Tragic news this week that a young stonemason has become the first known worker to die of silicosis contracted while cutting artificial stone.
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Artificial stone claims first official death
A 36 year old Gold Coast stonemason has become the first known worker to die from silicosis contracted from artificial stone cutting. Anthony White, who became the 'face' of the silicosis crisis, passed away last Saturday morning. He is believed to be the first stonemason to die of the irreversible lung disease since warnings over the potential scale of the health epidemic were raised last year.
After working in the industry for more than 10 years, Mr White was diagnosed with silicosis in November 2017 after developing a chest infection that would not clear up. He spoke out about the lack of regulation in the industry and urged other tradies to get tested. In a shocking tragedy for the family, Shane White, Anthony's brother, has revealed he has also been diagnosed with silicosis. He learnt of his diagnosis a week ago and has resigned from his job as a stonemason. Both brothers had worked at the same Gold Coast stone cutting business for over a decade.
Doctors fear the disease could be the "next asbestos" after identifying a sudden spike in the number of stonemasons diagnosed with the condition.
Read more: Nine.com.au, The Daily Mail ; More information on Silica
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!
Carcinogenic welding fumes - what inspectors should look for
In March 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancers [IARC] classified welding fumes as carcinogenic in humans. In response to this UK's Health and Safety Executive has recently issued new safety information to any work that involves welding, in any industry.
The HSE states: "regardless of the duration, HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measure in places, as there is no known safe level of exposure".
From now on HSE inspectors will require that all welding activities, including welding outdoors, will require stronger control measures than just general ventilation.
- Indoors: all welding activities will typically need local extraction ventilation, as often respiratory protection as well
- Outdoors: exposures to fumes also need controls - extraction or respiratory protection
No Australian regulator has taken such an approach.
While many in the UK are very unhappy with the HSE inspectorate – but at least business and workers will know what to expect when the inspector visits.
Read more: HSE Bulletin Change in Enforcement Expectations for Mild Steel Welding Fume; More information on Welding
There's an unlicensed employee and my employer has allowed them to operate the forklift to unload/load trucks. Are they allowed to operate a forklift without a licence?
The short answer is NO – forklifts are very dangerous and there have been many incidents where people have been seriously injured and even killed.
The ONLY circumstance in which an unlicensed person can operate a forklift is if they are currently in training, but these persons must be must be within sight and sound of a licensed operator at all times. It is not sufficient that there is a licensed operator somewhere on the premises.
For someone to be considered to be "in training", they should be undergoing and currently enrolled in a training course - it is not acceptable for a person to be "in training" indefinitely. See this page for more information: Forklift safety
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.
Gig workers: take the survey now!
Workers, with Victorian unions, are standing up to improve their safety, pay and conditions for all in the 'on-demand' economy. These workers know first hand how difficult it is to earn a 'living wage'!
Gig workers Victoria, a network of on demand workers housed in Victorian Trades Hall Council, has launched a survey, which can be taken in English or in a range of languages, so gig workers can tell their stories. If you or someone you know has had any experience in this sector, please take the survey or pass it on. There's also a team of organisers seeking to empower on demand workers in Victoria with the knowledge and skills needed to end workplace exploitation and insecurity. Check out the new Gig Worker website, come along to one of the meetings being organised in March.
Beach pavilion riddled with asbestos
.The Herald Sun reports that the Bayside Council is committed to the Dendy Beach Pavilion project, 'despite costs blowing out to $2 million before work even begins'. The plan to rebuild and expand Brighton's "asbestos riddled" lifesaving club has been on the table since 2012 but has suffered long delays since the start. Brighton Life Saving Club director Tim Bolton said they were keen to replace the more-than-60-year-old building, which was "in a very sad state of repair and no longer fit for purpose". Source: The Herald Sun
NT: Asbestos removalist seriously injured
Two construction companies face more than $1.5 million in fines after NT WorkSafe laid charges over an incident that left an employee seriously injured after a 3m fall. In April 2017, the 31-year-old was working on the roof of a breezeway, removing asbestos sheets from the exterior of a primary school building in Darwin's northern suburbs, when he slipped through a void. Read more.
International union news
UK: Stress-inducing unpaid overtime topped £32bn last year
.According to new analysis of official statistics by the TUC,UK companies claimed £32.7 billion (A$60.4 billino) of free labour last year because of workers doing unpaid overtime. More than 5 million people put in an average of 7.5 hours a week in unpaid overtime during 2018. On average, that's equivalent to having £6,532 (A$12,071) taken out of individual pay packets.
UK's peak union body released its findings on 1 March, the TUC's 15th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. This marks the day the average person doing unpaid overtime has effectively worked the year so far for free. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "It's not okay for bosses to steal their workers' time," adding: "Overworking staff hurts productivity, leaves workers' stressed and exhausted and eats into time that should be spent with family and friends. Bosses who do steal people's time should face consequences. So we're calling for new rights to ensure that employers who break the rules on working time can be brought to employment tribunals." The TUC says the government should actively enforce statutory paid annual leave, rest breaks and the right not to work more than 48 hours a week on average. These rights should be enforceable both by complaints to a government enforcement agency and by taking a case to Employment Tribunal. It says this dual-channel system is already used to enforce the national minimum wage (NMW), which is a flagship policy.
Read more: TUC news release, blog and Unpaid Overtime Calculator. Source: Risks 888
Prolonging work life can result in "health shocks"
According to French and Australian researchers, leaving the workforce may not be as bad for workers' physical and mental health as some studies previously suggested. In Australia, our increasing retirement age could compound the negative impacts of strenuous work and fatigue on older employees.
The researchers from our own Deakin University and the Paris School of Economics, note that previous studies suggest retirement can have negative effects on a person's physical and mental health, including difficulties associated with mobility, weight gain, a decline in cognitive function and an increased risk of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease. However, their study of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey from 2001 to 2014, which included 1,600 transitions to retirement, shows leaving the workforce actually brings about unexpected improvements in general, physical and mental health.
"We found that men and women are up to around 24 per cent less likely to experience unexpected bad health after retirement," Deakin Business School behavioural economist Dr Cahit Guven said. "Conversely, men and women are up to around 14 per cent more likely to experience good health unexpectedly after retirement, compared to beforehand."
Australia's age pension eligibility age, currently 65 years and six months, is set to increase to 67 by 1 July 2023 - which the researchers say could increase their likelihood of poor health.
OHS Regulator News
New family violence guidelines
The Victorian Government has launched WorkSafe guidelines explaining why family or domestic violence is a serious workplace safety issue, and what employers are required to do about it.
Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy said last week, "Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace for their employees, and that includes doing whatever they can to support workers experiencing family violence."
She added that it was common for the perpetrators of family violence to target women in the workplace, and the five-page guidelines help employers implement practical measures to prevent violence against their employees. The measures could include
- implementing a call screening process to protect workers from threatening calls;
- providing a safe room or area to retreat to if a perpetrator appears at the workplace behaving in a violent and intimidating manner;
- ensuring visitor screening protocols are in place; and
- allowing workers to take leave to address issues relating to family violence.
New chemical sites under investigation
Victorian government agencies charged with removing chemical stockpiles in Epping and Campbellfield are investigating three new sites in Craigieburn which may also contain dangerous goods. WorkSafe, the CFA and Environment Protection Authority are assessing contents of three warehouses after new information was received by WorkSafe.
The sites appear to house bulk containers similar to those being stored at the eight sites found in late December. Chemical testing will be required to establish the presence of dangerous goods, but 24-hour security has been put in place at each site as a precautionary measure. Air monitoring will also be established at the sites. Read more: WorkSafe media release
Latest edition of Safety Soapbox
The latest edition of Safety Soapbox was posted on March 8. In this edition, Cameron Ellis – Construction OHS Advisor/Technical Inspector - talks about ensuring safety around the solar rebate, recently introduced by the state's Labor Government.
In this edition, as well as a round up of news, WorkSafe is asking for suggestions for a new name.
Also in the edition is the list of incidents reported to WorkSafe which covers the month of February 2019. This month the construction industry reported a total of 225 incidents. Of these, 74 per cent resulted in a physical injury. Read the full summary [pdf]. Access the March 8 edition of Safety Soapbox here.
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
Safe Work Australia news
There have been no updates of the notified fatalities since the last edition of the journal. As at 28 February, there had been 21 fatalities notified to Safe Work Australia. The workers killed have come from the following industries:
- 7 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 5 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 4 Construction
- 2 Public Administration & safety
- 2 Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 1 Mining
Ladder fall results in full arm amputation, $120k fine
Victorian employer AAZ Recycling and Waste Management Pty Ltd was last week found guilty of OHS breaches and fined $120,000, and almost $5,000 in costs, at an ex parte hearing, after an employee's arm was amputated at the shoulder when he fell from a ladder.
In May 2017, he was using a stick to try to clear a blockage on a conveyor on a shredder machine, while he on an A-frame ladder, when he slipped and fell towards the machine's in-feed conveyor. The stick and his left hand were caught in an in-running nip point: his arm was dragged into the conveyor belt and tail drum, resulting in the amputation.
The Moorabbin Magistrates Court found the Clayton South company breached section 21 of the OHS Act in failing to take reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or reduce risks to workers, like installing appropriate guarding on the conveyor belt and tail drum, and installing emergency stop buttons on that area of the machine. The employer also failed to: have documented plant isolation procedures; provide adequate safety information, instructions or training; or provide supervision to ensure workers switched off and isolated the shredder machine before accessing the tail drum. (Source: OHS Alert)
Builder fined $50k after beam collapse
Inner East Constructions Pty Ltd, was the principal contractor for a home renovation in Malvern, and was last week found guilty, convicted and fined $50,000 (plus over $5000 costs) for breaching several sections of the OHS Act in an ex parte hearing in the Moorabbin Magistrates Court.
In December 2016, a temporary beam had been installed over an excavated cellar in the front entrance area of the home. The beam was not included in certified structural plans and its load bearing capacity was unknown. On 2 September 2017 the floor collapsed when a renderer sought to place 90 bags of render, each bag weighing approximately 14 kilograms (totalling approximately 1.26 tonnes), inside on the temporary floor under which was the beam. As the 84th bag was being placed, the floor collapsed. The worker suffered injury to his right elbow, left shoulder, left knee and head.
The Court found Inner East constructions did not take reasonable actions - such as engaging a competent engineer to calculate the beam's load bearing capacity and/or identifying any necessary additional bracing.
To check all of the recent prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Cost of work-related incidents and illnesses: International comparison
New estimates from an international project show that global work-related accidents and illnesses are considerable: the global cost at EUR 2,680 billion (A$4,267 billion), which is 3.9 per cent of global GDP. The costs in the EU are at least EUR 476 billion (A$758 billion) every year. The cost of work-related cancers alone amounts to EUR 119.5 billion (A$190.3 billion).
The calculations are based on the current figures of the ILO and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The IHME data are updated annually by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project, most recently for the year 2015. This page is interesting and data for individual countries, including Australia, can be accessed.
The summary of the main results and the full report are now available in several languages. Read an article in English [pdf] with the main findings of the project and the summary – both are available in 25 EU languages from this page.
Europe: Chemical authorisations process is very unsafe
Europe's system of 'socio-economic' cost-benefit calculations for authorising hazardous chemicals is so biased in favour of industry only one has been refused, according to a new report. ChemSec, a non-profit advocating for safer alternatives to toxic chemicals, warns that an exemptions system included in the REACH chemical registration process has "become the back door for companies in order to continue their use of hazardous chemicals." It adds that only a single authorisation has ever been denied by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) during the twelve years of REACH.
'Lost at SEA', ChemSec's new report, examines how the socio-economic analyses (SEAs) supposed to take account of health as well as economic factors are performed. "As part of the application process, the company is tasked with providing a socio-economic analysis. But since the burden of proof lies on the company itself to provide this information, it makes for a very one-sided analysis," it notes. It adds: "The company needs to demonstrate that the societal benefits of continued use are greater than the risks, and according to the company applying for an authorisation, this is of course always the case." It says 'soft values' such as human health and protection of the environment do not fit into the equation and are mostly ignored. "The methodology has obvious limitations since human health and the environment in general are priceless. This is why it's important to be very clear about what has been included in the analysis and what has been left out," commented Frida Hök, senior policy adviser at ChemSec. The group cites the example of shiny lipstick cases which, for decorative purposes, are often produced with the cancer-causing chemical chromium trioxide. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) "went on to recommend the continued use of it just so that society can continue to enjoy this decorative feature. This really begs the question of just how important it is that lipstick cases are shiny, and whether this really can be labelled as beneficial for society."
Read more: ChemSec news release, related release and full report, Lost at SEA, March 2019. Source: Risks 888