Issue 232 - SafetyNet 232
The VTHC OHS Unit welcomes readers to Edition 232 of SafetyNet. Firstly we’d like to apologise to those subscribers who received the journal twice last time – a glitch in the system! We’ll try hard to make sure it doesn’t happen too often! But we're sure you'll find the journal interesting, and so forgive our occasional glitches.
Workers bear most costs of workplace injury and disease
Three quarter of the cost of injury and disease is borne by workers and their families. This information comes from one of the two new Safe Work Australia reports released publicly this week by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten this week:
- research on work-related fatalities: Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities, Australia 2009-10; and
- research on the economic cost of work-related injury and disease: The Cost of Work-related Injury and Illness for Australian Employers, Workers and the Community: 2008-09.
In the period, Australia recorded its lowest number of work-related fatalities since 2003-04 (216 fatalities – but this figure does not include deaths related to industrial disease). The Minister commented, ‘The findings show that we are making some progress in reducing the number of Australians killed each year at work. But of course any work-related death is still one too many. What we need is real change in all workplaces so people feel confident to speak up about safety issues and indeed where necessary tell the boss the bad news.’ The Minister also highlighted the estimation that despite lower traumatic fatality numbers, the total cost of work-related injury, illness and disease for the 2008-09 financial year was estimated at $60.6 billion or 4.8 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.
The not surprising revelation that three-quarters of these costs is borne by the injured workers themselves, including loss of current and future income and non-compensated medical expenses confirms what unions have said for a long time. The workplace injury costs to employers include loss of productivity from absent workers, recruitment and retraining costs and fines and penalties from breaches of work health and safety regulations - but this is low compared to the cost to workers. ACTU President Ged Kearney said, ‘This report has found that the cost of each workplace incident is around $99,100 and of this workers pay $73,300, the community $20,800 and employers $5100.’ Ms Kearney encouraged workers to become involved in making their workplace safer by electing health and safety representatives joining their workplace health and safety committee, and by seeking advice from their union.
Minister’s Media Release: Workplace fatalities unacceptably high and costs of injuries at work very high and ACTU Media Release: Unacceptable cost of workplace injuries and diseases is sapping 5% from economic growth
April 28 is the day when unions all around the world remember those who have died as a result of their work – and fight for the living. In 2012, this falls on a Saturday, and so the traditional event at the Trades Hall will take place on the morning of Friday April 27. Details of the Melbourne and regional events will be in the upcoming editions of
SafetyNet so keep an eye open. If you are unable to attend an event, then start thinking about doing something at the workplace. We’ll put some materials and suggestions on the website over the coming weeks.
Read more: Hazards International Workers' Memorial Day website
Federal Government announces National Workers’ Memorial winning design
In May 2011, the Australian Government announced the development of a National Worker’s Memorial – in great part due to the efforts of Senator Doug Cameron, previously the Federal Secretary of the AMWU, who chairs the National Workers’ Memorial Steering Committee. The winning design, selected by an independent jury from a competitive pool of 26 entries, was announced by both Senator Cameron and Senator Bill Shorten in Canberra this week. Senator Shorten said, ‘The memorial will honour and pay tribute to all working Australians who have died as a result of work-related accidents, incidents and disease… It will also provide an important focal point for the national commemoration of Workers’ Memorial Day, recognised internationally on 28 April each year.’ The winning design, by Sydney architectural firm Johnson Pilton Walker, will be made up of a series of tall, slender columns clad in stone representing the contributions and sacrifice of workers from each state and territory in Australia. Each column will be surrounded by concentric rings representing the ‘ripple effect’ a work related death has on family, friends and the local community.
Joint Ministerial Media Release: Design for National Workers Memorial unveiled and Safetyatwork Blog
Coroner refers death to DPP
The Director of Public Prosecutions has been asked by Victorian Coroner Kim Parkinson to consider charges against an air-conditioning company after a worker fell from a faulty ladder while working on a Southbank development site. The coroner found that the ladder on which the 56 yr-old had been working was defective and unstable from modifications and irregular replacement parts. The finding was made on the basis of photographs and evidence provided by fellow workers, the WorkSafe inspector and the Plumbers Union OHS Officer, Steve Rocco. As the ladder was not initially seized by WorkSafe, the photographs taken at the scene on the day were crucial to the outcome. Ms Parkinson also found that safe work practices statement was 'inadequate and incomplete', in that it did not identify the risk of fall from ladders and that the employer, Allstaff Airconditioning Pty Ltd, failed to supervise adequately the wearing of safety equipment.
Ms Parkinson recommended that WorkSafe Victoria should ‘immediately advise building and construction contractors to cease using ‘A’ frame ladders’ for air conditioning ducting and utilise methods of installation, which provide for a stable work platform from which the work may be performed.’
Sources: The Age and the Coroner’s Report.
Readers will be aware that we have been looking at issues relating to work-related cancer in several editions of SafetyNet. There is increasing concern that we are not properly estimating the true level of work-related cancer in Australia and consequently not adequately tackle reducing workplace exposures to carcinogens.
The latest UK Hazards magazine continues the debate, with its main story, ‘This man knows all about cancer’, about Simon Pickvance who, according to Hazards ‘knows numbers are important. Numbers - statistics, victims - establish priorities.’ Simon Pickvance is based at Sheffield University, and s researching occupational bladder cancer risks. His work, he says, has left him ‘baffled’ at the UK’s Health and Safety Executive’s approach to occupational cancer – which is basically to ignore what he says is an occupational cancer epidemic. Pickvance says figures published by HSE suggest over 500 people develop occupational bladder cancer each year, and around 250 people die of the work-related condition. However, he says this is based on a short list of substances and occupations - exposures to just nine substances, for example. Pickvance lists 29 substances where the evidence of a bladder cancer risk is 'strong' or 'good', and 18 others were the evidence is present but 'limited'. A series of other exclusions mean the HSE total dramatically underestimates the real toll. The same problem is repeated for other work cancers, Pickvance says, and could explain why HSE fails to address the problem with the required seriousness.
Read more: This man knows about cancer
A reminder of the ACTU/Cancer Council Forum on Cancer in the Workplace which is being held on Thursday May 3, at Rydges Swanston in Melbourne. The forum will focus on practical solutions for prevention. More information: Forum flyer [pdf]
Hail damaged rooves warning
The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has warned that the recent hailstorms have caused damage to already weathered asbestos cement rooves in factories around Melbourne. In one case workers noticed dust, which turned out to be asbestos, coming from the roof in a Broadmeadows factory. After an investigation and discussions with the company, the roof is to be replaced. The example serves as a warning to all workers – asbestos roof materials are sometimes 40 or 50 years old and already weathered. Storms and hail can make the material even more fragile – or ‘friable’ – making it important to undertake an assessment. Any workplace that has recently been hit by storms, in Victoria and elsewhere, needs to take note.
Key asbestos funding announced
Applicants from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia have been awarded grants under the Comcare Asbestos Innovation Fund announced by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten last week. The Fund, launched by the Federal Government in December 2010, is designed to encourage the development of practical programmes and research which raise awareness of asbestos, improve its management and removal and provide better treatment and support for sufferers and their families. Successful projects include:
- $40,000 for the promotion of the Queensland booklet Identifying Asbestos in your Home to a wide audience, and the development of a second resource book aimed specifically at electricians
- $185,500 over two years to Dr Malcolm Feigen from Austin Health in Melbourne to explore the effects of high dose hemithoracic radiotherapy for localised pleural mesothelioma, using advances in technology
- $170,000 over 30 months to the Baw Baw Shire Council in Victoria to develop a domestic asbestos awareness and training programme for Local Government professionals, home renovators and workers in the waste and building industries.
'Tragically, an estimated 30 to 40 thousand Australians will be diagnosed with an asbestos related disease over the next twenty years,' said Mr Shorten, ‘Many Australians unfortunately believe asbestos no longer poses a danger to the community, or places them at serious risk by handling this deadly material, especially home renovators who often don’t realise the dangers involved.’
Minister Shorten's Media Release
Dust exposure in 1950’s Victoria – lessons for today
For those who didn’t get a chance to read this interesting article by Melbourne University academics Cecily Hunter and Anthony LaMontagne, please take a look: Dust in the Air in 1950s Victoria: History Has Lessons for Twenty-first Century Workers in Dusty Environments
NSW Government votes down fair asbestos compensation legislation
The NSW Opposition has branded ‘cruel’ the current Government’s actions in voting down legislation to provide fairer benefits to the relatives of asbestos victims who die before their case is finalised. Opposition leader John Robertson, said the Government had made an ‘appalling decision’ to ‘turn its back’ on asbestos victims and their families when it opposed Labor’s Compensation to Relatives Legislation Amendment (Dust Diseases) Bill 2012.
‘[The Bill had] sought to implement the Law Reform Commission’s recommendations to provide fairer compensation to asbestos victims and their families,’ he said. ‘The Bill would have overridden the Strikwerda case principle in dust diseases cases to allow the families of asbestos victims who die before their case is finished to receive part of the compensation the victim would have received. [It] would also have allowed the families of asbestos victims to commence a case for these damages up to 12 months after the death of their relative.’
I work in an office, and we’re currently organising nomination of various positions for our emergency evacuation plans. Are there any rules regarding colour coding for hard hats for fire warden, fire assistant, and first aid officer?
There's no specific legislation for this - but this is covered in an Australian Standard AS 3745, which provides 'technical advice', and should be followed. The standard advises:
The members of the ECO (Emergency Control Organisation) shall be identifiable in accordance with the following:
(a) ECO members shall be identifiable by the use of coloured apparel that shall be at least one of the following:
(b) Where in-house first aid personnel respond with the ECO, they shall be identified by a white cross on a green background
(c) Identification apparel should be prominently marked with the wearer’s ECO title.
(d) The type of identification used for each ECO designation shall be consistent throughout the facility.
ECO IDENTIFICATION COLOURS
|Deputy chief warden||White
|First aid officers||Green
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!
What women want: CPSU Report
The largest survey of Australian working women, undertaken by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), has found that women’s workloads are increasing and that they are working additional hours just to get their job done. Nearly three in five women report they work additional hours on a regular basis, and two in three women reporting they almost always or often feel rushed or pressed for time. ‘The CPSU’s annual What Women Want survey raises important questions about women and work,’ National Secretary Nadine Flood said.
The survey of more than 13,000 women also found two in five women have experienced customer aggression at work in the past year. The figure was higher for women working in service-delivery roles such as the Department of Human Services agencies Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support where nearly three in four women have experienced customer aggression. ‘Workplaces should be safe for employees allowing everyone to do their jobs properly,’ Ms Flood said. ‘Customer aggression in the workplace, particularly for women in service-delivery roles, is a significant issue that is threatening the safety of women at work. Further action to manage this risk and protect employees is required.’
Media Release: New research shows women regularly working overtime and Report [pdf]
Carbon nanotubes need controls – if we know we’re using them!Safe Work Australia (SWA) last week launched a new publication on the safe handling and use of carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes have raised serious health concerns, as they share structural similarities with asbestos, and have demonstrated some of the same effects in animal trials. The document describes two approaches to managing the risks:
- Risk management with detailed hazard analysis and exposure assessment, and
- Risk management by using Control Banding
Safe Work publications: Safe handling and use of carbon nanotubes and Safe handling and use of carbon nanotubes in the workplace information sheet Read more on Nanotechnology.
School principals at high risk of violence
A new Monash University study led by Dr Philip Riley has found that Australian school principals experience nearly five times more threats of violence in their workplaces and four times the rate of bullying compared to other managers and employees. Over 2,000 school principals were surveyed. Government school principals working in large rural and other remote towns were most at risk. Secondary school principals reported more violence than primary school principals. One in three government school principals reported being physically attacked or witnessing physical violence in their workplaces last year. It seems aggressive parents were more likely to be the perpetrators, rather than students or teachers.
Source: The Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey – 2011 Interim Report [pdf]
ETU warnings on ‘smart meters’
The Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union, has warned that fundamental concerns about the safety of smart meters still remain in the wake of revelations by Jemena that the company’s investigations have concluded that some recent meter failures have been caused by sabotage. The ETU maintains its recommendation that smart meter repairs be banned until liquid leaks deemed by manufacturer/importer to be safe to handle.
State Secretary Dean Mighell said that it had been brought to the attention of the ETU that there may be inherent health risks associated with the liquid that is present after the failure of smart meters. ‘Until the manufacturer/importer supplies the appropriate Australian Material Safety Data Sheet on the hazardous nature of this liquid, and it is deemed safe to handle, the ETU is recommending that no repair work be conducted until an appropriate risk rated method is implemented,’ Mr Mighell said. ‘Currently the ETU is aware of 12 incidents in which Smart Meters have faulted resulting in a yellow/green liquid being discharged from the unit.’
With regard to the Jemena findings, Mr Mighell said, ‘These acts of sabotage involving pouring acid and other liquids into the meters are dangerous and to do it to vulnerable elderly people and important local medical clinics is a total disgrace and condemned outright by the ETU.’
Sources: The Age and ETU Media Releases: Ban smart meters until deemed safe and Sabotage condemned while smart meter problems remain
Fire on CBD building site creates toxic plume
A fire last week on the top two levels of a seven-storey building site in William St, in Melbourne's CBD has sent toxic smoke blowing across the city. The
Herald Sun reported that seven MFB fire crews worked to extinguish the blaze, thought to have started when sparks from a welder showered electrical wiring on the seventh floor of an office tower undergoing renovations. The fire was brought under control after approximately half an hour and prevented from spreading to another floor. It appears the fire crews had to use extinguishers because water to the site had already been cut off during the renovation work.
Source: The Herald Sun
Driver escapes burning rubbish truck
In another lucky escape, the driver of a rubbish truck jumped to safety this week, when fire engulfed his cabin and the contents of his vehicle. It took firefighters about an hour to contain the fire once it had spread to the tray of the truck, which was half full of waste paper and other recyclable material.
Source: The Age
International Union News
ITUC Report: Gender pay gap
A new report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reveals that worldwide, women are paid 18% on average less than their male counterparts at work. The report, ‘Frozen in time: Gender pay gap unchanged for 10 years’ was released on the eve of International Women’s Day, looks at women’s wages in 43 countries, twice the number of previous studies.
‘For the last decade we have seen women’s wages hitting a road block. The pay gap remains frozen in time almost everywhere. Asia is the continent with the greatest wage differential between men and women with no progress made to close the gap for over a decade,’ said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation.
Read More: Media Release and Report: Frozen in time: Gender pay gap remains unchanged for 10 years
Guatemala: More murders of banana union members
The murder of union members in Guatemala's banana industry is continuing. Seven current or former members of the Guatemalan banana workers' union have been murdered since 2011. The US Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) reports the most recent casualty, Miguel Angel González Ramírez, a member of the Izabal banana workers' union, was shot on 5 February while he was holding his young son. No one has been arrested for murders USLEAP calls 'the slow-moving massacre of the largest private sector union in Guatemala.' On the day of Ramirez's murder, the Guatemalan government had lifted its 24-hour security protection for the union's secretary general. In 2008, under the terms of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), US national union federation AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan unions filed a complaint with the US Labor Department outlining the systemic failure of the government of Guatemala to enforce its own labour laws or to take reasonable action to prevent violence against trade unionists. In 2009, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) named Guatemala the second most dangerous country for trade unionists, behind Colombia. Meanwhile, says USLEAP, violence has sky-rocketed against one of the main filers of the complaint, the banana union SITRABI. It is calling for people to contact the Guatemalan authorities to demand 'an end to violence against SITRABI and other Guatemalan trade unions, and that those responsible for the violence are brought to justice.'
USLEAP news release and action call - you can send a protest letter online.
Work underload increases sick leave
A Swedish study has found that when workers have a lower-than-normal workload they are more likely to take sick leave. The results also suggested that workplace culture and employee satisfaction also contribute. The researchers suggested several possible scenarios, including superiors encouraging workers to take sick leave when the workload is lighter, or workers trying to be flexible and only taking sick leave when impact on work is likely to be low. Dissatisfaction and boredom arising from a low workload was also identified as a possible factor in reducing motivation to attend work.
Low Workload as a Trigger of Sick Leave: Results from a Swedish Case-Crossover Study. [abstract ] Hanna Hultin, et al, Sweden, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 54, Issue 2, February 2012.
Eczema caused by headset
In an article in
Contact Dermatitis of interest to those workers using headsets, it was reported that a 56-yr old worker who wore a headset for 5-6 hours a day in order to type from dictation, developed recurrent eczema of the auditory canal and adjacent auricle. The condition cleared during holidays and recurred when she returned to work. Apart from allergy to jewellery as a teenager, the worker had no history of allergy. It was found that both types of rubber ‘olives’ she used on her headset contained
thiurams - used in producing natural and synthetic rubber – which are a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis. This is rarely seen in office workers, but is common for workers wearing rubber gloves, such as cleaners and health and food workers. The eczema settled when steroid cream was applied for five consecutive days and did not recur when she was supplied with non-rubber alternatives.
Source: OHNews Pföhler C, Körner R, Müller CSL, Vogt T. Occupational allergic contact dermatitis of the ears caused by thiurams in a headset. Contact Dermatitis 2011; 65: 242-2432
WorkSafe announces solid half-year results
WorkSafe Victoria last week announced solid results for the first half of 2011-12, ensuring the Victorian economy would benefit from further reductions in work-related injuries and illness. WorkSafe Chief Executive, Greg Tweedly, said the scheme’s fundamentals remained strong with the key indicator of health - performance from insurance operations - returning $118m, up from $61m in the previous corresponding period. Mr Tweedly said further gains could be made if employers and injured workers actively pursued safe and sustainable return to work at an earlier stage. ‘This will have flow-on benefits for individuals and the Victorian economy. Any injury adds significantly to the cost of doing business, while investing in safety improvements reduces it.’ Read more: WorkSafe Media release
Bendigo blitz reaps results
WorkSafe Victoria issued 117 improvement notices during the Bendigo
Safe Towns project, in which inspectors visited 212 workplaces in the week of February 26 to March 2. The improvement notices, which require businesses to fix health and safety breaches by certain dates, were issued for hazards such as forklift maintenance, guarding, racking, traffic management, personal protective equipment and insufficient return-to-work information. Another 60 breaches were dealt with on the spot. WorkSafe’s General Manager for Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said the inspectors had come across some ‘standout businesses making health and safety a priority’ and where no notices were issued. She also noted that many of the issues identified in Bendigo could be fixed at little to no cost and encouraged businesses to find new ways to address workplace matters.
WorkSafe Media Release
Latest national work fatality report, November 2011
In addition to the two major reports referred to under Union News, Safe Work Australia has released its latest Notified Fatalities Report. There were thirteen work-related notified fatalities reported during November 2011: eleven male workers, and one male and one female bystander. In comparison, there were twelve work-related notified fatalities in the previous month, October 2011, and sixteen fatalities reported in November 2010.
Queensland investigating three fatalities
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has issued an e-alert warning employers to ensure their safety management systems are effective following three recent fatal incidents involving electricity in Queensland. These are:
- A worker was electrocuted while working on a billboard in the western Brisbane suburb of Sherwood.
- A young worker was electrocuted on a construction site at Clermont, 250 km south west of Mackay.
- A worker was killed during the erection of an electrical transmission tower at Jandowae, north-west of Toowoomba. A section of the tower fell while being lifted by a crane.
From WorkSafe Victoria:
- Alert: Working in oxygen-deficient atmospheres. This information is for workers in underground environments.
- Working safely with trees This Information sheet provides assistance in implementing control measures to prevent and reduce work-related injury, illness or death.
- Using equipment to access stock This Health and Safety Solution provides advice for using appropriate equipment to place or retrieve items from shelves or racks at height in the retail, storage and manufacturing industries.
From WorkSafe WA:
- a Guide: Quad Bike Safety — What You Need to Know [pdf] highlighting issues that farm operations need to consider before purchasing a quad bike for on-farm use.
- Safety alert: Guarding for Powered Bin Tippers [pdf] providing information to all employers and employees involved in the operation of this equipment.
Victorian company convicted and fined $250k for fatal fall
Australian Aluminium Shopfitters Pty Ltd (AAS, now in liquidation), a Victorian company, has been convicted and fined $250,000, after a worker deemed to be an employee fell seven storeys and was killed. The company was found to have failed to provide fall protection or induct workers in its safe work method statement. The company had, in January 2010, engaged the employee of a contractor to perform glazing work on a high-rise apartment complex in Dorcas St, South Melbourne. The worker was using an AAS-owned used a cantilevered mobile device with a raised platform (‘the chariot’), to access high points of the building under construction when both he and the chariot tumbled over the edge of the building and fell to the ground below.
Magistrate Duncan Reynolds found the employer breached the Victorian OHS Act, in failing to provide workers with full-perimeter fall protection, instruct workers to use static lines when using the chariot, and induct workers in the applicable SWMS.
After the incident, the CFMEU issued a safety alert banning the use of cantilevered chariots on construction sites: Deathtrap Cantilevered Chariots Banned [pdf].
Toll convicted and fined $45,000
Transport company Toll has been fined $45,000 for failing to ensure an employee was safe from injury at its Burnie port site. A truck driver suffered life threatening injuries when he was hit by a B-double truck in September 2010. The worker spent more than a year in hospital. The company had earlier pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safety at work of its employee. During sentencing the magistrate noted the company had shown remorse and had spent $40,000 on travel costs for the man’s family to be with him during treatment in Melbourne. However, he said changes to make the site safer after the accident should have been made before an employee was injured and that ‘obvious steps could have been taken to eliminate or reduce the risk’.
Source: ABC Online
Malaysia: Fighting against toxic industry
The fight against the Lynas rare earth refinery being built in Kuantan, Malaysia is continuing with increasing public opposition. Lynas had planned to build this refinery near the mine sites in Western Australia but decided to switch to Malaysia because of its weak environmental and OHS standards. This facility will put thousands of workers and their families at risk of radiation and heavy metal contamination.
Read more: Stop Lynas website