This week two workers caught in a trench collapse were lucky to survive - though they were injured. The incident could easily have become another double fatality.
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.
Two workers freed from trench collapse
In what could have been a double tragedy, two men were freed and taken to hospital after being trapped when a four-metre deep trench collapsed in High St, in Epping yesterday. They were freed in a major rescue operation, involving twenty-four firefighters and police. WorkSafe Victoria was notified and will be investigating.
A worker in his 20s was taken to The Royal Melbourne Hospital in a stable condition with a leg injury, The second worker, in his 50s, was also taken to hospital in a stable condition with suspected crush injuries. (More on News.com) WorkSafe Victoria yesterday issued a Safety Alert following the incident.
In March last year, two young workers, Charlie Howkins and Jack Brownlee, were killed in a trench collapse in Delacombe, near Ballarat.
Silicosis - a growing epidemic?
An audit of Queensland's manufacturing stone industry ordered by the government has revealed 98 workers have contracted the potentially deadly lung disease silicosis - 15 of those terminal - with more than 550 workplace breaches in what health experts are calling a major epidemic.
Over a four-month blitz, workshops known to fabricate engineered stone benchtops were given 552 breach notices for inappropriate workplace cleaning practices, dry-cutting of engineered stone, and inadequate protective equipment. But the only fines issues were to ten businesses or individuals for failing to comply with notices - totalling a mere $36,000.
Brisbane physician Dr Graeme Edwards has been testing the lungs of hundreds of stone workers and predicted the health crisis would be worse than asbestosis. "From a clinician's perspective this is worse than asbestos, because asbestos affects people at the end their working life and into their retirement," he said, "where this particular disease is affecting young workers, people with dependent children, with wives and a whole working life expectation before them."
Read more: ABC News online
Reminder: Draft silica standard
Safe Work Australia is seeking input on the recommended values for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and respirable coal dust (RCD). 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.
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!
I was wondering if you could please tell me how often fire safety training needs to take place in the workplace according to the OHS Act? Is it based on frequency, when new workers are hired, or what?
There's nothing specific in the Act nor in the regulations regarding how often or when employers must provide fire safety training. The Act simply states that the employer must provide 'such information, instruction, training or supervision as is necessary to enable [employees] to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.' This is absolute duty, and includes emergency training, such as fire drills. So any new members of staff must be provided with the relevant training, as part of induction for example. The employer must also ensure that current employees are kept up to date on procedures, fire wardens, and so on.You might also consider raising with your employer the possibility of calling in one of those companies which provide advice in setting up fire drills and so on.
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.
Beginning this Friday March 1 with a fabulous Gala Event, the VTHC Women's team brings you the Women's Rights at Work (WRAW) Fest with heaps of activities. There are over 20 events planned, including:
- March 1: WRAW Fest Feminist Gala. This is coming up this Friday, and it's going to be a fabulous event. There will be drinks, dinner, awesome feminist networking and great tunes. It's just $25 for waged, and $15 for unwaged/student concession - find out more and buy tickets here.
- March 4: International Sisterhood Meeting
- March 5: Women's Conference
- March 7: Feminism in the Pub
- other much more, including union run events
International Women's Day March 8: Save the date
Don't forget that Friday March 8 is International Women's Day - so join the rally and march at the State Library Victoria at 5.30pm. Come join the many thousands of who will listen to inspiring speakers and rally for women's rights, including the right to healthy and safe workplaces. All welcome! Check out the Facebook event page and the list of demands here.
Gender data gap puts women at risk
Caroline Criado-Perez, author of Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men points out that the gender data gap can not only be annoying, but for women at work, sometimes deadly.
The author gives some examples: Guidance on standard office temperature was developed in the 1960s around the metabolic resting rate of the average man. But a recent Dutch study found that the metabolic rate of young adult females performing light office work is significantly lower than the standard values for men doing the same activity. In fact, the formula may overestimate female metabolic rate by as much as 35 per cent, meaning that current offices are on average five degrees too cold for women.
Even more sobering: she looks at fatality and serious injury statistics in the UK and finds that while these have been falling generally, there is some evidence that they are actually increasing in women. In the UK, 8,000 people die from work-related cancers - and although most research in this area has been done on men, it is not clear that men are the most affected. Criado-Perez writes: "Over the past 50 years, breast cancer rates in the industrialised world have risen significantly – but a failure to research female bodies, occupations and environments means that the data for exactly what is behind this rise is lacking." She quotes Rory O'Neill, professor of occupational and environmental policy research at the University of Stirling, and long-time union activist: "We know everything about dust disease in miners. You can't say the same for exposures, physical or chemical, in 'women's work'." Women have different immune systems and hormones, which can play a role in how chemicals are absorbed; they tend to be smaller and have thinner skin, both of which can lower the level of toxins they can be safely exposed to.
Also, as women's employment in traditionally male occupations increases, where they must use tools and equipment designed for men, there is evidence that women are suffering higher levels of strains, sprains and nerve damage. Then there are issues of ill-fitting PPE, causing serious health and safety issues (sometimes lethal); workplace facilities; and so much more! An important read!
Read more: The deadly truth about a world built for men – from stab vests to car crashesThe Guardian - an edited extract from Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez, (Chatto & Windus)
Boris Kingma & Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt Energy consumption in buildings and female thermal demand Nature Climate Change, volume 5, pages 1054–1056 (2015); The 'invisible' risks facing working women in France, Equal Times
OHS Regulator News
New Safety Alert
WorkSafe has issued a Safety Alert on the hazards and risk controls associated with working at heights and working with forklifts. A worker was killed in Mordialloc on February 1 after falling from a steel cage while clearing ice from pipework with a fire hose. At the time of the incident the cage was raised on the tines of a forklift. The Alert outlines the safety issues and recommends ways to control the risks.
WorkSafe investigating Coroner's office
The Age ran an article last weekend revealing that WorkSafe Victoria is commencing an investigation into alleged health and safety breaches at Victoria's Coroners Court. According to a spokesperson the paper contacted, the regulator has spent months assessing a complaint about the work environment at the court.
Read more: The Age
The regulator runs events around the state which provide an opportunity to meet with WorkSafe staff, get information and so on. Click on the event for more information
- Wimmera Machinery Field Days 5 - 7 March
- Farm World Seymour 11 - 14 April
- East Gippsland Field Days Bairnsdale 26-27 Apr
QLD: Bulletin on drinking water in mines
The Department of Natural Resources and Mines has released a safety bulletin outlining the regulations and processes for providing sufficient drinking water at mine sites. Once again we are stunned that regulators must provide such advice to employers!
Safe Work Australia news
Review into WHS Model laws released
With the requirement that the Model WHS Laws be reviewed every five years, in 2018, Safe Work Australia (SWA) appointed an independent reviewer, Marie Boland, to conduct the first of these reviews. A discussion paper was released on 19 February, 2018: written submissions closed in April 2018 and the reviewer conducted a number of face to face and phone consultations with stakeholders, including unions, throughout 2018. The ACTU and federal unions made submissions and also provided feedback on the draft report, in November 2018.
The 196 page report, which was released on Monday, makes 34 recommendations. A number of the reviewer's recommendations are strongly supported by the union movement, most notably the introduction of new national offence of Industrial Manslaughter, the development of a new Regulation on psychosocial hazards and reforms to strengthen workers' rights. The ACTU said that in most jurisdictions companies found to be responsible for the death of a worker pay relatively small fines, which can often be claimed against insurance and provide no deterrent for unsafe workplace practices.
The federal government has been opposed to the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws and industry groups have consistently argued that existing criminal laws against manslaughter under state crimes Acts are sufficient. The ACT and Queensland have already introduced industrial manslaughter laws. If successful at the March state election the NSW Labor Party has committed to introducing them. Meanwhile, Victoria's Labor government has begun the process: Workplace Safety Minister and Attorney General, Jill Hennessey MP, tweeted: 'Our plan to introduce tough new workplace manslaughter laws has been recommended to roll out across the country in [the] national review of health and safety laws.'
On the issue of health and safety representatives, Boland said an HSR's right to bring a person with appropriate experience and knowledge into a workplace to assist them should not be restricted if the person is also a union official. She referred to a recent high-profile case where courts found that union officials entering sites at the request of HSRs also needed an entry permit. And in another recommendation supported by the ACTU, Boland has proposed amending the model WHS Regulations "to deal with how to identify the psychosocial risks associated with psychological injury and the appropriate control measures to manage those risks". This picks up on a regulatory 'gap'.
Read more: Review of the model WHS laws: Final report. The Age. Check out the ACTU's response in this video: Kill a worker, go to jail
There has not been an update since the last journal, when, as of 17 February, 18 fatalities had been notified by the state authorities to Safe Work Australia. 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
Canada: new website Preventing Occupational Disease
Occupational diseases are health conditions such as cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, and respiratory diseases caused by exposure to hazardous substances or environments in the workplace or as part of work activities. Occupational disease is common and results from exposure to chemical, biological and physical agents in the workplace. Recognizing and preventing occupational disease presents unique challenges, and requires the elimination or reduction of hazardous exposures, and the control of risks.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has teamed up with the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) to create the Prevent Occupational Disease website, an online clearing house of current and credible occupational health disease resources from Canada and around the world.
Protecting workers starts with identification and prevention. The website, aimed at reducing illness and fatalities associated with occupational sources, can help employers, supervisors, safety and health practitioners, and workers increase their understanding of occupational diseases and ways to prevent them.
The resources provided relate to the science and mechanics of prevention; common hazards and their identification, exposure assessment and control; specific occupations and industries where the risk of developing occupational disease is higher; and internationally recognized occupational diseases including cancer, respiratory and skin diseases, and musculoskeletal disorders. Visit the site.
Company fined $30K after worker loses thumb
A national steel supply and fabrication company has been fined $30,000 after a worker's thumb was caught in a metal bar bending machine. The 28-year-old machine operator was taken to hospital where his thumb was amputated.
OneSteel Reinforcing Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Dandenong Magistrates Court on 7 February to one charge under section 21(1) of the OHS Act of failing to, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a safe working environment. The court imposed the fine without conviction, in view of the company's early guilty plea and the fact it had had no prior convictions.
In 2018, WorkSafe launched 33 investigations into machine entrapment cases where guarding was absent or inadequate. WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said missing or inadequate guarding could cause severe injuries or even death. "This horrific and debilitating kind of injury should not be occurring in the 21st century, yet machine guarding remains one of the state's biggest workplace safety issues," Ms Nielsen said.
Read more: WorkSafe Media release
To check all of the recent prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
NSW: Farm operator fined $180k for contractor death
A farm operator in remote north-west New South Wales was last week fined $180,000 after a 20 year old contractor was fatally injured while chasing a dingo on a motorbike.
The young man was killed in September 2014 after he fell from his motorbike at Lake Stewart Station. He was not wearing a helmet, and in September last year the farm operator, KD & JT Westbrook Pty Ltd, was found guilty in the NSW District Court of failing to provide a safe work environment.
The maximum fine for the offence is $1.5 million. In sentencing the company, Judge Andrew Scotting said the offence was one of some "objective gravity" and he took the maximum penalty into account when imposing the $180,000 fine last week. He also imposed an "adverse publicity order", requiring a public notice of the offence and for the sentence to be shared in rural print and online publications.
Read more: ABC News online
NSW: Company fined $300k after workers plummet 12 storeys
Sydney cleaning company Building Maintenance Unit Service was last week fined $300,000 by SafeWorkNSW after two workers were left permanently disabled following a 12-storey fall while inside a cleaning platform. The company pleaded guilty early and was given a 25 per cent 'discount' on the fine.
The men were cleaning windows outside the Australian Stock Exchange in October 2015 when they plunged 25 to 30 metres, hitting an awning above Pitt Street. One worker sustained fractures to his right shoulder, right tibia, left knee, ribs, jaw and teeth, as well as head and spinal injuries and a punctured lung, while the other suffered a spinal fracture, a fractured ankle and a dislocated finger.
The platform, which was unique to the building, was due to have a major 10-year inspection worth $2,000 - which Building Maintenance Unit Service was aware of - but it was not carried out. Building Maintenance Unit Service was engaged by Investa Asset Management - one of Australia's largest office real estate companies - to carry out the maintenance. However Building Maintenance Unit Service ceased trading in December 2017 after it was sold to pay off creditors. Its directors claim it has a very limited ability to pay the fine.
Read more: The Sydney Morning Herald; ABC News online
WA:Government agency fined $90K after fatality
The WA State Government agency that operates HBF Stadium has been fined $90,000 (and $2100 in costs) over the death of a worker who fell through a skylight in the roof of the stadium. Western Australian Sports Centre Trust – trading as VenuesWest – pleaded guilty in the Perth Magistrates Court to failing to ensure that persons at the workplace were not exposed to hazards.
In June 2016, VenuesWest contracted a painting company to undertake external painting work on HBF Stadium: this company in turn subcontracted scaffolding company Perth Aluminium Scaffolds Pty Ltd to erect and remove scaffolding on the stadium roof. The painting work included painting steel masts and stays on the roof of the stadium, and Perth Aluminium Scaffolds had erected scaffolding between the masts on the roof to give the painters access.
On the morning of June 8, four Perth Aluminium Scaffolds employees were dismantling this scaffolding when one of them stepped on a skylight and fell about 11 metres through a void area to the concrete concourse below. The scaffolders had not been provided with a site-specific safety induction, a job safety analysis or safe work method statement specific to the work, or any information identifying the skylights as a hazard, or even identifying the skylights at all. No rails or barriers – either permanent or temporary – had been placed around the skylights, and they were not fitted with safety mesh.
Read more: WA Media release
Bangladesh: Fire kills 80 workers
Last Wednesday night a fire ripped through several multi-storey buildings, many of them housing chemical and plastic warehouses, in a crammed old part of Bangladesh capital Dhaka. The fire broke out in a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a five-storey building. By Thursday, the death toll had risen to 70, but fire officials warned it could rise further as dozens of people were trapped in the buildings and the firefighters had not yet entered the main spot where the fire broke out. The fire burned for over 12 hours, and by Friday the toll had reached 80, but was still expected to rise.
The authorities have promised to drive illegal chemical factories out of the capital and the national government led by Sheikh Hasina has ordered all chemical factories in the labyrinthine old city to be shut, a promise made by the local government after a fire in the area nine years ago that killed more than 120 people.
Dhaka is the most densely populated city in the world and that, combined with lax enforcement of safety regulations, leaves it vulnerable to extraordinary deadly disasters. The fire and collapse of the Rana Plaza building in 2013 killed more than 1,100 garment workers and was one of the worst industrial accidents ever.
Read more: The Hindu; The Guardian.
If you have an OHS related event you would like us to advertise, please email Renata with details, including cost, and where to RSVP.
BE TRADES HALL TRAINED: VTHC OHS Training Centre
Make sure you attend training provided either by your union or the VTHC! HSRs are elected by their fellow workers to represent them. We understand what HSRs need and have been training effective HSRs for many years. Remember that under Section 67 of the OHS Act, both HSRs and deputies have the right to attend the training course of their choice (in consultation with their employer).
The VTHC OHS Unit is now running courses in a number of new locations to cater for HSRs in the outer suburbs of Melbourne such as Epping. This is in addition to courses in our usual locations. Most of the HSR 5 day courses to the end of the year are now full, but send an email to Lisa Mott (or call her on 03 9659 3511) to register for courses next year. Below are the dates for the next few courses run by the VTHC OHS Training Centre. The 2019 timetable is now available.
|HSR Initial OHS training course||HSR Refresher OHS Training Courses*|
* HSRs are entitled to attend this course every year subsequent to attending the Initial OHS training course.
OHS Training at the ACTU
The ACTU (Australian Council of Trade unions) runs training courses in occupational/workplace health and safety. These are the upcoming courses in Melbourne in 2019:
- Certificate IV WHS Course - Melbourne: Part 1: 12 – 14 March; Part 2: 15 -18 April
- Preventing Workplace Bullying and Harassment (Note: a $25 fee will apply)
Melbourne March 8 or August 8
Course information and applications can be found on the ACTU Website here.
March 6: CHCN (Chemical Hazards Communication Network) Meeting
The next meeting of the CHCN will be held on Wednesday March 6. The network meeting is an opportunity to discuss a range of issues such as Classification matters; Labelling and SDS issues; Chemical Hazard Communication Regulatory Matters; Australian, EU & USA Hazardous Chemical Management developments; upcoming events and meetings; and much more. The CHCN usually has between 15 and 20 attending, so please RSVP if possible.
When: 5.30pm for a 6.00pm start, to 8.30pm, March 6
Where: Sandridge Centre - Trugo Club Rooms
1 Tucker Avenue, Port Melbourne (Garden City part)
Enter along Clark St which turns into Tucker Av, from Graham St. Melways reference is Map 56 K2 (or 2J A4). Please park in Clark St.
Cost: a donation of $4-$5 to cover costs Tea, coffee and snacks provided (Everyone is invited to a meal afterwards which will be at the Emerald Elephant Thai Restaurant. 179 Bay St Port Melbourne 3207, ph: 03-9646-4615 (west side of Bay St, about half way between Graham St and Liardet St (Melway Ref: 2J 5E).
Note: The following DGAG meeting will be at the MFB Complex near the Burnley Railway Station, on Wednesday 3rd April 2019.
March 12: Central Safety Group
An explosive hazard hidden in plain sight
Combustible dust can be a hidden chemical hazard in workshops, factories, storage facilities and many other places. Because it's not classified as a hazardous substance or as dangerous goods, it is often ignored in workplace procedures and risk control. The significance of this will be discussed by chemical hazards expert Richard Greenwood.
The consequences of not recognising the presence of combustible dust were dramatically demonstrated recently when two workers doing routine maintenance were seriously injured in a workplace explosion in Victoria. The result was an Enforceable Undertaking for the company involved, including preparation of basic workplace training materials and a video for awareness of the hazard. Richard will talk about this case as part of its compliance with WorkSafe's Enforceable Undertaking.
When: 12:00-1:00pm, Tuesday, 12 March 2019
Where: To be advised
Cost: attendance members free, non-members $10
Lunch (optional): sandwich and juice lunch $15
[Individual membership fee for 2018: $70]
Book online here. RSVP by close of business Friday 8 March 2019