Issue 234 - SafetyNet 234
Here’s Edition 234 of the VTHC fortnightly OHS bulletin
SafetyNet. We hope our readers had a safe and happy Easter break. If you would like to send in any comments on this issue in particular, or the journal in general, please email them through to Renata
Victorian government claims harmonisation too big a ‘burden’ on businessThe day before COAG, Victoria’s Premier, Ted Baillieu, has said in a media release that the harmonised Work Health Safety legislation ‘would take Victorian business backwards and impact severely on the productivity of the State's small businesses,’ according to the regulation impact statement report the government commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to write. According to the report, the harmonised laws would place a cost burden to business of $3.44 billion with 78% of transition costs and 74% of ongoing costs hitting small business. ‘The proposed laws do not deliver on the intent of the COAG reform agreed to in 2008, which aimed to reduce the cost of regulation and enhance productivity and workforce mobility,’ he is reported to have said. In the joint media release, Victoria's Deputy Treasurer and Minister for WorkCover, Gordon Rich-Phillips, said: 'It's certainly a very big impact on Victorian business and one we regard as unacceptable.' He added 'Victoria has the best record on workplace safety across the states....We just don't see a reason to impose a $3.5 billion red tape burden on business when we're already performing very strongly on workplace safety.' Federal Shadow Workplace Relations Minister Eric Abetz, also issued a media release, echoing his state Liberal colleagues.
The report was compiled without input from Victoria's unions or workers.
Sources: Premier Baillieu and Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips Media Release [pdf] Summary Report of Supplementary Impact Assessment [pdf]
International Workers Memorial Day – April 28
Don’t forget International Workers Memorial Day April 28 - the day when unions all around the world not only remember those who have died due to work, but fight like hell for the living by making our workplaces safer. The international theme for 2012 is
“Unions make work safer” - acknowledging the crucial role played by trade unions, strong regulation and effective enforcement in securing safer workplaces. In addition to the international theme, Australian unions are focussing on industrial deaths caused by exposure to toxic substances, most notably asbestos. Our aim is to have an Asbestos-Free Australia by 2030 - and to initiate a staged removal of asbestos immediately.
As April 28 falls on a Saturday this year, so we invite you to the event at the Trades Hall at 10.30am on the morning of
Friday April 27. We hope that hundreds will attend the event, run jointly by the VTHC and IDSA – the Industrial Deaths Support and Advocacy group. Come and join us at the corner of Victoria and Lygon Streets for a short ceremony. Everyone is then invited to a morning tea hosted by IDSA. If you are unable to attend an event, then start thinking about doing something at the workplace.
Read more: in Victoria and internationally: Hazards International Workers’ Memorial Day website
Due to savage cuts in the OHS budget of the UK regulator, the HSE, UK unions have declared April 28 as ‘Defend health and safety Day of Action’. Read more – TUC Bulletin Number 5 - this issue covers the benefits of union health and safety representatives; How they make a difference; Role of representatives under the UK’s conservative government; What reps can do.
Worker killed in Scoresby
A 65-year-old Epping man was killed in Scoresby on the afternoon of Tuesday April 3. The incident occurred at a workplace on Dalmore Drive just after 4pm when a security gate fell on the worker as he was closing it. It appears the man fell backwards as a result and sustained fatal head injuries. He died at the scene.
WorkSafe went to the site on the day to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident. The fatality took Victoria’s workplace death toll for 2012 to five, compared to two the same time last year.
UnionsNSW endorses ‘green ban’ for asbestos site
The peak union council in NSW has endorsed an interim ‘green ban’ on an asbestos-contaminated site at Camelia in west Sydney. James Hardie shut the site down and laid a concrete slab over it a decade ago when it became aware of the site’s asbestos threat. According to Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon waste management firm, Remondis, despite concerns from local residents and the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia (ADFA), now wants to build a waste treatment plant on the site.
‘There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, and on the face of it, this proposal represents a risk to the health and safety of Camellia residents,’ he said. ‘There are concerns that the concrete cap containing the asbestos could be cracked over time, due to the movement of heavy vehicles at the site.’ Remondis’s proposal will be the considered both by Parramatta Council and the NSW Planning Assessment Commission. UnionsNSW news
Shut down on major NSW construction site
Earlier this week, the CFMEU’s NSW branch shut down the large Barangaroo site on Sydney Harbour after discovering a history of workers not being alerted to the presence of asbestos. The 150 workers on site were removed immediately. The union had been investigating reports of asbestos–like substances from workers on site, when it discovered that there had been 13 other finds of asbestos since the project started. According to the union, archaeologists, contractors and others had found and reported the presence of asbestos to the site manager, Bovis Lend Lease, but that workers and the community were never alerted to the potential dangers.
CFMEU Construction NSW state secretary Brian Parker said, ‘The Union is of course deeply concerned about the dangers posed to workers, but the broader community has the right to be asking questions as well. On a high-wind day, there is a real chance that dust from the site could blow all the way up to King Street Wharf. The Barangaroo site is right across the road from a childcare centre and we are concerned about the potential for exposure there as well.’
CFMEU NEWS Significant asbestos finds force stop work at Barangaroo Lend Lease Media Release and Letter to the Community [pdf]
Phasing out lead in industrial paints?
In 2009, particular lead compounds were to be phased out of industrial surface coatings - such products as paints for factories, bridges, motor vehicles, machinery & equipment, coating of materials used in commercial buildings such as window frames. The phase out was recommended due to the known health effects of lead and availability of safer alternatives. The Federal government is now conducting a survey to see if the phase out has been effective.
Responses to the survey, which runs until Friday 27 April 2012, will be confidential and no persons/companies will be identified. If you are a person who works with industrial paints and/or inks, either in the manufacture, application, or use in a process, click here to access the survey. Further detailed information is available from NICNAS, the Federal government agency that assesses new chemicals. If you would like more information on the survey, contact Stephen Zaluzny by e-mail
After reading the item on work-related cancer in SafetyNet 233, Rory O’Neill, editor of renowned international e-publication Risks, sent in comment, specifically on the Canadian article: 16 cancer-causing agents in Canadian workplaces which stated that CAREX Canada had found ‘16 known carcinogens’ in Canadian workplaces. According to Rory, Canada, with its traditional primary production and manufacturing, is likely to be one of the most dangerous places to work, in terms of workplace carcinogen count. He dismissed the notion of there only being 16 carcinogens, naming, ‘off the top of my head’: silica, diesel exhaust, asbestos, chromium, nickel, lead, cadmium, beryllium, mineral oils, wood dust, formaldehyde, solar radiation, ionising radiation, MbOCA, azo dyes, cytotoxic and other drugs, numerous solvents and pesticides and ‘many, many more that trip off the tongue, and that’s without even starting on risk like shiftwork’. In the UK, Simon Pickvance, in Hazards identified 47 potential causes of bladder cancer alone (reported in an earlier edition of SafetyNet). Rory said, ‘Finding links to cancer and occupation is only tricky because no-one is asking the workers and those not asking are using research tools peculiarly ill-fitted to the task. It is also hobbled because there is no suggestion we should be adopting a precautionary approach – for example, the list of workplace risks expands dramatically if you include 2a and 2b IARC carcinogens. What’s lacking here is volume of studies to firm up the link, not volume of casualties.’
Come and be involved in the discussion of workplace cancer in Australia: come to the ACTU/Cancer Council Forum on Cancer in the Workplace on Thursday May 3, at Rydges Swanston in Melbourne. The forum will focus on practical solutions for prevention. More information: Updated Forum flyer [pdf] with details of the speakers, including international guest speaker Lucille Servidio who has been in environmental consulting for 21 years. Lucille’s experiences have focussed on assisting USA manufacturing industry solve their environmental compliance challenges.
One of the drivers recently had chest pain and shortness of breath while driving. He called our fleet operations for assistance and was asked if he required an ambulance. Naturally he said yes. The company refuse to cover the cost of the ambulance and he has had to pay. Shouldn't our employer provide medical assistance while we're at work?
This isn’t only an OHS issue, so Renata sought the advice of the Workers Compensation experts at the VTHC’s Union Assist. This is the advice they gave her:
Yes, the employer should provide medical assistance for employees while at work, however, the issue of who is responsible for the payment of the ambulance is a separate issue.
IF the condition/incident is a work-related one, and the employee submits a workers’ compensation claim which is accepted, then the cost of the ambulance would be covered by the workers' compensation insurance. Consequently, the worker should consult with his treating doctor about the condition - if his doctor believes it may be work related then he needs to put in a Workers Compensation claim.
However, if the condition was not work-related, and the driver does claim workers’ comp (OR the claim is rejected), then the employer has no LEGAL duty to pay for the ambulance, even if they offered to call the ambulance.
If this is the case, if the worker has private health insurance, he should check whether ambulance cover is provided through this.
The final thing, though, is to contact the union, to see whether the may be something in the EBA.
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!
Baiada successful in fatality conviction appeal – Union launches campaign
Baiada Poultry Pty Ltd has won a High Court appeal against a conviction related to the death of a trucking contractor died at a chicken farm in 2005. The High Court has ordered a new trial over the death of Mario Azzopardi and set aside the criminal conviction and $300,000 fine the Victorian County Court imposed on Baiada in 2009. Baiada's argued it did not have control over sub-contractors. Four judges said Baiada could argue it relied on independent contractors such as Azzopardi to keep the workplace safe, rather than closely monitoring the loading and unloading of trucks. This ruling puts into question the employer duties to contractors, considered as ‘employees’, under Section 21(3) of the Victorian OHS Act.
Baiada hired Azzopardi's company, Azzopardi Haulage, to deliver crates of chickens from a farm owned by contract growers to the company's slaughterhouse in Laverton North. A forklift, driven by an unlicensed worker employed by a subcontractor, caused a 550kg steel box to fall, crushing Azzopardi. The subcontractor, DMP Poultech Pty Ltd, was fined $400,000 over the incident.
The day before the High Court decision, the National Union of Workers (NUW) released a discussion paper 'Better Jobs 4 Better Chicken' [pdf] which outlines how contracting practices in the poultry industry lead to workers being exploited and exposed to a high risk of injury and death, despite employer claims that contracting gave businesses greater flexibility and improved productivity. The discussion paper forms part of a national campaign calling for a code of conduct for the industry, restrictions on working hours and changes to the Migration Act to give legal protections to workers.
Read more: NUW News
Free training for small/medium businesses
Are you or do you work in a small and medium sized business in the hospitality, manufacturing or retail sector? If so, then a reminder of the WorkSafe-funded bullying prevention project –
Top Down Bottom Up. The project provides free training for managers and supervisors, development and networking opportunities for staff, practical strategies to deal with bullying at work and free onsite coaching. Come along to the information session on Friday April 20, 9.30-11.30am at Spring Street Conference Centre, 1 Spring Street, Melbourne. To register and for more information contact the project partners: Brian Martin (ph: 0400 939 800 or email ) or Deb Ferguson (ph: 041 021 2001 or email )
International Union News
UK: TUC advice on work-related asthma right
The UK’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has advised doctors to explore the potential job-related causes of asthma when diagnosing patients – good advice for Australian doctors too, as asthma rates have been increasing in this country. The RCP says an estimated one in six cases of asthma in the UK in people of working age is either caused or aggravated by work-related factors. New RCP guidance advises hospital doctors to question patients with respiratory problems about their job, the materials they work with and whether their symptoms improve when they are away from work. Dr Paul Nicholson, lead author of the guidance, said: 'Highlighting the prevalence of occupational asthma is absolutely key, as too often work-related factors are overlooked leading to unnecessary delays in proper investigation and management. When a patient displays signs of asthma, doctors should be enquiring about the patient's job, the materials they work with, and whether their symptoms improve regularly when away from work.' The guidance, published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, recommends that doctors seek consent from sufferers to communicate with the employer and advise them of the diagnosis and of the need to protect the patient from further exposure. The medical profession is belatedly catching up with unions, which long ago recognised the real extent of occupational asthma. 'Asthma at work', a 1995 report from the TUC, concluded 1 in 5 adult asthma cases were work-related and called for urgent preventive action. At the time, this was dramatically higher than official estimates. Since then, however, reports have indicated the TUC figure was the most accurate around.
RCP news release and report, Concise guidance: diagnosis, management and prevention of occupational asthma [pdf] Source: Risks 550
China: Apple report confirms abuses
An independent investigation has found 'significant issues' at Chinese plants making Apple iPhones and iPads, including safety concerns, excessive hours and low pay. Campaigners say the report goes easy on Apple and avoids addressing issues such as subcontractor Foxconn's 'militaristic' management style. Apple requested the US Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate working conditions at Foxconn after reports of long hours and poor safety. The FLA says it has now secured agreements to reduce hours, protect pay, and improve staff representation. According to Apple it 'fully accepted' the report's recommendations: 'We share the FLA's goal of improving lives and raising the bar for manufacturing companies everywhere.' The investigation - one of the largest ever conducted of a US company's operations abroad – found employees often worked more than 60 hours a week, sometimes for seven days without the required day off; worked unpaid overtime and were exposed to OHS risks. Foxconn has agreed to comply with the FLA’s standards on working hours by July 2013, bringing them in line with a legal limit in China of 49 hours per week, and will hire thousands more workers to do so. However, campaign group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) said 'the problem of harsh management and work pressure has been tactfully omitted in the report'. Ted Smith, from the International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT), referencing Apple's iconic 'Think Different' PR campaign, said: 'Apple could insist that Foxconn open its doors to outside NGOs and experts to help develop safer and more transparent production methods. A small fraction of Apple's cash reserves could provide a huge step toward developing sustainable production benchmarks that would be a beacon for the industry. That kind of leadership would truly be a way to 'think different.'
FLA news release . SACOM news release. SumOfUs.org news release. Source: Risks 550
Asbestos exposure increases risk of cardiovascular disease
Asbestos is known to be an inflammatory agent, and there is evidence
that inflammatory processes are involved in the development of
cardiovascular disease. What has not yet been established, however, is
whether asbestos is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. UK
researchers have recently published the results of a study the objective
of which was to investigate cardiovascular disease mortality in a large
cohort of workers occupationally exposed to asbestos. After analysing
cardiovascular disease mortality in a group of 98,912 asbestos workers,
with median follow-up of 19 years, the researchers found some evidence
that occupational exposure to asbestos was associated with
cardiovascular disease mortality in this group of workers.
Cerebrovascular (strokes) and ischaemic heart disease (IHD) mortality
was significantly higher among these asbestos workers than in the
general population and within the cohort mortality was associated with
indicators of asbestos exposure.
A-H Harding; Darnton A; Osman J: Cardiovascular disease mortality among British asbestos workers 1971–2005) [ abstract] Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oemed-2011-100313
Other WorkSafe Victoria news
WorkSafe warns construction industry
Following two serious incidents in a week - a falling scaffold at Glen Waverley and a crane truck that tipped while unloading a portable classroom, smashing it, at Epping - WorkSafe has warned the industry as a whole to do more to ensure safety standards are maintained. While these incidents did not result in anyone being hurt, the potential was considerable and caused considerable damage and disruption.
The incident at Epping destroyed a nine-metre long portable classroom which will have to be replaced while the collapse of a two-storey scaffold near Waverley railway station on echoes others in Melbourne in recent years. (see item under Prosecutions, below).
Ballarat to be targetted in ‘Safety Town’ project
WorkSafe inspectors will visit small businesses in Ballarat later this month to check on health and safety compliance as part of an ongoing campaign across regional Victoria. WorkSafe invited businesses in the area to free breakfast briefing today to find out more about what health and safety and return to work inspectors will be looking for when they arrive.
WorkSafe Victoria looking for inspectors
The Victorian regulator began an inspector recruitment campaign last week and is says it is ‘encouraging those who want to help keep Victoria the safest place to work in Australia to apply’. Roles are available across Melbourne and regional Victoria and successful candidates will work in multi-disciplinary teams covering a range of industries. Applications close April 15. WorkSafe Media Release
Safe Work Australia news
Five more Codes of Practice released for public comment
Five new work health and safety model Codes of Practice were released last week for a 12 week public comment period (to 22 June 2012). These are:
Safe Design, Manufacture, Import and Supply of Plant
Working in the Vicinity of Overhead and Underground Electrical Lines
Traffic Management in Workplaces
Scaffolding Work, and
Formwork and Falsework.
Safe Work Australia is encouraging businesses, industries, workers and the wider community to take this opportunity to contribute to work health and safety issues that directly affect their workplaces and their working lives.
Go to this Safe Work Australia webpage to access the codes and find out more regarding providing comment.
Last chance to nominate for Comcare awards
The closing date for nominations for the 2012 Comcare Work Health and Safety Awards has been extended and will close Monday 23 April 2012, so if you’re interested in nominating yourself (!) or someone else, do it quickly. Go to their webpage and do it.’
Comcare Awards homepage
WorkSafe WA to investigate crocodile attack
Worksafe WA will probably investigate a crocodile attack in the Kimberley because the victim was at work at the time. The young worker was getting out of a fresh-water pool at Talbot Bay, about 200 kilometres North of Broome, when she was bitten on the leg by a two-metre crocodile. She was working on the cruise ship, True North, owned by North Star Cruises, at the time. The boat's owner is preparing an incident report for Worksafe.
Worksafe Commissioner Lex McCulloch says the report will determine whether charges are laid. ‘We do investigate and that may well lead to charges,’ he told the ABC. ‘If they're not able to demonstrate to us they've thought about the issue, they've identified the risks, they've done the training with their people as to what they should be doing in those situations. They've put systems in place to manage it then we can take action in relation to that.’
The Commonwealth Government has initiated a Better Regulation Ministerial Partnership (BRMP) between the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and the Minister for Health and Ageing to specifically make recommendations on the regulation of industrial chemicals, which, in effect, involves reviewing NICNAS. A total of 21 submissions were received in response to the call for public submissions to the review between 1 November and 14 December 2011. These included a joint VTHC/QCU/ACTU submission, as well as from industry associations, and others, and can be viewed online on the Office of Chemical Safety website.
A discussion paper outlining options for reform will be released for public consultation following the Easter break. It is planned that a number of workshops will be held in various capital cities (depending on interest) about half way through the eight week consultation period. The workshops are intended to take people through the main issues raised in the discussion paper and the implications of these in order to facilitate public comment. Further information about the discussion paper and the consultation period will be available on the OCS website.
From WorkCover NSW: An Alert Serious burns incidents – Restaurant, kitchen operators and workers beware [pdf] for workers and employers in restaurants to correctly store and use hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
Farm vehicle prosecutions
A Werribee vegetable grower has been convicted and fined $80,000, following an incident where a woman was run over and killed by a truck reversing from a machinery shed. In addition, a man who ran a labour hire company which supplied workers to the property was also fined $15,000.
The company, J & K Zausa Investments Pty Ltd and Perica Simic who ran a labour hire company were prosecuted after the death of Katerina Hrecesin, 61, who died in December 2008. WorkSafe’s Director of Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said the penalties were significant for small businesses and should send a clear message about the commercial impact of what can happen when appropriate standards are not in place or maintained.
County Court Judge Irene Lawson was told WorkSafe’s investigation into the death of Ms Hrecesin found traffic management at the Werribee South farm was poor and that a number of safety improvements had to be made after the incident. These included marked walkways, plastic bollards and chains, as well as signage and induction of new workers. Although the truck’s reversing beeper was working, the driver did not see the woman, who other workers said had bent down to pick something up off the ground.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release Farm safety includes traffic management
Third prosecution over Prahran scaffold collapse
Keilor company, SMS Scaffolding Pty Ltd, was the third company to be prosecuted over the collapse of the scaffold which injured three people and caused havoc in Commercial Road in February 2009. WorkSafe investigations found that SMS failed to ensure the scaffolding was stable and built in accordance with the engineering design and Australian Standards. It also failed to ensure there were Safe Work Methods Statements for work undertaken on the structure, and failed to provide adequate supervision for their employees at the site.
The company pleaded guilty to two charges and was convicted and fined $140,000 (plus costs of $5536.87) for failing to take care for the safety of its own employees and people other than its employees. Asian Pacific Building Corporation was convicted and fined $170,000 as the developer of the project (see SafetyNet 233) and EGI Bricklaying was prosecuted in November last year and was fined $100,000.
WorkSafe Media Release
Fatality fine nearly doubled after appeal
A division of a major Australasian forestry company had its fine for workplace safety breaches nearly doubled after an appeal in the County Court. Carter Holt Harvey Woodproducts Australia Pty Ltd, now part of BSG Holdings Pty Ltd, was convicted and fined $230,000 after being initially convicted and fined $120,000 plus costs in 2010 over the 2008 death of a 35yr-old worker. The young woman was killed when a one-and-a-half tonne timber pack hoist fell on her as she dislodged a jammed piece of timber at its Morwell wood processing plant.
The Director of Public Prosecutions took the matter to appeal on the basis that the original fine was manifestly inadequate. Judge Tinney said while the company had not blatantly disregarded safety, it had been blind to a common enough hazard and should have been more aware of it given the size and nature of the machine. WorkSafe’s Executive Director for Health and Safety, Ian Forsyth, welcomed the increase saying timber milling was high-risk work requiring employers to provide the highest possible level of protection for their workers. ‘We expect a company which is part of a major player in the forestry industry to be leading the way on health and safety – clearly this wasn’t the case,’ he said.
Read more: WorkSafe Media Release.
$50,000 fine following electric shock incident
Mulgrave sign installation company Southern Ultimate Sign Installations Pty Ltd (Southern USI) was last week convicted and fined $50,000 over an incident that left a worker with severe burns to his body after he suffered an electric shock. The company pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to provide a safe system of work. In November 2010 a worker and his colleague were dismantling an advertising sign at Northland Shopping Centre in Preston, when he received an electric shock which put him in intensive care for five days and necessitated extensive skin grafts to treat third degree burns. WorkSafe’s investigation revealed the company had failed to ensure employees had sufficient training when working near powerlines at this particular site and that it could have installed “fixed tracking” at the site, which would have prevented the worker from being able to remove the metal rods over his shoulder, striking the power lines.
WorkSafe Media Release
Europe: Stress in the workplace to rise according to 8 in 10 workers
According to results from the 2nd European Opinion Poll on Occupational Safety and Health, job-related stress is a concern for the large majority of the European workforce. The survey, conducted on behalf of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), measured the opinions of over 35,000 members of the general public in 36 European countries on contemporary workplace issues including job-related stress, and the importance of occupational safety and health for economic competitiveness and in the context of longer working lives.
Eight in ten of the working population across Europe think that the number of people suffering from job-related stress over the next five years will increase (80%), with as many as 52% expecting this to ‘increase a lot’. This echoes the findings of EU-OSHA’s ESENER survey on new and emerging workplace risks which found that 79% of managers think that stress is an issue in their companies, making stress at work as important as workplace accidents for companies.
‘The financial crisis and the changing world of work is making increased demands on workers, therefore it is unsurprising that work-related stress is at the forefront of people’s minds,’ says Dr Christa Sedlatschek, Director of EU-OSHA. ‘Regardless of age, gender and organisation size an overwhelming majority of people believe that work-related stress will rise. Nonetheless there are interesting national variations in those who expect job-related stress to ‘increase a lot’, with Norwegians least worried (16%), for instance, and Greeks most worried about rising stress (83% ‘increase a lot’). Tackling psychosocial risks is a major focus of EU-OSHA’s work to improve the lives of workers across Europe.’
EU-OHSA Media Release