Issue 220 - SafetyNet 220Welcome to SafetyNet 220, here we are bringing you national and international news and up coming events in Victoria.
Work Safe Week 2011: 17 to 27 October. Register now
The world of OHS is changing. That’s why it is so important that you keep right up to date. With more than 100 seminars and events across Victoria – including the VTHC HSR Conference (see below), Work Safe Week is the easiest way to learn the latest and prepare for the year to come. To register for Work Safe Week visit the special Work Safe Week website.
Registrations are now open for the 2011 Annual VTHC Health and Safety Reps’ Conference. This is Victoria’s biggest event during WorkSafe Week and this year it’s on Wednesday October 19, once again at the Melbourne Convention Centre - 1 Convention Centre Place, South Wharf, 3006 (Crown side of the Yarra River).
This will be the last conference under Victoria’s current Occupational Health and Safety Act, and for this year at least, elected health and safety reps have the right to attend the conference on paid leave as it has been granted approval by WorkSafe Victoria under S69 of the Act.
Registrations are now open. To find out more and download a registration for, go to this page of the OHS Reps @ Work website. Expect to receive, within about a week of sending in your registration, a confirmation email which you’ll need to bring along on the day to check in. Only contact us if you don’t receive anything after a week.
ACTU survey: modern workplaces increasing job stress and insecurity
Australians in 2011 are under more pressure than ever before, working longer hours than they are paid for and increasingly having work invade their home life, totally shattering the myth that employees are to blame for the nation’s productivity, the ACTU’s national survey of 42,000 workers has found.
The largest ever survey of Australian workers found that while the modern workplace is for some less physically demanding than in the past, but working hours have increased and new forms of stress have emerged. ACTU President Ged Kearney, who officially released the survey results in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra last week, said the Working Australia Census 2011 exposed the misleading blame game being played by employers. “Work is bleeding into the rest of a worker’s life, and we do not have the means of recognising or dealing with this in a way that suits workers,” Ms Kearney said, “Instead we have an increase in stress, and insecurity for workers. This is particularly the case for people in casual jobs, who fear they will lose shifts if they do not comply. Business is shifting more and more financial risk and responsibility onto the workforce.”
Read more: ACTU Media Release Voices from Working Australia: Key findings [pdf] and Voices from Working Australia report [pdf]
Is it reasonable for a health and safety committee to have to wait for over a month to get the minutes of the meeting? Management has organised a minute taker, but won’t release the minutes until they’ve ‘been checked’.
Neither the Act nor the regulations set out requirements for how health and safety committees should operate. However, the Act states that a health and safety committee ‘may determine its own procedures’. My advice in this situation is to place the general matter of the committee’s procedures on the agenda for the next meeting. The procedures should not only include matters such as how often the committee meets, who chairs it, membership matters, caucusing arrangements, but also administrative procedures such as how the agenda is set, how minutes are taken and distributed and so on. The draft minutes should be distributed to all members of the committee within a week of the meeting, giving every member the opportunity to check them, make suggested amendments and follow up on agreed actions.
The problem is often that management wants to keep control of the health and safety committee, rather than taking the approach that it is a joint worker/management committee, which may even be chaired by an HSR.
Don’t forget that if you have any OHS - related queries or questions, send in an email through the Ask Renata function on the website. We haven’t been getting lots of emails lately – so get your questions in.
1 Mesothelioma rate amongst homeowners increasing
As reported in the last edition of SafetyNet, a recent Safe Work Australia report, Asbestos-related Disease Indicators, revealed that Australia’s rate of mesothelioma was increasing. In a recent article published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Western Australian researchers have found that home renovations are causing an alarming and increasing number of asbestos-related disease in Australia, including in women. One of the researchers, Paul Musk, points out that Western Australia, in particular, has experienced three waves of mesothelioma cases: the first was mesothelioma caused by mining, in big mines such as Wittenoom; the second from those manufacturing asbestos containing materials and using them, such as carpenters and builders; and now the third which are renovators. The study found that 35.7 per cent of female mesothelioma cases and 8.4 per cent male cases in Western Australia, between 2005 and 2008, were attributable to home renovation.
Read more: LifeHacker DIY Renovators now most at risk from asbestos
Nola J Olsen, Peter J Franklin, Alison Reid, Nicholas H de Klerk, Timothy J Threlfall, Keith Shilkin and Bill Musk Increasing incidence of malignant mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos during home maintenance and renovation — Med J Aust 2011; 195 (5): 271-274.
2 Asbestos: one of the hazards elderly Victorians face in their homes
The Victorian Minister for Housing last week launched a Seniors Safety Report done by Archicentre: Safe and Sound - A housing profile of Victoria’s older population [pdf]. Archicentre manages the Victorian Government's free home inspection service for aged pensioners and disabled people and their carers. The report found that seniors face a number of health and safety hazards in their homes, which need to be addressed. These include not only safety hazards such as falls, cracks and faulty electrical problems, but also health hazards, including exposure to lead paint and to asbestos. The experts recommend that if any asbestos is found in the home, then it should only be removed by professionals – that is, by licensed removalists.
Read more: Archicentre Media release
3 National Asbestos Management Review
The VTHC submission to the National Asbestos Management Review can be downloaded on this page of our website. Unions such as the CFMEU, the AMWU, Trades and Labour Councils in other states/territories and peak council ACTU have also made submissions, as have the various asbestos diseases support groups. Submissions from peak union councils, unions and asbestos diseases support groups argued the need that the only way to ensure that Australian workers and members of the community are protected against asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma and other lung cancers, is to achieve an asbestos free Australia. This should be achieved using a staged approach, over the next 30 years. This was the outcome of the National Asbestos Summit, held in June 2010, an initiative which lead to the establishment of the National Asbestos Management Review by the current Labor Government. (Read more: Declaration Towards an Australian Safe Asbestos Free Environment)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Master Builders Australia has argued against the prioritised removal of asbestos, saying it could lead to increased risks for workers in the industry and the potential for unsafe practices. In its submission to the Review issues paper, the peak building association argues prioritised removal could lead to a "substantial risk of non-compliance with safe removal practices" in what is currently a licensed and highly regulated industry. It also argues against the creation of a national asbestos body with any regulatory role, while at the same time cautioning against Safe Work Australia as co-ordinator of a national asbestos strategy because “the broad reach of asbestos-related issues into the environment and community would unacceptably blur the line between workplace health and public health issues".
Most submissions can be viewed on this page of the National Asbestos Management Review website.
It will now be up to Mr Geoff Fary, to consider the submissions and deliver his final report to the federal government by 30 June, 2012. Mr Fary will be a guest speaker at the VTHC Annual Asbestos Event during Asbestos Awareness Week. The event will take place on the evening of November 24 where there will be the opportunity for discussion and a report on public submissions (details will be provided nearer to the event).
4 UK Widow calls for action on asbestos in schools
The high level of the Victorian education union (AEU) in matters relating to asbestos is easily understood when considering the case of a UK woman who lost her teacher husband to mesothelioma after working in asbestos-contaminated schools for more than 20 years. Marilyn Butterfield is urging the UK government to save other families from suffering the same fate. At the inquest into Graham Butterfield’s death, Acting Bradford Coroner Professor Paul Marks ruled the 64-year-old had died of an industrial disease contracted while he worked at various schools in Bradford. He was a geography teacher at two schools between 1967 and 1996, and in his job, assisted with the cabling of computers which involved being in the basement and service tunnels, exposing him to asbestos lagging dust. After the hearing, Mrs Butterfield said: 'I cannot believe that he was exposed to this dust in a teaching environment which should be a safe place for our children to learn.' She added: 'I call upon politicians of all parties to look seriously at the problem of asbestos in schools and plan properly how to ensure the safety of teachers and pupils in the future. Nothing can bring Graham back and we miss him every day, but I desperately want something positive to come from his death so that nobody else goes through what we have been through.' Source: Risks 522
Nurses union seeks meeting following recent inquiry
The Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) has told SafetyNet it is seeking a meeting with Southern Health and emergency department (ED) staff to reach an agreement to encourage staff reporting workplace violence incidents. The ANF met Dandenong Hospital ED staff on last week to discuss their reluctance to report patient violence. The meeting followed a letter Southern Health management sent to ED nurse Leslie Graham seeking to discuss the August 30 Herald Sun article (see SafetyNet 219) in particular allegations attributed to her in the article regarding the view that staff were afraid to speak to managers about workplace violence and aggression. Southern Health management have since withdrawn the request to meet with Ms Graham.
ILO World Congress on Safety and Health at WorkThe International Labour Organisation’s XIX World Congress on Safety and Health at Work was held this week in Istanbul, providing a major forum to discuss the latest safety and health challenges in the world of work. Seiji Machida, Director of the ILO’s Programme on Safety and Health at Work and the Environment (SafeWork), spoke to ILO Online about the Congress and the challenges ahead.
According to the new ILO report Global Trends and Challenges on Occupational Safety and Health the number of fatal accidents at work has fallen in the past ten years. Seiji Machida said, “Significant advances have been made in occupational safety and health, as many more countries have realized its importance and the need to give higher priority to preventing accidents and ill-health at work.” He added, “While this is good news, we have to acknowledge that an estimated 2.34 million people died from work-related accidents or diseases in 2008. Such a high number is simply not acceptable today, as it equates to an average of more than 6,300 work-related deaths every day, around the world.”
In response to the question of what were the emerging risks to health and safety, he nominated nanotechnology and the changing nature of work: “Modern manufacturing processes using nanotechnology are found increasingly all over the world. It is expected that by 2020 approximately 20 per cent of all goods will be partly based on the use of nanotechnology. Unfortunately, the long-term impact of these new materials on human health and the environment remains largely unknown. Emerging forms of employment, such as outsourcing, temporary and part-time work, have inevitably had an impact on working conditions and often contributed to increased work-related stress, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and in some cases suicide, which can be more acute during a global economic crisis.”
Read the entire interview
UK – TUC demands lower dust exposure ceiling
Britain’s peak union council, the TUC has called for urgent action to reduce dust levels in the workplace. It says dust is responsible for thousands of deaths there every year. In new guidance sent out to all union safety reps, the TUC argues the current workplace dust exposure standards are 'totally inadequate.' It adds there is now clear scientific evidence that cancer and lung diseases can result from dust exposures well below the current legal limit. This view is supported by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an independent, non-profit organisation that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision-makers and the public. The IOM warned this year that 'the current British occupational exposure limits for airborne dust are unsafe and employers should attempt to reduce exposures to help prevent further cases of respiratory disease amongst their workers' .TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Because disease and death caused by the various types of dust can take many years to develop, both employers and regulators take them far less seriously than deaths caused by injury, yet they are just as tragic for both the workers and their families. Each and every one of these thousands of deaths caused by dusts is avoidable. Given the scale of the problem we need an urgent examination of both the current standards and their enforcement.' Studies show a range of dusts, including silica, coal dust, talc and kaolin, cause lung disease when exposures are at the current 'safe' limit. As a result the TUC is seeking an urgent review of the legal standards as well as greater enforcement of existing ones. In the meantime it believes that employers and unions should agree lower industry-wide standards to protect workers. TUC news release. Dust in the workplace [pdf], TUC, September 2011
In Australia, the recommended exposure standard for inspirable dust not otherwise classified (that is, without specific exposure standards) is 10 mg/m3, which is the UK standard for inhalable dust – but there do not seem to be recommendations for the sub-set of ‘respirable’ dust, which in the UK is 4 mg/m3.
ABS report: more hours worked mean regular exercise less likely
While people in employment are less likely to be sedentary than those outside the labour force, unsurprisingly, their ability or willingness to spend time exercising decreases the more hours they work, according to a report, Physical Activity in Australia: A Snapshot, 2007- 08 released last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Approximately 60 per cent of Australian adults did not meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity of 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week during 2007–08.
The ABS identified links between employment conditions and personal health - people who spend many hours sitting increase their risk of health problems such as weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. ‘Men and women who were sedentary or exercised at low levels were more likely to have heart disease, stroke and vascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and arthritis than those who exercised at moderate or high levels.’
US FDA questions TRICLOSAN safety
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reviewing the safety of the chemical triclosan, which was created more than 40 years ago as a surgical scrub for hospitals. Triclosan is now in many consumer products, including soaps, kitchen cutting boards and even toothpastes. It is so prevalent that a survey by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found the chemical present in the urine of 75 percent of Americans over the age of 5. Several studies have shown that triclosan may alter hormone regulation in laboratory animals or cause antibiotic resistance, and some consumer groups (both here and in the US) and members of Congress want it banned in antiseptic products like hand soap. The FDA has already said that soap with triclosan is no more effective than washing with ordinary soap and water, a finding that manufacturers dispute. The FDA planned to announce the results of its review some time ago, but now says the timing is uncertain and unlikely until next year. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency is examining the safety of triclosan.
Read more: New York Times, 19 August 2011
Health and Safety Harmonisation News
Senator Christopher Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, this week released the Regulatory Impact Statement for the harmonisation of health and safety regulations saying it confirmed the economic benefit of a national OHS system and demonstrates that the reforms are on track to be implemented by 1 January 2012. Senator Evans said, “The Statement confirms that the harmonisation of OHS laws across the country will create a balanced, simpler framework that secures health and safety for all Australian workers while delivering tangible productivity benefits.”
While there has been some commentary regarding the benefits of harmonisation to Victoria, it is now clear that any costs are far outweighed by the benefits which will flow from harmonisation. Around 60 per cent of the reforms analysed involved no or minimal costs to Victoria. Also, out of all the jurisdictions, Victoria will implement the second lowest number of reforms which carry a significant cost. “The Victorian Government will also benefit from $50 million in reward payments if these reforms are implemented by 1 January 2012,” Senator Evans said. “Single-state firms and small businesses will face a maximum cost of six cents per worker a week. This cost is far outweighed by the $250 million a year in benefits from reducing red tape and improving safety standards for workers.
“The Regulatory Impact Statement concludes that harmonisation is the preferred option, with safety benefits exceeding compliance costs and the long term return for our national economy significantly outweighing the one off cost of implementation,” he said.
Media Release: New health and safety regulations to boost national productivity
Return to Work report
The Heads of Workers' Compensation Authorities (HWCA) - Australia and New Zealand has released a
Return to Work report which has found that unsurprisingly, injured workers who have a return-to-work plan with staged goals developed for them are significantly more likely to return to and stay in their jobs, a new report has found, particularly if they have given assistance to follow it.
Read more: Australia & New Zealand Return to Work Monitor 2010/11 [pdf]
Agvet chemicals Adverse Experience Reporting System upgrade
The Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA), has announced it will shortly begin upgrading its online adverse experience reporting system. It says this upgrade will help ensure the system is user friendly and contemporary. The current online system has been unavailable since 29 August 2011 while it is undergoing redevelopment, however the Adverse experience reporting forms [pdf] will remain available to download from the website. The Adverse Experience Reporting Program (AERP) allows users to provide feedback about the performance of registered pesticides and veterinary medicines in the Australian marketplace.
- From WorkSafe Victoria Petrol powered portable generators – This Safety Alert covers controlling the risk of static electricity when refuelling portable generators
- From WorkCover NSW: Tree Felling [pdf] – a Safety Alert which outlines safe timber harvesting practices and highlights the dangers of tree felling, which has claimed 22 lives in NSW over the past 10 years.
- From WorkSafe WA: a bulletin on Nanotechnology, [pdf] which includes advice on assessing the risks associated with nanoparticles, and using the hierarchy of controls.
- From NICNAS, the industrial chemicals regulatory body, Chemicals in Australia:‘Who’s who information page. It’s a good place to start to help understand how our very complex and fragmented chemical regulatory system works.
Workers punished for prank
The outcome for two workers who posted their ‘planking prank’ on Facebook was a fine of $1500 – but also, the the loss of their jobs. They took photographs of themselves, one lying on top of a spray booth and the other lying across the raised tynes of a forklift and posted them on the social media site. Both pleaded guilty to breaching Section 25 of the Victorian OHS Act.
While the VTHC does not condone worker behaviour that puts either themselves or others at risk, it is interesting to note the level of media interest in this case. Employers whose negligence or lack of compliance with clear legislation results in the death or maiming of workers too often escape punishment as swift as that imposed on these workers.
WorkSafe Media Release: Two get court for plank prank
NSW company and managing director fined after worker crushed in blender
Brake and disc pad manufacturer FIP Pty Limited (trading as FIP Brakes International) pleaded guilty in the NSW Industrial Court after a worker was crushed to death by blender mixing arms. Justice Anna Backman convicted and fined the company $117,000 and the managing director $10,400 after they pleaded guilty to contravening s8(1) of the NSW OHS Act 2000. On March 19, 2008, the machine operator opened both access doors of the "blender 5" machine, which mixed ingredients for brake pads. Finding the man trapped by the mixing arms, another worker had to activate the emergency stop switch. The investigation found the limit switches failed to operate and deactivate the machine once the access doors were opened. Justice Backman found FIP Brakes "did not have in place at the premises a system for conducting pre-operational inspections of blender 5" and safety inspections for blender 5 were often missed. "Given the serious deficiencies in the corporate defendant's systems for cleaning blender 5 and the dangerous and obvious hazards to which (the worker) was exposed by reason of those deficiencies, there was every prospect of grave, even fatal, consequences," Justice Backman said.
(Inspector Maddaford v FIP Pty Ltd trading as FIP Brakes International , NSWIRC 115 , 24/08/2011) Source: OHNews
Australian Rail Track Corporation agrees to enforceable undertaking
The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has entered an undertaking with Comcare to ensure public safety on the thousands of kilometres of Australian rail corridors, after a member of the public drove his vehicle onto a disused rail bridge on an ARTC track in South Australia in 2008, killing himself and his passenger. The intoxicated driver lost control of the vehicle, which plummeted seven metres to the dry river bed below. A Comcare investigation found there were no signs or gates forbidding access to the track or indicating the hazard posed by the bridge, which didn't have a railing. The ARTC has agreed to undertake extensive work over the next two years, including undertaking an internal audit to ensure all redundant infrastructure has been recorded and appropriately controlled.
Source: OHS Alert
Worker charged under Section 32
A young roof tiler has been charged under Section 32 (Reckless Endangerment), convicted and sentenced to four months jail after shooting an apprentice with a nail-gun in May 2009, causing him to lose sight in one eye. The worker, now aged 21, will serve the sentence as an intensive corrections order by way of 12 hours work per week over the next four months.
It is interesting that the employer was not prosecuted in this case, as under S21, the employer has a clear duty to provide proper supervision to all workers. High levels of supervision should be provided wherever there are young workers, apprentices using dangerous equipment.
WorkSafe Media Release: High-risk / high-consequence - nail gun shooting takes apprentice’s eye
Japan: Worker dies at crippled nuclear plant
A worker at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has died, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said, bringing the death toll at the complex to three since the earthquake and tsunami in March. The man, in his 60s, was employed by one of Tokyo Electric's contractors. According to the company, he was exposed to 0.17 millisieverts of radiation on his second day on the job. The Japanese government's maximum level of exposure for male workers at the plant is 250 millisieverts for the duration of the effort to bring it under control. The worker fell ill 50 minutes after starting work and was brought to the plant's medical room unconscious. He was later moved to a nearby hospital and confirmed dead, a Tokyo Electric spokesperson said. A special adviser to Japan's Prime Minister, voiced concerns about the working environment at the Fukushima complex. 'I would like to spend my energy to improve working conditions. Many people told us working environment (at the plant) is way too bad,' he said. The protective clothing required to enter the plant itself creates risks to health - there is a well-recognised link to extra heart strain and other problems associated with the use of often heavy personal protective equipment.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced last week that Japan will drop the plan it announced last year to boost, from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, the amount of the nation's electricity that comes from nuclear power. Kan said his government will 'start from scratch' in planning the country's energy future.
Source: Risks 506 Al Jazeera Daily Mail Fairwarning
France: explosion at nuclear plant kills one, injures four
One person has been killed and four injured, one seriously, in a blast at the Marcoule nuclear site in France on Tuesday this week. The company assured the public that there was no risk of a radioactive leak after the blast, caused by a fire near a furnace in the Centraco radioactive waste storage site. The owner of the southern French plant, national electricity provider EDF, said it had been "an industrial accident, not a nuclear accident". An interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said there had been no leak of radiation, neither inside nor outside the plant. None of the injured workers was contaminated by radiation, said officials. The worker who died was killed by the blast and not by exposure to nuclear material.
France relies heavily on nuclear energy and has 58 nuclear reactors, all of which have been put through stress tests in recent months, following the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant which was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.
Read more: BBC News Europe The world’s most serious nuclear accidents