SafetyNet 458, September 26, 2018
Welcome to the latest edition of SafetyNet.
There has been another fatality in Victoria: last Friday a young worker was killed when he became entangled in a conveyor belt. This is another tragedy which would have been preventable.
If you would like to send in a comment on any issue at all, or tell us about something in your workplace, do so by sending an email here. (Please don't 'reply' to your email). This week we received comment on the diesel in mines item: according to our subscriber, since the 1980s, the designs of diesel motors in mining machinery have changed dramatically so that the level of pollution produced by these motors has been reduced by 95 per cent or more - making a dramatic difference to exposures to diesel fumes.
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.
Young worker killed in Shepparton
Last Friday, September 21, a young worker was killed at a concrete pipe manufacturing plant at Shepparton. He was just 25 years old. According to WorkSafe, ir appears the worker was performing cleaning duties when he became entangled in the conveyor belt, at about 12.40pm in the afternoon. This should not have been possible. WorkSafe is investigating.
The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to this young worker's family, friends and work colleagues. This death brings the number of official workplace fatalities for the year to 19, which is the same as at this time last year. No-one should die at work! Each workplace fatality is preventable!
REMINDER: VTHC Conference October 30, Register now!!
The year's best and biggest event for HSRs, the VTHC HSR Conference, will be held during Health and Safety Month on Tuesday October 30 with the theme of "Section 58: Powers of the HSR". The Conference is open to all Health and Safety Representatives, Deputy Health and Safety Representatives and Union Officials across Victoria. Sign-in will start at 8am with event kicking off at 9am.Following the success of two non-metropolitan events last year, there will be a choice of four locations this year:
- Melbourne: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
- Bendigo: Bendigo Trades Hall Council
- Wodonga: La Trobe University Albury-Wodonga Campus
- Morwell: Federation University Churchill Campus, Northways Road, Churchill
Cost and registration:
As always, there is no cost to attend the conference (it's FREE!). WorkSafe Victoria has granted approval for the Conference under s69 - and this means elected HSRs must be released on paid leave to attend the event. While deputy HSRs are welcome to attend, there is no obligation on the employer to release deputies on paid leave. Many however, agree to do so. Registrations are now open - so register now. Remember that you must give your employer at least 14 days' notice. For more information, to download the approval letters to take to your employer and to register, go to the 2018 Conference website.
I am currently an HSR but my term expires at the end of the month. I've been told by my employer that I cannot put myself up for re-election as I am disqualified from being elected as I have already been an HSR. Is this correct? What disqualifies a person from being elected as an HSR?
No, your employer is wrong. The Act does specify that a person who 'is disqualified under section 56 from acting as a health and safety representative' is not eligible to elected as an HSR, However, having been or currently being an HSR is not grounds for disqualification!
An HSR can only be disqualified following a successful application by an employer to the Magistrate's Court on the basis that the HSR has:
- issued a PIN;
- issued a direction to cease work;
- exercised any other power under the Act; or
- used information acquired from the employer
in order to 'cause harm to the employer' or the employer's undertaking.
In other words, any member of the DWG, including the current HSR, is entitled to be elected by the DWG. Read more here.
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.
Longford: 20 year anniversary
Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the explosion and fire that occurred at the Esso Longford gas plant. Tragically two workers were killed - Peter Wilson and John Lowery. Eight workers were injured and the disaster left Victoria without gas supplies for 10 days. There were nine massive explosions, and the fire burned for 52 hours before it could be extinguished.
This event and the subsequent Royal Commission led to the then Victorian WorkCover Authority establishing the Major Hazards Program who would ultimately oversee the implementation of the Victorian Major Hazard Facilities (MHF) Regulations - the first such regulations in the country. Esso blamed a worker for the disaster, but the Royal Commission cleared him of any wrongdoing and put the put the blame squarely on the company. Esso was prosecuted, found guilty of breaching their duties under the OHS Act and fined $2million - the largest fine in Australia at the time for such an incident. And yet as recently as three days ago, Esso issued an email noting that the incident was caused by 'operator error'! This company pays no tax, expects workers to take a pay cut and give up huge number of basic conditions (UGL), is still unable to express any kind of regret and blame its workforce. Jim Ward, the worker wrongly blamed by Esso, said the day was stamped forever in his memory, "no Australian should forget the role Esso and its parent company ExxonMobil played in the disaster."
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was the Victorian Secretary of the Australian Workers Union at the time. He laid a wreath in honour of the workers killed during a visit to Longford last week. In an op ed in yesterday's Herald Sun, Mr Shorten said of his visit: "On my way down (to Longford), I was asked why I came back. The answer is simple. I never forgot the men and their families. They taught me a lot about resilience, about courage and bravery. I've spent my life standing up for workers and it is experiences like Longford that are why a government I lead will stand up for workers as well. It's why we will never stop fighting for people's pay and conditions. Because every Australian has the right to go to work and get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. And because of the millions of families waiting for the return of their loved ones at the end of their shift."
Read more: WorkiSafe's Major Hazard Matters, in which Principal Process Safety Analyst Mike Connell reflects on that day in September 1998.Also: ABC Online Longford gas plant workers remembered 20 years on from deadly explosion
More news on Silica standard
Following Queensland's urgent warning on exposure to silica dust (SafetyNet 457) and the VTHC campaign to reduce the silica exposure standard (SafetyNet 455) the ABC reported last week that the Federal Government has now ordered a review of the rules on exposure in the workplace to silica dust. 22 new silicosis disease cases had been discovered in the previous three weeks. Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations Kelly O'Dwyer has called for a review of the silica exposure standards accepted on work sites across the country. The VTHC campaign to drastically reduce the exposure standard has support from many organisations. Public Health Association of Australia CEO Terry Slevin says a review of exposure standards is long overdue as Australia's acceptable exposure level to silica dust is currently four times higher than the international standard. Listen to the PM story here. Read more on Silica.
MUA: Nine safety incidents in two weeks at Melbourne's VICT Terminal
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) believes a fatal incident could be imminent at the VICT Terminal at Melbourne's Webb Dock, with four safety-related incidents this week on top of five incidents the week before.
MUA Deputy National Secretary Will Tracey said two workers at the VICT terminal have been hospitalised with workers now fearing more serious incidents following the recent introduction of dramatically increased working hours. "This workplace is unsafe. The MUA believes Worksafe Victoria must intervene immediately before a worker is killed or seriously injured," Tracey said. "Workers are being required to work 12 hour shifts back to back with some required to regularly work 6 to 8 shifts in a row with minimum breaks before being called in again." Read more: MUA Media release
The next VTHC OHS Unit Webinar will be on diesel - and is scheduled for October 3. The webinar will feature a technical expert and members of our unit and will provide information and advice on this toxic substance, and what needs to be done in workplaces. Final details will be in next week's SafetyNet.
Victoria: Power station decommissioning
As part of Alcoa of Australia's decommissioning of the Anglesea power station and mine, the main power station building was scheduled to be demolished using controlled explosives on 30 May - however something went wrong and the demolition did not result in the complete collapse of the structure. Locals were concerned that there may be asbestos contamination. A suitably qualified subcontractor has been appointed to complete the job, which will include the use of controlled explosives placed via a combination of remote controlled technologies and manual application techniques. The proposed demolition methodology is being reviewed with Worksafe Victoria. Asbestos and dust monitoring will be in place during and after the demolition activity.
Alcoa and Industrial Demolition Services are working with government agencies including Worksafe Victoria, EPA Victoria and emergency services (Victoria Police, SES and CFA) to ensure all safety and environmental standards related to the demolition are met. The demolition of the remaining power station structure should happen in the first week of October. Site mobilisation and initial preparation works are underway.
Read more: Anglesea Community Update
Belgium wakes up to asbestos crisis
According to research from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB – Free University of Brussels), at least two million tonnes of cancer-causing asbestos were imported into the country between 1948 and 1998. This is much higher than previous estimates. Like many other European countries, Belgium has been very slow in recognising the historical legacy of asbestos with mesothelioma, frequently not diagnosed as a cause of death in the past. This is now changing and the Asbestos Fund, which pays compensation to mesothelioma victims, registered 228 recognized applications for compensation last year.
Although researchers are predicting that the rate of mesothelioma cases in Belgium are likely to peak by 2024, this is not certain and as the researchers state, "mesothelioma figures alone cannot account for the total cost of asbestos use. There are still hidden costs, mainly because a certain number of lung cancers are also caused by asbestos but are difficult to identify," There is growing concern amongst Belgian trade unions of the need to remove asbestos from workplaces. This was highlighted by growing publicity over a number of European Commission-occupied buildings that have been identified as containing asbestos over 20 years after the Commission had to close down its headquarters in Brussels following reports that about 70 people had developed asbestos-related illnesses after working in the building. Source: Risks 458
Spain: Factory's asbestos legacy
A report this week looked at the ongoing legacy of Spain's asbestos use focusing on court verdicts, the most recent of which condemned the Uralita asbestos company for the health repercussions to members of the public who lived near a Uralita factory in Barcelona. On multiple occasions the company has been condemned for failing to ensure safe working and environmental practices with one lawyer putting it as follows: "the company did not act with due diligence regarding the known high risk of using asbestos…" We have had similar issues here in Victoria, with the people living near the Wunderlich factory in Sunshime being exposed to asbestos.
Read more: Uralita: más de 20 años de condenas por atentar contra la salud [Uralita: more than 20 years of convictions for attacking health]. Source: IBAS
UK: Grenfell survivors at risk of asbestos 'poisoning'
Hundreds of survivors, including emergency and other workers, of the Grenfell Tower disaster could be at risk of asbestos poisoning and must be monitored by the NHS, the senior coroner examining the deaths caused by the fire has warned.
Dr Fiona Wilcox has written to Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, urging him to take action to prevent the death toll rising in a formal notice that cites the experience of firefighters and others affected with health problems years after the 9/11 attacks on the US.
The tower was built in 1974. The now-banned fire retardant was used extensively in textured ceilings and in airing cupboards. Dr Wilcox said that many of the survivors expressed real concern, especially for the children exposed to the dust and smoke, given that asbestos-related diseases can take decades to develop.
Read more: The Daily Mail and The Guardian
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 ASEA's website.
Reminder: Trades Hall is hiring
The VTHC has advertised a position for a full-time Research and Policy Officer in the newly launched Migrant Workers Centre at the Trades Hall in Carlton. The MWC is an organising and educational centre that works with migrant workers and their families to untap the collective power of communities to win dignity and respect at work and to fight for a fairer society. The officer will be responsible for producing high quality research, policy advice, reports and government submissions that draw on worker experiences to ensure the voices of migrant workers are heard by key decision-makers in Victoria. Applications close 30 September - so if you're interested, get onto it right now!
Read more on the Ethical Jobs website, including essential requirements and desirable attributes.
International Union News
UK: Better protection for emergency workers
Unions have welcomed a new UK law that will make it a criminal offence to assault emergency workers including police, paramedics, firefighters, prison officers, search and rescue personnel and custody officers. The current six-month maximum sentence for common assault will be doubled to a year for the new crime created by the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, which will also enable judges to increase terms given to people committed for a range of other crimes where the involvement of emergency services was an "aggravating factor". Chris Bryant MP, the Labour MP who introduced the BIll, said: "The growing tide of attacks on emergency workers – including ambulance workers, NHS staff, fire officers, prison officers and police – is a national scandal. All too often attackers get away with little more than a slap on the wrist". Kevin Brandstatter, GMB National Officer, added "It is difficult to put into words what this will mean for the hundreds of thousands of emergency service workers who have been assaulted in the line of duty. Action is long overdue. At least eight ambulance workers are attacked every day, and the threat of violence is forcing many experienced professionals out of the NHS." UNISON lead officer for ambulance staff Alan Lofthouse said: "Ambulance staff are dedicated to serving the public and saving lives. Physical and sexual attacks are on the increase leaving ambulance staff traumatised. This makes already stressful jobs almost unbearable, leading many to leave a job they love." Home Office figures show there were more than 26,000 assaults against police officers in England and Wales during 2017-18 and more than 17,000 on NHS staff, although there is a lot of underreporting. There has also been an 18 per cent increase in assaults against firefighters in the past two years.
Read more: GMB release; Protect the protectors campaign Source: Risks 867
US research confirms work and suicide link
The USA is finally waking up to the link between work and suicide. While the subject has received a lot of attention in France, Japan, Australia and the UK, less attention has been paid to the connection in the US. Now however, the government's The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has highlighted the importance of suicide prevention and the organisational structures that can contribute to poor mental health. This follows research conducted by the University of California which suggested that around 11 per cent of workers reported suicidal thoughts, 3 per cent of these were moderate or severe. There was a strong link between low job control and high job demands and long work hours. The odds for moderate to severe suicidal thoughts were about four times greater in those with job strain or those who reported long work hours. According to the CDC paper "This means that job strain and long work hours may be categorized as occupational risk factors for suicidal thoughts in working populations. These results indicate that job design interventions to improve working conditions may be an important strategy to prevent suicide in working populations." The CDC also said that "Suicide prevention programs at the workplace are often focused on training and education for detecting those at high risk of suicide and connecting them with mental health services. This helps to address those already considering suicide but does not address the source of suicide ideation. This study suggests that creating and maintaining a healthy work organization should be an important strategy for the prevention of suicide in working populations."
Read more: CDC report; TUC suicide prevention guidance. Source: Risks 867
OHS Regulator News
October 3: Melbourne Business Leaders' Breakfast
WorkSafe is holding a breakfast for business leaders to explore the concept of 'unwritten ground rules' (UGRs). Used by businesses across the globe, UGRs can be deployed to help people understand their culture and more importantly, strategically manage their culture to enable productive, healthy and safe workplaces. Read more here.
Reminder October: Health and Safety Month
WorkSafe Victoria is asking people to 'pick their event'. during October's Health and Safety Month. The keynote speaker for the opening event is Julia Gillard, ex-Prime Minister and now chair of beyondblue. While the HSR Conference is THE event for HSRs, employers might like to go along with their OHS Committee and/or reps to other events. Read more about the month, find an event and register on the WorkSafe Health and Safety Month website.
Safe Work Australia News
SWA has again updated its fatality statistics since our last edition. As of 13 September 2018, there had been 95 fatalities reported to the national body - this is three more than the last update on 6 September. Two of the fatalities occurred in the Transport, postal and warehousing sector. The workers killed so far this year have been in the following industries:
- 29 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 27 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 19 Construction
- 7 Manufacturing
- 5 Mining
- 2 Wholesale trade
- 2 Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 1 Administrative and support services
- 1 Arts and recreation services
- 1 Public administration & safety
- 1 Rental, hiring and real estate
To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage).
There still has 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.
Convicted and fined $380k for fatality
W.F Montague Pty Ltd is a family business comprised of 3 divisions: Montague Orchards, Montague Fresh and Montague Cold Storage ("MCS"). MCS specialises in temperature controlled storage and inventory management. Storage facilities are located in five locations in Victoria and one in Tasmania.
Commercial and Industrial Refrigeration Services Pty Ltd (CIRS) had been contracted by Montague to maintain and service the refrigeration equipment at the various Victorian sites.
In November 2014, preparations were underway to replace the plant room roof at one of Montague's workplaces. The roof had a skylight approximately every 10 metres. The condition of the roof was poor and it and the guttering was corroded in different spots, which had been identified by Montague. The roof did not have walkways, mesh, safety railings or anchor points for persons working on it, creating a risk of serious injury or death resulting from a fall from height of approximately 7.4 metres.
On 21 November 2014, a sub-contractor attended at the workplace and met with owner and sole director of CIRS. The sub-contractor and the CIRS director accessed the roof by scissor lift. The director walked across the roof whilst giving instructions to the sub-contractor as to sections of pipework to be removed and the fitting of caps. After providing instructions, he took a few steps towards the scissor lift: the roof gave way and he fell through a section of translucent sheeting to the floor of the plant room. He was taken to Dandenong Hospital, but died a short time later as a result of the injuries sustained.
W.F Montague Pty Ltd pleaded guilty and was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $380,000 in the Melbourne County Court.
To check for new prosecutions reported before the next edition of SafetyNet, go to the Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Abattoir charged over forklift incident
A Warrnambool abattoir has been charged by WorkSafe following an incident in which a forklift ran into two people in October last year.
Midfield Meat International Pty Ltd has been charged with contravening sections 21 and 23 of the OHS Act for failing to eliminate or reduce, as far as reasonably practicable, the risks of forklifts colliding with pedestrians.
It is alleged an employee driving the forklift had his view obscured by the bin he was transporting when the vehicle struck another employee and a company director. WorkSafe will allege the company did not have adequate measures in place to separate forklifts from pedestrians, such as barricades, bollards or gates, pedestrian exclusion zones or travel paths. The charges have been filed in Warrnambool Magistrates' Court.
If the name of the company sounds familiar, in December of last year a Midfield Meat employee was killed when he was crushed by a large Friesian steer. He had been drafting stock for sale when he was attacked by the 600kg steer (see: SafetyNet 432)
Preventing tuberculosis among silica dust exposed workers
The International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) calls for a concerted global effort to promote occupational safety and health strategies to prevent tuberculosis (TB) in high-risk occupations, including silica dust exposed workers in mining, construction and other industries. The highest exposed are often the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and medically underserved in countries with the highest burden of TB. The ICOH encourages governments, businesses and global health funders to invest in control measures to prevent TB among silica exposed workers consistent with the Moscow Declaration to End TB.
Exposure to silica dust is a potent risk factor for TB, as demonstrated in multiple studies, notably among exposed miners and stone crushers. Silicosis, a lung disease caused by exposure to crystalline silica dust, is one of the most common occupational lung diseases worldwide. In addition, silicosis increases the risk of active TB by up to fourfold, and HIV increases the risk approximately fivefold. The combination of silicosis and HIV produces a multiplicative effect, increasing the risk of acquiring active TB.
ICOH Position Statement - BMJ journal