SafetyNet 517

We welcome our subscribers and readers to the first edition of SafetyNet for 2020: SafetyNet 217, January 22.

It's been a difficult summer to date: bushfires on the east coast of Australia and elsewhere; workers killed both due to the fires and other factors.

Union News

Four Victorian workers killed

It is with great sadness that we report that since the last edition of the journal, four Victorian workers have been killed. The VTHC sends its condolences for the family, friends and work colleagues of these workers. Two of these were related to Victoria's bushfires:

  1. December 21: A farmer was killed after he was thrown from a tractor on a farm at Hill End in West Gippsland. It is believed the 44-year-old was moving hay bales when the tractor struck a hole and rolled down a steep hill.
  2. January 8: Another farmer was killed while working on an empty semi-trailer on a property at Baringhup in central Victoria. It appears the 51-year-old was working with the trailer's rear gate when it collapsed on top of him.
  3. January 3: a 43-year old Forest Fire Management Victoria worker and his colleague were involved in a two-vehicle crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway.  The worker died at the scene.
  4. January 11: A Forest Fire Management Victoria firefighter from Parks Victoria was killed while battling bushfires in Victoria’s alpine region, in the Omeo area.

WorkSafe is investigating at least three of these fatalities. The latest fatalities bring the number of Victorian workers killed in 2019 to 33.
Note that the official number according to WorkSafe was 25.

Bushfire smoke: advice for HSRs and workers

Bushfire smoke contains a mixture of gasses and very fine particles that, if inhaled, are hazardous to health. Those most at risk are firefighters, other emergency service workers and those working outdoors. There is currently no evidence of a threshold below which exposure to particulate matter does not cause any health effects, Health effects can occur after both short and long-term exposure to particulate matter, therefore outdoor work must, where possible, cease when the EPA Air Quality Index is 'hazardous'.

Certain people are considered to be 'at risk' and more susceptible to particulate matter-related health effects:

  • Those with heart or lung diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - COPD,
  • pregnant women,
  • those with certain health conditions such as obesity or diabetes) 

Advice to HSRs and workers:

Go to the EPA AirWatch website and check the current Air Quality Index. HSRs should negotiate with their employers to reschedule any outdoor work if the air quality is moderate or worse, particularly for 'at risk' workers. If at all possible, all strenuous outdoor should be rescheduled if the air quality is poor - hazardous.

Heath hazards of bushfire smoke: The short-term effects include: worsening of lung and heart conditions. Asthmatics may need to use their medications more often, irritation of eyes, throat and nose. People have also reported headaches and dizziness.

The long-term effects are unknown, but depend on extent and duration. During the 2006-07 season, smoke from bushfires affected Melbourne residents, and the number of cardiac arrests increased.

On Tuesday last week, when Melbourne had the worst air quality than any other city in the world, the CFMEU closed its construction sites to protect the health of their members. Other unions, such as the MUA, have also issued advice to their members. Check with your union for advice.

On Wednesday last week, WorkSafe Victoria also issued advice: Health risks of outdoor work in areas impacted by bushfire smoke - The regulator re-iterates: "Employers have a duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a workplace that is safe and without risks to health. The most effective way to control the risk of exposure to smoke is to avoid outdoor work on days where the air quality rating is poor, very poor or hazardous." It also advises that "Respiratory protective equipment is the lowest level of risk control".  SafeWork Australia has also published guidance: Bushfires and air pollution

February 5: You're invited to the 2020 VTHC OHS Unit launch

With the start of a new year and a new decade we want to take some time to look back on past achievements, and look ahead to the future. 2019 was the year we won the fight for Industrial Manslaughter legislation, and in 2020 we're keeping up the momentum for safer workplaces.

Join us in Trades Hall's historic Solidarity Hall for an evening of OHS, community, friends and refreshments.

WHEN: February 5, 2020 at 6pm - 9pm
WHERE: Solidarity Hall, Victorian Trades Hall
CONTACT: Luke Bowman · lbowman@vthc.org.au or RSVP here.

Asbestos News

Bushfires and asbestos
When the huge clean-up after the fires begins, one of the hazards will be asbestos. The Victorian government had to implement an extraordinary program after the Black Saturday fires to minimise the risks of asbestos, which was extensively used in buildings up to the 1980's. At this stage there has not yet been any indication of whether special conditions will apply - however WorkSafe Victoria has issued an alert on the 'hidden hazards' in the clean up. The regulator advises that anyone unsure whether a fire-damaged building contains asbestos should engage an occupational hygienist to inspect the site. If asbestos is found to be present, it needs to be removed by a licensed removalist. (see below).

The Victorian government has announced that those who have had their homes, shops and sheds destroyed in this season’s bushfires can have their properties cleaned up at no cost, so communities can start rebuilding as soon as possible. Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud and Minister for Police and Emergency Services Lisa Neville announced today the fast, fully-funded and far-reaching 2020 Clean-up Program. The Victoria and Commonwealth Governments will jointly provide up to $75 million for the program to demolish, remove and safely dispose of all buildings destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

In NSW, the state government made a similar announcement: it will be co-ordinating the clean-up, which will include "containment and removal of asbestos-contaminated bushfire impacted materials. The release states: "Clean-up arrangements coordinated by the NSW Government will include:

  • the appointment of contractors in the south and the north to clean-up bushfire impacted properties
  • costs for the clean-up will be covered by the NSW Government in partnership with the Australian Government."

It has also been announced that homes in East Gippsland destroyed by bushfires will be cleaned up under a state and federal program that prioritises local contractors.

Silica: industry wants to self-regulate

Caesarstone Australia Pty Ltd, Smartstone Australia Pty Ltd and WK Marble & Granite Pty Ltd, the major companies supplying engineered stone, have made an application to the ACCC to form an industry body that wants to self-regulate the engineered stone industry. Exposure to dust from engineered stone causes deadly lung diseases like silicosis.

Such a body would allow them to set their own industry practices and erode the legislative framework that we fought hard for to combat the rise of deadly lung diseases. Workers are dying of silicosis in record numbers, and this body seeks only limit its liability for those deaths.

Do you think they've got workers' interests at heart? Or do you think they just want to look out for themselves? Sign our petition now to let the ACCC know that the application should be rejected! The petition will be delivered to the ACCC in a submission to oppose the approval of the application. Use the contact form on the page to send an e-mail directly to the decision maker, letting them know what you think. (You can use our pre-written message or write something yourself if you prefer.)

Queensland: silicosis diagnoses double

The media has been reporting that the rate of silicosis being detected in Queensland stonemasons has nearly doubled in the past year. While it is feared that thousands of stonemasons around Australia may have contracted the disease, a cluster was discovered in Queensland in 2018 which triggered a state-wide audit. At this stage 186 stonemasons, or nearly 20 per cent of the industry,  have been diagnosed. The majority of those diagnosed are between 22 and 45 years of age.

As a result of this emerging crisis, the federal government last year established a 'dust diseases taskforce' - the final report is expected to be provided to the Health minister by December this year. Meanwhile, the Queensland government is about to begin another round of audits to ensure that businesses are complying with the new code of practice which was introduced to make the work safer. Source: The Mercury

International Union news

International: Making women visible in health and safety

Greater efforts are needed to make sure occupational risks to women are taken into proper account, the global food and farming union federation IUF has said. It says while trade unions help make workplaces safer and healthier for all workers, women and men, “women's occupational health and safety (OHS) is neglected, putting workers at risk of injury and ill-health.”

Launching its new guide, IUF notes: “Many women trade union members have raised concerns that health and safety issues particularly affecting women at work (such as gender-related violence, pregnancy, menstruation and menopause) are not being adequately addressed.”  The global union says its new resource “on integrating gender into workplace health and safety” includes a brief outline of the problem, specific concerns raised by IUF affiliates, and proposals for action. It incorporates a briefing on do-it-yourself research, including body and hazard mapping, and a checklist of issues which can help trade union members fully integrate gender into occupational health and safety. According to IUF, “a gendered approach” to occupational health and safety “emphasises that it is the employers' responsibility to make the workplace safe for every worker and exposes the dangers of behaviour-based safety, which makes the individual worker responsible for workplace safety.” The guide is available in English, French and Spanish editions.
Read more: IUF news release and full guide, Making women visible in occupational health and safety, January 2020. Source: Risks 930

Cambodia: Concern as building collapse kills 36 workers

The collapse of a seven-storey building in the small coastal town of Kep in Southern Cambodia on 3 January has killed 36 workers, authorities have confirmed. The incident came just over six months after the collapse of a building in the Cambodian town of Sihanoukville that killed 28 people. “We want to express our sincere condolences to the families of those who perished in this tragic accident which can have been avoidable had institutional safety measures been put in place,” said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the global construction union federation BWI. “We strongly call on the government of Cambodia to work closely with the Building and Wood Workers’ Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC) to hold those responsible accountable and to increase and strengthen safety and health inspections to prevent further accidents across the country.”

Organisers from the BWTUC immediately undertook a mission to the town, denouncing lax enforcement of building standards and the scant regard shown for workers’ lives on this construction site and many others. “This horrific accident underscores the need for stronger building standards and better law enforcement. The building’s owners had only received approval to build five floors, however seven were under construction. These flagrant violations are part of a pattern of violation that is killing workers every year in Cambodia,” said BWTUC vice-president Chhlonh Sou. BWTUC called on the government to ensure access for the 23 surviving victims to the National Social Security Fund and to take serious action against both the construction company and the building’s owner. In addition, the union requested the government undertake inspections of all construction projects across the country. Read more: BWI news release. Jakarta Post.  Source: Risks 930

 

 


Research

Best sleeping time for shift workers

A team of sleep disorder experts  from Brigham and Women's Hospital in the US has identified a simple strategy for sleeping between night shifts that can reduce the risk of fatigue and safety incidents at work.

Participants in the study, who worked consecutive 11pm-to-7am night shifts, were instructed to stay awake until 1pm after each shift, and then remain in bed until an hour or two before the next shift.

They found that although it is difficult to achieve long and consolidated sleep in the daytime, the participants were able to sleep for the same duration as they did while on day shifts. These workers slept nearly two hours more each night than a control group that did not receive any sleep instructions, and performed better on vigilance and alertness tasks during the shift.

"Sleeping in the morning just after finishing overnight work results in a long wake duration and increases the pressure for sleep on the subsequent night shift," the researchers said. Prolonged wake duration, insufficient sleep and working while the circadian rhythm is promoting sleep combine to impair cognitive performance on night shifts, causing an increase in incidents during the shift and on the commute home.

The researchers say their findings show behavioural change controlled by an individual worker – spending eight hours in bed and waking close to the start of a night shift – allows them to acquire sleep and improve night shift performance. "This simple intervention could be a potential non-pharmacological strategy to help shift workers and should be further explored."

The participants were also told to make their bedroom as dark and quiet as possible, and to turn off their phone when they went to bed. The researchers said better sleep hygiene contributed to longer sleep duration, with the control group workers spending an average of 34 per cent of their time in bed awake compared to only 17 per cent among participants.

Most of the control group went to bed in the morning shortly after each night shift, as 75 per cent of shift workers reportedly do. The researchers said this morning sleep likely satisfies enough of the homeostatic sleep drive that an interruption like noise, or other stimuli, makes it difficult to return to sleep before the next shift.
Read more: Cheryl Martine Isherwood, et al, Scheduled afternoon-evening sleep leads to better night shift performance in older adults.  [Full text] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first January 2020, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2019-105916.

Injured workers need mental help

One in three injured Australian workers experience serious secondary mental illnesses, however few access mental health services that could accelerate their recovery and return to work, according to a joint Australian/Canadian study.

The findings, published by BMJ, emphasise the importance of post-injury mental health screening, referral and treatment.  The study of 615 Victorian workers who made a workers' comp claims for musculoskeletal injuries through WorkSafe Victoria between 2014 and 2015 found 181 met the threshold for being assessed as having a serious mental illness in the 12 months after injury.  Of those, only 41 per cent accessed a mental health service, like psychological counselling, psychiatry services or antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication, through the workers' comp system. 

According to the researchers from Monash University and Canada's Institute for Work and Health and the University of Toronto, secondary mental health conditions hinder injured workers' long-term recovery and ability to return to work.
Read more: Christa Orchard, et al, Prevalence of serious mental illness and mental health service use after a workplace injury: a longitudinal study of workers' compensation claimants in Victoria, Australia. [Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first Jan 2020, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2019-105995. Source: OHSAlert

Exposure to metal fumes increases risk of invasive pneumococcal disease

Researchers from Europe, Sth Africa and the US have found that exposure to metal fumes not only increases the risk of welders contracting pneumonia but also increases their risk of contracting invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD). They studied 4438 cases aged 20–65 from a Swedish registry of invasive infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, applied controls and linked these to the Swedish registries for socioeconomic status (SES), occupational history and hospital discharge. They also applied a job–exposure matrix to characterise occupational exposures.

The results showed that welders had an increased risk of IPD. Occupational exposures to fumes and silica dust were associated with elevated odds of IPD. Risk associated with IPD with pneumonia followed a similar pattern with the highest occupational odds observed among welders and among silica dust exposed.

The researchers concluded that work specifically as a welder, but also occupational exposures more broadly, increase the odds for IPD. Welders, and potentially others with relevant exposures, should be offered pneumococcal vaccination.
Read more: Kjell Torén, et al, Occupational exposure to dust and to fumes, work as a welder and invasive pneumococcal disease risk [Open access]. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first Jan 2020, doi.org/10.1136/oemed-2019-106175


Regulator news

First aid in the workplace compliance code available for public comment

WorkSafe is inviting comment on the proposed First aid in the workplace compliance code (First aid code).

The code includes proposed changes to streamline content and to bring it into line with the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017.

Members of the public can view the public comment materials online at a dedicated webpage on the Victorian Government’s consultation platform, engage.vic.gov.au, and provide online submissions.   Submissions can also be lodged by email or post.

Supporting information including a copy of the proposed Frist aid code, a summary of changes, and frequently asked questions is also available from the webpage.

The public comment period ends on close of business Tuesday 18 February 2020.  The VTHC participated in the working group and we encourage HSRs and other to provide comment. If you feel very strongly about any particular issue, please send your comment through to Renata: rmusolino@vthc.org.au, and we will consider including it in the VTHC comment.

WorkSafe Victoria warns of 'hidden hazards'

WorkSafe is urging Victorians affected by the recent devastating fires to be alert for unexpected hazards if undertaking clean-up and recovery work. Asbestos, fallen powerlines, fallen or damaged trees and unstable structures are among the risks to health and safety facing those working on fire-affected properties.

Employers and property owners in areas where it has been 'safe to return' must consider the risks involved in each task before commencing any clean-up activities. The regulator says that occupational health and safety hazards that may arise after fires include:

  • Unstable trees and overhanging branches, which have been weakened by heat and fire.
  • Fallen powerlines, or damaged internal wiring, which may be live.
  • Unstable structures, such as free-standing chimneys and fire damaged retaining walls or underground water tanks, concrete septic tanks and pits which may be at risk of collapse.
  • LP gas tanks and cylinders, which may have been damaged by fire and heat.
  • Decomposing livestock and wildlife that may present biohazards.
  • Asbestos containing materials which have been ruptured or damaged, causing fibres to become exposed, as well as asbestos which has crumbled (that is, become friable) due to exposure to extreme heat.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said people needed to carefully plan clean-up work. "Cleaning up after a fire poses a set of risks that you may not be expecting, so we urge anyone who is unsure of how to handle a particular hazard, to seek advice," she said.
Read more: WorkSafe media release.

Safety Alert: Employee killed after accidental operation of remotely controlled crane

WorkSafe last week issued a reminder about the use of plant or equipment, after an incident involving the death of an employee. The man was killed after a bridge crane collided with a raised mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) he was working from, when he inadvertently activated the remote control for the bridge crane he was operating. This resulted in the MEWP overturning. The Safety Alert contains recommendations on how to control the risks in these situations.

New Asbestos Codes

Since the last edition of SafetyNet the Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, approved minor amendments to the Managing asbestos in workplaces compliance code and the Removing asbestos in workplaces compliance code made under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act). The codes came into effect on 19 December 2019.

The amendments to the codes were made to reflect amendments to section 35 and 36 of the OHS Act (Duty to consult) made by the Treasury and Finance Legislation Amendment Act 2018 and to improve style and branding consistency across existing codes. The amendments do not alter the substance or meaning of any guidance.

National Fatality Statistics
the final update to the national statistics for the number of workers killed around Australia in 2019 is available on the SafeWork website. The final number of fatalities notified to national body was 166. The workers killed last year were from the following industries: 

  • 60 in Transport, postal & warehousing (eight more since the last update)
  • 33 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 24 in Construction
  • 10 in Public Administration & safety
  • 9 in Mining
  • 8 in Manufacturing
  • 7 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
  • 6 in 'Other services'
  • 4 in Arts & recreation services
  • 2 in Professional, scientific & technical services
  • 1 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.

Australian Workers’ Compensation Statistics 2017–18 Report

The report provides the latest workers’ compensation data, including occupation and industry data.

Key findings in 2017-18 include:

  • The total number of serious workers’ compensation claims was 107,335
  • The three occupations with the highest rate of serious claims (per million hours worked) were:
    • Labourers
    • Community and personal service workers
    • Machinery operators and drivers.

The three industries with the highest rate of serious claims (per million hours worked) were:

  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • Manufacturing.
  • Transport, postal and warehousing

To find out other interesting statistics, read the full Australian Workers’ Compensation Statistics 2017–18 report.


Prosecutions

Charges laid after school student's death

WorkSafe Victoria has charged the Department of Education and Training for alleged health and safety breaches. Three charges have been filed at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court under s23 of the OHS Act, for failing to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety.

The charges relate to an incident in which a student in a wheelchair tipped over at the base of a ramp at Warringa Park School at Hoppers Crossing on 26 November 2018. The seven-year-old boy suffered a head injury and died four days later.

WorkSafe alleges the department failed to maintain the ramp, document supervision and mobility requirements of its students, and appropriately train its teachers in documented supervision of its students. The matter is listed for a file hearing at Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 10 February.
Source: WorkSafe media release

Cleaning company fined after worker fall

Commercial kitchen cleaning company, Parkton Enterprises Pty Ltd, was fined $30,000 after a worker was seriously injured in a fall from a roof in Geelong.The company pleaded guilty in the Geelong Magistrates' Court to failing to control the risk of a fall from height, as well as failing to provide instruction and training on working at height. Parkton was convicted and ordered to pay costs of $3,367.

Two workers had been tasked with cleaning extraction fans on the roof a Barrabool Hills church in October 2018. They received instructions about the job via text message from a company supervisor. One of the workers set up a ladder against a metal awning that wrapped around the church, instead of using the designated building ladder access point. After climbing the ladder without a safety harness, he was walking along the awning when it gave way: he fell about 5.5 metres to the ground. He was treated on scene then taken to hospital with a crushed lower vertebra, a broken leg and a dislocated shoulder.

Neither worker had been trained in working at heights and they were not being supervised by anyone who had been. Further, no Safe Work Method Statement had been prepared for the task. Read more: WorkSafe media release.

Another fall, another fine

Plumbing and construction company AAA Above Group Pty Ltd, has been fined $15,000 over a 17 January 2018 incident which occurred when a 21 year old employee was undertaking a demolition of a mezzanine floor at a workplace in Bell Park. Two subcontractors (deemed employees) were also working on the demolition. The mezzanine floor was 2.4 metres above the concrete floor below. The workers accessed the floor via a 2mx2m hole, demolishing the walls whilst working around the hole in the floor.

Clearly there was a risk of falling through the hole.. and in fact, the 21 year old fell through it. He was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with fractures to his C5 and T6 vertebrae, a subarachnoid haemorrhage and contusion, an occipital fracture and post-traumatic amnesia. He could have been killed. The company pleaded guilty and was fined without conviction.

There are two other prosecution summaries provided on the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. To check these and to keep up to date with new prosecutions, check out the page.


International news

US: regulation of chemical risks in jeopardy

Since the election of Donald Trump in the White House, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shifted its policy focus towards reducing the 'regulatory burden' on the chemical industry. Public health and occupational health have been sacrificed for the benefit of business interests.

Current EPA policy is chipping away at the hierarchy of prevention measures. Instead of eliminating the risks at source when safer alternatives exist, the EPA now considers a ban as just one of many possible measures, and that in some cases simple mitigation of the risks could be enough. An example of this is the withdrawal of the planned ban of a solvent used as a paint-stripper: dichloromethane (DCM or methylene chloride). Tens of thousands of workers are exposed to it, despite it being highly toxic and the cause of many deaths each year. Use of DCM in most of its applications - including paint-stripping - has been  banned in the European Union since 2010. (Note it is not banned in Australia, but has an exposure standard, TWA of 50ppm).
Source: HesaMag#20, ETUI


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.

5 February : Dangerous Goods Advisory Group Meeting

The DGAG bimonthly meeting is a general networking / update meeting, open to all, to discuss issues that are going on for Dangerous Goods and Chemical Regulation . The next meeting of the GDAG  will be on February 5. The Agenda covers a range of issues:

  • Hazardous Chemicals / Dangerous Goods Incidents
  • The ADG Transport Code & Changes in the UN Model Regs, IMDG Code, IATA Regs, NZ Regs etc
  • Dangerous Goods (Storage & Handling), GHS hazardous chemicals, & Related Issues
  • Classification and training matters
  • Information sharing

When: 5.30 pm for a 6pm start -8.15pm, February 5 (with a meal afterwards for those who are interested at the Emerald Elephant Thai Restaurant in Port Melbourne)
Where: at the Sandridge Centre - Trugo Club Rooms; 1 Tucker Avenue, Port Melbourne (Garden City part)
Enter along Clark St which turns into Tucker Av, from Graham St. Melways reference is Map 56 K2 (or 2J A4). Please park in Clark St.
Cost: a donation of $3-$4 to cover costs (Tea, coffee and snacks provided) Read more here.

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 - after January 29).

It's the start of a new year, and so all HSRs should be thinking about registering for their annual one-day refresher course. Training course will be starting up in February. You can now register and pay directly from the site here.
NOTE: there may be a glitch in that not all courses listed have been linked to the online registration. We hope to have this rectified soon.

The upcoming Initial 5 day courses for HSRs are:

February 10 - 14, 2020

Ringwood

February 24 - 28

Carlton

February 24 - 28

AEU Abbotsford
Education Sector ONLY

March 2 - 6

Bendigo*

March 23 - 27

Carlton

March 30 - April 3

Werribee*

And the one day refresher courses:

February 21

Carlton

March 11

Carlton

March 12

Carlton

March 13

AEU Abbotsford

March 19

Bendigo

March 27

Ballarat

March 30

Carlton

 


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