SafetyNet 436, February 21, 2018
Welcome to this week's SafetyNet.
It is with great regret that we report that another Victorian worker was killed at work last week. The VTHC sends its sincerest condolences to his family and friends.
If you wish to make any comments or have any OHS issues/queries, please send an email by clicking here. (Please don't 'reply' to your email!)
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Fifth worker fatality in Victoria
Last Wednesday afternoon, a groundskeeper was killed after being struck by a tree branch while performing maintenance work at a school in Berwick. It appears that the man, aged in his early 30s, was using a chainsaw to cut sections of a branch which was partially detached from the trunk of a tree.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health & Safety Marnie Williams said the tragic incident highlighted how dangerous working with trees could be. "This is a terrible thing to have happen and our hearts go out to the family and friends of the man who died," she said. "The care and management of trees can involve complex and dangerous tasks and we would ask everyone involved in this type work to ensure they make safety a priority." This brings the number of Victorians killed at work this year to five, four more than at the same time last year. Source: WorkSafe Media Release
Does there have to be a minimum number of employees before a designated work group (DWG) can be formed?
No, there is no minimum number – the 'trigger' is if an employee requests that DWGs be formed, then the employer MUST enter into negotiations to reach agreement about forming DWGs. The employer must do this within 14 days of receiving such a request. This is an important first step for workers to then be able to elect their own health and safety representative, who has powers and rights to take issues up with the employer and have them addressed.
The Act sets out certain factors which must be taken into account, the most important of which is that the grouping of workers into DWGs 'best and most conveniently enables [their] interests to be represented and safeguarded' and 'best takes into account the need for an HSR to be accessible to each member of the DWG'. Take a look at this page for more detail.
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.
Coming up: Webinar on Gendered Violence in the Workplace
Gendered Violence (GV) can be an issue in many workplaces. Under the 2004 Victorian OHS Act, employers have a legal duty to provide all workers with a healthy and safe working environment - and a workplace free from GV is part of that duty.
Join us on Wednesday 14 March, at 7pm for the second of our OHS Webinar Series of 2018 as we discuss GV at the workplace: what it looks like, why it's an OHS risk, and how, like all OHS hazards, HSRs can identify the GV risk and work with employers to control or eliminate it at the workplace.
This webinar will be co-hosted by Jodi Peskett from the VTHC's We Are Union Women's Team. Jodi will provide practical advice, and take participants through the ground-breaking 'Stop Gendered Violence at Work EBA Clause' the team has developed in collaboration with the Victorian union movement
To read more and register, go to click here.
Morwell: Asbestos landfill for power station?
Energy Brix Australia Corporation has made an application to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to construct an asbestos landfill facility at the site of the Morwell power station and briquette factory. The Heritage Council of Victoria determined the site, which contains a great deal of asbestos, should be added to the Victorian Heritage Register, sparking debate around the future of the site.
Energy Brix remediation general manager Barry Dungey, said "There is risk with the material being taken off-site because of the large quantities of asbestos, about 300 to 500 truck loads. So there is always the risk of a traffic accident." He added ,"The current licensed landfill sites are some way, some distance from the site. It's a 150 kilometre-odd trip, so we believe on-site disposal is the safest and best option."
Both local activist and Heritage proponent Cheryl Wragg, and Asbestos Council of Victoria/GARDS chief executive Vicki Hamilton agree that an asbestos disposal cell/facility at the site was the safest option.
Public submissions can be received up to March 6 and can be made by going to this page of the EPA website. The application, application plans, specifications and other information can be viewed here [pdf]. Read more: Latrobe Valley Express
Counterfeit parts seized
Counterfeit brakes bound for cars sold in Australia have been intercepted by overseas authorities. The counterfeit brake pads, which contain asbestos or were prone to excessive wear and poor braking performance, were being shipped from Germany and the Middle East. The seized parts, 1.6 million in Germany and 10,500 in the Middle East, were in what appeared to be genuine packaging, to trick unwary buyers or allow unscrupulous mechanics to plead ignorance.
They are the second and third major seizures of counterfeit car parts in the past two years that have been headed for Australia. Counterfeit goods investigator Craig Douglas, director of Nationwide Research Group estimates about 15 per cent of car parts imported for older vehicles are fakes being passed off as genuine.
Read more: News.com.au
International Union News
Cambodia: Union action call after workplace faintings rise
Unions in Cambodia have called for more government action to protect workers' health, after latest figures showed a sharp rise in the number of garment workers fainting at work. The National Social Security Fund (NSSF) of the Ministry of Labour said more than 1,600 workers fainted in 22 factories in 2017, an increase of more than 400 on the previous year. NSSF director Ouk Samvithya called on all factories to regularly inspect and maintain ventilation systems one hour before the workers enter the building and ensure the management of chemical smells inside and outside the building. In addition, goods inside the factory must be stored in a manner not blocking ventilation, thermostats must be installed, infirmaries and emergency facilities must be prepared, and steam systems must be up to code. NSSF said the cause of the faintings included chemical and psychosocial problems and poor ventilation in the workplace. Other contributory factors included irregular consumption of food and too much work. Fa Saly, president of the National Trade Union Confederation, commented: "The government should thoroughly examine the fabric and surrounding environmental issues, especially the heat because it has gotten hot recently making it difficult for workers." He added: "Another thing is food. They are still eating insufficient food because wages are limited, which puts them at risk of fainting." Read more: Khmer Times. Source: Risks 837
Neck pain must be prevented
Danish research has highlighted the importance of injury-prevention strategies in finding that few workers who suffered from occupational neck and shoulder pain two decades ago have recovered from the condition.
The researchers from the Danish Ramazzini Centre examined 243 female sewing machine operators, finding that in the mid-1990s, 34.7 per cent suffered from moderate or severe neck-shoulder pain and 16.8 per cent had a clinically verified neck-shoulder disorder. 14 years later, very few of these workers recovered from their conditions, and the prevalence of moderate to severe neck-shoulder pain had increased to 49 per cent, despite the fact that all of them no longer worked in the textile industry by this time.
Read more: Emma Lise Thorlund Jakobsen, et al, Long-term prognosis for neck-shoulder pain and disorders: a 14-year follow-up study.[Full article] Denmark, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 75, Issue 2, February 2018. Source: OHSAlert
OHS Regulator News
Charges laid after painter's death
A construction company has been charged following the death of a painter at a building site at Merricks North in 2017. VCON Pty Ltd will face three charges of breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to control the risk of a fall from height.
The 69-year-old painter died in February last year after he fell approximately 3.5 metres though a void on the first level of a hotel complex under construction. Following a comprehensive investigation, WorkSafe charged VCON with failing to provide a safe system of work, failing to maintain a workplace in safe condition and failing to ensure that a workplace is safe. The charges were filed in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court last Thursday. (Source: WorkSafe Media Release)
The VTHC and unions have run a campaign against VCON/Element 5 on the basis of their poor safety record, with pickets, posters and petitions.
QLD: Incident alerts
1 - Worker burned while lighting furnace
This alert refers to an incident in January of this year, when a worker received second degree burns while trying to pour fuel into the vent pipe of a furnace used for drying woodchips. The worker was attempting to light the furnace and spilled the fuel which then ignited resulting in burns to his hands, arms and legs. Investigations are continuing. The alert provides advice on how to prevent such incidents, it provides Queensland statistics on burns caused by flammable liquids or gas and information on compliance activity and relevant prosecutions. Read more: Incident Alert
2 - Nail gun injury to young worker
An apprentice in Queensland has been injured by a nail, fired from a nail gun by another worker, which went through the piece of timber he was holding and into his chest. The worker underwent minor surgery to remove a small piece of bone. Investigations are continuing.
The Alert provides information on how to prevent a similar incident, noting that most injuries from nail guns are caused by the user accidentally striking the gun's muzzle into a part of the body while holding the tool's trigger switch. Read more: Incident Alert
Safe Work Australia News
Review into Model laws launched
Safe Work Australia has commenced its 2018 review into the Model WHS laws and is asking for public submissions. It wants to know how the model work health and safety (WHS) laws are working in practice, and whether they are achieving the objects stated in the model WHS Act and whether they have resulted in unintended consequences.
Safe Work Australia wants to hear people's views and experience on:
- what is working and why
- will it continue to work in the future
- what doesn't work and why, and
- what we could do to make it work.
The 49-page discussion paper, released on Monday, poses 37 questions for discussion and pointing to the reasons why industrial manslaughter provisions weren't included in the Act. The questions include whether the penalties in the model WHS Act, as well as processes relating to legal proceedings for offences, effectively deter poor work health and safety practices.
SWA is encouraging contributions from as many and varied interested parties as possible - either through a written submission or by participating in forum discussions. For more information and to access the discussion paper, go to this page of SWA's Engage website (It is necessary to register in order to be able to contribute comments online.). Submissions are due by 13 April.
Safe Work Australia Fatality statistics
As of 16 February 2018, there had been 16 fatalities reported to Safe Work Australia. This is four more than the latest update on 2 February. The workers killed have been in the following industries:
- 8 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 2 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 2 Construction
- 1 Administrative and support services
- 1 Information media & telecommunications
- 1 Electrical, gas, water & waste services
- 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.
Conviction, $500,000 fine for fatal incident
.Specialised Concrete Pumping Victoria, a company providing high volume concrete pumping services to the construction industry, has been fined a total of $500,000 over an incident in which a 28 year old worker was killed . The company operated from a yard in Keysborough. On the morning of 12 November 2015, the Operations Manager directed employees to disassemble a concrete pumping component (the 'tower tube') so it could be loaded by crane onto a truck for transportation. The tower tube was approximately 15 metres long and could be split into sections, which weighed about two tonnes, and were held together with bolts.
The task required loosening the bolts holding the lengths together whilst the tower was horizontal on the ground. In order to get access to certain of the bolts, the employees used a forklift to slightly elevate the tower. One employee took up position in the cabin of the forklift, whilst two others stood in front of the tower tube. When the tynes were lifted, the tower tube slid off, striking one of them, and trapping him against an adjacent brick wall. Though te forklift operator tried to move the tower tube off him, he sustained fatal crush injuries.
The company failed to provide a safe workplace: the use of the forklift for this task was inherently dangerous and a crane should have been used instead. It allowed its employees to improvise a system where it should have provided a system of work for splitting the tower tube (Charge 1). Further, it failed to provide instruction in that safe system of work and supervise its employees to ensure that a forklift was not used for the task (Charge 2). Specialised Concrete Pumping Victoria pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $250,000 in relation to charge 1 and fined $250,000 in relation to charge 2.
Company fined after driver injured by forklift
Kintetsu World Express, a logistics and freight forwarding service company, has been fined $30,000 plus costs after a driver was injured by a forklift tyne. In July 2016 a driver was picking up a load from a cargo handling facility, operated by Menzies Aviation, at Melbourne Airport. A Menzies worker loaded the cargo into the driver's truck using a forklift. As he did so a pallet fell inside the truck. The Menzies worker directed the driver to open the passenger side curtain, and then tried to use the forklift to try to correct the fallen cargo from the passenger side. However, the forklift tynes could not be correctly positioned. The driver tried to help by wedging a piece of wood under the cargo - but was hit in the face by a tyne which slipped from under the load.
Kintetsu had failed to provide to employees involved in the loading and unloading of trucks information, instruction and training in relation to the risk of forklifts colliding with pedestrians. The driver spent four days in hospital and required surgery after suffering a cracked bone under his nose and upper jaw, as well as a number of dislodged and broken teeth.
Partner fined after young worker falls from roof
Michael Semmens, a partner in a residential and commercial construction business, was convicted in the Sale Magistrates Court and fined $10,000 after a worker fell from a roof and sustained serious injuries. On 2 August 2016, an employee, who was a first year apprentice, was standing on the external top plate of a partially constructed residence at a height of about 4 meters, pulling up 6m long roof battens. While doing this he lost his balance and fell, landing on the bearers. He sustained a number of injuries including an L1 fracture in his back. The court heard that no safe work method statement had been prepared prior to the high risk work commencing and there was no fall protection in place. The apprentice could have been killed.
To check the past prosecutions and for any updates before next week, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
UK: Scaffolder crushed to death in front of his son
A construction firm and its subcontractor have been fined after a scaffolder was crushed to death on a Liverpool construction site. The Court heard how the worker was walking across the Redrow site when he was struck by a reversing dumper truck. He was crushed under the rear wheels of the vehicle in the August 2013 incident and confirmed dead at the scene. The tragedy was witnessed by his son, who was also working at the construction site. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Redrow Homes had made no provision to maintain separation of vehicles and pedestrians in the plot where the worker was killed. Traffic management across the entire site was poorly managed and was an underlying cause of the incident. The investigation also found that subcontractor WPI Civil Engineering Limited failed to provide a banksman, or have any employees on site trained as banksmen, and that the vehicle involved was not fit to be used on site. Redrow Homes pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £101,000. WPI Civil Engineering Limited also pleaded guilty and was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,000.
Source: Risks 837
Global: Report reveals the hidden cost of jewellery
A new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has concluded jewellery and watch companies need to do more to ensure their supply chains are free of human rights abuse. A total of 29 civil society groups and trade unions have joined the group in an appeal to the industry to improve its sourcing practices. The 99-page report scrutinises the sourcing of gold and diamonds by 13 major jewellery and watch brands that collectively generate over US$30 billion in annual revenue – about 10 per cent of global jewellery sales. The report describes how children have been injured and even killed doing hazardous work in small-scale gold or diamond mines. Communities have faced ill-health and environmental harm because mines have polluted waterways with toxic chemicals. And civilians have suffered enormously as abusive armed groups have enriched themselves through mining. "Many jewellers can do more to find out if their gold or diamonds are tainted by child labour or other human rights abuses," said Juliane Kippenberg, HRW's associate child rights director. The research found none of the 13 brands could be ranked as "excellent" but ranked one – Tiffany and Co. – as "strong" for taking significant steps toward responsible sourcing. Four – Bulgari, Cartier, Pandora, and Signet – were ranked as "moderate". Four others – UK-based Boodles and Chopard, Christ, and Harry Winston – were ranked as "weak" for taking few steps toward responsible sourcing, and Indian firm Tanishq was judged to be "very weak," due to a lack of any evidence of steps towards responsible sourcing. Three other firms failed to respond to HRW, so were not rated. "Too many companies point to their membership in the Responsible Jewellery Council as being all the proof they need of responsible sourcing, but this is not enough to truly ensure clean supply chains," HRW's Kippenberg said.
Read more: HRW news release and report, The hidden cost of jewelry: Human rights in supply chains and the responsibility of jewelry companies, February 2018. Source: Risks 435
USA: Biggest cluster ever of fatal coal miners' disease
US government scientists say they have identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever reported. In a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), epidemiologists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) confirm 416 cases of progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) or complicated black lung in three clinics treating coal miners in central Appalachia from 2013 to 2017.
"This is the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis ever reported in the scientific literature," says Scott Laney, a NIOSH epidemiologist involved in the study. "We've gone from having nearly eradicated PMF in the mid-1990s to the highest concentration of cases that anyone has ever seen," he said. Laney acknowledges that the full scope of what he calls an epidemic is still unknown. "Even with this number, which is substantial and unacceptable, it's still an underestimate." Ron Carson, director of the Stone Mountain clinic, one of the three coal belt clinics involved in the study, said: "Miners are dying at a much younger age." He said that in the 1990s, the clinic's PMF diagnoses typically involved miners in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Now the disease strikes miners in their 50s, 40s and even 30s who have had fewer years mining coal. A "high proportion" of the miners in the NIOSH study had severely advanced disease and "coal mining tenure of less than 20 years, which are indications of exceptionally severe and rapidly progressive disease," the study found. The likely cause of the epidemic is longer work shifts for miners and the mining of thinner coal seams. Massive mining machines must cut rock with the coal and the resulting dust contains silica, which is a far more potent cause of lung scarring than coal dust alone.
Read more: NPR investigation. David J Blackley, Laura E Reynolds, Connie Short and others. Progressive massive fibrosis in coal miners from 3 clinics in Virginia [abstract], JAMA, volume 315, number 5, pages 500-501, 6 February 2018. The Pump Handle. Source: Risks 837