Welcome to the November 27 edition of SafetyNet.
It has been a big week - the Industrial Manslaughter Bill will be going to Victoria's Upper House this afternoon - see below.
There was no edition last week as Renata was running training, so some of the items in this week's edition are from last week, but we've included them as we think they're important for HSRs and others to know about. Again, though, this is a shorter version than usual, due to staff commitments.
Please let us know what you think about the journal - your feedback as it helps us make SafetyNet as useful for our subscribers as possible. Please send your comments through to Renata at email@example.com, but don't hit 'reply': please start a fresh email. We welcome all and any comments.
Update: Industrial Manslaughter
This morning we gathered on the steps of Victoria's Parliament House in a final push to achieve Industrial Manslaughter legislation.
In memory of the those killed at work over the past five years, 136 boots and shoes, each tagged with the details of the fatality, were placed on the steps of parliament. These represented just the official WorkSafe numbers - and did not include workers killed in truck crashes or on roads, or in some other circumstances: so the actual number of fatalities is in fact much higher.
The Industrial Manslaughter Bill will be debated this afternoon in Victoria's Upper House (the Legislative Council). The bill is listed as first order of the day under government business starting at 2pm. It is crucial that some of the cross-benchers vote in favour of the bill, as the Liberal Party voted against it in the Lower House and will do so in the Council as well.
In lead up to this week both the Opposition and groups such as the Victorian Farmers Federation have been making misleading and frankly dishonest statements about what the new laws will mean. Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the Government’s proposed legislation was unfair to family businesses. “For example, a husband-and-wife farming enterprise that tragically sees the death of the husband in a farm accident could see the wife being sent to prison under Labor’s laws,” he said. “Families suffering tragedy should not have the added threat of jail hanging over their heads.”
The reality is that WorkSafe's current compliance and enforcement policy means that family farms are not prosecuted in the tragic circumstance of a death - it would not be in the public interest to do so. Barry Naismith, of OHSIntros, points out: "Since 1990, 81 farming enterprises have been prosecuted over breaches of OHS law. This is out of more than 2500 prosecutions. Of the 81 cases, only 25 have been over a death at work at a 'farm'. All of those prosecutions have been corporate agricultural enterprises, not family farms. In most cases these corporate entities have pleaded guilty to a basic breach of OHS law when the facts are presented. These crimes have been appalling and inexcusable."
It appears that the Opposition will be tabling 18 amendments - no doubt seeking exemption of farms and small businesses, and the inclusion of workers. Parliament rises for the year on Friday so this may be a delaying tactic. The government is committed to introducing this legislation now. Andy Meddick, MP, of the Animal Justice Party, is a strong supporter of the legislation, and was at the steps this morning to show his support. Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, released a video today, to mark the bill going to the Upper House. It is hoped that the efforts of families and unions over the past two years to achieve fair legislation will mean that Victoria will be the latest state to have Industrial Manslaughter laws. Make sure you check our Facebook pages, and the journal next week for the outcome.
New discussion paper: Deaths at work 2018
A new OHS discussion paper from OHSIntros (Barry Naismith) is now available to download - free for a limited time - from this link. The 11th paper in a series, “23. Deaths at work. Victoria 2018”, looks at one of the most extraordinary years in the state’s OHS history. This was the year of “Delacombe”, the second public campaign over industrial manslaughter laws and a high profile for the Victorian death toll in the national Senate inquiry over work-related death. The confluence of those streams created a story that had to be told. The discussion paper records the year in three books over 120 pages. It begins with a foreword by one of the figures who has played a leading role in raising issues over prevention, compliance and enforcement in Victoria, and continues to - Dr Lana Cormie. It is through the advocacy of Dr Cormie, and others during 2018, that testing questions were asked about the real impact of harm and the meaning of justice over death at work. These questions were debated like never before. The paper will be available until the end of January 2020.
We continue to get a wide variety of questions.. Here's one that came in last week - answered by the OHS Unit Lead Organiser, Dr Paul Sutton.
As a sales rep, I drive 45,000 km a year. I would like to know whether a small front wheel drive car a safe car to be driving on dirt roads, farms and building sites. 95 per cent of my driving is on regional roads. I feel a bigger vehicle such as a dual cab for regional and dirt roads would be a better suit. Can you provide me with some advice please?
That’s a lot of kilometres! Under the OHS Act, your employer has a duty of care to provide the highest standard of safety so far as is reasonably practicable. What this is in this particular circumstance will lie in how often you are driving off road. The highest level of safety would be provided by having four wheel drive when on a dirt road. However, if you are only on the dirt road once a year, it might not be reasonably practicable to provide you with a four wheel drive capable vehicle.
If you think that you drive off road often enough to require a four wheel drive capable vehicle, then I would recommend that you raise this as an OHS issue under s73 of the OHS Act. This will achieve two things for you:
- Your employer has to meet with you about the matter.
- If you do not get a satisfactory outcome, you can then request that WorkSafe attend your workplace to make a determination on the issue under s75 of the OHS Act.
If you have an elected HSR, then you should go to the HSR in the first instance. Check out this page on our website: Driving - maximum kms or hours? As well as information and advice on number of hours driving, fatigue, and more, there are links to useful information including how to choose an appropriate vehicle.
If you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Reminder, this Thursday: Feminism in the Pub - Eliminating Gendered Violence at Work
As part of the 16 days of Activism against gender based violence, Feminism in the Pub is celebrating women fighting for everyone to be physically and mentally safe at work. The VTHC Women's and Equity Team and activists invite you to attend the next event which will be on this coming Thursday, November 28. The topic: Eliminating Gendered Violence at Work will be of great interest to HSRs. There will be a panel and discussion on safe and inclusive workplaces, gendered violence as a workplace hazard and collective action. The event will be co-facilitated by Renata from the OHS Team. One of the panel members is our own Vasalia Govender, HSR.
When: 6.30pm, Thursday November 28
Where: Clyde Hotel, 365 Cardigan St, Carlton
Cost: Free - drinks and food at your own expense - but please RSVP at Union Women
Asbestos Awareness Week
This week is Asbestos Awareness Week: activities will be held across the country to raise awareness of asbestos safety. To find out more, visit the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency website or the various state and territory regulators websites. For example NSW has an item in its SafeWork Wrap newsletter - read it here.
India's Toxic Curse
A paper published by Indian medical practitioners has highlighted the ongoing epidemic of asbestos-related diseases in India and predicted that in decades to come – because of the current use of 350,000 tonnes of asbestos per year in India – there could be thousands of deaths per year from just one asbestos cancer – mesothelioma – with tens of thousands of additional fatalities from other asbestos-related illnesses. The authors state: “In the near future, there will be at least 12.5 million ARD [asbestos-related disease] patients and 1.25 million asbestos-related cancer patients worldwide, and half of these will be in India.”
Read more: Abhijeet Vasant Jadhav, Nilesh C Gawde. Current Asbestos Exposure and Future Need for Palliative Care in India. [Full article]. Indian Journal of Palliative Care.
Bullying victims likely to become perpetrators
According to a recent study of nearly 1,000 workers who admit to engaging bullying behaviours, those who were bullied in a previous workplace or earlier in their lives are at risk of becoming bullies themselves.
The researchers, from the Japan Support Centre for Suicide Countermeasures and other institutions, say research on bullying tends to focus on the work environment and risk factors associated with victimisation. However they say that targeting the risk factors associated with individuals enacting bullying behaviours could provide opportunities to break the violence cycle.
In a survey of 927 Japanese workers who reported engaging in bullying behaviours, the researchers found those who experienced the highest rates of adverse experiences at home and during their school days were three times more likely to have perpetrated more acts of bullying at work. The researchers say the most common bullying behaviours include not making eye contact with subordinates, continuing to look at a computer while consulting them on their work, and scolding them harshly for making a mistake. "Workers who enacted bullying behaviours towards subordinates at work are more likely to have been victims of adverse childhood experiences and school and workplace bullying than workers who were not bullied," they say.
Read more: Masashi Kizuki, et al Adverse childhood experiences and bullying behaviours at work among workers in Japan [Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first November 2019, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2019-106009. Source: OHSAlert
Loneliness is bad for mental health in seafarers
Researchers from Cardiff University have found that long working hours, isolation and extended periods away from home, put seafarers at risk of poor mental health. The authors of the study have concluded that employers should provide self-help guidance, contracts that balance work and leave time, introduce anti-bullying and harassment policies, train officers to create a positive onboard atmosphere and set up confidential counselling services.
The Seafarers' Mental Health and Wellbeing report, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), involved more than 1,500 seafarer questionnaire responses, while face-to-face interviews were conducted with a small group of seafarers, employers, maritime charities and other stakeholders. Lack of internet access, long periods away from friends and family, poor accommodation and food were among the leading causes of concern for those working at sea – confirming similar findings by Nautilus in its member surveys.
Professor Helen Sampson, director of the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) and who led the study, said there is evidence that recent-onset psychological disorders are increasing among serving seafarers, yet 55 per cent of employers said they had not introduced any policies or practices to address mental health for a decade. “It is all too easy for seafarers working out on the deep ocean to be invisible to those ashore,” she said. “Their remoteness allows for abuse to go undetected. Sometimes seafarers are subjected to bullying and harassment by superiors and colleagues on board. However, many employers also mistreat seafarers by failing to provide decent and humane living conditions which promote good mental wellbeing.”
Read more: Cardiff University news release. Full report: Seafarers’ mental health and wellbeing, IOSH, 2019. Source: Risks 924
Cardiologists call for a ban on 'dangerous' vaping
E-cigarettes are “so dangerous and addictive” that countries should consider banning them, cardiologists have warned. The call came after new research suggested vaping could damage the brain, heart, blood vessels and lungs. It follows British teenager Ewan Fisher warning others to not to vape after he developed hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), and almost died from serious respiratory failure.
Professor Thomas Münzel, of the Department of Cardiology of the University Medical Centre in Mainz, Germany, said e-cigarettes are so dangerous, as well as addictive, that more countries should consider banning them. He and his colleagues also argued there is a “paucity of evidence” to support claims that e-cigarettes are a “healthy” alternative to smoking or that they help people quit. The new study, published in the European Heart Journal, looked at the effect of e-cigarette vapour on blood flow and stiffness in the brachial artery in the upper arm in 20 smokers before they vaped an e-cigarette, and then 15 minutes afterwards. The results suggested that just one vaping episode increased heart rates and caused the arteries to stiffen, and that the inner lining of the arteries, the endothelium, stopped working properly in smokers.
Prof Munzel said: “Our data may indicate that e-cigarettes are not a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes, and their perceived 'safety' is not warranted. In addition, we still have no experience about the health side effects of e-cigarettes arising from long-term use.” A limitation of the study was that no healthy non-smokers were included. However, the researchers point out that a strength is that they received no funding from the e-cigarette industry. “Recent studies indicate that e-cigarette industry funding is more likely to lead to results that indicate that e-cigarettes are harmless,” the paper noted.
Read more: European Society of Cardiology news release. Marin Kuntic et al: Short-term e-cigarette vapour exposure causes vascular oxidative stress and dysfunction: evidence for a close connection to brain damage and a key role of the phagocytic NADPH oxidase (NOX-2), [Full article] European Heart Journal, ehz772, published online 13 November 2019. Nisha Nair, et al: Life-threatening hypersensitivity pneumonitis secondary to e-cigarettes, [Abstract] Archives of Disease in Childhood, Published Online First: 11 November 2019. Source: Risks 924
WorkSafe Victoria news
Safety Soapbox November edition
The latest edition of Safety Soapbox was sent out last week. In this edition, the editorial urges both employers and workers to slow down and put safety first as Victoria enters a traditionally dangerous time of year for workplaces. Between 2008 and 2017 in Victoria, 53 people died in the months of November and December as a result of workplace incidents. This two month period accounts for 22.3 per cent of all workplace deaths. "Busy workloads and tight deadlines that often occurred at this time of year were no excuse for workplaces to cut corners on safety," it warns.
The newsletter also announces an upcoming targeted blitz on falls from height & scaffolding safety. Two Victorian workers have been fatally injured this year due to a fall from height. There have been many other workers who have been seriously injured due to falls from heights.
Over the next few months WorkSafe inspectors will be checking construction sites to make sure that:
- fall risks are being controlled, and
- scaffolds used on site are safe and fit for purpose
In October the construction industry reported 163 to WorkSafe. Of these, 63 per cent resulted in injury and there were 4 serious near misses. 14 incidents involved young workers.
Go to this page on the WorkSafe website for the November edition of Safety Soapbox.
Safety Alert issued reminding of dangers of falling objects
WorkSafe has issued a reminder about the risks associated with falling objects after a failed rock bolt section fell on to a working platform. A mine ventilation shaft was under construction with ground support being installed top-down through the use of a two level work platform. Ground support included split sets, resin rock bolts and mesh. A 450 millimetre rock bolt section failed and fell approximately 80 metres on to the work platform below. The failed section included a retaining plate and weighed approximately 2.7 kilograms. The platform had no overhead protection and employees were working on the platform at the time of the failure.
Read more here.
Safe Work Australia news
SafeWork has updated its stats page since the last edition: as at November 21, the number of fatalities notified to national body was 144 - this is 6 more fatalities than the previous update on November 13. Three of these were in Transport, postal and warehousing, and two in Agriculture, forestry and fishing. The workers killed this year have come from the following industries:
- 54 in Transport, postal & warehousing (eight more since the last update)
- 30 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 21 in Construction
- 8 in Mining
- 6 in Public Administration & safety
- 6 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 6 in Manufacturing
- 5 in 'Other services'
- 3 in Arts & recreation services
- 2 in Professional, scientific & technical services
- 2 in Wholesale trade
- 1 in Administration & support services
Hazelwood Power guilty after devastating mine fire
Employers that do not do enough to protect the health and safety of either workers or the community, or to address the risks posed by external sources like bushfires, have been put on notice, after Hazelwood Power Corporation Pty Ltd (HPC) was found guilty of 10 charges under the Victorian OHS Act. The company had pleaded not guilty to 12 breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Following an eight-week jury trial in the Melbourne Supreme Court, the company was last week found guilty of five charges under section 21 (1) and (2) (c) of the Act of failing, so far as reasonably practicable, to provide its employees a safe working environment. It was also convicted of a further five charges under section 23 (1) of the Act, for failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks.
The court heard the company failed to:
- Perform an adequate assessment on the risk of fire in the mine from an external source such as bushfire.
- Have an adequate reticulated fire water pipe system to the northern batters (sloping walls) of the mine.
- Slash vegetation on the face of the northern batters.
- Begin wetting down the northern batters on the morning of 9 February 2014 given the extreme fire danger forecast.
- Have sufficient staff numbers and expertise to suppress and fight instantly any fires that might take hold in and around the mine during the weekend of 8 and 9 of February 2014.
The company was found not guilty of two charges of failing to install an alternate power supply to operate the mine fire water system.
Caused by embers from a bushfire, the mine fire burned for 45 days in February and March 2014, sending smoke and ash across the Latrobe Valley and causing numerous health problems to mine employees, emergency services workers and community members. An independent inquiry found local fire services weren't prepared to respond to the hazardous conditions, and HPC's "carbon monoxide procedure" didn't adequately protect its operational workers or in-house firefighters. The inquiry later found the disaster probably caused an increase in illness deaths in Latrobe Valley communities in 2014.
The judgment also resulted in the lifting of a suppression order on a Supreme Court decision from four months ago, where a jury found four related entities guilty of breaching the State Environment Protection Act in polluting the atmosphere over and near the Latrobe Valley town of Morwell, making it noxious, poisonous or offensive to humans, and harmful or potentially harmful to humans' health, welfare, safety or property. These entities were Hazelwood Pacific Pty Ltd, Australian Power Partners BV, Hazelwood Churchill Pty Ltd and National Power Australia Investments. HPC and the other entities will be sentenced at a later date.
Read more: WorkSafe media release Source of more information: OHSAlert
Cheese and butter producer prosecuted after contractor injured
Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Holdings Limited operates a cheese and butter factory in Allansford, which has an effluent pond covered by a floating membrane to contain odour. The company annually engaged a contractor in order to remove the cover and clean the pond.
On 26 April 2017 the contractor was using a tractor crawler connected to a pulley system to drag the cover off the pond. In the course of this process a chain connecting the spreader bar to the cover failed, causing the bar to swing towards an employee of the contractor. The employee sustained a fractured upper leg when he was struck by the spreader bar.
The WorkSafe investigation revealed that the engineering company who designed the pond prepared an operation and maintenance manual for removal of the pond cover. Before the incident Warrnanmbool Cheese and Butter signed off on the contractor's Safe Work Method Statement ("SWMS") for the cover removal and conducted a safety briefing with the contractor. However the SWMS did not address the activities in each step of the process which the engineer identified in the manual. The risk of injury could have been controlled by setting up an exclusion zone and a specific work practice.
The company pleaded guilty - it had two prior OHS matters - it was, without conviction, fined $15,000 plus costs of $5,094.00.
Construction company fined due to extremely dangerous trenching work
Rodger Constructions, a civil construction company near Warrnambool, had been engaged to undertake civil construction works including the construction of roads, storm water drainage, sewerage and the provision of water supply.
On 13 February 2018 a Rodger employee used his phone to film work being done in an unshielded trench. It showed three workers inside the trench, with a trench height significantly higher than the workers. There had been no assessment of the risk of wall collapse by a qualified geo-technical engineer before the work commenced. It was also alleged that there were no control measures in place to control the risk of wall collapse within the trench.
On 15 February 2018, the company was tasked with laying storm water pipes into trenches at the workplace. An employee turned and walked towards the trench shield to enter the trench to assist with the positioning of a pipe as it was lowered. The trench did not have an access gantry. The worker stepped over the gap between the trench and the shield when his foot slipped on sand sitting on the shield bar. He fell into the 2.4m deep trench, hitting his back and head. He suffered soft tissue injuries to his hips and back and spent three days in hospital.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching s21(1), and s26 of the OHS Act, and r44 and was, without conviction, fined $10,000 on charge 1, and $15,000 on charge 2, as well as $6,642 costs.
Scaffolding company fined $12,500
A domestic and commercial building company, building a double storey home in Port Melbourne, engaged Western Scaffold Pty Ltd to erect a scaffold at the workplace.
On the morning of 18 July 2018, while a WorkSafe Inspector was at the workplace on an unrelated matter, he observed an energised overhead 240 volt electrical cable with tiger tails fitted, passing through an accessible scaffold deck at the front of the workplace. An improvement notice was issued to Western Scaffold requiring them to ensure that the building company employees were not exposed to electrical hazards. The Inspector re-attended the workplace on 26 July 2018 and deemed the improvement notice had been complied with. The company pleaded guilty to breaching s23 of the Act, and was, without conviction, fined of $12,500 plus costs of $4,217.
To keep up to date with prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Please remember: If you have an OHS related event you would like us to advertise, please email Renata at firstname.lastname@example.org with details, including location, cost (if any), and where to RSVP.
BE TRADES HALL TRAINED: VTHC OHS Training Centre
Make sure you attend training provided either by your union or the VTHC! HSRs are elected by their fellow workers to represent them. We understand what HSRs need and have been training effective HSRs for many years. Remember that under Section 67 of the OHS Act, both HSRs and deputies have the right to attend the training course of their choice (in consultation with their employer).
The VTHC OHS Unit is now running courses in a number of new locations to cater for HSRs in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. This is in addition to courses in our usual locations. If you have any questions on the registration process or the courses themselves, send an email to Lisa Mott (or call her on 03 9659 3511). Below are the dates for the next few courses run by the VTHC OHS Training Centre. Check the site for course dates for next year - and start thinking about registering. You can now register and pay directly from the site here.
HSR Initial OHS training course
December 9 – 13: Carlton
HSR Refresher OHS Training Courses*
December 12 (Education Sector ONLY): AEU Abbotsford
December 16, Carlton
* HSRs are entitled to attend this course every year subsequent to attending the Initial OHS training course.