SafetyNet 515

Welcome to the December 11 edition of SafetyNet.

As we approach the end of 2019, we urge employers to ensure that they maintain vigilance in their workplaces: at this time of the year there's often a lot of pressure to get things finished before the break and this can put workers at risk of injury.

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 ohsinfo@vthc.org.au, but don't hit 'reply': please start a fresh email. We welcome all and any comments.

To keep up to date and informed between editions of the journal, go to our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page. Also, if you're an HSR or deputy, you should join the OHS Network Facebook

Union News

Ask Renata

Hello Renata,

I work in a bushfire affected area. What duties does my employer have to me and my fellow workers in these circumstances?

Employers have duties to employees under the general duties of care in the OHS Act. The employer must, so far as is reasonably, provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. If a workplace is situated in a fire prone area then the employer must be prepared to take the necessary actions to protect the health and safety of employees. The hazards associated with bushfires include smoke, toxic fumes, potential asbestos exposure, and a serious risk to safety if caught up in a fire situation.

What does this mean employers must do? For a start it means not ordering workers to remain on site while bushfires burn (as a McDonald's store ordered its workers to do recently!). Employers in bushfire affected areas need to:

  1. Ensure they are actively monitoring the situation;
  2. Ensure they are monitoring smoke and other airborne contaminant levels in the workplace;
  3. Develop and implement a bushfire emergency plan. This must be done in consultation with HSRs (if no HSRs, then with the workers). The Victorian CFA has developed a guide for businesses on the development of such a plan. See: A Guide for businesses: developing a Bushfire Emergency Plan in Victoria [pdf];
  4. Ensure all workers are provided with the necessary information, supervision and training to recognise when they may be at risk and what to do in an emergency.
  5. Take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that 'others' - eg clients, customers, neighbours - are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of their business. 

UnionsACT is alerting employers about the risks of bushfire smoke, saying there is no safe exposure level for air pollution like smoke. The National Pollutant Inventory, of the Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy, advises that no level of PM2.5 (smoke) is safe to someone’s health, which is why UnionsACT is reminding employers of their legal duty to provide a safe working environment to their employees, including volunteers.  The union peak council is producing an information sheet.

Remember: if you or any of your colleagues believe your health or safety is at immediate risk, then stop work, and get out.

More information on Fire and Emergency Evacuation.

If you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.

VTHC OHS Unit news:

New HSR Video on our Facebook page

Check out Safety Sam's new video on our Facebook page: Ian Haysom - Disability support worker. Ian is a HSR and disability support worker in Melbourne's north. Ian's new employer wants to drastically reduce the number of HSRs. Here's why he knows that's a bad idea, and what he plans to do about it.

Webinar next week - Wednesday December 18

Tune in at 7pm, next Wednesday evening on our Facebook page for the final Webinar for the year. Sam, Luke and Renata will be available to go through some of the unanswered questions we've had this year, and those participating can also send in anything on their minds. See you next week!

Asbestos news

J&J: Testing Confirms No Asbestos in Baby Powder
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) has said testing has confirmed that Johnson's Baby Powder is safe and free of asbestos.  The company said "our talc is safe and asbestos free, and these 150-plus tests, and the tests we routinely do to ensure the quality and safety of our talc-based products, are consistent with the results from renowned independent research labs over the past 40 years."

On October 18, J&J recalled one lot of talcum powder. The USA FDA said that testing "has found that a sample from one lot of the product contains chrysotile fibers, a type of asbestos."

On October 29 the company responded that additional testing had confirmed there was no asbestos in the tested bottle.  Last week J&J said its investigation "concluded that the most probable root causes for the FDA's reported results were either test sample contamination and/or analyst error" at the FDA's contracted lab, AMA Analytical Services Inc.

More information on Asbestos: In the Workplace and In the Home.

Are the days of manufactured stone numbered?

As more and more evidence of the dangers of manufactured stone emerges, regulators around Australia are introducing regulations and increasing the required controls, it may be that other factors will lead to the end of its use in this country. Numbers of young workers have been diagnosed with silicosis, and some have already died of the condition. Unions and health experts maintain the product needs to be banned - it's not manufactured here, it's a recent 'innovation' and it's certainly not a necessary product. The Greens, in a media statement released a few days ago, have revealed that manufactured stone is now considered so dangerous the industry that sells it can’t get product liability insurance. In a parliamentary inquiry into silicosis, representatives from the industry admitted they can get insurance for the product.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said: “The industry has just admitted on record it can’t get insurance. This is a global first and can’t be ignored. If a building product can’t get insurance because of its risk of killing people then it shouldn’t be for sale." He said, “Insurers are looking at the long game and they can see that manufactured stone is a product that will bring a surge of future litigation.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer we must act now to prevent further deaths and ban cutting manufactured stone," Mr Shoebridge said.“We need to put the lives of workers above the demand for shiny bench-tops and rapidly implement a ban on manufactured stone benchtops.”
Read more: Greens media release; The Australian: A kitchen to die for 

Jobs at the Victorian Trades Hall Council

The VTHC has a number of new and exciting jobs going in the projects team working on the pre-apprenticeship and women in male dominated industries programs. If you or someone you know is interested, please see details below.

For further information on the roles please contact: Barbara Huggins, Program Coordinator. PH: 9659 3511 Mobile: 0458 752 147

International Union News

USA: Union Construction Jobs Are Safer Than Nonunion

It may not be news to those in the business, but new numbers back up what IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and other union construction members already know: there’s safety in a union.

New York’s Building Trades Employers Association, which represents more than 1,300 contractors in New York City, recently released new statistics using data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It found that union construction workers in the Big Apple are five times less likely to suffer a fatal accident compared to their nonunion counterparts.

“IBEW members and employers have safety baked into every aspect of the job; it’s par for the course for us,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “It’s always great to see our experiences backed up with solid data."

"[This study] shows that year in and year out, union construction firms are the safest in New York City. That’s because when you have a skilled and experienced union workforce, the quality of work is better and safety is not just prioritized – it’s part of the culture. These statistics make that clear,” said BTEA CEO Lou Coletti in silive.com.

According to the data, there were 18 fatalities in 2018, with only four on BTEA sites. The union contractors also received 33 per cent fewer violations per project than their nonunion counterparts, and 25 per cent fewer stop work orders.

“The results of this study aren’t surprising at all,” said Local 3 journeyman Robert Holst. “While every construction job has inherent dangers, it is the training that union building trades members receive during their apprenticeship that makes the difference in regards to a safe job. … There is no substitute for a union apprenticeship program.”

The findings echo others.  A January 2019 report by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health found that, “workers die as a result of employer’s disregard for workers’ health and safety and [the report] notes the difference between construction fatality numbers on union versus nonunion job sites, proving that unionized construction jobs keep New York’s workers safer.”  The report, titled “Deadly Skyline,” also stated that while industry deaths decreased in New York City, they increased in the state as whole. This was despite a construction boom in the five boroughs.
Read more: IBEW media release

Amazon sales days protests staged across UK
The union GMB has staged Black Friday and Cyber Monday protests across the UK to express its ‘anger’ at the ‘appalling’ treatment of Amazon workers. Demonstrations took place outside Amazon warehouses in Bolton, Manchester, Warrington, Rugeley, Coalville, Peterborough, Newport and Sheffield and in London on 29 November and 2 December. The union said larger numbers of Amazon workers in fulfilment centres are suffering serious injuries requiring hospital treatment, while pregnant women workers report being treated appallingly.

Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “The conditions our members work under at various Amazon sites across the UK are appalling. Workers are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious and being taken away in ambulances.” He added: “Amazon has spent a fortune on fluffy adverts saying what a great place it is to work. Why not spend the money making their warehouses less dangerous places to work? Amazon workers want Jeff Bezos to know they are people – not robots. It’s about time Mr Bezos showed empathy with the very people that have helped build his vast empire and make sure it is not a Black Friday for Amazon workers.” Unions across Europe also held protests at Amazon facilities on 29 November.
Read more: GMB news release. TUC alert. Common Dreams. Source: Risks 926

Austria: Glyphosate ban set to take effect in January
The Austrian government’s plan to ban sales and use of the cancer-linked herbicide glyphosate from 1 January 2020 looks set to go ahead. Neither the European Commission nor EU member states have challenged formally the ban on all uses of glyphosate adopted by Austria's parliament in July this year, paving the way for it to come into effect next month. In Austria, the move is supported by a cross-party coalition in parliament, civil society, environmentalists, small farmer organisations and trade unions.

Should the ban now go ahead, Austria would become the first EU country to ban the world's most widely used herbicide, best known as Monsanto's 'Roundup'. However, global farm and food union federation IUF, which has called for a total ban on glyphosate worldwide, has concerns the move could still be frustrated. “While glyphosate maker Bayer/Monsanto had immediately indicated its intention to seek to overturn the ban, and the European Commission questioned its compatibility with the rules of the single market, neither the Commission nor any of the Member States registered their formal opposition during the mandatory 'standstill period', which expired at the end of November,” IUF noted. “The caretaker government's agricultural ministry and the powerful farm lobby linked to the conservative Austrian People's Party, however, have suggested that there may still be procedural grounds for objecting to the law; opponents of the ban fear it could catalyse similar action in other EU countries.”

IUF has been critical of the EU’s inaction on glyphosate risks. In February is said while the campaign to stop glyphosate reauthorisation in the European Union failed, “it succeeded brilliantly in exposing the agrochemical industry's grip on the regulatory agencies tasked with protecting public health and the environment.” A briefing from the union body concluded: “Now is the time to step up organising on the broadest possible basis at national, European and international level for an immediate ban on the most toxic agrochemicals, targeted reductions in pesticide use and comprehensive support for a transition to socially and environmentally sustainable agriculture”. Read more: IUF news release. Source: Risks 926

Europe: Unions welcome extension to carcinogens roadmap
Unions have joined safety organisations and regulators across Europe in signing up to an extension of the EU Roadmap on Carcinogens. Europe-wide trade union organisation ETUC said the objective of this voluntary action scheme is to raise awareness amongst workers and employers about the risks of exposure to carcinogens. The initiative was first launched in May 2016 under the Dutch EU Presidency, and has been extended each time the presidency switched to another nation. Per Hilmersson, the ETUC deputy general secretary responsible for health and safety at work who signed the new covenant at a conference held by the Finnish EU Presidency, said: “The EU Roadmap on Carcinogens shows the willingness of Member States, the European Commission, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, and the social partners to work together to prevent work-related cancers.” ETUC said the activities developed by the many partners of the Roadmap aim to provide employers with information on evaluation and risk management methods, to raise the awareness of companies regarding the risks of exposure to carcinogens, and to deepen the exchange of good practices which already exist in this field. It said with more than 100,000 deaths each year in the EU, occupational cancers are the greatest cause of deaths due to bad working conditions.
Read more:  ETUC news release. EU Roadmap on Carcinogens Convenant and dedicated website.


Research

Migrants exposed to higher risk in the workplace

Migrants to Australia are more vulnerable to hazards in the workplace than Australian-born workers, a Curtin study has revealed.

Working conditions for the 200 million migrants worldwide have been examined and found wanting in several industrialised countries, including the United States, Canada and Spain, but until now, the workplace safety of migrant workers in Australia had not been explored. Given the number of migrants working in Australia, this is a significant oversight.

“Australia is a nation of migrants,” says Curtin Associate Professor Alison Reid, an expert on epidemiology and biostatistics. “Foreign-born workers make up thirty-five per cent of the current workforce.” With funding from the Australian Research Council, Reid and her team are leading research in the field. “Globally, the majority of migrant workers do the 3Cs – cooking, caring and cleaning – and 3Ds – dirty, dangerous and demeaning – jobs,” she says.

The team decided to examine the exposure of migrants to two types of workplace hazard: carcinogens and psychosocial factors. Common workplace carcinogens include diesel engine exhaust and environmental tobacco smoke, while psychosocial hazards involve precarious work, bullying, racism, job strain and underemployment.

The team conducted three national surveys in several languages to see whether there were variations in exposure among foreign and Australian-born workers. Workers from Vietnamese, Chinese and Arabic-speaking backgrounds were contacted, as well as workers born in the Philippines, India and New Zealand and Australian-born workers of Caucasian ancestry. The findings revealed significant differences in exposure levels.

Arab workers were twenty-two per cent more likely to be exposed to diesel engine exhaust than Australian-born workers in the same occupation, suggesting that Arab workers are given the more hazardous tasks. In addition, forty per cent of workers who completed the interview in a language other than English were exposed to carcinogens, compared to twenty-nine per cent of English speakers.

All groups reported exposure to psychosocial hazards, with workers from New Zealand, the Philippines and India citing low job security and Chinese workers reporting low levels of autonomy. Workers from the Philippines were found more likely to work as labourers, despite more than half completing tertiary education.

Reid also looked at fatalities and hospital admissions for work-related injuries and whether they differed by country of birth.

“In contrast to many other countries, we found that Australian-born workers are more likely to die from a work-related injury than workers from other countries,” she said. “The only exception was men and women from New Zealand who are more likely to be killed from a work-related incident than Australian-born workers.”

The research also found that workers born in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany were more likely to die from malignant mesothelioma - caused by exposure to asbestos - than Australian-born workers. “Workers from these countries most likely came to Australia as part of an Assisted Passage Scheme,” Reid explains. “They would have been placed in government-sponsored employment to build Australia’s infrastructure. These workers had to stay in these jobs, for a minimum period of two years, in order to migrate permanently to Australia.”

The study identified a number of factors which influence the vulnerability of a migrant worker to occupational hazards. These include the migration process and the migrant’s education, skillset and English language proficiency. Its findings highlight a lack of knowledge among migrants around their rights, entitlements and hazard identification. The research has led to SafeWork Australia launching a work area to examine occupational health and safety for migrant workers. Read more: Curtin University media release.

Being bullied by colleagues does most harm

European researchers have found that while most bullying is perpetrated by supervisors and managers, workers are more likely to be affected if they are bullied by their co-workers. The researchers suggested this may be due to the 'surprise factor' of being bullied by a colleague.

In interviews with 2,172 German workers, the researchers from Germany's Federal Institute for Occupational Safety wanted to test their theory that being bullied by a superior is more detrimental to a worker's health than being bullied by co-workers, and was a cause of depression. Previous studies, they said, suggested the health effects of bullying differed based on "perpetrator type" and corresponding response strategies from affected workers.

However, the results, including five-year follow-up data, show that while bullying from superiors was more common, it was not more detrimental to victim's mental health than bullying by colleagues, and "the opposite might even be the case". "The risk for depressive symptoms at follow-up was two-and-a-half times higher among employees being severely bullied by co-workers than among their non-bullied counterparts," the researchers found. "Neither occasional bullying nor severe bullying by superiors showed a significant effect after five years."
Read more: Stefanie Lange, et al, Workplace bullying and depressive symptoms among employees in Germany: prospective associations regarding severity and the role of the perpetrator, [Full article] International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, online first November 2019, doi: 10.1007/s00420-019-01492-7 Source: OHSAlert.


Regulator news

Victorian news

Three workers fall in past week

In a media release last week, WorkSafe says three led to the hospitalisation of three workers.

  • On Wednesday, a 28-year-old roof contractor was taken to hospital with a broken ankle and hip after he fell seven metres through a hole in a box gutter at an industrial construction site in Epping about 8.15am.The man was wearing a harness but it was not attached to anything when the incident occurred.
  • On the same day, a 63-year-old roof contractor fell about three metres from a ladder while inspecting a roof at a Frankston South residential unit about 4.30pm.He was taken to hospital with serious head injuries.
  • A man was also taken to hospital with lacerations and head trauma on Thursday last week after he fell about 2.7 metres from a balcony at a home construction site in Ivanhoe.

Inquiries into all three incidents are ongoing. WorkSafe Acting Executive Director of Health and Safety Barbara Hill said falls were a leading cause of serious injury and death in Victoria. "We urge all employers, principal contractors, contractors and workers who are working at height to review, and if required, revise their Safe Work Method Statements to ensure appropriate fall controls are in place." WorkSafe inspectors are targeting fall from height and scaffolding safety risks this summer to ensure all employers are meeting their obligations to protect workers. Read more: WorkSafe media release

WorkSafe issues warning at start of festive season

The regulator has sent out a bulletin warning: "The holiday season is fast approaching and it's more important than ever to focus on safety in the workplace. Don't make the holidays a season you'll want to forget." This is part of its Holiday Safety Campaign: a reminder for all Victorians to stay safe in the workplace.  In the past 10 years:

  • 22 per cent of all workplace deaths occurred in November and December
  • 51 lives were lost during the holiday season

Read more: Take time, take care, and stay safe for your loved ones

Safe Work Australia news

Fatality Statistics
SafeWork has updated its stats page since the last edition: as at December 5, the number of fatalities notified to national body was 152  - this is eight more fatalities than the previous update on November 21. Of the eight workers killed, three were from the construction sector The workers killed this year have come from the following industries: 

  • 54 in Transport, postal & warehousing (eight more since the last update)
  • 31 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 24 in Construction
  • 9 in Mining
  • 7 in Public Administration & safety
  • 6 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
  • 6 in Manufacturing
  • 6 in 'Other services'
  • 3 in Arts & recreation services
  • 2 in Professional, scientific & technical services
  • 2 in Wholesale trade
  • 1 in Administration & support services
  • 1 in Healthcare & social assistance

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

Charges laid in milk processing death

WorkSafe Victoria has charged a Cobram engineering company, a Bendigo crane hire company and a New Zealand engineer following the death of a worker at a decommissioned cheese factory in Leitchville, near Echuca in December 2017. A 59-year-old man was killed and another man seriously injured when a condenser that had been craned into a shipping container fell and crushed them on 6 December 2017.

A-1 Engineering has been charged with six offences under sections 21(1) and 21(2)(a) and two offences under 21(1) and 21(2)(e) of the OHS Act for failing to provide a safe working environment. WorkSafe alleges the company failed to: ensure employees did not work under suspended loads; provide a system that eliminated risks while loading heavy equipment into an enclosed shipping container; take measures to ensure heavy equipment would not fall; and ensure that loads were lifted in a controlled manner. It is also alleged the company also failed to: ensure employees were appropriately qualified and experienced; provide  the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision; and undertake a risk assessment.

Big Hill Cranes has been charged with four offences under section 23(1) for failing to ensure their work did not expose people other than their workers to risks to their health or safety. It is alleged the company failed to: ensure crane loads were not suspended over people; eliminate the risk of heavy equipment falling while being moved inside the shipping container; ensure that loads were lifted in a controlled manner; and undertake a risk assessment.

The engineer, who was absent on the day of the incident, has been charged with four offences under sections 144(1) for failing to take reasonable care as the manager or controller of the workplace - and that the engineer failed to: provide a safe workplace and a safe system of work for moving heavy machinery; ensure people were qualified for the work; ensure there was a supervisor on site in his absence; undertake a risk assessment of the work required

The matter is listed for a filing hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 18 December 2019. Read more: WorkSafe media release

Steel fabrication company convicted, fined $400,000 after fatality

SJ & TA Structural Pty Ltd, a company involved in steel fabrication, was last week convicted and fined $400,000 in the Victorian County Court, after pleading guilty to breaching s21 of the OHS Act in failing to provide a safe system of work or safe working environment in an incident which culminated in a fatality.

In August 2016, three SJ&TA workers were using a Franna crane to move 10-metre-long steel staircase frames, weighing up to 3.6 tonnes each, from a painting shed to a yard at the employer's site in Wodonga. They stacked the frames three-high, with one worker operating the crane and the others connecting and disconnecting the lifting chains, as well as placing pads on the steel cleats attached to each frame to separate the cleats from the next frame in the stack.

The County Court heard the workers initially used rubber pads for this task, but were subsequently instructed to use timber scraps instead. After some time, some of the wood broke, causing one stack of frames to collapse against another stack, crushing the worker who was standing between the stacks to disconnect the lifting chains from the third frame on the second stack. He suffered fatal injuries.

The Court found SJ&TA's method for storing the heavy staircase frames created two health and safety risks: that the excessive bearing pressure of the steel cleats on the timber pads would break the pads; or that this pressure would cause the pads and the frames to slide.

Demolition company fined $60,000 after 7 mt fall

Premier De Fit Pty Ltd, a demolition company, was last week fined $60,000 (plus $9,158 in costs), without conviction, after a young workers fell 7.3 metres. The company had pleaded guilty.

In August 2017 Premier De Fit had been engaged by a builder to carry out demolition works at a workplace in Broadmeadows.  On 19 December, Premier De Fit employees  were undertaking demolition works on the third floor.  A 23 year old worker was directed by the foreman to cut a penetration into the concrete floor slab of the third floor, which was to be used to dispose of demolition debris, where it would land on the ground level, and then be removed by an excavator.

He used a demolition saw to cut the hole - no fall protection was installed around the live edges of the penetration, creating a risk of serious injury or death to anyone using or working in the vicinity should they fell through. Later the worker was sweeping around the penetration and talking to a colleague when he stepped back to pick up a shovel. He fell approximately 7.3 metres to the ground below, and suffered two spinal fractures, a medial collateral ligament rupture on his right knee and a tibia fracture on his right side. He was taken by ambulance to Royal Melbourne Hospital and did not return to work for approximately 6 months.

There were four other successful prosecutions since the last journal. To read more on these and to keep up to date with prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.


International news

India: Factory fire kills dozens

Indian authorities are investigating the cause of a devastating fire that killed at least 43 people in a crowded market in central New Delhi. The blaze broke out at the four-storey building in the city's congested old quarter early on Sunday morning. At least 100 people were sleeping inside the factory, which mainly makes school bags, when the fire started. More than 60 have been rescued. According to police, many of the victims were factory workers who were asleep when the blaze began.

Assistant New Delhi police commissioner Anil Kumar Mittal said that "the fire appears to have been caused by an electric short circuit," adding that authorities were investigating whether the factory was operating legally. Building laws and safety norms are routinely flouted in New Delhi, making fires common.

The building's owner, Rihan, was detained on suspicion of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, Mr Mittal said. Rihan's manager Furkan was also arrested.

The Delhi government has ordered a magisterial probe into the tragedy, the worst fire accident in the national capital since the 1997 Uphaar cinema blaze that claimed 59 lives, and have sought a report within seven days.
Read more: The Times of India; ABC News online; BBC News


Events

Please remember: If you have an OHS related event you would like us to advertise, please email Renata at ohsinfo@vthc.org.au 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 runs 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). While we are now at the end of the year, with courses finishing up, start thinking about planning for and enrolling in courses for next year. Training starts again in February 2020. You can now register and pay directly from the site here.


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