Issue 231 - SafetyNet 231
The VTHC OHS Unit welcomes readers to edition 231 of SafetyNet. We had a few new subscribers following our request for readers to encourage anyone who was getting the journal passed on to subscribe to the e-journal themselves. So, thank you!
Occupational cancer in Australia – how big a problem?
In the last edition of SafetyNet, we reported that the UK union peak body the TUC believes that the official HSE cancer figures of 8000 deaths per year were an underestimation (TUC briefing ). In Australia, we don’t even have any official figures to debate.
In an opinion piece in this week’s Medical Journal of Australia, a group of leading cancer and OHS experts call for the need to raise the profile of the prevention of workplace cancers as a priority issue, making the point that while work-related cancer attracts considerable public and media attention, it ‘has received limited attention from researchers and policymakers in Australia, particularly in comparison to other cancers, such as those related to tobacco use and sun exposure’. When it comes to work-related cancers: ‘We have no strategy for measuring rates, mitigating risk and meeting individuals’ needs.’
For a number of reasons it is difficult to estimate the number of these cancers, but that ‘by applying European attributable fraction estimates to Australian employment data, it has been estimated that about 5000 cancers a year are caused by occupational exposures’.
Many other countries have systems in place which help to keep standards and information up-to-date, and although Australia may refer to these, we have no is no system to regularly update regulations and schedules based on best international knowledge. In the piece, the authors call for the development of a strategic plan of action for Australia, aimed at reducing the burden of occupational cancer in Australia. They argue it needs to be concentrated around three aspects: raising the profile of occupational cancer; interventions to reduce exposure to carcinogens, supported by legislative processes; and improving the support for patients with occupation-related cancer. Each of these is discussed.
Read more: Controlling occupational cancers in Australia , Lin Fritschi, Renae C Fernandez, Deborah A Vallance, Terry J Slevin, Alison Reid, Timothy R Driscoll and Deborah C Glass, MJA 2012; 196 (3): 162-164 doi: 10.5694/mja11.10485 See also: The Status of Occupational Cancers in Australia International Business Times February 21.
Cancer in the Workplace Forum – May 3
The ACTU and the Cancer Council are organising a Forum on Cancer in the Workplace, and have asked people to ‘save the date’. The forum, which will be held at Rydges on Swanston in Melbourne, will be focussing on practical solutions for prevention and is open to OHS professionals, industry, union and ohs representatives, researchers and anyone with an interest in occupational cancer. The key note speaker will be Lucille C. Servidio, from the Masachussetts TURA program. The Program Committee is inviting persons interested in contributing to the forum to submit an abstract for consideration. More information: Forum flyer [pdf ]
I was wondering whether in a small workplace with approximately 25 employees with one health and safety representative (HSR), we could have two deputies?
Under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act, the minimum for an agreed DWG is one elected HSR. When the current Act was implemented in 2004, it was acknowledged that due to changing employment patterns, sometimes having just one HSR for a DWG was not sufficient, so the Act now allows for more than one HSR and/or deputies to be elected. HOWEVER, this is above the minimum and so is a matter that must be agreed between the employer and the DWG group members. The Act specifies that it's one of the matters that has to be negotiated and agreed when the DWGs are being established. If the DWG is already established, and the DWG members would like either a deputy or more than one HSR, then the DWG needs to notify the employer that you wish to vary the DWG. Note there can only be one deputy per HSR, so if the DWG wants two deputies, there would need to be two HSRs. This would seem to be too many for a small group of 25 employees, however.
If the employer does not agree with having a deputy, or more than one HSR, then either party can seek the assistance of a WorkSafe inspector, who can make a determination on the unresolved matters. In the past, this seems to be one matter for which WorkSafe inspectors are quite happy to assist and usually come out in favour of the request... especially as it's something the Act allows for, and particularly if there are issues like rotating shifts, regular absences, and so on. More information on DWGs
If you have any OHS - related queries or questions, then why not send them in to Renata? Use the Ask Renata function on the website, and we promise you a quick and easy to understand response within a couple of working days at the latest. And it’s free.
Wittenoom mesothelioma rates higher than expected
Death rates for malignant mesothelioma in former miners at the notorious Wittenoom blue asbestos (crocidolite) mine in Western Australia are higher than predicted, according to a new 50-year follow-up study. The analysis tracked 6489 men and 419 women who had worked at the Pilbara mine during its operation from 1943 to 1966. Researchers found that there had been 302 mesothelioma-related deaths in the men and 13 in the women. This represented almost ten per cent of all known deaths. Rates for both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma increased with time since first exposure and appeared to reach a plateau after about 40 to 50 years, the authors said. By the end of 2008, the number of mesothelioma deaths had reached 4.7% for all the male workers and 3.1% for the females, with the authors noting that over the past 8 years the numbers were higher than expected. The authors also predicted that approximately another 60 to 70 deaths with mesothelioma may occur in men by 2020.
Source: Malignant mesotheliomas in former miners and millers of crocidolite at Wittenoom (Western Australia) after more than 50 years follow-up, Berry, G and others. British Journal of Cancer advance online publication 7 February 2012; doi: 10.1038/bjc.2012.23 [Abstract]
ABC to produce miniseries on Bernie Banton
The ABC has recently announced it will be start production of Devil's Dust, a new two-part mini-series detailing the James Hardie asbestos tragedy, on March 19. The story of the scandal and of Bernie Banton’s fight against the multinational corporation, it is based on ABC journalist Matt Peacock’s book Killer Company.
With 60,000 Australians likely to die of asbestos-related diseases by 2030, ABC TV head of fiction, Carole Sklan, says Devil's Dust is the intensely personal story of three very different men whose lives and careers are bound together by a tragedy that becomes a scandal, and then a fast-moving battle through the corridors of corporate, political and media power. Sources: ABC, Herald Sun
Dust exposure in 1950’s Victoria – lessons for today
In a very interesting article Melbourne University academics Cecily Hunter and Anthony LaMontagne examine the shameful history of the exposure of thousands of SEC workers to asbestos dust at the Yallourn site. Despite the efforts of unions, individual workers and medical experts such as Dr Douglas Shiels, Director of the Industrial Hygiene Division (IHD) of the department of health and the plant’s own doctors, workers were exposed to the deadly dust with action usually taken only after specific complaints.
While the article traces the history of the SEC and how it (badly) responded to the deadly hazard, the authors say there are lessons for today. They conclude: ‘….recommendations made by the 2005 Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee inquiry into workplace exposure to toxic dust suggest the SEC’s response to the asbestos hazard raises issues that are relevant for today. It appears that organisational structure and culture can still operate to marginalise knowledge about dust hazards and to limit workers’ capacity to secure the information they need to make their own judgement concerning dust hazards.’
Read more: Dust in the Air in 1950s Victoria: History Has Lessons for Twenty-first Century Workers in Dusty Environments
Tasmania’s scheme pays out $1.7million to sufferers
After less than four months of operation, Tasmania’s first asbestos compensation scheme has paid out $1.7 million to victims. The scheme, which is administered by the Asbestos Compensation Commissioner, has received 18 applications and already granted $1.7 million in compensation and medical expenses since October 31. Asbestos Free Tasmania chief executive Susan Wallace expected a large number of people to apply this year, as people have been waiting for the establishment of the scheme. Eligible workers with a fatal disease like mesothelioma are entitled to receive between $250,000 and $500,000 in lump-sum compensation plus medical expenses. In addition, the spouses and dependent children of victims who died in the 12 months prior to the establishment of the scheme are also eligible.
Read more: The Examiner
New on OHS Reps@Work website
While the Victorian and Western Australian governments have decided not to proceed at this time with the implementation of the nationally harmonised Work Health Safety regulatory package, several other jurisdictions have proceeded, while others are at various stages of the process. As a result, there is quite a lot of new information being produced. Go to this section of the website, which we have just updated, for the current state of play in Australia.
Also, because Comcare is now one of the jurisdictions which has introduced the Work Health Safety Act, Regulations and Codes of Practice, there will be many workers in Victoria who may be affected by this. For more information on Comcare, and a summary of the Act, go to this section of the site.
The VTHC has issued its second E-News Bulletin for 2012 – number 34. It’s got information on the nurses’ campaign, the AWU’s ‘Save WorkSafe’ campaign and much more. Read more: VTHC E-News Bulletin Number 34
Injured nurse gets six-figure payout
An aged care nurse has been awarded a large damages award for injuries sustained at an understaffed nursing home in Melbourne's east. The 58-year-old nurse suffered extensive spinal injuries and nerve damage while working at the Wantirna facility in early 2006. She is now no longer able to work. The Victorian Supreme Court heard the 58-year-old grandmother was the sole staff member required to look after 50 elderly residents on the night she was injured. In one shift, the nurse was forced to lift one resident off the ground six times. Even though that resident had been classified as high care, no beds were available in an appropriate facility. A jury found the aged care home liable after an eight-day civil trial, and the nurse will now receive a six-figure payout.
Kathy Chrisfield, OHS Unit Co-ordinator with the Vic Branch of the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) told SafetyNet, ‘This particular incident highlights the need for more nurses in relation to nurse safety, as well as patient safety. It is relatively common to find scenarios in private Aged Care with this kind of significant understaffing in relation to numbers of nurses to patients, and we call on all facilities to ensure that they employ enough nurses to enable comprehensive and appropriate care for their patients.’ She added that the incident also highlights the critical importance of development, implementation and maintenance of No Lifting policies, practice and equipment, to prevent lifting of patients, and thus ensure the safety of our nurses and midwives. ‘However,’ she warned, ‘none of this can be adequately undertaken without adequate staffing in place.’
Source: ABC Online
Revamp to home insulation guidelines
The federal government is to introduce changes to the national guidelines for installing ceiling insulation next month and add a specific section on safety section. It’s expected that a total overhaul of the guidelines will be done at the end of the year. The changes are the result of a report by an insulation advisory panel appointed by the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. The principal recommendation of the panel was that a home insulation rebate scheme ‘should not proceed until an improved safety and compliance regime is firmly in place’. There were also recommendations relating to the upgrading of safety and training in the industry. The insulation scheme was discontinued in February 2010 after the deaths of several insulation installers and house fires linked to insulation installation. Source: The Age
What’s it like working as an apprentice or trainee?
If you’re an apprentice or trainee, have you told us what it’s like for you at work? Tell us so we can make things better for apprentices and trainees like you in the future. Visit this page and anonymously answer some quick questions about the sorts of behaviours you have experienced at work during your time as an apprentice or trainee. The Australian Catholic University and Swinburne University are running this research project for Skills Victoria. All Victorian apprentices and trainees are encouraged to participate so if you know someone who could fill this in, please forward the survey link on to them.
Website for young women workers
A reminder of a great Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission website which has an interactive online tool to assist young women to identify and respond to sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The online tool, my work rights, was developed in response to Commission research, which revealed that more than a third of Victorian young women have been discriminated against at work and a third have been sexually harassed. My work rights uses a range of methods – such as a ‘fakebook’ profile, an animated instant message conversation, a graphic novel and an email exchange – to illustrate what harassment, discrimination and victimisation look like. The tool also offers good advice and information designed to support and guide young women who experience sexual harassment, discrimination or victimisation at work.
CFMEU publication Hard Hat
In the February edition of Hard Hat [pdf ] the CFMEU issues a warning after a tragic incident in which a worker was fatally injured by a falling excavator bucket on February 6 at Airds in NSW. The union says the incident has ‘drawn attention again to the need for strict attention to safe work procedures when working with such plant.’ The issue also has an inspiring item on asbestos disease sufferer, Ray Colbert, who raised over $60,000 for research, by riding his wheelchair from Toowomba to Brisbane during last November’s Asbestos Week. ‘The trip achieved its goal of raising awareness in the wider community of the dangers of asbestos, as well as raising much needed funds for research,’ said Ray, who is also Secretary of the Qld Asbestos Related Disease Support Society (QARDSS).
Does your workplace want to receive thousands of dollars in free training?
This is a ‘plug’ for participants in the WorkSafe funded (but independently-run)
‘Top Down Bottom Up’
Bullying Prevention Project. The team running the project is still looking for small to medium (up to 200 employees) workplaces in the
manufacturing, hospitality or retail sector to participate in developing an ongoing collaborative approach to bullying that is not simply compliance, but an intensive prevention/early intervention program. The project involves both management and elected health and safety reps (or if no reps, then employee reps) receiving training and lots of help.
So if you think your workplace would be interested (and does not have a current unresolved bullying issue), then contact the project team directly for more information – but do it quickly! Either phone or email: Brian Martin Tel: 0400 939 800 or Deb Ferguson Tel: 0410 212 001
Queensland bus drivers to get duress
After three attacks on bus drivers on the Gold Coast this year, the Queensland government has offered to install duress alarms as quickly as possible, with Transport minister Annastacia Palaszczuk announcing that TransLink would hold talks with bus operator Surfside. She said TransLink had asked Surfside to investigate other options to increase driver safety. ‘Safety needs to come first. That's why duress alarms were raised through a bus safety committee and we will fund this initiative if drivers and operators believe it is appropriate.’ Last year the Rail Tram & Bus Union initiated a ‘thank you driver’ campaign designed to influence community attitudes after a rise in assaults, handing out 5,000 thank-you cards. Queensland RTBU assistant secretary David Matters said the campaign was continuing. Although Brisbane City Council drivers had had back-to-base emergency call buttons for 15 to 20 years, the union also wanted pop-up screens installed to protect drivers. The union has also for an amendment to the legislation to increase penalties for people who assault drivers. Currently someone can be jailed for six months for fare evasion or damaging a bus, but not for assaulting the driver. The Transport Workers Union, meanwhile, has said the government's commitment to duress alarms was "a first step". The TWU too wants tougher penalties and more TransLink inspectors. Source: Occupational Health News
International Union News
USA Joint call for stricter beryllium standard
Beryllium is a metal which can cause devastating lung disease and cancer. A US beryllium producer, Materion Brush, and the United Steelworkers (USW) have made a joint appeal for a strong and legally-binding exposure limit for the highly dangerous metal. The union and company have reached agreement on a model beryllium standard which is one tenth of the official standard, and have sent it to the official Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a joint recommendation, saying the current permissible exposure limit 'is widely acknowledged to be too high.' Materion Brush, the only US producer of pure, accounts for more than half of the beryllium alloys and compounds produced in the United States and the USW represents workers who manufacture beryllium alloys and beryllium-containing products in a number of industries. As well as the reduction, the standard would require 'feasible' engineering controls in any operation which generates any beryllium dust or fume, even those which meet the exposure limit. 'This was a two-year negotiation, but it wasn't some sort of give and take,' said USW health and safety director Michael Wright. 'Rather, it was a mutual search for feasible measures that would best protect workers. We worked through many disagreements, but worker health was always the goal for both parties.' Any nationally-recognised standard can only be produced via a notoriously slow official rule-making process. 'Nevertheless, given that the recommendation comes from the largest beryllium producer and the union with a large number of exposed members, we hope it can greatly reduce the time necessary to get a new regulation in place,' said Wright. 'Beryllium workers deserve all the protections of a strong, enforceable standard.'
UK unions fight for fairer Olympics
The organisers of London 2012 will introduce new measures to protect workers making merchandise for this year’s London Olympic Games, following evidence of exploitation uncovered by the TUC and the Labour Behind the Label-led Playfair 2012 campaign. Research has found child labour, excessive hours and dangerous working conditions amongst a host of violations. Now, after negotiations with the TUC, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has agreed to get tougher with the factories in its supply chains. Following representations from the TUC and Labour Behind the Label that urgent action be taken, LOCOG has agreed to take concrete steps to ensure that workers making goods for the London Games have their rights respected, including adopting an ethical code and complaints mechanism. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said says that while it’s not enough, ‘it's not too late to make a difference for workers producing goods for London. We welcome LOCOG's acknowledgement that further action is necessary and its commitment to act immediately to ensure that factory owners can no longer exploit workers in the name of the Olympics.’
Read more: TUC press release
NHMRC statement on Cancer Clusters
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has released a Statement on Cancer Clusters. While stating that cancer is common in the Australian community, with the lifetime risk of developing cancer being one in two for males and one in three for females, it points out that most suspected cancer clusters are ‘not confirmed on investigation’ and that cancer clusters for which a common environmental cause is identified are very rare’. However, it does acknowledge that there are historical cases of cancer clusters linked to occupational and environmental hazards such as mesothelioma in asbestos workers. The statement gives advice on investigating suspected cancer clusters, including undertaking a hazard assessment.
The document can be downloaded from the bottom of this page of the NMRC website, which also has links to further information
Office workers spend too much time at desks
Key findings from researchers from the Work & Health Research Centre, Loughborough University, UK are that in a typical working week, people spend on average 5 hours and 41 minutes per day sitting at their desk and 7 hours sleeping at night; and that sitting for long periods at your desk is not only bad for your physical health, but also potentially your mental well-being. Nearly 70% of the over 1000 employees surveyed did not meet recommended guidelines for physical activity; interestingly 50% of people surveyed aged 50 years and under, failed to meet these guidelines. The findings also showed:
those who sit for longer at work are more likely to sit outside of work;
a correlation between BMI scores and sitting time at work; and
more time spent sitting at work was associated with a decrease in mental well-being.
The psychologists conducted an on-line and paper based survey measuring employee’s use and experiences of occupational health services and their physical activity levels. Specific measures included Lifestyle and physical activity, Domain Specific Sitting Time Questionnaire, Work Ability Index, General Health Questionnaire and Job Attitudes (job satisfaction, organisational commitment, job motivation, and intention to quit). Interviews and focus groups with Occupational Health professionals were also conducted.
Science Daily, 13 January 2012
Shift Work research
Rotating Shift Work and Type 2 Diabetes in Women
A study of more than 175,000 women in the United States has found that those who worked a rotating shift schedule that included three or more night shifts per month had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than women who worked only days or only nights. Women who worked rotating shifts were also more likely than other women to become obese during the 18–20 years of follow-up. The results suggest the increased risk of diabetes may be at least partly mediated through weight gain.
Environmental Health Perspectives, 1 January 2012
Night shifts may affect melatonin levels
Synthesis of melatonin follows a circadian cycle, with high melatonin levels during the night and low levels during the day. On of the theories to explain higher levels of breast cancer in night shift workers is the level of light they are exposed to at night, and the subsequent inhibition of melatonin synthesis. Researchers from the Polish Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine, looked into a number of determinants for night shift work in relation to 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (MT6s), which is a primary melatonin metabolite. The study was composed of 354 nurses and midwives (aged 40–60 years) currently working on rotating night shifts and 370 working days only. Researchers used data from questionnaires and 1-week diaries to characterise current job and total occupational history. They then tested the MT6s (creatinine adjusted) in spot morning urine to determine any associations between these and rotating night shift work.
They found that women working eight or more night shifts per month had significantly lower MT6s levels than those having fewer night shifts per month. However, total night shift work history was not associated with MT6s. The results of the study ‘indicate that working eight or more night shifts per month may disrupt the synthesis of melatonin.’
Beata Peplonska, and others: Night shift work characteristics and 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (MT6s) in rotating night shift nurses and midwives [abstract] Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oemed-2011-100273
Nurses’ miscarriages linked to chemicals at work
A new US study has found that nurses who worked with chemotherapy drugs or sterilising chemicals were twice as likely to have a miscarriage as nurses who didn’t. Lead author Christina Lawson, from the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), said it was not surprising that exposure to certain chemicals would be related to miscarriages, but that despite education on the hazards, nurses are still getting exposed during the first trimester. Because chemotherapy drugs typically target rapidly dividing cells, such as those in a tumour - or a foetus, they have been a concern for pregnant women who come into contact with them, Lawson said. Not all previous research confirmed that nurses’ exposures at work were related to more miscarriages. This study was much larger than the earlier ones, with nearly 7,500 nurses who had had a pregnancy between 1993 and 2002 surveyed. The nurses were asked how often they worked with certain chemicals or equipment, such as X-rays, anaesthesia, anti-cancer drugs and disinfectants, during each trimester. The results showed one in ten nurses miscarried before the half-way point, 20 weeks – a number seemingly similar to the rate in the general population. However, among nurses who handled chemotherapy drugs for more than an hour a day that rate was double – approximately two in ten nurses lost her pregnancy.
Nurses using X-ray equipment also had a slightly higher risk of miscarriage too, approximately thirty percent higher than those who did not. In addition, nurses who handled sterilising agents, such as ethylene oxide or formaldehyde, more than an hour a day also had a doubled risk of miscarriage, but only during the second trimester. Lawson said that miscarriages during the second trimester might result from a toxin affecting the mother’s ability to carry the baby, whereas a miscarriage in the first trimester suggests the toxin is affecting the foetus. It was difficult to determine the cause of the miscarriages because of a lack of information on which chemicals each woman had contact with, and for how long. Read more: Reuters Health
New edition of WorkSafe’s Safety Express
Safety Express is one of WorkSafe’s regular e-journal. According to the latest edition, there were 85 incidents reported to WorkSafe in the manufacturing, logistics, meat, food, agriculture and retail/trade industries in the two weeks to February 21. These included 21 lacerations, 10 fractures, five crush injuries, two amputations and many near-misses. The full list can be downloaded from the journal. This edition also includes a feature on ‘The invisible army’ – focussing on the health and safety of workers who perform cleaning tasks.
WorkSafe inspectors ‘blitzing’ Bendigo this week
WorkSafe announced last Friday that it would be ‘blitzing’ Bendigo as part of the Safe Towns campaign, with inspectors visiting approximately 200 businesses. WorkSafe’s operations General Manager, Lisa Sturzenegger, said inspectors would target businesses that have never before been visited as well as those with previous injury claims. ‘It’s in everyone’s interest to make changes sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until a WorkSafe inspector arrives, or a serious incident to address health and safety matters,’ she said. More visits will take place in South Geelong/Breakwater, Ballarat and Traralgon in coming months.
Sturzenegger said, ‘We constantly come across cases where companies are fined thousands of dollars for not addressing safety matters such as allowing workers to operate faulty machinery, not properly separating forklifts from pedestrians and other poor management of safety issues. We encourage businesses to look at their workplaces from a fresh perspective and to find new ways to address basic issues.’
Almost 2370 injuries were reported to WorkSafe from the Bendigo region over the past five financial years, with treatment and rehabilitation costs exceeding $41 million. More than half of these claims came from the health care and social assistance, manufacturing and construction industries. WorkSafe Media Release
From WorkSafe Victoria
An Alert: Working in oxygen-deficient atmospheres highlighting the danger of mine workers being exposed to oxygen-deficient atmospheres, and providing solutions to reduce or eliminate associated risks.
A Health and Safety Solution: Fall restraints on order picking forklifts
Guidance Note Portable toilets on worksites
Safety Alert Installing orchard structures
Guidance Note High-visibility clothing near traffic
More information about Storage and handling of dangerous goods
Safety Alert Handling used metal drums
Guidance Note Preventing falls from earthmoving equipment
Apprentice loses eye; company fined for basic failings
A Bayswater company, DC Roof Tiling, has been prosecuted and fined $7500 plus costs as a result of an apprentice falling 2.4 metres to the ground and losing an eye due lack of fall protection. On 13 March 2010, the director of DC Tiling, three apprentices and a sub-contractor were replacing roof tiles on a storm-damaged house. One apprentice was carrying buckets of cement 2.4 metres up a ladder to the roof where the director was working. There were no guard rails. Once on the roof, the apprentice lost his footing and fell to the ground. Although he was not injured from the fall, wet cement splashed into his eye. He was later driven to hospital by the business owner’s girlfriend, though later transferred to the Eye and Ear Hospital, where he spent 12 days. He lost sight in his left eye.
The acting director of WorkSafe’s Construction Division, Allan Beacom, said the provision of safe systems of work, including fall protection, was among the most fundamental of construction industry safety measures. ‘It is enormously frustrating that this most fundamental of issues in construction work, and roof tiling in particular, must still be a focus of WorkSafe’s law enforcement activity. Despite WorkSafe inspectors issuing notices requiring safety improvements or outright prohibiting dangerous work and many prosecutions there is still a core of people in this industry who think the law does not apply to them or that a particular situation does not require compliance.’
Source: WorkSafe Media Release.
Major food manufacturer fined $50,000 for hand injury
George Weston Foods Limited was convicted and fined $50,000 in the Castlemaine Magistrates Court as a result of an incident in July 2010 in which a woman packing frankfurts on a processing machine at the company’s smallgoods plant suffered crush injuries and burns to her hand. The worker had switched off the machine and removed the guard in order to unblock stuck plastic wrapping, when a colleague, who was unaware work was still being done, turned it back on. This resulted in the worker’s hand being trapped between a hot plate and the top of the machine.
WorkSafe’s investigation found the company was aware the machine did not comply with Australian standards and that it could fail to stop when guarding was opened. WorkSafe Manufacturing, Logistics and Agriculture Director, Ross Pilkington, said providing appropriate guarding was a fundamental part of many businesses, especially those working in manufacturing. ‘Appropriate guarding is one of the easiest steps that can be taken to ensure workers do not injure themselves,” he said. ‘Equipment maintenance often comes at little to no cost and ensures workers get home safely at the end of the day. This incident could have been easily prevented if there was an effective lockout-tag out (LOTO) system in place to effectively prevent the accidental starting of machinery.’
Source: WorkSafe Media Release
Central America: Work link in killer kidney disease outbreak
Experts have linked an outbreak of kidney disease that has killed thousands of workers in Central America to workplace hazards. In Chichigalpa, a town in Nicaragua's sugar-growing heartland, studies have found more than one in four men showing symptoms of chronic kidney disease. Press reports say the mysterious epidemic is devastating the Pacific coast of Central America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua since 2000 and striking thousands of others with chronic kidney disease at rates unseen elsewhere. Scientists say they have received reports as far north as southern Mexico and as far south as Panama. Many of the victims were manual labourers or worked in the sugar cane fields that cover much of the coastal lowlands. Chronic dehydration and extremely hard work in hot conditions appears to a possible trigger for the chronic kidney disease, which is normally caused by diabetes and high blood pressure, illnesses absent in most of the patients in Central America. Daniel Brooks, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University's School of Public Health, who has worked on a series of studies of the kidney disease epidemic said, 'The thing that evidence most strongly points to is this idea of manual labour and not enough hydration.’ Dr Catharina Wesseling, regional director of the Program on Work, Health and Environment in Central America said, ‘I think that everything points away from pesticides. It is too multinational; it is too spread out. I would place my bet on repeated dehydration, acute attacks everyday. That is my bet, my guess, but nothing is proved.'
The grass-roots activist organisation GetUp! is urging people to support a global campaign being run by corporate campaigning organisation SumOfUs to urge Apple to provide the same high standards to workers as it demands of its products. As reported in earlier editions of SafetyNet, working conditions are terrible for the people who make, by hand, every gadget Apple sells. In extreme cases, people are literally dying while doing their jobs. Reporters have documented cases of deadly explosions at iPad factories, and instances of workers dying of exhaustion after working thirty-plus hour shifts. According to GetUp!, Australia's smartphone market is a tight competition between iPhone and Android – and so what Australians think about Apple matters. At last week’s AGM SumOfUs presented petition signatures gathered from all over the world demanding safe working conditions for Apple employees.