SafetyNet 516

Welcome to the last edition of SafetyNet for 2019.

It's been a big year, and we've all achieved some great successes: the introduction of the Industrial Manslaughter legislation in Victoria, the reduction of the exposure standard for silica and increased regulation of dry cutting of manufactured stone, and much more. But we know we must keep fighting for OHS so that there are no fatalities and fewer workers are injured or suffer disease in our workplaces.

Renata, and the whole team at the VTHC OHS Unit wishes all our subscribers and readers, a safe and happy Christmas (if that's your thing) and a joyous New Year. See you in 2020! We're planning to send out the first edition on January 22nd.

Union News

VTHC OHS Unit news:

Webinar Tonight! Wednesday December 18

Tune in on our Facebook page at 7pm tonight 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.

New HSR Video on our Facebook page

if you haven't yet done so, check out Safety Sam's 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.

Ask Renata

In just the past week alone I've received THREE queries related to air-conditioning: two where the air conditioner has broken down and the employer has 'not got around to fixing it' and one where the employer is randomly switching it off (to save money perhaps?) even when the temperature is very high. What are the employer's duties in these circumstances, and what can workers do?

We all know that we're going to have a hot summer: It's very hot in Victoria today, we're expecting temperatures in the 40s this Friday, and temperatures have been soaring around the country.

Employers (and PCBUs if you're under the WHS Act) have a general duty of care to (so far as is reasonably practicable):

  1. provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health
  2. provide and maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health
  3. maintain each workplace under the employer's management and control in a condition that is safe and without risks to health
  4. monitor the health of employees
  5. monitor the conditions at the workplace

So.. this means ensuring that the air conditioning is properly serviced and maintained so that it's functioning properly, checking on the temperature and how workers are faring in the heat, providing plenty of cool water and adequate breaks. If, due to circumstances outside the employer's control (such as electricity black or brown outs) the system must be shut down, then the employer must consider the effect of workers, keep monitoring the conditions and take appropriate actions to ensure the health and safety of workers.

See these pages for more information:

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

Glyphosate - in the news here too now

Subscribers to SafetyNet will be aware of the legal cases in the USA being brought against Bayer over its product Roundup - the active component of which is glyphosate - and the battle in the EU to have it banned. Just last week we reported that the Austrian government is set to ban the the cancer-linked herbicide glyphosate from 1 January 2020. Some workers have been successful in getting large amounts of compensation paid, and now there are hundreds of cases in the US. This week The Age reported that a former Victorian farmer will lead a major class action against the German pharmaceutical giant over claims that long-term exposure to Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Nando Maisano, 77, also accuses Bayer, and the original manufacturer Monsanto, of repeatedly ignoring and concealing evidence of the carcinogenic impact of glyphosate in a Supreme Court of Victoria writ lodged on December 10.

Mr Maisano owned farms in Lower Crawford, Carngham and Clarkefield, where he used Roundup since 1976 to get rid of thistle on his properties, build fire-breaks and on weeds in his vegetable garden. He would sometimes wear gloves or a paper mask, but remembers being drenched in the herbicide that Monsanto used to say was "safer than table salt". He sold his Clarkefield farm when diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 1997, but continued to use Roundup around his Melbourne home until 2018. Mr Maisano will be lead plaintiff in the class action, which already includes approximately 100 other litigants all diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Despite growing evidence, the company maintains the safety of its products, said spokesman Lachlan Bird, and would vigorously defend the claim in court. "Bayer is a company devoted to life sciences. The health and well-being of our consumers and the environment are critically important to us," Mr Bird said.
Read more: Victorian farmer leads class action against Roundup manufacturer, The Age

Asbestos news

WA: Huge asbestos dump found in shallow water at Penguin Island

An asbestos dumping site thought to be about half the size of a football field has been found in shallow water just off popular WA tourist attraction Penguin Island. Chunks of waste asbestos were recently found by someone prospecting for coins. How much has been dumped in the knee-deep water is unknown, but it's just metres from the shore. Penguin Island gets thousands and thousands of tourists every year. Asbestos Diseases Society CE Melita Markey told The Western Australian that if any of the material were to be washed up on the beach it could quickly become hazardous in the 'corrosive environment'. If they break up and dry out they would release fibres which are extremely toxic when inhaled. She has called for the site to be cleaned up and made safe.
Source: The West Australian

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

International News

UK: "Landmark" win for prison officers

The UK prison officers’ union POA has secured a groundbreaking safety agreement with the Prison Service. The union says for the first time the ‘landmark’ deal commits prison managers to a legally binding procedure for addressing urgent health and safety concerns. It also ensures that the POA can advise its members of their health and safety rights without being accused of unlawfully inducing industrial action. “This is the result of a successful settlement of a claim arising out of health and safety concerns raised by POA members at HMP Lindholme in October 2018,” the union said.

After two prison officers were seriously assaulted, POA members concerned about working in an unsafe prison instigated “a controlled regime.” The POA branch committee tried to raise concerns with local prison management, but were instead accused by management of unlawfully inducing industrial action. The Prison Service brought a claim against the POA for an injunction and damages, with the union counterclaiming over unsafe conditions and inadequate staffing. The union said in instances where their members’ safety was in jeopardy “the POA must be entitled to advise members of their health and safety rights and to seek to represent their concerns to management in order to try to get them resolved.” POA said it “achieved its main objective in the litigation.” It added the Prison Service has agreed to a ‘protocol’ to be used when members have urgent health and safety concerns. “This ensures that, when members come to us with such concerns, POA representatives can advise members of their health and safety rights and duties and the Prison Service will not treat that as unlawfully inducing industrial action,” the union said. Describing the agreement as a ‘major victory” for the union, POA national chair Mark Fairhurst stated: “There is no doubt that our proactive approach defending our members’ safety with a reluctant employer is reaping benefits for POA members.” POA general secretary Steve Gillan added: “This protocol now gives clarity and I welcome it but more importantly it was our members’ actions at Lindholme that guaranteed this success in this landmark protocol. The Committee and branch members were paramount in this success for the whole POA”.
Read more:  POA news release. Source: Risks 927

Europe: Groups call for chemicals policy to be strengthened

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC) and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) have together callws on the European Commission “to build a Europe that protects people and ecosystems against chemical pollution.” In a joint letter sent to Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the three civil society organisations urge the EU to adopt a 2030 chemicals strategy “to set Europe on the road to a non-toxic economy and a healthy future.”

Per Hilmersson, ETUC deputy general secretary in charge of health and safety at work, said: “Chemicals can bring benefits to our society, but many also contribute to the rise in severe health problems including occupational cancers. To stop cancer at work the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive must be revised further and include more binding occupational exposure limit values for carcinogens.”

EEB said leaks of the Commission ‘Green Deal’ plans suggest president von der Leyen may fail to follow through on her public commitment to a “zero pollution” goal. The Green Deal was expected to reiterate the commitment made by all three official EU institutions to a ‘Non-toxic Environment Strategy’, which EEB says is already overdue, but the leaked plans have placed this in doubt. EEB says instead “the leaked plans reflect stated chemical industry preferences.” ETUC, BEUC and EEB are the three largest civil society organisations representing the voice of workers, consumers and the environment at EU level. Read more: ETUC news release and joint letter. EEB news release.  Source: Risks 927


Research

Common asbestos lung disease does not increase risk of lung cancer

A new study led by Curtin University has found that people who are diagnosed with the most common form of asbestos-related lung disease are not at an increased risk of developing lung cancer later in life.

The research, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, examined the relationship between asbestos-related pleural plaques and an increased risk of lung cancer in more than 4,200 workers exposed to asbestos from mixed occupations, mostly tradesmen, and the Wittenoom crocidolite mine and township in the Pilbara, Western Australia.

Lead author Professor Fraser Brims, from the Curtin Medical School and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, said the relationship between asbestos-related pleural plaques and the risk of lung cancer was not well understood. The study examined two large asbestos-exposed populations with different types and intensity of asbestos exposure and found that the presence of pleural plaques did not increase the risk of lung cancer, after adjusting for smoking history, asbestosis and asbestos exposure.

Professor Brims said, "We found that it was the level of asbestos and tobacco exposure, and not the plaque that raises the risk of lung cancer. Our findings demonstrate that pleural plaques should not be used as an independent marker to assess the risk of lung cancer, as not everyone exposed to asbestos develops pleural plaques.”
Read more: Curtain University Media release; Brims, F, et al: Pleural Plaques and the Risk of Lung Cancer in Asbestos-exposed Subjects  [Abstract], American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine

Firefighters, first responders need closer cardiac monitoring

A US electrocardiographic study of firefighters during a live firefighting drill suggests there is a need for closer monitoring of workers who perform activities with high levels of cardiac strain.

Researchers from Skidmore College's First Responder Health and Safety Laboratory and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have found that firefighting exposes workers to cardiac stressors such as dehydration, hyperthermia, increased physical demands, psychological stimulation, and exposure to particulate matter and other combustion products.

They recorded ECG readings from 32 firefighters for 12 hours following a live-firefighting drill, and found 20 per cent of the firefighters showed ventricular arrhythmia and 16 per cent had changes indicative of myocardial ischemia. Both conditions are associated with sudden cardiac events and were not detected in a non-firefighting control group.

These new findings echo those of Canadian researchers, who say rescue exercises and emergency drills should be carefully monitored and include a recovery plan. In the Canadian study, researchers from the Laurentian University Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health monitored workers while they participated in a mine rescue simulation competition, and found nearly half had dangerously high heart rates and more than half had mean core body temperatures well above normal. This highlighted the need for rest and hydration protocols, comprehensive heat exposure plans and back-up teams to reduce mission time.

While paramedics are often on hand during drills, closer attention should be given to all participants immediately after an event and they should be tested for heat strain and monitored for at least one hour, the research team said.

In the US study, the researchers say their ECG findings could reflect heart stress from strenuous or prolonged exercise that is "transient and benign", like that experienced by endurance athletes, and does not pose a risk of sudden cardiac events, but given the evidence of a much higher risk of sudden cardiac events among firefighters after firefighting, this is unlikely.
Read more: Denise Smith, et al, Electrocardiographic Responses Following Live-Fire Firefighting Drills. [Full text] Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 61, Issue 12, December 2019. Source: OHSAlert


Regulator news

WorkSafe Victoria news

Latest edition of Safety Soapbox

The December edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox arrived today.

In this edition, the editorial announces that a Piling Working Group has been formed as a result of the increased volume of work occurring within the rail corridor in Victoria and in particular adjacent to operational rail. The working group is being led by the Level Crossing Removal Project Joint Coordination Committee (LCRP-JCC) which comprises industry, client and rail representatives. The purpose of the LCRP-JCC is to assist in the coordination and cooperation between contractors during project delivery.

The e-journal also announces that over the coming months WorkSafe inspectors will be checking construction sites to make sure fall risks are being controlled, and scaffolds are safe and fit for purpose.

In the month of November, 161 incidents were reported to WorkSafe, 69 per cent of which which resulted in injury: 43 per cent of these were significant, and 11 per cent were serious. 19 per cent involved young workers, and the most common injuries were lacerations.
Access the December 18 edition of Safety Soapbox here - the list of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.

Safe Work Australia news

Employers go for lower order controls - still!

According to a report prepared for Safe Work Australia, many employers continue to rely on administrative controls like training in lifting techniques and stretching to tackle work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD) risks, despite strong evidence that these strategies don't work.

The report outlines current knowledge of WMSD hazards and risk factors, including psychosocial hazards, statistics on incidence and impact, and a review of workplace interventions in Australia and internationally.

WMSDs are the most common type of work-related injury in Australia, accounting for 55 per cent of all serious workers’ compensation claims in 2015-16. Based on a literature review and interviews with Australian regulators, WHS consultants and industry association representatives, the study by La Trobe University's Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors found WMSDs account for the majority of workers' comp costs.

They found that there were almost 125,000 accepted claims for WMSDs in 2015-16, and 50 per cent of these were serious claims, involving one week or more away from work. Yet despite WMSDs affecting almost 7 million people, most workplace interventions for WMSD prevention focus on changing an individual's behaviour or reducing task-specific hazards, with "no consideration of the broader contextual factors which are associated with the complex aetiology of WMSDs", the 72-page report says.

According to the report, barriers to the effective implementation of WMSD controls include:

  • a failure to adopt a systems approach to risk management and inadequate adherence to the hierarchy of controls;
  • poor management commitment, organisational culture and climate;
  • a poor understanding of the importance of workers actively participating in the development of risk management programs that acknowledge the complex nature of hazards and provide adequate resources to support interventions; and
  • limited knowledge of relevant legislation and codes of practice, as well as the role of competencies in WMSD risk management.

Editor's comment: The regulations require employers to, so far as is reasonably practicable, eliminate the risk associated with hazardous manual handling, and where it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, then control it by following the hierarchy of control.
Read more: SWA Media release; Work-related musculoskeletal disorders in Australia; Summary of Hazardous Manual Handling Regulations; More information on Sprains and Strains. Source: OHSAlert

Warning on air pollution

Safe Work Australia has issued a media release reminding employers/PCBUs that their workplace must have measures in place to protect worker health and safety and manage the risks of working outdoors. It says employers/PCBUs should consider the geographic location of the workplace. "If you are in close proximity to a dust storm or smoke from bushfires, check your local air quality index to obtain the latest health advice." See the SWA guide Working outside page for more information on how to identify and manage risks of air pollution. 

Last week SWA reminded employers/PCBUs that they must ensure outdoor workers in Sydney and other areas choked by bushfire smoke have access to face masks capable of filtering out very fine particles. "If your employees must be outside, they must have access to respiratory protection such as a P2 face mask. Paper face masks and P1 masks are not effective against bushfire," it said, pointing duty holders to a US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health guide [pdf] to properly putting on and taking off disposable respirators. 

Fatality Statistics
SafeWork has not updated its stats page since the last edition: as at December 5, the number of fatalities notified to national body was 152. 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.

NICNAS news

NICNAS - the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme - is the federal body which assesses industrial chemicals. In its end of year wrap up there were a couple of interesting items.

  • IMAP assessments – (Inventory Multi-tiered Assessment and Prioritisation, is a framework designed to rapidly assess industrial chemicals). As of 1 July this year, NICNAS had published a cumulative total of 20,554 chemical risk assessments. These assessments are of chemicals already registered and in use in Australia. Many had not been assessed for many years. On 13 December, the regulator published Tranche 28, comprising 2,806 chemical risk assessments which are now open for public comment.  Public comment closes on February 21, 2020. Subject to any public comment, this should bring the total number of chemical risk assessments up to 23,360.  
  • E-cigarette report – in October, NICNAS published a report on Non-nicotine e-cigarette liquids in Australia. The report helped to address a lack of public information surrounding e-cigarettes.

 


Prosecutions

Cardboard company fined after hand crushed in roller

A Campbellfield cardboard box manufacturer was last week convicted and fined $55,000 after two workers’ hands were crushed in a new paper mill roller. Lakeside Packaging Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court to one charge of failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

In March 2016 an experienced paper maker, who was not an employee of the company, was helping test the new paper mill when his left glove got caught in a nip point between two moving rollers. The 48-year-old’s hand was pulled into the roller, crushing his fingers and causing serious injuries that required surgery.

This followed an incident just two hours earlier, when a 28-year-old employee was using the paper mill and his hand was crushed after being caught in the same nip point. He was also taken to hospital for surgery.

A WorkSafe investigation found plans were prepared for installing a physical barrier to guard the perimeter of the paper mill area before the incidents but were never completed.
The court heard that the company should have known of the entrapment risks, both before the mill was tested and after the first crush incident.

On December 9, the Company Director entered into a Diversion Plan: the matter was adjourned to 8 December 2020.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said there was no excuse for exposing workers to dangerous machines that can cause lifelong and traumatic injuries. "Failing to install proper guarding before using moving machinery is simply unacceptable and can have horrific consequences," Ms Nielsen said.
Read more, including advice on actions to prevent entrapment: WorkSafe media release

To read more to keep up to date with prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.

 


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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