SafetyNet: Special Christmas Edition

SafetyNET End of Year Special

Well everyone, it's that time of the year again. The silly season. Where we try to take a few days, if we can, to step back from work and enjoy the company of our friends and family.

This year bought big news to the health and safety world. Almost every week we brought you the latest news to keep you up to date. This week, given it's the time of year for reflection, we felt it was a good time to look back on some of the biggest OHS stories of the year. We're going to stand on top of the proverbial mountain that is 2018 and look at what the OHS community has collectively accomplished.

Here are our top 5 SafetyNET highlights from the past 12 months:

1: VTHC Silica Exposure Standard Launched

Earlier this year VTHC launched our own silica exposure standard of 0.025mg/m³ over an 8 hour time weighted average.

The new standard was set to keep safety standards up to date with the state of knowledge and to match the current American standard. The standard was launched at the CFMEU, where many union members told stories of their how their health had been savaged by exposure to silica dust. Members of WorkSafe were also present at the launch.

Following on from the launch Trades Hall met with WorkSafe Victoria to discuss with the regulator what the union movement wants to see happen about silica dust. As a result of that meeting, WorkSafe agreed to:
* Hold an inspection blitz on silica dust;
* Improve its silica guidance;
* Support VTHC's call to make silicosis a notifiable disease; and
* Trial worker health exams in the artificial stone industry.

Premier Daniel Andrews has also weighed in on the silica issue, stating "This is a health disaster waiting to happen. I'm hearing about stonemasons needing lung transplants in their 40s. And I'm hearing about workers cutting stone bench tops without the proper safety gear."

Mr Andrews said, "So this week, we pushed for an urgent national review of safety standards for workers exposed to silica dust. It can't come soon enough."

2: Industrial Manslaughter Laws

The industrial manslaughter laws campaign was a massive part of 2018 for the OHS community.

Tragically, at the time of writing this, there were 23 Victorians were killed at work this year. Which, as we've said many times, is exactly 23 too many. This year, union members tirelessly door knocked and had thousands of conversations with voters in swing seats about their importance. After the tragic Delacombe trench collapse, Lana Cormie and the Brownlee family joined the cause after Charlie Howkins and Jack Brownlee were killed in the tragedy.

The ABC, 9 News and SBS were among the media outlets to cover the story as the push to make industrial manslaughter laws a reality intensified.

The death of Dillon Wu also made headlines this year. Dillon suffocated while working alone inside a large metal tank at the Marshall Lethlean transport tanker factory in Melbourne's outer east on October 4. He was 20 years old. He was a first year apprentice.

Dillon's co-workers said he was told to work inside the tank alone, in breach of safety regulations, when he suffocated on argon gas accidentally released from a welding device. An investigation from the ABC into Dillon's death made headlines as it identified a report that catalogued a litany of serious hazards known to Marshell Lethlean. The report into the hazards in the workplace included the factory's lack of procedures for staff working in confined spaces, which it categorised under "High/Significant Risk, Almost Certain likelihood, Serious consequence".

Despite this, Dillon Wu began his apprenticeship at the factory a month after the report without Marshall Lethlean making any efforts to address the safety issues before or after he commenced working there.

It is this kind of negligent behaviour that goes unpunished which requires us to ensure industrial manslaughter laws are enacted here in Victoria. Labor promised that if elected, they would ensure industrial manslaughter became a crime in Victoria.

Now heading into 2019, with so many new Labour members being elected, things are looking positive for industrial manslaughter laws to become a reality as soon as possible. We'll certainly keep pushing for them in the new year.

3: Longford: 20 Year Anniversary

September 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), and 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."

4: 2018 HSR Conference

Of course, there was the 2018 Conference. Who could forget? This year the 2018 conference went off with a bang, and was kicked off by Luke Hilakari, Clare Amines and Robin Scott, MP.

The 2017 HSR of the year, Michael Muskat, was also there to help kick things off on a high note, to talk about what goes into becoming HSR of the year.

It was a day full of learning and important OHS discussions. With our very own Renata Musolino taking to the stage to deliver a deep dive into section 58 of the act, containing everything a HSR could ever want to know about theirs powers as a HSR. Additionally, the HSR panels in Melbourne and throughout the state was an opportunity for everyone to hear success stories from local HSRs, ask questions and learn from their success.

The 2018 conference had more attendees than any year past. We'll be hoping to top it again in 2019.

If you came to any of the HSR conferences held around the state back in October, we hope you got heaps out of it, and maybe met up with a fellow HSR or two from the OHS network.

5: Action at Allianz

Back in September, a group of injured worker activists were out the front of Allianz Australia to protest against the insurance company's treatment of Mark. (check out the video here). Mark was injured at work and as a result his leg had to be amputated to prevent disease spreading to the rest of his body. His injury means he requires ongoing medical care including pain medication, chiropractic treatment and physio.

The workers compensation system is meant to provide him with all the care he needs, but insurance company Allianz is making this almost impossible. The company had not paid for any chiropractic treatment since May this year, despite Mark's doctors saying it is necessary. He had to fight to drag Allianz to the table and all that they offered him at the time was ten chiropractic sessions and one shoe.

During the protest Allianz came to the talk to Mark, and engaged in fresh discussions with Mark. Later in the week an agreement was reached and Mark received chiro for an extended period, as well as two pairs of shoes. Well done, Mark!

That's it, five of the biggest pieces of news from the OHS world in 2018.

Lastly, a thank you. Thanks to you for taking the time to read SafetyNET throughout 2018, and for keeping health and safety front of mind across so many industries. Your passion for OHS keeps people safe, and improves people lives.

We'll be back next year.

  • OHS team

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