WorkSafe warns on heat stress at work as temperatures soar in Western Australia

IMAGE: TOM WANG / SHUTTERSTOCK
IMAGE: TOM WANG / SHUTTERSTOCK

As plus-40 degree temperatures continue in Western Australia, WorkSafe has issued a warning about the risk of heat stress at work.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch has reminded employers and workers that they need to take extra care to avoid the risk of heat stress or heat stroke.

Mr McCulloch said that people working outside during especially hot conditions, and those exposed to high indoor temperatures, are particularly at risk.

'Apart from the obvious physical discomfort of these symptoms, they may increase the risk of workplace injuries by taking a worker’s attention away from the task at hand, and this is a major concern,' he said.

WorkSafe advises that heat stroke is a serious medical condition that must be treated immediately.

If heat stroke is suspected, the person should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible. Until medical treatment is available, the person should be cooled down as quickly as possible by methods such as soaking clothing in cold water and increasing air movement by fanning.

Mr McCulloch outlined a number of measures that can be taken to reduce the risks associated with working in extreme heat. These include:

  • simple steps such as drinking at frequent intervals, having rest pauses in a cool place, helping sweat evaporate by increasing air circulation and maintaining a healthy lifestyle;
  • where possible, reorganising work schedules so outdoor tasks are carried out early in the morning and late in the day to avoid peak temperatures;
  • considering the type of clothing worn – loose clothing allows air to circulate, improving the evaporation of sweat.

Further information about working safety in hot conditions is available from the WorkSafe WA website at http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe/working-safely-hot-conditions-heat-stress

WorkSafe WA Safety and Health Workshops in October

Western Australia's workplace health and safety regulator, WorkSafe, is conducting a number of workshops as part of its Safe Work October campaign. The workshops are designed for a wide audience including business owners, managers and supervisors as well as health and safety practitioners.

These workshops provide the opportunity to hear about contemporary health and safety issues from presenters who have extensive experience in the field. The workshops have a practical focus and participants are provided with tools and strategies that they can apply in the workplace.

The October 2015 program includes the following:

Tuesday 6 October 2015

  • Mental health in the workplace

Thursday 8 October 2015

  • Human and organisational factors in safety – the top 10 topics
  • Human factors in incident investigation

Tuesday 13 October 2015

  • Workplace wellbeing programs – introduction
  • Safety Leadership: Strategic collaborative improvements

Thursday 15 October 2015

  • The risk and costs of manual injuries in construction
  • Managing personal safety and health in high stress environments

Tuesday 20 October 2015

  • Workplace safety is good business
  • Workplace wellbeing programs – advanced

Thursday 22 October 2015

  • Safe handling and storage of chemicals
  • The risk and costs of manual injuries in construction - Repeat session

Tuesday 27 October 2015

  • Workplace safety is good business – Repeat session
  • From workers’ compensation to wellbeing

The cost for each session is $40 plus a booking fee of about $3. Bookings close 30 September 2015.

Further information and online registration is available on the WorkSafe website at https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe/safety-and-health-workshops-2015

Fair Work Commission clarifies definition of workplace bullying

A Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission has handed down a decision clarifying some aspects of the definition of workplace bullying.

Changes to the Fair Work legislation have made it possible for employees to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop bullying, where this occurs 'while the worker is at work'.

In a matter involving three employees who claimed they had been bullied at work, the Full Bench considered the meaning of 'at work' under s.789FF(1)(b)(i) of the Fair Work Act 2009. The case involved allegations that officials and/or delegates of the Maritime Union of Australia had engaged in bullying conduct towards the employees.

The employees argued that bullying occurs 'at work' if the conduct has a substantial connection to work. They said that the definition should be expansive enough to include the following behaviour:

  • conduct involving making social media postings that are visible to work colleagues;
  • conduct by work colleagues outside the workplace which is inconsistent with training undertaken by the employer and the exercise of authority assumed by the employer over those out-of-hours activities;
  • conduct by unionofficials or delegates in or outside the workplace under which they have assumed or sought to assume the function of controlling or dealing with workplace grievances; or
  • conduct by union officials or delegates in or outside the workplace by which they have expressed disapproval or censure, or sought to have others express disapproval or censure against the employees concerned.

The employer, the MUA and employer associations argued that conduct occurs while the worker is ‘at work’ if it occurs at 'any time that the worker is performing labour'. They submitted that conduct does not fall within this definition if:

  • the conduct is engaged in by person(s) who are not work colleagues and occurs outside the workplace;
  • the conduct occurs outside the workplace at a time when the employee is not undertaking work activities; and/or
  • the conduct occurs outside the workplace and is not related to the work being undertaken by the worker (for example, where the conduct occurs in the context of the employee's union membership).

The Full Bench rejected the employee's submission that conduct occurs ‘at work’ if it has ‘a substantial connection to work’, concluding that the legislation was intended to have a narrower application to that. In the decision, the Full Bench stated:

It seems to us that the concept of being ‘at work’ encompasses both the performance of work (at any time or location) and when the worker is engaged in some other activity which is authorised or permitted by their employer... (such as being on a meal break or accessing social media while performing work).

The Full Bench acknowledged the difficulties associated with the use of social media, noting in the decision:

[We reject the submission] that the worker would have to be ‘at work’ at the time the facebook posts were made. The relevant behaviour is not limited to the point in time when the comments are first posted on facebook. The behaviour continues for as long as the comments remain on facebook. It follows that the worker need not be ‘at work’ at the time the comments are posted, it would suffice if they accessed the comments later while ‘at work’ ...


We acknowledge that the meaning we have ascribed ... may give rise to some arbitrary results. A worker may only access comments on social media which constitute unreasonable behaviour ... at a time when they are not ‘at work’ and the behaviour will not fall within the scope of [the legislation]. But it seems to us that such a consequence necessarily follows from the fact that the legislature has adopted a definition which is intended to confine the operation of the substantive provisions.

An additional consideration arises in the context of unreasonable behaviour through the medium of social media. What is the position in respect of facebook posts which have no relevant workplace connection, eg posts from a former partner who has no workplace connection with ‘the worker’. If such posts constitute unreasonable behaviour and they are read by the worker while he or she is ‘at work’, do they fall within the scope of the definition in [the legislation] (assuming that they also create a risk to health and safety...)? We doubt that such an outcome was intended by the legislature having regard to the legislative context and the language of s.789FD [of the Fair Work Act].

The Full Bench foreshadowed further clarification of the definition in future cases , stating:

We do not think it appropriate to canvass the practical application of the definition of bullied at work beyond what we have already said. The application of the meaning of ‘at work’ in a particular case will depend on all the circumstances and it is appropriate that the jurisprudence develop on a case by case basis.

 

Fair Work Commission: [2014] FWCFB 9227 Bowker; Coombe; Zwarts v DP World Melbourne Limited T/A DP World; Maritime Union of Australia, The Victorian Branch and Others

 

 

 

 

WorkSafe to scrutinise safety standards in restaurants

IMAGE: WASANT / SHUTTERSTOCK
IMAGE: WASANT / SHUTTERSTOCK

WorkSafe WA will conduct inspections of restaurants throughout Western Australia in 2014/2015, after an initial inspection program last financial year revealed significant levels of non-compliance.

WorkSafe Director Joe Attard said the restaurant sector is being targeted because of the high level of injuries and notices issued last year.

“The inspection program WorkSafe conducted last financial year saw a large number of improvement notices issued,” Mr Attard said.  “The industry also records a significant number of lost time injuries."

The program will focus on larger restaurants in both metropolitan and regional areas. Specific areas of risk and hazards that will be looked at are:

  • Muscle trauma from manual tasks
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Cuts and burns
  • Electricity
  • Hazardous substances
  • New and young workers

Inspections will be conducted with the aid of a checklist to ensure consistency. This checklist can be downloaded from WorkSafe’s website so employers will know what to expect if they are visited by an inspector.

Links

WorkSafe WA issues warning about floor mats in vehicles

WorkSafe WA has warned of the danger of using unsecured floor mats in vehicles, after an incident where a worker was seriously injured. A floor mat in a truck being maneuvered by a colleague became jammed in the accelerator pedal, causing the truck to move forward and strike the worker, pinning him against another vehicle.

In this case, the floor mats were rubber and the truck floor was vinyl. The mats were loosely fitted and were able to move around on the floor.

WorkSafe has recommended employers review the use of vehicle floor mats, and not use them on vehicles with vinyl flooring unless they are properly secured.

 

Link

Safe Work Australia reports work-related compensated injury fatalities are at their lowest level since 2002

Safe Work Australia’s latest Comparative Performance Monitoring report shows work-related compensated injury fatalities are at their lowest level since 2002.

The report revealed that in 2012-13, 11 out of every 1000 workers were injured seriously enough to require one week or more off work. There has been a 26 per cent improvement in the rate of injury since 2002.

The Comparative Performance Monitoring report is designed to provide measurable information to support policy making and program development by governments in Australia and New Zealand in order to meet the goal of workplaces being free from injury and disease and to support return to work and rehabilitation for injured and ill workers.

The report includes:

  • measurement of progress against national strategies;
  • identification of factors contributing to improved work health and safety and workers’ compensation performance (which includes consideration of resources); and
  • measurement of changes in work health and safety and workers’ compensation over time, including benchmarking.

Link

Some good reasons to have an Alcohol and the Workplace Policy, and a useful tool to help you develop one

IMAGE: PAUL VASARHELYI / SHUTTERSTOCK

IMAGE: PAUL VASARHELYI / SHUTTERSTOCK

The misuse of alcohol contributes to significant health, social and economic costs for workplaces.

There are significant and measurable costs attributable to alcohol misuse, including reduced productivity, safety risks and workplace relations issues -- as well as absenteeism and 'presenteeism' (attending work while unfit).

A 2012 study by VicHealth estimated the cost of lost productivity due to alcohol misuse at $3.5 billion every year.

As well as dealing with the financial impact of harmful alcohol use, employers have legal and ethical obligations to prevent and manage alcohol-related harm and issues.

A good policy on Alcohol and the Workplace -- provided it is effectively introduced and reinforced by management -- can go a long way to dealing effectively with this issue.

As with all HR policies, it is not sufficient to have a good document that does not effectively engage employees.

A good consultative process at the design and implementation stages, together with ongoing management and evaluation, is necessary to make sure that the policy works.

Western Australia's Drug and Alcohol Office has developed a practical and effective toolkit for employers as part of its "Alcohol - Think Again" campaign, which aims to minimise the harm of alcohol misuse for individuals and the broader community.

The toolkit is an interactive guide to developing a workplace fitness for work alcohol policy, which helps users navigate the 3 phases of developing a successful policy - Design, Implementation, Management & Evaluation.

The interactive guide provides clear advice and supporting background material to guide the user through the key steps of:

  • identifying a suitable policy framework and support structures;
  • gathering information about alcohol-related risks, harms and issues in the workplace through a workplace risk and needs assessment; and
  • consulting with key stakeholders in the workplace.

This free tool provides a sound approach to developing an effective policy to manage the potential impact of alcohol in the workplace, and is suitable for small businesses and larger firms.

Links

How you can detect forged High Risk Work Licences - before you employ someone

IMAGE: KTSDESIGN/SHUTTERSTOCK

IMAGE: KTSDESIGN/SHUTTERSTOCK

There were media reports today claiming that terrorist groups are using forged licences to create fake identities. Authorities are concerned that criminal groups now have access to technology that enables them to replicate even those licences that incorporate security devices such as holograms and microchips.

Given that the technology exists, it is reasonable to believe that other criminal groups will be applying this technology simply to make profit.

This could involve selling fake High Risk Work Licences (such as forklift and machine operator licences) to people who are seeking skilled jobs but who lack the required qualifications. Indeed, this has already been recognised as a problem by regulatory agencies.

The consequences of inadvertently hiring an unqualified person to do high-risk work could be disastrous. No employer or recruitment firm would want to be in the position of having employed someone to operate dangerous machinery on the basis of a forged qualification, only to have that person injure or kill someone at the work site.

Fortunately, it is easy to authenticate high-risk work licences issued in Western Australia through WorkSafe WA's online licence search facility.

To use this service, go to http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe/worksafe-licence-and-registration-search, select 'High Risk Licence' and enter the job applicant's details.

If the search is unsuccessful, it would be prudent to contact WorkSafe's Business Service Centre on 1300 424 091 before completing the hiring process.

For licences issued in other States, you can verify the licence by contacting the relevant authority. You can find contact details via the Safe Work Australia website at http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/who-we-work-with/regulators/pages/whs-regulators.

Western Australia moves a (small) step closer to a national health and safety system

The Western Australian Government has said that a version of the national model Work Health and Safety  legislation will be introduced in draft form in the current session of Parliament.

Commerce Minister Hon Michael Mischin MLC says that a 'green bill' will be introduced and will be open for public comment until the end of the year. The Minister's statement follows the publication of a regulatory impact statement on the model WHS Regulations.

Harmonisation of Australia's health and safety legislation has been on the agenda for many years, and it seems reasonably evident that having separate legislation in different states is neither efficient nor does it necessarily result in better safety outcomes.

While the state and commonwealth governments have got as far as establishing a tripartite body -- Safe Work Australia -- to oversight national co-ordination and have developed a national model act and regulations, to date only New South Wales, Queensland, the Territories and the Commonwealth have implemented the model Work Health and Safety Act.

This means that firms operating in Western Australia as well as other jurisdictions must still comply with multiple regulatory systems.

From the information available at this time, it does not appear that Western Australia is about to embrace a completely national approach. The Minister's statement to Parliament indicates that the Government is not convinced of the benefits of uniformity, and commits only to  'develop a version of the model WHS legislation that is tailored to Western Australia’s environment.'

Further information about the Ministerial Statement and the Regulatory Impact Statement is available on the WorkSafe WA website.