We welcome our subscribers to the latest edition of SafetyNet - it's been very cold and wet in Victoria the past week, but as always there are lots of things going on in the world of OHS. Once again, you are invited to to copy anything of interest and put it up on your work noticeboard.
As always we invite 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 always a pleasure to get feedback.
And the usual reminder: 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.
Industrial Manslaughter: Update
Work on finalising draft legislation is progressing well with submissions from various organisations provided to the Minister for Workplace Health, Ms Jill Hennessy's office by May 30. The VTHC jointly submitted with our affiliated unions and the plaintiff law firms. The Taskforce is scheduled to meet on June 20, at which time it will consider the latest draft of the legislation as amended taking into account the submissions received.
Hello OHS Info,
At what height on a ladder do you need someone to hold the ladder for you?
There's no 'rule' or regulation which specifically covers this, particularly as our legislation is 'objective based': that is aimed at achieving safe and healthy outcomes.
Under s21 of the OHS Act the employer has a general duty of care to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including safe systems of work. (See Duties of employers). In order to do this the employer must identify hazards and risks associated with any tasks and then take action (in consultation with the HSR) to either eliminate or minimise them.
If the work is being performed at a height of above 2 metres, then the Prevention of Falls regulations apply (see this page for a summary). The regulations set out what is called a 'hierarchy of control measures' which the employer must follow to seek to eliminate or minimise the risks of falling. What it says about ladders is basically that if a ladder is used, the employer must ensure the ladder is fit for the purpose, appropriate to the type and duration of the task and set up in a correct manner..
Also take a look at this page which has information and advice on working on ladders: Ladders: What are the rules and regulations?
So what this all means is that if there is a risk of the person falling, then the employer must introduce controls – these might include a number of controls, such as providing a 'cherry picker', having the person use a harness, or, if a ladder is used, making sure someone is holding the ladder.
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.
WorkSafe Victoria new asbestos ad campaign
Victoria's regulator has launched a new awareness-raising campaign with the theme of Asbestos lurks in more places than you'd think. The message is paired with a number of clever photographs of asbestos-containing materials with an uncanny resemblance to faces. The aim is to take people (workers, tradies, DYI'ers, etc) to the governments asbestos website, which has information on the over 300 common building materials that could contain asbestos, how to recognise it, what to do and so on.
Check out the asbestos.vic.gov.au website and some of the images.
WA: Energy corporation fined for importing asbestos
The District Court of Western Australia has convicted and imposed fines on a multi-national energy corporation for inadvertently importing gaskets containing asbestos. The corporation, which has not been named publicly, was convicted of two counts of contravening the Customs Act 1901 for importing a prohibited item, namely chrysotile asbestos, contained in gaskets in a condensate metering skid and two storage tanks in 2012 and 2013.
After much ACTU/union lobbying, the Australian Border Force (ABF) has enhanced its capability in recent years in risk profiling and targeting for asbestos across all cargo entering Australia. Despite some countries being lawfully permitted to label or test goods declaring them asbestos free if they are below a certain threshold, the ABF reminds importers not to assume that goods labeled "asbestos free" are in fact free of asbestos or that testing of goods undertaken overseas and certified "asbestos free" meet Australia's import requirements. Source: The Maritime Executive
Johnson & Johnson to pay US$300m in asbestos settlement
A New York State court jury last week ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $US300 million ($432m) in punitive damages to a woman who claimed the company's talc powder caused an asbestos-linked cancer. This award was one of the largest to an individual in a series of trials over a range of safety-related claims about its talc products, including Johnson's Baby Powder. Donna Olson was also awarded $US20m for pain and suffering and $US5m to her husband, bringing the total damages in the case to $US325m. A J&J spokesman said the New York trial had legal errors the company believes will warrant a reversal on appeal, which it plans to pursue. Source: The Australian
Workers launch silica class action
The labour law firm Slater and Gordon has established a national registry of workers affected by silica dust, in preparation for a class action against the manufacturers of the stone bench tops. It has been reported that at least 135 stonemasons have been diagnosed with silicosis in Victoria and Queensland - with no doubt many more in other states/territories. The youngest worker diagnosed to date is just 22 years old.
Workers exposed to silica dust are at risk of developing chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, emphysema, kidney damage and acute, accelerated or chronic silicosis. Slater and Gordon spokesperson Margaret Kent said the largest stone benchtop suppliers – Caesarstone, Quantum Quartz and Smartstone – did not adequately communicate the severe safety risks or convey the necessary safety precautions. The class action is aimed at supplementing existing workers' compensation entitlements and the law firm wants to hear from other workers who believe may have been exposed.
Read more: The Guardian, ABC news online, Engineered stone silica class action Slater and Gordon, More information on Silica.
First glyphosate lawsuit in Australia
There have been several items in past editions of SafetyNet reporting on a number of successful lawsuits against Monsanto in the US, where juries determined that the weed killer Roundup, with glyphosate as its active ingredient, is directly responsible for causing cancer. This week, Melbourne gardener Michael Ogalirolo, who in 2011 was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, has launched legal action against the global pharmaceutical giant in the first Australian case to link cancer with the widely used weedkiller.
The lawsuit filed on Monday in the Supreme Court coincides with a Victorian government review into the safety of glyphosate. Several councils across Melbourne and Sydney are also considering a ban on Roundup and other products that include the chemical. "Based on recent developments in the United States, Victoria's Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is reviewing the use of glyphosates, including Roundup, across its public land management function as a matter of precaution," a government spokesman said last week.
In a statement on its website the company denies that glyphosate has harmful side-effects. "Glyphosate has a 40-year history of safe and effective use. In evaluations spanning those four decades, the overwhelming conclusion of experts worldwide, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been that glyphosate can be used safely," the statement says. Read more: The Age; SBS News
International Union News
UK: Unions lobby investors over Amazon working conditions
Unions are lobbying investors to increase the pressure on Amazon to improve conditions for its workers in the UK. At a meeting at the TUC's head office this month GMB presentations, including one from an Amazon employee, were made to a dozen leading fund managers and pension funds that own stakes in Amazon. The meeting was organised by Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO), which forged a successful coalition with institutional investors in 2016 to force Sports Direct to set up an independent review of working practices. TUSO's strategy then involved highlighting the high number of injuries at the company.
In its Amazon campaign, GMB told investors that workers at the company's giant warehouses worked long shifts under pressure to hit targets for items picked, causing pain and injuries. The Amazon worker addressing the fund managers outlined problems including a lack of action on sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions and warehouse managers dismissing employees' concerns. Janet Williamson, TUSO's chair, said the meeting was a first step in getting shareholder support for better working conditions at Amazon. "Our aim was to introduce investors to working life at Amazon and enable them to hear for the first time from an Amazon worker about the reality of working at Amazon," she said. "We will keep investors up to date with Amazon's working practices in the UK and elsewhere and ask investors to raise these points with the company."
Read more: The Guardian. GMB Amazon campaign. Source: Risks 898
Global: Unions warn FIFA on Qatar 'rogue' neighbours move
The global federation of construction unions, BWI, has sent an open letter to Gianni Infantino, the president of football's global governing body, opposing any FIFA move to expand the 2022 World Cup beyond Qatar to neighbouring 'rogue' states. BWI has secured agreements to improve working conditions for migrant construction workers undertaking work on World Cup projects in Qatar. However, it warns that similar agreements do not exist in other Gulf states and conditions for migrant workers, the majority of whom come from the Indian sub-continent, are worse.
The BWI letter to FIFA notes: "The prospect of expanding the co-hosts at the last moment to human rights rogue countries is shocking and deplorable. It would use a legal loophole in FIFA rules to renounce the spirit of FIFA human rights reforms and issue an invitation to a wide range of human rights risks." The letter adds: "A decision to expedite an enlargement of host countries would be neither good nor good-looking governance. We call on you, as President of FIFA to take another, more careful look at the dangerous human rights risks in the countries under consideration and halt the initiative to expand the 2022 FIFA World Cup Games." Read more: BWI open letter. Source: Risks 898
Statement on occupational burden of non-cancerous lung diseases
More than 1 in 10 people with a range of non-cancerous lung diseases may be sick as a result of inhaling vapors, gas, dust or fumes at work, according to a joint American Thoracic Society and the European Respiratory Society statement published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
In the statement 13 clinical and research experts from the two respiratory societies analyzed scores of studies of the connections between occupational hazards and lung disease. The studies were conducted around the world over more than two decades.
Paul D. Blanc, MD, MSPH, chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, joint lead of the group said, "The role of occupational factors in most lung disease is under-recognized. Failure to appreciate the importance of work-related factors in such conditions impedes diagnosis, treatment and, most importantly of all, prevention of further disease."
The authors included a range of respiratory conditions, but did not study or include cancer of the lung and pleura, the membrane surrounding the lungs, asbestosis, silicosis and coal workers' pneumoconiosis (black lung), because those conditions are entirely work-related.
Specifically, the authors estimated the occupational burden of the following lung diseases:
- Asthma, 16 percent
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 14 percent
- Chronic bronchitis, 13 percent
- Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, 26 percent
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, 19 percent
- Sarcoidosis and other granulomatous disease, 30 percent
- Pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, 29 percent
- Community-acquired pneumonia (in working-age adults), 10 percent
- Tuberculosis (in silica dust-exposed workers), 2 percent.
Read more: Medical Life Sciences News Blanc, P.D. et al. (2019) The Occupational Burden of Nonmalignant Respiratory Diseases. An Official American Thoracic Society and European Respiratory Society Statement. [Full text] American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
New-workers more at risk in some industries
In a major review, Canadian and Australian researchers have found new workers are significantly more likely to sustain acute injuries like cuts, burns and sprains, signalling a need for specific workplace policies and reduced turnover.
In the review of studies spanning more than two decades, the researchers from Canada's Institute for Work and Health and other institutions, including Australia's Monash University, found those who had worked less than one year at a particular company or in a particular role were more prone than others to injuries from falls, manual handling, contact with objects and bodily reactions or exertions.
The findings demonstrate employers needed to develop workplace policies for new employees focusing on decreasing hazard exposure and increasing hazard awareness and worker empowerment, to reduce the mechanisms underlying the acute-injury risk among them. The results also emphasise the importance of reducing job turnover.
The researchers said the gap between the injury rates of new workers and more experienced workers has not changed, despite injury rates in many jurisdictions falling in recent years. They attribute new worker injury vulnerability to lack of familiarity with job tasks, inability to handle unexpected events, difficulty accurately appraising hazards, increased exposures to hazardous conditions and lower awareness of workplace safety policies and protections. These factors contribute to the greater risks to new workers
Read more: Frederick Curtis Breslin, et al, Are new workers at elevated risk for work injury? A systematic review. [Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first May 2019, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2018-105639. Source: OHS Alert
OHS Regulator News
Quad bikes: Government taking action
The Andrews Labor Government is taking action to protect and educate farmers and workers with a renewed call for vigilance on and around all-terrain vehicles or quad bikes.
The campaign launched on Monday by the government and WorkSafe Victoria is part of an ongoing push to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on quad bikes. It includes WorkSafe television commercials depicting how easily quad bikes can roll and the devastating consequences they can have when not operated properly. David Elder, a farmer who received serious injuries when his four-wheeler overturned on a farm, will share his story as part of WorkSafe's latest quad bike safety awareness campaign.
Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy said, "Any death on a Victorian farm, factory or workplace is one too many – that's why we're running this campaign, so families don't have to experience the grief of losing a loved one."
Read more: Don't Risk It: Smarter And Safer On Quad Bikes, Government media release; Don't Risk It: Smarter And Safer on Quad Bikes. Mirage News
Reminder: WorkSafe Advisory: extension of hours
HSRs: remember that WorkSafe has extended the hours of operation for its Advisory Service, making it easier to get advice from the Regulator. Since the end of April, the service has been operating from 7.30am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday .
WorkSafe's advisory service staff answered more than 230,000 calls over the past 12 months and responded to more than 46,000 emails seeking information and advice. Calls included 15,700 reports of incidents, 52,000 occupational health and safety inquiries, almost 77,000 inquiries relating to compensation and fraud and almost 67,000 licensing and information requests. The Advisory Director Kelly Harris said the extended hours were designed to make the service more responsive to the needs of Victorian employers and workers. Read more: WorkSafe media release
NSW releases Farm Safety Guide
A new A-Z Farm Safety Guide, designed to help farmers improve health and safety across their operations, was launched in Central West NSW recently.
Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson said the publication was produced in a partnership that included SafeWork NSW, NSW Farmers and farmers themselves to make health and safety compliance easier. "This is a ground-breaking tool created by farmers for farmers, and includes cost-effective advice on the biggest work, health and safety concerns," Mr Anderson said. "This guide gives great advice on how people can manage heat, the use of chemicals, as well as fall prevention techniques and tips for working in confined spaces.
Read more: SafeWorkNSW media release. A-Z Farm Safety Guide [pdf]
Safe Work Australia news
There has not been an update to the notified fatalities on the Safe Work Australia site: as of May 16, there had been 56 fatalities notified. The workers killed came from the following industries:
- 20 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 15 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 9 in Construction
- 7 in Public Administration & safety
- 3 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 2 in Mining
Roof repair company fined after contact with overhead powerlines
The site supervisor and an employee of Rainshield Roofing Pty Ltd, a company specialising in all forms of roof repair such as roof renewals, installations, guttering and downpipes, had a close call when on 25 July 2017 they were operating a scissor lift near the roofline of a 4 storey block of flats in East St Kilda. Two other Rainshield employees were on the roof.
The handrail of the scissor lift made contact with both high and low voltage overhead power lines. By sheer luck no-one was injured. However the impact caused a major blackout in the immediate area. The work was high risk construction work under the regulations as works were near energised electrical installations or services. Also, it was conducted within the 3 metre No Go Zone around overhead power lines, without a permit from Citipower, and without a certified electrical spotter. No application for a permit was ever made to Citipower by Rainshield. Citipower charged Rainshield almost over $182,000 for claims paid to affected Citipower customers and for repair works.
The company pleaded guilty s21 of the OHS Act and was without conviction fined $25,000 plus costs of $4,022.
Manufacturer fined $35k
Entegro Group Pty Ltd, Brooklyn, a manufacturer of rubber parts for trucks and cars, and other things, has been fined over a January 208 incident in which a worker's arm was entangled in a machine.
A machine operator was using the "Winder Machine", used to separate a large roll of combined rubber skin and fabric into two rolls. He loaded a large roll onto the plant, and then fed the material onto two rollers by hand. He used a powered drive operated by a foot pedal to move the materials. The rubber material began moving too fast onto one of the rollers and it bunched up. He went around to the roller and began to manually 'un-bunch' the material. As he put his hand inside the roller to locate the rubber, he accidently stood on the foot pedal. The roller then starting moving, entangling his left arm.
Entegro was found guilty in its absence and was without conviction fined $35,000 plus $4,115 in costs.
To check all of the recent prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
China: CO2 leak kills 10, injures 19 on bulk carrier
A mass leak of carbon dioxide occurred during fire suppressing system maintenance works on board of bulk carrier Jin Hai Xiang, on the afternoon of May 25, at Longyan Port, Weihai, Shandong Province, China, Yellow sea. The disastrous leak killed 10 and injured 19 crew and workers. All injured were hospitalized. The ship has been docked at Longyan since May 17. A notice stated that the police had detained 'the relevant person' and were investigating the incident. Read more: South China Morning Post