Welcome to the September 16 edition of our weekly journal SafetyNet.
I'm not sure how others are going, but to me it feels a little like 'Groundhog Day'... week five, or is it six, of being under Stage 4 restrictions? In any cases, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel - with regional Victoria opening up after tomorrow.
Visit our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page for news, memes and more. If you have any questions or need any advice, we can be reached via the Ask Renata facility on the website or through the closed OHS Network Facebook page. If you have comments or want to send through any ideas, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
October 27: VTHC HSR Conference
There have been over 940 registrations for our 2020 VTHC OHS Conference, on October 27th 2020. We are going to keep reminding HSRs and DHSRs to register so if you haven't registered yet, do so as quickly as possible.
Remember that this year, the theme is Risks to Psychosocial Health, and it’s being held entirely online.
The conference is:
- Focusing on risks to psychosocial health.
- Completely free.
- Section 69 approved.
- Being held entirely online and open to all Victorian HSRs (and deputies - but they will need to talk with their employer about attendance and payment).
- On October 27th 2020.
- Open for registration now.
Why Psychosocial Health?
HSRs may be aware that for the past several years running, WorkCover claims for psychological injury have been rising. The unit continually gets questions from HSRs about psychosocial health: "What are the risks, how can I identify them, and what can I do about them?"
The issues around psychosocial can be more difficult for HSRs to get their head around: but HSRs have all the same powers under the Act to address psychosocial hazards in their workplace, and employers have the same duty to address these hazards as they would a physical hazard.
An online experience.
With current restrictions across Victoria due to COVID-19, this year the conference is going to be held entirely online, but rest assured it's going to be the same great experience.
We’ll be mailing everyone out everyone a parcel with everything you’ll need to make the day a success - so make sure you register well in advance so there’s plenty of time for yours to arrive. Find all the details and register here.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) - update
According to the latest official figures, there are 26,778 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 404 since last week, again almost all in Victoria. But after five weeks under Stage 4 restrictions, the numbers are steadily decreasing. Over the past week there have been fewer than 50 cases each day. The total number of COVID deaths is 816. Read more on the Victorian situation here.
The international situation remains horrific: the cumulative number of infections is 29,715,706 - last Wednesday it was 27,722,014: this is almost 2 million more infections in just one week! There have now been 938,425 deaths around the world. India continues to have the largest number of new cases diagnosed each day: yesterday there were over 91,000 new cases, and over 1,200 deaths. The country with the most fatalities to date though is still the US with over 200,000 COVID deaths. Those who complain about the restrictions we are living under need to take a look at what happens when restrictions are lifted too soon or too quickly.
For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. NOTE: we have added some new checklists to the Action Plan for HSRs section of the page, so check these out. We would welcome your feedback.
In Metropolitan Melbourne, while this is our sixth week under Stage 4 restrictions, and we are seeing the number of new infections coming down, the government has decided it is too soon to completely move out of this stage. So while as of September 13 there will be some relaxing of some of the restrictions, we are still fundamentally at Stage 4. Read more about the roadmaps for Melbourne and the rest of Victoria here.
Do we need Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for ink cartridges for office printers? Do we need to keep SDSs for products that are classified as not being hazardous or dangerous according to the product's SDS?
- ensure that it is NOT in fact hazardous/dangerous
- take any precautions suggested - simply because something is not classified as 'hazardous' it does not actually mean it is 'safe' in all circumstances
- to ensure that a substance that comes in is the safest, least hazardous possible
- to ensure that no substance that may in fact be 'hazardous' or 'dangerous' slips in.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Migrant Workers Centre identifies shocking conditions and underpayments
Workers at a large recycling factory in Melbourne achieved transformative changes at their workplace and recovered over a million dollars in stolen wages. These hard fought wins have been a result of the organising efforts of the workers and the Australian Workers Union (AWU). The Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) first learned of the situation at the factory a year ago when a worker went to them for help after being injured at work. The migrant worker from Sri Lanka had broken his leg when he fell from a platform - but was asked to lie about how he sustained the injury. The MWC assisted him with filing a WorkCover claim and in this process, discovered rampant wage theft and the hazardous work conditions at the factory.
He had worked at the factory for 3 years and describes the exploitative conditions they faced: “I used to work 6 to 7 days a week. I was doing night shifts so I started at 6pm and finished at 6am. We will have one lunch break... I was casual all these years.” He says, “we don’t take any leave - even if we are sick, we go to work. We saw [management] sacking workers who have taken sick leave.” Read the whole story in MWC August newsletter
NSW: 'Toxic soup' risks motorway
Construction on the $17bn WestConnex motorway in Sydney could come to a halt after dozens of workers on the major infrastructure project were exposed to a "toxic cocktail of poisonous chemicals" including asbestos, silica dust and lead. Workers at the M4-M5 Link Tunnels site at St Peters in Sydney's inner south raised concerns about their health and safety after drilling works turned up a black sludge material they said "stank" and ate away at the rubber soles of their work boots.
A SafeWorkNSW notice issued in August found workers “may be exposed to a risk to their health and safety due to the inhalation of asbestos fibres or other hazardous material while contaminated soil is being excavated”.
Darren Greenfield, the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union’s state secretary, said it was outrageous that workers had been exposed to a “toxic soup of contaminants”. “Dozens of workers on the WestConnex project may have been exposed to a toxic cocktail of poisonous chemicals including asbestos, silica dust and lead in a shocking safety breach,” he said.
Mr Greenfield said the union would stop work on the project “within a week” unless the concerns of workers were addressed. “This is at the entry to the tunnels so it will slow anyone getting into the tunnels there,” he said. He said the industrial action would be a legal stoppage taken on safety grounds. “Workers were walking around the site and complaining to my organisers that after two days of putting on a new pair of boots, it was dissolving the rubber soles on their boots — that’s how contaminated it is,’’ he said. “For that sort of stuff to be happening shows how toxic it is. ”The SafeWorkNSW improvement notice, issued to Lendlease on August 24, noted work health and safety laws were being contravened. Of particular concern, the notice reads, is the “run off from an uncovered pile of soil possibly contaminating the access and egress (thorough) fare that was in close proximity to the contaminated pile”. Mr Greenfield said safety inspections at the site revealed that workers had been supplied with insufficient personal protective equipment, that air monitoring equipment had not been working and that contaminated soil from excavation work had not been not appropriately isolated.
Source: The Australian
International union news
Pakistan: Many dead in marble mine collapse
At least 22 workers have been killed and dozens are battling for their lives after a rock collapse at a famed marble mine in Pakistan's Ziarat Ghar mountain. Tragedy struck on the late evening on 7 September, instantly killing 12 miners, Geo News reported. The death toll rose after more died as a result of their injuries at the District Mohmand Hospital. Up to 20 others are believed to have been buried in the rubble. About 45 labourers had been working in excavation operations when the collapse occurred, the Dawn newspaper reported. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said nine people had been rescued. Rescue Officer Bilal Faizi said most of the injured were in a serious condition. Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary with the global union for the sector, IndustriALL, commented: “It’s a massacre. Both the central and provincial governments are well informed of the increasing fatalities in Pakistan’s mines. But despite frequent reminders and call for actions, such accidents continue.” He added: “Pakistan cannot wait for more workers dying and must work with national and international agencies, including the ILO and global unions, to improve mine safety. The central and provincial governments must immediately take steps to ratify and implement ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines. IndustriALL will continue to work with its affiliates and social actors to intensify the mine safety campaign.” Read more: IndustriALL news release. The Hindu. Discourse on Development. Source: Risks 964
UK: Civil servants must not be forced into work - unions
The UK government's plans to get 80 per cent of civil servants in England to attend their usual workplace each week by the end of September are not acceptable, according to civil service unions. The unions were commenting after the permanent secretaries running government departments were told to greatly increase the number of staff in workplaces. The government and prime minister Boris Johnson claim sending tens of thousands of civil servants back to their buildings would be “hugely beneficial”. Departments have been set a target of 80 per cent of staff in England to attend their usual workplace each week by the end of September. Staff elsewhere in the UK are expected to follow local guidance and continue working from home.
PCS said it is asking departments to provide, as a matter of urgency the ‘Covid-secure limit’, current staffing and current risk assessment for each building. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “If the government or any employer starts forcing people back to work and we believe that it is not safe to do so we will firstly consider our legal options, secondly give individual legal advice, and thirdly consider whether a collective response is required.” He added: “As a last resort, if you have no other option and people’s health and safety is at risk, of course we would be prepared to consider industrial action.” Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said: “Employers need to be sensitive to the concerns of staff and ensuring a focus on workplace safety will be critical to building confidence. Over the past months our members have delivered magnificently despite the challenges. Prospect believes the setting of arbitrary timescales and targets is wrong and the managed and graduated approach should continue.”
Read more: PCS news release. Prospect news release. Daily Mail. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 964
Carpel tunnel risks doubled by tool vibrations
After identifying a high prevalence of vibration-related chronic pain, diseases and neurological disorders in a large group of workers, US researchers from Columbia University and the State University of New York have called for the proper assessment of vibration emissions from powered hand tools, and outlined workplace control measures.
They found 18 per cent of almost 4,000 railway maintenance and construction workers using various powered hand tools experienced pain in the upper extremities, and also that the risk of pain increased significantly after 10 years of vibration-causing work. Most symptomatic workers experienced symptoms of vibration-related disease daily or weekly, including paraesthesia ('pins and needles') and white finger. They found it difficult to pick up small objects or open tight jars, and were more than twice as likely as others to be diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Employers and occupational health professionals with insufficient knowledge of these disorders, vibration emissions information for specific tools or proper exposure assessment guidelines, can miss timely opportunities for intervention and prevention of irreversible musculoskeletal, vascular and nervous system disorders of the upper extremity, the researchers say.
The researchers said vibration risks can be reduced through use of tools and equipment incorporating vibration attenuation technology and improved design, and also administrative measures like time management. With regard to tools, they recommended reliable and easily comparable emission data and information for the employer, buyer and user which would allow comparisons to be made.
Read more: Eckardt Johanning, et al, Powered-hand tools and vibration-related disorders in US-railway maintenance-of-way workers. [Abstract] [Full text pdf] Industrial Health, online first August 2020, doi: 10.2486/indhealth.2020-0133.
Source: OHSAlert. Read more on Vibration
Safety Alert following serious fall
WorkSafe has issued a Safety Alert following an incident where a worker slipped off a roof and fell through the guardrail system on a catch platform at a housing construction site. The young worker was critically injured after he fell will performing metal roof installation works on a double storey house under construction. He slipped, slid down the metal roof sheeting off the roof, through the guard rails that were on the perimeter scaffold, and fell approximately 6 metres to the ground. We do not have news of the young man's condition.
The Safety Alert goes through the possible contributing factors, safety issues, recommended ways for employers to control the risks and a summary of legal duties. The Safety Alert also links to extra materials such as the Compliance Code: Prevention of falls in housing construction, and advice on SWMS.
Silica regulations extended
On 20 August last year WorkSafe Victoria inserted Part 4.5 - Crystalline Silica into the 2017 OHS Regulations. This part was to apply until 19 August 2020, by which time it was expected that a new regulation would replace it. However, this has not occurred, and the expiry date has been extended to 19 February 2021.
Note that while the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica dust is now 0.05mg/m3 as a time-weighted average (TWA) airborne concentration over 8 hours, WorkSafe Victoria recommends that employers take a precautionary approach and reduce employees' exposure to below 0.02mg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA to prevent silicosis and minimise the risk of lung cancer. The VTHC standard, which we are campaigning to have made into the official WES, is 0.025mg/m3.
Read more: Silica
QLD: stone benchtop industry fails to ensure safety of workers
The Queensland government has announced a blitz of every stone-cutting business in the state. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) plans to visit all 166 firms across the state after 179 young men have been diagnosed with silicosis. Inspectors have so far issued 30 enforcement actions after visiting 14 stone-benchtop fabrication workplaces. Reports are that one was so hazardous it was immediately shut down.
Penalties for businesses flouting improvement notices and failing to adequately protect fabricators from inhaling potentially fatal silica dust include on-the-spot fines of up to $3600 or other enforcement action. Source: The Mercury
Comcare Australia resources
Comcare says it is important not to become complacent about the basics of maintaining COVID-safe workplaces. In particular, Comcare is reminding employers and workers of the importance of maintaining physical distancing.
There is extensive workplace guidance on the Comcare website, including:
In additions there are resources to use in the workplace:
- Maintain a COVID-safe workplace poster
- How to safely wear a face covering poster
- a Safety and prevention in a Pandemic – PPE, Facemasks micro-learn to view
And from Safe Work Australia: Physical distancing in the workplace
Safe Work Australia
Reminder of national guide on working with silica
Recently the national workplace exposure standard (WES) for silica dust has halved from an eight-hour time weighted average of 0.1mg/m3 to 0.05mg/m3. The reduced silica dust WES was implemented in most jurisdictions from 1 July 2020.
Safe Work Australia has published information, including a checklist, to help persons conducting a business or undertaking (for example, an employer or small business owner) to understand the changes to the WES for silica dust, and to assess and effectively manage the risks of silica dust in their workplace.
The national guide Working with silica and silica containing products explains what employers must do to keep your workers safe from the risks of silica dust. This guide has been translated into six languages for those who speak a language other than English: Arabic; Traditional Chinese; Simplified Chinese; Greek; Vietnamese and Italian.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work updated its fatality statistics on September 10, at which time there had been 110 worker fatalities notified to the national body - just one more than the previous update on August 27. This was in the Agriculture, forestry & fishing sector. The fatalities this year have been in the following sectors:
- 36 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 22 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 18 in Construction
- 12 in Public administration & safety
- 9 in Manufacturing
- 5 in Mining
- 2 in 'other services'
- 1 in Arts & recreation services
- 1 in Accommodation & food services
- 1 in Retail trade
- 1 in Administrative & support services
- 1 in Electrical, gas, water, & waste services
- 1 in Wholesale trade
Note that the figures are based on preliminary reports, and so at times will change. To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.
Tomato farm fined $30k for crushed arm
Tatura Fresh, a hydroponic tomato farm was this week convicted and fined $30,000 in the Shepparton Magistrates’ Court after a worker’s arm was crushed in unguarded machinery in January, 2019. The company had pleaded guilty to failing to provide or maintain a working environment that was safe and without risks to health.
A worker was operating a powered ‘leaf mat washer’ when his arm was caught in an unguarded winding mechanism, causing serious crush injuries and nerve damage. Tatura Fresh had imported the washer from overseas without ensuring it met Australian standards and had failed to ensure there was guarding around dangerous, powered areas and that there was a documented system of work for operating the machine. There was also no safety switch and the emergency stop control was not operational.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said there was no excuse for failing to protect workers from the risk of unguarded machinery to cause severe and permanent injuries. “There is no room for complacency when it comes to dangerous, high risk hazards such as moving machinery,” Ms Nielsen said. “A worker has received serious and possibly life-long injuries from an incident that could easily have been prevented with proper guarding and a safe system of work that all employees were trained in implementing.” Read more: WorkSafe media release
Food manufacturer convicted and fined $80k after worker seriously injured
Lilydale food manufacturer Yarra Valley Snack Foods makes snacks, including corn chips which are made with the Masa mill trolley, weighing about 500 kg.
On 1 February 2019 employees were manually moving the plant in order to clean it. While it was being moved, its roller wheels got jammed in a floor grate, causing it to fall over. It landed on top of a worker, pinning him underneath and causing serious injuries including a punctured left lung, fractured ribs, fractured right ankle, fractured 1.3 in lower back, fractured left leg and deep lacerations to the scalp and knee. He has not yet returned to work.
The company failed to reduce or eliminate the risk by either bolting the plant to the ground, implementing a standard operating procedure for the cleaning of the plant or installing a work platform adjacent to the plant for cleaning.
Yarra Valley Snack Foods pleaded guilty and convicted and fined $80,000 plus costs of $3,505.
Quarry fined $35k after excavator hits powerlines
A quarry near Geelong has been convicted and fined $35,000 after a worker had a lucky escape when the excavator he was driving made contact with high voltage powerlines.
Barro Group Pty Ltd was sentenced in Geelong Magistrates' Court last Thursday after pleading guilty to failing to ensure that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it were safe.
The excavator made contact with powerlines at the Maude quarry in October 2018 when the worker was blinded by the sun as he drove the machine from a dam with its boom up. Two of the lines fell to the ground and power supply was cut to the quarry. No one was injured.
WorkSafe inspectors found there were no protective barriers or warning devices preventing moving machinery coming into contact with overhead powerlines. The day following the incident, the company installed hazard signage and bund walls to prevent machinery touching the lines. It later installed permanent height restriction structures at both ends of the powerlines.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said employers must ensure that workers' lives were not put at risk when working near powerlines."This could have easily ended in tragedy. Powerlines are not always easy to see and it's up to employers to do everything they can to reduce the risks they pose," Ms Nielsen said. "If there had been adequate height restriction structures and warning signage in place then this frightening incident could have been avoided."
Read more, including advice on how the incident could have been prevented: WorkSafe media release
Construction company fined $15k
A new medical centre including a new entry road and car park was being built by Kane Constructions Pty Ltd at a site in Werribee. There were a number of contractors working in and around the project including a company completing civil works which included excavation works at the access road leading to the medical centre.
Opposite the site was St Vincent's Care Services ("SVCS"), part of St Vincent's Private Hospital, where there was also construction being undertaken. In between SVCS and the construction area was a vacant block of land. There were two sets of temporary fencing in place.
On 10 March 2018, an 85 year old male who had gone missing from SVCS gained access to the Kane construction site. After a search he was found down an embankment, where he had fallen some time before. He had hit his head on a skid steer loader’s bucket, and suffered serious injuries to the head, hip and elsewhere.
It was found that there was a 40 metre gap in the site boundary fence. Worksafe was notified on 10 March 2018 by Victoria Police and on 12 March 2018 by Kane Constructions.
It appears that a third party had removed part of the fence, unbeknownst to Kane Constructions. The company however acknowledged it was ultimately their responsibility, and pleaded guilty. It was, without conviction, fined $15,000 and costs of $4,625.
To check for further prosecutions before next week's SafetyNet, go to WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.