SafetyNet 460, October 10, 2018
Welcome to the latest edition of SafetyNet.
It is with great sadness that we report that a 20-year-old apprentice has died while working in a tank on Thursday October 4. The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and workmates of the young worker.
If you would like to 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).
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.
Apprentice dies in confined space
A 20-year-old apprentice has died while working inside an open-ended tank at a Cranbourne West business at about 10.30am last Thursday October 4. WorkSafe believes the young man was working with power tools when he was overcome with fumes in what was, in effect, a confined space. There have been reports that another two workers were in the tank with him. If this is the case, then these workers were also at great risk.
WorkSafe is investigating the incident. The death brings the official number of workplace fatalities for the year to 21, one more than this time last year.
REMINDER: VTHC Conference October 30, Register now!!
We are fast approaching the year's best and biggest event for HSRs, the VTHC HSR Conference, which is taking place on Tuesday October 30. The theme of this year's conference is "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:
There is no cost to attend the conference (it's FREE!). WorkSafe Victoria has granted approval for the Conference under s69, so elected HSRs must be released on paid leave to attend the event. Register to attend the conference now. Remember that you must give your employer at least 14 days' notice - this means you have until October 16 to register to ensure automatic release.
Deputy HSRs are welcome to attend but there is no obligation for the employer to release deputies on paid leave. Many however, agree to do so.
For more information, to download the approval letters to take to your employer and to register, go to the 2018 Conference website. Check out our latest FB video which provides a 'teaser' for the conference.
What is the legislation regarding the number of staff that can be situated in a staff office? And is there a requirement on the amount of area available for individual staff at their desk? We've just found out that our company is planning to put six extra staff members into our existing, limited office.
There is nothing specific in our OHS legislation on the amount of space that an employer MUST provide for staff members in offices. However, there is the general duty of care on employers to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health (s21) – which includes slightly more specific duties at 21(2) – see: Duties of employers.
In addition, there is a lot of guidance about – both on general office space and also on desk space. There is a little in the Workplace Amenities and work environment compliance code, but also more detail in Officewise a guide for health and safety in offices. See these pages on the site for more information: Office Space and other office-related FAQs in this section of the site.
The issue is that this is guidance only (though employers 'need to provide' what's in the code if they want to ensure that they are complying with their duties under the Act).
You need to check out the guidance, put together as strong a case as you can to demonstrate that to have the extra staff squeezed into the current space will increase the risk to the current staff members' health and safety – eg increased stress, insufficient space to be able to move around safely, and so on. Then take this to the employer and seek to have an alternative agreed to. Remember that the employer has a duty under s35 to consult with you as the HSR (and with affected employees too if they wish) when proposing changes.
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.
October 15: Anniversary of West Gate disaster
A reminder of the annual memorial service for the 35 workers who lost their lives when a span of the West Gate Bridge which collapsed at 11.50am on October 15, 1970. At 11.30am next Monday, 48 years later, families, work colleagues and unionists will gather at the base of the bridge at the West Gate Memorial on Douglas Parade, Spotswood to remember Australia's worst industrial disaster. The invitation to attend is open to everyone.
For more information on the disaster, including other stories and the outcome of the Royal Commission, go to the West Gate Bridge Memorial website. Also, on the Google Arts and Culture website, checkout the online exhibition: Disaster at West Gate. In May this year This Bridge, a novel by Melbourne writer Enza Gandolfo was published. It is a fictionalised account of the events of that day and the long lasting effects the disaster had on the families and the community - recommended reading.
October 23: Rally to Change the Rules
Join the tens of thousands of workers who will be rallying from the Victorian Trades Hall from 10am on Tuesday October 23rd and calling on our governments to 'Change the Rules'. The OHS Unit is calling on HSRs to not only attend the rally, but take the opportunity to volunteer at our table where we will have petitions and pledges in support of the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter legislation. If you would like to volunteer, please let us know by emailing Luke Bowman in the VTHC OHS Unit.
WA: Social worker stabbed by patient dies in hospital
The Health Services Union WA (HSUWA) is calling for better safety conditions for all mental health workers in Western Australia following the tragic death of a woman in Rockingham following an incident last weekend. On Saturday night the social worker drove herself to a cafe after she was stabbed while on a home visit. It has been reported that cafe staff members who were working at the time did what they could to help, calling an ambulance for the woman. She was taken to Fiona Stanley Hospital where she later died.
HSUWA has been campaigning for better safety conditions for health professionals, particularly in the mental health industry, as it continues to be underfunded and understaffed. HSUWA Secretary Dan Hill said the health community across WA has been shaken by the news. "The union extends our deepest sympathies to the woman's family, friends and colleagues at this very difficult time," he said. "Any situation where a worker does not return home safely is unacceptable and needs to be addressed in order for this to never happen again.
"The circumstances of the Rockingham visit are still being investigated but the HSUWA believes all mental health workers making home visits must be accompanied by a second worker." Read more: HSUWA Media release; ABC News online
Widow scathing of SA regulator
In a formal submission to the coronial inquest into the death of construction worker Jorge Castillo-Riffo, his widowed partner Pam Gurner-Hall has called for the establishment of a new, independent safety commissioner for South Australia and for coronial inquests into deaths at work to be mandatory.
Mr Castillo-Riffo was crushed to death on the Royal Adelaide Hospital building site in November 2014. "Jorge's death was completely avoidable," Ms Gurner-Hall said. "He died because of appalling safety failures by his employer and Hansen Yuncken Leighton Contractors, who said one thing about safety and did the opposite.
In the submission, Ms Gurner-Hall and her partner's union, the CFMEU, have made several recommendations that, if implemented, could prevent further tragedies. Ms Gurner-Hall has called for a ten-year ban from all government projects for the building contractors involved, Hansen Yuncken and Leighton Contractors (a subsidiary of CIMIC Group that has been renamed CPB Contractors).
The union and Ms Gurner-Hall believe the investigation into Jorge's death was bungled by Safework SA, who failed to successfully enforce safety through prosecutions or civil penalty cases. "The CFMEU has more positive impact on workplace safety in the construction industry than any Government agency," Ms Gurner-Hall said. "Barriers to the CFMEU and other unions protecting workers from dangerous workplaces must be removed. Unions must be given meaningful rights to protect workers from dangerous work."
The CFMEU submission also called for a new regulatory regime to ensure the safety of mobile elevated work platforms, and for funding to assist next of kin navigate the justice system. Read more: CFMEU Media release
New asbestos compliance codes now available
The new compliance codes are now up on the WorkSafe website:
- Managing asbestos in workplaces compliance code and
- Removing asbestos in workplaces compliance code.
The new codes reflect changes in the Asbestos chapter of the 2017 regulations and were finalised after public comment through a tripartite expert working group, before being approved by the Minister for Finance, Robin Scott.
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?
Early bird registration discount ends soon: register by October 12 and save $100. For more information on what to expect at this year's event, visit ASEA's website.
Glyphosate - call for review
Workers in agriculture; parks; gardens, and so on should take a look at this week's 4 Corners program The Monsanto Papers if they did not see it on Monday. The program takes an in depth look at one of the world's most common pesticides, glyphosate - the active ingredient in Roundup.
In 2015 the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a class 2A carcinogen: that is 'probably carcinogenic to humans', based on a thorough review by an international expert panel (see SafetyNet 314 for more information). Since then producer Monsanto and the international chemical and agricultural industries have waged a campaign to discredit the IARC classification. The body regulating agricultural chemicals in Australia, the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has not formally reviewed glyphosate in over two decades. In the wake of the program, the APVMA is sticking to its position: it says it 'considered the IARC report in 2016, along with an examination of many other scientific trials and studies, and like other regulators, the APVMA determined that glyphosate is safe to use according to label directions.' In fact some countries have taken regulatory action, and in the light of the many concerns raised, the Cancer Council has called for a review of the chemical.
In August, a jury in California awarded $US289 million ($410m) to California man Dewayne Lee Johnson, who claimed Monsanto's weedkiller was a substantial factor in causing his terminal cancer, and that the company failed to warn of the potential risk. The 'Monsanto Papers' are the thousands of pages of documents the company was forced to release as part of the trial. They have revealed the company's scientists were heavily involved in rganising, reviewing and editing drafts of an article 'An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate.' (see Risks 869). Following this case, over 9000 people in the USA are now suing the company.
Apart from cancer, there has been other research on the effects of glyphosate - for example, it has been found that low level exposure can may damage liver and kidneys (SafetyNet 337) and in 2017, researchers from the Children's Environmental Health Network (CEHN) found a correlation between glyphosate exposure during pregnancy and lower birth weights, as well as shorter pregnancies (SafetyNet 404). Read and see more: The Monsanto Papers, 4 Corners; ABC online; Response to Four Corners' story on Glyphosate, APVMA statement; Cancer Council calls for Australian review amid Roundup cancer concerns, The New Daily; and Calls for Inquiry after 4 Corners report ABC news online; WorkSafe Victoria information;TUC Glyphosate guide.
International Union News
India: Cuts linked to death of Mondelez worker
Mondelez worker Milkhi Ram was killed in late September while operating a moulding machine in the company's Baddi, India plant. Mondelez is a food multinational, and owns household names including Cadbury, Oreo and Toblerone. Global foodworkers' union IUF said the death of the 35-year-old father of two followed 'massive' workforce reductions accompanied by a 'voluntary separation scheme' initiated by Mondelez India management, which workers were pressured into accepting. "The severe understaffing levels that had Ram working alone at the time of the accident are believed to have contributed to the unsafe conditions in which he was killed," IUF said. "Prior to the workforce reductions, Ram had been working as part of a four person team. He had requested staffing support prior to his death, but his request was denied."
According to the global union, "the job destruction at Baddi, India is part of a much larger problem at Mondelez. The company's drive for immediate and unsustainable profits has resulted in the elimination of some 16,000 jobs globally since 2015 and this in turn has increased the health and safety risks for the remaining employees. Although there is a safety committee at the site, as required by law, it was not meeting regularly and was not functioning. The union at Mondelez Baddi reports that several recommendations made in the safety committee to improve safety were also not implemented." When Ram's death was discovered, workers stopped work and protested in front of the Baddi factory, denouncing the company's drive for profit at the expense of safety and workers' lives. The work stoppage continued from Ram's death on 21 September until 27 September. Management issued a notice declaring the work stoppage illegal and described the refusal to work in unsafe conditions as an 'illegal strike'.
Read more: IUF news release. Source: Risks 869
Breast cancer risk in women working nights
Women who work at night, especially during pre-menopause, may be at greater risk of developing breast cancer, a new study has found. The study comes two years after an Oxford University study claiming there was no association was rebutted and dismissed as 'bad science' by work and breast cancer experts. The new analysis of surveys in Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Spain looked at nearly 6,100 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 7,000 who had no diagnosis.
Participants answered self-administered questionnaires or telephone interviews about their occupation and about risk factors for breast cancer. The findings, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, revealed the rates of certain breast cancers increased with the number of hours worked per night, as well as the number of years spent on the night shift. However, the risk seemed to diminish two years after going off the night shift. "Women who work at least three hours between midnight and 5am run a 12 per cent greater risk of developing breast cancer than women who have never worked at night," said study co-author Anne Grundy, a research associate at the University of Montréal's Department of Social and Preventive Medicine. "Among pre-menopausal women, the risk associated with working at night increases to 26 per cent."
Night workers who work shifts longer than 10 hours have a 36 per cent increased risk of breast cancer, again compared to women who have never worked nights. The risk is as high as 80 per cent among women who work night shifts in excess of 10 hours for more than three nights per week. "Women who were still working nights at the time of the study had a breast cancer risk that was 26 per cent higher than those who had stopped working at night at least two years previously," said Grundy. "We need to go further in our research so that labour policies ultimately take into account this risk for women, and so that companies take preventive action and adjust work schedules."
Read more: University of Montreal news release. Emilie Cordina-Duverger and others. Night shift work and breast cancer: a pooled analysis of population-based case–control studies with complete work history, [abstract], European Journal of Epidemiology, volume 33, issue 4, pages 369–379, 2018. doi: 10.1007/s10654-018-0368-x Source: Risks 869
OHS Regulator News
WorkSafe releases Safety Alert
Following numerous incidents, including a fatality, involving people being struck or nearly struck by loads that were being lifted, lowered or suspended in workplaces, WorkSafe Victoria has released a Safety Alert: Safety when lifting or suspending loads. The Alert provides a reminder that it is not only employers who owe duties under occupational health and safety laws. Principal contractors, builders, specialist contractors or high risk work licence holders using cranes or other plant to lift or suspend loads, may also have obligations under these laws. The Alert provides advice on what actions need to be taken: planning, site induction, development of systems of work, and proper supervision.
It's 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 and check the schedule of events.
NSW: toolkit for small business
SafeWorkNSW has launched a new self-assessment toolkit to improve health and safety in the workplace as part of Safe Work Month. NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Matt Kean said the free Easy to Do Work Health and Safety toolkit will make it easier for small businesses to comply with their work health and safety (WHS) obligations.
"We have more than 700,000 small businesses in NSW, with many telling us that it's not always easy to manage WHS," said Mr Kean. "But the cost of injuries to workers and small businesses is significant, and preventing them is made easier by accessing the program launched by SafeWork NSW today."
Read more SafeWorkNSW media release. The toolkit can be downloaded or a hard copy can be ordered here.
WA: Tougher penalties for workplaces
Penalties for breaches of Western Australia's workplace health and safety laws increased from 3 October 2018. The new penalties are consistent with the national model Work Health and Safety Act (Model Act), with a further 14 per cent increase for inflation since 2010.
Examples for a first offence by a body corporate include:
- Level 1 penalties increase from $50,000 to $450,000.
- Level 4 penalties increase from $500,000 to $2.7 million.
Terms of imprisonment for individual offenders have also increased from two to five years for level 4 offences. Read more: WA Government statement
Safe Work Australia News
Virtual seminar: Beyond the spin on work-related psychological health and safety
On World Mental Health Day, three expert panellists discuss practical steps to managing mental health in Australian workplaces. One of the panellists, Canadian OHS professional says early on in the broadcast "I think no matter what country or what geographical region you're from, you'll see that a lot of the studies are saying the more that we are affected in a negative way, the more that increases the risk for any type of injury or illness within a work environment." Together, the panellists outline some practical steps and insights, focussing on the critical issues and practical, effective ideas to help employers build a mentally healthy workplace.
The seminar complements the national guide, Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties. It is 45 minutes long, but can be either viewed or listened to, and the transcript can also be downloaded from the Safe Work Australia Virtual seminar page, here.
SWA has again updated its fatality statistics since our last edition. As of 4 October 2018, there had been 97 fatalities reported to the national body - this is one more than the last update on 29 September, and occurred in the Agriculture, forestry and fishing sector. The workers killed so far this year have been in the following industries:
- 29 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 28 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 19 Construction
- 8 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.
Two companies and a director convicted and fined after apprentice falls
On June 1, 2017, an apprentice carpenter, employed by J. Avenell Constructions, was assisting in the installation of pre-fabricated roof trusses, about 3 metres from the ground at a construction site in Box Hill where 3 two storey units were being built.. He was working from a 200mm aluminium plank which had been placed on two external walls. There was no passive fall prevention device in place such as scaffolding. The apprentice stepped back from the plank onto what he thought was the top plate; however, there was nothing there, and he fell backwards to the ground. He was taken to Box Hill Hospital where he was diagnosed with compression fractures in L2 and L3.
WorkSafe prosecuted Destination CAD Pty Ltd, a residential construction company developing sites around Melbourne, J. Avenell Constructions Pty Ltd, a residential carpentry and construction company engaged by Destination CAD (the principal contractor) to manage and undertake carpentry works at the site, and Joshua Avenell, its sole director for breaches under both the OHS Act and the regulations. They all pleaded guilty, and were convicted and fined - $25,000, $10,000 and $20,000 respectively.
Demolition company fined $22,500 after worker falls
Brechlen Pty Ltd, a demolition company and was engaged to demolish a residential property and carport in Oakleigh in April 2017. On 12 April employees commenced the demolition. To remove the carport roof, one worker used a ladder to access the roof and remove all the screws holding the sheets of tin to the structure. He was standing on the roof when he and another worker fell through to the ground below – a drop of 2.42m. There was no fall protection in place. One worker was unhurt, but the other one sustained a break to the top of his femur, the cup inside his femur and his pelvis, requiring admission to hospital and surgery.
The company's Safe Work Method Statement ("SWMS") identified the risk of persons falling from height and identified control measures which included the use of platforms or scaffolding for heavy/lengthy work and/or to make sure appropriate fall protection was in place when working from height. The SWMS did not, however, specifically address the hazard of a structural collapse of a semi-detached structure (eg. Carport / pergola) prior to ascending on to the roof of the structure. The company was fined $22,500 (plus $4,000 costs) - it is unclear whether it was convicted.
To check for new prosecutions reported before the next edition of SafetyNet, go to the Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
USA: Most Dangerous Workplaces
The American City Business Journals has information that will surprise most Americans: The most dangerous workplaces in America are in hospitals and nursing homes. "Since 2012 nurses and health aides in state-run residential care and nursing settings have accounted for the highest rates of injury and illnesses tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The industry reported 164,300 employee injuries and illnesses in 2016 and racked up an incident rate that was roughly 30 percent higher than what was recorded by emergency workers in the nation's police and fire departments." Former OSHA official, Deborah Berkowitz (currently with the National Employment Law Project) points out the high risks of back injuries and workplace violence in these facilities.
The deadliest jobs include workers in the landscaping-services industry, roofers and highway and bridge-construction workers. "And while the construction industry had a lower rate of worker deaths than many others, reporting about 10.1 deaths per 100,000 workers, it made up about 19.1 percent of total reported deaths, the most of any industry." Meanwhile, Texas remains one of the deadlier places to do business and the city of Houston was home to the most fatal incidents. Houston, for examaple, has had 56 work-related deaths since January 2017. Source: Confined Space Blog