SafetyNet 426, November 1, 2017
Success! The VTHC's HSR Conference was a huge success - we thank everyone who attended and contributed to making it such a valuable and positive day. We will be making the presentations materials from the conference available in the coming weeks. And if anyone is interested in purchasing one of our OHS t-shirts ($25 each), then contact us!
Due to our commitments this week, this will be a very short edition of the journal - and Renata will be on leave next week, so expect the next edition on November 15.
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.
VTHC will be hiring soon
Keep an eye on SafetyNet, the VTHC and Ethical Jobs websites, as we will soon be advertising for a number of new positions.
Michael Muscat - 2017 HSR of the Year
We were lucky enough to get an interview with this year's HSR of the Year, Michael Muscat. He appeared briefly at the HSR Conference yesterday, and like many others, thought it was a great day. Check out the interview here. Interviews with the other finalists will be done over the next few weeks.
My work has a cold tap but don't provide us with a cup or bottle. They said we have to buy one ourselves. Is this legal?
I never cease to be amazed at how mean some employers can be!
The employer (and this is the case in all jurisdictions) has a duty of care to provide for employees/workers 'adequate facilities'. This includes drinking water.. this is what our Compliance Code says:
39. Drinking water provided by employers needs to be:
- from outlets that are separate from toilet or washing facilities to avoid contamination
- hygienically provided by means of disposable or washable drinking containers or delivered by a drinking fountain so that employees do not share drinking containers.
You need to request that your HSR take this 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. (More information on Drinking Water)
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.
ASEA Summit - November 26 - 28
It is not too late to register to attend ASEA's national summit at the Old Parliament House, Canberra between 26th-28th November 2017. Go to this page to register. The program for the Summit is available on the ASEA website.
International Union News
UK: TUC celebrates 40 years of union safety reps
The TUC marked the 40th anniversary of a landmark safety law on 25 October, celebrating four decades of lifesaving work by trade union safety reps. The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 gave union reps legal rights to act on health and safety concerns in workplaces. The TUC said there are now approximately 100,000 safety reps in the UK's workplaces. It said proven benefits of safety reps include an injury rate in firms with union health and safety committees that is half that in firms managing safety without unions. Fatalities are also lower in unionised workplaces, it said. And a 2016 study of government statistics calculated that the prevention of workplace injuries and work-related ill-health due to unions contributed savings of £219m-£725m (A$379m - $12556m) a year. Launching a new report showcasing the lifesaving work of dozens of safety reps, TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Health and safety is under attack by politicians who see good regulation as 'red tape', and bosses who want to cut corners and risk lives. Big falls in inspections and cuts to enforcement are making working life more dangerous for us all. But good employers are already working with unions and know the benefits safety reps can bring to their workplaces. Not just by keeping their staff safe and well, but also by saving the economy hundreds of millions of pounds every year." She added: "We often forget that union health and safety representatives are volunteers doing this job because they care about their colleagues' well-being. So let's use this anniversary to celebrate the massive difference these unsung heroes have made."
Read more: TUC news release and Safetyreps@40 report, case histories and resources, leaflet [pdf] and Union effect report [pdf]. It's down to you: Safety reps@40 – four decades of making work safe and healthy, Hazards magazine, number 139, 2017. Morning Star. Source: Risks 823
The VTHC OHS Unit congratulates the TUC on such a great achievement. Union policies and actions in the UK assisted Australian unions in the 1970's - we made it our policy to fight for the establishment of HSRs with powers in our legislation - something we achieved in Victoria in 1985.
Four agents linked to breast cancer risk factor
In a study of 1476 female workers, the researchers from Spain's Carlos III Institute of Health and other institutions found those exposed to four substances: perchloroethylene, aliphatic/alicyclic hydrocarbon solvents, ionising radiation and mould spores at work had higher mammographic density (MD).
The researchers said, "MD refers to the percentage of the breast with radiologically dense fibroglandular tissue that appears as white areas on a mammogram. It is one of the strongest known risk factors for breast cancer, and is the factor with the greatest attributable fraction."
Although the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has listed 12 carcinogenic agents that possibly or probably cause breast cancer in humans, including ionising radiation, ethylene oxide, polychlorinated biphenyls and shift work involving circadian disruption, they say the association between occupational exposures and MD has "barely been studied."
Nurses and healthcare workers, agricultural workers, those working in the dry cleaning industry and painters most exposed and therefore more at risk.
Read more: Virginia Lope, et al, Occupational exposures and mammographic density in Spanish women. [abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first October 2017, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2017-104580. Source: OHSAlert
UK: Three-fold difference in death rates between job groups
People who work in factories, construction and in housekeeping jobs are the occupational groups that have the highest mortality rates, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Glasgow have published the first study to rank mortality rates by occupation in the UK in 30 years. The study, published in the Lancet Public Health, analysed mortality rates and occupational data together. It found that doctors and other health professionals have very low death rates while factory workers and cleaners have amongst the highest death rates. The study, which looked at records from 1991 to 2011, found over three-fold differences in mortality rates by occupation, with unemployed men and women faring the worst.
Lead author of the study Dr Vittal Katikireddi said: "Our results show that there were very large differences in death rates by occupation, with professional occupations such as doctors and teachers faring far better than factory workers and garment trade workers." He added: "We studied trends over a 20 year period where we found that in most occupations mortality rates have fallen. However, in some they have remained stagnant and for women in some occupational groups, such as cleaners, mortality rates have even increased." The highest mortality rates were seen amongst unskilled construction workers and those working in factories or similar settings. However the highest mortality rates overall occurred in men who reported no occupation. The authors note that pay and exposure to risks at work are the two major factors underpinning the differences in life expectancy. "Mortality by occupation can be considered as being driven by two inter-related factors: the socioeconomic composition of occupational groups, with occupation considered a specific measure of socioeconomic position, and differing exposure to work-related risks and benefits," the paper notes.
Read more: University of Glasgow news release. Katikireddi, S V et al: Patterns of mortality by occupation in the UK, 1991-2011: a comparative analysis of linked census-mortality records over time and place [Full article pdf], The Lancet Public Health, published online 23 October 2017. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 823
OHS Regulator News
Safe Work Australia News
New Virtual Seminar
A new virtual seminar has been released by Safe Work Australia and is accessible on the website. Last week was Children's Week and the latest Virtual Seminar Series broadcast explores the important issue of children's safety in the workplace.
Safe Work Australia statistics show how vulnerable children and young people are in the workplace. They can be oblivious to hazards in their surroundings, are often unaware of their rights and responsibilities and may not be confident to speak up about safety concerns.
Regardless of why they are in the workplace, work health and safety legislation provides for a child's protection from the risk of death, injury or illness. A PCBU/employer is responsible for the health and safety of all people at a workplace.
This infographic looks at work-related fatalities to children and young people and shows how important it is to ensure a safe environment. Both the virtual seminar and the infographic can be accessed here.
SafeWork Australia fatality statistics
There has been no update to the reported fatalities list since the previous update in SafetyNet 424. The latest figures are as at 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.
Doing a summary of prosecutions brings home the inconsistency of our system: some employers are convicted and fined, others fined without conviction, and then the fines themselves vary hugely... and where one would expect repeat offenders to expect higher fines, it doesn't happen...
Worker suffers horrific degloving injury: employer not convicted
DFC Packaging Sleeves Pty Ltd sells plastic packaging films to the food industry including flexible film, shrink sleeve and tray type products. On 25 February 2016 an employee of the offender was working at Machine 3 or the 'Slitter' machine. There were no measures in place to prevent bodily access to the danger areas of the machine, specifically an inward running crush point associated with chain driver gear drives at both ends of the powered rollers; and inward running nip points at the outfeed/operator side of the plant, creating a serious risk of injury. The worker was standing at the outfeed side of the plant and noticing a foreign object on one of the two powered rollers, he reached forward to wipe it away. His hand was dragged into a 23mm gap between the rollers. He used his left hand to stop the machine by pressing the stop switch on the machines control panel. He called for help and two other workers tried to pull the rollers apart, but were unable to release them The injured worker ended up pulling his hand out which resulted in serious degloving injuries to his right hand. The company pleaded guilty and was without conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $25,000 plus $ 5,221 in costs.
Bakery fined $30k after worker's fingertips amputated
Pinnacle Bakery & Integrated Ingredients Pty Ltd manufactures and distributes bakery products across Australia. One of the pieces of plant at one of its manufacturing plants in Altona North is a reciprocating conveyor belt (section 1 pastry line 2). The plant put workers at risk of serious injury by crushing, entanglement, entrapment or shearing as they could access danger areas while it was in operation without a lock-out/tag-out system of work in place. The company also failed to inform its employees of the specific hazards and risks related to the conveyor belt and instruct its employees to tag-out/lock-out the plant before performing any maintenance tasks. On 16 May 2016, an employee was carrying out non-routine maintenance on conveyor belt was seriously injured when he reached in to check the tension of the chain. As he did this the chain performed a quick return dragging his fingers through the drive sprocket, amputating his middle and index fingertips. Pinnacle pleaded guilty and was without conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $30,000 plus $5,221 in costs in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.
If the name of this company sounds familiar - then you are probably remembering SafetyNet 395 (March, 2017): Pinnacle Bakery & Integrated Ingredients Pty Ltd fined $40,000 again without conviction (plus costs of $3974) over an incident in December 2015 where another worker's fingertips were amputated by a machine filling pastries with custard... also in the Melbourne Magistrates Court!
Abattoir fined $85,000
Wodonga Rendering Pty Ltd is the operator of an abattoir which commenced operation in 1965, and also a a rendering plant processing inedible mixed abattoir material from butchers shops in Victoria and Southern New South Wales. The raw material is processed into tallow (rendered fat), meat meal (animal feed) and dried blood. On 9 March 2016, three employees were emptying bags of blood meal into a semi-trailer using a forklift with a lifting attachment (jib) and Attollo rotator. It was the first time the task had been done in this way. The average weight of each bag of blood meal was 810kgs. The jib attachment lifting the bags was not secured to the forklift. Although the forklift was tested with the rated capacity load in accordance with the Australian Standard, the test did not include the use of attachments or suspended loads. The company failed to conduct a risk assessment prior to commencing the task and failed to calculate the working load limit of the mobile plant. It also failed to provide information to determine the maximum weight that could be lifted by the forklift with the attachments and training for the safe use of the jib. On 9 March 2016, the forklift became unstable and tipped while loading the bags of blood meal. One worker was trapped between the bag of blood meal and the previously loaded blood meal inside the semi-trailer and another was trapped between the forklift tines and the side of the semi-trailer. One suffered a laceration to his leg and the other did not require any medical treatment. The offender pleaded guilty and was with conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $85,000 and to pay costs of $5,221.
Geelong Council enters into Enforceable Undertaking
In March 2016 the Greater Geelong City Council engaged a housing construction company to undertake roofing works on the Lara community hall. A first year apprentice employed by the company was tasked with assisting with installation of roofing materials at a height above 3 metres. The council failed to identify the risk of a fall from height through skylights prior to work, which involved a risk of serious injury or death as a result of a fall from height, commencing, On 23 March 2016, the apprentice was fixing the roof when he stepped back onto a skylight and fell 3.1 metres into a lounge room occupied by a number of elderly people. He was taken by ambulance to hospital with bruised ribs. On 30 October 2017 the Greater Geelong City Council entered into an Enforceable Undertaking.
Roofing company gets off lightly
On 10 January 2017, a WorkSafe Inspector drove past a residential property in Lucas where J.R D'Herville, a roofing and construction company, was undertaking roofing works. The inspector observed two employees fitting roof flashing over a brick wall clearly at risk of death or serious injury as there was no scaffolding or fall protection at the perimeter of the roof and they were not wearing any fall protection. The fall from the brick wall to the concrete below was estimated to be in excess of 2.5 metres. There was also no Safe Work Method Statement for the work being done. While the Inspector was there, employees arranged for a trestle scaffold with two planks fitted to be erected and the flashing work to be performed from the temporary platform. No Improvement Notices or Prohibition Notices were issued to the company as voluntary compliance had been achieved. The offender pleaded guilty and was without conviction sentenced to an adjourned undertaking to be of good behavior for 12 months with a condition to pay $17,500 to the Ballarat Base Hospital. It was also ordered to pay costs of $2,441
This is an example of where the consequences of such breaches of the OHS Act and Regulations could have led to tragedy - and yet another employer, because actions taken AFTER being caught led to 'voluntary compliance', gets off with a slap on the wrist. At least in this case the company was taken to court; in many cases of voluntary compliance, no further action is taken.
To check the past prosecutions and for any updates before next week, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
USA: New Crimes against Worker database
The Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) has this week released a first-of-its-kind database, cataloging state criminal prosecutions against companies and individuals whose actions caused a worker's death or serious injury. The Crimes Against Workers database contains information on 75 incidents in 16 states that have led to criminal charges and provides additional related materials.
"Every state has laws on the books that allow for criminal prosecution of employers who cause a worker's death or serious injury," said Katie Tracy, CPR Policy Analyst and database project lead. "But it's common for district attorneys to leave anything that happens in the workplace up to OSHA, even if prosecution is clearly warranted, and even though OSHA's penalties are severely limited. It's time for prosecutors to take workplace cases more seriously. Our database highlights instances in which states have pursued such cases over the past several decades to seek justice for workers and their families and to hold employers responsible for their actions. Until now, such information has been scattered across the Internet and not terribly useful to advocates and researchers."
The CPR database is a one-stop shop for prosecutors, advocates, the media, and others. It includes data on past and current cases, as well as a range of other materials, such as case files, court decisions, media clips, and advocacy resources. The database also contains information about advocacy campaigns in pursuit of criminal charges, some of which have resulted in an indictment and some of which have not.
Read more: CPR Media Release [pdf] and Database.