SafetyNet 446, May 9, 2018
Today has been a big day for workers in Melbourne with a huge rally - part of '12 Days of Action to Change the Rules' - demands for safer, more secure jobs, and better, fairer laws ...if you want to find out about the campaign read more here.
To keep up to date and informed between editions of SafetyNet, go to our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page, 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.
If you wish to make any comments on any items in our newsletter, or have any OHS issues/queries, please send an email by clicking here. (Please don't 'reply' to your email!)
More tragedy in regional Victoria
Toddler critical following farming incident
Last Thursday afternoon a 15-month-old girl in a critical condition was airlifted to hospital after an incident on a farm in Bass, Gippsland. She sustained serious injuries after falling from a tractor. According to police, the girl was sitting on a home-made safety device on a tractor with her grandfather when she slipped and fell under the wheel. WorkSafe Victoria was investigating. The latest reports were that she was fighting for her life - but there have been no updates since almost a week ago.
Fatality on farm near Ouyen
On Monday evening a man in his 70s was killed after being run over by a trailer at a property near Ouyen. At this stage it appears he was standing alongside the moving trailer, feeding hay to sheep when he was knocked to the ground about 9.30pm. The trailer was attached to a ute. WorkSafe is investigating this latest fatality, which brings the number of confirmed workplace deaths this year to ten, and is the sixth to occur on a farm.
WorkSafe Acting Executive Director Health and Safety Paul Fowler once again urged farmers to put safety first. "Tragically, many on-farm fatalities involve people doing tasks they have done many times before, but experience doesn't prevent injuries or deaths," he said. "WorkSafe is urging farmers to think about the tasks they do each day and whether they can be carried out more safely, for their own sake and the sake of their loved ones." Source: WorkSafe Media Release
May 17: OHS Catch Up
On Friday 27 April we remembered those Victorians who were killed at work in the last 12 months. While we remembered the dead, we recommitted to fight like hell for the living. That fight continues in our Industrial Manslaughter Campaign - join the fight by attending our May OHS Catch Up.
Next Thursday 17 May, we are holding our next OHS Catch Up at Trades Hall. Learn all about where we are at in the Industrial Manslaughter Campaign. More importantly, come along to find out what you can do to help win industrial manslaughter laws and make Victoria safer for everyone.
When: Thursday, 17 May 2018.
Venue: OHS Training Room, Level 2.
Location: Trades Hall, 54 Victoria St, Carlton South.
Time: 5:30pm -7pm. Refreshments will be served as usual.
RSVP: Click here
Killing a worker is just the cost of doing business these days. That sends the wrong message to business. No longer will we tolerate businesses who kill workers. No longer will we tolerate businesses getting off with a slap on the wrist when a family has been devastated and a community shattered. Join the struggle to win industrial manslaughter laws now.
And in just in news, former ACTU Assistant Secretary Tim Lyons, has been tasked with determining whether the Northern Territory's mirror WHS Act should be amended to include an offence of "gross negligence causing death", as part of a six-month independent review of NT WorkSafe. Last year, Lyons' review of Queensland's WHS regime recommended that Workplace Health and Safety Queensland focus on "hard" compliance activities, and led to the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in that State. Source: OHSAlert.
Bullying in the Workplace Webinar
If you missed last week's webinar on this topic co-hosted by Alison Ross, the OHS Bullying and Harassment Officer at the ANMF, you can access the webinar here on the We Are OHS website. Take the time to check out the discussion on what bullying is, what it isn't, why it's a workplace hazard and what HSRs can do to ensure employers are controlling all bullying risks in the workplace. In addition, download our Workplace Bullying Risk Assessment Checklist, as well as a copy of our Workplace Bullying Policy and Procedures Checklist.
Our employer is buying a bag of ice and filling up the container on the side of a house or building using the tap to get water .is that considered safe drinking water?
I do not believe that this is adequate - there is no guarantee that the quality of the water is sufficient for drinking purposes as it could be contaminated.
Is it safe to assume you are at a construction site? If so, there is Compliance Code which covers the facilities an employer needs to provide on construction sites in order to ensure that they have complied with their legal duties under s21 of the OHS Act.. You can access and download a copy of the code here [pdf] from WorkSafe Victoria's website.
This is what the Code says about Drinking Water:
40. Clean drinking water needs to be provided for employees at all times. The water needs to be cool, clean, potable (safe for consumption) and palatable. Water needs to be hygienically provided (for example, disposable cups).
41. Drinking water taken from mains water supply needs to be from separate taps to those supplying water for washing, general site water and not be located inside toilet areas, including the toilet hand washing area to avoid contamination. Drinking water taps need to be labelled to avoid confusion.
42. Where a connection to mains water supply is not practicable (such as temporary, remote or mobile site), drinking water needs to be provided by another means (for example, bulk water dispenser or individual disposable bottles). Bottled water needs to be kept cool and stored in a hygienic manner.
For more general information and for non-construction workplaces, check out the FAQ on Drinking Water.
Please send any OHS related queries in to Ask Renata - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.
Calling all HSR Heroes!
Have you nominated yet? We know HSRs make a real difference in the workplace and too often don't get the recognition you deserve - now it's time to share your achievements with the world. Last year's HSR of the Year, Michael Muscat is a staunch union member and a fabulous HSR at Visy Board Coolaroo for 19 years - check out the WorkSafe video and our profile on him.
Vic Ambulance union: stricter penalties for aggressors
Victorian AEAV branch secretary, Steve McGhie, believes that our courts need to adopt a 'zero-tolerance' policy in relation to abuse or assault against paramedics and emergency service workers. Yesterday Mr Mcghie was interviewed on Chanel 7 News about the hundreds of 'locations of interest' that the Ambulance service collects when paramedics are abused, assaulted or have aggression displayed against them. These locations are recorded to inform other crews who may subsequently attend at those addresses.
"While the current State government has passed legislation to protect emergency service workers, " said Mr McGhie, "very few people who go before the courts get a custodial sentence. It is my belief that there should be a range of penalties apply subject to the seriousness of the issue. I do not believe there should be any discretion shown by the courts, the penalties should apply no different to what happens with drink driving offences."
Meanwhile, in the UK, the GMB union, which represents ambulance and other emergency workers, has celebrated a double victory after the 'protect the protectors' Bill won cross-party support from MPs – with new measures to punish sexual attacks on emergency workers added to the draft law. The union-backed Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill introduces a new offence of common assault against an emergency worker and requires courts to treat attacks on emergency workers as an aggravating factor when sentencing. Initially sexual assaults were not covered by the Bill – until a GMB investigation revealed reported sexual assaults and other sexually abusive incidents increased by 211 per cent between 2012/13 and 2016/17. Further GMB research released in the run up to the vote showed that the number of violent attacks on ambulance workers in the UK increased by 34 per cent between 2012/13 and 2016/17. Time Roache, GMB general secretary, said: "Our emergency service workers are there to save lives. In the line of duty they have to put up with being bitten, kicked, punched and even sexually assaulted. That cannot be allowed to continue." He added: "No one should have to expect that as part of their job and thanks to this campaign, our frontline workers are one step closer to getting the protection they need and deserve at work." GMB news release and related release on the increase in attacks on ambulance workers. Source: Risks 847
ALP promised changes to chemical regulation welcomed
In news welcomed by those of us who have been campaigning for improved, not deregulated, chemical regulation, a Federal Labor Government will ensure "efficient and timely" safety assessments of all chemicals and tackle emerging nanotechnology risks, according to the ALP's draft national platform.
Labor and Greens members of a recent inquiry into the Coalition Government's proposed chemical safety reforms took on board union, Cancer Council and other submissions and raised concerns over plans to slash the percentage of chemicals requiring pre-introduction assessments; and the lack of provisions ensuring employers keep accurate records of hazardous substances. The work safety section of the draft platform says Labor will ensure that all industrial chemicals are assessed, by requiring safety data to be "complete, up to date and comprehensive", if it wins the next election, likely to be held within the next 12 months.
The ALP also says it will "facilitate a coordinated toxic use reduction policy", and ensure the country's regulatory framework is "responsive to new developments in the application of nanotechnology and new evidence on nanotechnology risks".
Further, the ALP will introduce special safety legislation for the extraordinary hazards faced by firefighters, improve the regulation of stevedoring safety, and harmonise the OHS regimes covering seafarers and offshore oil and gas industry workers "to eliminate regulatory uncertainty and dual jurisdictional involvement". Other promises include ensuring company directors can't abrogate responsibility for workplace injuries, illnesses or deaths through restructuring. The draft also confirms Labor's recent commitment to reintroduce a Safe Rates-style regime for the heavy vehicle sector.
Man sues James Hardie for $6m
A landmark case against James Hardie began yesterday in the Brisbane Supreme Court. 73-year old Syd Lacey is suing the company for $5.9m after he was exposed to asbestos products while he was working as a carpenter in the 70s and 80s. He now suffers from mesothelioma. Maurice Blackburn's Jonathan Walsh says Lacey is also seeking compensation for his loss capacity to act as a long-term carer for his sick wife.
James Hardie admits his disease was caused by its asbestos products, but Mr Lacey says it's not enough for the company to only compensate him, it must also pay for his wife's future care. He is also seeking exemplary damages that recognise James Hardie's alleged "reckless indifference" in continuing to sell the asbestos products that caused his illness, despite knowing they could be deadly.
ASEA: The next National Asbestos Plan
Just a reminder to note the dates of ASEA's 2018 conference: November 18 - 20, where the Agency will provide participants with information on the future of asbestos management in Australia and the proactive plans we need to prevent exposure to asbestos fibres and reduce asbestos-related diseases. More information on registration fees, sponsorship opportunities, the conference program and speakers will be announced soon.
Dramatic fall in global asbestos production
Figures published recently by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reveal a sharp drop in asbestos production – from ~2.1 million tonnes in 2012 to ~1.4 million tonnes in 2015 (~31%).1 The fall depends primarily on a revision of Russian production levels for that period, which earlier USGS reports had recorded as being virtually static at around 1 million tonnes (t) per annum (since 2007). (It is believed that these production figures had to be "imputed" over a number of years because of lack of UN trade data upon which the USGS relies for its global asbestos reports.) Estimates for Chinese asbestos production were also slashed – by nearly 50% for the years 2014 and 2015. The amendments for Brazil and Kazakhstan were less dramatic but the initial production estimates for 2015 were reduced by ~15% for both countries in the latest revision.
Read more: International Ban Asbestos Secretariat
International Union News
UK: For firefighters the hidden dangers can be worse
Firefighters' union FBU is facing more than safety hazards; it is battling to highlight the risk of heart attacks, cancer and stress caused by heat and contaminants from fires and close proximity to tragedies. FBU officer Les Skarratts says heat exposure can cause the blood to thicken and increase the risk of heart attacks and other conditions, chemical exposures can lead to an increased risk of cancer and horrific tragedies can cause post traumatic stress disorder. Writing in the Guardian, he noted at every turn the union faces barriers. "The FBU has campaigned for some time to raise awareness of the physiological stress of heat on firefighters and this is an important piece of the jigsaw in explaining why so many firefighters have – and die from – heart attacks," he notes. "The incidence of cancer in firefighters is far higher than in the wider community, with unusual cancers being noticeably more common. Evidence is emerging that suggests the source of these cancers is contaminants from fires being absorbed into the body. These contaminants also settle into our fire tunics and gloves, flash hoods and leggings. We put these fire kits into the fire engines and ride with them to the station or the next incident. We absorb the contaminants while at rest and at work." But he says "sadly, many of the firefighters who die of cancer do so after retirement, so it is hard to gather data… In many other parts of the world, including Canada, there are laws that presume some specific diseases or conditions are work-related. The FBU is pressing for similar presumptive legislation in the UK." After consistent campaigning by Australia's fire fighting union, most Australian jurisdications now have such 'presumptive' legislation - just Victoria and NSW have not yet introduced it. The Victorian Andrews Labor government introduced a Bill last year, which passed the Lower House, but was defeated in the Upper House on March 30, this year.
Skarratts says the stresses of the job are a major concern, as "massive and cruel cuts in the fire and rescue service have resulted in the loss of 11,000 firefighters' jobs, from 60,000 in 2010, and a fall in the number of trained and skilled mental health workers. In the London Fire Brigade, the number of trained counsellors was cut from 14 to two. Following the Grenfell fire, four more counsellors have been employed on a permanent basis, but cuts are a national disgrace and should be rectified by immediate reinvestment in the country's fire and rescue services."
Source: Risks 847. Read more: The Guardian. FBU blog. UCLAN news release. Anna A Stec and others. Occupational exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and elevated cancer incidence in firefighters, Nature's Scientific Reports, 8, Article number: 2476, 2018.
Australian PFAS Health Panel Report released
An Expert Health Panel for PFAS (Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances), established to advise the Australian Government on the potential health impacts associated with PFAS exposure and to identify priority areas for further research released its final report this week. It has concluded there is "mostly limited, or in some cases no evidence, that human exposure to PFAS is linked with human disease". The panel also concluded there is "no current evidence that suggests an increase in overall cancer risk".
The Australian government wasted no time and has already used this as justification to announce that there will be no buy-out of residents living in the red zones, where PFAS contamination is at its highest.
But closer examination of the report raises concerns. While it is dismissive of the health impacts based on the uncertainties often experienced when assessing chemical impacts in the human population (eg, small sample sizes, problems with bias, chance, reverse causation etc) the panel acknowledged there were fairly consistent reports of the following health impacts:
- increased levels of cholesterol in the blood;
- increased levels of uric acid in the blood;
- reduced kidney function;
- alterations in some indicators of immune response;
- altered levels of thyroid hormones and sex hormones;
- later age for starting menstruation (periods) in girls, and earlier menopause; and
- lower birth weight in babies.
However the Report states there is "no current evidence" suggesting an increase in overall cancer risk. This was despite acknowledging there were "concerning signals for life threatening diseases " in an association with increased risk of two uncommon cancers, testicular and kidney.
The panel has recommended that there is no need for any health interventions or screening for the highly exposed group other than for research purposes.
Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, Senior Policy Advisor, with IPEN (International POPs Elimination Network) and with the National Toxics Network, said, "Again, Australia is clearly out of step with other countries like the US, Germany, the Netherlands as well as a host of other researchers, regulatory bodies and legal courts.
The US has already found in favour of residents exposed to PFAS who have developed testicular and kidney cancer."
Read more: Media Release: Expert Health Panel's Independent PFAS Advice; The Report, including a summary, can be downloaded from this page
Nanotubes linked to cardiovascular disease
European researchers have found an association between an increasingly used engineered nanomaterial and cardiovascular disease, and say their study provides important insight into the potential detrimental cardiovascular effects of exposure to multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), and should influence policy makers.
MWCNT market is growing: the material has useful thermal, electrical and mechanical properties, is light and strong and has great potential to replace conventional materials. Holding it back in the past was that it was expensive, but with its decreasing market price, it is becoming a good alternative to particulate fillers like carbon black (used in tyres and as a colour pigment), and production is moving from a research and development stage to larger-scale production, signalling an increase of workers potentially exposed to the material, they say.
Previous studies have reported a link between MWCNT exposure in humans and oxidative stress, lung inflammation and gene expression change, but studies looking at cardiovascular effects have shown inconsistent results, noted the researchers from the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research and other bodies.
They hypothesised that exposure to MWCNTs induces cardiovascular effects such as those caused by traffic-related particulate matter and, more specifically, ultrafine particles. They looked at 22 workers that handled MWCNTs at an MWCNT-production company, and found that blood concentrations of endothelial damage marker intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) increased with increased exposure to MWCNTs. "An upward trend of ICAM-1 has been observed in humans in relation to the development of atherosclerotic lesions, which is the underlying pathology of cardiovascular diseases including coronary heart disease," the researchers say.
Read more: Eelco Kuijpers, et al, Cardiovascular effects among workers exposed to multiwalled carbon nanotubes. [Abstract], Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 75, Issue 5, May 2018. Source: OHSAlert
Occupational health action pays off, says study
Occupational health services (OHS) have a 'clear value' to workers, companies and the economy, a new study has found. The report from the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), the International SOS Foundation and KU Leuven University examines the value of occupational health from a global perspective and "provides a synthesis of global evidence on the effectiveness of occupational health interventions and cost effectiveness." It notes that fatal and non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses worldwide equate to a cost of approximately €2,680 billion (A$4261 billion), equivalent to 4 per cent of the global GDP. Commenting on publication of 'Occupational health: The global value and evidence', SOM chief executive Nick Pahl said: "Work related health issues are far reaching, through the impact on organisations, employees and their families and on the wider community and ultimately the economy." He added: "This report provides comprehensive evidence of significant positive health related impact and return on investment of successful occupational health interventions." According to SOM, the report establishes that "occupational health services have a clear value: They improve the health of the working population; contribute to the prevention of work-related illnesses; prevent avoidable sickness absence through the provision of early interventions for those who develop a health condition; and increase the efficiency and productivity of organisations. They can also play a major part in protecting and revitalising the global economy."
Source: RIsks 847. Read more: SOM Media Release and full report, Occupational health: The global value and evidence [pdf], SOM, May 2018.
OHS Regulator News
Fine for scalping incident increased
Last week came news that a previous fine of $50,000 has been increased following an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions.The fine was increased to $150,000 and a conviction imposed in the Shepparton County Court.
In January last year, WorkSafe charged Shepparton fruit packing company Kalafatis Pty Ltd with failing to provide and maintain a safe plant, and one charge of failing to maintain a safe system of work. The company was fined $50,000 without conviction and ordered to pay $22,000 in costs in the Shepparton Magistrates Court over an incident which left an employee, a backpacker with horrific scalping injuries.
In the initial hearing, the court was told that a backpacker employed at the company was cleaning the underside of a conveyor belt in November 2015 when her hair was caught in a drive shaft. Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
New Compliance Codes available
The new Demolition and Excavation compliance codes are now available from the WorkSafe website. The Demolition compliance code [pdf] replaces the Demolition Code of Practice (1991) and the Excavation compliance code [pdf] replaces the Safety precautions in trenching operations Code of Practice (1988). The new codes provide practical guidance on how to improve health and safety at workplaces in relation to demolition and excavation, and meet the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017.
Latest Safety Soapbox
WorkSafe's latest edition of Safety Soapbox was posted on May 4. This edition feature the new codes and also the regulator's falls blitz. There is a list attached of the falls reported to WorkSafe in the period 1 February - 30 April: a staggering 40 incidents!
The edition has a number of other items, both from Victoria and
interstate, of interest to those in the construction sector, such as recalls and news of prosecutions. It also has attached the list of incidents notified to WorkSafe in the period April 12 - 25, during which there were 106 incidents serious enought to be reported. Several could have led to fatalities - for example, three workers in a basement stripping formwork suffered headaches, nausea and dizziness - LPG gas 'poisoning'. In fact this was a confined space issue and the consequences could have been much more serious.
Download the May 4 edition of Safety Soapbox, including the attached Reported Incidents, here.
Safe Work Australia Fatality statistics
There has not been an update to the Safe Work Australia webpage on reported fatalities since the last edition of SafetyNet when we reported that as of 20 April 2018, there had been 40 fatalities reported. To check for updates and more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage).
Similarly, 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.
Enforceable Undertaking agreed after apprentice badly burned
KDR Victoria Pty Ltd operates the whole of Melbourne's tram network. On 5 January 2016 a linesman and an apprentice were working on the upgrade of a workshop at KDR's Preston depot, from an elevated platform of a trolley line truck. The wire they were working on had to be lifted over another wire, which was live. This created a risk of electric shock by coming in contact with live wiring - a risk for which the employer failed to provide information and instruction. The apprentice began using a wrench to undo a nut and made touched a live section. The resulting arc flash ignited his shirt and he suffered burns to his chest and stomach and more serious burns to his right hand and forearm. On 30 April 2018, KDR entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with WorkSafe Victoria (as allowed under s16 of the OHS Act). Under the EU, KDR undertook to engage with Energy Safe Victoria to identify any gaps in the continuity of certain critical roles and to review and improve procedures in place with a view to preventing similar incidents from occurring in the future. Many of these had already been completed by the time the EU was agreed.KDR also undertook to:
- produce a digital video on safety for young workers (estimated cost $60,000)
- prepare an internal audit training package (estimated cost $45,000)
- work with ESV to develop an industry guidance note (estimated cost $85,000)
- 'Lessons learned' external training for traction industry (estimated cost $21,000)
- ICAM and Safety leadership training (estimated cost $85,000)
The commitments in the EU to OHS undertakings and remediations add up to $700,000: KDR says it now "strives to ensure that its safety mechanisms are anticipatory, rather than reactionary".
Partner fined after causing leg injury to employee
Commercial Demolition & Salvage, a demolition business owned and operated by a partnership, was engaged to demolish two single storey buildings in Prahan. On 20 February 2017 Charalambos Maheras, an officer of the partnership, was operating a Kobelco 8 tonne excavator to clear the site.There was no designated walk area identified by barriers or pedestrian walkways to separate employees from the excavator when it was operating, which created a risk of serious injury or death should the excavator collide with employees. A 55 year old employee, working as a labourer, was behind the excavator when it started to reverse. He did not hear any reversing beeping noises from the excavator and yelled out when it hit his leg, at which stage the excavator stopped moving.He received injuries to his right leg requiring surgery. Maheras pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $5,000 and $3,000 in costs.
Company fined $20k for failing to produce information following double fatality
Nautical Training Australia Pty Ltd, trading as Harbour Dive is a company that provided training in recreational diving. On 10 June 2016, an incident occurred during a dive which resulted in the death of an employee and their student. On 25 May 2017, WorkSafe served a notice under s9(1) of the OHS Act to obtain information in relation to the incident, but received no response. The company, which is now in liquidation, was charged with one charge under section 9(2) of the OHS Act for failure to provide information. On 3 May 2017, it was convicted and fined $20,000 plus $8,779 in costs.
The question is: will anyone now be held responsible or charged with the death of two people?
Construction company convicted after wall collapse
Olive Construction Pty Ltd, a building company which had the management and control of a workplace where two residential townhouses were being constructed, had engaged SS Plumbing Pty Ltd, a plumbing and drainage business, to install two pump tanks. The tanks were to be located about two metres from an excavated wall at the rear of the proposed basement. On 13 September 2016,SS Plumbing's owner and two employees, an apprentice plumber and a drainer, were installing the tanks. In the four days prior there had been about 17mm of rain at the workplace which caused flooding and altered the condition of the soil; this in turn rendered the rear wall excavation unstable and created a risk of someone being engulfed or partially engulfed.
Olive Constructions failed to supervise contractors and prevent them from accessing the workplace until the soil conditions at the site had been properly assessed and the basement rear wall excavation stabilised. During the installation of the tanks, part of the excavated wall fell away and partially engulfed the apprentice plumber. He was immediately removed and taken to hospital. He sustained broken ribs, a fractured sternum, damage to his pancreas and both his lungs collapsed. He remained in hospital for a week. Olive Constructions pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $80,000 plus costs of $3505.
To check whether any are loaded before next week, go to the Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.