Issue 223 - SafetyNet 223Welcome to SafetyNet 223. Although it's shorter than normal (we've had a crazy two weeks with the VTHC OHS Reps conference and Work Safe Week!), it's still full of interesting and topical information.
OHS Reps Conference: 19 October
The VTHC’s Annual Health and Safety Reps’ Conference was held during Victoria’s Work Safe Week, on Wednesday October 19 at the Melbourne Convention Centre. The conference was again an overwhelming success, with over a thousand reps registering to attend.
To read more about the conference, and to download the presentations, go to this page of the OHS Reps @ Work website. All the presentations are now available, although unfortunately we were not able to get speakers' notes, as the presenters spoke from their slides.
Where can I get a copy of the attendance certificate for the VTHC OHS Reps’ Conference?
If you attended the conference and need an Attendance Certificate, send an email to Larissa Rodriguez at the VTHC OHS Unit. Remember to put your full name, address to which you want the certificate sent and contact phone number. Once she’s checked your attendance, she’ll give you a call or respond to your email.
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!
WorkSafe Winners announced
The Gala WorkSafe Week Awards Dinner was held on the evening of Wednesday October 19 – a big day all round!
The two awards the VTHC was most interested in were the Health and Safety Representative of the Year and the Health and Safety Committee of the Year.
There were two finalists for the Health and Safety Rep of the year – both good active union members. They were:
Marg Howard, an NUW member from Nestle Uncle Tobys. Marg was elected HSR in 2001 and is now the Chair of the Site Safety Committee, organises HSR training on site, coaches and mentors other HSRs, is a representative on the first aid committee and a Member of the Nestle Oceania SHE Council. Marg nominated the construction of a platform at the Colby conveyor merge point as one of her outstanding achievements.
Paul Harman, an electrician and ETU member from Thiess (Wonthaggi Desalination Plant). Paul was elected HSR in December 2009 and says his key achievement has been the establishment of a team of 6 HSRs to cover such a large and complex construction project. The DWG Paul represents covers 5 major parts of the project including contractors, approximately 580 electricians, apprentices, and trades assistants.
And the winner was... Marg Howard. The SafetyNet team congratulates Marg on her win and also commends Paul for having been such a worthy runner-up. We plan to do interviews with both Marg and Paul, so keep your eyes on the next couple of journals.
The finalists in the OHS Committee of the Year were:
Meritor. This is a Manufacturing/Road Transport company – and also an NUW worksite. The key achievements of the Meritor HSC are the ability to provide OHS guidance to all DWG's, encouraging OHS ownership within these groups, promoting communication nationally and internationally, and escalating or resolving issues if required
RMIT University. The committee listed a number of achievements, including: establishing the School ECO Team; First aid and fire warden management; establishing Safe at RMIT Posters; Initiating Environmental Audits; Manual Handling training; and promoting surveys on mental health. Unions at RMIT include the NTEU and United Voice.
Two more Victorian workers killed
The first was another farming fatality: a man died on October 14 after suffering burns to 95 per cent of his body in a farm machinery accident at a Dimboola property in Victoria's west. It appears the 70-year-old man was driving a tractor towing a hay baler and accumulator, which stacks 10 bales at a time, and stepped on to the accumulator to deal with a problem but became caught when a component moved and trapped his legs. Initial WorkSafe investigations suggest the man lit some hay to raise the alarm, but the blaze got out of control and engulfed the farmer.
According to paramedics, a relative eventually extinguished the fire, but not before the man was seriously burned.
WorkSafe Victoria Media Release Farm Safety webpage
The second worker to die during this period was a 49 year old asbestos worker who passed away on Saturday, October 22, after an accident at the Toyota Plant at Altona on Wednesday October 19. The CFMEU member was employed by removal company ATS, and was married with two teenage children.
He was operating an Elevated Work Platform and according to the CFMEU was crushed between the basket and a metal roof purlin, while removing asbestos roof sheets at the plant. Toyota is project managing the site works. Investigations into the events surrounding the tragedy are continuing. More information will be provided by the union as it becomes available. The CFMEU Victoria Branch has provided counselling for all workers, both from ATS and the site.
Apprentices and trainees surveyVictorian apprentices and trainees aged 18 years and over are invited to participate in a short online survey looking at the behaviours they experience in the workplace. The results will be used by the Victorian government and other relevant organisations to help improve the workplace experience for apprentices and trainees in the future. The VTHC asks all health and safety reps and delegates to encourage any trainees or apprentices in your workplace to go online and complete the survey.
Participants submit their survey anonymously and no information that could identify them or their employer is collected.
The survey can be accessed on this page
Asbestos Awareness Week: November 21 - 25
Activities are already being planned for Asbestos Awareness Week. Beginning on Monday November 21 with the launch of a new, bigger and better asbestos awareness group and film at the Bella Union Bar at Trades Hall (6.30pm for 7pm) and with activities all week, it’s a great opportunity to carry out some workplace asbestos-related activities as well.
Read more on the events and download the Asbestos Awareness Week flyer.
New Parliamentary Asbestos group formed
Senator Lisa Singh, senator for Tasmania and a passionate activist in asbestos related matters, has formed the Parliamentary Group on Asbestos Related Diseases (PGARD).
Formed jointly with Federal MP Russell Broadbent, the group will be launched during Asbestos Awareness Week in November. Senator Singh said, “This apolitical group will bring together Federal MPs and Senators with an interest in asbestos related disease. Together we will raise awareness of asbestos-related disease and work to stop the burden associated with this dangerous substance."
$2m compo in child's railway asbestos case
A 42-year-old WA father exposed to asbestos dumped by James Hardie at an orphanage and children’s railway has been awarded $2m in the Supreme Court. In a judgment handed down this week, Supreme Court Justice Michael Corboy awarded $2.07 million in damages to Simon Lowes - the highest amount awarded in a court judgment for an asbestos-related case in WA history. He found James Hardie subsidiary Amaca breached its duty when it dumped the waste at the Castledare site in Wilson, also home to an orphanage. He said the company's breach of duty caused or materially contributed to Mr Lowes' mesothelioma. Mr Lowe had visited the Castledare site about six times with his parents in the early 1970s when he was four years old and played in and got covered in the asbestos waste.
Mr Lowes said James Hardie's actions were "unforgivable" and believed many of the people who worked for the company at the time must now be walking around with "guilty consciences." He said the company still had not apologised to him. He added that no amount of money would improve his health but his main priority was looking after his two daughters, aged 10 and 13.
Read more: The West Australian
Unions launch new inquiry into insecure work as part of push for better future for Australian workers
Workers will have the opportunity to share their stories about the impact of casual and contract employment alongside community groups, unions and employers in a new national independent inquiry to investigate the extent of insecure work in Australia.
The ACTU has launched an Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work – the first formal investigation of the growth and spread of casual, contract, labour hire and other forms of insecure work in Australia, and the impact it has on workplace rights, family finances, and society.
The inquiry will be chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe, with Paul Munro, a former Senior Member of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, as deputy chair. The inquiry, part of the Secure Jobs. Better Future campaign, will be open for submissions between 2 November and 16 December, before public hearings in each state in February and March.
Read more: ACTU Media Release
Widespread abuse of Workers’ Rights
More than a quarter of countries represented at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth this week have failed to allow basic industrial rights for workers, the ACTU said this week. ACTU President Ged Kearney said a survey by the Commonwealth Trade Union Group showed workers’ rights were being ignored across the Commonwealth, with the worst abuses currently occurring in Fiji and Swaziland.
The CTUG, representing over 30 million workers in 30 countries, is calling on the CHOGM to suspend Swaziland for wholesale violations of democratic rights and to ask the United Nations to stop using Fijian soldiers as peace keepers around the world, as well as condemn the already suspended Fijian military dictatorship's Essential Industries Decree.
“Workers’ rights are human rights. Without them, people cannot defend their economic and political freedoms. They are as central to democratic societies as they are to free trade unionism,” Ms Kearney said.
Behavioural safety theories challengedCriticism by unions of the use of behavioural safety methods to control workplace hazards was given a boost by a report by the influential US National Safety Council (NSC). Behavioural safety is based on the theories of Herbert Heinrich whose work forms the basis for behaviour-based safety, an approach that focuses on identifying and changing unsafe worker behaviours. In 1931 he claimed 88 per cent of accidents are caused by 'unsafe acts of persons' and said that in a group of 330 accidents, 300 will result in no injuries, 29 will result in minor injuries and one will result in a major injury. These absurd figures are still quoted today, even though they have been disputed by many sources including the governments and unions. Earlier this year the UK's Trade Union Congress (TUC) published guidance for unions criticising the behavioural safety approach as being unscientific and based on a 'blame the workers' approach, and the VTHC and ACTU produced a manual for health and safety reps some years ago.
Now an article in the magazine of the NSC has finally acknowledged that what Heinrich did as 'research' is ‘questionable.' James Howe former assistant director of health and safety for the United Auto Workers, also takes issue with approach. 'The pyramid theory has really done a disservice to the safety profession,' he said, 'because it has misled people running safety programs into thinking that if they work on minor incidents, major incidents will go away. And many, many companies are aware that that is not the case.' In fact, he said, certain companies with award-winning low injury rates have suffered some of the worst catastrophic incidents during the past 10 years. At the same time a survey by the NSC magazine 'Safety + Health' showed that 86% of safety professionals believed Heinrich's theories either completely or somewhat with only 5% not believing them at all. Although behavioural safety programmes are far less common in the UK than in the US, a number of large companies do use them, especially in the energy sectors. One company that has relied heavily on behavioural safety is BP. Following the Texas City explosion, which killed 15 people, their first response was to blame 'human error'. Subsequent investigations have indicated that the disaster was a result of management failings. Source: Risks 527
Finance Sector Union urges members to ‘dob in bullies’
The federal office of the Finance Sector Union (FSU) marked Safe Work Australia Week by urging finance workers to dob in bullying on Tuesday October 25. The union said, “Workplace bullying is a blight on our industry. It is the most common reason for industrial disputation in the finance sector, and is occurring in workplaces right across the country.
It happens to older workers, younger workers, experienced workers and those just starting out in the industry. It happens to people in senior positions, and it happens to people working on the front line, in call centres and branches. And it could happen to you.”
Wave of WA bullying complaints
And from the WA Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) Annual Report, calls about bullying were the fifth most common concern expressed by callers, even though bullying is not covered in the state’s EO Act. There were 137 bullying inquiries last year (5.3% of the total) against 185 (6.3%) in 2009-10 and 146 (5.2%) in 2008-09. EO Commissioner Yvonne Henderson said more than 90% of calls related to workplace bullying. The WA Government was considering EOC's 2007 recommendation to include bullying in the EO Act.
This year Victoria passed the Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Act, known as Brodie's Law, which sets 10-year jail terms for bullying. Brodie Panlock killed herself in 2006 after suffering extreme bullying from colleagues at a Melbourne café. Her parents want the law adopted nationally so workplace bullies across Australia face more stringent penalties. It is likely that the issue will be raised when Australia's attorneys-general meet in Tasmania in November. The VTHC doubts that the new law will make much of a difference to workers who are victims of ‘everyday’ bullying in workplaces.
Union considers action on piracy
The Nautilus International trade union is considering calling for a boycott of those areas where seafarers are most at risk. At their annual conference, former Council chairman John Epsom said 'If you were to start stopping the world's oil supply there would soon be some action, the power is in your hands and it would make a lot of difference very quickly.' Speakers also suggested the union should campaign for a change in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea so that naval forces could be allowed to operate in the territorial waters of countries that are officially deemed to be 'failed states', although there was concern that cuts in defence budgets may reduce the effectiveness of existing anti-piracy naval patrols. Royal Fleet Auxiliary Liaison Officer David Gatenby pointed out:
'The assets are already so thinly spread that it is like a needle in a haystack. We urge governments to stop making more cuts and give the organisations out there the resources they need to do their job.' Nautilus International General Secretary Mark Dickinson added 'There are plenty of shipowners who will be prepared to put their vessels into harm's way if there is money to be made,' he pointed out. 'But I call upon the good shipowners to join with the ITF and Nautilus in considering how we can deliver a very firm message to governments that we have had enough and that the problems need to be resolved quickly and in a decisive way.' The debate at the annual conference followed the recent setting up of a UK based charity to help seafarers caught up in acts of piracy.
Source: Risks 527
South African workers strike for safety
Thousands of South African miners took strike action on October 4 to protest against the conditions in South African mines. South African mines have a very poor safety record and there are some 100 deaths from injuries every year. Many thousands more die from lung diseases. The strike was led by the National Union of Miners which has long campaigned for major improvements in the safety on the countries mines. The union also organised a march to the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg, the state energy company and the Government department for labour. Mine safety received considerable publicity in 2007 after 3,200 workers were temporarily trapped underground in a mine after a compressed air pipe ruptured due to internal corrosion. Following that the National Union of Mineworkers called a strike to protest at unsafe working conditions. Around 240,000 miners took part. The incident led to the South African President ordering full safety audits for all operating mines.
ICEM press release
Source: Risks 528
Study shows safety inspections pay off
A recent US study has found that official workplace safety inspections lead to dramatically reduced injury rates and big savings for firms. The findings resulted from an analysis of a decade's worth of data on safety inspections by the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) in Washington State. Researchers with the Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) programme, L&I's research unit, examined L&I inspection data and workers' compensation claims from 1998 through 2008. The study found significant reductions in claims and claim costs following an official safety inspection or safety consultation. Under the US system, a company's insurance premiums are related to injury rates in its workplace. The SHARP researchers found the greatest impact came when an inspection resulted in at least one citation for a safety breach. In those cases, the research found a reduction in worker injury claims of as much as 20 per cent over similar work sites that were not inspected. The authors say their study bears out what other researchers around the country have found and what SHARP researchers have seen in previous annual reviews of the data. 'Safety is not always at the forefront of an employer's mind. But when a significant event takes place, like a serious injury or an L&I inspection, it can really get their attention,' said SHARP director Barbara Silverstein. 'This can lead to a greater recognition of what can be done in the workplace to reduce hazards, itself leading to safer workplaces and fewer injuries.'
L&I news release. The Effect of DOSH Enforcement and Consultation Activity on the Compensable Claims Rates in Washington State, 1999-2008 , Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, 2011 [executive summary, pdf]. Source: Risks 528
Comcare issues warning on the hazards of sitting
Federal work health and safety regulator Comcare has warned that workers can put their health at great risk if they sit at their desks all day without a break. The warning comes following completion of a trial done jointly with the Baker IDI which has revealed that taking regular breaks from sitting in the one spot can improve wellbeing.
Figures show that the typical office worker spends over two-thirds of their day remaining seated and inactive. It also found that even 30 minutes of exercise a day cannot offset the high risk of cardiovascular disease and death associated with prolonged sitting.
Comcare is currently piloting sit/stand workstations to reduce sedentary time by promoting more standing and increased movement. Initial results indicate a reduction in sitting time across the day for the workers who were given these special workstations. When analysed, it revealed a marked change in behaviour by participants with the amount of standing and stepping movement increasing noticeably.
Comcare CEO Paul O’Connor says sit/stand workstations are just one of many avenues open to employers to promote movement in their workplaces.
Industrial Chemicals CRIS
The Industrial Chemicals regulator, NICNAS, has released a draft Cost Recovery Impact Statement (CRIS) and invites feedback from stakeholders by November 30, 2011. The CRIS involves undertaking a review of its cost recovery arrangements in accordance with the Australian Government Cost Recovery Guidelines July 2005. In addition, NICNAS will develop a new cost recovery arrangement to undertake the accelerated assessment of existing industrial chemicals.
The purpose of the CRIS is:
- To transparently demonstrate compliance with the Government's Cost Recovery and Guidelines; and
- To outline proposed changes to the existing cost recovery arrangements based on review outcomes.
Key proposed changes include:
- better alignment of fees with costs associated with delivering the services;
- transition to a four tiered registration structure to provide for more equitable charging arrangements;
- arrangements to recover the cost of the first stage of the accelerated assessment and prioritisation of existing chemicals.
Public consultation workshops have been scheduled for Sydney (Friday 11 November) and Melbourne (Monday 14 November). Meetings in other states will be determined by demand.
NICNAS CRIS webpage where the draft CRIS can be downloaded and interest indicated for the consultation workshops.
$350k fine for building collapse fatality
A major development company has been fined $350,000 for a structural collapse which killed a man at Dandenong South in April 2008. The partly-completed steel frame of a warehouse measuring 82m x 240m collapsed and struck the worker. Australand Industrial Constructions Pty Ltd, the principal builder of the project, pleaded guilty to breaching S26 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (failing to ensure the workplace was safe and without risks to health).
In sentencing the company in the Melbourne County Court on Friday October 14, Judge Gaynor said the risk to people at the workplace was extraordinarily high and that had the company not pleaded guilty, it would have been fined $500,000.
“In this case, Australand Constructions had management and control of the construction site and failed to ensure there was adequate temporary bracing to ensure the structure was stable,” the acting director of WorkSafe’s construction and utilities team, Allan Beacom said. “Ensuring partially erected structures are stable, at all times, is a fundamental safety issue in construction. There are a surprisingly high number of structural failures where this simple step has not been done, and in every case, people are at risk.”
WorkSafe Media Release Warehouse collapse kills man. Building company convicted & fined $350,000
Dairy company convicted and fined $300k for fatality
Fonterra Australia Pty Ltd was last week convicted and fined $300,000 in the Melbourne County Court after pleading guilty to one charge of the OHS Act after a forklift driver died at its Stanhope cheese factory in September 2009. The man died when a one tonne bag of salt fell on him. WorkSafe’s investigation found the practice of stacking bulk salt bags at Stanhope was unsafe as the tops of lower bags may not be sufficiently level to safely accommodate those on top. This meant that if the surface of a bag was not level, even a small disturbing force could cause the stack to topple – which is what happened. Judge Frank Gucciardo said the system for stacking bags at Stanhope was unsafe – and it was not until after the man’s death that a safe racking system was put in place and a written procedure developed. Had it not been for its guilty plea, Fonterra would have been fined $400,000.
WorkSafe’s General Manager for Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said all businesses had to ensure they could safely store bulk products or other stock. She said common safety failings involving routine tasks cause the overwhelming majority of workplace injuries and deaths.
“In this case the bags of salt were delivered and stacked every week. The lesson for others is to understand the potential safety issues, consult with the workforce and fix problems.”
Roofing company fined
A serial offender prosecuted by WorkSafe for the fourth time told an inspector potentially life-saving fall protection was “at home” while two of his sub-contractors installed a roof and gutters on a house in December last year.
Paul Anthony Friend, who operates ‘Latrobe Roofing and Spouting Services’ in the Geelong region has had nine previous safety convictions and accumulated more than $65,000 in fines for safety law breaches since 2001. He was again convicted and fined $18,321 for not providing fall protection to contractors working for him. He pleaded guilty to breaching the Victorian OHS Act after inspectors visited a building site following a tip-off. He was also placed on a 12-month community based order requiring him to attend an occupational health and safety course which Magistrate McGarvie hoped might ‘change the way he thinks.'