Discussions about the work-related risks of glyphosate exposure have calmed down until the next court case but it is useful to remember that there have been battles in the past about exposure to agricultural chemicals. Questions in the Western Australian Parliament on 13 June 2019, illustrate the situation in relation to one chemical – 2, 4, 5-T (2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid), a component of the wartime defoliant, Agent Orange.
The debate on the risks of using glyphosate products to control weeds continues to ripple around the world largely sparked by the global penetration of media reports from the United States. It is important to look at the risks without the unique litigation climate in the United States. A recent Australian report by SBS television emphasises to the occupational health and safety (OHS) risks of glyphosate.
The report started with mention of reviews into the use of glyphosate products by New South Wales councils and the Victorian Government. It would disappointing if such reviews had not already been conducted given the glyphosate was identified as possible carcinogenic several years ago. That change in the state of knowledge of a hazard should have been sufficient for all glyphosate users to reassess their risks.
This was followed up by information on the residual environmental impacts that was reminiscent of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring but is not strictly an OHS matter.
An independently-produced documentary, Our Power, about the Hazelwood mine fire had its Victorian premiere on March 2 2019. The Hazelwood coal mine fire was a major workplace disaster than generated substantial public health damage in the neighbour communities in the Latrobe Valley. An early record of the event and its impacts can be found in Tom Doig‘s book The Coal Face.
The documentary provides unique vision of the fire and how it burned and polluted the neighbourhood for over a month in 2014. As time goes on, the fire is seen more as an environmental disaster as it is workplace incident and speakers in Our Power are certainly confident in linking the fire with the privatisation of State-owned assets and the social injustice that underpins neoliberalism.
The occupational risks of exposure to excessive heat have usually been assessed in remote locations in Australia, and almost exclusively for outdoor workers. The changing environmental conditions, regardless of the global cause, are changing the risk assessment of heat for outdoor workers and, increasingly, indoor workers such as those in food production or kitchens.
Recently Safe Work Australia released a seminar online which discussed the issue of heat in the occupational health and safety (OHS) context.
The panel discussion operates from the perspective of what can be done rather than what could be done and remains within the occupational context. Professor Dino Pisaniello mentioned his recent research into the issue, which looks like it was meant to be the focus of this seminar and which found:
Rumours of a TV report on the increasing hazards of silicosis have floated around for a week or so. On October 10 2018, the show appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 program. But the story is much bigger than the ten minutes or so on that program.
The focus is understandably on silica but perhaps that is too specific. Maybe the issue of dust, in general, needs more attention.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) related decisions are made on the state of knowledge about hazards and it is up to OHS people to make sure the state of knowledge is at its best so that the best decisions can be made. But what do you do if the state of knowledge on a hazard seems to be made purposely uncertain and that uncertainty is leading to the status quo, which also happens to provide a huge income for the owner of the product creating the hazard.
This seems to be a situation at the moment in Australia in relation to the use of the weedkiller, glyphosate, marketed heavily by the global chemical company, Monsanto. The alleged corruption of data on which OHS people and workers base their safety decisions was perhaps one of the most disturbing elements of the recent ABC Four Corners program on the chemical (
Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews announced a State-supported program to install solar panels on an estimation of 65,00 homes if his Labor Party is re-elected this November. This election campaign announcement immediately reminds voters of the last government-sponsored “green” program, the Home Insulation Scheme which, amongst other results, lead to the deaths five workers.