The Toowong cancer cluster and risk communication

The latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia (eMJA) has published an investigation into the possible cancer cluster at the Toowong television studios of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in late 2006.

Not surprisingly, given previous reports, the investigation has found that

“No statistically significant excess risk of breast cancer in ABC female employees was found across the Australian states and territories as a whole compared with their respective population incidences.  A statistically significant increased risk of breast cancer was found among ABC female employees in Queensland, consistent with the findings in an earlier report.”

The Toowong incident created considerable concern amongst staff, to such an extent that the corporation decided to close the entire facility and relocate all the broadcasting processes.  Unless this was already a corporate strategy the decision was brave, particularly when the initial investigations showed that the concern was not justified for Toowong specifically.

The ABC has an excellent timeline of media statements about the incident online.

Several issues from the latest report are worth noting.   Continue reading “The Toowong cancer cluster and risk communication”

The “Triffid defence” applied to asbestos

At the end of The Day of The Triffids, John Wyndham, had mankind living on the Isle of Wight, making sure that Triffids did not infest the island.  Tasmania has a similar mindset as can be seen by its diligence on keeping the land free of foxes but that is keeping out a hazard.  The greater challenge is renewing the land and removing a hazard that was allowed to grow and establish itself like triffids or, more realistically, asbestos.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has written elsewhere about the Australian Workers Union push to make Tasmania free of asbestos by 2020.  The signs are increasingly positive as the Tasmanian government issued a media release on 6 June 2010 that provides substantial impetus and legitimacy to the campaign.

The Minister for Workplace Relations, David O’Byrne, said today that the government will work with industry to develop legislative frameworks that provide a pathway for the prioritised removal of asbestos from Tasmania. Continue reading “The “Triffid defence” applied to asbestos”

The advantages of integrated enforcement action

In the 1990s, WorkSafe Victoria (then the Occupational health and  Safety Authority) coordinated Hazardous Chemicals Audit Teams (HCAT).  I was one member of the administrative unit for HCAT.  This coordinated approach to inspection and enforcement had substantial merit and was very effective as the Auditor-General found in 1995.  I was reminded of this initiative by the simultaneous action taken by the Victorian Government against Mobil Australia, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, on 3 June 2010.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has

“…cancelled Mobil Refining Australia Pty Ltd’s accredited licence”.

The EPA media release quotes CEO John Merritt (formerly executive director of WorkSafe Victoria):

“In the absence of [an ongoing commitment to constantly improving their environmental performance], EPA has the power to cancel the accreditation…. EPA is less than impressed with Mobil’s track record in which there has been a number of incidents at the site all with the potential for environmental and community risk.

It is EPA’s belief that Mobil’s onsite practices have not demonstrated a high level of environmental performance to justify accreditation.” Continue reading “The advantages of integrated enforcement action”

Prisons are another world when implementing workplace safety

The new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) into prisoner health and welfare makes no mention of workplace safety, even though most prisons in Australia have formal work programs for commercial gain.

The report “The health of Australia’s prisoners 2009” details the health and welfare status of Australian prisoners with some very confronting statistics that should be of more general concern to the community.  The media release summarises some of the report’s findings:

“The report highlights a number of significant health issues.  It shows that rates of chronic conditions, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and communicable diseases such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, are significantly higher among prisoners than among the general population.

‘Of particular concern is the number of people who enter prison with mental health issues and high levels of psychological distress,’ said Ingrid Johnston of the AIHW’s Social and Indigenous Group. Continue reading “Prisons are another world when implementing workplace safety”

Suicides in China – is this a Foxconn problem or an Apple problem?

Foxconn, a large technology manufacturer in China has a cluster of suicides.  This issue is getting more attention than normal in Western media because the company manufactures products for Apple and the Apple iPad went on sale around the world at the same time news about the suicides broke.

The question that must be asked is “is this a Foxconn problem or an Apple problem?” Continue reading “Suicides in China – is this a Foxconn problem or an Apple problem?”

Scissor lift pins worker to door frame

The Victorian Ambulance Service reported a serious and curious workplace incident that occurred on 26 May 2010.  According the Ambulance Service media statement workers found a the 25-year-old man was trapped “with his neck pinned between a door frame and the rails of a scissor lift machine..”.

The worker was not breathing and so workers  moved him to a safe area and commenced CPR. Paramedics needed to place the man in an induced coma in order to insert a breathing tube.  He was taken to hospital in a critical condition and no further details about the patient are publicly available.

WorkSafe advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that it is investigating and believes the incident occurred when the man was manoeuvring a scissor lift through a doorway, and was pinned between the bottom of the door frame and the scissor lift.

There are scant details available at the moment but the incident serves to remind companies about allowing some tasks to be undertaken without supervision and to take additional care with motorised plant.

Kevin Jones

What is the OHS “public interest”?

On 7 May 2010 Judge Lacava of the County Court of Victoria increased the $A25,000 fine applied to A Bending Company to $A75,000.

WorkSafe’s Acting Director for Health and Safety, Stan Krpan, said in a media release:

“The fact that the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] found the original penalty inadequate, and the increase in the fine on appeal, demonstrates the courts’ attitude towards health and safety offences.”

The DPP made the appeal to the County Court after a request for review of the original fine was made by WorkSafe Victoria.  According to the judge’s decision (not yet available online):

“The appeal by the Director is made pursuant to section 84 of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989. The section gives the Director the power to appeal to this Court “if satisfied that an appeal should be brought in the public interest“.” [emphasis added]

So how was the public interest served by increasing the fine by $A50,000? Continue reading “What is the OHS “public interest”?”

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