SafetyNet 453, August 22, 2018
We welcome all our subscribers back to SafetyNet. This is the first edition since I went on leave, the first since June 20, and of course many things have happened in the world of OHS/WHS.
I won't try to cover everything, however we need to note, in sadness, that since our last journal four Victorian workers have lost their lives a a result of workplace incidents. This brings the official number of workplace fatalities this year to 15.
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.
There have been four workplace fatalities since our last journal - this brings the total of those killed at work to 15 (officially at least).
The first fatality was on June 24, when a man in his 50's died in hospital as a result of head injuries he had sustained on June 14 after he was struck by a piece of equipment attached to a mobile piling rig at the West Gate Tunnel Project's Footscray Road site.
On July 23, a 56 year old farmer was killed in an incident involving a tractor on a farm at Barjarg, near Mansfield yesterday. The man had been working alone about 3pm when the incident took place. He managed to telephone a friend, who arrived and administered first aid while waiting for emergency services. Despite his efforts and those of paramedics the farmer died at the scene. The tractor, which had a hay feeder trailer attached, was found in a dam about 130 metres away.
On August 10, a Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning employee was killed after being thrown from his vehicle on a private property at Cheshunt, 70km north of Mansfield on Friday. It is believed the worker was driving up a steep hill when his four wheel drive slipped sideways and rolled over a number of times, ejecting him from the vehicle. He did not return home that night and was found on Saturday by a friend who lived nearby. The man, 60, was employed by DELWP as a wild dog controller.
The most recent was a young man in his early 30s who died after falling into a 10m deep trench at a housing estate under construction in Wallan last Thursday August 16. According to WorkSafe, it appears the man had been unchaining trenching shields from an excavator when he fell over the edge of the trench shortly before 3pm
Then, the day after, on Friday August 17, a man in his 40s suffered life threatening injuries after he fell about 3m from a ladder at a townhouse under construction at Rosebud. The regulator has issued a warning employers in the construction industry to be aware of the serious risks when working from height following these two incidents in less than 24 hours. (Read more: WorkSafe Media release)
The VTHC sends its sincerest condolences to family and friends of the deceased workers.
This is a query that came in while I was away, and was responded to by the OHS Lead Organiser, Dr Paul Sutton
One of my work colleagues is complaining about the exhaust fumes in the work shop. He works with me in the back office that's closed. The workshop has only four cars being worked on at one time and they usually only need to rev the engines twice a week to carry out proper diagnostics on the vehicles. The workshop has two huge roller doors open at all times. Do we need more ventilation or anything? The workshop is about 18m by 10m so it's very small and our office can be completely closed off from the workshop.
It is rare for car workshops to have extractor fans to deal with exhaust fumes because if the doors are open then the natural flow of air is generally enough to ensure exhaust fumes are not contained in the workshop. Please be aware, however, that diesel is a known carcinogen and so diesel fumes need additional safety measures. You can read more about diesel fumes here.
If your office is not open to the flow of air, then it might require some form of ventilation to prevent exhaust fumes building up. Under s73 of the OHS Act, you have the right to raise an OHS issue with your employer. If they don't resolve it to your satisfaction, then under s75 of the Act, you have the right to request that WorkSafe come out to determine the matter.
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.
28 August: VTHC Migrant Workers Centre Launch Party
The VTHC's Migrant Workers Centre is being officially launched next Tuesday, 28 August. Everyone is invited to come along and help them celebrate this important new centre. Robin Scott, MP, will be at the event, at which you can enjoy multicultural food and music.
The MWC is an organising centre working with migrant workers and their families to unlock the power of communities to win dignity and respect at work, and fight for a fairer society. The MWC has a number of workers speaking different community languages, and has already begun assisting workers with issues such as underpayment, harassment and other forms of exploitation. For more information on the MWC, check out their Facebook page and this recent article in The Guardian.
Where: Migrant Workers Centre, Victorian Trades Hall, Corner Lygon and Victoria St, Carlton South
When: 6pm - 8pm, Tuesday 28 August
Send an email to the MWC to let them know you're going to come.
USA: Verdict on Monsanto has Australian implications
A California jury has found Monsanto guilty of concealing the dangers of glyphosate, the world's most widely-applied herbicide, and awarded a terminally ill schools groundskeeper total damages of US$289 million (A$392.6 million). The unprecedented 10 August verdict delivered by the jury in favour of Dewayne Johnson, 46, will affect the more than 4,000 similar cases already lodged in the US alleging a glyphosate link to the blood cancer non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Monsanto has announced it will appeal.
Before Monsanto's acquisition by Bayer, the company had set aside US$258 million for litigation; Bayer had a fund of US$447 million. Based on the substantial number of internal company documents made public for the first time during the trial, the jury determined that Monsanto knew of the potential health risks associated with glyphosate exposure yet acted with "malice or oppression" in failing to warn the public. The company papers chronicle a protracted campaign by Monsanto to discredit independent research, capture regulatory bodies and defund the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which in 2016 determined glyphosate was probably carcinogenic to humans. Monsanto vice-president Scott Partridge denounced the verdict and attacked IARC as "corrupted" because they do "no testing, they do no analysis, they have no laboratories". However, global food and farm union IUF said this was the "same procedure followed by the regulatory agencies Monsanto consistently sought for decades to influence." Neale Pearce, a leading UK professor, has this week defended IARC (read more here)
In his trial testimony, Dewayne Johnson said: "I never would've sprayed that product on school grounds or around people if I knew it would cause them harm. It's unethical. It's wrong." Carey Gillam, research director of US Right to Know, commented: "Monsanto and its chemical industry allies have spent decades actively working to confuse and deceive consumers, farmers, regulators and lawmakers about the risks associated with glyphosate-based herbicides. As they've suppressed the risks, they've trumpeted the rewards and pushed use of this weed killer to historically high levels." She added: "The evidence that has come to light from Monsanto's own internal documents, combined with data and documents from regulatory agencies, could not be more clear: It is time for public officials across the globe to act to protect public health and not corporate profits."
Glyphosate is widely used in Australia, both as a domestic and commercial herbicide - for example, in Roundup. Workers need to check what they are using by asking for the SDSs. If any of the substances they are being asked to spray contain glyphosate, then they should request that these not be used.
Read more: IUF news release. Democracy Now. US Right to Know statement. The Monsanto Papers. The Guardian. Source: Risks 862
Vale Laurie Carmichael
Last weekend an absolute legend of the trade union movement passed away at the age of 93. Many unionists looked to Laurie Carmichael as a mentor and inspiration, a formidable union leader who dedicated his life to improving the lives of workers and their families. The one time secretary of the metalworkers' union, his contribution to Australian society cannot be overstated. There will be many workers who will have no idea who Laurie Carmichael was - but he was a key contributor to the 38-hour working week, universal superannuation and Medicare. And so his work benefitted all of us, even today. Vale Laurie Carmichael: "We'll not see his like again." Read more: Facebook
Keytruda to be placed on PBS
A drug that has proved effective for many people with the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma is set to be added on the PBS list in Australia, and on similar lists in Europe and the USA. The drug currently costs $150,000, making it unaffordable for most people. By adding to the PBS it will be able to be used by many sufferers, giving them more time and hope.
Perth: Wittenoom memorial to honour those killed by asbestos
Last weekend about 200 Wittenoom survivors and supporters gathered for the unveiling of a plaque to honour the 4,000 West Australians who have died from asbestos-related diseases. The memorial, a plaque organised by the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) and Unions WA, has been placed on a wall in Solidarity Park opposite Parliament House. ADSA chief operating officer Melita Markey said WA had the highest incidence of malignant mesothelioma cancer in the world. Read more: ABC News online
USA EPA asbestos rulings 'alarming' On June 1st, the USA's EPA enacted the Significant New Use Rule, which allows the government to evaluate asbestos use on a case-by-case basis. At about the same time, the EPA released a new framework for how it evaluates chemical risk. Not included in the evaluation process are the potential effects of exposure to chemicals in the air, ground or water. This is as absurd as it sounds. "It is ridiculous," Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, who recently retired after four decades at the EPA. "You can't determine if there is an unreasonable risk without doing a comprehensive risk evaluation."
The new evaluation framework is a nifty way for the EPA to circumvent an Obama-era law requiring the organisation to evaluate hundreds of potentially dangerous chemicals. Asbestos is among the first batch of 10 chemicals the EPA will examine, and also one of the most dangerous to public health. Although it is only heavily restricted in the United States, asbestos is no longer used in construction because of the health risks it poses. Direct or indirect exposure to the carcinogen can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, and it has been found to kill 40,000 Americans annually. The World Health Organization wrote that "all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis."
Read more: More Asbestos! More Asbestos! More Asbestos! The Rolling Stone
ASEA Conference - register now
If you are interested in any aspects of work and asbestos, then register for this year's ASEA conference 'Asbestos: the next national plan - proactivity, prevention, planning'. This year's 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?
ASEA 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, and consideration of the future of asbestos management in Australia, and the proactive plans needed 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. For more information on what to expect at this year's event, visit the ASEA website or follow the agency on Facebook and Twitter.
International Union News
Italy: Migrant farmers strike after 16 road deaths
African migrant labourers went on strike in Italy this week in protest at poor working conditions, after 16 workers died in road crashes. Shouting "we are not slaves", farm workers downed tools and marched on the city of Foggia in southern Italy. The strike came after 16 migrants died in two separate accidents in 48 hours. In both cases, lorries carrying tomatoes collided with vans carrying the labourers home after their day's work. Four workers died in a crash in the Puglia region on 4 August, and 12 more perished in a head-on collision north of Foggia two days later. The labourers say recruiters who may be linked to organised crime drive them from farm to farm in overcrowded vans, and fail to give them work contracts. A "red hat march" was announced by the workers after the second crash - echoing the hats worn by tomato pickers in the fields around Foggia. Thousands of migrant labourers come to Italy in the summer, earning as little as one euro (A$1.57 for picking 100kg of tomatoes. Most of them have official papers, but they are usually paid below the legal minimum wage. Many are forced to live in shanty towns without electricity or water. Unions have previously argued for a public transport system around Foggia during the busy summer period to help migrants, and union members joined the migrants' march on 8 August.
Source: BBC News
Truck driving most dangerous job
A landmark 12 year study undertaken by the Monash University has found that truck drivers work in one of the unhealthiest and most dangerous jobs in Australia with a risk of dying at work 13 times higher than that for other workers.
Based on a study of over 120,000 insurance claims from 2004 - 2015, the researchers found that truck drivers were also at higher risk of illness, psychological stress and other injuries. The claims added up to more than 1 million lost weeks of work over the 12-year period. Musculoskeletal injury was the most common injury - about 60 per cent of all accepted workers' compensation insurance claims - resulting in about five weeks off work for many.
Study leader Professor Alex Collie, from the Monash School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, said truck driving was highly sedentary and had many health risks. "It has long working hours, lots of sitting, poor nutrition, social isolation, shift work, time pressure, low levels of job control, all in addition to the risk of road crashes," he said.
Surprisingly, perhaps, truck driving is a growing industry and the most common occupation for Australian males, employing one in every thirty‑three or about 200,000 drivers either for hire or in private fleets. Demand for on road freight was expected to double from 2010 to 2030.
The survey was undertaken in partnership with Linfox and the Transport Workers Union. The report, launched in Canberra yesterday, has led to truck drivers demanding urgent action. "Truck drivers are being utterly failed. They are being bashed, broken and killed because of their jobs," said TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine. "These are alarming findings which require serious action, not platitudes, voluntary codes or misguided regulation which don't tackle the real cause of the problems: the economics of the industry."
Read more: Truck driving rates as most dangerous job, study finds Sydney Morning Herald; Truck drivers demand action over 'Australia's deadliest job' Big Rigs; Highlights of the Monash Report [pdf]; Download the full report [pdf]
Unproven well-being schemes can't replace good management
Risks magazine this week points out that well-being at work initiatives are becoming increasingly popular with employers in the UK - and this is a trend in Australia too. However, new research has found that what works is based more on guesswork than evidence. The study by RAND Europe also warned that well-being initiatives should not substitute for better management of work. The research, commissioned by Public Health England (PHE), found initiatives addressing mental health at work 'featured strongly' in submissions, and noted "that domestic violence, sleep and menopause are emerging target areas for workplace interventions."
But it cautioned: "Substantial levels of evidence for health and well-being outcomes were not greatly forthcoming. This does not mean necessarily that these interventions are less effective, but that academically rigorous methods of data collection or evaluation are not being used to underline their effectiveness." The authors note: "The increasing focus on workplace well-being provision should not come at the expense of ensuring effective and good practice workplace management practices, themselves an integral element of staff well-being." Read more: RAND Europe news release and full report, Promising practices for health and wellbeing at work: A review of the evidence landscape [pdf], July 2018. Source: Risks 862
OHS Regulator News
Charges filed over occupational violence in residential care facility
The Department of Health and Human Services, three companies and an individual were earlier this month charged by WorkSafe following a series of incidents against a number of employees by a client at a residential care facility in Victoria's east.
DHHS is charged with two contraventions of section 23 of the OHS Act for allegedly failing to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that persons other than their employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
Three companies have been charged under section 21 of the OHS Act for allegedly failing to provide a safe working environment by failing to maintain systems of work that were, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risk to health. They are:
- Essential Recruitment and Personnel Solutions Pty Ltd (two charges)
- Victorian Person Centred Services Limited (three charges)
- Transitions Community Care Solutions Pty Ltd (one charge)
An employee of one of the companies has also been charged under section 25 of the OHS Act for allegedly failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons who may be affected by their acts and omissions at a workplace. The incidents, which relate to occupational violence, took place between January and August 2016. Source: WorkSafe Media Release
Latest edition of Safety Soapbox
The latest edition of Safety Soapbox was posted on August 10. In this issue, Dermot Moody - Manager of WorkSafe's Construction Program, writes about weather-vaning of tower cranes. This follows the recent incident in Richmond on July 23 where a tower crane was damaged in high winds.
The roundup of information from other jurisdictions includes news of a fatal ute explosion in the ACT, and fatal bulldozer rollover in Queensland.
The newsletter has a new look and is easier to read and get information, such as the list of incidents reported to WorkSafe. The list covers the period from
20 July - 2 August 2018 during which there were 90 incidents serious enough to be reported. Incidents include workers suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning; two degloving injuries to workers' hands in separate incidents; several electric shocks, lacerations, fractures and many near misses.
Access the August 10 edition of Safety Soapbox here - the list of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.
The previous two editions were posted on July and July 27 the editorial of which has Steve Darnley from WorkSafe's Construction Program writing on the dangers of carbon monoxide from portable combustion engines. This came after a poisoning in Victoria, in New Zealand (reported in this edition) and the deaths of three family members in Western Australia due to fumes from portable generators. That edition of Safety Soapbox can be accessed here.
A worker his 40s was killed on Monday after sustaining critical head injuries from a fall at James Cook University (JCU) campus in far north Queensland. The man was an air conditioning contractor who was carrying out maintenance work at JCU's Smithfield campus in Cairns. He fell 7 metres from a vent at the library. Paramedics attended the scene and tried to revive him but were unable to save him. Queensland Workplace Health and Safety is investigating.
Safe Work Australia News
As of 16 August 2018, there had been 83 fatalities reported to Safe Work Australia - this is twenty-five more more than the update provided in our last journal, when there had been 58 as of 1 June. The workers killed have been in the following industries:
- 26 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 24 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 14 Construction
- 6 Manufacturing
- 5 Mining
- 3 Wholesale trade
- 2 Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 1 Administrative and support services
- 1 Rental, hiring and real estate
- 1 Arts and recreation services
To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage).
There has 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.
Hazardous Chemicals classification guide updated
Safe Work Australia has updated the national guide to classifying hazardous chemicals, providing clear, simple and practical information to help businesses classify the chemicals they use.
Director Chemicals Policy Dr Paul Taylor said the guide reflects the requirements under the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) third revised edition, that is now mandatory for workplace hazardous chemicals in Australia. "The guide contains more GHS information and a number of worked examples to help business classify their chemicals," he said. "Small to medium businesses will find the guide particularly handy – it provides links to comprehensive chemical databases and goes into detail on areas that PCBUs have told us they need more information on."
The guide was developed in consultation with WHS regulators, unions and industry groups and reflects feedback received from individuals and businesses.
Read and download the guide here.
There have been a number of prosecutions reported on over the past two months - following are the most recent/important. To check the others, and any new ones reported before the next edition of SafetyNet, go to the Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Company fined 40k without conviction after fatality
Ackdale manages the Sir Paz Estate vineyard at Wandin East on behalf of the property owner, who also owns the plant and machinery at the workplace. This included the DT 45-66 tractor involved in the incident. Ackdale was responsible for the basic maintenance of the tractor.
On 23 March 2017 at about 12.45pm, approximately 16 labour hire pickers were harvesting grapes from the vines and placing them in buckets. Two employees collected the full buckets of grapes, placing them in the large plastic receptacle fitted onto the rear tynes of the tractor. At some point, the pickers noticed that the tractor was moving, but one of the employees was not in the driver's seat and found him pinned under the rear right hand wheel of the tractor. Initially, the was conscious, but his condition deteriorated and he died at the scene. No one had seen how he ended up pinned beneath the tractor.
Investigations revealed the tractor was not adequately maintained: the tractor factory fitted dashboard key switch systems had worn, the ignition key had been replaced by a simple screw type fitting and an issue with the clutch meant it could not be put into third gear. The tractor was also not fitted with a roll-over protection system. The issues with the tractor exposed employees carrying out the task of collecting grapes in harvesting season to a risk of death or serious injury as a result of being crushed by the tractor.
Ackdale pleaded guilty to two charges and was without conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $40,000 and to pay costs of $4115.
Formwork and Scaffolding company fined AGAIN
In the last edition of SafetyNet, we reported that Kwikserv Formwork & Scaffolding (Vic) had been fined $20,000 without conviction over an incident in July 2016. Once again, on August 14 this year, this same employer pleaded guilty and - you guessed it - was fined $20,000 without conviction, for an incident involving a scaffold which occurred on January 30, 2017.
On that date. an employee went to the worksite to inspect the scaffold before certifying the scaffold suitable to hand over to the principal contractor. He was on the top of the section of the scaffold holding a steel tape measure in the direction of the energised electrical high voltage power lines. The steel tape measure arced as it came in close proximity with an overhead conductor which was approximately 3.6 metres from the scaffold. The employee suffered an electric shock causing internal and external injuries.
Kwikserv failed to provide a safe system of work and failed to provide appropriate information, instruction and training to its employees.
Two companies charged after wall collapse
Timber Imagineering Pty Ltd was engaged by Teren Building Services Pty Ltd to erect timber stud walls at the workplace. On 25 October 2016, a Timber engineering worker was injured when one of the walls he was erecting collapsed and landed on him.
The company had not provided a safe work method statement for the task, and temporary bracing or other controls designed by a competent person were not in place to support the walls. The company also failed to provide adequate facilities for employees as there were no suitably qualified first aid officers at the workplace, and they had not received site specific training prior to commencing work at the workplace. Timber Imagineering was convicted and fined $75,000 and ordered to pay costs of $4,725.
Teren Building Services was also charged, and fined $10,000 (plus costs of $4,115) without conviction for not providing site specific occupational health and safety training to employees
Cleaning company fined after confined space carbon monoxide poisoning
Filiatra Cleaning Services Australia Pty Ltd, a commercial cleaning company doing work for various retail premises Australia wide, including cleaning the Wangaratta Kmart.
Filiatra workers would use a gas powered floor polisher at the workplace - which was a risk of serious injury or death due to exposure to carbon monoxide through use of the polisher in confined areas without adequate ventilation.. On 10 August 2016 a worker was operating the polisher in an upstairs back of house area at the workplace. He had been operating the polisher for about 30 minutes, when a Kmart employee walked upstairs, and found him lying on the floor, gasping for air, fitting and jerking, and unresponsive. Ambulance, Police and CFA attended. The worker was treated with high flow oxygen and regained consciousness, later being discharged from hospital uninjured - but had the Kmart worker not found him, he would have died. The area was cordoned off by the CFA until it could be made safe. Filiatra pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $30,000, plus $4,725 in costs. More information on Carbon monoxide and Confined Spaces.
Bin hire business convicted, fined after worker almost killed
An employee of Unlimited Group Pty Ltd, a bin hire business where skip bins arrive full of rubbish to be sorted for disposal and recycling, was almost killed by a reversing excavator in February 2017. On that day rubbish was being sorted by excavator and by hand in the same area. An excavator reversed and ran over another employee, who suffered serious injuries including fractured and denuded legs, fractured pelvis, and damaged internals including bladder and femoral arteries requiring surgeries.
Even though there was a Traffic Management Plan in place, the company had failed to designate the sorting area as a pedestrian exclusion zone when powered mobile plant was operating in that area; and/or failed to establish physical barriers separating powered mobile plant and pedestrians. WorkSafe Inspectors had previously visited the workplace in 2012 in regard to traffic management / pedestrian and powered mobile plant interaction. The company pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $30,000 (plus costs of $4,115).
Italy: 43 killed in bridge collapse
In images which freakily recalled the West Gate Bridge collapse, a portion of a much used bridge near the northern Italian city of Genova collapsed during an extreme storm last week, killing 43 people and injuring many more. Rescuers found three more bodies early this week. A 200m section of the Morandi bridge, built in 1967, suddenly fell 45m, along with dozens of vehicles in busy traffic. The company that operated the bridge has set up a fund for victims' families. The government has set up a commission to examine the causes of the disaster. Photographs circulating internationally, and according to early reports, investigations into the cause of the collapse are focusing on allegedly inadequate maintenance or allegedly possible flaws with the unusual reinforced concrete bridge design.
There are lessons to be learnt in Australia, according to Dr Colin Caprani, a Senior Lecturer in Structural Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, who has said that while bridge management, inspection and maintenance can be costly but bridges are not set-and-forget pieces of infrastructure.
Read more: Australian experts respond to Italian bridge collapse Safety Solutions