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Hazardous substances, mixtures and articles can be found in most workplaces and are at the forefront of World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April.

Chemical use is widespread such as photocopier toner in offices, bonding agents in nail salons, dyes in hairdressing salons, pharmaceuticals in hospitals, pesticides in horticulture, paint on construction sites or oil at petrochemical plants.

Australia is currently transitioning to the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS harmonises the communication of hazard information.

Australia has until the end of 2016 to switch over to the GHS. Currently chemicals can be classified under the GHS or the Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances and the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail (ADG Code).

The GHS is included in the model Work Health and Safety Regulations, which state that manufacturers and importers of chemicals supplied to a workplace must correctly identify and classify chemicals according to the 3rd Revised Edition of the GHS. However, some differences exist between the regulations and the GHS; for example, in the regulations in schedule 6, Classification of Mixtures, the tables replace some of the tables in the GHS.

As chemicals are found in every workplace, all organisations, not just manufacturers and importers, should be familiar with the language used to communicate chemical hazards.

For more details, visit World Day for Safety and Health at Work and Safe Work Australia.

Published on 23 April 2014 in NSCA Safe-T-Bulletin.

Western Australia’s version of the model resource and general work health and safety laws could pass through the WA parliament by November.

As reported in an earlier e-bulletin, the Work Health and Safety (Resources) Act is expected to be operating in Western Australia in early 2015.

Also, the new general work health and safety laws are included in the WorkSafe WA Business Plan 2013-2014.

However, the timing of both laws has become clearer.

The minutes from the recent meeting of the WA Ministerial Advisory Panel on Safety Legislation Reform include an indicative timetable, which notes both laws being introduced into the WA parliament in August and passing the parliament by November.

As flagged by the WA Government some time ago, some of the provisions in the laws will differ from the model work health and safety laws, such as work health and safety representatives not having the power to direct the cessation of work.

For more detail, visit the meeting minutes.

Published on 23 April 2014 in NSCA Safe-T-Bulletin.

By Katherine Crichton

When you want maintenance workers to scale tall buildings, how sure are you that the fixed fall equipment you expect them to use is secure? 

Falls from heights continue to be a major cause of death and serious injury in Australian workplaces, third only to motor vehicle accidents and being hit by falling or moving objects.

Although not all falls from heights relate to fixed systems, a recent Working at Heights Association (WAHA) survey revealed alarming failure rates for unsafe equipment installations, with 31 per cent of anchor points and 94 per cent of fixed ladders shown to be potentially fatal.

“Based on the results of a survey of the WAHA Installer Group, fall-prevention equipment cannot be relied on,” says Carl Sachs, Installer Group committee member, WAHA, and managing director, Workplace Access & Safety.

He tells National Safety that much of this is a consequence of incorrect installation, which he believes is so prevalent due to the lack of mandatory training and relevant licensing of installers of fall-prevention equipment (such as anchors, guard railings and access ladders). “Anyone with a credit card and a cordless drill can install this equipment and work at heights,” Sachs explains, “and there are manufacturers who don’t impose any training requirements on their clients at all”.

WAHA chair and MD at Capital Safety Michael Biddle says WAHA’s survey findings infer “that the very system that is designed to protect you from a fall may, in fact, lead to the user’s injury or death”.

“Some of the incorrect installation issues include such things as unsafe design, design not to the prescribed standard or the manufacturer’s requirements, insufficient/inappropriate substrate [anchor points into concrete], [and] incorrect data plate and rating information,” says Biddle.

Compulsory standards

Concerned about the significant failure rates, industry stakeholders convened a falls crisis summit at the Sydney Safety Conference in September last year.

At the summit, WAHA and other industry stakeholders called for more regulation to ensure that such equipment is installed safely and doesn’t put users at risk. Several issues were put to a vote with unanimous support, including that compliance with the Australian Standards be compulsory, formal training for installers be mandatory and regulators inspect fall-prevention equipment.

“We don’t need more WHS laws,” Sachs stresses. “We need a framework which complements the layers of legislation and actually enforces it. Relying on people doing the right thing is not a suitable control for equipment that workers’ lives depend on.”

Sachs says commercial and civil litigation should not be relied on to save people’s lives.

“Government needs to resource the regulators so that they can support everyone who is trying to do the right thing and encourage others, particularly when people’s lives depend on it,” he says.

“It costs money to do the right thing, and there needs to be a series of carrots and sticks to make sure that happens.”

Sachs notes that since harmonisation, the states [operating under the model laws] have “removed reference to as many Australian standards as possible, and  regulators can’t reference them or insist on them unless they are mandated. If this happened, workplaces could then reference them and the regulators would have a reference point from which to work.”

Shannon Johnstone, HSSE Q&R advisor, DTZ, attended the WAHA summit and believes that clear regulations need to be written around how and when to install height access solutions to a building.

“The governing bodies need to make an industry commitment to ‘tidy up’ the industry,” she says, “and also ensure that where there is a risk of fall by an employee or a contractor, buildings are retrofitted by a certain date—with the appropriate height access solution[s] to maintain that plant and equipment.

“The current legislation focuses on design [new builds], and companies should comply; however, there is nothing detailed and communicated to all parties as to how they are to ensure the safety of others in their workplace and the minimum measures to be put in place. They have a broad statement in the regulations; however, nothing will be done unless there is a date set by the regulators or Building Code of  Australia (BCA) to comply by,” she tells National Safety.

Is accreditation the answer?

While securing compliance across industry for the safe design and installation of fixed fall-prevention equipment is clearly needed, OHS expert Michael Tooma, partner and head of occupational health, safety and security at Norton Rose Fulbright, isn’t sure that adding to prescriptions or red tape in relation to this issue is the answer.

“It is less about prescription and more about improving the quality of the providers. I think one should always be suspicious of over-regulation, and I think that, over time, [it] is not the appropriate approach,” says Tooma. “My view is that you can achieve a much better outcome with a licensing or accreditation approach.

“That means a higher-quality product [and] a high-quality service being provided, and that necessarily means greater regulation of providers—not through prescription but through quality control of providers.

“What you want is that the providers have a higher quality of product, a higher-quality service being provided, technical expertise and more robust quality assurance systems. These are more likely to guarantee better outcomes for industry.

“It doesn’t have to be a costly exercise from a public sector perspective; it can it would be an appropriate way to regulate an industry that is of such importance in terms of safety outcomes.”

Conflict of interest

Currently, no specific mandatory training or certification exists for installers of fixed fall-prevention equipment. And installers are allowed to install and certify their own work.

Biddle contends that the limited resources of regulators, preventing them from inspecting every installation, is the reason that self-regulation is the current method of quality control, and he notes that, clearly, this method is failing.

“Therefore, we need a new level of emphasis and funding to enable the regulators to do their job properly,” he says.

“Without the enforcement, the installations will continue to occur with limited scrutiny.

“The solution is better achieved through a combination of higher regulatory scrutiny, better training and reporting for poor practices. These things collectively will drive higher compliance without necessarily increasing the cost to the consumer.”

Tooma says a key issue is not necessarily regulating who inspects and checks work, but rather recognising the conflict of interest in having the person who installs the work  certify it. “If you have that independence in terms of the certification … [it] gives you greater confidence that the person who is certifying the installation of fixed fall-prevention equipment is making the appropriate enquiry and tests that the  platform has been appropriately installed.

“As long as they are a competent person, have the correct expertise and have the independence to be able to certify, this would be an appropriate step forward and improvement to the existing approach—and that in itself would improve the quality of fall-prevention equipment out here.”

Johnstone agrees that providers shouldn’t certify their own work, “due to the nature of the industry and the risks involved”.

She says an appropriate intent to install schedule should be developed and suggests that regulated certifiers then sign off and certify the works conducted.

“Installations should be registered with a provider, and regular auditing should be conducted to ensure appropriate installations occur. Annual inspections of the equipment installed should be conducted and verified,” Johnstone contends.

“To date, there are companies who don’t even know they are to annually inspect anchor points; they think once they are in, that’s all they have to do.

“There is no information or advertising forthcoming to businesses and landlords regarding their obligations, especially small companies [that] do not have [the] health and safety resources in their companies to know what the requirements are, and regional and rural area landlords [who] are unaware of their requirements.”

Some regulators remain unconvinced by these arguments, however.

“Victorian data does not support the suggestion that the poor installation of fall-prevention equipment is a significant cause of injuries associated with fall from heights,” says a WorkSafe Victoria spokesperson. “Our data shows that injuries are primarily due to a lack of appropriate safety equipment, such as harnesses, or a lack of proper information, instruction, training or supervision associated with working at heights.

“In Victorian workplaces, fall-prevention equipment must meet an Australian Standard or an equivalent recognised international standard.” Victoria is yet to sign up to the model laws.

WorkCover New South Wales general manager of Work Health and Safety Division John Watson told National Safety that under NSW work health and safety laws, installers of falls protection must be competent  in installing the type of equipment they are using and need to identify if it is installed correctly; for example, scaffolders are required to have a current high-risk work licence.

“NSW Workplace safety laws require specific measures to control the risks  associated with working at heights,” says Watson. “This includes ensuring workers receive necessary information, training, instruction and supervision. WorkCover and the national body, Safe Work Australia, provide a range of guidance material on working from heights.”

NSW has signed on to the model laws.

Safe Work Australia was contacted but declined to comment, saying that the relevant regulatory agencies would be better placed to respond. The Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) was also contacted but it declined to comment, saying

Safe Work Australia was in a better position to respond from a national perspective.

While the discussion about appropriate approaches to regulation and certification remains complicated, WAHA, Johnstone and Tooma agree that compulsory training and licensing of installers of fixed fall-prevention equipment is needed.

“Apart from other workers relying on their installations, the installers themselves are exposed to incredible risk of falls when they install the equipment,” explains Sachs. “Anyone can go and install equipment on the edge of a 30-metre skyscraper. With a framework of training and licensing, there is no reason why an installer shouldn’t certify their height safety installation the same way a licensed electrician certifies their own work.”

Biddle agrees, but stresses that this should be competency-based assessment and not just ‘attendance’-based training. “The equipment involved in this area is life-saving and therefore requires a high standard of installation that can only be achieved through a competency-based assessment that is then regularly reviewed/ updated—say, every two years—to ensure competency remains intact,” he says.

At present, WAHA is drafting an installer ‘code of conduct’ as a basis for setting minimum acceptable standards for operators performing installations, as well as suggesting ‘best practice’ for the same.

The new Code of Practice will be released for public comment in a few months; in the meantime, input from relevant stakeholders is encouraged.

WAHA has been meeting with regulators with regard to their call to action.

Published in National Safety magazine,  March-April 2014.

This story was also reported on the during the ABC’s 7.30 Report. View the story here.

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10 Apr 2014

G20, but no Qld

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As Safe Work Australia ponders its G20 safety contribution and reviews the model laws, no mention is made of the safety law changes in Queensland.

Safe Work Australia members met last week and noted in their communique that an employment sub-group of the G20 Taskforce is considering how the G20 might contribute to safer workplaces.

The members said Safe Work Australia is representing Australia in this sub-group, which includes six other countries plus the International Labour Organization.

At last week’s Safe Work Australia meeting, an update on the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws was also provided, but no detail was offered nor was there mention of the recent and significant changes to Queensland’s WHS law.

The Model laws are currently under review, with the members noting that Safe Work Australia will be “monitoring, reviewing and evaluating the model WHS laws to improve operational efficiency, remove unnecessary regulation and improve safety outcomes”.

Also at this meeting, the members agreed to start work on scoping national interventions for managing priority hazardous chemicals. “The process for prioritising hazardous chemicals was agreed by members at its March 2013 meeting and aligns with the priority diseases related to hazardous chemicals in the Australian Strategy – cancer, dermatitis and asthma,” the communique said.

For more details, visit Safe Work Australia.

Published on 10 April 2014 in NSCA Safe-T-Bulletin.

Half of European workers think work-related stress is common in their workplaces and many employers don’t know how to handle psychosocial risks, according to a recent opinion poll.

The poll conducted by the European Union’s Occupational Safety and Health Agency (EU-OSHA) found that 51 per cent of workers said work-related stress was common in their workplace and 40 per cent said stress was not handled well in their organisation.

On top of this, a significant proportion of employers find psychosocial risks difficult to manage. “Despite the increasing presence and costs of workplace stress, there is still significant misunderstanding and sensitivity around it – EU-OSHA’s ESENER survey found that over 40 per cent of employers consider psychosocial risks more difficult to manage than ‘traditional’ occupational safety and health risks,” Director of EU-OSHA, Dr Christa Sedlatschek said.

Ignoring workplace stress is not an option. “Workplaces cannot afford to ignore work-related stress, which increases absenteeism and lowers productivity. The forthcoming EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at work 2014-20 will underline that better protection of workers’ mental health is a key factor to prevent work-related diseases,” EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, László Andor said:

EU-OSHA has launched a two-year Europe-wide campaign: ‘Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress’.

For more details, visit the EU.

Published on 10 April 2014 in NSCA Safe-T-Bulletin.


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