SafetyNet 419, September 13, 2017
Stop Press: We have just received notification that there has been another fatality in Victoria. A 39 year-old male worker has died in hospital from his injuries after an incident on 11 August where the elevating work platform he was operating was struck by a car at Braeside. It is understood the man was in the process of loading the platform onto a towing vehicle when the car struck the bucket of the platform.
Another big fine this week for a fatality at a poultry farm near Geelong in 2015, with the contractor being convicted and fined $1.13m. The VTHC supports the prosecution of employers when their non-compliance with the law has tragic consequences. However, our regulator must do much more to ensure compliance in order to prevent such tragedies.
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.
How many forklifts can be in operation per square metre in warehouse? At the moment we have four reach trucks, one platform cherry picker and one gas forklift in a 3000m2 warehouse. Could we add more?
This is not specifically addressed in OHS/WHS legislation. This is because Australia's legislation is what we call 'objective based' – that is, employers have a duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This is called the 'general duty of care'. But the law is not 'prescriptive' – that is, it does not mandate HOW this should be done.
The issue you're raising is a safety one due to potentially too much 'traffic' and other activities in the warehouse. Under s21 of the Act, your employer must, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure that the workplace and the systems of work (including traffic management) are safe and without risks to health. The employer must also ensure that there is such information, instruction, training and supervision for employees (which includes ensuring there are rules and procedures in place), and in this case, that operators are appropriately licensed.
So, taking all this into account, it is up to the employer to work out what's safe and what isn't, including how many forklifts and other plant can be operating in any specific area. Any assessment of the workplace, the systems of the work, the plant and so on, must be done in consultation with any HSRs and affected workers (or just the HSRs) - see Duty to Consult. Incidents involving forklifts can kill workers (as seen in this week's conviction of a poultry contractor), so safety around forklifts is crucial. WorkSafe has produced a useful guide for forklifts – which you can download from this page on the site: Forklift Safety.
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.
Victoria: New laws to protect labour hire workers
The Andrews Labor Government has announced it will establish a specialist regulator under its plan to hold labour hire firms to tougher standards, making it the third state to legislate the industry in the absence of any action from the federal Coalition government.
The legislation to establish a licencing scheme for labour hire operators working in all sectors will be introduced later this year. The scheme is based on the inquiry last year chaired by Professor Anthony Forsyth, from the RMIT University's Graduate School of Business and Law, which recommended labour licencing in three sectors: horticulture, meat and cleaning industries. The final arrangements will not be limited to these sectors, but be universal. Premier Andrews said, "Every worker has the right to be treated with fairness and respect. Under our tough new laws rogue operators will no longer be able to get away with exploitation or abuse." Professor Forsyth has said however, it was 'understandable' that the government had gone further and announced a universal scheme, given that other states were moving in this direction.
Sources: Victorian Government Media Release; Workplace Express
Senate committee recommends changes to FWA
The Senate Education and Employment References Committee inquiry into corporate avoidance of the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009 has called for the law to be amended include the WHS concept of the PCBU, and for gig-economy companies like Uber and Airtasker to be held to account for workers' safety and access to workers compensation. In submissions to the inquiry, the VTHC, the ACTU and many unions argued and provided evidence that corporations were able to exploit loopholes to avoid their responsibilities to these workers.
The inquiry found that "some employers circumvent the letter and/or spirit of" the Act through overt breaches like underpaying staff, or by exploiting "legislative loopholes and shortcomings" to limit protections offered by the Act. The recommendations include:
- amending the FWA to prevent the FWC from terminating an agreement where workers would be worse off as a result of the termination;
- federal and state governments woring together to establish labour hire licensing authorities in each state and territory, that licensed labour hire operators be required to provide data on the numbers of workers engaged, that licensing schemes be established, and more. (see the item, above: several states have already announced such schemes)
- amending the FWA so that host employers have a duty to ensure all labour standards provided by the FW Act are afforded to labour-hire workers
- the Federal Government working with state and territory safety and workers' compensation regulators to "ensure that companies operating in the gig economy are responsible for the safety of workers engaged in the gig economy".
Victorian tenants exposed to asbestos in botched repair job
The ABC recently reported on the serious problems facing two young women in a rented home after discovering that a plumber who was eventually sent to fix a leaking tap had exposed them to asbestos fibres by cutting a huge hole in the wall - then just leaving it and not cleaning up. They sought help from a number of government bodies, including WorkSafe, receiving little help and contradictory advice, even taking the issue to VCAT. According to the report, although WorkSafe Victoria, did visit the premises, it told the women in an email, that by that stage it did not have authority because work had finished! In the end, the women "donned their own suits and respirators to salvage what they could from the share house"! This case illustrates a number of worrying facts:
- some tradesmen still have little idea of how to recognise asbestos, putting themselves and others at risk;
- breaching the asbestos regulations too often has no consequence for those who don't comply;
- unsuspecting tenants can have their health put at risk;
- getting something done about a botched job is harder than it should be;
- buck passing by relevant agencies continues to occur; and
- the law is not protecting tenants, even when there are clearly regulations which apply.
Vic: Asbestos contaminated soil results in EPA prosecution
In what is a rare occurrence, Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has fined 40-52 McArthurs Road Development P/L nearly $8000 for dumping and stockpiling soil containing asbestos at its site in Altona North. While the fine is very low, hopefully it is a sign that the regulator will take all companies dumping asbestos or contaminated soil to task.
EPA Metro Manager Peter Kerr said EPA officers observed a truck dumping what was believed to be contaminated soil while responding to a pollution report from a member of the public. "This is a good example of the importance of the local community being our eyes and ears. EPA really values this local intelligence. It is vital in helping us to prevent and respond to harm," Mr Kerr said. "Both a nearby school and the local council were immediately notified about the contaminated soil and it was covered by the company within six hours of EPA officers arriving on site." A later inspection confirmed the company had removed the soil and complied with the legally enforceable instructions of the notice. Read more: EPA Media release
Work stopped on Sunshine Coast development
More than 50 construction workers last week filled out asbestos exposure forms in response to the discovery of asbestos at the Lendlease Sunshine Plaza, Maroochydore, redevelopment site. The Sunshine Plaza is the largest shopping centre on the Sunshine Coast, and began trading in 1980 as The Sands Shopping Centre. Queensland's Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union OHS co-ordinator Andrew Ramsay said asbestos was reported by concrete form workers near an embankment at the western car park site on Wednesday morning. Mr Ramsay said it appeared the roofing sheets had been dumped and buried years ago.
Work was then stopped in other sections of the redevelopment after more asbestos was confirmed to have been unearthed. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland confirmed it was investigating the discovery of asbestos first flagged earlier. According to the media, the regulator has determined the risk to workers was 'negligible' - an outrageous finding given that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, and workers are right to stop work if there is any risk of them being exposed.
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).
NSW: construction worker trapped under rubble
A construction worker suffered suspected leg fractures after being pinned under rubble when a crane dropped its load last week in Sydney's inner northwest. Emergency crews were called to a construction site in Ryde following reports a man was trapped under a load from a crane, according to a NSW Ambulance spokeswoman. This was the latest in a spate of crane-related incidents in Sydney over the past few weeks, in which several people were injured. Read more: The Daily Telegraph
Being on a zero-hours contract is bad for your health
Young adults who are employed on zero-hours contracts are less likely to be in good health, and are at higher risk of poor mental health than workers with stable jobs, according to a research published on 5 July 2017 by the Institute of Education at the University College London."Zero-hours" contracts are those in which no minimum number of hours is guaranteed - more or less what many casual workers in Australia experience.
Researchers analysed data on more than 7,700 people living in England who were born in 1989-90 and are being followed by a study called Next Steps. They found that at age 25, people on zero-hours contracts and those who were unemployed were less likely to report feeling healthy, compared to those in more secure employment. Those with zero-hours contracts were also at greater risk of reporting symptoms of psychological distress. However, young adults who were unemployed were more than twice as likely to suffer from mental ill health compared to those who were in work.
The lead author, Dr Morag Henderson, said: "One explanation for these findings is that financial stress or the stress associated with having a low-status job increases the risk of poor mental health. It may also be that the worry of having no work or irregular work triggers physical symptoms of stress, including chest pain, headaches and muscle tension."
Read more: UCL: Initial findings from the Next Steps Age 25 Sweep, July 2017 [pdf - 363.99 Kb] Source: European Trade Union Institute
Cleaning workforce at particular risk of pulmonary disease
According to a survey carried out by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), the mortality rate from pulmonary disease is significantly higher among men and women who work in the cleaning sector than among the rest of the population.
Laura Van den Borre, a doctoral student in sociology at the VUB, investigated the causes of mortality in a population of males and females aged between 30 and 60 who worked in the cleaning sector during the period 1991-2011. Using a population of executive and non-executive employees as a point of comparison, she discovered that the mortality rate from pulmonary disease was 45 per cent higher for men who had formerly worked in the cleaning sector, and 16 per cent higher for women in the same position.
The aim of the research was not to establish a precise explanation for these excess deaths from pulmonary disease. However, Van den Borre cited as probable causes the workers' exposure to chemicals in cleaning products and the biological risks associated with exposure to mould and dust.
Source: European Trade Union Institute
Regular bleach use linked to pulmonary disease
Recent research has found that using disinfectant cleaning products such as bleach just once a week potentially increases a person's chance of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by nearly a third. COPD can be fatal.
The study, by Harvard University and the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) involved data from more than 55,000 nurses in the US. The researchers looked at exposure to specific disinfectants, including bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and chemicals known as quaternary ammonium compounds (quats), which are often used to disinfect surfaces. They found all of these were associated with an increased risk of COPD of between 24 per cent to 32 per cent. Previous studies have linked exposure to disinfectants with breathing problems such as asthma, but it is believed this is the first piece of research to identify a link between disinfectants and COPD.
Dr Orianne Dumas, a researcher at Inserm, said: "The potential adverse effects of exposure to disinfectants on COPD have received much less attention, although two recent studies in European populations showed that working as a cleaner was associated with a higher risk of COPD. Presenting the findings at the European Respiratory Society the International Congress in Milan next week, she will highlight that further research is needed to clarify the impact of disinfectant use in the home. She added: "In particular, we need to investigate the impact on COPD of lifetime occupational exposure to chemicals and clarify the role of each specific disinfectant."
Source: The Independent
Canada: First responders suffer mental disorders
Results from Canada's first national survey looking at operational stress injuries among first responders such as police, paramedics, firefighters and emergency call operators suggests they are much more likely to develop a mental disorder than the general population. The research, published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, was conducted online between September 2016 and January 2017 by a group of mental health experts from across the country. Of the 5,813 participants, 44.5 per cent "screened positive for clinically significant symptom clusters consistent with one or more mental disorders." Statistics Canada has reported that the rate for the general population is 10 per cent. "It's higher, and, surprisingly higher," said University of Regina psychology professor Nick Carleton, who led the team of researchers. The research team also found women were more likely than men to screen as positive for a mental disorder, especially among firefighters. "It may be that women experience these kinds of careers differently than men, it may be that women are more likely to report than men. It may be that there's another variable that we have failed to identify entirely at this point that causes or explains some of the differences between men and women," Carleton told CBC News. Symptoms of operational stress injuries also appear to increase with more years of service and more exposure to traumatic events.
Read more: R Nicholas Carleton and others. Mental disorder symptoms among public safety personnel in Canada [Full text], Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, published online, 28 August 2017. CBC News. Source: Risks 816
Research: Working in hot conditions - participants wanted
A reminder of the research project on working in heat being conducted by the University of Adelaide, in cooperation with a number of other universities, and government bodies. Although much is known about heat-induced illness in workers, less is known about injuries that occur in hot weather, which may arise for a number of reasons including loss of concentration, sweaty hands, solar glare, hot surfaces or accumulated fatigue.
The researchers are inviting Health and safety representatives and health and safety professionals to participate by completing an online survey on heat-associated risks, experiences of injuries, and implications for productivity loss which will take 10-20 minutes (go to the project website). Workers who have suffered a heat-related injury can participate in a face-to-face or telephone interview (taking 30-60 min, participants will get a $50 gift voucher). Other workers can general comments about heat-related issues on the website, without being interviewed. The surveys and interview details are available on the website. 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.
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe Victoria News
Health and Safety Month
In addition to the week's primary event for HSRs, the VTHC HSR Conference (October 31), there are a number of other events organised by WorkSafe Victoria for employers and others interested in OHS. HSRs could also attend any number of these (with permission from their employer) in addition to the VTHC Conference - which they have a right to attend on paid leave. To check out the events which are being held in Melbourne and in a number of non-metropolitan locations, go to this page.
Latest edition of Safety Soapbox
The latest edition of Safety Soapbox was posted on September 8. The editorial, by Tony Cockerell from WorkSafe's Construction Program, is on the importance of preparing construction sites for high winds. He writes, "Strong winds can occur at any time of year, but they are often more prevalent and destructive during spring in Victoria. These winds can cause the collapse of structures or blow construction materials and rubbish off buildings or from sites, resulting in death or injury to site workers and members of the public."
Also attached to the electronic email is the list of reported incidents for the period from 18-31 August 2017 with 65 incidents reported to WorkSafe. These included the usual fractures, punctures, falls, an amputation and many many near misses. Access the September 8 edition of Safety Soapbox here - the list of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.
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
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 still been no update on the workplace fatalities reported to the national body since August 28, at which time 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.
New Infographic: First responder fatalities and injuries
Safe Work Australia this week released a new infographic on 'first responder' (police, firefighters and ambulance officers) fatalities and injuries since 2003. The infographic can be downloaded in several formats from this page of the SWA website.
Farmers Federation welcomes quad bike safety ratings
The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) has welcomed a commitment from Ministers to take decisive action towards the instatement of a five-star safety rating for quad bikes. At a recent meeting in Melbourne consumer affairs Ministers from across Australia and New Zealand agreed to "expedite the regulatory impact assessment processes needed to introduce the rating system and associated safety standards".
Fiona Simson said quad bikes represented significant risk to farmers,
farming families, farm workers and farm visitors. "Quad bike incidents
are the leading cause of accidental death on Australian farms.
Tragically, both adults and children are all too often killed or
seriously injured from quad bikes." She said, "The NFF supports sensible
measures to improve quad bike safety and to reduce the number of
fatalities caused by the popular piece of farm equipment."
Read more: NFF Media Release
Poultry contractor convicted, fined $1.13m for fatality
A poultry contractor was this week convicted and fined $1.13 million over an incident in which a man was struck and killed by a forklift on a farm at Lethbridge, 30km from Geelong in 2015.
CK Crouch Pty Ltd was found guilty in the Geelong Magistrate's Court of three breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 – two charges of failing to provide or maintain safe systems of work and one charge of failing to provide information, instruction and training to employees.
Baiada Poultry Pty Ltd had contracted CK Crouch to catch and load live chickens from various farms, including the one at Lethbridge. On 30 November 2015, workers were at the Lethbridge farm to catch and load chickens. The task involved: herding the chickens to one or both sides of the shed; dimming the shed lights to reduce the stress to the animals; then filling cages, which a forklift had delivered to the shed. The forklift would then carry the cage, which held up to 160 chickens, outside to the waiting transport.
At about 11pm, a forklift carrying a full cage of chickens was moving through the shed at about 5km/h when it struck a worker as he was picking up a chicken. The 41-year-old man, who was wearing dark clothing, suffered serious chest, spine and pelvis injuries and died at the scene.
The company had two written work procedures for catching and manually loading live chickens into cages and worker and forklifts safety. The procedure for the separation of the forklift from workers was illustrated in a safety diagram.
However, the court heard that employees were not aware of these procedures, and had not been provided with information, instruction or training about the safe working procedures around forklifts.Further, the forklift driver had not been inducted into the safety procedures. During WorkSafe's investigation, the company was unable to produce records of any employees receiving induction or any other training in these procedures. In addition, employees were not provided with or required to wear reflective clothing during the chicken catching and loading process.
Read more: WorkSafe Media release
Plumbing company gets good behaviour bond
Phil McDonald Plumbing Pty Ltd, a plumbing contracting company, got off very lightly for putting a worker's life at extreme risk, by being sentenced to being 'of good behaviour' for 12 months. The company was engaged to do plumbing works at a housing construction site in Hepburn. On 16 December 2015, a Worksafe Inspector saw an employee working on the edge of the roof of one of the three houses being built. He was working at a height of about 3.8m above the ground with no proper harness system in place - rather, the harness consisted of random pieces of different harnesses without appropriate lanyards. The company failed to reduce the risk of a fall from height by failing to ensure the employee had a work positioning system which included an engineered anchor point and adjustable lanyard in accordance with the regulations. The company pleaded guilty and was, without conviction, sentenced to an adjourned undertaking to be of good behaviour for 12 months, to donate $3000 to the Ballarat Base Hospital, and to pay $3430 costs.
To check the past prosecutions and for any updates before next week, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
UK: Firm fined £450,000 after teen killed at work
A company has been fined £450,000 (A$739,530) after admitting criminal safety failings following the death of a teenage worker. Manchester Crown Court heard how Ben Pallier-Singleton, 19, had been driving a forklift truck at Vinyl Compounds Ltd on 10 February 2015, without adequate training, across uneven ground and in an area which was not properly lit. The forklift toppled over as he was turning and the safety frame of the vehicle landed on his neck, resulting in fatal injuries. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutor told a sentencing hearing: "The fatal accident occurred in an area known to employees as the 'graveyard'. Ben Pallier-Singleton had not been fully trained, instructed and therefore, even on the basis of the defendant's own risk assessment, ought not to have been required to drive the forklift truck." The company, which has a turnover of around £31m (A$51m), was fined £450,000 plus costs. In a statement following the hearing, Ben's mum, Kathryn Pallier said: "I am heartbroken and angry that Ben could go to work and be killed because his employer took so little care of him, failed to train him properly or make sure the workplace was safe. It is utterly shocking this can happen." She added: "The directors who made the decisions will be now able to get on with their lives, but we are serving a life sentence. Any fine they will pay is nothing, no penalty at all, compared to the penalty we face: life-long torment, endless sadness and grief without Ben." Hilda Palmer, from Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) who has been supporting Ben's family, said: "Nobody goes to work to die but do because employers are negligent and fail at basic health and safety law which is what happened to Ben. Now his family have to live without him and with their grief because of the company's failings."
Read more: HSE news release. Buxton Advertiser. Source: Risks 816
USA: Exploding Chemical Plant Faces First Lawsuit
First responders are suing over the exposure they say they suffered following a fire and detonation on the premises of the Arkema facility, which flooded during Hurricane Harvey. "Toxicity is a relative thing," said Arkema executive Richard Rennard when describing the noxious fumes coming from the plant that had been flooded by the hurricane (see last week's SafetyNet. The new lawsuit filed in a Harris County district court directly contradicts Arkema's claims there were no explosions, and that the gases, which 'leaked' may have been 'noxious' but not necessarily 'poisonous'. The law suit alleges a series of explosions on August 31 spread dangerous fumes to a perimeter 1.5 miles around the plant, where it incapacitated police officers charged with maintaining that perimeter, and then even overwhelmed medical professionals responding to their calls.
Read more: The Atlantic
Global: ILO head calls for global safety coalition
Global action is needed to address the massive human and economic cost of occupational injuries and diseases, the head of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said. "The global economic impact of the failure to adequately invest in occupational safety and health is roughly equal to the total GDP of the poorest 130 countries in the world," ILO director-general Guy Ryder told nearly 3,500 participants during the opening ceremony at the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Singapore on 3 September. The new global estimates on work-related illnesses and injuries represent 3.94 per cent of global GDP per year, or 2.99 trillion US dollars. According to ILO, in human lives that means 2.78 million workers continue to die each year from work-related injuries and illnesses - 2.4 million of these deaths can be attributed to work-related diseases alone. Ryder expressed ILO's readiness to engage in the development of a global coalition with key partners in meeting these challenges. Read more: ILO press release.
Korea: Top court backs MS link to Samsung job
South Korea's Supreme Court has ruled that a former worker in a Samsung LCD factory who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) should be recognised as having an occupationally caused disease, overturning lower court verdicts. In a milestone decision that could assist other workers struggling to prove the origin of their diseases, the Supreme Court ruled there was a significant link between Lee Hee-jin's disease and workplace hazards and her working conditions. Lower courts had denied her claim, partly because no records of her workplace conditions were publicly available. The Labor Ministry and Samsung refused to disclose them when a lower court requested the information, citing trade secrets. In its ruling, the court said the lack of evidence, resulting from Samsung's refusal to provide the information and an inadequate investigation by the government, should not be held against the worker. Instead, it said, such special circumstances should be considered in her favour.
Lee, 33, began to work at a Samsung LCD factory in Cheonan, south of Seoul, in 2002 when she was a high school senior. She evaluated nearly 100 display panels per hour on a conveyor belt, looking for defective panels and wiping them with isopropyl alcohol. She worked next to assembly lines that used other chemicals. She first reported the symptoms of multiple sclerosis three years later. She left Samsung in 2007, and first filed a claim in 2010 with a government agency, which denied her request for compensation. She took her case to the courts and lost twice before the Supreme Court victory. She is the third Samsung worker to report multiple sclerosis and win in court but the first to win in the Supreme Court, according to SHARPS, a group that advocates for technology workers. The Supreme Court said the high level of physical and mental stress in her job, long working hours, everyday use of a chemical, possible exposure to other chemical substances used on nearby assembly lines, and a lack of a family history of the disease were enough to rule in the worker's favour. The panel of four Supreme Court justices faulted the government agencies for failing to measure workers' exposure levels during their early investigation and for refusing to disclose the exposures.
Read more: Japan Times. SHARPS campaign. SafetyNet 411. Source: RIsks 816.