SafetyNet 454, August 29, 2018
Welcome to the latest edition of SafetyNet.
At the time of posting last week, we had not had official news that there had been another fatality in Victoria: a worker who had fallen at a construction site in Rosebud the Friday before had died in hospital.
Please 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.
A man in his 40s has died in hospital after falling through a stair void at a housing construction site at Rosebud on Friday August 17. According the WorkSafe release, it is believed he was carrying out internal plastering work at a townhouse. He was taken to hospital in a critical condition, but died on the following day. The man was the second worker to die as a result of a serious fall at a Victorian construction site in three days. Employers have duties to eliminate the risks to workers of falls - or if the risk cannot be eliminated, then to minimise the risks by implementing a hierarchy of control measures. Even falls from relatively low heights can result in serious injuries or death.
This fatality brings the official total of those killed at work to 16.
Read more: WorkSafe News. More information on Falls prevention and the regulations.
VTHC appears at inquiry into Industrial deaths
Yesterday the VTHC appeared and gave evidence at the Senate Inquiry: The prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia. The VTHC submission stressed three important points:
- we need industrial manslaughter laws to help prevent workplace deaths and provide justice for families;
- the Senate needs to take into account the hidden cost of occupational diseases such as mesothelioma and silicosis which lead to worker deaths and are poorly recorded in our statistics; and
- that strong unions and strong HSRs result in safer workplaces, and bodies such as the ABCC which is designed to drive unions from construction workplaces simply make those workplaces more dangerous leading to more people being killed.
In addition to the VTHC, the ACTU, Bette Phillips-Campbell from Uniting GriefWork, Maurice Blackburn solicitors and others appeared. The families of the two young men who were killed in the Ballarat trench collapse earlier this year, Charlie Howkins and Jack Brownlee, also appeared.
Ms Lana Cormie, Mr Howkins' wife, wrote in her submission: "Even in the early stages of the investigation into this double fatality, it is evident that the appropriate safety precautions, training and supervision were not in place. Their deaths were preventable." In response to the question of the role of unions, Ms Cormie wrote: "Unions must have access to all worksites. In my experience, the non-unionised sites have much lower safety standards. If my husband's site had been seen by a union rep, then he never would have died. The site was so unsafe that the unions would have closed it down."
Download the program and the written submissions of those who appeared here.
I have been told that there is an OHS requirement that employers provide employees with a lockable drawer or locker so they can secure their personal items whilst at work. Can you please confirm this for me as my employer is saying they will be getting three people to share one set of drawers that has only one lock, therefore making the drawers not secure. I would appreciate any information and if possible some documentation to show to management if this is the case.
There is no specific requirement in the OHS Act or in the Regulations – the Act simply states that the employer must provide 'adequate facilities' for employees. However, the Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment, has the following:
80. Secure storage needs to be provided for employees to accommodate personal property. There needs to be sufficient space to reach and use the facility.
81. Secure storage of personal property also needs to be ensured when employees are not normally working in one workplace.
How to comply
82. Employers need to provide accessible, secure storage at the workplace for the personal property of employees that:
- enables personal items (such as handbags, jewellery, personal identification documents, personal medication or hygiene supplies) to be stored securely while the employee is at work
- is separate from storage facilities provided for personal protective clothing and equipment to avoid contamination of personal property.
84. Where lockers are provided, they may also serve as secure storage for other personal items.
While the codes are not LAW – they set out what employers need to do to comply – and if they don't follow the advice in the codes, then they have to show what they're doing that is as good as.. unless it is not reasonably practicable to do so. So really, what your employer is proposing 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.
Success of Migrant Workers Centre launch
Last night the VTHC Migrant Workers Centre, a 'hub where workers on temporary and permanent visas can go to learn about their rights', was successfully launched. The Centre has already had many workers contact it. While issues migrant workers report vary from language barriers to a perceived lack of respect, underpayment or non-payment of wages is the main concern. The Victorian Labor government has pledged to make wage theft a crime if it's re-elected in November. Director of the Centre, Matt Kunkel is calling on all governments, state and federal, to do more to keep migrant workers from being treated like an underclass.
The Minister for Finance and Multicultural Affairs Robin Scott, Daniel and fellow National Union of Workers farmworker members, cleaner and United Voice Victoria member Alyssa, principal lawyer at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Kamal Farouque, and MWC board member George Lekakis spoke at the launch. (Check this out on the MWC Facebook page, here)
Read more: New centre fights exploitation of migrant workers. SBS news
Federal government response to dangers of asbestos imports 'weak'
The Senate Economics References Committee inquiry into non-conforming building products and the threats of imported asbestos made 26 recommendations, including that the Government consider requiring procurers of imported products at risk of containing asbestos to have special due diligence systems, recall insurance, and harsher penalties for importers.
However, the Government had said it does not support mandatory recall insurance, and that the model WHS laws impose "sufficient" requirements on procurers. Under the WHS Act, a PCBU must "ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers it engages, directs or influences, relevant to dealing with the risks posed by unlawfully imported asbestos", the response says.
The ACTU has been extremely critical of the Government's response: 'Government has failed to act on 20 of the 26 recommendations. This leaves loopholes that mean asbestos importers can go unpunished and working people and the public are left vulnerable to exposure to this deadly substance. ACTU Assistant Secretary, Michael Borowick said, "The rules are broken. When importers bring asbestos or contaminated
products to Australia they put working people and the public at risk. We
have seen contaminated products end up in the Perth Children's
Hospital, in crayons and in quad bikes."
Read more: Interim report; and Non-conforming building products – protecting Australians from the threat of asbestos - Government Response (August 2018). Government's weak response to asbestos recommendations. ACTU media release. Source: OHSAlert
Corkman hotel developers plead guilty to dumping asbestos
The developers charged with the illegal demolition of a 160-year-old Melbourne pub have pleaded guilty to moving asbestos from the site to a block surrounded by homes and a shopping centre. The Corkman Irish Pub, in Carlton, was knocked down in October 2016, and owners Stefce Kutlesovski and Raman Shaqiri were charged with illegally demolishing it without a permit.
Despite them having been ordered to not remove debris from the site because it contained asbestos, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) discovered some of the waste had been moved to a construction site at Cairnlea, in Melbourne's north-west. As a result, the EPA charged the two developers and their company, Leicester 160 Pty Ltd, with illegally dumping construction and demolition waste including asbestos, and not properly covering and securing the materials.
The pair pleaded guilty to both counts and could now face fines of up to $770,000.
In May, Mr Shaqiri pleaded guilty to illegally demolishing the pub, but Mr Kutlesovski pleaded not guilty. Mr Kutlesovski will face a four-day hearing in January. Mr Shaqiri will have to wait until that case has been finalised before he is sentenced. Source: ABC news online
Asbestos-related diseases costing over $500 million a year
Direct health care combined with the impact on productivity in the workplace as a result of asbestos-related diseases costs Australia over half a billion dollars a year.
A new report commissioned by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has measured the medical and economic opportunity costs associated with asbestos-related disease. The Economic Burden of Asbestos-related Disease, by the Centre for International Economics, looked at the direct health care costs, as well as the cost of productivity and other losses resulting from time out of the workforce due to an asbestos-related disease in one year (2015).
It estimated hospital and primary care costs to be $192 million per year, and indirect costs arising from time out of the workforce to be $321 million per year.ASEA Chief Executive Peter Tighe said the it was the first time the cost of asbestos-related disease had been quantified in Australia in this way. "We know of the terrible human toll of asbestos-related disease, which takes the lives of approximately 4,000 Australians each year," he said. Read more: ASEA Media release
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 has announced that it is extending its early bird registration discount: register by October 12 and save $100. 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
UK: Private operator G4S loses control of Birmingham Prison
UK prison unions have said the decision by the government to take over running of Birmingham Prison from private company G4S illustrates how a combination of privatisation and underfunding has put the safety of inmates and prison staff at risk. The decision to remove the prison from G4S' control came after the chief inspector of prisons described it as the worst prison he had ever been to. He wrote to the Justice secretary detailing "appalling" failings at the jail. It is believed to be the first time the government has taken over a privately-run UK prison in such a way, midway through a contract, since the first opened in 1992. There were 1,147 assaults, including fights, recorded at Birmingham in 2017. This was the highest figure for any prison in England and Wales that year, or on record under modern reporting standards. It represented a five-fold increase since 2012, the first full year it was run by G4S.
Adrian Axtell, a national officer with the prison union Community, which is running a 'Safer justice sector' campaign, said: "The standards we are seeing in prisons today are a result of chronic underfunding in the justice and custodial sector, which has led to an environment where it is not uncommon to find understaffed wings, significant levels of violence and low morale amongst staff and prisoners." Mark Fairhurst, national chair of the prison officers' union POA, said: "The days of private companies putting profits before staff and prisoner safety must stop," adding: "It is clear that G4S are driven by profit which has compromised the safety of our members in Birmingham." Community news release; Source: Risks 863
This is of interest as G4S is a company that also operates in Australia, and has over 2,000 employees.
Pakistan: Another deadly coal mine tragedy
19 workers have been killed after an explosion at the Sanjidi coalmine near Quetta in Baluchistan province, Pakistan. The dead in the 12 August incident were 13 coal miners and six rescue workers. The miners, who were working at a depth of 1,200 metres, were killed in a rock fall caused by a methane gas explosion. After the blast, volunteers launched rescue operations which were put on halt after several rescue workers passed out. However, six rescue workers were overcome by poisonous gases and died in the mine.
Global mining union federation IndustriALL said published news reports from 2010 to August 2018 indicate over 357 workers lost their lives at work in the period. It said since January 2018 alone, 74 mineworkers died in mines. IndustriALL said as these numbers are based on published news reports, the real number of fatalities may be much higher. IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: "It is painful to note that mining accidents continue to claim workers' lives in Pakistan. In March 2018 IndustriALL along with its affiliates launched campaign for health and safety in Pakistan mines, urging the government of Pakistan to ratify and implement ILO Convention 176 on safety and health in mines. We cannot accept continuing fatal mine accidents. Further inaction will lead to more deaths." He added: "Both central and the provincial governments need to wake up and get their act together to stop unsafe and dangerous mining practices. It should immediately begin tripartite initiatives involving government authorities, employers and workers' representatives to improve safety in the mines. In this process immediate ratification ILO C176 will provide much needed technical support to improve safety in mines."
Read more: IndustriALL news release. Source: Risks 863
Workers compensation process highly stressful
Monash University yesterday released a report on peoples' experiences with the workers compensation system. The authors note that multiple recent studies have demonstrated a link between injured person claims experience and recovery from injury. This project sought to answer the following questions via analysis of the National Return to Work Survey:
- How do injured Australian workers rate their experiences of being on workers compensation?
- What worker, workplace, injury and claim factors are associated with claims experiences?
- Are claims experiences a significant, independent predictor of return to work, and if so what is the magnitude of the effect?
The results are not surprising: Workers' experience of workers' compensation processes are significantly
associated with their return to work outcomes. When the system was working to protect workers interests, the work outcomes were better. The authors recommend that " Modifying claims processes to reduce stress for the injured worker should be a top level priority for workers' compensation regulators and insurers seeking to improve their return to work outcomes". A full summary report can be downloaded here [pdf]
After hours checking of work emails bad for health
Recent US research has revealed that the expectation workers have they should be staying on top of work emails can have insidious effects on their health. The researchers, who found that merely believing they need to affects the wellbeing of workers and their families, have urged employers o expressly discourage workers from checking work emails in their own time.
Researchers from Virginia Tech and Lehigh University surveyed 103 workplace managers and 142 "significant others" of full-time employees, and found the expectation on workers to monitor emails, rather than performing the actual task, is linked to emotional distress in workers and their partners. They say the practice had significant impacts on the participants' health and the relationship satisfaction of their significant others.
According to the authors, the internet has "fuelled the proliferation of electronic devices", intensifying organisations' expectations for workers to be available after hours, and altering the "work-family interface".. They say that the effects are irrespective of the actual time spent on work communications, and that workers' attempts to 'disengage' from this practice can be challenged by a perceived threat to their employment or advancement at work - which can also trigger resentment.
Read more: William Becker, et al, Killing me softly: Electronic communications monitoring and employee and spouse well-being.[Abstract] Published online July 2018, doi: 10.5465/AMBPP.2018.121. Source: OHSAlert
OHS Regulator News
Latest edition of Safety Soapbox
The latest edition of Safety Soapbox was posted on August 24. This issue's editorial talks of WorkSafe's current visits to construction sites to ensure the risks associated with setting up and operating truck-mounted mobile concrete boom pumps (boom pumps) are being controlled. Incidents involving boom pump often place workers and the public at risk and some have resulted in serious or fatal injuries.
There is also a roundup of information from other jurisdictions.
list of incidents reported to WorkSafe, covering the period from 3-16 August 2018, is attached. During this period, there were 78 incidents serious
enough to be reported. Incidents include workers suffering punctures, electric shocks, lacerations, fractures and many
near misses. The list makes sobering reading.
Access the August 24 edition of Safety Soapbox here - the list of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.
Falls the focus of Cross Border safety program
WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWorkNSW have this week been running a joint inspection blitz focussing on preventing falls on construction sites in the Echuca Moama region. Inspectors from both sides of the border have come together as part of the Cross Border Construction Program to talk to employers about how they can meet their safety obligations. The inspectors have also been discussing the similarities between Victorian and NSW work health and safety regulations, as well as identifying any on-site safety risks or breaches. Read more: WorkSafe News
SA: Focus on slips, trips and falls
In the wake of recent fatalities as a result of falls, SafeWork SA has released a four-part educational short video series aimed at reducing injuries and deaths in workplaces. The regulator is putting the spotlight on slips, trips, and falls which are the second leading cause of death in Australia. The videos cover:
- Falls from heights
- Hierarchy of risk controls - which takes employers through the steps they must take to control fall risks according to the hierarchy in the regulations
- Safe use of portable ladders - which provides practical tips on how to use portable ladders correctly
- Training and supervision
"Slips, trips, and falls are the second leading cause of injuries in Australia, and the most serious is falling from heights," said SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell.
SafeWorkSA Media Release and Video series
SA: Inquest into Royal Adelaide Hospital fatality exposes investigation problems
A coronial inquest into a worker's scissor lift death at the RAH in 2014 last week heard that safety inspectors compromised their investigation by delaying examination of the site and interviewing witnesses.
54-year-old Jorge Castillo-Riffo was working alone when he was crushed between a scissor lift and a concrete slab above. He died of head, neck and back injuries. When in November 2016 a senior work health and safety inspector was assigned to prepare a case against the contractors Hansen Yuncken and Leighton Contractors (HYLC) for trial, she became aware of the shortcomings in the initial investigation two years after the incident.
The court heard SafeWork inspectors were unavailable on the day of Mr Castillo-Riffo's death and did not attend until the following day, by which time the scissor lift had been removed and the site returned to business as usual. It was then left outside the police compound at Ottoway and by the time SafeWork officers inspected the machine, it had rusted.
Inspector, Stacey Vinall agreed during her evidence that inspectors had also failed to speak to witnesses at the construction site, failed to take adequate photographs and had not compiled an investigation plan as required by the organisation's protocol.
Read more: RAH scissor lift death: SafeWork SA inspectors delayed examination of machinery, inquest hears ABC news online
Safe Work Australia News
There has not been an update to the SWA page on the number of reported fatalities since our last edition of SafetyNet. As of 16 August 2018, there had been 83 fatalities reported to Safe Work Australia. To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage).
There has also not been an 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.
Construction company convicted and fined 120k for repeated non-compliance
Erfanian Developments Pty Ltd was last week convicted and fined a total of $120,000 for eight breaches of sections 21, 26 and 112(5) of the OHS Act at three construction sites over five months to July 2016.
This included $20,000 for ignoring a prohibition notice, a total of $15,000 for failing to prepare, monitor and maintain health and safety coordination plans for the construction sites, and a total of $75,000 for exposing workers and others to the risk of being killed or seriously injured in falls or by falling objects.
A WorkSafe Victoria inspector issued the company with a prohibition notice relating to employees working on a first-storey balcony without adequate fall protection - but during an inspection 16 days later found it was breaching the notice. The inspector also observed a worker standing on the top rung of a three-step ladder near the edge of a balcony, Ringwood Magistrate Marc Sargent heard.
The employer's other breaches included allowing a worker to work at a height of nearly five metres on scaffolding with missing handrails, no ladder access and an inadequate deck, creating serious risks associated with a scaffold collapse, a fall or falling objects, the Court found. Further, Erfanian failed to provide site-specific OHS training to a construction employee.
The Court found Erfanian guilty of the charges, and ordered it to pay $5,867 in costs in addition to the fine.
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.
UK: Firm fined after over 100 develop vibration disease
Nordam Europe Limited has been fined after workers faced over two decades of dangerous exposures to vibration at work. Cardiff Crown Court heard how around 100 employees of the company, which maintains and repairs aircraft components, were exposed and developed Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) over 22 years. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found employees used a range of hand-held vibrating tools including orbital sanders, rivet guns, grinders and drills. The company should have carried out a suitable assessment of work activities that exposed employees to vibration and should have implemented additional controls to reduce exposure so far as reasonably practicable. The HSE investigation found the company failed in its duty to implement a safe system of work in order to control exposure to vibration. In addition, employees should have undergone suitable health surveillance to identify symptoms at an early stage of the disease. This would have prevented it from progressing to a disabling condition. Nordam Europe Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence and was fined £400,000 (A$702,000) and ordered to pay costs of £39,620.92 (A$69,546). HSE inspector Janet Hensey said: "This was a case of the company completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS health surveillance. If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor worker's health and the employee's condition would not have been allowed to develop to a severe and life altering stage".
Read more: HSE news release. Source: Risks 863. More information on Vibration
New Zealand: Bullying a serious workplace issue
According to WorkSafe NZ, workplace bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) is a serious issue with studies suggesting that up to one in three workers experiencing some form of bullying or harassment each year. As a result, psychosocial risks such as work-related stress, bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) are a focus of WorkSafe's 10-year strategic plan for improving work-related health. Read more: WorkSafe NZ Media release