Union News

Ask Renata

Hi Renata, 
Our management has banned us from putting up Christmas decorations and when we asked why, they said 'OHS reasons'. What is this?

This is a load of bunkum! Or 'bah humbug' to quote a famous figure in literature. Most organisations including the VTHC, WorkSafe and local councils manage to put up their decorations, celebrating the spirit of Christmas without a fuss. They just sensibly provide their staff with suitable step ladders to put up decorations rather than expecting staff to balance on wheelie chairs.

And another festivity related question:

We have been told that indoor Christmas lights need to be tested and tagged every year. Is this true?

Lots of companies waste money in the false belief they need to test their Christmas lights annually, or even don't put them up at all! By following a few sensible precautions, such as checks by the user for obvious signs of damage, every workplace can switch on safely and sparkle!

This applies to other office equipment too - often companies come around touting for business saying that equipment needs to be tested and tagged every year. This is not true. Check out this page for more information.

Please send any OHS related queries in to Ask Renata - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.

Asbestos News

Company knew about asbestos in talc
Johnson & Johnson shares fell 10 percent on Friday and were on track to post their biggest percentage drop in more than 16 years, after a Reuters report that the pharma major knew for decades that their widely used Baby Powder was contaminated with asbestos.

Reuters examined company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents, and found J&J knew about the presence of small amounts of asbestos in its products from as early as 1971. The company has denied the allegations, and on Friday called the Reuters report "one-sided, false and inflammatory" and that "any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false." 

In 1976 J&J had assured the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that no asbestos was "detected in any sample" of talc produced between December 1972 and October 1973 when it appears that at least three tests by three different labs from 1972 to 1975 had found asbestos in its talc.

The company has been battling more than 10,000 cases claiming its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products cause ovarian cancer. In July, a verdict by a Missouri jury awarded 22 women US $4.6 billion in a lawsuit against the company, supporting their claim that talcum powder caused their ovarian cancer. The case is under appeal. The products have also been linked with mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer that affects the delicate tissue that lines body cavities. The news opens the door for local lawsuits against the multinational pharmaceutical giant by any Australian victims who may have been exposed to asbestos in their products. 
Read more: J&J shares nosedive, SMH; J&J deny knowing about asbestos, News.com.au, ToxicDocs: The largest database on industrial poisons, Medical Life Sciences News

Discovery of new mesothelioma mechanism
Malignant pleural mesothelioma is divided into three subtypes, one of which is particularly aggressive. Researchers from the Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) of MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital have now discovered a mechanism that contributes to this aggressive behavior: the tumor cells of this subtype are able to assume special characteristics that promote migration and therefore spread of the cancer. This is possible because the cells receive the signals needed for this spread from certain messenger substances, namely the two growth factors FGF2 and EGF. By blockading these signals, it might be possible to develop new approaches for treating this subtype of malignant pleural mesothelioma. 
Read more: Researchers discover new mechanism behind spread of malignant pleural mesothelioma, News Medical Sciences; Medical University of Vienna Media release.

Research grant for mesothelioma
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced eight La Trobe University researchers will share in more than $5.2million in research grants - among these is research into mesothelioma. Dr Doug Fairlie of the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute-La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine, has been granted $463,058. This study will conduct further testing of a potentially new treatment option for patients with malignant mesothelioma. Preliminary studies have shown that a previously untested class of drugs that directly target the cell death pathways can directly kill mesothelioma tumour cells, especially when used in combination with each other or with other anti-cancer drugs. 
Source: La Trobe University Media release

Reminder: ASEA Review
The Australian Government is undertaking a review of the role and functions of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) as required under section 47 of theAsbestos Safety and Eradication Agency 2013. An independent reviewer, Ms Julia Collins, has been engaged to conduct the review. The review will be informed by broad consultations, both through written submissions and interviews.

Further information including the review's terms of reference, discussion paper and the consultation questions are available on the Department of Jobs and Small Business' website here. It also includes details of stakeholder consultations being held in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne next week. Written submissions can be sent to [email protected]. Submissions close 18 January 2019.

Read more on Asbestos in the home and Asbestos in the workplace

Health and Safety advice for the holiday period: 
After a year of hard work, our Editor thought a note of lightness might be appropriate (please don't take offence!):


Please be advised that all persons planning to require workers to dash through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh, going over the fields and laughing all the way are required to undergo a Risk Assessment addressing the safety of open sleighs. This assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly where there are multiple passengers. Please note that permission must also be obtained in writing from landowners before their fields may be entered. To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.

Benches, stools and orthopedic chairs are now available for collection by any shepherds planning or required to watch their flocks at night.

While provision has also been made for remote monitoring of flocks by CCTV cameras from a centrally heated shepherd observation hut, all facility users are reminded that an emergency response plan must be submitted to account for known risks to the flocks. The angel of the Lord is additionally reminded that prior to shining his/her glory all around s/he must confirm that all shepherds are wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment to account for the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and the overwhelming effects of Glory.
Following last year's well-publicised case, everyone is advised that Equal Opportunity legislation prohibits any comment with regard to the redness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr. R Reindeer from reindeer games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence.

Finally, in the recent case of the infant found tucked up in a manger without any crib for a bed, Social Services have been advised and will be arriving shortly.

Compliance of these guidelines is advised in order for you to fully participate with the festive spirit.

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