SafetyNet 552

Welcome to the September 30 edition of SafetyNet

We are at the end of the first month of Spring and all of us, including those in metropolitan Melbourne, are looking forward to being able to get out a little more and meet with a few more people - with the numbers of new cases of coronavirus in Victoria coming right down. But as more workers head back into work, HSRs need to remember that their employer has a duty to consult with them on the implementation of the workplace COVIDSafe plans.

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 ohsinfo@vthc.org.au

Union News

Register now: VTHC HSR Conference October 27

We now have 1560 people registered to attend our 2020 VTHC OHS Conference on October 27th 2020. We invite HSRs and DHSRs to register now, remembering that HSRs are entitled to a day's leave with pay if they register and inform their employer at least 14 days in advance.  

To remind everyone, the theme this year is Risks to Psychological Health, and it’s being held entirely online. Read more about the conference on this page of the website. 

With uncertainty regarding restrictions in Melbourne and across Victoria due to COVID-19, this year the conference is going to be held entirely online - but it's still going to be a great experience.

We’ll be mailing a parcel of materials to HSRs and deputies with everything you’ll need to make the day a success - but to make sure it arrives on time, you need to register by this Friday so there’s plenty of time for yours to arrive. Find all the details and register here

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Last weekend the world reached a terrible milestone: over 1 million people have now been confirmed as having died of coronavirus.

According to the latest official figures, there are 27,055 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - just 98 more than last week. The total number of COVID deaths is 882. After almost six weeks under Stage 4 restrictions, the numbers are steadily decreasing in Victoria, with only 15 diagnosed yesterday.  (note that these figures may not include today's numbers). Read more on the Victorian situation here.

The international situation continues to be dire: the cumulative number of infections is 33,828,215. Last Wednesday it was 31,765,063this is again over 2 million more infections in just one week. There have now been 1,011,887 confirmed COVID-related around the world. 

Deaths from coronavirus-related illnesses have doubled from half a million in just three months, led by fatalities in the United States, Brazil and India. More than 5,400 people are dying around the world every 24 hours, according to Reuters calculations based on average deaths so far in September.

But of great concern is that the official number of deaths is not accurate: the World Health Organisation believes the world’s fate is far worse. Mike Ryan, the head of WHO’s emergency response, believes the death toll is much higher as multiple countries face scrutiny over the transparency of their fatality recording. "If anything, the numbers currently reported probably represent an underestimate of those individuals who have either contracted COVID-19 or died as a cause of it,” he told reporters earlier this week. Read more: Yahoo news. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

Can my union organiser enter my workplace if I have a health or safety concern? My boss told me the union can't come in - because of COVID-19 restrictions the company has the right to bar 'outsiders', such as my ARREOs or my union organiser, from entering the workplace. Is this right?

Your union organiser has the right to enter a workplace either if requested by an HSR seeking assistance under s58(1)(f) of the Act, or if the organiser seeks entry under the ARREO Entry Permit. In this second instance, the organiser must give notice to the employer immediately on entering the workplace, and taking all reasonable steps to giving a notice of entry and show the entry permit to the employer.

Recently, an employer attempted, and failed, to prevent a union's safety visits to the workplace based on alleged 'COVID grounds'. Bervar Pty Ltd, trading as Della Rosa Fresh Food, claimed that United Workers Union (UWU) permit holders failed to comply with its reasonable COVID-19-related safety requirements at its Campbellfield, Victoria facility. The union had sought to enter the site on three occasions between April and June this year, after receiving reports from members that Della Rosa's measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 were inadequate.

Della Rosa sought orders from the FWC suspending or restricting the UWU's right to enter its premises, saying it had closed the building to visitors because of the pandemic. It denied the OHS issues alleged. However Fair Work Commission Deputy President Alan Colman rejected these claims and declined to limit the union's entry rights. Nevertheless, he urged the parties to cooperate however, and "deal with any concerns about suspected contraventions remotely, in those cases where it is reasonably practicable to do so".  

The UWU argued that every time they tried to enter it was because of a genuine OHS issue raised by Della Rosa workers - and that Victoria's lockdown rules for workplaces permitted unions and other bodies to attend worksites to provide OHS advice. The union said it had implemented special pandemic measures for site visits, and was limiting such visits because of COVID-19. However, it was important it retained the ability to enter premises to represent its members. 

So yes, your union can visit your workplace to look into OHS concerns and provide advice and information. This case at the Fair Work Commission confirms this. 

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

12 - 23 October: Anna Stewart Memorial Project for women unionists

Designed to encourage more women to be active in unions, the Anna Stewart Memorial Project (ASMP) is a structured, two week long skills development and leadership program designed and run by the VTHC's wonderful We Are Union Women team. This year, their amazing interactive workshops will be online via Zoom. The team is excited to offer a jam-packed program with a broad range of workshops where participating women will hear from union and other workplace experts and have the opportunity to share and develop their skills alongside other union women.

The 15 workshops cover a range of topics including:

  • Sexual Harassment and Gendered Violence at Work
  • Union Women’s History Insecure Work, Covid19 and the Impact on Women Workers
  • Superannuation
  • The industrial relations system
  • Women in Bargaining
  • and much more

If you see a workshop that you would like to participate in but just can’t fit it in, don’t worry many of the ASMP workshops will be recorded and available on the We Are Union Women Facebook page. 

Who can participate?

This year ASMP is free and open to any woman who is a member of her union and would like to participate. Women can register and attend as many workshops as they like which means being able to tailor the program to fit specific skills, interests, and schedule. If a participant would like to receive a certificate of completion for the Anna Stewart Memorial Project then she will need to attend at least five workshops over the course of the two week program. A participant can choose any five workshops - none is compulsory. 

Women who have access to union training leave in their workplace agreement can apply for this leave to attend the ASMP. For more information on how to apply for union training leave contact the union. Check out the ASPM program and register for workshops here. For more information email Jodie at: jpeskett@vthc.org.au

Reminder to Gig workers: complete our survey now! 

Two weeks ago the VTHC Young Workers Team launched a new survey to get the views of gig workers. The Daniel Andrews State government wants to take action to better regulate gig platforms, following the findings of a major report into the gig economy. It's a chance to fix the wage violations, dodgy employment arrangements, and unsafe working conditions plaguing the gig economy in Victoria. 

The State Government will soon decide what recommendations it plans to pursue, and it is crucial to ensure that those changes are in line with what affected workers want. So the VTHC’s Young Workers Centre Gig Economy Survey for any worker who currently or has previously used online apps and platforms to find work; from transport and delivery platforms like Uber and Deliveroo, to health and caring work on platforms like Mable and Care.com, to ‘odd jobs’ platforms like Airtasker.

If that’s you - fill in the survey to tell the government how you want your working life to be improved, and together the VTHC will fight to make sure it happens. For those with friends or family members who work in the sector: tell them about the survey too. 

Vale Susan Ryan - architect of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984

Last weekend Susan Ryan, the first woman to serve in a Labor federal cabinet and who later became the first Age Discrimination Commissioner, died, aged 77. When she was elected to the Senate in 1975, Ms Ryan was a 33 year-old single mother. She entered the Hawke cabinet in 1983 as the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, and also took on the new portfolio of Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, a role she held until her resignation from Parliament in 1988. Ms Ryan was the architect of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, and pregnancy.

After retiring from Parliament Ms Ryan was active in the Republican movement and also in the sphere of superannuation. In 2011 she was appointed the inaugural Age Discrimination Commissioner, and later expanded her remit to include the responsibilities of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner when the two roles were merged in 2014. Many have rightly described her as a trailblazer for the rights of all women. 

Vale Helen Reddy, composer of feminist anthem

Another feminist icon has died: Helen Reddy who became a global superstar with her hit I Am Woman, died in Los Angeles yesterday at the age of 78. After arriving in New York as a 24-year-old single mother of a three-year-old with just over $US200 to her name, she overcame years of struggle in the US to become the world's top-selling female singer in 1973 and 1974. 

She won a Grammy for I Am Woman and when accepting the award, she famously thanked "God, because She makes everything possible". The empowering lyrics of the song: "I am woman, hear me roar/ In numbers too big to ignore" became her enduring legacy. Read more: Sydney Morning Herald

Asbestos news  

Asbestos death in Malta

This week a TV documentary by Liam Carter entitled “Mewta Siekta” [Silent Death] was broadcast in Malta. The film examines the plight of former drydock workers who were occupationally exposed to asbestos and, as a result, are now suffering from life-threatening conditions. Medical experts explained the health hazards posed by these exposures not only to the workers but also to the wives who washed contaminated work clothes. See: Silent death: The Drydock employees who died from asbestos exposure. Malta Today. Source: IBAS

Canada: Anger as ‘non-profit’ pushes asbestos globally

A lobby group promoting asbestos sales in developing nations and listed in Quebec as a public interest ‘non-profit’ should be deregistered by the provincial government, health campaigners have said. In a letter to Quebec Premier François Legault, Kathleen Ruff of RightOnCanada and Dr Jean Zigby, past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, call for the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) to be stripped of its non-profit status under the Quebec Companies Act. According to the Quebec government non-profit organisations incorporated in the province must undertake moral or altruistic activities. Ruff and Zigby say legal precedents have established the courts have the authority to remove ICA’s non-profit status because of its ‘immoral, deadly activities’. The August 2020 findings of a Quebec government commissioned independent commission into chrysotile asbestos “rejected the misinformation disseminated by the ICA and called on the Quebec government to take action to protect the people of Quebec from asbestos,” Ruff and Zigby say. Calling for ICA to be denied non-profit status, they note: “For the past 23 years the ICA, operating out of Quebec, has played a leading role in obstructing bans on asbestos in developing countries and in sabotaging protections against asbestos harm under the UN Rotterdam Convention. At the moment Quebec is employing a double standard and is treating the lives of people overseas as having less value than the people of Quebec. This is bringing dishonour on Quebec and is against the public interest.” Read more: RightOnCanada blog. Source: Risks 967

Brazil: Asbestos Mining - A Constitutional Crisis

Although the Brazilian Supreme Court banned the commercial exploitation of asbestos in 2017, the Eternit-owned SAMA chrysotile asbestos mine is still operational under Goiás state law permitting mining to continue. The constitutional crisis revealed by this situation is explored in a blog by retired factory inspector Fernanda Giannasi who deplored the double standards of Eternit’s current policy promoting continued asbestos mining for export as “environmental racism.”
Read more: Fernanda Giannasi (ABREA) comenta a entrevista do Presidente da Eternit, Luis Augusto Barbosa, à revista Exame, publicada em 23/9/2020 [Fernanda Giannasi (ABREA) comments on the interview of Eternit's President, Luis Augusto Barbosa, to Exame magazine] Source: IBAS

France: Asbestos Anxiety

On Thursday September 24, 2020, the Court of Appeal of Nancy, France recognized the condition of asbestos anxiety suffered by 264 former employees of the Baccarat crystal glassware factory in Baccarat, France. The claimants, part of the second asbestos class action against the company, were each awarded the sum of €9,000 (AD$14,790). A third lawsuit on behalf of 153 more workers is pending.
Source: [Subscription] Amiante: le préjudice d’anxiété reconnu pour 264 ex-salariés de Baccarat [Asbestos: the prejudice of anxiety recognized for 264 former employees of Baccarat]. IBAS

UK: Asbestos Diseases in Healthcare Sector

A new study by the University of Sheffield has highlighted the repercussions of the asbestos contamination of UK healthcare facilities and recommended that NHS staff and others employed in these premises be provided with training regarding the hazards of asbestos exposures. These actions would prevent avoidable exposures and reduce the incidence of asbestos cancers amongst healthcare workers. Welcoming this publication, Liz Darlison of Mesothelioma UK said: “Mesothelioma UK will ensure that this research raises awareness of the risk of exposure to healthcare staff and hopefully, improve the treatment and care given to them by medical teams and support agencies.”
Read more: Include asbestos risk awareness in NHS staff training, study recommends. Personnel Today, Source: IBAS

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

International union news

UK: Government underplays COVID risks in workplaces 

Michael Gove, England's Cabinet Office Minister, has claimed that only limited restrictions were necessary because “workplace are now safer” came just four days after came four days after the latest official Public Health England (PHE) figures showed workplace outbreaks are at a record high. The statistics suggest there had been well over 600 outbreaks in workplaces in one week. Some days later came new advice: “We are stressing that if it is safe to work in your workplace, if you are in a Covid-secure workplace, then you should be there if your job requires it. But, if you can work from home you should.” The new message brings England into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have all advised people to work from home wherever possible throughout the pandemic. Source: Risks 966

France: Burned out virus testers strike over conditions

Hundreds of workers at COVID-19 laboratories in France went on strike on 17 September over the poor working conditions in the over-stretched coronavirus testing system. The CGT union said the strike was disrupting testing in some towns and could drag on if laboratory owners failed to deal with staff shortages and increase pay. France has ramped up testing six-fold since the peak of the first wave and carried out 1.2 million tests in one week, health minister Olivier Veran told a news conference. But at some testing centres, people queue around the block and results can take days because of the bottleneck in laboratories. Le Figaro reported that in a meeting with senior ministers last week, President Emmanuel Macron said: “One million tests is all well and good, but it’s pointless if the results arrive too late.” The lab workers strike coincided with street protests organised by the CGT and other unions in numerous cities across France. Read more: US News and World Report. The Telegraph. Source: Risks 966


Research

Workplace COVID-19 saliva test pilot

A workplace saliva test pilot program has begun in Victoria to help in understanding the logistics of continuous testing in higher-risk workplaces.

The first phase of the pilot, a partnership between the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) - a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne hospital - and the Victorian Government, is currently being rolled out across three Victoria Police stations. About 1000 police officers will be tested over a two week period in Bendigo, Dandenong and Melbourne. 

Using saliva to test for COVID-19 as an alternative to a nasal swab is a method validated by the Doherty Institute and has been proven to be highly accurate. There will be three methods of collecting saliva to better understand the most effective and comfortable way to mass test in a workplace setting: mouth to container, swab under the tongue, and mouth to straw to tube. Read more: Melbourne University media release

Coronavirus may cause 'wave' of neurological disease

COVID-19 can cause worrying neurological symptoms like a loss of smell and taste, but Victorian scientists are warning the damage the virus causes to the brain may also lead to more serious conditions such as Parkinson's disease. They say there is a worrying precedent. Five years after the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 1900s, there was up to a three-fold increase in the incidence of Parkinson's disease.

Study co-author Kevin Barnham from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health said he believed a similar “silent wave” of neurological illness would follow this pandemic. Findings published in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease describe a “two-hit hypothesis”: The brain gets inflamed from something like a virus, then something else comes along later causing more damage and eventually Parkinson's disease develops.

“Evidence is already suggesting the triggers for Parkinson's disease are there with this virus,” Professor Barnham said. “We can't put a number on it, but with 30 million people worldwide affected by this virus, even a small shift in the risk of getting Parkinson's would lead to many more people being diagnosed.” Florey Institute scientist and co-author of the paper, Leah Beauchamp, said there was an opportunity to get ready. “We weren't prepared the last time - more than 100 years ago. We have the tools and we can get ahead of this now,” she said. “The real question is: Are we prepared to take action now to avoid history repeating itself?” 
Read more: Beauchamp, L et al. Parkinsonism as a Third Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic? [Full article], Journal of Parkinson's Disease, published online pre-press, 22 September 2020. ABC News 

UK Study: Many thousands of work Covid-19 cases unreported

A new study has found that the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance outlining when employers should report work-related Covid-19 may miss ‘many thousands’ of cases and should be widened. 

Professor Raymond Agius of the University of Manchester’s Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health assessed the guidelines on reporting requirements under the RIDDOR regulations that dictate when an employer should report a work-related Covid-19 infection, death or dangerous occurrence. Practitioners were asked to estimate the likelihood that COVID-19 disease may have arisen from two scenarios, one of which is reportable to the HSE as a dangerous occurrence under the current guidance and one which is non-reportable.  The participants ranked the non-reportable scenario as the most likely to result in a COVID-19 work-related infection.

Professor Agius found the HSE guidance does not correspond with Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on the highest risk jobs, as the guidance excludes reports from occupations where employees are working with the general public as opposed to persons known to be infected. The professor also assessed the guidance on when doctors should report a COVID-19 death that is attributable to employment to the coroner. In findings reported in the journal Occupational Medicine, the professor concluded the threshold to report a case to the coroner is much lower than the HSE guidance, as it allows notifications from any form of employment. The coroners’ guidance also corresponded better with the data from the ONS which indicates how high the risk is for different occupations.

“Current RIDDOR coronavirus guidance from the HSE is difficult to apply. Available evidence suggests that it might have failed in capturing many thousands of work related COVID-19 disease cases and hundreds of deaths. Thus, the HSE is missing valuable opportunities for investigations that could lead to advice to prevent future disease and death,” Professor Agius said. “The HSE guidance on RIDDOR reporting relating to COVID-19 would benefit from amendment to improve clarity and ease of use and to explicitly allow reports from a wider range of occupations dealing with the general public.” He added HSE need to increase its inspections substantially in order to investigate reports.
Read more: SOM news release. RM Agius. COVID-19: statutory means of scrutinizing workers' deaths and disease,  Occupational Medicine,  21 September 2020. Source: Risks 966

Americans and masks

We recently received an email from SleepStandards.com - a US group that writes reviews, guides, articles and does some research on an investigation they had done on the mask-wearing habits of Americans. We cannot vouch for how robust the research methods and results are, but we have included it here as it is of interest. In Victoria, where the government has made face coverings mandatory, we have seen a high level of compliance. Here is a summary the organisation provided of their work: 

Governments all around the world have put in the effort to control the epidemic. Wearing masks is the primary method of managing the spread of COVID-19. But, in the United States, a huge portion of the population resists wearing face masks.

We decided to delve a little deeper into this growing problem and see the real vision Americans have, particularly their behavior on the face mask policy. Chris Norris, together with a team of experts, analyzed 2041 Americans across the U.S. Here is what we found:

  • 87.3 per cent of Millennials surveyed think that wearing face masks can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and helps public health - but only 57.64 per cent of Millennials are truly wearing a mask
  • 38.8 per cent of those surveyed don't wear face masks because people aren't wearing them
  • 14 per cent stated they felt anxious when wearing a face mask because other people would look at them.
  • 41.4 per cent confirmed that they used cloth masks during the COVID-19.
  • 26.3 per cent are using N95 Respirators to avoid COVID-19.
  • 36.8 per cent bought face masks and toilet paper for their friends' birthday gifts during the COVID pandemic.
  • 46.7 per cent thought that their partners should wear a mask when having sex.
  • 78.2 per cent said that if friends or relatives come to visit them, they need to wear a face mask until they leave.
  • 51.4 per cent have dreamed of infecting with the coronavirus while sleeping.

Read more on the study: U.S. Behavior on Face Masks during COVID-19, SleepStandard.com

 


Regulator news

WorkSafe Victoria news

New safety alert: Burst paint can causes fire in drill rig's engine bay

Recently a fire broke out in the engine bay of a drill rig at an underground metalliferous mine. The drill rig was tramming to the surface workshop. As the drill rig reached the surface, an employee noticed flames in its engine bay and notified the operator. No signs of mechanical or structural failure were detected that may have provided potential fuel sources. However, further analysis found remnant paint can pieces and paint in the engine bay. Radiant engine heat had caused the paint can to burst, which provided an ignition source for the vaporised paint. Read more: WorkSafe Safety Alert.

Health and Safety Month helping to navigate COVID-19

The focus of WorkSafe's first fully virtual Health and Safety Month will be helping employers and workers navigate through coronavirus (COVID-19). 

There will be more than a dozen free webinars and online sessions featuring guest speakers and industry experts covering topics like managing mental health through the pandemic, working remotely, leadership, fatigue, supporting injured workers and the impact on premiums. All sessions will be interactive with presenters ready to answer questions.

Some of the sessions include;
  • Surviving COVID-19 - a WorkSafe perspective
  • Leading the way: Industries innovating workplace mental health prevention
  • COVID-19 and Healthcare
  • Managing the risk of COVID-19; what does an inspector look for?
  • How the Building and Construction industry is dealing with COVID-19
  • How does COVID-19 impact your workcover premium

Health & Safety month events are free, but registration is essential. Go to this page on the Worksafe website to check out what webinars are being run and to register. 

September 29: Police Memorial Day

On 29 September each year, a service is held to remember Victoria Police employees who have passed away over the past 12 months. This is a time for members of Victoria Police and the community to honour the dedicated men and women who have died serving their community. In Victoria, the Blue Ribbon Foundation also holds Blue Ribbon Day on 29 September to coincide with National Police Remembrance Day. This year, due to coronavirus restrictions, a special online memorial was held in lieu of a traditional National Police Remembrance Day service.

The service honoured the lives of the 24 Victoria Police officers, Protective Services Officers, Police Custody Officers, Victorian Public Service staff and Police Chaplains who have passed away over the past year. Particularly remembered were Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylor, Senior Constable Kevin King, Constable Josh Prestney and Constable Glen Humphris who were tragically killed in the line of duty earlier this year. Their plaque on the Victoria Police Memorial Wall, which is in the Kings Domain Gardens, was unveiled during the service.

Safe Work Australia news

New draft code on COVID-19

On Thursday 17 September 2020, the Attorney-General released a draft work health and safety (WHS) Code of Practice (draft code) to provide businesses and workers guidance on what they need to do to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

The draft code builds on the National Cabinet’s COVID-19 safe workplace principles, which included establishing Safe Work Australia as a central source of practical guidance and tools on managing the WHS risks of COVID-19.

Codes of practice under the model WHS laws provide duty holders with practical guidance on how they can meet their WHS duties in relation to specific hazards and risks. The code "provides an example for state and territory governments, which can be adopted if required according to their individual level of risks". The draft code can be accessed on the website of the federal Attorney-General. 

National Health and Safety Month

A reminder of the upcoming national health and safety month in October - next week! Safe Work Australia has a dedicated National Safe Work Month website. There are resources available to download including a WHS best practice checklist for employers.  

Each week in October focuses on a WHS topic that acknowledges the impacts of COVID-19 and encourages best practice WHS. Check these out here.

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work updated its fatality statistics on September 24, at which time there had been 113 worker fatalities notified to the national body - three more since the previous update on September 10. At the same time last year, there had been 137 reported fatalities - it appears that fewer workers are being killed in Australian workplaces, possibly due to fewer workers being on worksites due to the coronavirus pandemic. Two of the three fatalities were in the Transport, postal & warehousing sector; one was in Construction. A fatality previously having been classified in Electricity, gas, water & waste services was reclassified as Construction. The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:

  • 38 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 22 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 20 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 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.


Prosecutions

There has not been an update to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage since our last edition. However, go to it to check for further prosecutions before next week's SafetyNet. 

QLD: Dreamworld receives record fine for 2016 fatalities

This week the operator of the Dreamworld theme park in Queensland received an Australian record-high workplace health and safety fine of $3.6 million, after its "frighteningly unsophisticated" safety systems resulted in the deaths of four patrons in October 2016.

Ardent Leisure Ltd had pleaded guilty to three contraventions of the Queensland Work Health and Safety Act 2011- each contravention carried a maximum fine of $1.5 million. The charges related to the deaths of Kate Louise Goodchild, 32, her brother Luke Johnathan Dorsett, 35, Dorsett's partner Roozbeh Araghi, 38, and Cindy Toni Low, 42. The group were travelling in a raft on Dreamworld's Thunder River Rapids Ride (TRRR) when it collided with an unoccupied stranded raft and got pulled vertically into a conveyor mechanism. They all died from severe crush injures.

After a coronial inquiry, Coroner James McDougal said, "It can be concluded beyond doubt that in the 30 years prior to this tragedy, Dreamworld failed to undertake, either internally or via an external auditor, a holistic examination of the TRRR by a suitably qualified engineer, so as to ensure its safe operation through the identification of the high and low probability risks and hazards present."

In her sentencing remarks, Southport Magistrate Pamela Dowse said that Ardent's efforts to implement control measures and improve Dreamworld's safety over time "were grossly below the standard that was rightly expected of it". She said, "A variety of control measures were available to it, which would have minimised or eliminated the relevant risk." Source: OHSAlert

NSW: Former Vic paper mill fined over $1m after two workers killed

A former Victorian paper mill operator, Norske Skog Paper Mills (Australia) Ltd, has been fined more than $1 million following the deaths of two employees at its Ettamogah site.

The two workers died of exposure to hydrogen sulphide following a gas leak at the paper mill in May 2018, during routine maintenance in a scheduled shutdown period. The court heard that one of the workers was killed while trying to rescue his colleague, who had been sent to the top of a tank to check for a possible leak. There he was exposed to an unknown quantity of the gas and rendered unconscious. The incident also seriously injured another worker who had also tried to help, and hospitalised 14 others.   

Norske Skog was fined $1,012,500, a NSW record, and ordered to create a video for industry education purposes.  The company received a 25 per cent discount to the original $1.35m fine (of a maximum fine of $1.5m) following an early guilty plea in September last year to workplace health and safety breaches.

NSW District Court Judge David Russell said Norske Skog's level of culpability was in the high range of seriousness and that the injuries and emotional harm as a consequence of the incident, were substantial.

Branch official Dave Henry, from the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, said no level of compensation would amount to the lives that were lost. The union is calling for the adoption of nationally consistent industrial manslaughter laws. Sources: Nine news; OHSAlert


International News

China: Factory leak spreads animal disease

Thousands of people in northwest China have been diagnosed with a highly infectious bacterial disease after an outbreak caused by a leak at a pharmaceutical company. Authorities in the city of Lanzhou confirmed that 3,245 people had tested positive for brucellosis – a zoonotic disease usually caused by contact with farm animals such as cows, goats and pigs. The contagious illness can cause symptoms including loss of appetite, headaches, muscle pain, fever and tiredness. A minority of those affected may develop endocarditis, a potentially fatal heart condition.

The National Health Commission of Lanzhou, in Gansu province, said they had tested 21,847 people so far and had found no deaths from the illness. The commission said the outbreak had been caused by “contaminated exhaust” from a factory in Lanzhou producing vaccines for animals. From late July to late August in 2019, waste gas containing the brucella bacteria seeped out into the air. The Zhongmu Lanzhou factory was found to have used expired disinfectants, so not all of the bacteria were eradicated in the waste gas.

The city’s health authority anticipates there will be more positive cases in the coming days. Another 1,401 people in Lanzhou have tested as “preliminarily” positive for brucellosis, according to CNN. In December last year the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that 181 people working at a veterinary research facility near the factory had contacted the disease – but the full scale of the outbreak was not reported until now.

Global union confederation ITUC has for several years been pressing for a global International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention on biological hazards at work, to cover diseases like brucellosis, MRSA, SARS, MERS, Bird Flu and now COVID-19. Read more: CNN News. The Independent. Source: Risks 966


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