SafetyNet 452, June 20, 2018
Welcome to another edition of SafetyNet. This will be the last edition until mid-August, due to staff leave. Feel free to make any comments on any issues raised here by sending an email 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, 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.
When an employee voices a safety concern is it appropriate for the employer to tell that employee that if they wish to look into the issue further then they will have to do so during their own time and not during work hours?
No, this is not appropriate.
Firstly, I would recommend that the employee raises this with their elected HSR first, rather than go to the employer. The HSR has the right to investigate issues, undertake workplace inspections, and raise OHS issues for resolution with the employer or the employer's representative. This is the Issue Resolution process as set out in the OHS Act (read more).
If the person raising the issue is an HSR, then Act also makes it very clear that HSRs are entitled exercise their rights on paid time, and that DWGs need to be agreed on the basis that any member of that DWG has easy access to their elected HSR and vice versa. This implies 'during work time.'
If there is no elected HSR then, under s73 of the OHS Act, any employee has the right to raise an OHS issue directly with the employer/employer representative – who must then, in consultation with the employee who raised the issue, 'attempt to resolve (it)'.
Again, the assumption is that this is in work time. Remember: under the OHS Act, the employer has a duty of care to provide and maintain for employees, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. It is their legal duty to do so, and employees and HSRs have the right and should be encouraged to be involved. Their involvement can only assist the employer in complying with the law.
The Act also specifically prohibits discrimination of any employee or HSR for raising health and safety issues (s76) and applies to 'an employer who dismisses an employee, injures an employee in the employment of the employer, or alters the position of an employee to the employee's detriment..'
Demanding that any further discussion/investigation of an OHS concern be done outside work hours is in effect making an employee work unpaid overtime, and thus is not acceptable.
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
World first inquiry into workplace sexual harassment
The Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has today announced a 12 month national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. Commissioner Jenkins said the global conversation about sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement has exposed the true prevalence of the problem and the harm it causes to individuals, workplaces and society.
"The National Inquiry will involve an in-depth examination of sexual harassment in the workplace, nation-wide consultation and extensive research. Importantly, the Inquiry will provide employees, employers and all members of the public with an opportunity to participate in developing a solution to ensure Australian workplaces are safe and respectful for everyone," Commissioner Jenkins said.
The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently conducting the fourth national survey into workplace sexual harassment, with results expected to be released in August. Commissioner Jenkins said early indications show that rates have increased significantly since the last survey was conducted in 2012.
The Inquiry will review and report on:
- a national survey of the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, by sector;
- online workplace-related sexual and sex-based harassment and the use of technology and social media to perpetrate harassment, and to identify both alleged victims and perpetrators;
- the drivers of workplace sexual harassment;
- the current legal framework with respect to sexual harassment;
- existing measures and good practice to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment, and and the economic impacts such as workers compensation claims, employee turnover and absenteeism; and
- recommendations to address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.
The independent inquiry will hold public consultations in major cities and regional centres, and all Australians will have the opportunity to lodge submissions.
Read more: Australian Human Rights Commission Media release; About the Inquiry; ABC news online; Information on harassment.
REMINDER: VTHC online survey for LGBTIQA+ workers
If you have not yet completed the VTHC's We Are Union Pride Team's online survey to help identify what the key challenges facing LGBTIQA+ workers are, to collect key statistical information about workplaces for LGBTIQA+ people, please do so now. You need to say what the solutions are – because you are the experts.
The team will develop an organising tool using the results of the survey, to influence policy and campaign decision making, and most importantly, to provide the union movement with a mandate to stand in solidarity with LGBTIQA+ workers and their struggles.
Have a say; make a difference: take the survey now, pass it on to your friends and colleagues. All information collected in this survey will remain confidential and de-identified. The VTHC will never pass on any details to any third party.
Man killed after being struck by tram
A man has died after being struck by a tram in South Melbourne yesterday evening. Police believe the 69-year-old man fell onto tracks on Kings Way as the tram was approaching before he was hit during the peak hour commute. About 80 passengers were on board the tram at the time of the incident, according to Yarra Trams. We send our condolences to the family. Such tragic incidents are an occupational hazard for workers in the public transport sector. Source: The Age
Update on demolition of Anglesea Power Station
WorkSafe has announced it is working with Alcoa, contractors and technical advisors on plans to complete the demolition of the Anglesea Power Station, to ensure the demolition work complies with safety laws and regulations.
WorkSafe has said that there will be no further demolition until Alcoa puts forward a suitable demolition plan. The plan will include provisions for future air monitoring and other appropriate health and safety measures. Air monitoring has been in place at the site since before demolition began and has not revealed any health and safety concerns.Due to the complexity of the work involved, further demolition is not expected to occur until July. Source: WorkSafe Media Release
Fears over demolition of Morwell power station
Latrobe Valley CFMEU official Duncan MacGregor, has raised concerns about the likely demolition of Morwell Power Station following the botched demolition of Alcoa's Anglesea power plant using controlled explosives. The Victorian District Mining and Energy Division organiser has expressed safety fears for nearby residents and workers if the demolition of Morwell Power Station was to go ahead."We're here [CFMEU offices] 150 metres from the power station. There are other businesses closer and I'd estimate there are up to 200 people working in the nearby vicinity," he said.
Read more: Latrobe Valley Express
ACT: Mesothelioma rates
The ACT has among the highest rate of mesothelioma in Australia, according to a new report. The figures come after an Australian National University report last year proved a link between living in a house with loose-fill "Mr Fluffy" asbestos and developing mesothelioma. The two-yearly report card, Australia's health 2018, launched today showed Australia sits squarely in the best third of OECD countries when it comes to life expectancy.
The report reveals that Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma incidence in the world, which currently sits at 2.5 cases per 100,000 people, compared to the worldwide average of 1.3 per 100,000. The report showed the ACT had a incidence rate of 5.2 per 100,000 males, the second highest rate behind Western Australia. Mesothelioma Australia figures are that last year there were 10 new cases in the ACT, nine men and one woman, with a rate of 2.7 per 100,000 people.
The report also states that the incidence and mortality data presented are likely to be an underestimate, as it is probable that not all notifications for 2016 were recorded at the time the data was published. Rates were highest in Western Australia, where the rate for men was more than double the national rate.
Read more: Australia's health 2018: in brief and the full report Australia's health, 2018. Source: The Canberra Times
ASEA Conference Registrations now open
Registrations are now open for this year's ASEA conference 'Asbestos: the next national plan - proactivity, prevention, planning'. ASEA is urging those interested to take advantage of their exclusive super early bird rates and save up to $300 on registrations when they register by Friday 29 June (5pm AEDT).
The conference will focus on the future of the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness - what is the direction of the next national plan and what will it look like? We will be looking in depth at the new strategies and goals that have been developed as a result of the feedback received from the 2017 summit. 'Proactivity', 'prevention' and 'planning' are the key themes that will be explored throughout the conference, where we will consider the future of asbestos management in Australia, and the proactive plans we need to prevent exposure to asbestos fibres and reduce asbestos-related diseases. Industry experts will present an international and national perspective, and provide engaging and interactive plenary sessions and workshops.
International Union News
UK: A third of women have faced sexual harassment at work
A third of women have experienced workplace sexual harassment, a survey conducted by the UK union Prospect has found. The union said its objective was to discover how often people had seen, or personally been affected by, behaviours in the workplace that amount to bullying and harassment. The 'disturbing' findings indicate many forms of sexual harassment are still prevalent across the UK workforce, the union said.
The survey was completed by nearly 7,000 people working in what Prospect characterised as varied highly-skilled roles across the private and public sectors. Overall, 40 per cent of respondents were female and 60 per cent male. Over a third of women (35 per cent) reported sexual harassment, with young women reporting the highest incidence at 62 per cent. Of those reporting incidents of harassment, two-thirds of women had heard suggestive remarks or jokes of a sexual nature in the past year, and a third of women experienced inappropriate touching or hugging in the past year. Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: "This survey was created so that we were able to engage with our members on unacceptable behaviours that are taking place across the UK's workplaces. Prospect is committed to tackling this behaviour and ensuring that people are equipped with the information and skills to go to work without having to deal with sexual harassment."
Read more: Prospect news release and Guide on sexual harassment at work. Source: Risks 853
France: Employers to stand trial over suicides
The former chief executive of France Telecom and six other managers are to stand trial over a spate of suicides among their staff in the late 2000s. Prosecutors have long claimed they presided over a culture of harassment at the firm that led at least 19 employees to kill themselves. They are accused of "moral harassment". If found guilty the defendants could face two years in prison and 30,000 euros (A$47,175) in fines.
Ex-boss Didier Lombard and his fellow defendants deny
their tough restructuring measures in 2006 were to blame for the
subsequent loss of life. The push for greater efficiency came two years
after the company was privatised. Mr Lombard was trying to cut 22,000
jobs and retrain at least 10,000 workers. "I'll get them out one way or
another, through the window or through the door," he was quoted as
telling senior managers in 2007. Some were transferred away from their
families or left behind when offices were moved, or assigned demeaning
jobs. From 2008 onwards, at least 19 members of staff took their own
lives, 12 attempted suicide and eight others suffered from depression
and related illnesses.
In disturbing news just in, Telstra Australia has announced plans to cut 8,000 jobs and reduce its workforce by a quarter. Apart from concerns relating to erosion of services, the plans have serious implications for the health and safety of Telstra workers.
Read more: BBC News; More on work-related suicides: Hazards
Peru: Site union tries to bag a 25kg maximum weight
In a great example of controlling the hazard at the source, workers on building sites for the Pan American Games in Lima are campaigning for a reduction in the size of the cement bags they are required to lift dfrom 42.5 kilos to 25 kilos. The Federation of Civil Construction Workers in Peru (FTCCP), working with the global union BWI, has launched a '25 Kilos…No More!' campaign ahead of the games in 2019 at which almost 6,500 athletes from 41 countries will participate. It is expected that 50,000 jobs will be generated in the construction of hotels and sports facilities.
At the campaign launch BWI global education secretary Tos Añonuevo said: "The campaign is all about involving manufacturers, labour and health authorities, employers and workers in actions to reduce weight of cement bags and to improve workers' life quality." FTCCP and BWI have held meetings with public and business authorities in the sector, and with the Minister of Labour and Employment Promotion of Peru (MTPE), Christian Sánchez Reyes,who is said to have expressed his support. The international union campaign has already secured big wins on smaller loads. In Uraguay, for example, the maximum weight of cement bags has been reduced by national decree.
Read more: BWI news release. Source: Risks 853
Anti-union policies lead to sharp rise in fatalities
A Harvard University study has has found that "anti-union" laws discourage membership and significantly increase workplace fatality rates. The study examined the use of anti-union 'right to work' (RTW) laws in the USA. The author, Michael Zoorob, notes: "The paper demonstrates that the protective effect of unions on workplace safety at the micro level translates into large scale reductions in occupational fatalities...I find that diminished union membership due to 'right to work' legislation has led to a 14.2% increase in workplace mortality."
As well as discussing the many ways unions make workplaces safer, the paper notes: "Though worker fatalities have declined in the last two decades in the USA, this decline has been steeper in states with higher levels of unionisation. Moreover, this study shows that RTW legislation, under consideration in many state legislatures and nationwide, may lead to greater workplace mortality through decreasing the percentage of unionised workers. Indeed, worker fatalities have climbed somewhat since 2008, a reversal from previous years, during the same period that several states adopted RTW"
The paper found that 5,190 American workers were killed on the job in 2016 – the country's third consecutive year of increasing occupational mortality and the highest annual death toll in nearly a decade. This increase coincided with the recent adoption of right-to-work laws – which prohibit employment contracts requiring union membership – in seven US states, taking the number of states with this type of legislation to 28. The author concluded: "In light of these findings, policymakers in the USA and other countries might consider how declining unionisation rates may impact worker safety."
The view of Australian unions is that the anti-union legislation which established the ABCC has a similar outcome on Australian construction sites, and must be repealed.
Read more: Michael Zoorob Does 'right to work' imperil the right to health? The effect of labour unions on workplace fatalities.[Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first June 2018, doi.org/10.1136/oemed-2017-104747.
Work stress is more deadly in men
It seems that having a stressful job is far more likely to kill men with heart and metabolic problems like diabetes than women. Men with heart problems are six times more likely to suffer an early death if they have a stressful job - even if they keep fit and eat a healthy diet – new research suggests. Reducing work hours, job redesign and prescribing stress management to men with these illnesses may be needed to minimise the risk, the study authors say. Lead researcher Professor Mika Kivimäki, from University College London, said: "Our findings give evidence for there being a link between job strain and risk of premature death in men with cardiometabolic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes." He added: "These findings suggest that controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels alone are unlikely to eliminate the excess risk associated with job strain in men with cardiometabolic disease. Other interventions might be needed at least for some patients - possibly including stress management as part of cardiovascular disease rehabilitation, job redesign, or reducing working hours. However, more research will be needed to identify which specific interventions might improve health outcomes in men with coronary heart disease, stroke, or diabetes."
The research team looked at data from 100,000 people in the UK, France, Finland and Sweden, including 3,441 with these illnesses. They were given a questionnaire on their lifestyle and health at the start of the study, with their medical records tracked over 14 years. The study looked at two types of work stress – 'job strain', or having high work demands and low control over them - and 'effort-reward imbalance', defined as putting in lots of effort, but getting little reward in return. The researchers found that, among men with heart problems, those experiencing job strain had a 68 per cent greater risk of early death than those where it wasn't a factor. However, there was no association between any type of work stress and premature death for women with or without cardiometabolic disease.
Read more: Mika Kivimäki et al. Work stress and risk of death in men and women with and without cardiometabolic disease: a multicohort study, [Full text] Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, Online First, 5 June 2018. The Guardian. The Independent. Source: Risks 853
OHS Regulator News
Labour hire laws pass Upper House
The Victorian Parliament has passed legislation to regulate labour hire, helped by support from a new recruit to the Australian Conservatives party. The State's Legislative Council yesterday passed the Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017 by 21 votes to 19. Labor and the Greens voted in favour of the Bill, which passed after crucial support from Dr Rachel-Carling Jenkins, who last year left the DLP to join the Australian Conservatives. Another crossbench MP, Fiona Patten, also voted in favour of the Bill.
The new laws will to a long way to labour hire workers from being underpaid and exploited by labour hire businesses and hosts. Providers of labour hire services must hold a licence and host businesses will be required to only use licensed providers. To obtain a licence, providers must pass "a fit and proper person test" and show compliance with workplace laws, labour hire laws, and minimum accommodation standards. Licensed providers will be listed on a public register and "rogue operators" will be liable for civil and criminal penalties. Minister for Industrial Relations Natalie Hutchins said: "Following the damming findings of the independent inquiry, we've taken action to clean up the industry and make things fair for labour hire workers across Victoria." She called on the Turnbull Government to act on reports by its taskforce on organised crime in Labour Hire and develop a national licensing scheme. Read more: Andrews' Government Media Release
Month long campaign: `Work live' and risk your life
Both WorkSafe and EnergySafe Victoria are warning electrical businesses, contractors and workers about the dangers of working on live switchboards or circuits, as WorkSafe inspectors crack down on electrical risks. In addition to talking about the risks of working live, inspectors are also highlighting the need to ensure apprentices are adequately trained and supervised during WorkSafe's month long focus on electrical safety.
WorkSafe Acting Executive Director Health and Safety Paul Fowler has urged employers to ensure workers do not to attempt to 'save time' by not isolating systems before they commence work. He said it was common for electrical workers to feel pressured by clients who want a job done quickly without affecting production.
Energy Safe Victoria Director of Energy Safety Paul Fearon has urged all contractors and supervisors to understand their obligations concerning electrical workers, especially apprentice, working live. "Other than unavoidable testing and commissioning functions, all electrical work should be carried out on de-energised/isolated installations and equipment," he said. "Worrying practices in the industry have been identified, such as the willingness of the electrical industry to perform live electrical work. These practices appear to be particularly prevalent in the commercially driven electrical contracting sector."
Three electricians have died at work in Victoria since 2016. The latest was a young man in his late twenties who was killed while working near a live electrical switchboard in Dandenong South on January 29, 2018. Read more: WorkSafe Media Release
Falls prevention week long program
The prevention of falls on construction sites is the focus of a joint visit by WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWork NSW to Mildura this week.
The safety regulators will be taking part in the Cross Border Construction Program, which will see inspectors come together to visit local building sites on both sides of the border to reduce the risk of workers being injured in falls. As well as identifying safety risks and breaches, the inspectors will also discuss the similarities, and differences, between the Victorian and NSW work health and safety regulations and how employers and workers can meet their obligations.
WorkSafe Head of Hazardous Industries and Industry Practice Michael Coffey said in the past 10 years, 17 construction workers had died in Victoria due to a fall.
Read more: WorkSafe Media release
WA: Notice re doctors' appointments
WorkCover WA has issued a notice entitled Employer attendance at medical consultations - in which the regulator comments that it has become aware of the practice of some employers attending medical consultations with injured workers. It then states: "There is no legal or operational basis for employers or their representatives to be present during a medical consultation between an injured worker and a treating doctor. This applies even where treatment is recommended or facilitated by the employer."
Unions WA said while WorkCover's notice was long overdue, it would go a long way towards resolving disputes. "It's a really clear and definitive statement from the regulator that says there's no reason why employers should be in a medical appointment of a worker," Unions WA assistant secretary Owen Whittle said. He said Unions WA wanted fines of up to $100,000 for employers who ignore the rules, and said doctors should kick meddling bosses out of consultations.
Workers in Victoria have faced a similar situation, and need to know that they have the right to attend medical consultations on their own. The VTHC will be requesting that WorkSafe Victoria issue a similar statement. Read more: ABC news online.
Safe Work Australia News
New guidance on work-related psychological health and safety
Safe Work Australia has released new guidance for employers and workers, which provides advice on how to build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace by identifying, assessing and controlling risks to workers' mental health.
Dr Peta Miller, Special Adviser for Safe Work Australia, said that while work-related psychological injury is expensive, we know what causes harm and that taking preventative action works. "Poor psychological safety costs Australian organisations $6 billion per annum in lost productivity. This is primarily because psychological injuries typically require three times more time off work than other injuries. Additionally, workplaces with poor psychological working conditions accrue 43 per cent more sick days per month."
Work-related psychological injury can be caused by excessive time pressures, unreasonable deadlines and poorly managed organisational change. The guide takes a preventative approach: identifying the hazards to good mental health, assessing how severe the risks are, and taking steps to eliminate and control the risks are essential steps to building a healthy and safe workplace.
Read more: Safe Work Australia Media release; The Guide: Work-related psychological health and safety - A systematic approach to meeting your duties; More information on Stress
Still no update on the number of fatalities notified to Safe Work Australia since 1 June at which time there had been 58 fatalities. To check for updates before our next edition in August, and more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage).
There has also been no updated monthly fatality report - the latest was that for December 2017, during which there 21 work-related notifiable fatalities. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Formwork and Scaffolding company fined for multiple failings
Kwikserv Formwork & Scaffolding (Vic) Pty Ltd (ACN 110 883 817) ('the offender') is a company which erects and dismantles formwork and scaffolding for commercial and residential developments. In July 2016 domestic building company was undertaking an extension to an existing retirement village. The builder engaged the offender to provide and install perimeter external scaffold in May 2016. The building work was to occur near an overhead powerline pole and transformer. There was a requirement for the erection of scaffolding works occurring near an overhead powerline pole and transformer to have a Permit to Work ('PTW') before the works commenced. Kwikserv was required to obtain written permission from the power distribution provider prior to any modifications, dismantling or use of scaffold. Prior to the work commencing no PTW was obtained for the scaffold erection. The minimum safe clearance distance or No Go Zone around scaffolding near electrical power lines is 4.6 metres horizontally and 5.0 metres vertically. On or about 25 July 2016 the scaffold was erected approximately 500mm horizontally from energised powerlines, placing employees at risk of death or serious injury by electrocution. Employees of the offender were instructed to erect the scaffold within the No Go Zone before a permit was obtained from the relevant power distribution company. The offender pleaded guilty and was without conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $20,000 and to pay costs of $4,115.
DHHS in deferred undertaking over sexual assault
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) funds and manages the Disability Forensic Assessment and Treatment Service Centre in Fairfield. On 9 June 2011, a 25 year old Disability Development and Support Officer was sexually assaulted by a resident of that facility. The Melbourne County Court found that DHHS breached s21 of the OHS Act in that it failed to provide to employees such information as was necessary to ensure that sufficient information regarding a resident's risk of violence (including sexual violence) was communicated to all staff working directly with a resident. This put them at risk of being seriously injured due to a physical and/or sexual assault committed by a resident. The Department pleaded guilty in the County Court and was sentenced without conviction to an adjourned undertaking for twelve months with a special condition that they pay $50,000.00 to Djirra (a charity that provides practical support to all Aboriginal women and particularly to Aboriginal people who are currently experiencing family violence).
To check the past prosecutions and for any updates before next week, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
USA: Stricter silica exposure standard from this month
A hard-won more protective silica exposure standard is to come into effect in the US on 23 June. Government safety regulator OSHA said that for the first 30 days, no citations will be issued to employers who violate the standard as long as OSHA determines that they are making "good faith efforts to meet the new standard's requirements." Exposure to silica dust, which is created when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar, can cause cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease.
In the US, more than 2 million workers are exposed to some level of silica. The new OSHA standard, issued under the Obama administration, reduces the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica over an eight-hour shift to 50 micrograms per cubic metre of air (down from 0.1mg/m3 to 0.05mg/m3). This is half the previous limit for general industry, and one-fifth of the old limit for the construction industry. The final part of the silica standard, affecting fracking operations in the oil and gas industry, comes into effect on 23 June 2021. In addition, a court decision which upheld the standard last year, ordered OSHA to determine whether or not it needs to implement work removal protection where sick workers can be temporarily removed from jobs involving silica exposure with full pay and benefits. The new US standard is half the current Australian standard occupational exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica of 0.1mg/m3. Australian unions are campaigning to have this reduced.
Read more: OSHA announcement. Confined Spaces Blog. Source: Risks 853