SafetyNet 425, October 25, 2017
It is with great sadness that we publish the news that there have been two workers killed in regional Victoria in the past week.
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.
Two more fatalities over the past week
A farm contract worker in his 50s was killed last week after he fell from a motorbike on a cattle property at Yarck, about 135km north of Melbourne. According to WorkSafe, it is believed he was herding cattle when his motorbike struck a ditch. Tragically, it appears that the incident occurred on Thursday, but the man's body was not found until early Friday morning. The fatality is being investigated by WorkSafe.
"Farming may be a high-risk occupation but no one should ever die simply doing their job," said Marnie Williams, WorkSafe's Executive Director of Health and Safety. "The horrendous toll should make everyone in agriculture think carefully about the risks involved in farm activities and plan accordingly." Ms Williams said farmers and other agricultural workers made up just 3 per cent of the Victorian workforce but – on average – made up 30 per cent of workplace fatalities every year.
Then late yesterday afternoon came the tragic news that a Mildura worker was killed in Mildura, in Victoria's north west. It is believed the Murray Basin Rail Project worker was crushed by a bitumen roller while loading it onto the tray of a transport vehicle at a landscape supplier. WorkSafe is investigating this incident also.
These two fatalities, in the one week, bring the number of Victorians killed at work this year to 21, compared to 24 for the same time last year.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Releases Farm contractor dies after falling from motorbike and Mildura fatality
AWU member wins Victoria's HSR of the Year
In what must have been a very tough decision, the judges decided to award the HSR of the Year to Michael Muscat, AWU member and proud HSR at Visy Board Coolaroo for the past 19 years. Like many effective HSRs, Michael has shown persistence in ensuring his employer addresses health and safety risks. A shift worker, Michael initiated new risk management measures, including the introduction of an additional night shift, to reduce fatigue-related risks. SafetyNet has arranged an interview with Michael, and this will appear on the website in the next couple of weeks.
There were two other very worthy finalists: Sue Lanyon, ANMF member and HSR for the past five years at Melbourne Endoscopy Group, and Manny Mason, HSR for the past six years for various DWGs at the City of Ballarat and a member of the ASU. More information on all the finalists to come.
Of course winners in all the categories were announced last week, including community organisation HALT - a community initiative to support the mental health of local tradies; and a number of ingenious solutions to health and safety risks.
Read more: Health and Safety winners named in prestigious 2017 awards WorkSafe Media Release
Many people in the office complain the air conditioning is too cold. However management does nothing about it and ignores staff. Some staff have bought electric heaters for under their desks and others have to wear scarves and jackets. Is there anything we can do?
It's funny - I often get this question at the beginning of the summer season. Workers go into work wearing lighter clothing, only to find their office is like a freezer!
Temperatures are not specifically addressed in legislation. This is because OHS/WHS legislation in Australia is 'objective based' – that is, the duties on employers (or PCBUs – 'persons conducting a business or undertaking' – the term under WHS legislation) require that they provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. They are also required to monitor the conditions at the workplace and consult with workers and elected reps on identifying and controlling hazards. A freezing office is neither healthy nor safe!
Like most jurisdictions, Victoria has guidance on workplace temperatures - in our case in the Compliance Code: Workplace amenities and work environment. The Code states: "Workplaces that are buildings need to be capable of maintaining a temperature range that is comfortable and suitable to the work. Workplace temperatures that are too high or too low can contribute to fatigue, heat illness and cold-related medical conditions." It then gives guidance on what the optimum temperature should be. (Check this FAQ on Office temperature and humidity)
I recommend asking that your HSR take the issue up with management - who must respond and look to resolve the matter. If you do not have an HSR, then organise to elect one! Seek the assistance of your union if you need help.
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.
Vic: Asbestos Awareness Week and Commemoration Service
Friday November 24 - SAVE THE DATE
During November's Asbestos Awareness Week, advocacy and support group Asbestoswise holds it annual Commemoration Service to remember those whose lives have been touched by asbestos-related diseases. HSRs, workers and the general community are invited to join Asbestoswise for the event, followed by a BBQ on the banks of the Yarra, generously provided by the CFMEU.
When: 10.45am, Friday November 24
Where: Deakin Edge Theatre, Federation Square, Melbourne
Followed by BBQ on the banks of the Yarra River.
The latest edition of the ACV/GARDS (Asbestos Council of Victoria and Gippsland Asbestos Related Diseases Inc) newsletter October 2017 is now available to download here. The newsletter has articles on the closure of the Hazelwood power plant, news on the training delivered by this very active organisation, and much more.
ASEA Summit - November 26 - 28 - Early bird discount closes Friday
To be held at the Old Parliament House, Canberra between 26th-28th November 2017, ASEA's national summit is a must for anyone who is interested or involved in asbestos-related work and advocacy. Go to this page to register. The program for the Summit is available on the ASEA website.
UK: Teenager attacks parademics
When two paramedics were called out to assist 19 year old Croydon (UK) teenager Zoe Carruthers who had dislocated her knee, what they didn't expect was for one to be punched in the face, and her colleague abused. Within minutes the female paramedics had to call the police. The teenager 'lost it' because her medical notes failed to note that she should not be given pain relieving gas. Despite having been arrested before for assaulting medical staff on another occasion, the court gave her a 6 week 'custodial' sentence, suspended for six months. This means she was just given a warning, nothing more.
The solution, according to the author of emergencyserviceshumour blog is simple: withdraw the ability for people like this young woman to use the 999 emergency system. "She clearly has no regard, or respect for the people who dedicate their lives to helping others.... It is about time, that a strong message was sent to the individuals who assault our emergency services. A message that will actually be a deterrent for anyone thinking of assaulting the brave men and women who sign up to but their lives on the line, to help complete strangers."
Meanwhile, Risks e-journal reports that attacks on emergency workers will result in tougher sentences under a new law that has been given government backing. Labour MP Chris Bryant's private member's bill would double the maximum sentence for common assault against an emergency worker to a year. He called assaults on police and paramedics "a national disgrace". Policing minister Nick Hurd told MPs the government was "very supportive" of the principles of the bill. The legislation will cover attacks on police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and certain healthcare workers including ambulance staff.
This sort of problem is not limited to the UK. Danny Hill, Assistant Secretary of the Victorian branch of Ambulance Employees Australia, said "This example highlights the dangers faced by paramedics at even low acuity cases. Paramedics are not punching bags and have the right to work in a safe workplace. If the courts don't take strong action against violent offenders then these assaults on paramedics will continue to occur."
Occupational asthma cases vastly under-reported
Occupation-related asthma accounts for at least 200 workers' compensation claims per year in Australia. However, occupational physician, Dr. Peter Jezukaitis says that many cases go unreported - meaning the number could be much higher, possibly in the thousands.
"The airways can become reactive to an allergen or irritant at work that causes asthma symptoms. This can happen to someone with existing asthma but in some cases, an adult can experience asthma for the first time due to high exposures or certain triggers in the workplace. Occupational asthma can be hard to spot and accurately diagnose, but needs to be more commonly thought of by workers and health care professionals," said Dr Jezukaitis.
Recognising and managing triggers in the workplace could help to reduce this cost, prevent asthma episodes, improve productivity and help businesses retain employees. "Employers have a duty of care to their employees to identify hazards,
assess and manage risks including exposures that cause asthma." According to the 2015 Hidden Cost of Asthma [pdf] report from Asthma Australia asthma cost employers $526.7m, mainly due to temporary absenteeism.
Read more: Asthma Australia Media Release Workers' comp claims just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to occupational asthma
Reducing solvents protects painters and the public purse
A new study suggests that reducing exposure to toxic chemicals pays off by reducing both work-related disability and welfare costs. The Swedish study investigated whether the decreased use of paints based on organic solvents has led to a decreased risk of neuropsychiatric disorders in painters by studying their rates of related disability pensions. Chronic toxic encephalopathy – brain damage caused by chemicals – is a recognised industrial disease in solvent-exposed painters. The study led by Professor Bengt Järvholm of Umeå University, Sweden, examined the number of disability pensions in painters and other construction trades. While about 40 per cent of paints were solvent based in the 1970s, two decades later this had fallen to about 4 per cent. The report noted: "High exposure to organic solvents increased the risk for disability pension in neurological disorders, and the risk decreased when the use of organic solvents decreased." The authors concluded their study "showed an increased risk for disability pension in neurological disorders compatible with brain disorders caused by organic solvents. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the decrease in disability pension in neurological disorders is due to a change in the occurrence of neurological diseases and that the decreased use of organic solvents in paints has contributed to this decrease."
Read more: Bengt Järvholm and Alex Burdorf. Effect of reduced use of organic solvents on disability pension in painters, [full article] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 74, issue 11, pages 827-829, 2017. Source: Risks 822
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe Victoria News
Amendments to OHS Act
The recently legislated amendments to the OHS Act - under the WorkSafe Legislation Amendment Act 2017 - come into effect tomorrow, 26 October. The big wins for workers are:
- Penalties when employers breach enforceable undertakings
- Higher penalties when employers fail to report a notifiable incident or fail to preserve an incident scene
One of the small changes but worth noting is that documents, including PINs, can now be served by email.
Reminder: Health and Safety Month
Remember that apart from the VTHC HSR Conference on October 31, WorkSafe Victoria has a range of activities in Melbourne and around the state happening for Health and Safety Month - but don't be pressured into attending one of the WorkSafe events instead of the VTHC HSR Conference! To find out about the events, including those at which the above will be speaking, go to the WorkSafe Victoria Health and Safety Month webpage. Find an event, and register your attendance online.
Meanwhile: New inspectors on board
Following an intensive 14-week training course, WorkSafe's latest group of inspector and investigator graduates have this week begun the task of keeping Victorian workers safe. The 22 graduates (18 inspectors and four investigators) come from a variety of backgrounds. Seven of the 22 are women.
They will join an inspectorate that makes more than 40,000 visits to Victorian workplaces each year, targeting unsafe activities, providing practical guidance on hazard identification and risk control, promoting consultation between employers and workers on health and safety matters, and enforcing occupational health and safety laws.
Minister for Finance Robin Scott said inspectors and investigators played a crucial role in keeping Victorian workers safe. "The inspectorate is at the forefront of ensuring employers prioritise safety and do everything they can to prevent a serious injury or fatality in their workplace," Mr Scott said. "That is why the Government is committed to ensuring WorkSafe has the resources it needs to help Victorian workers return home safely every day." Read more: More inspectors hit the beat to keep Victorians safe at work WorkSafe Media Release
Latest edition of Safety Soapbox
Safety Soapbox was posted on October 20. This edition announces that WorkSafe is undertaking a construction safety focus targeting the erection of precast concrete panels, the onsite management of temporary braced precast panels and mobile cranes. Inspectors will be visiting construction sites across Victoria to verify that precast panel works are being done safely, mobile cranes are being maintained in a safe condition and the risks associated with working with or around precast panels are being controlled.
There are a number of other items in the edition including WorkSafe Safe Towns and a reminder of WorkSafe's OHS Essentials Program for small and medium businesses. Strangely, there was no list of reported incidents attached to this edition. Access the October 20 edition of Safety Soapbox here.
New Quad Bike Safety Taskforce announced
After persistent calls for action from the ACTU, Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash and Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack yesterday announced that a Taskforce led by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will conduct an investigation into quad bike safety.
Minister Cash said it was tragic that between 2011 and 2016 there have been 106 fatalities in Australia linked to quad bike accidents – ten occurring in this calendar year alone. "The sheer number of deaths and injuries necessitates close co-operation between Governments to address quad bike safety as an urgent priority," Minister Cash said. "Quad bikes are important work vehicles for many people, particularly in rural and regional areas, but it is critical that these vehicles are made and used safely."
The Turnbull Government, with the co-operation of the States and Territories, established the Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC) on the safety of quad bikes which includes the Department of Employment, the ACCC, SafeWork NSW, WorkSafe Victoria and WorkSafe Tasmania. Read more: Federal government media release
Safe Work Australia News
New Virtual Seminar
A new virtual seminar has been released by Safe Work Australia and is accessible on the website - Fun, exciting and safe: WHS in major events.
Putting on a major event is a complex undertaking, from installing temporary infrastructure and managing contractors in the planning stage, to dealing with electrical hazards and managing large crowds during the event. Rigorous planning, communication and ongoing monitoring is essential.
Expert panel members Dr Aldo Raineri (Discipline Leader in Occupational health and Safety at Central Queensland University), Stephen Woolger (Health and Safety Manager for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games) and Tony Williams (Group Director, Regional Operations and Sector Initiatives at SafeWork NSW) discuss the challenges of meeting WHS obligations at major events, while still keeping them fun for audiences. Learn what goes into the planning and design of these events and what happens behind the scenes to make sure everyone stays safe. Access the Seminar on the Safe Work website.
SafeWork Australia fatality statistics
There has been no update to the reported fatalities list since the last edition of SafetyNet. The latest update was October 16, at which time there there had been 129 workplace fatalities reported to the national body. To check for updates and full figures for 2017, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage).
The latest monthly fatality report published remains that for June 2017, during this month there were 22 work-related fatalities. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Company fined $90k after worker left a paraplegic
Cheltenham marble and granite distributor W.K. Marble and Granite Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined $90,000 after a young storeman was crushed under 22 sheets of porcelain, leaving him a quadriplegic. The company was found guilty of failing to provide a safe system of work, and failing to provide information and instructions to employees to enable them to perform their work in a way that was without risk to health and safety. It was also ordered to pay costs of $13,728.
On February 8, 2016, the 25-year-old storeman and a co-worker were preparing to unload the porcelain sheets off three wooden A-frames. They had cut the PET strapping holding the porcelain to the frames when a sheet from the first frame tipped onto the second, causing a domino effect that knocked the sheets to the ground. The storeman, who was standing between two of the frames, was struck on the head and knocked to the ground before 22 sheets, each weighing 80kg, fell on top of him. He sustained a C4 spinal cord injury, leaving him with no feeling from the chest down.
The Melbourne Magistrates court heard that a retaining strap should have been used to ensure the slabs were still secured to the A frames prior to the PET strapping being cut. It heard that wooden A frames could twist during transportation and that the frame that triggered the incident appeared to be on an angle that would have caused sheets to be sitting in a more vertical position, increasing the likelihood that they would fall outwards. Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Rare bullying prosecution
Skyrider Tower Hire Pty Ltd is a Victorian company providing tree maintenance services mainly in the Ballarat, Colac, Stawell and Geelong areas. Between November 2011 and September 2014, an employee suffered ongoing bullying behaviour by one of the offender's directors. This included constant aggressive and abusive comments, swearing, aggressive communication and body language and conduct that prevented the employee from carrying out his job. The company failed to have in place policies and procedures to assist employees who may experience workplace bullying. The employee was made redundant in May 2014 and subsequently lodged a claim for compensation which was accepted. Following WorkSafe's intervention in July 2014 new policies and procedures were introduced which were deemed compliant. On October 18, Skyrider Tower Hire was charged with and pleaded guilty to one offence under s 21(1) and (2)(a) of the OHS Act for failing to provide a safe system of work. It pleaded guilty and was on October 18 convicted and fined $20,000 plus $15,000 in costs.
Walker trapped in hole: Construction company fined $35K
Civil construction company Lojac Civil Pty Ltd, has been convicted and fined $35,000 (plus costs of $4000) after pleading guilty of failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks. The company failed to provide adequate site security at a housing subdivision site in Pakenham after a member of the public on a late-night walk was injured after falling into a hole and becoming trapped.
The Melbourne Magistrates' Court heard that at about 11pm on 20 January 2016, a member of the public was walking his dogs across what he thought was a flat, clear area when he fell down an incline and into a 4m deep bore hole, which caved in and buried him up to his waist. He was able to use his mobile phone to call for help and was rescued by the CFA. Luckily, he suffered only abrasions and bruising. The incident could have led to much more serious consequences.
The court was told that the worksite, which contained 80 large, deep bore holes ranging in depth from 2.5m to 4m, was not secured to prevent unauthorised access.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Collapsing scaffold injures worker
Project Group Construction Pty Ltd, a construction company, was constructing a home and shed in Wensleydale. On 15 March 2016, two employees were directed to erect a mobile aluminium scaffold on the internal concrete floor of the building. The working platform of the scaffold was set at a height of 4.3 metres. It was being erected and had not yet been braced. The company had prepared a safe work method statement ("SWMS") for work at height that provided for a separate SWMS for erection of scaffold, if that were to occur - but no scaffolding SWMS was created.
The company did not inform or instruct its employees in risks associated with scaffold erection or risk control measures to implement to mitigate those risks. On that day, one of the workers was standing on the scaffold platform installing handrails when he felt felt the scaffold shake in a strong gust of wind. It then started to fall. He remained on the scaffold as it fell and tried to jump away from it as it hit the ground, but his left foot got caught under the handrail. Other workers helped free him and he was driven to hospital where he was treated for fractures to his left foot with seven broken bones, and an L4 lumbar fracture. The company pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $25,000 plus $ 5,221 in costs.
$24K fine for working too close to power lines
Preston construction company Imagebuid Group Pty Ltd, has been convicted and fined $24,000 (plus $6387 costs) for allowing a crane to operate near high voltage powerlines without carrying out the proper pre-work safety assessment. The company was found guilty of two charges under the OHS Act for failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks, and failing to ensure the means of entering the workplace were safe and without risks to health.
On 27 August 2015, Imagebuild engaged a crane operator to lift a housing display suite approximately the size of a twenty-foot shipping container onto the rear of a flatbed truck in Nicholson St, Brunswick East. The 20-tonne crane was parked directly under power lines and high voltage tram wires. The Melbourne Magistrates court heard that there was no Safe Work Method Statement for the work, nor had a a risk assessment to ascertain the presence, type and operating voltage of overhead cables and tram wires been done. The company had also failed to obtain the permission of the electricity supplier or the tram company before performing the lift.
A Yarra Trams employee who saw the crane being moved into position warned the crane operator not to conduct the lift as he believed it would to be encroaching the "'no go" zone for work near live power lines, but was ignored. The employee videoed the lift on his mobile phone and then reported the matter to WorkSafe.
WorkSafe's Executive Director of Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said two crane incidents the past two weeks – a mobile crane overturned on a building site in St Kilda, while a crane hit the side of an apartment building under construction in the CBD causing materials to fall to the ground - were recent incidents that highlighted the high-risk nature of crane work and that safe systems of work needed to be employed at all times.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
To check the past prosecutions and for any updates before next week, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Korea: Samsung remodels dormitories to reduce suicides
Rather than address the appalling working conditions, including extreme overwork and stress, the Samsung Display Ltd has opted for a cosmetic solution and remodeled its dormitories to prevent workers taking their own lives. The world's largest OLED maker has replaced closets, hangers, doorknobs, windows, garment bars, and other amenities from the dormitories. The remodeling was prompted by the suicide of an engineer in his 30's in April of this year by hanging himself on a garment bar. According to police, the young man had been overwhelmed by overwork. Read more: Stopsamsung
Japan: Stadium worker suicide caused by overwork
The Japan labour standard office has determined the suicide of a 23-year-old man who worked at Tokyo's new Olympic stadium construction site stemmed from overwork, and his family is eligible for government compensation. Hiroshi Kawahito, a lawyer representing the victim's family, said the victim, in charge of quality control of materials at the stadium site, recorded 190 hours of overtime in one month before killing himself in March. The amount of overtime was way more than 80 hours, a threshold for karoshi, or death from overwork. Labour officials in Tokyo found the victim also recorded 160 hours of overtime in January. The body of the man was found in the central Japan mountains in April, weeks after he disappeared, with a suicide note saying he was "physically and mentally pushed to the limit." Karojisatsu, suicide linked to overwork, is also government compensated in Japan. Work at the new stadium has been intense because of its delayed start. An earlier stadium plan was scrapped due to spiralling costs and an unpopular design. On an average day, about 1,000 workers are at the project led by Taisei Corp, Japan's construction giant. In late September, Tokyo labour officials who investigated nearly 800 subcontractors of Taisei found illegal overwork at nearly 40 companies. Workers at 18 companies did overtime exceeding 80 hours per month, and several exceeded 150 hours.
Read more: Japan Times. CBC News. Bloomberg. The Guardian. Source: Risks 822