SafetyNet 467, November 28
Welcome to the latest edition of SafetyNet.
For those who may not be aware, the Victorian people returned a Labor government with a much bigger majority last Saturday night. What this means for workers is a commitment to the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter legislation, and making wage theft a crime.
We welcome any comments - good or bad - or if you have a news story you would like published, tell us 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.
What a Labor win means for workers' OHS
Newly re-elected Premier Daniel Andrews has recommitted to introducing Industrial manslaughter legislation after his party won the election last Saturday in a 'landslide'.
Further, an employer whose negligence leads to the death of either a worker or a member of the public could be fined up to 100,000 penalty units, (which currently would be $16,119,000): a much higher than Australia's current highest OHS/WHS fine of $10 million for industrial manslaughter in Queensland. An individual who negligently causes a work-related death could also be jailed for up to 20 years.
Other safety-related election commitments include:
- introducing infringement notices for safety offences such as failing to allow an HSR to access certain information, notifying WorkSafe of asbestos removal work, and more (a recommendation from last year's OHS compliance and enforcement review);
- investing $12.7 million to improve WorkSafe's capacity to deal with OHS risks on major construction projects, under a plan that includes engaging 40 additional specialist inspectors over the next four years;
- introducing a $3 million health and safety strategy for farms;
- establishing a licensing scheme for electrical lineworkers to improve the safety of both workers and members of the public;
- reintroducing mandatory minimum safe pay rates for certain owner-drivers and contractors, which were introduced to Parliament three months ago but failed to pass; and
- commissioning a forum to design a plan for the management, demolition, transportation and disposal of asbestos-containing materials in the Latrobe Valley.
These reforms, which are the result of union and worker campaigns, will make a real difference to the health and safety of Victorian workers.
I work in hospitality and wait tables for seven hours a day on a hard tiled floor. Is it safe for me? My body is becoming quite stiff and i have been getting aches and pains.
The work you do will cause you fatigue and possibly other health problems. Tiles are hard surfaces with no 'give'. Your employer has a general duty of care to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health - and this includes providing safe systems of work. Being on one's feet for seven hours is not a 'safe system of work'! Take a look at Working standing up on the website for information on potential effects and what strategies could be implemented to reduce fatigue.
Your employer should be monitoring fatigue levels and looking to provide regular breaks, if possible introduce job rotation so that employees can spend some time seated, or on anti-fatigue mats (for example behind the bar). You should also ensure that you wear footwear that is as supportive as possible.
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.
December 10: End Divide, Through Pride – OHS LGBTQIA+ resource Launch!
Union Pride and the Victorian Trades Hall Council are excited to formally invite HSRs, delegates and anyone who is interested to the launch of our pride resource End Divide, Through Pride - a collaboration of hundreds of workers' experiences across Victoria to create safe and supportive workplaces and reduce the specific issues faced by LGBTIQA+ workers. End Divide, Through Pride was informed by our Pride Chats, where workers had a facilitated conversation around experiences of work, the challenges faced, the causes of those challenges, and were asked what solutions they would implement.
Workers are the experts of their own experiences. Our resource seeks to address and support LGBTQIA+ workers in addressing bullying and harassment, gendered-based violence, visibility, barriers to employment and transitioning in the work place. End Divide, Through Pride will not only unpack these and other issues, but provide tools to organise, unionise and create safer systems of work.
Join us - you will have the opportunity to view the resource, give feedback, and hear from workers directly affected by this process.
When: December 10th from 2:30 - 4:00pm.
Where: the Australian Services Vic/Tas Union office; 116 Queensberry Street, Carlton South
Venue is fully accessible.
Afternoon tea and refreshments will also be provided.
The event is FREE, but please RSVP by emailing Jess
Asbestos week events
This Friday November 30: Asbestoswise Commemoration Service
Please make an effort to attend the annual Asbestoswise Commemoration Service this coming Friday at 11am at St Paul's Cathedral (corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets). The service provides an opportunity to not only remember those asbestos has killed, but also to remind ourselves and others that asbestos is still present in many of our workplaces and buildings, and that we must rid Australia of this deadly substance.
The service will be followed by a barbecue on the banks of the Yarra, kindly offered by the CFMMEU, many of whose members still face this hazard every day. All are welcome. More information on Asbestoswise.
Also Friday: Asbestos Council of Victoria/GARDS service
ASV/GARDS, the Gippsland based not for profit organisation supporting people with asbestos related conditions and their families for over 25 years will be holding its Asbestos Awareness Day Service also on this coming Friday, at 11am, Centenary Rose Garden, Commercial Road, Morwell. The Ecumenical Service for those wishing to remember loved ones and honour those suffering this very preventable disease will be conducted by Canon Jeff from St James Church Traralgon. The event will conclude with a free community BBQ with the compliments of the GTLC.
Speakers include: Michael Borowick, recently Assistant Secretary of the ACTU; Shane McArdle Director at the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency; and Steve Dodd Secretary Gippsland Trades & Labour Council/ Union organiser for the AMWU; and more. There will also be music by Takin Time (Susan Parrish and Joe Omar), the Yallourn Madrigal Singers; and Scottish bag piper Dick Henry.
The Australian Government has commenced a review of the role and functions of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) as required under section 47 of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency 2013. An independent reviewer, Ms Julia Collins, has been engaged to conduct the review. The review will be informed by broad consultations, both through written submissions and interviews.
Further information including the review's terms of reference, discussion paper and the consultation questions are available on the Department of Jobs and Small Business' website here. It also includes details of stakeholder consultations being held in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne next week. Written submissions can be sent to email@example.com. Submissions close 18 January 2019.
Hong Kong's richest man donates $4.5m to cancer trial
A world-first immunotherapy trial in Sydney is hoping to reprogram immune cells to find and destroy deadly tumours in patients with mesothelioma and advanced pancreatic cancer. The experimental therapy has the potential to treat dozens of other cancers types, including lung, ovarian, and some breast cancers by targeting a specific protein on the surface of tumour cells. The project is spearheaded by gene therapy expert and clinical haematologist Professor John Rasko at the University of Sydney's newly established Li Ka Shing Cell and Gene Therapy Initiative.
The Li Ka Shing Foundation - the philanthropic organisation of Hong-Kong's richest man Li Ka-shing - has donated $4.5 million to the University to expand the trial beyond pancreatic cancer to include patients with other cancers that have the mesothelin marker, predominantly mesothelioma. The Foundation's donation will also enable the creation of a gene therapy workforce and the infrastructure to propel the development and manufacturing of immunotherapies in Australia.
Read more: Sydney Morning Herald
UK: Unions slam 'unacceptable' failure on schools asbestos
The lack of earmarked funding to make schools free from the "scourge" of asbestos is "totally unacceptable", UK unions have said. The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) – a trade union campaigning group comprising eight education unions – said the government knows there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos and children are more likely to develop the cancer mesothelioma after exposure than adults. The union comments came after the Department for Education revealed it would not be publishing the results of its much-anticipated school asbestos survey until next spring, prompting fears the report could come too late to influence long-term spending plans. Instead the government re-opened its 'asbestos management assurance process', which asks schools to declare whether or not they are compliant with their legal duty to manage asbestos on their sites. The process originally closed at the end of May this year, but schools minister Nick Gibb has now admitted that almost a quarter of schools failed to respond, prompting his department to re-open the process until next February. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the teaching union NEU, said: "This is totally unacceptable. We already know that nearly 90 per cent of schools contain asbestos and that as asbestos ages, it deteriorates and becomes more difficult to manage. There is already plenty of evidence about poor standards of asbestos management across many local authorities and academy trusts. What we urgently need is earmarked funding to make our schools safe from this scourge." JUAC said increasing numbers of teachers and school staff are dying from the cancer mesothelioma because they were exposed to asbestos while working in schools.
Read more: JUAC news release. Source: Risks 876
NUW: Chemist Warehouse workers on harassment
Former and current employees of Chemist Warehouse are speaking out, and will appear before The Australian Human Rights Commission National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces to make formal statements. This will assist the National Union of Worker's ongoing investigation concerning Chemist Warehouse.
Jenna Christie, NUW Organiser, said: "The widespread culture of sexual harassment, bullying and exploitation at Chemist Warehouse distribution centres is one of the worst cases I've seen as an organiser. The NUW will continue to investigate and act on these issues to ensure workers of Chemist Warehouse are safe and treated fairly."
Source: NUW Media alert on Facebook
New VTHC OHS Unit Training Program
The training course program for 2019 has now been uploaded on to our website, here. Check out the courses for next year and put in your training application now. Speak to your employer early to ensure that there can be no obstruction to you attending the course of your choice. Remember you have the right to choose your course (in consultation with your employer - but your employer cannot just veto your choice, or insist that you attend a course of their choice). See HSR right to training.
Uber should be prosecuted over death
The Transport Workers Union has called for Uber and not only the drivers to face criminal prosecution over the deaths of passengers. The union made the call after an Uber driver was convicted in Sydney this week over the death of a passenger last year.
"Why are drivers the fall-guy for this billion-dollar backed company which chooses to wash its hands of all responsibilities? Uber incentivises drivers to work long hours because the pay and conditions are so bad. It provides no training on how to transport members of the public around safely. Uber should be in the dock because its work practices are leading to horrific incidents like this Sydney case today," said Tony Sheldon, TWU's co-ordinator on the on-demand economy. A survey of over 1,100 rideshare drivers across Australia shows the average pay is just $16 per hour before fuel, insurance and other costs are taken out. One in 10 drivers has been physically assaulted while 6% have been sexually assaulted.
Read more: TWU Media release, Uber driver found guilty, ABC News
International Union News
UK: Families say 'foreseeable' deaths were no accident
The families of five men who were killed while working at Hawkeswood Metal Recycling in Birmingham have rejected an inquest ruling that the tragedy was 'accidental'. Almamo Jammeh, Ousman Diaby, Bangally Dukuray, Saibo Sillah and Mahamadou Jagana were killed when an 11.8ft concrete partition fell on them in July 2016. An inquest jury found the "foreseeable risk" of the incident had not been identified, a failure which "caused or contributed" to the deaths. Reacting outside the court to the verdicts of accidental death – reached at the direction of the coroner - the men's families said they would continue to look for "justice" following the "very violent deaths."
The two-week inquest at the Birmingham's coroner's court heard from a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigator that the site could have "most definitely" identified the risk of fall. Another HSE expert told jurors "the wall was overloaded and not safe." HSE investigator Paul Cooper was asked by the coroner if the "risk of the wall falling" could have been spotted. He replied "most definitely" and said it would have been "common sense" to have identified that risk. A family spokesperson, commenting after the conclusion of the inquest, said: "No-one expects to go to work to die. We never imagined this would happen, but we now know why it did. We believe it was because of obvious and serious failings by the company that ran the workplace. We believe that they thought of our loved ones as cheap labour and didn't really care if they lived or died." He added: "The company and its directors should face the full force of the legal system and not be allowed to get away with what has happened. They should face criminal prosecution." Source: Risks 876
Europe: Amazon workers 'We are not robots'
Amazon.com employees in Europe protested warehouse working conditions on 'Black Friday', some using the slogan 'we are not robots,' in what is yet another challenge for the world's biggest online retailer as it approaches the busiest time of year. Workers in Germany, Spain, and France walked off the job at Amazon fulfillment centres last week. In Italy and the UK, workers protested at several facilities.
About 500 workers in the UK demonstrated at five Amazon warehouses, according to the GMB union. Membership in the union among Amazon employees is small, national officer Mick Rix said. Images on social media showed small groups of people gathered with banners from the union. Prior to the demo, the union said GMB investigation earlier this year revealed ambulances were called out to Amazon warehouses 600 times during the past three financial years. Separate figures unearthed by GMB revealed a total of 602 reports have been made from Amazon warehouses to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Read more: GMB Union Media release, The Age
Stimulating work is good for workers
An eleven year study has concluded that workers with passive, undemanding roles are at increased risk of cognitive decline. The researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recommend that employers should implement clever job design to mitigate this and associated issues, like higher absence rates.
Passive jobs such as delivery jobs supress cognitive and problem-solving functions and provide workers with "less cognitive protection" than mentally stimulating work. The US researchers analysed cognitive change in 614 workers over eleven years using tests around orientation, registration, attention, calculation, memory and language. They found that both those in high strain roles (with high demands and low control) and passive roles (low demands and low control), showed the greatest decline in cognitive function.
"According to the 'use it or lose it' hypothesis, engaging in mental activities that exercise the brain protects individuals against cognitive decline in later life. The work environment is a major component of adult life that shapes health over the life course," the researchers say. "The workplace is an important setting in which to implement public health interventions that may influence the cognitive health of the population. To the extent possible, job redesign or reorganisation that reduces job demands and or increases job control may help promote cognitive health in midlife and late life."
Read more: Tobias Weinmann, et al: Shift work and cognitive impairment in later life – results of a cross-sectional pilot study testing the feasibility of a large-scale epidemiologic investigation. [Full text] BMC Public Health, published online November 2018, doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-6171-5. Source: OHSAlert
OHS Regulator News
Housing sites targetted to reduce the risk of falls
WorkSafe inspectors are focusing on the risk of falls during construction work when they visit building sites across the state between now and Christmas. So far this year, two Victorian workers have been killed after falls from heights at construction sites.
Two weeks ago a plumber in his early 40s received life-threatening head injuries after he fell about 3.3m through a skylight at an Ivanhoe house undergoing renovation.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said "the shocking toll should serve as a reminder to all construction employers that they cannot afford to be complacent when managing fall hazards." She said that in the last five years, seven Victorian workers had died, and more than 3000 had been injured seriously enough to make a compensation claim, as a result of a fall on a construction site. Read more: WorkSafe Media release
New Safety Alerts
WorkSafe Victoria has issued two new Safety Alerts:
- Employee fatally injured while reinstating 6600V circuit breaker - after the death of a worker at the Yallourn Power Station. The alert recommends a number of actions employers need to take.
- Locking mechanisms on two-post vehicle hoists - following an incident in which a vehicle fell from a two-post vehicle hoist and crushed an automotive technician who was visiting the workplace, severely injuring him.
Safe Work Australia News
There has not been an update of the stats on the Safe Work Australia fatalities page since our last SafetyNet, when, as of 15 November 2018, there had been 109 fatalities reported. The workers killed so far this year have been in the following industries:
- 35 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 30 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 19 Construction
- 9 Manufacturing
- 5 Mining
- 3 Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 2 Wholesale trade
- 2 Arts and recreation services
- 2 Public administration & safety
- 1 Administrative and support services
- 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). Note - Safe Work is no longer publishing monthly fatality reports.
Company & Director appeal fine - fines are halved!
AM Design & Construction Pty Ltd completed structural drawings for the basement excavation works for a mixed commercial and residential development to be constructed at 170-174 Highbury Road, Mount Waverley.
The structural drawings for the workplace did not require the concurrent installation of a site retention system - leading to a risk to persons working inside, or working, residing or travelling near the excavation pit. If the walls of the excavation collapsed, they could be seriously injured or killed by being engulfed in the collapse, or falling into the excavation pit.
Sometime during the night of 13-14 July 2015 part of the excavation collapsed in the south-east corner of the workplace. On the night of 15 July 2015 a further, and much larger, collapse occurred. Residents of the front townhouse were advised by police to immediately evacuate. It was reasonably practicable for the AM Design & Construction to prepare structural drawings requiring the installation of a site retention system.
The company pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $380,000. It appealed the sentence on the basis that it was "manifestly excessive". The appeal was granted: the Court imposed a $190,000 fine - a reduction of the fine by 50 per cent!
Aldo Di Tonto was the structural engineer for the development and was the secretary, sole director and sole owner of the AM Design & Construction. He too pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $100,000. He also appealed the sentence on the same basis. His appeal was also granted and the Court imposed a $50,000 fine.
Plumbing company convicted and fined for work at height without protection
Daniel James Plumbing and Roofing Pty Ltd('DJPR') is a Mildura based roofing and plumbing company.
On 1 March 2017, a WorkSafe Inspector attended a residential property in Mildura following a service request advising persons were working on the roof of a single storey dwelling with no fall protection in place. The Inspector saw DJPR employees working on a roof at a height of about 3.5 metres without fall protection. The Inspector was advised by the workers they had been working at the site without fall protection since 7:00am that day. They came down from the roof, and the Inspector directed they remain off the roof due to the immediate risk to them of falling from a height of over two metres. The Inspector was advised that arrangements would be made to install mobile scaffolding at the workplace.
On 30 May 2017, a WorkSafe Inspector attended a residential property in Red Cliffs. The Inspector observed DJPR employees once again doing roofing works on a high pitched single storey residence with no fall protection in place. This time the distance from the ridge cap of the roof to the ground was estimated to be 6 metres. The Inspector spoke with the employees and the director of DJPR and it was determined that a harness system would be used to complete the roofing works.
DJPR pleaded guilty to both charges and was convicted and fined of $3,000 on the first charge, $4,000 on the second charge plus $4,115 costs.
To check for new prosecutions reported before the next edition of SafetyNet, go to the Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
USA: Suicide increasing among US workers
The suicide rate in the US working age population increased 34 per cent over the period 2000 to 2016, with construction topping the at risk list for male workers and creative jobs for females. The new official analysis published in the US government's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) examined lifetime occupations of 22,053 people aged 16-64 years old who died by suicide in the 17 states participating in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) in 2012 and 2015. In 2012 and 2015, suicide rates were highest among males in the 'construction and extraction' occupational group (43.6 and 53.2 per 100,000 civilian non-institutionalised working persons, respectively) and highest among females in the 'arts, design, entertainment, sports and media' group (11.7 and 15.6 per 100,000, respectively). From 2012 to 2015, suicide rates increased most for males in the 'arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media' group (47 per cent) and for females in 'food preparation and serving related occupations' (54 per cent). "Increasing suicide rates in the US are a concerning trend that represent a tragedy for families and communities and impact the American workforce," said Deb Houry, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. "Knowing who is at greater risk for suicide can help save lives through focused prevention efforts."
Read more: CDC news release and Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices and the National Violent Death Reporting System. Source: Risks 876