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Occupational health and safety (OHS) is a significant issue in all Australian workplaces, so it’s not surprising this topic is frequently reported on.
Despite the wide acceptance of OHS requirements in the workplace, the headlines often reveal a significant need for further training and knowledge among local business owners, employers and employees.
To help you stay up to date with the latest OHS news and developments, here are the articles that hit the front pages in February this year.
Scaffolding collapse in NSW
A five-storey scaffolding rig collapsed in a busy Sydney suburb on February 25, fortunately resulting in only two injuries and no deaths.
Two construction workers rode the scaffolding to the ground as it fell from the Mascot building site. One sustained chest, leg and arm injuries, while the other walked away with cuts and bruises. A bystander was also treated for shock at the scene and around 100 people were forced to evacuate the site, halting construction for the rest of the day.
As the news hit headlines, WorkCover revealed they had inspected the site approximately five times over the past year of its operation, finding no safety issues.
However, representatives from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) had visited the site in December and raised concerns about the scaffolding.
“One of our officials visited this site just before Christmas last year and shut down the scaffold in respect of safety concerns,” CFMEU Assistant Secretary Rob Kera told ABC Australia on February 26.
The construction company working on the site, Toplace, said it was cooperating with the CFMEU investigation, but denied CFMEU stopped work at the site.
At the time of collapse, the scaffolding was in the process of being dismantled. There is no consensus on why the rig fell during dismantling – investigations are currently ongoing.
“We’re lucky we didn’t have multiple fatalities down here this afternoon. There would have been a lot of workers on this site, a lot of building workers who can count their lucky stars they are going home this afternoon,” Mr Kera said to the Sydney Morning Herald on February 25.
This news has highlighted the need to make sure all people working on scaffolding have received adequate working at heights training to ensure individuals know what to do when the worst happens.
Trade and construction workers, farmers and professional drivers most at risk of skin cancer
Research from the Harry Perkins Institute at the University of Western Australia revealed that those working in trades, construction, farming and transport are the most at risk from skin cancer. This hazard has been attributed to the significant sun exposure experienced in these professions.
“Solar UV exposure is the leading cause of melanomas, basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas and the workplace is a significant setting for exposure for many Australians,” research leader Professor Lin Fritschi explained in a February 7 media release.
The research found that, overall, around 37 per cent of males and 8 per cent of females are exposed to solar radiation at work. This represents almost 2 million Australian workers.
“Although 95 per cent of the people we spoke to said they used sun protection, the level of protection varied and in reality, less than 9 per cent were fully protected from UV radiation,” Ms Fritschi said.
Ms Fritschi urges employers and employees to ensure they understand and account for the risk of sun exposure on their site.
“Workers also need to be aware that reflective surfaces can also create significant levels of (UV radiation), which is why tradespeople on roofs, near water or next to a glass window in a vehicle are exposed,” she said.
These results show there is a significant need for employers to protect their workers against the dangers of sun exposure on the worksite. This includes providing adequate protective clothing and equipment, such as hats with brims, sunglasses and sunscreen.
It is also important for employees who spend significant amounts of time outside to remain prepared all year round. It is possible for sun damage to occur even during the winter months as temperature does not affect the levels of UV radiation in sunlight.
Introduction of the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014
On February 13, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie introduced the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 into the Queensland government.
This bill was created to amend legislation surrounding the ability for WHS permit holders to enter a worksite and hand out penalties for suspected breaches.
These changes are important knowledge for all business owners and OHS-trained staff, as they address the troubling trend of WHS representatives using ‘safety as a weapon’ and harming productivity.
During consultation with the government, the construction industry had raised serious ongoing concerns about the misuse of right of entry provisions by union officials and the impact and disruption that this had on business. Other industries also reported confusion.
“Most of these disputes related to entry without prior notice to inquire into a suspected contravention under the Work Health and Safety Act. Inspectors found that overall none of the issues identified were considered to be an immediate or imminent risk to workers or others at the workplace,” Mr Bleijie said.
WHS representatives will not completely lose their ability to halt work if these amendments go through. However they will be require to present sufficient evidence of serious risk and imminent exposure to enact this capability. Altogether, this amendment has been put forward to clarify the term ‘reasonable concern’ to ensure work sites are not being shut down without adequate reasoning.
Currently, this bill amendment is under review and the government is calling for industry stakeholders to comment on the legislation before a final decision is made.
For more information on WHS legislation and OHS training requirements, get in touch with the AlertForce team today.
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