SafetyNet 520

Welcome to the February 12 edition of SafetyNet.

It is with great sadness that we report that there was another fatality in Victoria in the past week.

Union News

Worker dies in fall

A 69-year-old painter has died in hospital after he fell through a carport roof at a Kilsyth home on Friday. He was taken to hospital in a critical condition where he died on Saturday. WorkSafe is investigating the incident.

The death of this worker man takes the number of fatalities this year to seven, or possibly eight (the Bruthen fatality two weeks ago may be a work fatality).

Reminder: VTHC Air Quality Standard

There has been quite a bit of interest in the VTHC's  Air quality standard, launched on January 30, 2020. It links workers' health and safety at work with the Environmental Protection Authority's air quality rating. It became necessary to develop the standard following a few days of extremely poor, even hazardous, air quality. 

The standard highlights what employers can do proactively to reduce the risk of workers being exposed workers to poor quality air, particularly at-risk workers and those working outdoors. Importantly, it aims to ensure that all non-critical outdoor work cease when the EPA Air Quality Index level is Very Poor or worse. Download the VTHCs Air Quality Standard. Use it to get ready for the next poor air quality day. Read more: Air Quality

Ask Renata

Hello Renata,

I work in supported housing. We have had two residents contract influenza A and following this a staff member contracted it as well. Is the staff member able to put a work cover claim in? Our manager approved payment of the doctor's accounts for staff who had symptoms, but then the staff who tested positive had to use their sick leave. Is this fair?

No this is neither fair nor correct. The condition was contracted in the course of the worker's employment - which I think the manager acknowledged in paying for the medical visit. Consequently, any time off needed as a result of the illness should be under workers' compensation, and not be covered by the worker’s personal sick leave. 

Further, the employer has a duty of care to identify hazards and risks and then implement controls to eliminate/minimise these. While it would not be possible to eliminate the risk, given your working environment, there would be a number of actions which the employer should be taking, for example:

  • ensuring there are adequate infection control procedures in place
  • where available, providing immunisation (eg 'flu shots') for all staff
  • ensuring all staff are properly trained
  • developing special procedures to follow when a resident develops an infectious condition
  • providing appropriate and adequate PPE
  • facilitating reporting symptoms and making claims

The staff member who contracted the flu needs to discuss this with her treating doctor, confirm that she contracted the flu through her work, and request a WorkCover certificate to cover his/her absence. He/she then needs to submit a WorkCover claim for the time off and the medical expenses, and submit that to the employer.  The other thing you should do is contact your union for advice. Read more: Influenza

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

2020 VTHC OHS Unit launch

The VTHC OHS Unit held its 2020 launch last week, with over 65 people attending a great evening in our newly restored Solidarity Hall. At the launch it was announced that the Unit Lead Organiser, Dr Paul Sutton, would be leaving at the end of last week to practise as an industrial lawyer with one of the large labour law firms. During his time as Lead Organiser, much was achieved:

  • the successful Industrial Manslaughter campaign which, with the efforts of workers, HSRs, unions and families who lost a loved one, culminated with the introduction of these laws in Victoria. 
  • the silica and manufactured stone campaign, which saw the introduction of a new exposure standard and new regulations in Victoria
  • the establishment of the Injured Workers' Support Network, 
  • and much more.

Everyone at the event wished him success in his new role. He will be missed - however, the new Lead Organiser, Dominic Melling, is already on board, and planning our activities for 2020.

Asbestos news

NSW: Asbestos hampers fire recovery

Although bulldozers and trucks are clearing debris in the aftermath of NSW's historic bushfires, the recovery effort is being hampered by the risk of asbestos contamination. According to an analysis by the NSW Rural Fire Service, assessments of damaged properties have found that approximately 40 per cent of the 2400 homes and buildings destroyed during the fires were riddled with asbestos.

These properties have been drenched with a PVC binder spray to fix the asbestos fibres in place, but the disposal of
the old corrugated sheets and boards poses an ongoing risk to communities during the clean-up. Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who is overseeing the recovery response, said “Contaminated properties will be prioritised. Hazardous materials will be transported away from communities by appropriately licensed contractors to appropriately licensed facilities.”

A similar problem has emerged during the clean up of properties damaged by the fires on Kangaroo Island where specialised contractors have commenced removing toxic waste, including asbestos copper chrome arsenate timber at no cost to property owners. 
Sources: The West Australian; The Islander

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

International union news

UK: Amazon made £10bn profit, its workers paid the price

Online retailer Amazon made a ‘mammoth’ profit of over £10 billion last year off the back of its workers’ health, safety, pay and working conditions, the UK union GMB has charged. Figures released by the company show that the firm, which runs a string of giant ‘fulfilment centres’ across Britain, made £10.7 billion (A$20.6 billion) in global profits over the whole of 2019, with final the quarter profits hitting £3.1bn (A$6bn). GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “Amazon’s profits come at a heavy cost. Conditions at the company’s warehouses are appalling. Workers are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious, being taken away in ambulances.” He added: “It’s time for Amazon to take its social responsibilities seriously, reinvest its profits in creating a safe environment, and listen to the independent voice of its workers who are crying out for change.” GMB has also accused the company of using tax loopholes to avoid paying an estimated £89 million in corporation tax. The company refuses to recognise trade unions, but GMB has recruited workers at the firm who have given graphic reports on shocking working conditions, low wages and job insecurity.
Read more: GMB news release. Amazon news release. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 933

Global: Unions insert labour rights in development bank deals

Trade union action has delivered binding labour safeguards in multilateral development bank projects, the global trade union confederation ITUC has said. Its new manual now shows how unions can use these safeguards to fight for labour rights, including stringent occupational health and safety stipulations.

The World Bank and regional multilateral development banks provide billions in loans every year to fund projects and private companies in developing countries. ITUC notes that thanks to years of dedicated trade union mobilisation, most loans from multilateral development banks now have safeguards requiring safe, decent working conditions and respect for International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) core labour standards.

“Attacks on human and trade union rights are mounting around the world, and workers face an uphill battle in organising for decent work. The labour safeguards of the multilateral development banks are leverage in these fights. Trade unions have demanded and won such protections. Now it is time to use the labour safeguards to build power and hold the development banks to account when workers’ rights are violated,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, and past ACTU President. The manual provides information on how the banks operate, the contents of the labour safeguards, tracking proposed and ongoing loan projects, engaging with the banks and how to raise complaints when workers’ rights are violated. A quick guide provides the essential information to take action, followed by thorough information on successful use of the safeguards.
Read more: ITUC news release and guide, Labour standards at the multilateral development banks [pdf]. Source: Risks 933

Pakistan: More deaths as mine safety crisis continues

There have been an increasing number of dangerous incidents and deaths in Pakistan’s coal mines, exposing the near non-existence of safety measures and continued negligence from the employers and the government, IndustriALL has warned. The global mining, manufacturing and chemicals unions’ federation was speaking out after a coal miner was killed as a trolley filled with coal hit him in the Duki area of the Baluchistan province on 27 January.

In the same area on 23 January, a worker was killed and five others were trapped in the mine after a landslide. On 3 January one miner died, and two were seriously injured at the Margat coalfield and on 12 January, two young miners were killed in separate mine collapses in Tirah and Darra Adamkhel. The IndustriALL dossier also records that on 15 January a coal miner was electrocuted at work and on 21 January two coal miners were killed as poisonous gas filled a mine following an explosion. And on 22 January, another coal miner lost his life due to electrocution.

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director, commented: “According to published media reports, more than 430 coal mine workers have been killed since 2010, and this may even be an underestimation. IndustriALL is urging the government of Pakistan to ratify and implement ILO convention 176 on safety and health in mines without delay. It is high time Pakistan’s government takes concrete measures to stop the continuing deaths of coal miners.”
Read more: IndustriALL news release. Source: Risks 933


Research

Caring jobs linked to burnout and ‘compassion fatigue’

Social workers providing care and support to people in distress are at risk of developing compassion fatigue, which is a risk factor for a deterioration in their own mental health, according to a new study published in Occupational Medicine journal.

Researchers surveyed 306 social workers, measuring three aspects of compassion on mental health -  emotional demands, compassion satisfaction and fatigue and self-compassion. The study found that compassion fatigue was a risk factor for the mental health of social workers. It was also associated with higher rates of sickness absence, high staff turnover, low morale and impaired professional judgment. The authors indicated it is likely that compassion fatigue does not occur solely due to a social workers providing empathetic care; it is likely that organisational factors such as inadequate resources, a lack of training and feedback is also contributing.

Study author Dr Gail Kinman said: “Compassion fatigue can have a negative effect on job performance as it is strongly linked to poor mental health, difficulties forming relationships with service users, errors and mistakes, poor quality decision making, absence from work and poor staff retention. There should be an emphasis on organisational change to ensure optimum staffing levels and more emphasis on self-care in initial and continuing education for health and social care practitioners.” She added: “It is important to help social workers to develop self-compassion and a 'tool box' of effective self-care strategies in order to avoid compassion fatigue.  The need to care for the self as well as others should be emphasised from the early stages of training, and evidence-based interventions in university curriculums will assist in achieving this.”

A second study found almost a third of UK doctors may be suffering from burnout, stress and compassion fatigue. A&E doctors and GPs are the most likely to feel burnt out and have the highest levels of exhaustion and stress, found the survey, published in the BMJ Open journal.
Read more: G Kinman, L Grant. Emotional demands, compassion and mental health in social workers, [Full article] Occupational Medicine, volume 69, issue 1, January 2020. (in Special issue: Mental health and work, Nicola McKinley and others. Resilience, burnout and coping mechanisms in UK doctors: a cross-sectional study, [Full article] BMJ Open, volume 10, issue 1, e031765, 2020.


Regulator News

Reminder: WorkSafe is recruiting

Victoria's regulator WorkSafe Victoria is excited to announce that recruitment for the next intake of Health and Safety Inspectors is now open. Applications close 11pm February 24th. 

The regulator says it is 'looking for passionate individuals who share their vision of Victorian workers returning home safely every day.  If you or anyone you know is interested in finding out more information, please go to this page on the WorkSafe website.

The regulator also has other jobs advertised, including ergonomists and legal counsels - go to this page.

New: Crystalline silica Engineered stone compliance code

The Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, has approved the making of the new Managing exposure to crystalline silica: Engineered stone compliance code (code). The code became effective as of yesterday, Tuesday 11 February 2020.

The code provides practical guidance on how to comply with obligations under Victoria's occupational health and safety legislation when manufacturing, supplying or working with engineered stone.

The code includes compliance information for:

  • the new Part 4.5 – Crystalline Silica of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) that was implemented in August 2019 to prohibit the uncontrolled use of power tools on engineered stone (see the summary of this section of the regs, here)
  • Part 4.1 – Hazardous substances of the OHS Regulations (see the summary of this section here)
  • general duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) for employers and for manufacturers and suppliers of engineered stone.

It also includes information on:

  • the health risks of working with engineered stone
  • which duties apply to working with engineered stone
  • duties for manufacturers, importing suppliers and suppliers of engineered stone
  • the respirable crystalline silica exposure standard
  • air monitoring requirements
  • the prohibition on the uncontrolled dry cutting of engineered stone
  • how to control the risk of exposure to respirable crystalline silica
  • respiratory protective equipment
  • clean up and decontamination
  • when health monitoring is required and what it involves.

A copy of the code and a code summary will be available to be downloaded from the WorkSafe website shortly.

National Fatality Statistics

Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics since the last edition of SafetyNet, when, as at 30 January, there had been 15 worker fatalities notified to the national body. These are preliminary figures, and are based mainly on media reports.

In 2019, 162 Australian workers were fatally injured while working, compared with 144 workers in 2018.

The fatalities this year have come from the following industries:

  • 5 in Public administration & safety
  • 4 in Construction
  • 3 in Mining
  • 2 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 1 in Manufacturing

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.

Safe Work Australia resources

  1. Heat and air pollution from bushfires can be hazardous and can cause harm to people working in both indoor and outdoor work environments. Safe Work reminds employers that they have duties under work health and safety laws to manage these risks and protect worker health and safety.

    This media release lists the resources and guidelines available on the Safe Work Australia website for information about the potential hazards and risks associated with working in heat and air pollution.

  2. Coronavirus: once again Safe Work Australia reminds employers they have duties under work health and safety legislation. With regards to the coronavirus, this media release states: "Exposure to 2019-nCoV could be a potential hazard at the workplace. Information for PCBUs and workers in the education, health and aged care sectors and in the travel industry can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website.

    Workers also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of others."
    Read more: Businesses must have measures in place to protect workers at risk from coronavirus, SWA Media release.

 

Latest reports on WHS and workers’ compensation in Australia and New Zealand 

The Comparative Performance Monitoring report 21st edition and Comparison of Workers’ Compensation Arrangements in Australia and New Zealand 2019 have been published.

The Comparative Performance Monitoring report analyses trends in WHS and workers’ compensation scheme performance across Australia and New Zealand.

Key findings from the 21st edition include that the incidence rate of serious workers’ compensation claims decreased by 10 per cent across Australia between 2013-14 and 2016-17, with falls recorded in most jurisdictions.
Read more: Safe Work Australia media release The reports can be accessed from this page.


Prosecutions

Victorian prosecutions

Company fined $60,000 for amputated fingers
A kitchen manufacturer has been convicted and fined $60,000 (plus $4,248 in costs) after a cabinet maker had three fingers severed while cutting panels.

In April 2018, the worker was using a panel saw to cut sections of melamine for the installation of a range hood. After cutting a panel, and standing beside the saw, he tried to push an off-cut into a waste bin while the blade was still spinning. The man's hand came into contact with the blade and three of his fingers were amputated from just above the first knuckle.

He spent nine days recovering in hospital after surgery to reattach his fingers.

The court heard Oliver Projects had previously engaged an OHS advisor to develop a safe operating procedure for the panel saw  - but had failed to implement it or use it to train staff! Brief instructions were set out in an exercise book attached to the saw, but they were inadequate as they did not require workers to turn off the saw and wait for the blade to stop before removing off-cuts.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said the life changing injury could have easily been avoided if the company had provided workers with proper training. Read more: WorkSafe media release.

Food manufacturer fined just $7,000 after worker gets hand caught

Terra Harvest Australia Pty Ltd, a Dandenong South food manufacturing company producing biscuits and rice crackers.

The company's production line has two seasoning machines, each of which has four tumblers attached to arms projecting from the centre. These rotate the tumblers while oil and seasoning is added. Workers need to periodically test the quantity of oil and seasoning being dispensed. A perimeter fence preventing access surrounded each machine. To gain access, workers used an interlocked gate which would automatically deactivate the machine when used. There were also two padlocked discharge conveyor gates which had to be opened when cleaning the conveyor. The padlock key was kept in the supervisor's office.

On 29 March 2018 the company refreshed the training of the workers carrying out this task.

On 5 April 2018 while testing the seasoning, a worker unlocked one of the padlocked gates rather than using the interlocked gate. Whilst doing so, the machine unexpectedly started moving and the worker's left hand was caught. Co-workers helped release his hand. Luckily, he suffered only mild bruising.

Had the employee followed the standard operating procedure the incident would not have occurred.

The company acknowledged it failed to supervise the employee in that it failed to notice or intervene when he entered the fenced off area while the machine was still operating.

The Court heard that:

  • It was the worker's first job in Australia;
  • The padlock key was obtained by the worker from the supervisor's office whilst two supervisors were present in that room;
  • The company had been in business for several years without incident;
  • The company had comprehensive safety policies and procedures in place at the time.
  • The quantum of the fine was moderated given the sum of costs sought by VWA. The offender pleaded guilty and had no prior OHS matters.

Terra Harvest pleaded guilty and was without conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $7,000 plus $9,270 in costs.

To find our more details, and to keep up to date with new prosecutions, check WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.

International prosecutions

UK: Boss  jailed for four years after employee’s death

A company boss in the UK has been jailed after an employee was crushed to death by nearly half a tonne of glass panels. Han Rao was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for manslaughter following trial at the Old Bailey. He was further sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for criminal breaches of health and safety laws, to run concurrently.

On 16 November 2015, Rao tasked two employees at TLW (UK) logistics company to break up several damaged glazing panels. A 39-year-old worker and his colleague were tipping the panels into a skip before smashing them up by hand. As he manoeuvred a 400-kilo panel into position with a forklift truck it toppled forward, crushing him against the truck. He suffered injuries to his chest, fracturing his sternum and rupturing his heart and was pronounced dead at the scene.

The subsequent investigation found Rao had no health and safety policies in place and had not provided his employees the correct training or supervision. On the day of the incident, another employee warned Rao the worker’s life was being endangered by the work, however Rao did not tell the workers to stop, instead urging them to be careful and wear gloves.

Detective Constable Andy Jose, who led the investigation, said: “Rao was woefully unqualified as a manager. Not only did he have no knowledge or experience of his duties, he had not taken any steps to find out what he was required to do in terms of health and safety. He had also been made aware that this was a dangerous task but had not done anything to mitigate the risks. In fact, he ignored all of the warning signs put to him, signs which could have prevented Marian’s needless death had he acted upon them.”
Read more: Metropolitan Police news release. Walthamstow Guardian.Source: Risks 933


Events

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).

It's the start of a new year, and so all HSRs should be thinking about registering for their annual one-day refresher course.
You can now register and pay directly from the site here.

The upcoming Initial 5 day courses for HSRs are:

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*

April 27 - May 1

Carlton

May 11 - 15

Morewell*

May 25 - 29

Carlton

Course hours: 9am - 5pm
Course fee: Metropolitan: $870.00 incl. GST     Regional: $895.00 incl. GST
Course Length: All initial OHS training courses are 5 days.

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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