Last weekend a Victorian truck driver was killed when his truck hit a tree. And news has just come in that a young man was found dead yesterday at the bottom of a dry dam. We send sincerest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of these workers.
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Truck driver killed in rural Victoria
Wodonga police are investigating the collision at Sandy Creek in the state's north-east just after 3.30pm on Saturday. The truck was travelling in Cemetery Lane when it left the road and struck a tree. The driver, who was the sole occupant, died at the scene. Police are investigating the exact circumstances leading up to the smash.
Road fatalities of workers, such as truck and delivery drivers, are not 'counted' in the state's workplace fatality statistics - rather these fatalities are part of the general road fatality statistics. This is despite work-related factors such as the state of the vehicles, distances travelled and driver fatigue being potential contributors to the deaths.
Young man found dead in dry dam
A 28-year-old man was killed after being buried in soil at the base of a dry dam at a farm at Gelantipy, about 50km north of Buchan, in East Gippsland. WorkSafe has said it appears the man was working alone, was excavating a trench at the base of the dam when it collapsed on him late on Monday. He was found dead at the scene on yesterday (Tuesday). The regulator is investigating the death. .
These two fatalities bring the total work-related fatalities in Victoria to date this year to eleven with the inclusion of three deaths not officially counted in the WorkSafe figures.
April 29: International Workers' Memorial Day
Remember that Workers' Memorial Day (WMD), the international day which commemorates those workers who are killed or die as a result of work, is coming up soon, on 28 April. Workers and their representatives all over the world mark the day, remember the dead and fight for the living.
This year the VTHC commemoration event will be held on Monday 29 April at 10.30am. There will be a small number of speakers, the Trade Union Choir, and those present will be invited to lay flowers at the Memorial Rock. If you are unable to attend, then you might consider holding a brief meeting at your workplace.
Following the event, at 11.30am, the VTHC OHS team will be holding an Industrial Manslaughter Campaign meeting. Everyone is invited to attend and find out the latest developments in this very important campaign. RSVP by emailing either Luke or Sam in the OHS Unit.
The Unit has posters available for workers to place in their workplace - if you'd like some, then come pick some up at the Hall (entry via Lygon St, Carlton).
Can l have alcohol on my work premises and have a drink after knock off time? Thank you
The issue of alcohol in the workplace is not specifically addressed in OHS legislation. This is because the legislation in Australia is what we call 'objective based' – that is, employers have a legal duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This is called the 'general duty of care', and covers everything in the workplace. But the law is not 'prescriptive'; it does not mandate HOW this should be done. The only exceptions are to do with certain chemicals like lead or asbestos… see Duties of employers.
While this issue may not appear to have an OHS angle, I would not be surprised if there is a 'no-alcohol policy' in place at your workplace. This may include no drinking (for any number of reasons, including safety) or not having alcohol on the premises. Employers have a duty to identify hazards and risks, and then implement measures to eliminate or minimise these. This must be done in consultation with elected HSRs and workers (see: Duty to consult) If there is such a policy in place, then you, as an employee have a duty under the Act to co-operate with the employer - see Duties of employees.
In addition to implementing measures to comply with the OHS Act, employers have a right to place requirements on their employees as long as they are legal. In summary, I would suggest that you not bring personal alcohol to your workplace.
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.
Worker seriously injured in Campbellfield explosion
Last Friday about 175 firefighters battled a massive fire at a factory in Campbellfield, in Melbourne's north. Residents in several surrounding suburbs were told to close vents, turn off heating and cooling systems and bring pets indoors due to the toxic fumes. The fire continued to smoulder until Sunday.
Vignesh Varatharaja was pumping a chemical drum when it exploded into flames and engulfed him during the fire. He was taken to the Northern hospital and then transferred to the Alfred burns unit with serious burns. Mr Varatharaja is a member of the Australian Workers' Union. AWU secretary Ben Davis said a co-worker unsuccessfully tried to use a faulty nearby fire hose to extinguish the flames on Mr Varatharaja's body.
The operator of the site, Bradbury Industrial Services, 'experts in the disposal of industrial waste and hazardous waste', had had its licence suspended by the Environment Protection Authority about two weeks before. According to The Age, the operator of the warehouse is linked to four other warehouses stockpiled with toxic chemical waste.Now that the fire is finally extinguished, arson squad investigators are set to investigate the site. Victorian Coroner Darren Bracken attended the site on Friday and will also investigate the events leading up to the blaze.
Read more: 175 firefighters battle huge toxic inferno in Melbourne's north; Arson squad to probe warehouse blaze after fireys finally put it out. The Age
Victoria: Unions raise Hazelwood job concerns
Unions fear that qualified Latrobe Valley workers trained in asbestos removal and scaffolding will not be given priority employment during the demolition of Hazelwood Power Station.
Last week, union officials from the CFMEU and Gippsland Trades and Labour Council said they would not rule out a series of protests at Hazelwood if workers from outside the region were given priority over local, qualified tradespeople. The demolition contract is yet to be signed, and Hazelwood owner ENGIE said the tender process encouraged the "engagement of local sub-contractors who have the specialist skills and experience to undertake the specialised work".
However CFMEU Mining and Energy Division state secretary Geoff Dyke said ENGIE had "divorced themselves" of the responsibility after the closure of Hazelwood Power Station and had ignored the toll it had taken on local jobs. Read more: Latrobe Valley Express
WA: Mining companies urged to help asbestos clean-up
WA's Aboriginal Affairs minister has called on CSR and Hancock Prospecting to contribute to any future clean-up at the former asbestos mining town of Wittenoom. The companies that created the most contaminated site in the southern hemisphere should stump up cash to help clean it up, West Australian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt says.
In the 1930s, Lang Hancock and his business partner Peter Wright established blue asbestos mining and processing operations at Wittenoom in the Pilbara region, which were bought by CSR in 1943.
When work ceased in 1966, about three million tonnes of tailings were left behind, and asbestos fibres have since blown far and wide. Traditional owners, who have a deep connection to the land in the Hamersley Ranges, want it cleaned up.
Mr Wyatt says it is virtually impossible the area will ever be safe for human habitation, but it might be possible to remediate certain places of high cultural significance to the Banjima people and stop the contamination spreading into waterways or on the wind.
A spokesperson for Gina Rinehart, Hancock's daughter and Australia's richest person with an estimated net worth of about $15 billion, claimed that Hancock Prospecting and Wright Prospecting were not part of the large CSR operation that produced the tailings. Another claim he made was that Ms Rinehart did not inherit anything from her father's estate, which was bankrupt when he died in 1992 (!). Read more: SBS News
Russia: Making asbestos great again
In a Russian city called Asbest, almost every family depends in one way or another, on asbestos, a substance the WHO, unions and so many countries have declared a carcinogen, responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. The Russian asbestos industry has been under huge pressure, but lately, thinks it Vladimir V. Kochelayev, chairman of the board of Uralasbest, one of the world's few remaining producers of asbestos, believes they have found the perfect figure for a campaign to rehabilitate the product: President Trump. He said, "Trump is on our side," citing what he said were reports that the Trump administration was easing restrictions on asbestos use.
Read more: The New York Times
Crane collapses on home
A crane has collapsed today onto a house in Melbourne's west, injuring two workers. Police say the crane collapsed in Yarraville, falling on an unoccupied neighbouring house about 1pm, causing major structural damage. The incident could have been tragic had anyone been in the house. Two men working on the construction site received minor injuries and were treated at the scene. Source: Nine News
International union news
UK: Union launches court action against airlines in toxic air dispute
Unite has announced legal action has been served in 51 court cases against five UK airlines. Unite is backing court action against UK airlines after independent expert evidence concluded that the air in most commercial airline cabins can cause irreversible neurological damage and chronic illness among susceptible individuals.
The union-backed claims allege that expert medical evidence shows long term exposure to cabin air, or to high dose 'fume events', can lead to pilots and crew members developing chronic ill health and life threatening conditions. Reports for the court show how fumes from jet engine bleed air used to pressurise airline cabins contains a mix of toxic compounds including organophosphates and TCP. The union is also calling for an inquiry into toxic cabin air and for the airline industry to clean up its act by using safer oil to lubricate jet engines and fitting cabin air filters on board planes.
Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett said: "The airline industry cannot continue to hide from the issue of toxic cabin air whilst placing the health and safety of aircrew at risk. The evidence begs the question how many more must be put at risk before the airline industry cleans its act up? Unite will use every avenue, including calling for a public inquiry and pursuing legal action, to get the airline industry to take responsibility and clean up the cabin air on jet planes."
Read more: Unite press notice. Source: Risks 892
Women, work and menopause
Academics at the Monash Business School have estimated there were 1.3 million Australian women between the ages of 45 and 55 who worked in the health and education sectors alone and one in four were likely to experience significant menopausal symptoms. Professor Kat Riach and her team of researchers spoke to more than 2,000 older women over five years about their experiences of menopause at work.
There are 34 different symptoms women can suffer during menopause, many of which can affect their work - such as fatigue, 'brain fog' and anxiety. However there are a number of practical measures employers can take to make workplaces 'menopause-friendly'. Professor Riach said it made economic sense, with some studies suggesting between 40 and 75 per cent of women said they felt menopause affected their productivity.
Read more: ABC news online. Free Monash University resources. Jean Hailes for Women's Health resources. TUC guide to supporting women through the menopause [pdf]
OHS Regulator News
2019 WorkSafe Awards
Entries for the 2019 WorkSafe Awards are now open.
Now in their 31st year, the awards celebrate the achievements of businesses and individuals that improve health and safety in the workplace and support workers who have been injured on the job. They're also a great way for workplaces to share their success and show how they are leading the way.
Of greatest interest to us is the Health and Safety Representative of the Year Award - if you've got a great HSR, then nominate them now to show how much you appreciate what they do! Entries close May 31st - so there's not a lot of time to think about it. Enter here.
Safe Work Australia news
The latest update remains as of 21 March, at which time 30 fatalities had been notified to Safe Work Australia. The workers killed have come from the following industries:
- 10 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 10 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 4 Construction
- 2 Public Administration & safety
- 2 Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 2 Mining
1 - Hops grower fined $130k after worker killed
Neville Victor Handcock is an operational partner with his wife in a partnership that grows hops, which are planted in October and harvested around March each year by hand. Seasonal workers, employed to complete the harvest, travel to and from hop paddocks on tractor-towed hop trailers. On 21 March 2017 Handcock directed an inexperienced employee to drive a tractor back to the main shed for processing. It was towing two trailers full of freshly cut hop vines on an unsealed section the road.
Two employees were riding on the first trailer, holding onto the back of the tractor and standing on the drawbar. A third employee was riding on the second trailer. Approaching the entrance to the main shed is a steep hill. As the tractor travelled down the hill it picked up speed and the driver lost control before coming to a stop 20 metres past the entrance. The two employees on the first trailer jumped clear - but no-one saw the third fall. He was found on the road, opposite the entrance, unconscious and with serious head injuries.
The partnership failed to:
- identify the risks of loss of control of the tractor; and of falling off the trailers,
- provide a system of work in which employees were not required to ride on hop trailers,
- provide such information and instruction as was necessary to employees required to drive the tractor, including use of correct gear selection on steep descents
Paramedics and Police attended the scene and the employee was airlifted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. It was later deemed he had suffered a non-survivable brain injury and on 23 March 2018 his life support was turned off.
Handcock pleaded guilty to a single rolled up charge containing two contraventions under sections 21(1) and 145 of the OHS Act and was convicted and fined $130,000.
2 - Company fined for failure to maintain guarding
Glass Recovery Services Pty Ltd, a waste glass recycling company, has aa number of conveyors on site to extract paper, including a conveyor identified as 'C015' (the conveyor).
On 27 February 2017, a WorkSafe Inspector observed the conveyor with a number of exposed danger points. The Inspector was advised that employees are required to undertake housekeeping tasks in the area, which involves manually shoveling of excess materials that have collected around the conveyor - while it is operating. Due to the location of the danger points, physical access by hand was possible while the conveyor was in operation, creating risks of injuries to employees who may become entangled and drawn in. The Inspector issued an Improvement Notice was later complied with following the installation of guarding. On 21 June 2017, the Inspector re-attended the workplace and noted that the guarding had been removed and the danger areas identified in the improvement notice were exposed.
The employer was fined $23,000 plus costs of $5,335, without conviction.
3 - Company fined after complaint to WorkSafe Advisory
Civicast Pty Ltd manufactures and stores 2m2 precast concrete panels, weighing approximately 2.9 tonnes at a workplace in Altona North. On 17 November 2017, someone lodged a complaint through the WorkSafe advisory service, alleging people were working within the area of free standing concrete panels. That same day, a WorkSafe Inspector attended the workplace and observed:
- 35 concrete panels standing vertically and unsupported.
- A damaged kibble with no evidence of inspection or testing and with lifting chains that had not been tested since 2013.
- Concrete panels that had been manufactured with two lifting lugs instead of four, as required by the manufacturer's specifications.
- Concrete panels being lifted by running a piece of reinforcement bar through the reinforcement loops rather than lifting the concrete panels via the lifting lugs.
- No SWMS for high-risk construction work involving the movement of mobile powered plant in conjunction with the construction of the concrete panels
The company pleaded guilty and was fined $30,000, without conviction, plus costs of $4,115.
To check all of the recent prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
France: recognition of electro-magnetic sensitivity as an occupational disease
We Are The Evidence, a wireless technology injured advocacy group, has reported that in January this year the French Court of Cergy-Pontoise ruled for the first time that Electromagnetic Hyper Sensitivity (EHS) is an occupational disease that can be developed also from exposure to levels of radiation which are considered to be safe by the government (if they can be injurious as the court ruled then they are clearly unsafe).
There is much debate internationally about the effects of electro-magnetic radiation. This decision is the latest of other decisions by courts in France that recognize EHS (also known as Microwave Sickness, which is the older more accurate name). The other recent decision from France, from September 2018, recognized that an employee was injured in an incident at work as a result of exposure to wireless radiation because of the employer's failure to accommodate his Microwave Sickness and re-assign him to a different position with less exposure.
Read more: French Court Recognized Electromagnetic-Sensitivity as an Occupational Disease, We Are The Evidence
China: Firefighters die in forest blaze
At least 30 firefighters have died while fighting a huge forest fire in south-western China. According to the Government, fire crews had been fighting the blaze in the mountains of Sichuan province on Sunday when a change in wind direction caused "a huge fireball", trapping them. Contact with 30 firefighters was lost and by the following day state television confirmed that all 30 of them had perished. The deaths happened when about 690 firefighters have been trying to control the flames in a remote area of Muli county. The blaze broke out at a remote spot in the rugged mountains, at an altitude of about 3,800 meters, where transport and communication are difficult.
There has been a spate of forest fires in China recently. A separate forest fire in the northern province of Shanxi was brought under control on the same day at the Sichuan tragedy after burning for two days. No casualties were reported from that fire, but at least 9,000 people were evacuated from their homes. The Sichuan blaze is one of the most serious incidents of its kind in the last few years but there have been several others in the past, most recently in 2015, when an explosion at a chemical warehouse in the northern port city of Tianjin killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and other first responders.
Read more: BBC News, Source Risks 892