SafetyNet 433, January 31, 2018
Welcome to the first edition of SafetyNet for 2018. It has been a bit of a break since the last edition, which was posted on December 20.
It is with great sadness and shock that we report that three Victorian workers were killed in January - two this week. All of us at the VTHC express our sincerest condolences to the families of these workers. No worker should be killed at work.
To keep up to date and informed between editions of SafetyNet, 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.
Three Victorian fatalities in three weeks
A stock agent was killed on January 4 after being trampled by an animal on a cattle farm at Georges Creek near Tallangatta, southeast of Albury Wodonga. The man, who was in his late 50s, was drafting cattle in stockyards on the property just before 9am when he was struck and killed.
The man's death is the first workplace fatality for 2018, and he is the second stock agent to die in Victoria in a period of three weeks. Another stock agent died on 15 December when he was crushed by a bull at Dunkeld in the state's west. According to WorkSafe, this fatality is also the third to involve livestock in five months. In August a 55-year-old man died when he was crushed by a bull at Bamawm, south of Echuca.
Source: WorkSafe Media Release
Tragically, in the past week two young workers have died and a third has been seriously injured in three separate incidents.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old girl working as a stablehand was killed after falling from a horse at a property at Tyaak, near Broadford.
On Monday, a 29-year-old was working near a live switchboard at a factory in Dandenong. He was electrocuted and died.
Yesterday morning, a young man in his early 20s was seriously injured when he fell at an apartment construction site in Fitzroy. There were no witnesses to the incident, but it is believed he fell about six metres.
WorkSafe is investigating all three incidents, as well as the earlier fatality.
The tragic two days has prompted WorkSafe to warn employers of the need to make sure employees returning from holidays or starting work for the first time fully understood the risks involved.
Source: WorkSafe Media Release
Queensland: Brothers die in confined space
On January 13, two men, brothers aged aged 52 and 48, died while cleaning a molasses tank in Sarina, Northern Queensland. The death of these two workers was no 'accident' - there are laws which must be complied with when sending workers into 'confined spaces' which this tank was. These deaths were preventable and should never have occurred.
Read more: The Courier Mail; Summary of Confined Spaces regulations (Victoria)
Over the break, Renata fielded tens of queries about the heat. We are going to keep experiencing days of extreme heat in Victoria, and the health and safety of both indoor and outdoor workers will be affected - employers must take action to eliminate or minimise the risks so far as reasonably practicable. Check out these pages for more information:
My employer has asked me to write a statement as to the weight I am willing to lift. While I generally feel able to lift items up to 15kg, I am aware that this is dependent on the height I am lifting from, the distance the item needs to be carried, what level it needs to be placed and if the item can be picked up close to the body. Is it lawful for the business to request a written statement? If so, is there a guide I can access to ensure I cover my rights properly?
The quick answer is no, your boss does not have the right to ask you to give a written statement setting out what you can lift!! It's the employer who has legal duties under the OHS Act to provide and maintain for workers so far as is reasonably practicable a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes safe systems of work, and making arrangements to ensure safety and the absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage or transport of plant.
Specifically, the manual handling regulations set out what the employer must do to eliminate or minimize the risks of a worker sustaining injuries due to hazardous manual handling (eg of objects). The hierarchy is that where practicable the manual handling must be eliminated, but if this is practicable, then put in place other controls. Tasks must be assessed to work out whether they are hazardous - and you are absolutely right, this depends on many more factors than just weight.
Take a look at these pages for more information:
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.
Feb 7: Upcoming Webinar - Ask Renata
Our webinar wiz Roxanne Chaitowitz will be running ten webinars this year on a myriad of weird and interesting (to OHS people!) topics. She has asked us to 'plug' next week's, the first for 2018.
Have you ever wanted to 'Ask Renata' a question? Our resident OHS expert, Renata Musolino, is running a live Q&A webinar on the 7th of Feb at 7pm. You will have the opportunity to ask those complex OHS questions and get a response LIVE from Renata herself. Register now through this link. Once you have registered, you will get a confirmation email, with a link and instructions on how to 'join' the webinar.
Remember! Be SunSmart
And in this heat, remember the serious risks associated with UV radiation from the sun. Employers have a duty to take action to ensure the health of their workers is not placed at high risk due to sun exposure. Check out the Cancer Council's December SunSmart newsletter - with links to great posters and information. Don't forget too a very useful app seeUV app - which is 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. The SeeUV app is also a warning tool for current UV levels.
Anti-asbestos campaigner honoured
Serafina Salucci was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given two years to live - 11 years ago. When diagnosed, she was determined to raise the public awareness of asbestos and asbestos-related disease, and has done so with great energy. For her efforts, Mrs Salucci was appointed a Member (AM) in the general division of the Order of Australia for her significant service to community health, particularly as an advocate for people with asbestos related diseases.
Aged just 37 when she was diagnosed in 2007 - she had never worked in any job where she may have been exposed to asbestos. However, she clearly remembers when at eight years old her father buying his first car and building a 'fibro' garage in the backyard of their Randwick home.
"My brothers and I were playing in the backyard at the time and I remember playing with the off-cuts of fibro. I remember picking it up and writing with it on the concrete," she said. "We just played with it and kicked it around. We were just kids. My brothers were nine and five and the time. They are still healthy now, but it takes as little as one fibre of asbestos to get stuck in your lungs to cause Mesothelioma."
Read more: The Leader
ASEA releases two important documents
This is an item we missed at the end of last year: The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency released two important documents at its Canberra Summit in Canberra at the end of November, reporting on Australia's work towards an asbestos free Australia.
Chair of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Council, Diane Smith-Gander launched the second annual progress report for the 2016-17 year outlining activities and data that state, territory and Australian Government entities have reported to the agency under the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness. The report also highlights a series of case studies from across Australia to show how the work supporting the National Strategic Plan is delivered.
Chief Executive Officer of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Peter Tighe also launched Australia's first ever National Asbestos Profile. The profile follows the template developed by the World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation and draws on best available research and data sources to provide a historical perspective on past exposures to asbestos, as well as information on the current management of asbestos in Australia. It provides information on the consumption of the various types of asbestos, populations at risk from current and past exposures, the system for inspection and enforcement of exposure limits, as well as the social and economic burden of asbestos-related diseases.
Read more: ASEA Statement
Vale Professor Jock McCulloch
Professor Jock McCulloch died on January 18 this year. Some years ago Professor McCulloch was guest speaker at an asbestos forum organised during Asbestos Awareness Week at the Victorian Trades Hall Council. He dedicated much of his work to exposing the evils of corporations in relation to asbestos. Tragically, what killed him was mesothelioma, with which he was diagnosed in April 2017. He believed that he contracted the disease as a result of exposure when he was researching one of his books, Asbestos Blues, in South Africa, about twenty years before.
Read Laurie Kazan-Allen's memories of Professor McCulloch on the IBAS website
Truck crash deaths out of control
In response to data showing that there were 88 deaths from truck crashes in NSW in the 12 months to September 2017, compared with 61 deaths for the previous year, the TWU issued a Media Release. The union put the blame for the increase squarely at the feet of the Federal Government because it abolished the a road safety watchdog established by the previous Labour government.
"The Federal Government is responsible for this increase and the slaughter which is taking place of road users. The Government's own report on the road safety watchdog showed it was cutting truck crashes by 28% and yet it tore it down*. Malcolm Turnbull and Michaelia Cash still list this move as one of their great achievements since coming to power, yet it is clearly tainted with the blood of innocent lives," said Tony Sheldon, TWU National Secretary. "Wealthy retailers, such as Aldi, are also to blame for the slaughter. The financial pressure they put on transport operators and drivers through low cost contracts means trucks are not maintained and there is constant pressure on drivers to speed, drive long hours and skip mandatory rest breaks. Aldi is adamant it will continue this pressure, by taking a legal case to silence truck drivers from speaking out," Sheldon added.
In October, a cross-party Senate committee unanimously recommending that the Government facilitate industry talks to "establish an independent industry body which has the power to formulate, implement and enforce supply chain standards and accountability as well as sustainable, safe rates for the transport industry".
Meanwhile: NSW Minister recommends electric shocks for truck drivers
The NSW roads minister has suggested that truck drivers could be zapped with electric shocks to reduce the unacceptable road toll. Melinda Pavey brought up automated driving technology after five people died in truck-related crashes across the state in just 24 hours. "The technology is now so advanced, a driver can be driving and get an electric shock if they look away from the windscreen for more than two seconds," she said on ABC radio. The Transport Workers Union slammed her "offensive" suggestion as "heartless, arrogant and completely incompetent". The union's state secretary Richard Olsen said truck drivers were victims themselves, and were put under unreasonable pressure to make deadlines. "A lot of problems on our roads actually are born in the boardroom by big bosses and people like retailers and others who control our industry through pricing of contracts," Mr Olsen told The New Daily. A union spokesperson added that drivers were under pressure to speed and drive "gruelling hours", "all the while they are being ripped off". Ironically, the Minister accused the TWU of 'playing politics'! Last year, Macquarie University found 80 per cent of truck drivers worked more than 50 hours a week, while 10 per cent did more than 80 hours each week. The TWU Victorian and Tasmanian branches last year found one in five members had experienced mental health issues. Analysis by the Victorian coroner's court found truck drivers had the highest number of suicides out of any other profession, with 53 drivers taking their lives between 2008 to 2014.
Read more: The New Daily; Big Rig
International Union News
UK: Preventing suicide – the work connection
Every year between 5,500 and 6,000 people in Britain end their own lives. The UK's peak union council, the notes that there can be few more tragic issues that a union representative has to deal with than the suicide of a fellow worker. But, it says, the suicide of a worker is a union concern for a range of reasons and has produced new guidance for reps. "Fortunately, this is something that most union representatives will never encounter but the issue of suicide is an important one and can often be linked to issues such as workplace stress, bullying or harassment," writes TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. To support the work of unions seeking to provide assistance to members, the TUC has produced a short guide on suicide prevention. This stresses that there are a number of things that employers can do. The guide advises union reps to ensure employers are aware of the issue of suicide and suicide prevention as a workplace issue and that they have accessed appropriate advice and support. It adds that there should be a joint union-management review of existing policies on stress management, bullying and harassment, mental health and employee assistance.
According to Hugh Robertson: "Unions do not expect their stewards and health and safety representatives to be trained counsellors but we often find that workers confide in their union representative when they have problems and just talking can be a great help. Also, by knowing what warning signs to look out for, sometimes you can make sure that they know where to get help. Finally, let's not forget that the work that unions do to help prevent stress, long hours, low pay, bullying, harassment and job insecurity already goes a long way towards helping prevent workers from feeling depressed."
Read more: TUC blog. Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists, January 2018. More on work-related suicide. Source: Risks 834
UK: Casual workers are more dissatisfied and more anxious
In a not surprising outcome, a TUC study has concluded that casual workers experience more job dissatisfaction and anxiety than their permanent counterparts. The research also found casual staff were five times more likely to drop out of the labour market than those on permanent contracts. The study, undertaken for the TUC by the University of Sheffield and the University of Greenwich, found that people who had been in casual employment for a year or more were at much greater risk of becoming jobless than permanent staff. It found that casual work was rarely a stepping stone to finding a better job. The study also revealed workers without regular shift patterns are more likely to experience anxiety than those who have regular shifts. Those without regular working hours are much more likely to be unsatisfied with their jobs than those who have regular work hours. Workers in casual employment are also less likely to experience job satisfaction than those in permanent jobs. And disadvantaged groups, such as young and black and minority ethnic workers, are more likely to be in casual work. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "People are often told that casual contracts are a stepping stone to finding better work. But for many this isn't the case. lnstead of improving their career prospects, lots of casual workers find themselves dropping out of work altogether. Or they're at the mercy of bad bosses who treat them like disposable labour." She added: "Every job should be a great job – but far too many workers in the UK feel insecure at work."
The situation is similar in Australia, with casual workers often being young, migrant workers, or women.
Read more: Living on the edge: Experiencing workplace insecurity in the UK, written by the Work, Organisation and Employment Relations Research Centre at the University of Sheffield and by the University of Greenwich, TUC, January 2018 [full report - pdf]. TUC blog. Source: Risks 834
Employers wrongly focus on workers' behaviour
Recent Australian research has found that most employers in two high-risk sectors focus on workers when dealing with musculoskeletal and mental health risks - which is contrary to the legislated hierarchy of controls and the need to target sources of risk. This finding would come as no surprise to union OHS officers and many HSRs - employers focussing on the worker rather than the hazard!
La Trobe University researchers, led by OHS and ergonomics expert Dr Jodi Oakman, interviewed 67 OHS professionals and managers from 19 large residential aged care and logistics organisations, and examined their safety policies and procedures. They found "major deficiencies" in the risk management practices for musculoskeletal and mental health disorders (MSDs and MHDs), which focused predominantly on changing workers' behaviours through training, lifestyle programs and counselling, with no corresponding procedures for managing work-related psychosocial hazards.
Read more: Jodi Oakman, et al, Workplace risk management practices to prevent musculoskeletal and mental health disorders: What are the gaps? [abstract] Australia, Safety Science, Volume 101, January 2018. Source: OHSAlert
Research into wellbeing and mental health of FIFO workers
Are you a current, or ex, FIFO (Fly-In-Fly-Out) worker?
Are there things you'd like to see changed in the industry or work practices to improve the wellbeing and mental health of FIFO workers like you?
The University of Western Australia is calling for participants in their study looking at mental health, wellbeing and work factors experienced by FIFOs.
You can complete the 30-minute survey and receive a personalised feedback report by clicking here.
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe urges a rethink following increased fatalities
In a January Media Release, WorkSafe Victoria urged workplaces to re-think their approach to safety following a rise in the number of fatalities at work in 2017. A total of 27 Victorians were killed as a result of an incident at a workplace last year - the highest toll since 2009. This includes 14 deaths from incidents on farms, which is the highest number of farm fatalities since 2004.
Of the 2017 fatalities:
- 20 occurred in regional Victoria and seven were in greater metropolitan Melbourne
- 16 involved vehicles or mobile machinery
- The eldest was a 98-year-old nursing home resident who fell while being transferred from a bed.
- The youngest was a six-year-old boy, who died after falling from a ride at the Rye Carnival
- All but two were males.
- Nine were aged 65 or older.
- No deaths were recorded among workers aged from 15-26.
While WorkSafe's Head of Operations and Emergency Management, Adam Watson said the horrific 2017 toll showed that employers and workers needed to think more constructively about what they could do to improve safety at work - the VTHC would like it noted that employers have by far the greatest legal duty when it comes to OHS.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
NSW: Alert after fatality
Earlier this month SafeWork NSW issued a safety alert Unpacking Glass Sheets, featuring a three-minute video, on the dangers of unpacking glass sheets, after a glazier was killed by sheets that fell from a suspended A-frame rack.
Safe Work Australia News
Cost of bullying claims continues to grow
According to the fourth annual national statement on workplace bullying from Safe Work Australia, the median direct cost of harassment and bullying-related mental stress workers' comp claims is nearly $25,000 higher than the all-claims cost.
This is about $5000 more than the $20,000 discrepancy identified in the agency's second annual statement. According to the new report, the median direct cost for workplace harassment and bullying-related claims was $27,153 in 2014-15, compared to $2,598 for all accepted workers' compensation claims.
The associated median time lost was 10.4 working weeks for bullying claims, compared to 0.8 working weeks for all accepted claims. Bullying-related claims were the second most frequent mental stress-related claims in that period, with 1,575 claims across Australia, while the most frequent were work-pressure claims, with 1,710 claims. However, the frequency rate of mental stress claims fell from 72.77 per 100 million hours worked in 2002-03, to 41.6 in 2015-16.
Read more: Psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australian workplaces: Indicators from accepted workers' compensation claims, Annual statement, 4th edition, 2017 [pdf] Source: OHSAlert
Safe Work Australia Fatality statistics
In 2017, the preliminary data show there were 174 Australian workers killed at work, compared with 182 workers in 2016.
The tally has recommenced now for 2018. As at 25 January 2018, there have been 10 Australian workers killed at work in 2018. Seven of these fatalities were in Transport, postal and warehousing - the sector which consistently has the most fatalities. The workers killed have been in the following industries:
- 7 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 1 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 1 Information media & telecommunications
- 1 Wholesale trade
The numbers and industries may vary from one report to the next, as Safe Work receives more detailed information (to check for updates and more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage).
Safe Work's most recent published monthly fatality report is for August 2017. During this month there were 9 reported work-related fatalities, compared to 15 in June and 8 in July. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Worker crushed - employer convicted and fined 40k
Car repair and maintenance company Birch Automotive Pty Ltd after two people were almost killed when a car fell off a car hoist. On 14 September 2016, an apprentice was working on a vehicle which was raised on a two-post lift (hoist). The hoist's support arms were both fitted with a support arm restraint (SAR), designed to secure the support arm whilst it is supporting a vehicle and prevent the support arm from slipping sideways. However, the employer did not have a safe operating procedure requiring the SARs to be fully engaged or a VACC daily checklist to be completed before beginning work under cars. While the apprentice was working underneath the vehicle, he was approached by another person at the workplace. At some point the vehicle it fell off the hoist. While the apprentice jumped clear and wasn't injured, the other person received significant crush injuries.Birch pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $40,000 plus $3,500 in costs.
Company agrees to an enforceable undertaking after explosion burns two
Ardex Australia Pty Ltd, a company specialising in the manufacture of floor levelling compounds and tile adhesives, operate a factory lin Campbellfield . Ardex engaged an engineering company to undertake maintenance work, involving welding on a dry powder mixing machine. On 6 October 2016 while employees from the engineering company were welding, a piece of hot metal fell into the mixer and an orange glow appeared. An Ardex employee who went to assist assessed the situation as safe, and attempted to put the fire out by turning on the mixer. As he did so a combustible dust cloud was created and a fireball came out of the mixer's open door. As a result, the Ardex employee and an employee of the engineering company were burnt, the latter seriously. The investigation revealed that no hazard identification process had been done, and there were no procedures in place for welding or hot work. On 12 January 2018, Ardex Australia Pty Ltd entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with WorkSafe Victoria which included the company agreeing to develop and implement a number of procedures.
Shepparton fruit grower fined $50k after worker scalped
Shepparton East fruit grower and packager Kalafatis Packing Pty Ltd,has been fined $50,000 - but not convicted - following an incident in which a worker was scalped after her hair became entangled in an unguarded piece of machinery at its pear packing shed.
There was a very large conveyor, the Pear Line conveyor, with an associated Seconds Pear Line conveyor. Several seasonal and other employees work the conveyors while packing pears for distribution. On 7 November 2015 employees were told to clean the conveyors, which were energised and moving while being cleaned. In order to pick up pears that had fallen onto the ground and scrub conveyor's surfaces, one young seasonal worker accessed the underside. Her hair became entangled with an unguarded rotating drive shaft and her scalp, from above her eyelids to the back of her neck, was torn from her head. She also lost one of her ears. WorkSafe's investigation revealed multiple guarding deficiencies, including the lack of guarding on the drive shaft that injured the worker. Other deficiencies included multiple nip, shear and entrapment hazards on the perimeter of the conveyor and almost complete unimpeded access to the underside of the conveyor where there were multiple drive shafts and sprockets. Further, there was no requirement to isolate the conveyor during cleaning; it was the company's practice to require the conveyors to be energised and moving during the cleaning process. Kalafatis Packing pleaded guilty and was, without conviction, fined a total of $50,000 for breaching s21(1) & 21(2)(a) of the OHS Act, plus costs of $22,000.
Scaffolding company convicted after worker electrocuted
Dhillon Scaffolding, completed scaffolding around a double storey unit in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg between 20 and 22 October 2015. Three people were involved in the work. The scaffolding on one corner of the unit was 1.84 metres from live 22kv power lines - there was no hoarding or shade cloth enclosing the scaffolding. The 'No Go Zone', the minimum safe clearance distance for scaffolding near overhead power lines, is 4.6 metres horizontally and 5.0 metres vertically. Dhillon Scaffolding failed to ensure a permit to work within the No Go Zone was obtained, and that any scaffolding in the No Go Zone was placed in accordance with the permit to work. This created a risk of serious injury or death to persons working in the area.
On 28 October an apprentice plumber was working on the scaffold in the No Go Zone, carrying a length of gutter which came into contact with the power lines. He received an electric shock and passed out, suffering substantial burns down his left shoulder, arm, leg, and foot. He was in hospital for 3 months undergoing numerous skin grafts. He now walks with the aid of a walking stick. The offender pleaded guilty on 11 January 2018 and was with conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $100,000 and to pay costs of $3,503.45.
To check the past prosecutions and for any updates before next week, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
NT: Charges over workplace fatality
A Darwin shipping company Barge Express and barge captain Nicholas Mitchell have been charged over the workplace death of deckhand Daniel Bradshaw last year.
The fly-in-fly-out worker was found dead on January 8, 2017, face down in the water between a wharf and one of the company's barges, the Sammy Express, which had been docked at the company's facility at East Arm overnight after returning from Wadeye the day before. He had multiple fractures consistent with striking a solid object after falling from a height, and his toxicology report showed a very high level of blood alcohol content.
An investigation conducted by Worksafe NT found no gangway was in place to allow safe access to the Sammy Express at the time of the incident. Worksafe NT will allege in court that both Barge Express and Mitchell failed in their health and safety duties to Mr Bradshaw, that both had a responsibility to rig a gangway to provide safe access to the barge. The barge was tied up to a little-used section of the company's facility, and workers getting off the barge were required to jump across a gap onto a tyre tied to the wharf before climbing upwards onto dry land.
Read more: NT News
Bangladesh: Urge Abercrombie & Finch to sign
In 2010, 29 workers died in a factory producing clothing for Abercrombie &Finch. Even after this tragedy, it took consumer advocacy to encourage them to prioritize safety in their factories by joining the first Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. With demonstrations and petitions, tweets and fliers, consumers let A&F know that their failure to protect their workers was unacceptable.
In April 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed: this preventable disaster left 1,134 garment workers dead, and over 2,000 injured. In the aftermath of the tragedy, global brands, trade unions and worker rights advocates launched the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a legally-binding agreement to improve workplace safety for garment workers in Bangladesh. As a result of union and activist pressure, 219 brands and retailers signed onto the agreement.
Consumer action is now needed. Of the brands who signed the first Accord on fire and building safety, many have committed to continuing the Accord program and are making plans to keep workers safe in the country for the long term. But Abercrombie & Fitch won't make the same guarantee. Abercrombie & Fitch is refusing to confirm whether they will stay in the same Accord program they joined just five years ago. Already 60 companies have publicly committed to continuing with the Accord – but not A&F. The company must understand that keeping workers safe isn't a fad – it's a basic responsibility that, when ignored by brands, can kill workers on the job. The ActionNetwork is asking for your support to show them that the world is watching their decision. Sign the letter here.