SafetyNet 432, December 20, 2017
It is with great sadness that we report that yet another Victorian worker was killed last week.
The rush period before the end of the year is often a very bad one in terms of incidents and fatalities - too much to do, too little time, sometimes safety gets left behind. As this will be the last edition of SafetyNet for 2017, all of us at the VTHC OHS Unit, wish all our subscribers and readers a safe and joyful holiday season. Remember: nothing is worth risking your health or your life for!
Our next edition will not be until February 2018, as Renata will be on leave until then. However, 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.
On Friday last week, a 49 year old Warnambool Midfield Meat worker killed near Dunkeld when he was crushed by a large Friesian steer. He had been drafting stock for sale when he was attacked by the 600kg steer about 9.30am. The man had been with Midfields for about 25 years and co-ordinated agistment and bought stock.
Police said he had been working alone in the Simpson Lane yards, and he managed to get out of the yards after being crushed. He was found unconscious near the loading ramp by the property owner, but was unable to be revived. WorkSafe is investigating the incident on behalf of the state Coroner. The man's death brings the number of workplace fatalities in Victoria to 26 - the same as at this time last year.
Read more: The Standard
Australian union movement loses two warriors
The past week has been a very sad one for Australia's unions and workers, as we lost two men dedicated to improving the working conditions of all Australians.
Dr Yossi Berger
Many of us knew and worked with the wonderful Yossi Berger, who passed away last week. Jim Ward, recently retired as National OHS Officer with the AWU, posted the following on Facebook. We have reprinted it with his permission, as it captures what Yossi was like.
Berger is gone. Far too soon.
Mentor, mate, muse, philosopher, psychologist, warrior and devoted family man.
Many of us will be incapable of filling the void left by his passing.
Dr Yossi Berger was a man of impeccable principles, decency, intellect and compassion.
His brilliant mind and boundless energy changed workplace safety in Australia.
He became the innovator of raw and powerful health and safety communication. He published many books on the topic as well as The Australian Workers' Union 'Say Safety' magazine.
He termed the poor treatment of workers by bosses "a kind of violence". Unguarded machines were "bloody arm-rippers". He encouraged Health and Safety Representatives to call themselves "Bad News Officers" and of course invented the famous acronym for fear in the workplace: POTA...(the Phenomenon Of Twitching A**holes).
His public speaking was stuff of legend. He'd talk about things like a room full of coloured balloons, a paddock full of bulls, juggling oranges, gyroscopes, pints of beer and a small girl asking her father if she was beautiful...and somehow...masterfully...relate it all to safety in our workplaces.
He took on the best minds; CEOs, academics, politicians and bureaucrats and clinically dismantled their failure to uphold workers' rights and dignity. Often choosing to avoid a perfectly good adjective when an expletive would suffice.
His prolific and sustained work has left an indelible legacy of improvement in workers' health and safety not only in this country but globally.
Sadly, we will no longer get to hear his laconic voicemail: "You've called Yossi Berger. You know what to do".
All of us at the VTHC OHS Unit give our sincerest condolences to Yossi's family and friends.
Michael Sutherland, who was the VTHC's Workers' Compensation Officer some years ago, also passed away last week. Before coming to Trades Hall, Michael was Secretary of the Victorian Journalists' Association (VJA), and also a national Vice President of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). As well as working for unions for many years, Michael worked for a time for WorkSafe Victoria, and also worked overseas. A unionist and a journalist with a wicked sense of humour, he will be sadly missed.
The VTHC extends its condolences to Michael's family and friends.
I work at an orchard doing a range of jobs and so do a lot of outdoor work. When the temperature reaches above 36 degrees should we close? Is there a policy for this?
Unfortunately there is no maximum temperature in occupational health and safety legislation – however this does not mean that the employer can just ignore the temperature and not do anything to protect the health and safety of workers when it gets hot.
Under the law, the employer (your employer) has a general duty of care to all employees – to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable… while the employer cannot affect the weather (and it's going to get hotter), there are other things the employer has a duty to do; safe systems of work, provide adequate facilities (including cool drinking water and shade), and monitoring both conditions and workers' health.
Check these pages for more information:
What all workplaces should have in place is a negotiated and agreed Heat Policy - many unionised workplaces have had them in place for many years. You will find advice on policies on the Heat hazard page.
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. Note however, that due to the Christmas close-down, if you have a query it is best to either go to your union, or contact your OHS/WHS regulator.
Remember! Be SunSmart
Victoria has already had many days of scorching weather - and there are more likely to follow. Many of us work in offices, most of which have some type of temperature control. But for outdoor workers, it's important to remember that Australia has the highest levels of skin cancer in the world, and your employers have a duty to take action to ensure your health is not placed at high risk due to sun exposure. Check out the Cancer Council's latest SunSmart newsletter - it's got links to great posters and information.
Also, SunSmart has launched a new seeUV app aimed at the selfie generation. It uses augmented reality to show users what their skin could look like if they do not protect themselves from the sun. SeeUV is also a warning tool for current UV levels. While outdoor workers need UV protection all year round, it's a fun reminder for indoor workers, friends and family.
Harassment in the entertainment industry
The results of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) survey into sexual harassment in the theatre industry have been released and the findings are shocking. MEAA is now working collaboratively with the whole industry to make change.
At least 40 per cent of 1124 people who took part in the MEAA survey had experienced sexual harassment – ranging from suggestive comments or jokes, unnecessary or unwelcome physical familiarity, receiving intrusive questions about their private life, and staring or leering – and a similar amount have witnessed it.
But 53 per cent of victims and 60 per cent of witnesses said they had never reported sexual harassment, criminal misconduct or bullying for reasons ranging from worries about professional repercussions, a belief that they did not think anything could be done, fears that reporting would worsen the situation, or hope that it would resolve itself.
MEAA conducted the survey of workers in the live performance sector, before stories began emerging from the United States about high-profile case of sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment and media industries.
MEAA equity director, Zoe Angus said "This is a unique moment in history... The revelations of sexual harassment in our industry have been sickening, but the rise of the #metoo movement has been inspiring. We now have an opportunity to work together to solve this problem. We hope this will be the start of a collaborative effort to create change."
Read more: New collaborative approach to overcome culture of fear over sexual harassment in theatre MEAA Media release
ASEA gets funded
There have been fears recently that the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency would be facing funding cuts. As part of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) package announced on Monday this week, a measure was introduced that impacts on the Asbestos Safety Eradication Agency.
The ASEA funding is reflected in Table 2 on page 125 of the MYEFO document [pdf], and then the following information is included in Appendix A on page 148:
"The Government will provide $6.8 million over four years from 2018-19 to ensure that the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency can continue to perform its core functions including coordinating the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness and administration of the National Asbestos Exposure Register. Provision for this funding has already been included in the forward estimates.
This measure builds on the 2016-17 Budget measure titled Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency — additional funding."
ASEA will thus be able to continue its very important work.
Asia: Ban Asbestos Mobilization
On December 15, 2017, the Asian Ban Asbestos Network in collaboration with Australia's Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA) launched an initiative to gather support for an open letter warning Asian governments and policy makers about the deadly effects of asbestos exposure in the face of a ruthless marketing campaign by asbestos lobbyists spreading disinformation and commercial propaganda to counter the continuing growth in ban asbestos support. Leading international experts are calling on scientists, researchers, doctors, asbestos victims and campaigners to sign this letter.
Read more: Asbestos: Open letter to Governments and other policy makers in Asia.
Brazil: Bahia vs Supreme Court
In an astonishing defiance of a definitive November 2017 ruling by Brazil's Supreme Court to ban asbestos (see SafetyNet 430), the legislative assembly of Bahia State on December 5, 2017 approved an amendment allowing the chlor-alkali industry in Bahia, in particular Dow Química Brasil, to continue using asbestos in diaphragms for the electrolysis of brine and the production of chlorine until 2026. The Court had ruled that the use of asbestos was illegal throughout all jurisdictions in Brazil. This amendment has already been named the "Dow Amendment," as Dow is the only Brazilian company still using asbestos diaphragms. See: Nota Oficial: A Bahia na contramão do banimento do Amianto [Official Note: Bahia against asbestos ban]. Source: IBAS
Spanish court rules on exposure to nanoparticles
A judge in Spain has handed down a decision that a worker who had had a kidney transplant was especially sensitive to nanoparticles, neurotoxins or mutagens, or ionising radiation, and should not be exposed to them.
This unprecedented ruling is based on the precautionary principle, is in line with the union view of potential hazards, and disagrees with the 'no data, no problem' arguments by some in industry. The judge commented that there are not enough data on the effects of nanoparticles currently on renal function, since their potential toxicity - which is not disputed - cannot be measured scientifically even today, and there have been insufficient studies. Read more: (In Spanish) Primera sentencia en Europa sobre exposición a nanopartículas
And a recently available Guideline from the World Health Organization: Protecting Workers from Potential Risks of Manufactured Nanomaterials [pdf].
Work-related stress assessed via SMS
Given the prevalence of work stress-related ill-health in the Western world, European researchers though it important to find cost-effective, easy-to-use and valid measures which can be used both in research and in practice. They found that asking workers simple questions about stress through text messages can predict exhaustion and sick leave, .
The researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institute sent weekly short message service (SMS) messages with single-item stress questions (SISQs) to 118 primary healthcare workers for 12 weeks, to determine whether these could be used to measure work-related stress. The simple questions included: "Does this day differ in any way from your 'typical day'?"
Based on data from the responses, as well as questionnaires participants completed at the beginning of the program and 12 months later, the researchers found the process of asking SISQs, through SMS, can successfully predict sick leave, depression and exhaustion and thus screen stress levels in a working population.
Read more: B Arapovic-Johansson, et al, Work-related stress assessed by a text message single-item stress question. [Full text] Occupational Medicine, Volume 67, Issue 8, December 2017. Source: OHSAlert https://www.ohsalert.com.au/
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe to be strengthened to better protect Victorians
The Andrews Labor Government will strengthen WorkSafe's role as the workplace safety cop on the beat, following an independent review into the enforcement of Victoria's health and safety laws.
On Monday, Minister for Finance Robin Scott announced the Labor Government would accept every recommendation of the Independent Review of Occupational Health and Safety Compliance and Enforcement in Victoria. The VTHC's former OHS Officer, Ms Cathy Butcher, was one of the three members of the Review Panel
The review was a Labor Government election commitment and made 22 recommendations – all of which the Government supports in principle. Among its recommendations are the following which will be of great interest to workers and HSRs:
- a number relating to compliance and enforcement, including that WorkSafe publishes an annual OHS compliance and enforcement plan, setting out its strategic priorities, activities and performance targets;
- that the Victorian government consider developing regulations to enable infringement notices;
- that WorkSafe updates its policies on Enforceable Undertakings and on handling requests for prosecutions under s131;
- that WorkSafe provides more operational focus to enforce the consultation provisions in the OHS Act and that the government consider amending the Act to include an offence provision in relation to s36 (involvement of HSRs in consultation);
- that WorkSafe undertakes more strategic prosecutions; and more.
If the recommendations have the intended outcomes, WorkSafe should in the future provide better support to HSRs in ensuring that employers consult as they are legally supposed to do, have increased, more varied and more targetted compliance/enforcement activity; and much more. In releasing the report, Minister Scott said, "I'm proud to deliver on this election commitment and maintain Victoria's high standards of workplace health and safety."
Source: Victorian Government Media Release. Both the report and the Government's response can be downloaded from this page of the Department of Treasury and Finance website.
Labour Hire Bill passes Parliament
Premier Daniel Andrews and the Acting Minister for Industrial Relations Luke Donnellan announced the Government's new Labour Hire Licensing legislation, which was be introduced into Parliament on Thursday, 14 December. The Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017 is the government's response to the Victorian Inquiry into the Labour Hire Industry and Insecure Work and aims to protect labour hire workers from being underpaid and exploited by labour hire businesses and hosts.
The Bill is compatible with the laws passed recently in Queensland and South Australia which apply a universal licencing scheme rather than a sectoral one as preferred by some organisations.
Under the scheme, companies or officers who have breached work health and safety or workers' compensation laws within the last five years will be blocked from providing labour-hire services - a provision which will provide increased protections for vulnerable workers. The law, once passed, will make it unlawful to provide labour-hire services without a licence, or host labour-hire workers provided by an unlicensed operator. In order to obtain or renew a licence, bodies corporate or their officers must pass a "fit and proper person" test.
Read more: New Laws To Make Things Fair For Local Labour Hire Workers Victorian Government Media Release
Ride operators on notice in carnival season
Inspectors have carried out more than 1500 visits to events across Victoria this year, and more than 500 inspections have focused on smaller events such as local shows, festivals and school fetes. WorkSafe has warned that inspectors will continue inspecting rides over summer, assessing factors such as safety systems, wear and tear, maintenance history and whether or not ride operators and attendants have been appropriately trained.
WorkSafe's Executive Director of Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said the tragic death of a six-year-old boy thrown from a ride at the Rye Easter Carnival in April and the deaths of four people on a ride at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast last year highlighted the potential dangers associated with carnival rides. "Every Victorian who attends these events, and those that work at them, have an expectation that they do so without risking their lives, or risking an injury," Ms Williams said.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Regulator warns: secure construction sites
WorkSafe has said that builders across Victoria need to ensure construction sites are safe and secure before heading off on the Christmas break. Constructions sites which aren't adequately secured can pose a risk to members of the public, including falls from partially built structures and scaffolding, live electrical power, open excavations or building waste and rubble.
Marnie Williams, said builders and site supervisors should carry out a few simple checks to ensure public safety over the holiday period. "A simple site clean-up and appropriate security measures can make a big difference," Ms Williams said.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Victorian Cladding Taskforce issues Interim Report
The 2014 fire at the Lacrosse apartment building in Melbourne's Docklands and the tragic Grenfell fire in London in June of this year, highlighted the fire safety risks arising from the non-compliant use of exterior cladding in modern construction. The Victorian Government subsequently established a Taskforce to investigate the Victorian situation. What it found is that combustible cladding is widely used on buildings throughout Victoria. The Co-chairs of the Taskforce, have released their Interim Report detailing key findings and recommendations. Read more and download the Interim Report here.
Safe Work Australia News
New guidance released on working in heat
Safe Work Australia has published a Guide for managing the risks of working in heat. "Heat is a hazard in many Australian workplaces, whether work is performed indoors or outdoors," said Safe Work Australia CEO Michelle Baxter. "With the onset of warmer months, now is a good time for workplaces to review their controls for working in hot conditions and take steps to ensure workers are safe."
The guide provides practical guidance on how to manage the risks associated with working in heat, and information on what to do if a worker begins to suffer from a heat-related illness. "Eliminating the hazard is the first priority for worker safety," said Ms Baxter. "Sometimes this may mean canceling or rescheduling work for when there are cooler conditions."
The new guidance covers the duties of various PCBUs - including those of designers, manufacturers, etc of buildings, plant and equipment, a range of tactics for managing heat in the workplace, as well as information on recognising and treating the most common forms of heat-related illness. The Guide can be downloaded from this page of the SWA website - which also has a number of links to information and materials from other jurisdictions.
Workers' Compensation arrangements comparison now out
The 2017 Comparison of workers' compensation arrangements in Australia and New Zealand report is now available. Workers' compensation providers, governments and businesses operating across multiple workers' compensation schemes can use this report to compare the coverage, benefits and return to work provisions offered by each scheme. This report is compiled annually and previous reports are available on the comparing workers' compensation schemes web page.
Read more: 2017 Comparison of workers' compensation arrangements in Australia and New Zealand.
Safe Work Australia Fatality statistics
As at December 18, 172 workplace fatalities had been reported to the national body - this is seven more than the last update on December 8. Two of the seven fatalities were in Transport, postal and warehousing - the sector with the most fatalities, and three were in Agriculture, forestry and fishing. The workers killed this year have been in the following industries:
- 65 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 46 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 30 Construction
- 8 Arts & recreation services
- 3 Mining
- 3 Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 0 Other services
- 0 Administrative & support services
- 5 Public administration & safety
- 6 Manufacturing
- 0 Information media & telecommunications
- 1 Retail trade
- 0 Wholesale trade
- 1 Health care & social assistance
- 0 Professional, scientific & technical services
- 2 Accommodation & food services
- 0 Education & training
- 1 Financial & insurance services
- 1 Rental, hiring & real estate services
The numbers and industries vary as Safe Work receives more detailed information (to check for updates and full figures for 2017, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage).
Safe Work's most recent published monthly fatality report remains that for July 2017. During this month there were 15 reported work-related fatalities, compared to 22 in June. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Department of Justice fined $300,000 over Ravenhall unrest
The Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation has been convicted and fined $300,000 for putting staff at risk in the lead-up to a riot at the Melbourne Remand Centre in 2015. It was also ordered to pay costs of $14,215.
Corrections Victoria, which is part of the Department of Justice and Regulation, pleaded guilty last week in the Melbourne Magistrate's Court to one charge of failing to provide and maintain systems of work which were safe and without risks to health. Corrections Victoria was aware of prisoner unrest at the Ravenhall facility in the weeks leading up to a smoking ban coming into effect in Victorian prisons on July 1, 2015. However it did not arrange to have additional specialist staff from the Security Emergency Services Group available for deployment to quickly quell any disturbance.
As a result, in the days leading up to the riot, prison staff going about general duties were left exposed to the risks of physical injury and psychological harm. A full-scale riot involving approximately 400 prisoners broke out at the facility just before noon on June 30 when the fences separating exercise yards were breached.Prison staff were evacuated and police brought in. The facility was secured about 3am the following morning. Source: WorkSafe Media Release
Demolition company fined $30k without conviction for falling parts
Also last week, the Melbourne Magistrates Court fined City Circle Demolition & Excavation Pty Ltd $30,000, plus $30,000 in costs, after scaffold parts and other materials fell out of a stillage being lifted by a crane - some parts narrowly missed workers and others landed on the roof of the Porsche Cars Australia dealership in Collingwood. A number of scaffold tubes entered the Porsche building, causing minor injuries and anxiety to several employees.
At the time of the October 2013 incident, City Circle was the principal contractor for the demolition of three 38-metre-high silos at the back of the Porsche site, and engaged cranage and scaffolding companies to transport and erect scaffolding around the silos. It then installed a 1.5-metre-deep "catch fan" along the eastern side of the silos to control the risk of falling objects, but this didn't address the potential risk of, for example, falling objects ricocheting off the silos or scaffolding, the Court found. After the incident, City Circle placed a seven-metre-deep deck on top of the Porsche dealership. The demolition company pleaded guilty to breaching the Victorian OHS Act, and was fined without conviction. Source: WorkSafe and OHSAlert
To check the past prosecutions and for any updates before next week, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
BE TRADES HALL TRAINED: VTHC OHS Training Centre
Make sure you attend training provided either by your union or the VTHC! HSRs are elected by their fellow workers to represent them. We understand what HSRs need and have been training effective HSRs for many years. Remember that under Section 67 of the OHS Act, both HSRs and deputies have the right to attend the training course of their choice (in consultation with their employer).
The VTHC OHS Unit is now running courses in a number of new locations to cater for HSRs in the outer suburbs of Melbourne such as Epping. This is in addition to courses in our usual locations. Below are the dates for the next few courses at the VTHC OHS Training Centre - if you haven't yet booked in your course for this year, do it now. With the end of the year approaching, check out the courses next year, and get organised now. The full set of dates until June 2018, including Comcare courses, is on the Training program page where you can download a registration form or register online. Contact Lisa Mott on (03) 9663 5460 for any training related queries.
|HSR Initial OHS training course||HSR Refresher OHS Training Courses*|
* HSRs are entitled to attend this course