Increasing risk of silicosis in the majority world Reply

Australian safety expert and activist Melody Kemp reported from the annual meeting of the Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational Accident Victims (ANROAV) that was held in late September 2009 in Phnom Penh.

The meeting featured many stories about the increasing risk of silicosis in Asia.  Melody writes in the 27 September edition of the blog “In These Times”:

“Silicosis afflicts workers working with gems, ceramics, rock blasting, drilling and crushing, and mining. It haunts unprotected workers in glassworks, mines and foundries, as well as those who live within reach of the dust. It’s usually fatal by the time it is diagnosed.

Largely eradicated in the economic North, silicosis is now the scourge of the Global South. Millions die from the illness each year.”

The size of the growing occupational and community threat is frightening.

“China alone reports over 100,000 new cases of industrial lung disease per year, and has more than 4 million existing cases. And those are just the official figures. Even industrially advanced South Korea sees over 1,000 new cases of occupational chest disease each year, reported Dr. Domyung Paek, a pulmonary specialist from Seoul National University.”

Melody has contacted SafetyAtWorkBlog asking for assistance in attracting occupational medical experts to Cambodia and other countries undergoing rapid industrialisation.  She can be contacted by clicking HERE.

Kevin Jones

Harmonisation documents available but path is far from settled 1

On 25 September 2009, Australia’s Workplace Relations Ministers Council
(WRMC) agreed to release the draft legislation for public comment.

According to one media report, the New South Wales Finance Minister, Joe Tripodi,

“…moved at the [WRMC] meeting to have union prosecutions included in the new laws and was defeated by eight votes to one.”

Pages from Discussionpaper_ExposureDraft_ModelActforOHS_PDFThe documents are now available for download HERE.

According to Safe Work Australia’s media statement:

“The suite of documents available for public comment includes a model Act, administrative Regulations and consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS). The RIS will allow individuals and organisations to comment on the potential costs and benefits of the proposed Regulations. The RIS has been prepared by Access Economics.”

Curiously, it also says that Access Economics is

“…surveying businesses across a range of sizes, industries and regions in an effort to obtain primary data on compliance costs and safety benefits.”

It is odd that this has not been done earlier to, perhaps, substantiate the claims that the OHS law changes will reduce costs and “red tape”.

At the Comcare Conference in Canberra in late September 2009, Geoff Fary, illustrated very effectively the small sector of business that would be affected by the national laws.  Fary estimates that only around 1% of Australian businesses are likely to be liable to the “red tape” argument.  Many of these companies could be expected to already have some form of national OHS management systems, perhaps through Australian management standards.

Whether the percentage of affected 1% or 5% it is hoped that the Access Economics survey does not focus only on this sector.  Previous surveys have indicated a large ignorance or apathy about national harmonisation.  This is likely because the vast majority of Australian businesses operate within a single jurisdiction so the harmonisation is considered irrelevant.  The sad reality is that the OHS legislative structures in Australia for the next 10 to 20 years will be determined by the corporate sector, the regulators themselves, and the labour law firms and not necessarily by the small to medium-sized businesses for whom OHS can be the most burdensome.

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the chance to ask Geoff Fary, the assistant secretary of the ACTU, of his thoughts on the continuing opposition to harmonisation expressed by Troy Buswell, the Western Australia Treasurer.  Fary said that harmonisation

“…could occur without Western Australia being involved.  It couldn’t occur, I believe, without Victoria or New South Wales or Queensland being involved but because of the nature of the place and the geography of the place it could occur without Western Australia, and I think there is probably a strong possibility….that harmonisation will proceed in the absence of Western Australia.”

If this evenuates the harmonisation process becomes an academic exercise yet again.

Kevin Jones

Buswell sniffs union conspiracies 1

Troy Buswell, the Western Australia minister responsible for OHS, has dug in his heels in over opposition to the Federal Government’s move for harmonised OHS legislation.

Ahead of the Workplace Relations Minister’s meeting on 25 September 2009, Buswell has reiterated his government’s opposition to changes to OHS law.  He argues that the OHS changes are not necessary for Western Australia as the existing laws ar fair and balanced.

This may be the case but it is significant that the opposition has only come as a result of a change of government to the conservatives.  The proposed OHS laws haven’t changed over that time.  Buswell goes on to accuse the unions of having the opportunity to have backroom deals with the Australian (Labor) government which allow unacceptable union access.  There is no doubt that unions have more access to the current Federal government than under the previous conservative but, as has been reported in SafetyAtWorkBlog and elsewhere, the unions are as frustrated over access as other lobbyists.

Rather than letting the 25 September meeting slide by with a “communique” coming out next week, Buswell has given the meeting some prominence.  He has also put himself in a difficult position from where compromise may be uncomfortable.

Many observers have been focusing on the opposition to the OHS laws from the New South Wales union sector but that State has a Labor government.  The passionate opposition is obviously on the other side of the country, an areas that those in the East Coast States often ignore.  But not at the moment.

Kevin Jones

Safety Institute gets a seat at the OHSAC table 2

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been informed that the current CEO of the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA), Gary Lawson-Smith, has accepted an invitation to join the WorkSafe Victoria’s OHS Advisory Committee (OHSAC), as a representative of the SIA.  This is a terrific win for the SIA as it adds a degree of legitimacy to the organisation’s developing professionalism.

Lawson-Smith has had a long administrative role in the airline and air safety sectors and was a Carlton footballer for a short time.  He has no formal OHS qualifications but an OHS qualification is not a prerequisite for OHSAC.

Also, it is understood that the OHSAC position is conditional on Lawson-Smith keeping the CEO role with the SIA.  If he leaves, the SIA could nominate someone else for the role.  SafetyAtWorkBlog notes that Lawson-Smith had advised the SIA National Board previously that he was not renewing his contract at the end of 2009 but he is believed to have been talked out of this decision.

Several other OHSAC appointments have also been rumoured.  It is understood that the “tenure” of one of the two independent representatives, both who have been on the committee since its inception, has not been renewed.  It seems odd that one independent representative is “let go” and the other retained.  It would be interesting to know the reasons for departures from the Committee as much as the reasons for new members.

Whether the SIA appointment is a direct replacement is unclear.  Whether the SIA is to be one of the two independent representatives (as required under the Victorian OHS Act 2004 (Division 6 Section 19) is also unclear.

The Act requires

“2 independent persons who the Minister considers have appropriate expertise and experience in occupational health and safety”

The SIA Victoria Division has a number of very prominent OHS academics and practitioners but, even though OHSAC reports to a Victorian administrative agency, it is understood that the Victorian WorkCover Minister, Tim Holding’s, letter was to the Safety Institute’s CEO, a national position.

Prominent ergonomist, Professor David Caple, is an independent OHSAC member well known to SafetyAtWorkBlog.  Caple takes his advisory role seriously by encouraging Australian safety professionals to raise any OHS concerns with him so that he may be able to provide a broader experiential context to some of the WorkSafe Board’s initiatives.  He makes an annual appearance at the Central Safety Group in Victoria to encourage a broad range of input.

One of OHSAC’s legislative  functions is to

“to enquire into and report to the Authority’s Board of Management on any matters referred to it by the Board in accordance with the terms of reference given by the Board; and

advise the Board in relation to:

  • Promoting health and safe working environments: and
  • The operation and administration of this [OHS] Act and the regulations…”

The significant element of OHSAC is that it is only reactive to the WorkCover Board.  If the Board does not seek opinions, effectively, OHSAC has nothing to do.  The Victorian Trades Hall Council, in its 2008 submission to the Model OHS Law Review, expressed great concern about OHSAC

“The Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee (OHSAC) is established by s 19 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHSA 2004).  However, this body has limited functions and no reporting line to the Minister.  Other than a specific role for OHSAC in the development of ARREO training, the OHSAC is limited to reporting to the Board on matters referred by the Board.  It has no capacity to ‘set the agenda’.”

“The Committee has met only 9 times since March 2005 and other than resolving the training issues relating to ARREOs, which is a specific requirement of OHSA 2004, the Committee has not been given the opportunity to deal with any strategic issue in any meaningful way.”

“Decisions of the Board on OHS are not transparent. The Board operates without the involvement of key stakeholders and relies on the “good will” of the Chair and CEO to relay information to the Board and back to the OHSAC. It is unacceptable for decisions relating to the VWA as a regulator of OHS to be inaccessible to scrutiny.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog is always concerned about the transparency of organisations associated with the promotion of safety and there is very little public information available about OHSAC.  Even the membership of the committee is taking SafetyAtWorkBlog some time to put together.  This may be due to the committee membership being updated, as indicated by the SIA’s inclusion, but even the previous committee membership is proving hard to collate form public sources.

The issue of transparency and communication is directly relevant to the OHSAC participation of the Safety Institute of Australia.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has heard that all committee representatives of the SIA, nationally and divisionally, are obliged to sign a Deed of Confidentiality.  Whether this applies to the SIA’s CEO is unclear as Gary Lawson-Smith is not listed as an official member on the National Board.

Some would assert that even if OHSAC did report to OHS stakeholders and members of the OHSAC representatives, they do not do anything of real interest.

The concerns over OHSAC are not restricted to Trades Hall, one of the few public members of OHSAC.  Parliamentarian Bob Stensholt undertook an administrative review of the 2004 OHS Act and expressed the following thoughts about OHSAC:

“Although I note WorkSafe’s comments that OHSAC has not been frequently required to consider key strategic issues because they have not arisen, I am of the view that the Committee is not operating as well as it could be.  There is a lack of conviction regarding the potential effectiveness of OHSAC from all stakeholders.  This impedes the Committee’s ability to work effectively as a representative stakeholder group.”

“It seems OHSAC has primarily been treated as an ‘information sharing’ committee by WorkSafe.  I do not believe this is what was intended by Parliament when the Bill became law.  Rather than merely providing OHSAC with its business plan for any particular financial year after it has been settled (for example), WorkSafe should also be prepared to engage OHSAC on key strategic issues as they arise in the rolling out of Strategy 2012, rather than just providing the Committee with updates as to how Strategy 2012 is tracking.  A primary consideration for WorkSafe in making OHSAC more effective should be to ensure it adopts”

If the WorkCover Minister, Tim Holding, is reviewing the membership of OHSAC in response to some of these concerns, his action is to be applauded, but, at the moment, OHSAC looks ineffective and of limited use.

The Victorian Government’s response to the Stensholt report referred Stensholt’s recommendations on OHSAC to the Victorian WorkCover Authority’s Board of Management for consideration.  OHSAC works to the direction of this very Board.

Gaining a seat at the OHSAC table remains a major feather in the cap of the SIA and the years of lobbying undertaken by a number of SIA officials should not be dismissed.  The size of the feather in the cap, however, depends on who one talks to.

Kevin Jones

Early worker health statistics from WorkHealth Reply

WorkHealth has released some data on the results of its first wave of free health checks (not yet available online)

“Recent results from tests of 3500 workers conducted as part of the ….WorkHealth program found more than half were overweight and/or had high blood pressure while a quarter had high levels of blood cholesterol.”

These figures are not as “surprising” as WorkHealth makes out as the health check program is free to all workers in the State of Victoria and is likely to be the first time that many of the workers would have undergone such checks.  Indeed, WorkHealth acknowledges this fact for its blue-collar male workers.

The data is summarised by WorkHealth below:

  • Male workers were more likely to have high blood pressure;
  • Female workers were more likely to have higher levels of cholesterol in their blood;
  • The majority tested eat less than the recommended five serves of vegetables each day; and
  • The majority of people tested eat at least two pieces of fruit each day.

A health profile of the general Australian population from 2008 found the following statistics, amongst others:

Coronary heart disease is the largest single contributor to the burden of disease
in Australia, followed by anxiety and depression.

Coronary heart disease is the largest single contributor to the burden of disease in Australia, followed by anxiety and depression.

Cardiovascular diseases, cancers and respiratory diseases remain the leading causes of death overall.  However, injury is by far the most common cause of death in the first half of life.

Many Australians live with long-term health conditions. Most of these conditions are not major causes of death, but they are common causes of disability and reduced quality of life.

WorkHealth may be a turning point in the health management for some of the participants, and even if this is a tiny minority, the WorkHealth program could be claimed as a success.

Now if we could only do more about the smoking, dust, fumes, forklifts, sedentary work, fatigues, shiftwork, depression, stress, alcoholism and anxiety…..

Kevin Jones

Imminent release of OHS model law draft Reply

In the film Mrs Doubtfire,  it was said that her husband’s concept of foreplay was “Effie, brace yourself.”  Australian safety professionals should follow Mr Doubtfire’s advice for, according to a media release from Safe Work Australia:

The Safe Work Australia Council met in Sydney today (18 September 2009) to consider a suite of draft documents on model occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation.

Mr Tom Phillips, Safe Work Australia Council Chair, said that this was a significant development in the harmonisation of OHS laws around Australia.

The Council agreed to recommend to the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council (WRMC) that it approve the release of a suite of documents for a public comment period of six weeks.

“We have reached a key milestone proving Safe Work Australia is on track to deliver national OHS laws by December 2011,” said Mr Phillips.

The documents to be made available for public comment will include an exposure draft of the model OHS Act, discussion paper, key administrative Regulations and the consultation Regulation Impact Statement.

To continue the Doubtfire analogy, let’s look forward to the post-coital glow of legislative harmony, industrial peace and safe workplaces.

Kevin Jones

[Note: the original book, Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine, is very funny too but in a less Robin-Williams sort of way. KJ]

Alarming statistics on young workers and compensation 1

Safe Work Australia has issued some important statistical reports on workplace injury statistics.  One statistic, in particular, stood out:

“…young workers aged 15 to 24 incurred much higher rates of injury than other age groups and were the least likely to apply for workers compensation”

The injury statistic is not surprising and is consistent with other data but why are young workers “least likely to apply for workers compensation”?  Are they unaware of their rights?  Do they work in a situation where claiming compensation is taboo?  Is illiteracy a deterrent?  Has their employer deterred them from applying?  Is their type of work illegal, casual, or in the black market?

SafetyAtWorkBlog asked Safe Work Australia, if not through workers compensation, how are young people funding their medical/rehabilitation costs.  A spokesperson provided the following non-age specific response:

“We are unable to provide an answer to this question as the data has not been analysed separately by age.

However, the last section of the report on workers’ compensation applications shows the various forms of financial assistance that all injured workers used.

For all injured workers, 34% received workers’ compensation, 39% did not access any financial assistance (these were mostly injuries involving no time lost from work) and the remaining 27% did access some form of assistance. Within this latter group regular sick leave was the most common.

Of the injured employees who did not access workers’ compensation, 18% used their regular sick leave, 9% accessed Medicare or other social security benefits, 7% had costs paid by their employer, 5% used other resources such as money from family and friends while 4% access private health insurance or income protection insurance.

Respondents to the survey could select more than one response to this question.”

Inverting some of these stats raises some concerns. (Please note that statistics is not the strongest skill of SafetyAtWorkBlog, so please correct any issues through the comments section below).

For all injured workers, 66% did not receive workers compensation. This should be a big red flag to OHS regulators and deserves more analysis.

Of the 66% over half  (57%) funded their injuries without recourse to health insurance, sick leave, employer contributions, support from family or friends, Medicare or social security.  Expanding the young worker question above to workers generally, how are these injured workers funding their rehabilitation from outside the regulated and social support mechanisms?

Some years ago SafetyAtWorkBlog attended an international conference on OHS.  There were many people at this Melbourne conference who spoke about the Asian and African countries where injured workers must rely on family, or other social security mechanisms, for an income, as workers’ compensation was non-existent.  This is one element of  economic integration into the Asian region that Australia should not be tolerating.

A spokesperson for Safe Work Australia told SafetyAtWorkBlog (read slowly as there are numbers involved):

“The survey estimated that 689,500 workers were injured at work during 2005-06. Of these, 625,900 were employees and hence eligible for workers’ compensation. However, 388,100 did not apply for compensation and 23,800 applied but did not receive compensation.

This means that 66% of injured employees did not receive compensation. While this equates to 60% of injured workers not receiving compensation it is not correct to use this figure as 12% of workers were not eligible for it.

Looking only at the 411 900 injured employees who did not apply for workers’ compensation

  • 75,700 accessed regular sick leave
  • 30,100 had their employer pay their costs
  • 35,500 used Medicare/social security
  • 18,200 used private health insurance/ income protection insurance, and
  • 18,700 accessed money from other sources such as family and friends.

Please note that when looking at these figures that 42% of injuries involved no time off from work and hence costs would be very small.

Analysis of additional data from the survey, that has not been included in this round of reports shows that over 60% of injured workers aged 15 to 24 felt their injury was too minor to claim or that they felt it was not necessary to claim. This is double the percentage for all workers. While this may sound like young people had more minor injuries, this is not the case. Young workers had the same proportion of injuries that involved no time off work as the workforce as a whole and the same proportion that involved longer periods of time off from work.”

The last paragraph cycles this article back to the start.

….over 60% of injured workers aged 15 to 24 felt their injury was too minor to claim or that they felt it was not necessary to claim. This is double the percentage for all workers.

There is something missing from how OHS is promoted to young workers.  The quote above indicates that young workers know about OHS but do not understand OHS.  But that’s not something that can be provided in a 30 minute TV ad, a medium that young people are increasingly less interested in.

Perhaps, we should be spending less time telling people not to stick their hands in a guillotine and more time empowering them in their workplace rights.

Kevin Jones

The harmonisation challenge in Australia gets more difficult 2

There are few motivations that are more effective for improving workplace safety than facing a grieving relative.

On 17 September 2009, the impact of the OHS law harmonisation on workers and their families came to the fore in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) entitled “Deaths at work put sharper focus on liability”.  The workplace support advocates make a clear case for holding those who control the workplace accountable for injuries, illnesses and fatalities that occur in their businesses.

A letter sent to the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard, by the Workplace Tragedy Family Support Group reportedly says

”Dealing with a serious injury or the death of a family member is difficult, particularly if there is no sense of justice.  Employees must be able to seek justice against employers who do the wrong thing,” said the conveners’ letter.

Families wanted to know the responsible organisation had been held to account, the letter said.

Justice, but not revenge.  The avoidance of this justice and accountability through companies choosing to go out of business has been highlighted in New South Wales many times, so it is understandable that the reduction of the avenue to pursue justice that may occur in the OHS harmonisation process can generate such letters to politicians.

A significant element in the SMH article is the inclusion of the union perspective.  Trade unions often provide grieving relatives the only support, particularly in the period shortly after a workplace fatality.  And there is the shared grief of losing a loved one and losing an often long-serving union member.

This article and the letter to the Minister add an important emotional and social element to the development of the new national model OHS laws.  Whether the government will incorporate mechanisms to achieve justice in the legislative framework or in secondary processes could give a good indication to the broader political picture of workplace safety over the next decade.

Kevin Jones

Safety Leadership push in Queensland 4

Expect quite a few OHS statements coming from Australian politicians as the country approaches Safe Work Australia Week in late October 2009.

On 16 September 2009, the Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations, Cameron Dick, sought support for a

“…groundbreaking new program to reduce workplace deaths and injuries.”

Groundbreaking? Not sure. Perhaps for Queensland.

According to his media statement the “Zero Harm at Work ” program “aims to reduce the shocking number of deaths and injuries in Queensland workplaces.”  Dick goes on to say

“Ensuring safety in the workplace is one of the most important challenges facing industry in Queensland… Every year around 100 Queenslanders are killed at work and 30,000 people suffer serious injuries or work related diseases.  The cost to our State of these tragic deaths and injuries is more than $5 billion a year.  And worst of all, mums, dads, husbands, wives and children are left mourning the family member that never came home from work.”

Dick hits the right targets in the media statement but does safety leadership, particularly these types of programs, stop incidents from occurring in the workplaces?

Or is the effect of these programs to have senior executives feel that they are reducing injuries because they are talking about safety?

SafetyAtWorkBlog has long believed that safety awareness does not necessarily equal the reduction of workplace injury and illness.  “Zero Harm” cannot be achieved without financial cost and it is unclear whether industry is willing to invest the amount of money required to genuinely achieve this aim.

But then if “zero harm” is only a goal, an aspiration, then it doesn’t matter if it is not achieved “at least we tried”.  (Or the total cynic would say “at least the voters saw that we tried”)

There are sure to be more such statements and launches in the next six weeks.  SafetyAtWorkBlog will be looking for evidence not aspirations.

Kevin Jones

When ATV helmets are “best practice” 3

A recent media statement from the New Zealand Department of Labour on all-terrain vehicle (ATV) safety is annoying and disappointing.

On 15 September 2009, the Palmerston North District Court today fined farmer Trevor Mark Schroder $25,000 and ordered him to pay reparation of $20,000 to his employee John Haar over an  ATV accident on 26 November 2008 that left Mr Haar with serious head injuries.

Dr Geraint Emry, the DoL Chief Adviser for Health and Safety, says

“…Mr Haar was riding an ATV supplied by Mr Schroder when he apparently drove into a wire used to direct cows into specific areas of the farm.  Mr Haar had not been wearing a helmet and the severity of his injuries increased as a consequence.  Nor had he been told that the wire he rode into had been put across the race.”

atvguide2 coverThe statement goes on to state

“The Agricultural Guidelines – Safe Use of ATVs on New Zealand Farms – advise that the wearing of helmets by quad bike riders is considered best practice.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog strongly knows that New Zealand is very active in ATV safety but finds it hard to believe that the “wearing of helmets…is considered best practice”.  This admits that, in using ATVs, personal protective equipment is the best hazard control option available.

The guidelines mentioned above are from 2003 and do mention ROPS:

“Until such time as there is evidence to the contrary, farmers have the right to choose whether or not they fit ROPS to their ATVs.”

The NZ DoL and, by inference, the Chief Adviser are quoting a 2003 guideline as best practice in 2009?!

Relying on helmets may be the reality but is also an admission of defeat with ATV designers and manufacturer.  In many circumstances ATVs cannot be fitted with roll-over protective structures (ROPS) due to the nature of the work – orcharding for example.  But Australia and New Zealand insist on ROPS for tractors, with similar criteria and exceptions to ATVs.

VWA Farm_ROPs coverIn one ROPS FAQ from the NZ DoL it says

“Evidence both in New Zealand and overseas has shown that the risk of injury in a tractor overturn can be substantially reduced when the tractor is fitted with ROPS of the appropriate standard.”

and

“Where the nature of the operation makes it not practical for ROPS to be fitted to an agricultural tractor, then, under the terms of this code of practice, the General Manager, Occupational Safety & Health Service, may issue a notice excluding the tractor from the requirement to have a ROPS.”

Some States in Australia have had rebate schemes for ROPS for many years.

It is suggested that a better level of driver protection from rollovers is evident on forklifts through the use of seatbelt and an integrated protective structure.  Applying logic to safety is fraught with danger but the rollover hazard is the same whether in a warehouse or a paddock and having only a helmet for a forklift driver would be absurd and unacceptable.  Why is only a helmet considered best practice for ATV drivers?

Rather than comparing ATVs to motorcycles as in this 2003 report, the comparison should be between ATVs and tractors or, maybe, forklifts.

The New Zealand Transport Agency says this about ROPS and ATVs in June 2008:

Many ATVs have a high centre of gravity, and are prone to tipping over when cornering or being driven on a slope. Rollover is the leading cause of injury associated with ATVs – riders can be crushed or trapped under an overturned machine.

If you attach a rollover protection structure (ROPS) to your ATV, make sure it’s securely fastened, doesn’t interfere with rider mobility and doesn’t raise the ATV’s centre of gravity. Contact OSH for guidelines on how to fit ROPS safely, and make sure the ROPS is strong enough to protect you.

So why aren’t ROPS considered best practice by the DoL?

The ATV injury case quoted above is unlikely to have occurred if the ATV had some form of structure around the driver or, admittedly, the wire was more visible or known to the driver.  The relevance in this case was that the helmet most probably reduced the severity of the injury but would not have avoided contact with the wire.

Research is occurring on ROPS for ATVs but the rollover hazard has existed for as long as ATVs have existed.  Are ATVs simply unsuitable for the work they are being used for?  Is the design wrong for workplace use?  Are they being advertised or promoted for inappropriate use?  Should farm workers be encouraged legislatively or financially to fit ROPS?  Perhaps the only safe ATV is a tractor?

Is the requirement for ROPS for tractors, but only helmets for ATVs, an acceptable double standard for workplace safety?

Kevin Jones