SafetyNet 475

After a horror start to the year, there's some good news this week with Safe Work Australia proposing to slash the silica exposure standard.

Please send any comments, good or bad, or if you would like to share some news or have a story, tell us by sending an email here. (Please don't 'reply' to your email). Remember: 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.

Union News

Ask Renata

Hello Renata, 
Can a manager present a site induction from a printed booklet when he has not been to the site and the site is not owned by our employer? We have been asked to read and then sign to say we have understood the Induction even though we have not been to the site, nor been taken through it. From what I know, the workplace has containers, container loading tractors, trucks, rail traffic, and so on.

No I don't think this is adequate and you and the other workers should not sign the document.

Under section 21(2)(e) of the OHS Act, the employer must "provide such information, instruction, training or supervision to employees of the employer as is necessary to enable those persons to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health."

This applies to both 'direct' employees AND, for the purposes of 21(1) and 21(2):

  1. a reference to an employee includes a reference to an independent contractor engaged by an employer and any employees of the independent contractor; and
  2. the duties of an employer under those subsections extend to an independent contractor engaged by the employer, and any employees of the independent contractor, in relation to matters over which the employer has control or would have control if not for any agreement purporting to limit or remove that control.

This means both your employer and also whoever the employer is at the site have duties to you and the other workers.Reading a manual for a site where there is continuous movement and change is not sufficient to ensure you have been given adequate information so that you can work safely. Also, this business of asking workers to 'sign off' would not satisfy the requirements – some might sign out of embarrassment, fear, or whatever, and not really have understood the information.

Check out this information on Induction Training.

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.

Union silica, coal campaigns pay off
In the light of the re-emergence of black lung disease in mines and silicosis in young workers, unions and respiratory physicians around the country have been campaigning on silica and coal dust over the past few months. These campaigns have paid off with Safe Work Australia announcing that it is seeking comment on draft recommendations to greatly reduce the exposure standards for these two substances.

SWA has announced it is currently evaluating the Workplace exposure standards (WES) for airborne contaminants "to ensure they are based on the highest quality evidence and supported by a rigorous scientific approach", and will be seeking comments on the draft evaluation reports and recommendations for the WES throughout 2019. A review of all the WES is well overdue, with little movement in these for several years.

SWA is kicking off the process with comments sought on the recommended values for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and respirable coal dust (RCD). We can only assume that public and union pressure has led to this outcome.

SWA is particularly seeking comments of a technical nature regarding:

  • the toxicological information and data that the value is based upon, and
  • the measurement and analysis information provided.

The draft report on silica recommends a TWA of 0.02 mg/m3 to protect for fibrosis and silicosis, and consequently minimise the risk of lung cancer, in workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica at the workplace. The VTHC has been campaigning to reduce the current silica exposure standard of 0.1mg/m3 and supports the recommendation.

SWA is proposing the WES for respirable coal dust (with less than 5% quartz) be cut from a time-weighted average (TWA) of 3mg/m3 over eight hours to as low as 0.4mg/m3 for anthracite coal, which has a very high carbon content, and to 0.9mg/m3 for bituminous and lignite coal, to prevent coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP, or black lung), progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

To provide comments on the draft evaluation reports and recommendations for respirable crystalline silica and respirable coal dust by 30 April 2019, access the SWA consultation platform Engage.  Help strengthen the VTHC submission supporting the reduced exposure standard by signing Greg Ballantyne's petition now!

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Asbestos News
J&J talc supplier files for bankruptcy
Imerys Talc America Inc. has filed for bankruptcy protection as it faces accusations that the talc it supplied for Johnson & Johnson's baby powder causes cancer.

The company filed for chapter 11 protection last week after spending tens of millions of dollars to defend itself against lawsuits alleging its talcum powder causes ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. The talc supplier faces claims from more than 14,600 people, a number that has grown dramatically in recent years in the wake of large verdicts against Imerys and baby powder maker Johnson & Johnson.

The two companies contend talc doesn't cause cancer or contain asbestos and have succeeded in getting some verdicts overturned on appeal. Read more ACVFN

International union news
Bangladesh: 1000s of workers lose jobs, face violence
A massive wave of protesting garment workers demanding an increase of minimum wages swept across Bangladesh's garment industry in December 2018 and January 2019. State repression following the protest has resulted in arrests and mass terminations of workers in more than a hundred garment manufacturing units. According to an estimate provided by the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC), the national coordinating body of affiliates of IndustriALL Global Union, over 11,600 workers have lost their jobs.

Employers and the police have filed cases against over 3,000 unidentified workers and about 70 workers have been arrested, some of them released on bail. Earlier this year, one worker was killed and many injured in the protests.

Weeks after the protests, many workers fear being arrested on false charges. Large numbers of workers have faced threats of physical violence by hired goons if they continue to demand higher wages.
Read more: IndustriALL media release

Brazil: Unions mobilise for victims of dam disaster
Unions are stepping in to support the victims and bereaved families of last month's Brazilian mine disaster, which may have claimed over 300 lives - 121 bodies have been recovered but 205 people are still missing (SafetyNet 472). Global union federations BWI and IndustriALL are also calling wide-ranging safety improvements. The Mine do Feijão dam in Brumadinho collapsed on 25 January 2019. It is the second deadly collapse in Brazil in three years associated with mining multinational Vale, which operates the mine. Unions are proposing a permanent forum for negotiating on the safety of Vale dams and an investigation with full union participation into the latest disaster. They also want negotiations on working conditions at the mine. Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the global building union federation BWI, stressed the connection between occupational health and safety for workers and the dangers to local communities, stating, "it is up to companies, but also governments, to protect workers as well as residents from dangers from mining and other industrial activities. There is no excuse for repeated disasters like the collapse of the Mine du Feijão".

Speaking in the days after the disaster, Victor Sanches, general secretary of the global mining union federation IndustriALL, said: ""This is a crime, not an accident. We mourn for the dead and sympathize with the victims of this terrible tragedy. Vale has failed to learn from the past. And now its workers are paying the ultimate price with their lives. There can be no more excuses. It's time for Vale to listen and take real action to improve safety. The Brazilian authorities must shut down all companies' operations with tailings dams until they are rigorously inspected," says IndustriALL Global Union's general secretary, Valter Sanches." Ambet Yuson of BWI added: "This tragic accident could have been prevented had measures been put in place when it was revealed publicly that Brumadinho dam posed safety risk to workers and the community. Vale failed to adhere to these warnings and once again shown its disregard to safety. Workers have paid tragically with their lives."

Brazilian police have arrested eight Vale SA employees, including two executives, have been arrested as part of a criminal investigation into the cause

Read more: BWI news release. IndustriALL news release The Guardian. ABC News online.


Research

Work sexism damages women's mental health
An Australian study has confirmed that sex discrimination in the workplace has a damaging impact on women's health. The research, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, investigated the associations between workplace sexism, sense of belonging at work, mental health, and job satisfaction for women in male-dominated industries. The 190 women, all members of a large Australian union that represents workers in mainly male-dominated jobs, found "organisational sexism and interpersonal sexism were associated with a poorer sense of belonging in the industry, which was associated with poorer mental health. A poorer sense of belonging also explained the negative effect of organisational sexism on job satisfaction." The study was conducted with the assistance of the unidentified union.

"Strategies that integrate women more thoroughly into male-dominated industries and give them a better sense of belonging may help to increase their mental health and job satisfaction," said co-author Mark Rubin, an associate professor at the University of Newcastle, NSW. "However, we also need better strategies to reduce sexism in the workplace if we are to tackle this problem at its root." The study cites research by the TUC into the impact of sexism in the workplace. An earlier US study found that sexism takes a toll on women's health and well-being (see SafetyNet 447)
Read more: Mark Rubin and others. A confirmatory study of the relations between workplace sexism, sense of belonging, mental health, and job satisfaction among women in male‐dominated industries [Abstract], Journal of Applied Social Psychology, February 2019. Related project website, including full text of the article. EurekAlert. Source: Risks 885

Receipts expose retail workers to cancer chemical
A study by Environmental Defence Canada (EDC) has found that retail workers are being exposed to "worrying" levels of BPA and BPS - hormone disrupting industrial chemicals that have been linked to diabetes, obesity, ADHD and breast and prostate cancers - by simply handling thermal paper receipts. "These slips of paper are covertly exposing cashiers to worrying levels of hormone disrupting BPA and BPS every day," Muhannad Malas, toxics programme manager at EDC, said. "But it doesn't have to be this way."

In a first-of-its-kind experiment, Malas, EDC toxics programme director Sarah Jamal and two other volunteers handled receipts, tickets and passes printed on thermal paper and then conducted urine tests to show how easily BPA - short for "bisphenol A" and commonly found in thermal paper - can be absorbed through the skin. They also handled thermal paper coated with BPS, or bisphenol S, which several companies have switched to in light of BPA-related concerns, though some scientists warn it could have similar negative health effects. The team at EDC found that BPA levels in their bodies rose up to 42 times higher than a pre-exposure baseline and BPS levels increased by up to 115 times.

The findings were "mindboggling", Malas said. The results have also worried union leaders representing retail workers. "I mean a lot of them don't even know that these chemicals exist," United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada health and safety representative Mary Shaw told CTV News. "They are not being informed by their employers either which is incredibly frustrating." The union has suggested that cashiers wear protective gloves until safer alternatives are to thermal paper receipts are introduced. That position was suggested in the autumn 2018 edition of 'Checkout,' UFCW Canada's news magazine. The European Union has already taken action, banning the use of BPA in receipts from next year. 
Read more: EDC news release. CTV News. Source: Risks 885


OHS Regulator News

Victorian news

WorkSafe target falling object dangers
Over the next few weeks WorkSafe inspectors will be focusing on the risks of falling objects at building sites. Falling objects are a leading cause of death and serious injury in the construction industry and pose a risk not only to workers, but also to passersby. There have been five deaths and 721 injuries caused by falling objects at construction sites in the past five years.

In January, there were several serious incidents involving falling objects including:

  • at Southbank a piece of timber fell 22 floors after it snapped in half while being lifted to a loading bay;
  • on Little Latrobe St, a piece of MDF sheeting fell 63 floors to the ground through an open window; and
  • at a site in Clayton a tower crane dropped a concrete slab weighing about 11.5 tonnes.
It was sheer luck that no one was injured in these incidents. In September last year a 48-year-old man died and another worker was seriously injured when they were struck by a kibble full of concrete which fell from a crane at a Box Hill construction site. 
Read more: WorkSafe media release

Safe Work Australia news
Fatality statistics
As of 17 February, 18 fatalities had been notified by the state authorities to Safe Work Australia. This is twelve more since the previous update on 24 January - a tragic number. The workers killed have come from the following industries:

  • 6  Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 5 Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 4 Construction
  • 2 Public Administration & safety
  • 1 Electricity, gas, water & waste services

To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage and in particular, here.

NICNAS: Risk-based bills passed
The six-Bill package establishing Australia's new risk-based regulatory scheme for industrial chemicals has passed the Senate with tighter-than-planned rules for "introducers". The six industrial chemicals Bills passed the Federal Senate after the Government agreed to add the tighter rules, and non-Government Senators responded by withdrawing their proposed changes.

The Government amendments require those introducing (through importation or manufacture) very low-risk chemicals, known as "exempted chemicals", to make a once-off declaration to the new Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme (AICIS), with criminal or civil penalties for failing to do so.

The Bills previously allowed manufacturers or importers to introduce exempted chemicals without providing any advice to the AICIS, but the ACTU, the VTHC, the Cancer Council and other groups raised serious concerns about new chemicals entering the country without the Government being able to track them. While the amendments make the legislation better, the VTHC believes they do not go far enough and the health of many workers and the public, will be at higher risk.

The amendments, which need to be formally endorsed by the Lower House, also cement recent plans to postpone the scheme's start date to 1 July 2020. They similarly confirm that bans on using newly developed data derived from animal testing when categorising or assessing industrial chemicals for cosmetics won't commence until July next year.  Source: OHS Alert


Prosecutions

Farm fined $80k following forklift incident
Gippsland vegetable farm Covino Farms Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined $80,000 (plus $4573 costs) after a contractor was struck by a forklift. The company last week pleaded guilty in the Sale Magistrates' Court to failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace was without risks to health and safety.

In December 2016, the 50-year-old contractor was walking along a corridor at the company's Longford site when she was struck from behind by a forklift carrying crates of lettuce. The contractor was required to use the same corridor as forklifts to access a nearby room. She was treated for a dislocated shoulder, fractured pelvis, bruising and scarring, and has been unable to continue working in her role.

Covino Farms has since painted crossings and provided pedestrians with an alternative walkway to separate them from forklifts.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said it was unacceptable for workplaces to ignore the extreme dangers moving machinery such as forklifts can pose to pedestrians. "Forklifts and pedestrian workers should be able to safely co-exist where reasonably practicable control measures are in place, however when they are not the consequences are often severe," she said.

The company has had two previous convictions: two years ago, it was fined a total of $85,000 over two serious safety incidents that occurred within several weeks in early 2015. In the first incident a worker was run over by a tractor attachment, and in the other a labour hire worker stepped into an uncovered drain, lacerating his leg.  Read more: WorkSafe media release

Corkman pub owner fined over demolition
160 Leicester Pty Ltd, the sole proprietor of the Corkman Irish Hotel in Carlton has been convicted and fined $45,000 (plus $6,879 in costs) for breaching sections 26  and 9 of the OHS Act. In October 2016 the Corkman Irish Hotel was demolished; a large amount of waste left at the site including asbestos containing material ("ACM"). Subsequent intervention and testingrevealed a relatively small quantity of non-friable asbestos present at the worksite, and according to air monitoring, the risk to health was considered to be negligible.

However, before demolition the company failed to identify ACM that was likely to be disturbed by the demolition work and ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, it was removed, as required by the Asbestos regulations.

On 30 May 2017, a notice was served under s.9 requiring the company to provide WorkSafe with information and documentation. The company only responded after the compliance date had expired, by providing a copy of the notice with hand written annotations. The only responses provided were "unknown" and "unknown – unable to locate." WorkSafe did not receive any other responses or documents. The company pleaded guilty.

To check all of the recent prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.


International News

WHO: Workers health and decent jobs
According to the World Health Organisation, the workplace is a key setting for preventing disease and promoting health. The WHO Global Workers' Health Programme addresses the full range of occupational disease and injury risks, environmental, social and individual.WHO says that more than 2 million work-related deaths and about 160 million new occupational disease cases are reported every year, and that occupational risk factors account for a substantial part of chronic disease.

In line with the Sustainable Development Agenda, WHO is providing leadership on a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are impacted by the workplace, namely:

  • SDG 1 Elimination of poverty
  • SDG 3 Health and wellbeing 
  • SDG 8 Decent work and economic growth

Download the short January 2019 guide on the 'Contribution of Workers' Health to the SDGs' [pdf]

 


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