The Official Organ of LaborNET
click here to view the latest edition of Workers Online
The Official Organ of LaborNET
Free home delivery
Issue No. 142 28 June 2002  

Safety First
This week's Safety Summit, called by the Carr Government, is a timely opportunity for the union movement to put occupational health and safety into a contemporary perspective.


Interview: Safe as Houses
Labor Council secretary John Robertson outlines the union movement's priorities in the lead-up to this week's Safety Summit.

Safety: Ten Steps to Safety
On the eve of the NSW Safety Summit, Workers Online went looking for the ten biggest workplace health issues and what needs to be done to address them.

History: Staying Alive
Neale Towart winds the clock back to discover that contemporary arguments that regulators should stay out of workplace safety and let the market do its business are nothing new.

Unions: Choose Life
While Commissioner Cole struggles with the concept of unions trying to improve workers� wages, out in the real world, bosses daily thumb their noses at safety authorities, as Jim Marr discovers.

International: Seoul Destroyers
The rise and rise of the Korean national football team in the World Cup competition was more than matched by the rise and rise of the number of imprisoned Korean trade unionists.

Corporate: Crash Landing
Did Ansett workers� productivity really crash Ansett? Jim McDonald weighs up the evidence.

Activists: The Refusenik
At 20, Rotem Mor has spent more time analysing how he will live his life than most people twice his age. A month in prison and another 18 serving in the Israeli army saw to that.

Review: Dumb Nation
Michael Moore's new book, 'Stupid White Men' exposes the rorts behind the Bush presidency with bitter humour, writes Mark Hebblewhite.

Poetry: Helping Out The Rich
From proposals to 'deregulate' (ie raise) university fees, to attempts to restrict workers' right to strike in the name of 'genuine' bargaining the Government's rhetoric about helping out the battlers is wearing just a bit thin.


 Redundancy Bonus for Members Only

 Tax Office Backs CFMEU Case

 Lib MP Named in Cole Commission

 Sentencing Guidelines for Safety Breaches

 Revealed: Costello�s Hit List

 Virtual Cold War Over

 Safety Lock-Out Enters Second Week

 Unions Seek Talks With New Airport Owners

 Journos Attacked by NRMA

 Strip Bosses Face Dressing Down

 Beattie Called Into Bargaining Impasse

 Nurses Deliver Largest Ever Petition

 US Braces for its Own Waterfront War

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Back to the Future
McKenzie Wark argues that the future of the book relies on the future of a sphere of public debate.

Chain Reaction
The Big Australian discovers a uranium mine it never knew it had, a corporate fraud sparks a worldwide market plunge and the price of investing ethically.

The Locker Room
Three Colours Blue
After a World Cup that saw post-colonial cultural theorists chanting 'we beat the scum one-nil' on the Terraces of Inchon, it was the natural order of things that prevailed, writes Phil Doyle

Poll Positioning
Unions Tasmania secretary Lynne Fitzgerald gives an overview of the State Election called earlier this week.

Week in Review
The Weight of Office
Apart from the Teflon John, power walking at his own pace, would-be leaders everywhere turned in shockers as Jim Marr discovered.

 Link Wages to CEO Pay
 Voodoo Unionism
 Good News from the Pilbara
 Go Mark, Go
About Workers Online
Latest Issue
Print Latest Issue
Previous Issues
Advanced Search

other LaborNET sites

Labor Council of NSW
Vic Trades Hall Council
IT Workers Alliance
Unions on LaborNET
Evatt Foundation

Labor for Refugees



Ten Steps to Safety

On the eve of the NSW Safety Summit, Workers Online went looking for the ten biggest workplace health issues and what needs to be done to address them.

1.Industrial Manslaughter

Industrial manslaughter is the big issue on the minds of unions and they'll be rallying in Bathurst this week to make their point: employers will not take workplace safety seriously until someone is sent to jail for their contribution to a workers death. It's a contentious issue: NSW Industrial relations Minister John Della Bosca says the powers to bring criminal charges against an employer already exist. Unions ask, why then has there never been a prosecution?

Between 45 and 50 workers are killed each year in construction industry accidents that could have been avoided if the boss had put the required safeguards in place. Meanwhile the farming sector is losing an average of two workers per week. AWU president Mick Madden says penal provisions are needed. "Given that there are two deaths every week on Australian properties and the farmers seem to just accept this as part of life we need to send a clear message i.e. a 'wake up call' to them that this is not," he says.

2.Compliance, Enforcement and Prosecutions

It's fine to have safety laws, but are we enforcing them? When a workplace hazard is identified and the employer notified, it is expected the situation will be rectified expediently and in line with existing safety legislation. But many unions find the reality is often far less straightforward. Employers are routinely setting up new companies to escape having records of past industrial accidents used against them and there are insufficient legislative measures to stop them for repeatedly cutting corners on worker safety. CFMEU state secretary Andrew Ferguson says trying to get a prosecution against someone who blatantly and continually breaches OHS legislation is a massive ongoing problem in the building industry and in many other sectors. "When an employer is in effect guilty of causing injury or murder through their premeditated and willful disregard of safety laws, they should be prosecuted appropriately," he says.

3.Workload, Working Hours and Pace of Work

The combination of excessive demands placed on workers and an expectation of working extended hours can cause a range of stress related conditions, accidents, and sometimes death. MUA assistant secretary Sean Chaffer says fatigue is the "number one issue" for machinery operators. "Our guys operate and drive heavy machinery for long periods of time with no breaks in between. They want to know why the RTA has recognised fatigue as a major factor in road fatalities saying 'Stop, Revive, Survive' and yet we are in the same if not worst position," he says.

Stress caused by excessive workloads can also result in a range of other disorders. The IEU's Sharon Tobin says teachers are particularly prone to stress-related illnesses due to burgeoning class sizes, increasing expectations placed on teachers, and the absence of a cap on working hours. Tobin says it is not unusual for teachers to work between 50 to 60 hours a week. The IEU is currently dealing with the issue by negotiating shorter working hours on a school-by-school basis and holding seminars throughout NSW to increase awareness of the problem among teachers.

4. Violence and Bullying

Many employees go to work each day with the constant threat of violence or bullying hanging over their head. Bullying can result in stress, psychological injury, muscular skeletal conditions, immune system breakdown, stomach conditions and other stress related illnesses. Peggy Trompf from the Workers Health Centre says OHS authorities find it difficult to "pin down" and investigate bullying claims, especially when it is perpetrated by a supervisor. Workers fear repercussions such as losing their job or worsening the problem. NSW Labor Council and the Workers Health Centre will be establishing a committee to develop guidelines and policies for unions and Trompf says the Workers Health Centre hopes to provide a venue for a bullying support network that was mooted at a recent bullying seminar.

In the legal and health industries the threat of violence has been long recognised as a serious problem regularly encountered on the job. Drivers, bank and retail workers are also on the frontline when it comes to dealing with violent members of the public but because they work in largely privatized industries do not have the same entitlement to workers compensation, according to the TWU's Scott Connelly. He says that in the cash and transit industry alone there has been half a dozen hold ups in the past four months. The TWU is currently pushing for comprehensive counseling services to support victims of crime and workplace violence in the transport industry and for security cameras to be used "more as a safety measure and less as a disciplinary tool". It is also focusing on the 'chain of responsibility' for workplace violence, making clients responsible for setting unreasonable demands on workers that put them in danger.

5.Work Design, Work Practices and Equipment

Old and damaged equipment, poorly designed facilities and insufficient training in how best to use equipment can all lead to injury on the job. But old facilities are not the only ones to be poorly designed, according to the Nurses' Association's Trish Butrej. She says some new facilities are also having poor design built into them. Butrej says the problem is partially caused by a lack of clear guidelines for building design. Meanwhile the AMIEU's Patricia Fernandez says it is not unusual for meat workers to turn up to work on a Monday and be greeted with entirely new equipment, which they are expected to use without sufficient training.

6. Slips, trips and Falls

Slips, trips and falls can happen in almost any industry but for building workers the problem is particularly deadly. One of the most well-known cases in recent years is that of young apprentice builder Dean McGoldrick who lost his life after falling from a rooftop devoid of appropriate fencing or scaffolding. This is an ongoing issue for the CFMEU, which requires catch scaffolding to be used to protect building workers and people walking below building sites.

7. Manual Handling

Any worker required to move heavy or awkward objects is vulnerable to back pain and muscular strain. Workers need to receive training in the safest methods of lifting and need to be supported by appropriate equipment and assistance where necessary. The Nurses' Association's Trish Butrej says manual handling issues are closely tied with equipment and facility design and layout, but says it is also a staffing issue. She says two or more people are often needed to manually lift patients and also to use equipment but poor staffing arrangements can leave health care workers alone with the task. However, she says things are "gradually starting to improve". Aside from the safety benefits, she says organisations are increasingly realising how effectively managing manual handling risks can save significant sums of money in the long run.

8. Exposure to Hazardous Substances

With 44 workers dying each week from exposure to hazardous substances, Labor Council's safety watchdog Mary Yaager says this remains to be the "number one killer" in workplaces. Yet Yaager says she visits worksites on a regular basis and employers are still blas� about this issue, continuing to let workers be exposed to asbestos and other carcinogenic agents. "If anyone were to witness the horrific way that a person suffering from asbestos related lung cancer dies, (they virtually choke to death), they would not be complacent about this issue," she says.

Part of the problem is that workers are not trained in the risks associated with using chemicals. "Just last month a worker was thrown from a silo after the chemicals he was adding ignited causing an explosion and he received severe burns to the top half of his body," she says. NSW Labor Council will be calling on the government to mount a major campaign around this issue, concentrating on enforcement and the need to prosecute employers who breach the laws.

9. Accreditation Systems

The growing practice of outsourcing government responsibilities is continuing without appropriate checks on contractors' OHS records. Building Trades Group secretary Tony Papas the group will be pushing for an Industry Accreditation/Registration System to make it easy to identify who is taking their OHS and workers compensation responsibilities seriously. He says contactors who blatantly breach OHS laws should be expelled from government contract works. "There are so many dodgy contractors out there who are getting government contract work when they clearly they should not," he says. Under the accreditation system, government contractors' practices would come up for review on an annual basis.

10. Not Enough Power For Safety Reps/Employees

Finally, if safety representatives were given the legal power to issue provisional improvement notices at dangerous worksites, many workplace accidents could be avoided, according to the AMWU's Doug Rowland. "I am all too often called out to situations where avoidable accidents have occurred simply because employers have not acted quickly enough to correct safety issues," he says, adding that employees often tell him they have been trying to get things fixed for months. He says NSW is one of the few jurisdictions where this power has not already been put in place.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 142 contents

email workers to a friend printer-friendly version latest breaking news from labornet

Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue

© 1999-2002 Workers Online
Workers Online is a resource for the Labour movement
provided by the Labor Council of NSW
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005

Powered by APT Solutions
Labor Council of NSW Workers Online