SafetyNet 455, September 5, 2018
Welcome to the latest edition of SafetyNet.
Since our last edition we have seen one of Melbourne's biggest industrial fires pollute not only our air, but a number of important waterways and put the health of thousands at risk - another example of the failure of regulation and/or regulators?
Please feel free to make any comments on any issues raised here by sending an email here. (Please don't 'reply' to your email!). To keep up to date and informed between editions of SafetyNet, go to our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page, and for those who are HSRs and/or passionate about health and safety, join the OHS Network page, a safe place to raise and discuss issues: check it out and ask to join.
Huge industrial fire puts many at risk
Last Thursday much of Melbourne awoke to see a huge plume of acrid black smoke billowing across the sky. Those who lived in suburbs surrounding the burning factory in West Footscray also heard many explosions and were told to stay indoors to avoid the toxic fumes. Later in the day, certain areas were evacuated. According to authorities, the fire was one of the biggest since the Coode Island disaster in the early 1990's. It broke out in the early hours - 140 firefighters fought to control the fire, with 30 trucks and cherry picker aerial appliances on the scene. Firefighters had to work half an hour on and half an hour off to ensure they would not be overcome by the fumes. It took until Friday to bring it under control, with the fire continuing to burn for days afterwards. Nearby waterways have been contaminated by the chemicals in the factory and the firefighting foams. Firefighters now believe the cause is suspicious and arson investigators were called in.
As a result of
the fire, questions are being asked regarding which government agency
had responsibility for what. HSRs will be aware that under the Dangerous
Goods Act and regulations, employers and persons with management and
control of workplaces have duties regarding placarding and the storage
of dangerous chemicals. It appears that there is still uncertainty as to
what chemicals had been stored at the factory and in what quantities.
It has also emerged that the premises had not been inspected by WorkSafe
in the previous 12 months at least. Undoubtedly as a direct result of
the fire, last Friday WorkSafe announced it will lead a blitz on
industrial premises in Melbourne's inner western suburbs to ensure that
potentially dangerous chemicals are being stored correctly. Starting
this week, WorkSafe inspectors will conduct visits to ensure site
occupiers are complying with regulations about the labelling, storage
and handling of chemicals, and have the correct emergency controls and
safety equipment in place. They will be joined by inspectors from the
Environment Protection Agency and supported by WorkSafe technical
specialists, and those of the MFB. This joint exercise may be the first time this has occurred.
Read more: Biggest fire in years continues to burn in Melbourne's western suburbs ABC news online; Arson police investigate cause of West Footscray factory fire The Age; WorkSafe Media Release
My question is: when and how are we as HSRs legally entitled to consult with our DWG members? This is because some of our managers have been telling staff that they are to make an appointment with us if they want to see us - otherwise they must go to management.
An HSR is an elected health and safety representative - that is, it is your role to represent the members of the DWG and take up any OHS issues they may have. How can HSRs do this unless they are able to consult with (ie talk to) their members? Remember that when negotiating the number and location of DWGs, there are two key criteria which must be used as guidance:
- the interests of employees to be represented and safeguarded, and
- the need for a rep to be accessible to each member of the group.
This is to ensure that the HSR can consult and represent all the members of the DWG.
Further, the procedures for resolving issues are set out in regulation 24 of the OHS Regulations 2017:
- If a health and safety issue arise; and
- an employee wishes to raise the issue for resolution; then
- the employee must report the issue to the health and safety representative (if there is one); or
- if there is no HSR, then report it to the employer or the employer representative.
So I would be ensuring that your managers understand both your role, and the issue resolution procedures, and stop instructing workers to make appointments with HSRs, or trying to limit your ability to represent your DWG members.
Please send any OHS related queries in to Ask Renata - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.
Bereaved families keep fighting for industrial manslaughter
The families of Charlie Howkins and Jack Brownlee, killed in the Delacombe trench collapse in March, have been tireless in their campaign to see industrial manslaughter legislation introduced in Victoria. Since these two fatalities, another young man has died in a trench collapse in Wallan. A sobering statistic is that today in Australia a person has more chance of coming home from a day's work in the armed forces than in the construction industry.
We do not have workplace manslaughter laws in place in Victoria: but the Labor state government has pledged to introduce such law as part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. Under the proposed new law, employers will face fines of almost $16 million and individuals responsible for negligently causing death will be held to account and face up to 20 years in jail.
For Charlie's wife, Dr Lana Cormie and the Brownlee family, it is simple - bring in the legislation and it may be the impetus for the implementation of safe work cultures across Australia. It also may serve as a warning to workplaces about cost-cutting.
Read more: The Courier
Trades Hall launches new Silica standard
Last week the VTHC launched what it believes should be the national exposure standard for silica: 0.025mg/m3 - this is a dramatic change to the current Australian standard of 0.1mg/m3, which is putting workers at risk of contracting silicosis and cancer every day. The move comes in the wake of an alarming increase in the numbers of workers being diagnosed with silica-related diseases - attributed by respiratory physicians to the explosion in demand for compressed stone benchtops, which are made up of over 85% crystalline silica. Trades Hall Council Secretary Luke Hilakari warned that the current Australian Standard for silica dust exposure is putting workers at risk. "Crystalline silica is the new asbestos, but Australians are simply not aware of the dangers involved in working with such common substance as compressed stone," he said.
The new standard and poster were launched at a special gathering of over 120 CFMEU HSRs. Speaking at the launch were respiratory physician, Dr Ryan Hoy, and Deborah Glass, Associate Professor (Research), Occupational & Environmental Health Sciences, Monash University, both of whom have done research and have raised concerns with the current state in Australia.
Dr Gerry Ayers, CFMEU OHS Manager, said, "Measures to control the hazards from silica are well known. Now is the time to adhere to and enforce these measures - workers deserve and are entitled to the highest levels of protection - so far, this hasn't been the case!" VTHC Media Release. Read more on Silica, and download the poster and VTHC standard, here
Unions critical of National Safety Month theme
According to SWA statistics, 191 people died in Australian last year while doing their job and over 106,000 people made a claim for a serious injury.
We add that in addition to these fatalities, there is evidence that thousands died from work-related illness and disease.
SWA's theme for this year's National Safe Work Month campaign is 'A moment is all it takes'. It calls on everyone to spend a moment each day considering safety in the workplace. SWA CEO Michelle Baxter said that while a safety incident can happen in a moment and in any workplace, a moment's forethought can prevent harm. "Taking a safety moment can be as simple as spending five minutes every morning talking with your team about the hazards and risks in your workplace, and how to prevent harm," Ms Baxter said.A moment??!! The VTHC and a number of our affiliates are concerned that this message misses the mark in terms of ensuring workplaces are safe and without risks to health. and placing the emphasis onto individual workers. As Alan Robert Mansfield from the AMWU NSW branch so aptly responded:
"A moment is all it takes" but that's preceded by
- …seconds of inaction by immediate supervisor
- …minutes of inaction by frontline supervisor
- …hours of inaction by line management
- …days of inaction by production management
- …weeks of inaction by strategic management
- …months of inaction by CEO and Directors
- …years of inaction by Board
- …decades of inaction by regulators.
Lara tip operator abandons site
A tip in Lara, near Geelong, has been a persistent problem for regulators since it opened in 2013. Last year it was barred from accepting new waste by court order following serious, repeated breaches of planning, fire safety and environmental laws. However, by that time it was already stacked with 350,000 cubic meters of construction rubbish, suspected of containing toxic contaminants including asbestos. Emergency services predict a fire at the property could result in a major environmental and public health catastrophe. A complete clean-up will cost up to $100 million depending on the seriousness of the contamination.
David McAuliffe, the owner of C & D Recycling, has now walked away from one of the state's worst fire and environmental hazards and avoided a potential $100 million clean-up bill for the mountain of toxic waste. The the company declared insolvent on Friday by order of the Federal Court after repeated refusals to pay a $307,000 tax debt. There are fears McAuliffe is planning to set sail for Queensland.
Read more: Lara tip operator abandons site, sets sail for Whitsundays The Age
ASEA Conference - register now
If you are interested in any aspects of work and asbestos, then register for this year's ASEA conference 'Asbestos: the next national plan - proactivity, prevention, planning'. This year's conference will focus on the future of the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness - what is the direction of the next national plan and what will it look like?
ASEA has announced that it is extending its early bird registration discount: register by October 12 and save $100. For more information on what to expect at this year's event, visit the ASEA website or follow the agency on Facebook and Twitter.
Trades Hall is hiring
The VTHC has advertised a position for a full-time Research and Policy Officer in the newly launched Migrant Workers Centre at the Trades Hall in Carlton. The MWC is an organising and educational centre that works with migrant workers and their families to untap the collective power of communities to win dignity and respect at work and to fight for a fairer society. The officer will be responsible for producing high quality research, policy advice, reports and government submissions that draw on worker experiences to ensure the voices of migrant workers are heard by key decision-makers in Victoria. Applications close 30 September. Read more, including essential requirements and desirable attributes: Ethical Jobs.
International Union News
UK: Government's Brexit waffle worrying for workers
Government guidance on employment rights after Brexit should no deal be reached "says pretty much nothing", UK's peak union council the TUC has said. "It basically says that nothing will change, which may of course be true on day one but after then all the coming changes to EU regulation, including proposed improvements to chemical safety limits will not apply to Britain," commented TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson. "Also of course there is nothing to stop the UK removing a lot of the protections on day two after Brexit. That is why we need a deal that ensures that Britain will continue to apply all EU rights post Brexit as a minimum." The guide, 'Workplace rights if there's no Brexit deal' is one of the 25 'no deal' Brexit advice papers published by the government on 23 August. The workplace rights guide says any amendments to existing regulations "will not change existing policy". Commenting on the first batch of technical notices on plans for a no-deal Brexit, TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "These papers confirm that a no-deal Brexit is not a credible option. It would be devastating for working people. Jobs and rights at work would be under threat, and price increases would hit already-struggling families hard."
Read more: TUC news release. Workplace rights if there's no Brexit deal, BEIS, 23 August 2018. Prospect news release. Source: Risks 864
'No evidence' mental health first aid works says UK's HSE
While there is growing enthusiasm and government support for mental health first aid (MHFA) in the workplace, there is 'no evidence' it actually leads to any improvements, a new 'summary of the evidence' by the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has concluded. The research report from the safety regulator notes "it is not possible to state whether MHFA training is effective in a workplace setting," adding: "There is a lack of published occupationally-based studies, with limited evidence that the content of MHFA training has been considered for workplace settings." The report concludes: "There is consistent evidence that MHFA training raises employees' awareness of mental ill health conditions. There is no evidence that the introduction of MHFA training in workplaces has resulted in sustained actions in those trained, or that it has improved the wider management of mental ill-health."
The HSE report comes after the TUC earlier this year said that while support for workers is a good thing, "mental health first aiders are not the only option and for union reps usually are not the best option". In March this year, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said MHFA should not be a substitute for prevention. He said: "Unions clearly must be involved both in working with their employer around mental health and supporting members with mental health problems, but MHFA is unlikely to be the most suitable training for trade union representatives." Writing in Hazards magazine, he added: "That is why Mental Health Awareness training is often more appropriate as there is much more emphasis on prevention." Responding to the HSE review, a statement from the national Hazards Campaign warned against "employers adopting MHFA as a sticking plaster solution to the suppurating sore of anxiety, depression and worse caused by insecure work, low pay, excessive workloads, impossible targets, long hours, bullying, harassment and lack of support and respect at work."
Read more: RR1135 - Summary of the evidence on the effectiveness of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training in the workplace, HSE, 2018. Hazards Campaign statement. TUC workbook on mental health in the workplace. Is Mental Health First Aid the answer? Depends on the question. Hugh Robertson, Hazards magazine, number 141, 2018. Related article in the same issue: Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists. Source: Risks 864
OHS Regulator News
October: Health and Safety Month
WorkSafe Victoria has announced that Cameron Ling and Lauren Jackson are this year's ambassadors for Health and Safety Month. The keynote speaker is Julia Gillard, ex-Prime Minister and now chair of beyondblue. Read more about the month, find an event and register here.
Note: the VTHC HSR Conference is scheduled to be held on October 30 at the MCEC. Once we have been granted approval, HSRs will be able to register to attend. Keep your eyes open for more details.
NSW: Harsh workers comp changes lead to deaths
Six NSW injured workers have died since more than 3000 lost their weekly workers compensation benefits over Christmas, raising questions about the harshness of a scheme that is $2 billion in surplus. Carmel Donnelly, chief executive officer for State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA), told a budget estimates committee hearing this week that her agency was notified of 375 injured workers who were potentially at risk of self harm over the past 12 months. There were 13 cases of actual self harm. Of the 3448 who had lost their weekly payments since Christmas, six had died. The cause of the six deaths have not yet been confirmed.
Reports of the deaths have come as an internal government document obtained by NSW Labor reveals the state insurance regulator had anticipated that its policy may result in self harm or even death.
Dr Deborah Vallance, National OHS Officer with the AMWU, said, "The NSW State Workers Compensation Authority knew this would happen. The brutality is shocking. There are many places we need to Change the Rules." Read more: Six deaths since more than 3000 lost workers compensation benefits, The Sydney Morning Herald
Safe Work Australia News
SWA has updated its fatality statistics. As of 30 August 2018, there had been 88 fatalities reported to the national body - this is five more than the last update on 16 August. The workers killed so far this year have been in the following industries:
- 26 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 26 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 16 Construction
- 7 Manufacturing
- 5 Mining
- 2 Wholesale trade
- 2 Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 1 Administrative and support services
- 1 Arts and recreation services
- 1 Public administration & safety
- 1 Rental, hiring and real estate
To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage).
There still has not been an updated monthly fatality report - the latest was that for December 2017, during which there 21 work-related notifiable fatalities. To download the latest report, go to the Notifiable Fatalities Monthly Report webpage.
Solar panel company convicted, fined after worker falls 5m
On 17 January 2017, a crew from Concord Builders Group Pty Ltd attended a two storey residential property in Warrnambool to complete the installation of solar panels on the roof. A worker fell approximately 5 metres from the roof to the ground and suffered multiple injuries including nine broken ribs and broken bones in his neck.
The court found that Concord had not provided any fall protection, nor prepared a safe work method statement as required by the OHS Regulations. The company was convicted and fined $70,000, plus $5,577 in costs.
Appeal by DPP increases fine, records conviction
A residential construction company, Reborn Projects Pty Ltd, had engaged a subcontractor to supply, install and eventually remove scaffold to a residential extension underway in Brunswick. On 15 November 2016, the subcontractor scaffolding crew arrived to install scaffold. A Reborn representative was also onsite. The scaffolding crew leader accessed the second storey of the structure via ladder, through a stair void, which was unprotected. He was standing near the void as the crew passed scaffold components up to him, and was also discussing the job with Reborn's representative. He stepped on a timber brace which gave way, and fell through the void to the floor. In May this year the company pleaded guilty to breaching s26 of the OHS Act, and was without conviction fined $10,000, plus $3,505 costs.
The Director of Public Prosecutions brought an appeal against this sentence. On 3 September 2018 in the County Court His Honour Judge Lyon set aside the orders of the lower court and sentenced the offender to a fine in the amount of $15,000, with conviction. His Honour also ordered the same costs as imposed by the Magistrates' Court, in the amount of $3,505.
To check the others, and any new ones reported before the next edition of SafetyNet, go to the Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
QLD: First Eagle Farm sentence imposed
A PCBU ('person conducting a business or undertaking' - the term for 'employer' under the WHS legislation) charged over the deaths of two workers at the Eagle Farm Racecourse construction site in October 2016 has become the first entity to be sentenced over the incident.
The Queensland site's principal contractor, Criscon Pty Ltd, was initially charged with breaching section 31 ("Reckless conduct–category 1") of the State WHS Act, before pleading guilty to a less serious section 32 breach, and being fined $405,000, plus $3,179 in costs, in the Brisbane Magistrates Court this week. Although Magistrate Wendy Cull found an appropriate penalty was $540,000, she reduced this by 25 per cent for Criscon's plea, and also decided not to record a conviction.
The two workers were fatally crushed by a 14-tonne precast wall panel, in a drainage tank under construction, which fell on them when a crane attempted to install the fourth and final panel.
Construction site manager Michael Crisci, Criscon director Clemente Crisci and crane operator Collin James Young were also charged with WHS breaches relating to the double fatality, but the charges against the elderly director and the crane operator were later dropped.
Claudio D'Alessandro, who controlled the construction of the drainage tanks, has been charged by police with two counts of manslaughter under the Criminal Code, as well as charged with breaching the WHS Act in recklessly exposing workers to the risk of serious injury or death in another drainage tank. However, the WHS charges were withdrawn. This raises the question of what will happen if he is not found guilty for the manslaughter charges. He is due to appear in court on 28 September. Michael Crisci is scheduled to face court on the same day. Source: OHSAlert
USA: Anniversary of Hamlet fire that killed 25 locked in workers
Tuesday September 4 marked the twenty-sixth anniversary of when twenty-five chicken processing workers were killed when fire swept through the Imperial Food Products Company plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. A grease fire started on a chicken fryer and spread quickly inside the Imperial Foods Products building. Emergency response was delayed because telephones inside the building could not be used. The building's sprinkler system failed, forcing workers to run through heavy smoke. Workers tried desperately to escape the smoke and flames, clawing at exit doors that had been locked to keep the workers from stealing chickens.
In its entire 11 year existence, OSHA had never inspected the plant. Plant owner Emmett Roe, age 65, was sentenced to 19 years, 11 months in prison, but was let out after serving four.
As the Confined Spaces blog points out: of course, some lessons are never learned. OSHA still frequently cites establishments for blocked fire exits. Dollar General and Dollar Tree for example have been cited by OSHA numerous times for blocking exits. In 2015, OSHA reached a settlement with Dollar Tree concerning blocked exits and other issues. The settlement was intended to resolve numerous contested citations, and included an agreement by the company would pay US$825,000 in penalties arising from 13 different inspections. Nevertheless, Dollar Tree violations continue, the most recent last July 3.
Source: Confined Spaces Blog