SafetyNet 486

We apologise for the erratic posting of SafetyNet over the past few weeks, with staff on leave and so much happening it's been a bit crazy! We hope to get back to normal soon!

We welcome comments on any of the issues covered - just send an email here. (Please don't 'reply' to your email). If you have a story or an issue you would like covered, contact us as well. it's great to get your views. Remember too: 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

Hi Renata, 
I am actually asking for a friend... he is having significant safety issues at his work (a school with fairly disruptive kids) and has been told that "A child's right to education trumps an employees right to a safe workplace".

I am speechless at this – do you have any recommendations?

No, I don't think that is legally correct (keeping in mind that I am not a lawyer).

The employer – in this case the school – has duties to both the students and the employees, and can't just ignore the duties to employees over the 'rights' of students.

The duties under the OHS Act are limited by 'so far as is reasonably practicable'. So while the easiest way to eliminate the risk of disruptive students to teachers would be to eliminate these students from the school (one way or another! 😉), this is clearly not 'reasonably practicable'.

However this does not mean that employer can just do nothing and because the students must receive an education, put the health and safety of the staff at risk. The employer must take action to minimise the risks to the staff: by developing and implement controls. Some examples might be policies and procedures to prevent incidents or which kick in once an incident occurs, isolating students, training, etc. Further, the identification and control of risks must be done in consultation with the elected HSR (and with the affected employees too if there's no HSR, or if this is the best way to go),

This is an issue many schools are grappling with, and there are lots of things that can and must be done….

If your friend is a member of the relevant union (hopefully he is!) then I strongly recommend that he contact the union for assistance and advice.

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.

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International union news
India: Stone carvers demand silicosis protection 
Hundreds of stonemasons took to the streets of Pindwara on 1 May, to protest at the deadly dust risks facing the workers building India's temples. Union leader Ganesh, 31, was diagnosed with the frequently fatal lung scarring disease silicosis at the age of 29. He is unable to walk more than a hundred metres and struggles for breath while talking. Despite his failing health, Ganesh came out to lead the rally because he said he wants to ensure that other workers do not suffer like him.

Pindwara is home to about 230 factories that have built some of India's most famous temples. On May Day, 400 workers occupied the streets of Pindwara's RIICO – the industrial area where the biggest of these factories are located. The workers had one rallying cry – freedom from the occupational disease of silicosis.

According to the Sirohi district's health department, over 1,650 of these temple-building workers are dying after contracting the untreatable lung disease. Workers' advocates say this is an under-estimate, as screening for the disease only started in the area three years ago. Addressing the rally, union founder member Sohan Lal said: "We stone-carvers are builders of famous temples in Delhi, Ahmedabad, London, New York, Australia. Rich and famous people visit these temples and enjoy the fruits of our labour, while we die of silicosis in big numbers in anonymity. Last year prime minister Modi laid the foundation of Swaminarayan's latest temple project in Abu Dhabi. But what about us, the workers who are building this temple here in Pindwara and are dying in the process?" Sohan Lal is one of the 1,000 workers in Pindwara that formed the union, Pathar Gadhai Mazdoor Suraksha Sangh, to bring the issue of death in India's temple-building industry to light. The union successfully pressured the district and state health departments to hold regular health camps for Pindwara's stone carvers, with screening results suggesting four in every 10 have silicosis. The union says employers routinely violate safety rules, arguing they have provided masks and so it is the workers' fault if they fall ill. However, a union-run research project, where workers measured dust levels in 30 factories and monitored workers' lung capacity, found dust levels several times the official limit. Over 70 per cent of workers had "highly compromised" lung capacity. Read more: The Wire. Source: Risks 896

USA: Unions take on violence in health and social care 
While workplace violence is a serious and growing problem for all workers in the US, incidents in health and social care are far outpacing those in other industries, a union has warned. The union USW noted that a lack of preventive measures combined with the increasingly profit-driven nature of the US health care system is resulting in problems like unsafe staffing levels that contribute to the trend. The union said this "foreseeable and preventable" problem impacts anyone who works directly in health care or social services, anyone who is a patient, and anyone who visits or accompanies a patient. "This is why we are launching a nationwide action to push for the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act," the union added. "This bill would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure these workplaces develop and implement violence prevention plans." The union's HQ has distributed packages of postcards, for the attention of US senators and the Secretary of Labor and detailing USW's demands, to be sent in by thousands of union members nationwide. "This is a solvable problem, but it will take action like this to get it done," the union said. Read more: USW news release. Source: Risks 896


Quad bike fatalities declining
New research has found that deaths from tractors and quad bikes have declined significantly since 2017. The report, Non-intentional Farm Related Incidents in Australia, was developed using data collected by AgHealth Australia's National Farm Injury Coronial Database, based at the University of Sydney, and found that tractor- related fatalities fell from 13 to nine and deaths involving quads fell from 11 to six in the 12 months from 2017 to 2018.

However AgriFutures Australia Managing Director, John Harvey said the number of farming-related deaths remains alarming. "While some progress has been made in specific areas, the overall numbers are telling us that more still needs to be done," he said. "We know the impact of accidents across Australia's agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries is significant. Australia's RDCs have a renewed focus on reshaping, refocusing and regrouping to address the issue.
Read more: SafetyCulture news. WorkSafe Victoria resources for Quad bike safety

Nail technicians '100 times' more at risk of cancer
Scientists have warned that airborne formaldehyde means the salons are as bad for employees' health as working at an oil refinery. Research suggests that nail technicians are exposed to dangerously high levels of chemicals thought to cause cancer.

Scientists from the University of Colorado studied six salons and found their air contained formaldehyde and other toxic compounds. Concentrations were beyond what is deemed 'safe' to avoid several forms of cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukaemia. Further, the researchers believe that exposure to these chemicals over 20 years could raise a technician's cancer risk by up to 100 times. They warn this prolonged exposure may damage a beautician's health as much as working an at oil refinery or garage.

Studies suggest these employees are at risk of asbestos exposure, as well as cancer of the stomach, oesophagus and lungs.

The study was led by Dr Lupita Montoya, who was curious about the effects of airborne chemicals in nail salons after she visited a nail bar a decade ago and was struck by its pungent smell. She was concerned the confined space and poor ventilation would expose workers to the chemicals, and tried for years to investigate the long-term health consequences nail technicians may face.  Read more: The Daily Mail.

UK: PTSD 'crisis' among police officers
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among police officers in the UK is far more common than previously thought, a new survey suggests. The study of almost 17,000 police across the UK found that 95 per cent of officers and 67 per cent of operational police staff had been exposed to traumatic events, almost all of which were work-related. Of those who had experienced trauma, 20 per cent reported symptoms in the preceding four weeks that were consistent with PTSD or the more chronic condition, Complex PTSD, which is associated with emotional numbness and disconnection. Two-thirds of those with PTSD were unaware they were suffering from it, according to the research.
"For the first time in the UK we can see behind the cultural trope of the 'burnt-out copper' who has seen too much," said lead researcher Dr Jess Miller from the University of Cambridge, which conducted the 'The job, the life' study. "This is a clinical and public sector crisis," she said, pointing out the rates of PTSD in the police are almost five times higher than in the general population. Gill Scott-Moore, chief executive of Police Care UK, the charity that funded the research, said: "The service has real challenges around recognising and responding to the signs and symptoms of trauma exposure and is heavily reliant upon generic NHS provision that isn't equipped for the specialist treatment needed." In April, a national police wellbeing service was launched to provide expertise on  occupational health provision to forces across England and Wales.
Read more: Cambridge University news release and report [pdf]. Source: Risks 896

OHS Regulator News

Victorian news
Build Aware inspections around Ballarat
Joint teams from five government agencies that regulate the building sector have recently conducted 197 inspections over five days on building sites in Ballarat and district as part of the Build Aware campaign, and found most are complying with their legal obligations to protect the environment and ensure workplace safety and community benefit. The five key Victorian government agencies are: the Victorian Building Authority (VBA), WorkSafe Victoria (WSV), Energy Safe Victoria (ESV), Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) and Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV).

Teams from the five agencies found no significant non-compliances but took the opportunity to provide site operators with advice on achieving compliance. Build Aware has been run three times a year since 2016 in city and regional locations and aims to ensure compliance on residential, industrial and commercial building sites. Read more: Mirage News.

2019 WorkSafe Awards - Hurry up, nominate now!
Urgent: nominate your HSR now - entries for the 2019 WorkSafe Awards are open but close at the end of the month.

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.

WorkSafe looking for inspectors 
WorkSafe Victoria is establishing an infrastructure project inspection team and needs to recruit more construction inspectors. Applications close May 22. As well as construction inspectors, the regulator has also advertised a number of multi-disciplinary inspectors in locations including Melbourne; the South West Coast and Shepparton/Gouldburn Valley. If you're interested, you can attend an information session at 4.15 at WorkSafe's Melbourne CBD office on May 16 - find out more here. Check out the job ads here. and here.

Safe Work Australia news
Fatality statistics
There has been no update since April 28, at which time 51 fatalities had been notified to Safe Work Australia - as reported in our last edition. The workers killed have come from the following industries:

  • 19 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 13 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 7 in Construction
  • 7 in Public Administration & safety
  • 3 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
  • 2 in 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.


Victorian Prosecutions:
Company, director, fined after fall fatality 

Shopfitting company Entire Shopfitting Pty Ltd, was last week convicted and fined $300,000 after a worker was killed when he fell more than two metres from an unguarded mezzanine floor at a worksite at Maidstone in Melbourne's west.

The company pleaded guilty in the Melbourne County Court to failing to provide or maintain systems of work that were safe, and failing to prepare a Safe Work Method Statement before starting high-risk construction work.

Company director John Paul Kenneally also pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to take reasonable care, and was fined $30,000 without conviction.

The court heard that on May 19, 2017, two employees were directed to the mezzanine level of the worksite to start framing works on an extension for a new indoor children's play centre. One of the employees placed a stepladder near the edge of the mezzanine where no guarding had been put in place after the balustrade was removed. When the 55-year-old climbed the ladder, one leg of the ladder went through a cut-out in the floor, tipping him over the edge of the mezzanine and onto the ground below. He suffered serious injuries in the fall and was transported to hospital where he later died. 
Read more: WorkSafe media release

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

International News

Monsanto pays up big
A California jury has ordered Monsanto to pay more than USD 2bn (AUD 2.88bn) to a couple who contracted cancer after using its weedkiller, marking the third and largest verdict against the company over Roundup.

A jury in Oakland ruled Monday that Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer, was liable for the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) cancer of Alva and Alberta Pilliod. The jury ordered the company to pay USD1bn (AUD 1.44) in damages to each of them, and more than USD 55m (AUD 79m) total in compensatory damages. The victory follows two consecutive trial wins for families taking on Monsanto over Roundup, the world's most widely used weedkiller. Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper with terminal cancer, won a USD 289m (AUD 415.7m) victory in state court last year, and Edwin Hardeman, who sprayed Roundup on his properties, was awarded USD 80m (AUD 115m) in the first federal trial this year.

The latest verdict is the largest by far and will increase pressure on Bayer, which has suffered share price drops in the wake of the verdicts and is now facing similar lawsuits from thousands of other cancer patients, survivors and families of those who have died. Read more: The Guardian


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