SafetyNet 469, December 12
Welcome to the latest edition of SafetyNet! We are getting close to the end of the year.. and this will be the second last 'standard' edition of SafetyNet for 2018.
We will have another edition next week followed by a 'best of' which will pick up items and stories we brought you throughout this year.
As always, 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).
Remember: 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.
Health and Safety has a new minister
Jill Hennessy has been appointed as Labor's first female Attorney General. Ms Hennessy will also be Minister for Workplace Safety, again the first time we have a woman in this role. The Andrews Labor Government has confirmed that ensuring workers come home from work safely is one of its key priorities, and there will need to be work done on expected legislation on Industrial Manslaughter and the regulations around infringement notices (basically 'on the spot fines'). Ms Hennessy was previously the Health Minister, where she proved to be very effective. Source: Victorian Government Media release
Nurses successfully seek prosecution
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Association (ANMF) is a union which fights hard to protect the health and safety of its members, prepared to take the fight to the regulator if it feels WorkSafe should be prosecuting and isn't. Section 131 of the OHS Act allows any person who believes the regulator has failed to bring a prosecution six months after a breach and should have to write requesting one.
The union did so in the case of Alfred Health, part of the Victorian Government's public health network which operates the Alfred, Sandringham and Caulfield Hospitals as well as a number of other specialist and allied health services, over its breach of its duty of care in incidents dating back to October - December 2015.
On 6 October 2015 a patient with severe autism and a severe intellectual disability was admitted to the Alfred Hospital Intensive Care Unit ("ICU"). At the time it was noted that physical aggression was a "behaviour of concern" and that due to his limited communication skills, he was often frustrated and expressed those frustrations physically. Less than a week later, the patient was transferred to the Caulfield Hospital into a rehabilitation wing. A behavioural plan was created however there was no reference to the use of mechanical restrains or the wearing of personal duress alarms. Between 13 November and 6 December there were a number of incidents involving the patient physically grabbing treating nurses and on 6 December a nurse was seriously physically assaulted (hair pulled, pushed, punched, head butted and kneed in the face).
WorkSafe Inspectors attended, but the investigation did not result in a prosecution - either because they believed there was insufficient evidence, or for some other reason. After the requisite six months, the ANMF referred the matter for investigation under s.131.
The investigation found employees were exposed to risk by the offender's failure to:
- Inform its employees that the patient's behavioural issues included physical aggression and violence, and that there was a risk of injury to employees;
- Inform its employees that the management of the patient's behaviour, during his admission at the ICU, included the use of mechanical restraints, when necessary, and the wearing of personal duress alarms;
- Instruct its employees to develop a Behaviour Management Plan for the patient that included the:
- use of mechanical restraints, if necessary; and
- wearing of personal duress alarms; and
- Train its employees in the use of mechanical restraints and personal duress alarms.
Alfred Health pleaded guilty in the Moorabbin Magistrates Court and was without conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $25,000 plus $9,018 in costs.
Stop Gendered Violence at Work Training
Last week Renata delivered a two day course on Gendered Violence in the Workplace with Jodi and Harriet from the VTHC Women's team. The course looked at what gendered violence is and how/why it is an OHS issue. Participants, who included HSRs, delegates and officials from a number of unions, discussed the impacts of gendered violence and how it injures workers. We then considered it in an 'ohs framework' - identifying workplace factors which contribute to or allow gendered violence to happen, and then applying the hierarchy of control.
We also looked at how to respond to incidents of gendered violence and support workers, and how to organise at the workplace.
This course was a pilot, and the VTHC will be using feedback from the participants to develop a one day WorkSafe accredited HSR Refresher course, which we intend to offer HSRs in 2019.
How much of a risk is a slippery floor in factory? Thanks, Jack
A slippery floor can be a huge risk – but exactly how much of a risk will depend on a number of factors that need to be identified, for example, how many people walk in the slippery area; how slippery is it; and so on.
Nevertheless, irrespective of how much of a risk it is, it has been identified as a hazard, and so your employer must, under the 'general duty of care', take action to either eliminate or minimise the risk of injury – see Duties of employers. There's a lot that can be done to ensure workers don't slip over – or to minimise the risk at least. So what your employer needs to do is to identify why the floor is slippery - is it the surface itself? or is something being spilled onto it? Then, in consultation with the elected health and safety representative if you have one, or with you and other workers if you don't, work out what can be done.
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.
Launch of End Divide, Through Pride resource
The launch of this new VTHC resource took place earlier this week, and it was a great success with over 30 people attending. The resource will be available soon, so keep your eyes open both on the We Are Union Pride Facebook page and in next week's journal.
Union alliance targets Amazon
The SDA ('shoppies union') and the TWU (Transport Workers Union) have combined forces in an effort to further penetrate the burgeoning online retail industry dominated by Amazon. The newly-formed Online Retail & Delivery Workers Alliance brings together delivery drivers and online retail workers – more than 2000 of whom have reportedly joined the SDA in NSW alone – to address pay and conditions.
Describing the initiative as part of global union movement, SDA NSW secretary Bernie Smith said the alliance aimed to promote "fair standards".
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the alliance aimed to "ensure Amazon workers in Australia are highly organised and acutely aware of their own rights and the company's responsibilities". "It is vitally important that wealthy retailers like Amazon are held to account over practices throughout their supply chain [and] our alliance will help achieve this goal," he said.
ITUC secretary-general Sharan Burrow lent her support, saying that "Amazon is not just changing the world of work, it is changing the way the world works". Source: Workplace Express
Australia passes Modern Slavery Act
Last week, Australia joined countries such as the UK, France and other nations to have specific legislation that formally brings business into efforts to address modern slavery – the Modern Slavery Bill was passed last week and is now awaiting royal assent.
What does this mean for Australia? The new law will require large organisations, including businesses, charitable institutions and universities, to report annually on their efforts to assess and address risk of modern slavery in their global supply chains.
The Act sits alongside the Commonwealth Criminal Code, where trafficking and slavery offences are defined under Divisions 270 and 271. The intention of this Act is to move from relying on reactive, criminal justice mechanisms to identify exploitation, towards encouraging Australian businesses to adopt practices that actively prevent such exploitation from occurring within their supply chains.
Read more: Modern Slavery Act: what does it mean for Australia? Lens, Monash University.
NSW: demolition of Allianz stadium potential hazard
The NSW Labor Party has increased its attack on the state government over its plant to knock down Allianz Stadium in the Sydney's Moore Park, citing environmental concerns. These include the risk of exposing the local community to asbestos.
The opposition leader, Michael Daley, says the government is rushing to demolish the stadium before the March election, despite warnings from the Environment Protection Authority and other public agencies.
Read more: The Guardian
UK: Asbestos found in most NHS hospitals
An inquiry led by the BBC has found that nine out of ten NHS hospitals have asbestos. The inquiry included 211 trust hospitals of which 198 agreed that they used asbestos in their hospital. The team from BBC had sent a "Freedom of Information" request to 243 NHS trusts across Britain to find out the extent of asbestos use.
In a response, the NHS Improvement has said that the asbestos found in these NHS hospital buildings were safely contained and registered. A spokesman said, "When building or other work is carried out, experts are brought in to safely dispose of it. We will continue to work with trusts to ensure their estates are a safe environment for patients and staff." Read more: BBC News
Reminder: ASEA Review
The Australian Government is undertaking 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions close 18 January 2019.
International union news
Europe: Work cancers cost hundreds of billions a year
Work-related cancers costs between €270 and €610 billion (A$423.6bn to A$957bn) a year across the EU, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has said. The trade union health and safety thinktank says occupational cancers are the primary cause of work-related deaths in industrialised societies, with more than 100,000 people losing their lives each year as a result of exposure to workplace carcinogens. A new book from ETUI, 'Cancer and work', calculates the human and financial cost of occupational cancers and spells out the steps needed to prevent them. "These cancers are morally unacceptable, as they could easily have been avoided through adequate prevention measures," said Laurent Vogel, senior researcher at the ETUI and co-editor of the book. ETUI chemicals specialist Tony Musu, the book's co-editor, added: "They are also unfair. Exposure to carcinogens at work are the cause of major social inequalities in health in Europe, as in the rest of the world. Labourers or nurses are much more likely to contract an occupational cancer than engineers or bankers. Indeed, a socio-occupational map can be drawn for the different types of cancer, tracing them back to these social inequalities." The problem is not treated with the necessary seriousness, ETUI warns. It says when comparing the research budgets assigned to studying genetic factors and occupational factors, the former has considerable resources allocated to it while the latter has to make do with 'peanuts'.
Read more: ETUI news release. Cancer and work: understanding occupational cancers and taking action to eliminate them, ETUI publication, December 2018: Free pdf download. HesaMag 18, Work-related cancer: emerging from obscurity, ETUI, December 2018. Source: RIsks 878
UK: Government cladding ban 'ignores most workplaces'
It makes no sense that under the terms of the government's new cladding restrictions developers will still be able to build office blocks, stadiums, concert halls and private schools with combustible cladding, the UK's peak union council the TUC has said. The planned restrictions cover the use of combustible cladding in high-rise residential buildings, schools and hospitals, but the TUC says the government has once again ignored offices and other workplaces. The union body warning came this week after communities secretary announced "combustible materials will not be permitted on the external walls of new buildings over 18 metres containing flats, as well as new hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools and student accommodation over 18 metres." Schools over 18 metres which are built as part of the government's centrally delivered programmes will also be barred from using combustible materials in the external wall. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: "What this means is that developers will still be able to build office blocks, stadiums, concert halls and, bizarrely, private schools, with combustible cladding. This makes absolutely no sense at all." Warning the ban 'ignores most workplaces,' he added: "There is no doubt that hundreds, if not thousands of workplaces in the UK could have some form of combustible cladding. Yet despite the obvious fire risk, the government has ignored the issue, even allowing developers to continue to use it. Not only should the government be banning the use of combustible cladding in all new high-rise buildings, it should be ensuring that it is removed from all buildings over 18 metres, not only housing blocks, schools and hospitals."
Read more: TUC blog and fire safety guidance [pdf]. Ministry of Housing news release. Source: Risks 878.
UK: Spy-in-the-cab is a dozy idea on trains, says union
Plans to introduce monitors in train cabs in a bid to keep drivers awake is a dozy idea while train companies refuse to deal with work-related fatigue, UK's ASLEF has said. The train drivers' union was commenting after it emerged Britain's rail safety body is considering installing monitoring devices in trains that constantly scan driver's faces and vibrate their chairs if they start to doze off. The 'Guardian' device, dubbed 'Spy in the cab', uses infra-red beams to constantly scan drivers' eyes. It is made b an Australian company called Seeing Machines. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said the system is already in operation on the Croydon tram system and added it is exploring introducing the technology on other tram lines, as well as mainline trains. Ian Prosser, ORR's director of safety, said: "It's still in the early stages but we are discussing it with the leaders in the industry. It's very important to talk to our trade union colleagues, and we have taken the general secretary of ASLEF to see the system in Croydon. But we have developed a set of principles which we want to discuss with all partners in the industry - and do some pilots, and we're working on that as we speak." ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan told London radio station LBC he is not impressed by the plans. "We're not against anything that adds to safety, but the reality of this situation is that it doesn't," he said. "Basically you're spying on people for the sake of spying upon them without dealing with the core problem. If we've got a problem with fatigue in the industry, deal with the shift processes, deal with the health regimes, deal with the five and a half hours in the seat."
Read more: LBC News. Seeing Machines. Source Risks 878
New paper: Death at work. Victoria 2017
Barry Naismith, of OHSIntros, has released its ninth discussion paper. "27. Deaths at Work. Victorian 2017" records and discusses reported death, compensated death and prosecutions over deaths at work in the 2017 calendar and financial years. The paper also puts the death toll into historical perspective. The 51-page paper is now available for downloading free for a brief period (until March 1, 2019), as a contribution to the ongoing debate on how to improve workplace safety in the state and, specifically, eradicate death at work in the state. The paper has been released to coincide with the promise by the recently returned Andrew Government to introduce the law industrial manslaughter in Victoria. The paper can be downloaded from here - but you may need to register on that site to access and download the paper.
World of false promises on occupational health
The UN agencies with a role in occupational health and safety have been given monumental tasks but only trivial budgets, a new analysis has found. The authors, members of the occupational health experts group the Collegium Ramazzini, warn that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have limited capacity to press for the changes necessary and are further compromised by interference from 'vested interests'.
"There are nearly 3 million workers known to die each year from occupational injuries and diseases. Diseases related to work cause the vast majority of deaths among workers. Occupational cancer is responsible for almost a third of all work-related deaths. More than one million workers die each year due to exposure to hazardous substances," the paper notes, adding: "The overall worker death rate is steadily increasing." While industry voices appear to be heard, the positive role of unions is sidelined, the paper adds, calling on UN agencies to give more vocal support to union participation and the right to freedom of association. It says: "There is remarkably little objection to deplorable working conditions anywhere in the world. Unions provide a protective effect on workers' safety. Anti-union legislation increasingly advanced in populist governments has a deleterious effect on occupational health." The paper, published in the journal Environmental Health, concludes: "The UN could strengthen the national and global civil society voice in WHO and ILO structures, and, by keeping conflict of interest out of policy decisions, ensure greater freedom to operate without interference."
Read more: Joseph LaDou, Leslie London and Andrew Watterson. Occupational health: a world of false promises, [Full article], Environmental Health, 17:81, 2018. Source Risks 878
OHS Regulator News
Safety Alert following fatal fall while installing solar panels
A 21-year-old worker was killed died after falling from a ladder while performing works associated with solar panel installation on a single-storey residence. WorkSafe is investigating this incident and earlier this month issued an Alert to remind employers of risk control requirements applicable to fall hazards typically associated with solar panel installation on residential premises. Download the Alert here.
Tools and guidance on Quad Bikes
WorkSafe Victoria has confirmed that quad bikes are the biggest cause of deaths on Australian farms. The regulator has a new page with a number of tools, including a video, and guides to help make quad bike use safer.
Safe Work Australia News
As of 29 November 2018, there had been 115 fatalities reported. This is six more than the last update which was 15 November. There were two in Transport, postal & warehousing; two in Agriculture, forestry & fishing; and one each in Construction and Public administration & safety. The workers killed so far this year have been in the following industries:
- 37 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 32 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 20 Construction
- 9 Manufacturing
- 5 Mining
- 3 Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 3 Public administration & safety
- 2 Wholesale trade
- 2 Arts and recreation services
- 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.
Vic: Scaffolding company fined $12,000
Swiffscaff is a small scaffolding company supplying and erecting scaffold to various industries including commercial and residential painters. A painting company organised Swiffscaff scaffolding at a residential property in order to paint the upper levels of the building. Prior to work commencing on the scaffold, a scaffold manager issued a certificate to the site manager of the painting company confirming the scaffold was safe.
On 5 December 2016 a painter missed a step and fell about 2.1 metres to the ground. He was taken by ambulance to hospital and suffered some soft tissue damage to his back. Following the incident WorkSafe inspectors attended the site and observed a number of problems with the scaffold, including that no top rails or mid rails were installed on the landing resulting in a gap of over 500mm, and that there was a gap in the landing planks. After the incident, Swiffscaff installed handrails in the area where the painter fell.
By its failure to erect scaffolding in accordance with the Australian Standards, persons were exposed to the risk of falling from height.
The company pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and had no prior or subsequent matters in its 15 years. It had also implemented significant additional safety measures after the incident. Swiffscaff pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $12,000 plus $4,725 in costs.
To check for new prosecutions reported before the next edition of SafetyNet, go to the Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Queensland: abattoir fined $200,000 following death of labourer
A Queensland abbatoir has been fined in the Maryborough Magistrates Court after it failed to ensure the health and safety of a worker and exposed him to the risk of death. The company was fined $200,000 for the death of a worker who suffered fatal injuries in 2017 when he was struck by a ramp while unloading a triple-deck truck laden with pigs.
Colin Chivers, who initially suffered critical injuries but died nine days later, had only been with the abattoir a month when the incident occurred. The 39 year old labourer had no previous experience unloading livestock, no formal qualifications nor training in the trade.
The court heard that during a livestock delivery a truck driver called for help and Mr Chivers came to the aid of the man to help stop the pigs jumping off the newly raised ramp near the holding yard, when it started moving in a see-sawing motion. The pigs continued moving, adding extra weight to the ramp when the cross bar suddenly dropped trapping Mr Chivers between the ramp and the ground.
Read more: WorkCover Queensland Media Release
US: website on weedkillers
As subscribers will be aware, there is a lot going on around the world, and in the United States in particular on the weedkiller glyphosate - the active ingredient in RoundUp and other weedkillers. SafetyNet was contacted by an organisation in the US - Weed Killer Crisis. According to its website, it is an independent organization tracking the unfolding legal and health crisis surrounding exposure to weed killer products.