second floor. This included installing second floor trusses.
On 22 August, after the second-floor trusses were installed, a load of flooring sheets weighing 1.76 tonnes were delivered to the site and Fergusson instructed a crane driver to lift and place them onto the second-floor trusses. Shortly after this the trusses collapsed, falling on to the first floor - then both floors collapsed to the ground. Fergusson and the apprentice were working on the second floor at the time and both fell to the ground. While Fergusson suffered a number of injuries, the young man was trapped under the debris and died at the scene.
The court heard that the building methods used by the company were a significant departure from acceptable safety standards. WorkSafe Head of Hazardous Industries and Industry Practice, Michael Coffey, said basic safety failures had caused the tragic loss of a young man's life.
"The company's complete failure to ensure work at the site was carried out in a safe way resulted in a young man losing his life for simply doing his job," Mr Coffey said. "He put his trust in his boss, and his boss failed him in the worst possible way. And this young man's family has been left to grieve for a lifetime."
Read more: WorkSafe Media release
Two workers collapse in confined space: company fined $30k
On 11 June 2016, whilst installing rubber linings inside a hopper, two employees of Industrial Lining Pty Ltd, a company installing protective linings, were exposed to contaminants in the confined space. About a half hour after applying an adhesive hazardous substance to the inner wall of the hopper, the two workers entered the hopper to install the rubber lining. Shortly after this they were overcome by the adhesive's and became unconscious - they were at high risk of death. The company failed to identify that the hopper was a confined space before the work began, and did not provide a job safety analysis until after the risk had eventuated. The two workers had only received on the job training, while a third worker had not received any information, instruction or training. Paramedics, the CFA and SES attended the scene, helped the workers down from the hopper and took them to hospital. Luckily, they were later discharged without injury. Industrial Linings pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $30,000 plus $4,096 costs.
To check the past prosecutions and for any updates before next week, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
USA: Texas Chemical plant explosion not an accident
Among the events surrounding Hurricane Harvey in Texas came news an Arkema chemical plant in Texas flooded, causing chemical explosions. The plant was rocked with two explosions early Thursday and fire from the plant and plumes of dark smoked filled the sky. Arkema Group, which is one of the world's largest chemical companies, had warned the day before that the plant would catch fire and explode at some point - adding there was nothing that could be done about it. But many experts disagree. "They should not have been operating," Nicholas Ashford, professor of technology and policy at the MIT School of Engineering told Fox News. "They should have basically emptied the tanks by moving them to storage facilities or venting them - lose them to the atmosphere." According to a series of articles in the Houston Chronicle there is a shocking lack of even rudimentary safety precautions in what has become the petrochemical capital of the country. One of the articles "describes how the city government of Houston, and its responsible officials, are flying completely blind as to what is being manufactured and stored in the hundreds of plants in and around the city."
Read more: Texas chemical plant explosion: 'They should not have been operating,' expert says Fox News:Science; The Chemical Plant Explosion in Texas Is Not an Accident. It's the Result of Specific Choices. Esquire
India: Unsafe, exploitative work rife in granite quarries
Modern slavery and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions are rampant in granite quarries in South India, a study has found. The new research, commissioned by the India Committee of the Netherlands and Stop Child Labour, also found that in some quarries, especially in waste stone processing, child labour is used. The groups say there is an enormous gulf in working conditions between permanent workers, mainly supervisors, and the casual workers who make up 70 per cent of the workforce. The first group receives safety equipment, insurance and an employment contract, while the casual labourers doing the dangerous manual work, lack these 'fundamental' labour rights.
The research found that granite sourced from the investigated quarries is imported by 33 natural stone companies and three banks from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Spain, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the USA. China is also a major importer, processor and re-exporter of Indian granite for the international market. The research was conducted in 22 quarries and six waste stone processing sites in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka in South India. The study found the most dangerous, exploitative work was undertaken by workers recruited by middlemen. "None of the workers hired through middlemen have access to a mandatory retirement scheme nor are they covered under health insurance, while these workers are most exposed to health risks," the groups said. "Around 62 per cent of the workers report that they are not receiving safety equipment such as a helmet, goggles, boots, respirator/mask and gloves, except during labour inspections." The report calls on the Indian government to enforce existing labour laws and European Union member states to strengthen their public procurement policy.
Read more: ICN news release, full report The Dark Sites of Granite: Modern slavery, child labour and unsafe work in Indian granite quarries - What should companies do? and summary [pdf].