SafetyNet 479

WorkSafe releases guidance on working with reconstituted stone; Wittenoom to 'close'; AFL footballers threaten class action - and much more.  Check out this week's journal.

Contact us with comments or stories 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.

Union News

More silicosis stats
Following the tragic death of 36 year old Anthony White as a result of silica exposure, Ann Wason Moore, in an opinion piece in the Bulletin, refers to a frightening statistic. According to the Cancer Council about 587,000 Australian workers were exposed to silica dust while on the job in 2011, the year her father-in-law Barry died of mesothelioma. About 5758 of those are estimated to develop lung cancer in the future as a result of that exposure.

Ann goes on to write of the compensation the family eventually claimed and received - but she ends with a plea: "victims 9of dust related disease) are already fighting for their lives. They should not have to wage a legal battle or an information war as well. Read more: The Gold Coast Bulletin

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!

New guidance published
The VTHC welcomes WorkSafe Victoria's new guidance Working with reconstituted stone which is now available online. As we are aware, working with some types of stone exposes workers to crystalline silica dust. If the dust is not managed properly, it can have fatal health effects. This guidance is well and truly needed.

As per the guidance, reconstituted stone products such as those used as kitchen benchtops can contain up to 95 per cent crystalline silica. When such products are cut, ground, drilled or polished, they release very fine dust. Breathing in this dust is likely to cause deadly diseases, such as:

  • silicosis
  • lung cancer
  • kidney disease
  • autoimmune disease

This document outlines the employer responsibilities for controlling the risks of exposure to crystalline silica dust from reconstituted stone. It covers ways to control the dust, and requirements for health and air monitoring.

Industrial manslaughter: Update 
NSW Labor has committed to introducing industrial manslaughter laws, double SafeWorkNSW compliance functions and make it harder for employers to conduct covert surveillance of injured workers, if it wins this weekend's State election.

Labor also says it will ensure that all successful tenderers for Government contracts have the highest standards of workplace safety. A number of its policies are the same as those from its unsuccessful March 2015 State election campaign, including significantly increasing SafeWork's enforcement activities in its first term of Government, returning safety prosecutions to a re-established Industrial Court, and enacting special anti-bullying laws. Source: OHS Alert

Ask Renata

Hi Renata, 
Our boiling water tap (for coffee/tea making) used to turn off automatically upon release. Now it takes 20 seconds after release and there have been several burn accidents. Are there any standards/regulations for these hot water dispensers?

There's nothing specific in the Act or the Regs, but I think the general duty of the employer under s21 covers this situation. Under s21(1) of the Act: "the employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for employees of the employer a working environment that is safe and without risks to health."

This covers everything in the workplace.  Section 21(2) is a bit more specific, and certainly can be applied to the boiling water tap. These are the parts of s21(2) which apply:

(a) provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health; 
(b) make arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and the absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage or transport of plant or substances; 
(c) maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, each workplace under the employer's management and control in a condition that is safe and without risks to health;
(d) provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, adequate facilities for the welfare of employees at any workplace under the management and control of the employer;

So: the tap mechanism is broken – and the employer has a duty to maintain it in a condition that is safe – which it clearly isn't, as there have been a number of burns already! It is clearly a hazard, has and continues to put the safety of workers at risk, and therefore the employer has a duty to take action to eliminate the hazard. This can very easily be done (so it is 'reasonably practicable')! The employer has a duty to consult with the HSR (are you the HSR?) – if no HSR, then the workers (See: Duty to consult)

If you are the HSR take a look at this page on how to resolve the issue and the steps to take. 

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!
This is a reminder for workers in the 'on-demand' economy to take our survey and share the issues they have. Gig workers Victoria, a network of on demand workers housed in Victorian Trades Hall Council, has launched the survey, which can be taken in English or in a range of languages to give gig workers a say.  If you or someone you know has had any experience in this sector, please participate and let others know.

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

Asbestos News
Templestowe: Illegally dumped asbestos
.A Templestowe park is still closed to the public after asbestos sheeting was found dumped in the reserve. Although Manningham Council tested the material and said it was "not airborne" (ie non-friable), some locals remain concerned. Mandella Street Reserve was fenced off after the council was alerted to the suspect materials on February 15. The council received a report prepared by an asbestos specialist on March 8 and is now determining the next course of action for the park. 
Source: Herald Sun

WA: stupid tourists visit Wittenoom 
Tourists seeking notoriety are ignoring cancer warnings to chase photos to post on Instagram of Wirrenoom, a condemned Pilbara town which has killed more than 2000 people.

Dozens of photos taken in the former asbestos mining town and nearby gorges show visitors with no protective gear, walking on asbestos piles and even breaking into dust-filled mine shafts. When the danger was pointed out to one such tourist, he said "I don't really see there being a much higher risk... as Karijini, (which) also has asbestos in the rocks. For the short period we were there I don't think we were affected by any health issues regarding asbestos." He and others seem to have no idea that even one exposure to asbestos can lead to contracting a disease such as the fatal mesothelioma decades later.  Read more: The West Australian.

And Wittenoom to be shut down
The old town is so dangerous, that the last three residents of Wittenoom will be made to leave and Wittenoom shut under legislation be introduced in State Parliament today. Lands Minister Ben Wyatt will introduce the Wittenoom Closure Bill 2019 to enable compulsory acquisition of the remaining 17 privately owned lots in the condemned former asbestos town. The government hopes a settlement can be reached with the residents rather than forced eviction. Source: The West Australian

Nauru: refugees exposed to asbestos
The ABC has reported that refugees living on Nauru have been exposed to asbestos after workers dumped it next to a settlement on the island. The asbestos sheeting was used by some to build makeshift sheds, which would have increased their exposure and risk of developing asbestos-related cancers.

Large quantities of the sheeting had been ripped off buildings by workers with Nauru Utilities Corporation - but some of the material was not safely disposed of. Instead, it was packed into shipping containers which were dumped only metres away from the Fly Camp settlement, where dozens of refugees live.

Leaked minutes from a meeting between Nauru's Government and Australian officials show alarm bells started ringing about the asbestos in October last year. 
Read more: ABC News online

J&J to pay victim US$29.4m 
A woman who alleged that Johnson & Johnson products containing talcum powder were linked to her mesothelioma has been awarded almost $30 million by a jury in California. The verdict follows a nine-week trial that began shortly after the start of the year. The jury, in a Superior Court in Oakland, found that the company's products were defective and that Johnson & Johnson knew this, but did not warn its consumers.

In December the company failed to have a $7 billion verdict in a similar case brought by nearly two dozen women thrown out. J&J is currently facing more than 13,000 suits across the U.S. by people who claim their cancers are linked to Johnson & Johnson's talc products. Read more: Gizmo.

More information on the site: Asbestos in the home and Asbestos in the workplace

Back to top

Ex-AFL footballers threaten concussion class action
Close to 100 ex footballers are said to be considering a class action against the AFL for memory loss and other cognitive issues they say stem from on-field concussion. Symptoms include epilepsy and seizures, acute memory loss, mood swings, anxiety and depression. Among those coming forward are Geelong and Essendon ruckman John Barnes,  Hawthorn's champion rover John Platten, and Melbourne and North Melbourne high-flyer Shaun Smith.

While a lot of the science is still unknown,neuroscientist Dr Alan Pearce said he wasn't surprised former footballers were presenting with epilepsy. An associate professor at La Trobe University, he said, "There's evidence to show the risk of a number of different conditions including epilepsy can occur as a result of a history of head trauma and concussions."  Read more: The Age; ABC News online.

International union news
UK: Bullying can never be acceptable in the workplace
British peak union council, the TUC has repeated its warning that bullying is a health and safety issue that must be taken seriously at work. Bullying was the second biggest concern for trade union safety reps after stress, according to the TUC's 2018 survey. Almost half (45 per cent) of those responding to the survey reported bullying was one of the top five concerns in their workplace.

TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said there are two key roles for safety reps. "The first is to support workers when they are subjected to bullying. The other is to ensure that there are effective policies in place to prevent bullying," he wrote in a TUC blog. He pointed out the TUC bullying at work guide for reps "makes it clear that unions are best placed to help give workers the confidence to challenge anyone they believe is bullying them, whatever their level in the organisation, and ensure that the employer takes action to protect the member and provide them with a safe and supportive workplace." But he added "we should not wait until members complain before taking on bullying, especially as all the evidence shows that workers are often unwilling to speak about the problem. We need to get in there first and make sure there are strong policies that protect and support the complainant and give a clear process for how complaints will be handled." The TUC guidance includes a simple survey form, "intended to cover both workplaces where there is no existing policy, as well as those where there is a policy – after all it is important to know that if there is a policy, it is working," noted Robertson.
Read more: TUC blog and Bullying at work: Guidance for workplace representatives. Source: Risks 889.  Bullying Section on our site.

Bangladesh: Government intervention needed for garment safety 
Global unions have criticised the Bangladesh government for its continued insistence that an effective independent garment factory safety watchdog gets out of Bangladesh by a fixed date, regardless of whether there is a competent safety authority to replace it. At a hearing of the Appellate Court on 18 February, lawyers for the Accord on Fire and Building Safety reported on the failure of negotiations between the Accord, the Bangladesh government and the employers' organisation BGMEA on the conditions for transition of the Accord's functions to the government. Global unions IndustriALL and UNI, together with representatives of the Accord signatory garment brands, have written to the Bangladesh prime minister and to the minister of commerce to request their direct intervention in resolving the impasse.

The letters state that a premature closure of the Accord office would have immediate negative and damaging consequences. "After the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, it became clear that urgent measures were needed to ensure safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry. There is no doubt that the Accord has helped transform the industry and save lives," said UNI general secretary Christy Hoffman. "That is why it is senseless for the Bangladeshi government and garment industry to push out the Accord rather than work with its safety experts on a credible transition." She added: "We should not turn back the clock and reverse the progress that has been made, and that's what prematurely expelling the Accord would do." The global unions say the Bangladesh government must end the uncertainty and come to the table with a real commitment to a credible and responsible transfer of Accord functions "based on a genuine readiness of the government to take over."  
Read more: UNI news release. IndustriALL news release. Source: Risks 889


Research

Risk factors identified for serious arm condition 
European researchers have identified three occupational biomechanical exposures that can cause radial tunnel syndrome, a common and costly nerve entrapment condition similar to carpal tunnel syndrome.

In a study of 229,707 male construction workers, the researchers from Sweden's Umeå University and other European and US bodies found those exposed to elevated levels of hand-grip forces and hand-arm vibration were the most likely to have undergone surgery to release radial tunnel entrapment at a 13-year follow up.

They also found that repetitive elbow and wrist flexion and extension were associated with the risk of decompression surgery, but to a lesser degree. The rate of this surgery among construction workers was 30 per cent higher than the general population. Previous research found the condition was associated with industrial textiles work, television, shoe and car manufacturing, brick laying, fitting, machine operating and telephone operations

Read more: Jennie Jackson, et al, Occupational biomechanical risk factors for radial nerve entrapment in a 13-year prospective study among male construction workers. Full article [pdf] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first March 2019 doi: 10.1136/oemed-2018-105311.  Source: OHS Alert


OHS Regulator News

Victorian news
Construction company charged over roller death
WorkSafe has charged a Brooklyn civil construction company over the death of a worker crushed by a road roller in October 2107 in Mildura.  The 58-year-old man was crushed while helping load the roller onto a tray truck in a depot.

Multiworks Australia has been charged with two offences under section 21 of the OHS Act for failing to provide a safe working environment.

It is alleged the company's failure to have in place a procedure or system, including a safety exclusion zone, for the loading and unloading of machines and equipment on and off trailers for transport was a breach of section 21(1) & 21(2)(a). It is further alleged the company's failure to provide information, instruction and training for such a system of was a breach of section 21(1) & 21(2)(e).

The matter was listed in the Mildura Magistrates' Court last Thursday. 
Source: WorkSafe media release
.

New chemical site under investigation
It seems like every week WorkSafe and other regulators are having to investigate another site with illegal stores of toxic waste. Last Friday WorkSafe announced it, together with the MFB and Environment Protection Authority, was assessing the contents of a warehouse in Campbellfield following an inspection Thursday afternoon. Just the week before, WorkSafe, CFA and EPA had discovered chemicals stockpiled in containers at three additional sites in Craigieburn.  Then, in yesterday's Age, an article stating that according to a WorkSafe analysis, up to 19 million litres of illegally dumped toxic waste could be stashed in warehouses across Melbourne's northern suburbs.

This stockpile of potentially toxic and highly flammable materials could be more than 10 times larger than originally estimated, forcing emergency services and regulators to radically revise their safety, handling and disposal plans. According to 'sources', the cost of cleaning up the biggest illicit dumping operation in the city's history could reach $50 million.
Read more: WorkSafe media releaseUp to 19 million litres of toxic waste dumped in eight suburban warehouses, The Age

Safe Work Australia news
Fatality statistics
Safe Work Australia has still not updated its site since 28 February, at which time 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

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.


Prosecutions

Swim school fined $150k
A Ballarat swim school was last week convicted and fined $150,000 over an incident in which a student became a quadriplegic when she dived into the shallow end of a pool and struck her head on the floor. 

De Kort Enterprises Pty Ltd, which operates the Swim and Survival Academy, pleaded guilty in the Ballarat County Court to failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety. The court heard that the 12-year-old girl was instructed to dive into a toddler pool with a water depth of about 1.37 metres during a swimming lesson in 2016. She struck her head on the bottom - and was flown to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne with a severe spinal injury. The young girl spent nearly 200 days, and still requires 24-hour care.

The Department of Education has also been charged with breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act and was is to appear in court in June.
Read more: WorkSafe media release; ABC news online.

Warnambool abattoir convicted, fined $95k for forklift incident
Midfield Meat International Pty. Ltd. (MMI) operates an abattoir in Warrnambool (the workplace). Behind the site's main office building is a yard area comprising of a number of loading and unloading areas for various bins, a forklift refilling station, parking for personal use vehicles and an area for the movement of stock between pens.

On 30 October 2017, an employee and the director of the company were standing in the middle of the yard in the "thoroughfare". There were no designated pedestrian walkways or physical barriers to designate pedestrian only areas. At the same time another employee was loading his truck. After filling a bin with skins, he drove a forklift back through the thoroughfare towards his truck. His view was obscured by the full bin; he heard someone yell out "stop, stop." He had hit the two people in the thoroughfare. The worker sustained two fractured ribs; the director was not seriously injured.

A WorkSafe Inspector issued the company with three improvement notices. The company was charged with breaching section 21(1) of the OHS Act, pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined  $95,000 plus $4,000 costs.

Plumbing company fined $50k after student injured in fall
Sean Allan Plumbing Pty Ltd is a Middle Park company with both full-time employees and casuals, including a 16 year old Victorian Certificate of Adult Learning (VCAL) student studying one day a week.

the company had a job on Bay Street, Port Melbourne to remove and replace a pitched slate roof with corrugated roof sheets, and to remove and replace a flat roof and its two skylights. On 9 June 2017, student was clearing debris from the flat roof when he stood on a skylight and fell 5 metres through it, hit a steel balustrade and then tumbled 3 metres down a flight of stairs under the skylight. He suffered a broken rib, fractured vertebrae and bruising.

No Safe Work Method Statement ('SWMS') had been prepared for the High Risk Construction Work, nor was there any appropriate fall protection such as anchor points and a work positioning system. The company had also not provided the necessary information, instruction and training on working from height. The company had received two compliance notices at another site in 2011, one for failure to control falls from height and the other for failure to prepare a SWMS.

The company pleaded guilty and was with conviction fined $50,000 plus $3,500 in costs.

Fine for lack of fall protection
C&S plumbing, a roofing and plumbing company operating in the Benalla area, was engaged to install a roof at a residential property in Creswick.

On 30 June 2017, a WorkSafe Inspector attended the workplace following a service request to report persons working from the roof with no fall protection in place. The Inspector observed employees doing roofing works with no perimeter protection. The distance from the roof to the concrete below was between 3 and 5 metres. Further, the company had not prepared a safe work method statement for the roofing work.

Luckily, no incident occurred at the workplace prior to WorkSafe's intervention.

On 24 July 2018, C&S Plumbing pleaded guilty and was fined $2,000 (and costs of $3,115) without conviction. The Director of Public Prosecutions appealed the sentence before Judge Lacava in the County Court sitting at Ballarat. HH set aside the orders of the Magistrates' Court and sentenced the company, without conviction, to pay a fine of $12,000 and costs of $3,115.

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

WA: Companies fined after worker's jaw broken
Two companies have been fined a total of $176,000 for an incident that broke a worker's jaw at the Cloudbreak iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The man was conducting maintenance work on the mine's conveyor belt system when he was struck in the face by a hook attached to a hand operated hoist in September 2014. He suffered a broken jaw, requiring the surgical insertion of a neurostimulator to suppress chronic pain.

Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety Director Mines Safety Andrew Chaplyn said the hazards associated with conducting the maintenance work should have been addressed. "The man and a co-worker were tasked with replacing one of the return rollers on the conveyor system," Mr. Chaplyn said. "This task had work instructions that directed workers to use a particular Conveyor Belt Lifter to change return rollers on the conveyor system, however, he was not aware of the work instructions and neither worker had received any training on the work instructions." Source: Safety Culture OHS News


International News

USA: Monsanto Roundup verdict 
In another important case involving glyphosate (see previous case reported in SafetyNet 453), a federal jury in San Francisco has found Monsanto's Roundup herbicide was a substantial factor in causing the cancer of a California man. This is a landmark verdict that could affect hundreds of other cases - and not only in the USA.

Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa was the first person to challenge Monsanto's Roundup in a federal trial and alleged that his exposure to Roundup caused him to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), a cancer that affects the immune system. In the next phase of the case, the jury will weigh liability and damages, and Hardeman's lawyers will present arguments about Monsanto's influence on government regulators and cancer research.

The 70-year old man's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for hundreds of other plaintiffs in the US with similar claims, which means the verdict could affect future litigation and other cancer patients and families. Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, is facing more than 9,000 similar lawsuits across the US. Read more: Monsanto: Roundup substantial factor in man's cancer, jury finds in key verdict.The Guardian


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