SafetyNet 441, March 28, 2018
In an extremely tragic update to last week's journal, the second worker who was injured as a result of the trench collapse that killed a worker in Ballarat last Wednesday morning has now died. This brings the number of workers killed in Victoria this year to seven.
The VTHC Unit wishes all our readers a safe Easter break - there won't be an edition of SafetyNet next week, but expect to receive the next one on Wednesday April 11. 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!)
To keep up to date and informed between editions of SafetyNet, go to our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page (note name change!), and for those who are HSRs and/or passionate about health and safety, join the OHS Network page, a safe place to raise and discuss issues: check it out and ask to join.
Second worker dies after Ballarat trench collapse
The tragedy last week ended up taking the lives of two young men last week - a 34 year old died at the site, and a 21 year old, who was dug out of the 3.2m deep sewerage and drainage trench and flown to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, but later died of his injuries.
At this stage it is still unclear exactly what occurred, but WorkSafe inspectors and investigators attended the scene again and are continuing with their inquiries.
WorkSafe Acting Executive Director Health and Safety Paul Fowler said, "This incident is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts are with the family and friends of both men. Trenches are an inherently dangerous work environment. They can and sometimes do collapse with catastrophic consequences, which is why it is so important that employers and contractors ensure that all necessary safety precautions are in place."
The Queensland WHS regulator last week issued two alerts following incidents involving trenches - luckily none of the workers were seriously injured. The Alerts provide useful information:
- Worker impaled by starter bar at construction site - this occurred after he fell into a 1.8m deep excavation at a construction site. The investigations indicate the worker was walking on a path close to the excavation when the ground slipped.
- Excavated wall collapse - a worker's foot and ankle were injured when part of a 3m high near vertical excavation face collapsed. Four workers building the boulder retaining wall when they heard a cracking noise and the excavation face collapsed. Three managed to jump out of the way but the fourth was buried up to his knees.
Next week - April 4: Industrial Manslaughter Webinar
Queensland and the ACT have already introduced industrial manslaughter laws, and it's Labor Party policy in Tasmania and South Australia to introduce similar legislation.
In Victoria we do not have this legislation, and it's clear we need it. After last week's tragic events, seven workers have been killed at work this year. Currently there is little justice for the workers who were killed, their families, their co-workers and the community. Our current laws do not provide enough of a deterrent and ultimately send the wrong message: that a workplace fatality is just the cost of doing business.
Join us on Wednesday, April 4, at 7.00 pm, as we discuss VTHC's Industrial Manslaughter campaign: what it is, what we are asking for, and how you can get involved. We will be providing practical guidance and tools on how to do this. This webinar will be co-hosted by Paul Sutton, Lead Organiser of the OHS Unit at VTHC, who is heading the industrial manslaughter campaign. Register here right now!
Senate committee to look into industrial deaths
The Education and Employment References Committee has been directed to inquire into whether the limited harmonisation of WHS laws and the increasing use of temporary workers are hampering the prevention of workplace deaths. Federal Labor Senator Anne Urquhart this week moved for the Senate committee to conduct an inquiry into the "framework surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia".
The committee will consider:
- the "effectiveness and extent of the harmonisation of workplace safety legislation between the states, territories and Commonwealth";
- jurisdictional issues where safety investigations cross state and territory borders;
- issues relating to the chains of responsibility between the jurisdictions;
- safety implications resulting from the increased use of temporary and labour-hire workers;
- the roles of employers and unions in creating safety cultures;
- the effectiveness of penalties for offences relating to serious incidents like fatalities; and
- any other related matters.
Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Senator James McGrath, stressed that all side of politics "are united on the need to prevent deaths and injuries in the workplace", but raised concerns about making additional references to the busy Senate committees. The Committee is due to report by September 20, 2018.
I'm a maintenance worker and my employer says I must go up ladders to fix gutters and do other work. I thought this was against the law as there is no one footing the ladders. Can they force me to do this?
There's nothing in the OHS legislation that makes it is illegal for employers to require that their workers work on ladders… This is because OHS legislation in Australia is what we call 'objective based' – that is, the duties on employers require that they provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This is called the 'general duty of care' , and this covers everything. But the law is not 'prescriptive' – that is, it does not mandate how the employer must do this. The only exceptions are to do with certain chemicals like lead or asbestos… see this page on Duties of employers.
In order to comply with the general duty of care, employers must regularly ensure that hazards and risks at the workplace are identified, in order to then take action to eliminate them or minimise them so far as is reasonably practicable. And the employer must do this in consultation with affected workers and their elected health and safety representatives (HSRs). See Duty to Consult
In addition to the general duties under s21 of the OHS Act, because falls are a very serious and common hazard, there is a specific chapter of the OHS Regulations which applies whenever work is being done at a height of more than 2 metres – check these pages out on the site:
- Summary of the Prevention of Falls chapter of the regulations
- General information on trips, slips and falls
So, your employer cannot order you to do something which you feel is putting your life and safety at risk – under the law, the employer must take all reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or miminise the risks to you. This might mean using something other than a ladder (eg an elevated work platform) or fitting you with a harness that is attached to roof points or having someone 'foot' the ladder, or whatever. In addition, remember you also have a 'common law' right to refuse to do dangerous work and should refuse if you feel you are at risk.
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.
Do you kNOw your workplace cancer risk?
Do you work in a job where you are exposed to asbestos, welding fumes or diesel engine exhaust? Are you a health and safety professional talking to workers as a regular part of your job? Or are you an HSR representing workers who may be exposed to cancer-causing agents?
The Cancer Council needs your help to create entertaining and informative toolbox videos on these cancer-causing agents and what workers can do to protect themselves from exposure. The Cancer Council is asking you to click here. It will only take a few minutes and you will be helping Cancer Council in their fight to reduce the incidence and impact of cancer.
Banning asbestos: no significant effect on GDP
"We do not find any significant effect on GDP following an asbestos ban. In a regional case study, we compare changes in GDP and employment with changes in asbestos production. Regional-level data revealed a temporary employment decline at the local level that was then reversed."
This is the conclusion reached by a new study by researchers who, using country-level data, examined the economic impact of historical changes in the production and use of asbestos. They compared changes in gross domestic product (GDP) following the enactment of asbestos bans.
Read more: Allen, L, et al, Trends and the Economic Effect of Asbestos Bans and Decline in Asbestos Consumption and Production Worldwide [Open Access] (Download pdf) Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(3), 531; doi: 10.3390/ijerph15030531
Vintage cars denied entry into Australia over possible asbestos
Six vintage Maserati sports cars which were to be part of an Australian tour will be sent back overseas because they may they contain asbestos. The cars were brought from England for a seven-night Maserati Global Gathering, which began in Torquay on Tuesday. But instead of being driven from the Great Ocean Road to Sydney, the cars have been stuck in a warehouse. Two of the cars were allowed to enter Australia as they were built after it was made illegal to produce cars containing asbestos.
Border Force initially refused to release the other six Maseratis unless holes were drilled in them to test for asbestos. "Six vehicles were identified as potentially containing asbestos and the importer could not provide appropriate assurances that they did not," a Border Force spokesperson said in a statement. "The importer declined to have the vehicles tested for asbestos. The importer was given permission to export the vehicles."
The importers said that all the cars have been totally pulled and rebuilt and are very unlikely to contain any asbestos. Read more: ABC news online
NSW: $10m to fund Tathra asbestos clean-up
The NSW government has promised up to $10m in funding to cleanup the asbestos-contaminated parts of Tathra, where a devastating bushfire destroyed almost 100 properties and damaged many more. Just over a week after the fire tore through the small Sapphire Coast seaside town, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday the government will assign the funding to help in the clean-up operation.
QLD: New scrutiny for asbestos removalists
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has announced it has stepped up its audit of licenced asbestos removalists, targeting those with poor records when it comes to compliance. Licenced asbestos removalists with a history of repeated poor practices are being comprehensively assessed by a team of specialist inspectors to determine whether its licence will be kept (and under what condition), suspended or cancelled. Already this year, one operator has had its licence cancelled. Read more
South Australia issues Alert
SafeWorkSA has issued an Alert on Asbestos and Air Conditioning Ductwork [pdf] warning that asbestos-containing millboard was once commonly used in the construction industry.
International Union News
Turkey: Report highlights over 2,000 'work murders' last year
A new report has revealed that over 2,000 workers were the victims of 'work murders' in Turkey last year. The report from Health and Safety Labour Watch says a marked rise in insecure work and repressive laws were major contributors to a sharp rise in deaths at work. A statement from the national union federation DİSK welcoming the report but notes the real toll is considerably higher. "In 2017 alone, 2,006 workers lost their lives to work-related murders. Occupational murder data that we could access mostly consists of sudden events that are labelled as 'work accidents' in the legislation. According to the ILO database, the ratio of 'work accident related deaths' to 'deaths related to work-related illness' is 1 to 6." Based on this, DİSK says, "in Turkey, at least 12,000 workers may have died from diseases related to work in 2017, though work-related diseases are only the tip of the iceberg."
The union body says the epidemic is not the result of "accident, fate, destiny, nature, unsafe behaviours, lack of education and so on… The cause of these murders is the neoliberal order's cheap and precarious employment policies and capital accumulation strategy. As long as the working class is subject to these employment conditions, death is inevitable!" DİSK concludes "we consider the increasing worker deaths not as 'accident' or 'illness' but as deliberate 'murders'. These murders will not come to an end by calling for capital's mercy or for state's responsibility; so we believe that workers at different stages of production should organise and protect their lives within organised struggle." It said this will involve "networks of families of those who lost their lives, and injured workers, labour unions, and professional associations, towards the goal of 'humane work, humane life'." Read more: DİSK news release. Source: Risks 842
Multiple chemical sensitivity rates triple in 10 years
The number of people diagnosed with potentially disabling multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) has grown by 300 per cent in a decade, with three in five sufferers taking sick leave or leaving a job due to fragranced products in the workplace, an Australian expert has found.
From a cross-sectional survey of 1,137 adults in the US, University of Melbourne Professor of civil engineering Dr Anne Steinemann found 12.8 per cent had been medically diagnosed with MCS and 25.9 per cent reported experiencing chemical sensitivity. She also found that 70.3 per cent of people with diagnosed MCS are not able to access places that use fragranced products such as air fresheners because of the severity of their symptoms, and 60.7 per cent lost work days or a job in the year leading up to the survey due to illness from workplace fragranced products.
According to the study, products or circumstances that trigger reactions in people with diagnosed MCS include: air fresheners and deodorisers (67.6 per cent of sufferers); scented laundry products coming from dryer vents (57.9 per cent); being in a room recently cleaned with scented products (67.6 per cent); being near someone wearing a fragranced product (65.5 per cent); and general fragranced consumer products (73.1 per cent).
Over 70 per cent of MCS sufferers favour fragrance-free workplace policies - and given the increasing prevalence, this is something employer should be considering.
Read more: Steinemann, A. National Prevalence and Effects of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, [Open access] Volume 60, Issue 3, March 2018. More on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Perfumes in the workplace Source:OHSAlert
Landmark study to reduce truck crashes launched
A new study aiming to reduce heavy vehicle crashes in Australia and improve truck driver well-being was launched this week. The study, the Advanced Safe Truck Concept is an Australian Government Cooperative Research Centre Project, will aim to reduce truck crash fatalities using new technologies to be developed by studying behaviour and understanding in particular the impact of driver fatigue and distraction. The study is being undertaken by a partnership headed by Seeing Machines and including the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) and Ron Finemore Transport Services.
The $6.5 million study is the first of its kind linking in-cab driver monitoring technology with the external traffic and roadway in real-time. The program will be done in two phases and will build on the Seeing Machine's Guardian technology platform that actively monitors for and alerts drivers to fatigue and distraction. Read more: Safety Culture OHS News.
Heart disease risk from lead at very low exposures
Exposure to lead at levels a fraction those permitted in UK (and Australian) workplaces puts workers at a greatly elevated and previously grossly under-estimated risk of deadly heart disease and other health effects, a study has found.
The US study tracked over 14,000 people over about 20 years. It found that those individuals in the top 10 per cent for their initial blood lead concentration had a 37 per cent increase in all-cause mortality and a 70 per cent increase in cardiovascular disease mortality compared to those with a blood lead concentration falling in the lowest 10 per cent. According to the study, the 20 per cent with the lowest lead levels had a blood lead concentration of 1.0 micrograms per decilitre, while in the top 10 per cent this corresponded to a concentration of 6.7 micrograms per decilitre.
In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sets a recommended action level of 50 micrograms per decilitre for men and 25 micrograms per decilitre for women. In Australia, the corresponding 'action' levels (at which workers must be removed) are the same (50 micrograms per decilitre) for all men and women not of child-bearing age, 20 micrograms per decilitre for women of childbearing age, and 15 micrograms per decilitre for breast-feeding or pregnant women.
While a link between lead exposure and high blood pressure has been known for decades, the magnitude of the effect on cardiovascular mortality - particularly at low levels of lead exposure - was much greater than anticipated, according to Dr Bruce Lanphear, a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University and lead author of the study. "There's no safe threshold," Lanphear said. "Once we found that there was a risk across the entire range of exposures, we could estimate the number of attributable deaths." This indicated lead related deaths were at "about 10 times" previous estimates. "We've made tremendous progress in reducing these exposures in the past four to five decades," Lanphear added. "But our blood levels are still 10 to 100 times higher than our pre-industrial ancestors." According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures published in March 2017, 1,030 male workers were found in the preceding year to have blood lead levels in excess of 25 milligrams of lead per decilitre blood, suggesting they are at a massively increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart failure.
Read more: BP Lanphear, et al. Low-level lead exposure and mortality in US adults: a population-based cohort study, [Open Access] The Lancet Public Health, published Online First, 12 March 2018. CNN Health. Exposure to Lead in Great Britain 2016: Medical Surveillance of Blood-Lead Levels in British Workers 2015/16, March 2017. More on the hazards of lead. Source: Risks 842
OHS Regulator News
Victoria: Have you checked the new compliance codes?
If you haven't yet had a chance to check out the five new compliance codes (codes) released last week, take a look now. Of particular use for HSRs in most if not all workplaces, is the Hazardous manual handling Compliance Code. While the old 2000 Code of Practice could be used, it's great to have the new up-to-date one available. The other four new codes are:
- Facilities in construction
- Confined spaces
These and the other Compliance Codes can also be downloaded on this page of the OHS Reps website.
South Australia: Regulator reconsiders Gayle Woodford murder
Earlier this month SafetyNet reported that in the case of murdered SA nurse Gayle Woodford, the SA WHS regulator had determined that the death was not work-related (see SafetyNet 438). The ABC now reports that that in a 'stunning about-face' the regulator has reclassified her death as work-related, reopened its investigation and apologised to her family. It may well be that the public outcry as a result of the Australian Story program had an impact on the regulator's decision.
Read more: ABC News online and SafeWorkSA news
Safe Work Australia News
Safe Work Australia Fatality statistics
As of 23 March 2018, there had been 27 fatalities reported to Safe Work Australia - this is five more since the last update on 16 March. These fatalities were: three in construction, and one each in the transport, postal and warehousing sector and in manufacturing. The workers killed have been in the following industries:
- 13 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 6 Construction
- 3 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 1 Administrative and support services
- 1 Information media & telecommunications
- 1 Manufacturing
- 1 Electricity, 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).
The latest monthly fatality report remains that for September 2017. During this month there were 12 reported work-related fatalities, eight workers and four bystanders - all male. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Victoria: Company and director convicted and fined for pit collapse
A structural engineer and his company have been convicted and fined a combined $480,000 in the Melbourne County Court for work failings that contributed to a dangerous land collapse at a Mount Waverley building site. Mr Aldo DiTonto and AM Design & Construction Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the OHS Act by failing to ensure people other than their employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from their conduct.
In February 2015, AM Design completed structural drawings for the mixed commercial and residential development. The drawings included details for the excavation and construction of a basement. Some time during the night of 13-14 July 2015, about four days after the excavation work was completed, part of the excavation collapsed and residents of a townhouse bordering the site were evacuated. Another, much larger, collapse occurred the following night and police advised residents of a second townhouse to evacuate.
County Court judge Julie Condon found DiTonto took the cheaper option by not planning for an excavating crew to bore supports into the ground, to instal anchors into the rock and to spray concrete as the diggings continued. Judge Condon found the failings were a "very significant departure" from acceptable safety standards that posed major risks to the safety of the public and workers on the site.
However, DiTonto's instructions that diggers excavate at angles and spray concrete onto the rock were not followed during the excavations. A building company, an engineering company which certified the structural drawings, and their sole directors, are also facing charges over the collapse and will be standing trial next year. They intend to fight the charges.
It was sheer good luck that the initial collapse occurred when it did, that no workers were on site and that no members of the public were injured or killed.
Read more: WorkSafe media release; The Age
To check the past prosecutions and for any updates before next week, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
UK: Plastics firm fined £1 million after delivery driver killed
A plastic product manufacturer has been fined £1 million (A$1.84m) after a delivery driver was fatally injured. Cambridge Crown Court heard how the delivery driver was struck by a forklift truck which had large coils suspended from the forks. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Glynwed Pipe Systems Ltd failed to properly manage workplace transport in the yard area where both employees and members of the public were at risk. The investigation also found that the systems of work in place were not, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe. Glynwed Pipe Systems Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £1 million (A$1.84m) and ordered to pay costs. HSE inspector Roxanne Barker said: "There are more than 5,000 accidents involving transport in the workplace every year and, like in this case, sadly some of which are fatal." She added: "The HSE investigation found the yard was not organised to allow safe circulation of people and traffic as appropriate routes were not identified and therefore insufficient in number. A properly implemented Traffic Management Plan should have identified sufficient measures for the separation of vehicles and people including protected walkways, clear signage and barriers." Read more: HSE news release. Source: Risks 842