Abbott Government Vows to Go Ahead with Workplace Law Amendments

The Abbott government has recently vowed to move ahead with plans to alter the country’s workplace laws which would see unions facing difficulties entering workplaces.

In addition to being kept off work sites, the government is also planning on imposing limits on the ability of unions to receive large payment deals on new resource projects, according to employment minister Eric Abetz.

According to reports in the media, a government bill is to be introduced in the autumn parliamentary session to remove the current rights of unions to enter into workplaces at their will. While the unions have condemned these plans and claim that they will have an adverse effect on workplace safety, the government believes the current rights of the unions are too “excessive”.

According to Abetz, the bill will be consistent with the Coalition government’s pre-election workplace policy. He said the government would also seek to remove the provisions that currently make the lunch rooms of work places the common meeting place for union rep visits.

Under the amendments the changes implemented last year which allowed unions to access remote workplaces will also be scrapped.

According to Senator Abetz the amendments come following a decision by The Fair Work Commission which revealed that members of the construction union had been abusing their rights and entering a number of projects in South Australia, deliberately and regularly misusing their power and taking advantage of right of entry laws. These “right of entry” laws would be changed to make them more in line with what Julia Gillard proposed during the 2007 election. They would now be more defined and stipulate who can enter and mandate that there be a genuine reason for doing so.

Despite the current government’s confidence in the move, it has been opposed by the Greens, implying that they may battle to get the changes passed by the Senate. However Abetz said it was important because the right of entry laws was becoming too costly to businesses and was negatively impacting on workplace productivity.

The new proposed bull would also strip unions of their power to delay the start of new projects. It would also address the issue of unions supposedly getting high wages for refusing to up to greenfield agreements. Now businesses can take their proposed greenfield agreement to the commission for approval if it has not been completed in 3 months.

Obviously the unions are opposed to the changes which they say will negatively impact workplace safety because employers will be given the freedom to do as they please on worksites without the fear of getting caught. The CFMEU said if the amendments are passed we can expect workplace injuries to increase as most employers value profit and productivity over worker safety.

 

 

 

 

Avoiding Injury from Falling Objects

On a construction site the actions of one person have far reaching repercussions and affect one or many other workers. Also the inaction of members of the industry can also have negative consequences for workers. As a worker on a construction site you are often at the mercy of one or many co-workers or employer and vice versa, your actions also affect them.

One of the hazards associated with this is that of falling objects – when a worker drops an object from above it may very likely injure or even kill someone below or a workers neglect may result in building materials or equipment falling from one level to the next, injuring people below. Even people in the adjacent areas are at risk. That is why principal contractors must manage these risks effectively.

An incident which took place recently is an example of what can happen if these hazards are’nt addressed. A worker on a construction site in Camperdown, inner Sydney has died after being hit by a number of metal beams.

The incident has attracted alot of attention not just because a worker was fatally injured but because just 2 weeks earlier the CFMEU had made accusations that safety at the Sydney construction site was neglected.

The accident which took place on a renovation project within the former headquarters of the New South Wales Nurses Association, happened just before midday when a 22 year old worker was hit by falling metal beams. The worker sustained injuries to his head and chest and tragically died on the scene.

This incident is particularly eye opening because it highlights the importance of addressing safety issues immediately. This incident could have been avoided if those in control of safety on the site had heeded the warnings of the union, only 2 weeks prior. On a hazardous construction site, proactive safety measures are necessary to avoid incidents. This site was obviously guilty of a number of safety failings and was shut down at Easter because of these safety concerns.

The workers involved in the incident had only been working at the company for about a week and was in Oz on a holiday work VISA. The CFMEU expressed its anger that warnings to the company about safety had been ignored which directly led to the death of the worker.

The incident happened as builders were digging at the bottom of the building and one of the slabs collapsed.

Even if hazards are addressed before work begins, employers should still review safety every so often to ensure that controls are still effective to address hazards and to ensure no new hazards have arisen which threaten worker’s safety.

Every employer has a responsibility to provide workers with a safe work environment and safe system of work, this includes prevention of free falling objects and where fall prevention is not possible a system to arrest falling objects before it can cause injury to workers.

 

 

 

Defining “Safety” in Construction

I was recently asked by someone a question which led me to question my own ideas about safety, the question, “what is safety”, the answer I found to be much more complex than I had originally thought.

The question got me thinking, not only about what the word “safety” means by what it implies to me to personally in the context of the work environment.

For me safety as it relates to the construction environment is a complex matter which involves all departments, tradespeople and workers as well as all entities involved in the construction project, from client to employer, principal contractor to casual labourer.

Helen Keller once said: “Safety is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature,  nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

Many people think safety and danger go hand in hand, you cant have one without some form of the other, so using this logic naturally a construction site full of potential danger will require a level of safety to overcome these dangers. Being or “feeling” safe is the condition of being protected from this danger, risk or injury. Obviously where there is danger (on a construction site this comes in the form of hazards), safety must arise to bring about this “condition of protection from danger”.

But implementing this “protection” or “safety” is a process which requires a systematic approach taking into consideration all the factors on the construction site.

While most of the responsibility for safety is held by the employer, the construction worker, regardless of position or trade must also ensure that they do their part towards safety on site. Firstly each worker must complete the construction induction training, commonly referred to as The White Card.

According to Workplace Health and Safety Legislation you must be in possession of your white card before beginning any work on a construction site in Oz, no matter your trade.

The White Card Course is mandatory for anyone entering into a career or even just a temporary job on a construction site. This training does not involve costly and time consuming training in a classroom type environment, most people just complete the White Card Course online and receive their White Card in the mail.

The course is nationally recognised, so safety across all states is unified and improved. Workers are also able to work across borders and in any state they choose in Oz.

While we are all born with some sense of self preservation we cannot simply rely on our common sense to remain safe on a construction site. There are certain hazards that we may not be familiar with and there are tried and tested methods of overcoming these hazards – that is what the White Card Course teaches, how to work safely in the construction environment.

 

Workers, Go Home on Time!

Research conducted by The Australia Institute recently found that more than 50 per cent of the workers surveyed were dissatisfied with their working hours.

According to the study workers are either unhappy with the number of hours they work or unhappy because of an inability to get work or working too few hours to be able to support themselves and families.

The study’s focus was on the experiences of the “overworked” and those who are “underworked” in July 2013.

Workers that are fully employed seem to often be unhappy with the number of hours they work which results in them feeling overworked and dissatisfied. According to Kate Carnell, CEO of beyondblue, the organisation co-conducting the study, there is something very wrong in Australian workplaces because employees are working longer and longer but productivity does not reflect this because it is not increasing.

The study also found that the number of workers unhappy with their working hours has increased this year as compared to last year. Unfortunately the current labour environment is creating high levels of stress, depression and poor sleep patterns for many Aussies. This also has serious, negative consequences on worker’s lives, health, family and relationships.

The study included 1400 respondents, 800 of which were involved in paid work. A quarter of those overworked workers who were interviewed also experienced anxiety. The research also showed that 3.3 million “overworked” Australians also experience loss of sleep. Half of all Australian workers also wish they had more free time to spend with their families.

Many employees are suffering from financial insecurity because of unpredictable working hours which is beyond their control. Insufficient working hours are another problem plaguing Australian workers who revealed that involuntary time out of work was demoralising.

This excerpt from an article on ProbonoAustralian.com.au explains more about the research:

Early findings of the research paper Hard to get a break?, to be released in the lead-up to Go Home on Time Day on November 20, focus on the experiences of the “overworked” (those who would like to work fewer hours) and the “underworked” (for example, those struggling to enter the workforce or those who want to work more hours) and was based on an online survey conducted in July.

The findings revealed 50 per cent of Australians who are overworked would like to spend more time with their family.

Source: http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2013/09/millions-aussies-lose-sleep-over-work#sthash.Qhel22if.dpuf

Carnell, CEO of beyondblue also explained that workers who are constantly under pressure to produce and forced to work extra hours to do so, are stressed which leads to depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety are both serious issues which require attention, because while much attention is given to the physical health and wellbeing of workers, their mental wellbeing is just as important and also impacts on their overall health. Mental health issues affect workers, the employer and business, worker’s friends, family and community.

The post goes on to explain:

“Depression costs Australian businesses $12.3 billion every year through absenteeism, reduced productivity and staff turnover. So business owners need to wake up to the fact that poor work/life balance takes its toll on both their employees and their businesses.”

Dr Richard Denniss, Executive Director of The Australia Institute, said Go Home on Time Day was a light-hearted way to start a serious conversation.

“When so many people say work – either too much or not enough – is making them anxious then it’s clearly a conversation that needs to be had,” he said.

“Managers see first-hand how productivity is affected when workers feel stressed or anxious. That’s why we’re encouraging businesses to participate.”

Read more at: http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2013/09/millions-aussies-lose-sleep-over-work#sthash.Qhel22if.dpuf

 

 

Worker Killed and another Injured after Building collapsed

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Injured worker is removed from the site of the collapse

Photo: Channel Nine

Work Safety Authorities are currently investigating the cause of a building collapse that left one worker injured and claimed the life of another on a building site in Melbourne’s south-east recently.

WorkCover and the Victorian Building Authority investigators are currently trying to piece together the events leading up to the collapse in South Caulfield.

A 20 year old carpenter was unfortunately killed when he was covered by debris as part of a building he was working on collapsed.

According to police, the 2 men fell 10 metres when the top and mezzanine floors of the shopfront collapsed on Thursday morning, causing them to become trapped under the rubble.

This excerpt from a post on TheAge.com.au explains what happened:

Witnesses report hearing a loud crash as the floors gave way, narrowly missing two electricians working on the ground floor.

The pair tried desperately to free their workmates with the help of passers-by but were unable to save the 20-year-old.

A 48-year-old subcontractor pulled from the rubble was taken to The Alfred hospital in a serious but stable condition with fractured legs and a fractured arm as well as heavy cuts and bruising.

An Ambulance Victoria spokesman said paramedics were called to the site about 10am.

Emergency crews and Workcover investigators spent the day at the scene but will not speculate on the cause of the collapse until investigations are complete.

Renovation of the narrow shopfront between a pizzeria and a beauty salon began in late April.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/tradesman-killed-workmate-injured-in-building-collapse-20130822-2segh.html#ixzz2cpBeooaz

The article goes on to describe how passers-by even joined co-workers to try and free the men from the debris. The younger worker was trapped under a lot of debris and unfortunately died on the scene. The post goes on to explain:

Nick Love, 21, said he and emergency workers worked for about 10 minutes to pull wood off the men. ”Once we got to the [younger] guy, he was under a lot of stuff and I just stepped back and let the paramedics do their thing.”

Source: :http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/tradesman-killed-workmate-injured-in-building-collapse-20130822-2segh.html#ixzz2cpBeooaz

An Ambulance Victoria spokeswoman said the surviving man suffered fractures to both his arms and possibly one of his legs but remained conscious throughout the ordeal. This is the 11th workplace fatality in Victoria this year and WorkSafe is on the scene investigating.

Workers can do little to prepare themselves for an unexpected incident such as a building collapse but it helps to be trained on construction site safety overall.

In addition to being the law, completing the White Card Course will teach workers the basic safety issues needed to operate safely on a construction site so that they do not place their own safety or that of their co-workers in jeopardy.

 

Commonly Missed Hazards on Construction Sites

Construction sites are considered to be one of the most potentially hazardous working environments and excessive exposure to hazards places workers at risk of injury and possibly even death. It is for this reason that companies engaged in construction activities need to identify all these hazards and address them by either eliminating them, minimising the risks associated with them and implementing the necessary control measures so that everyone on site is kept safe.

Unfortunately sometimes hazards can go unnoticed and sometimes even when the risk associated with a hazard is obvious those in charge of the site still fail to address them. For some reason there are certain hazards that are ignored more than  others, perhaps because it seems like too much of an effort and expense to implement the necessary control measures. Here are a list of commonly missed hazards on construction sites although not all inclusive the list can be useful in identifying any problems you may have missed on the construction site. The number of construction accidents relating to these hazards is the basis for the list.

1. Electrical Hazards:

In light of multiple electrical accidents which having been taking place on Aussie worksites,  many of which have proven fatal, it is important that we address general electrical safety on the construction site. Although the subject of electrical safety is too vast to cover in a brief paragraph having the right mindset, being alert and attentive to hazards is vital to avoid injury due to this hazard.

Workers need to learn how to recognise electrical wires whether they be in the form of power lines, electrical wiring exposed on the site due to work processes being undertaken or cables buried underground, particularly when working on renovation construction sites.

2. Slips, Trips and Falls

Some of the injuries associated with slips, trips and falls include cuts, sprains, fractures, spinal injury, strains and possibly death. As numerous as the possible injuries are, so too are the hazards that contribute to these injuries. By paying attention to these hazards, it is possible to reduce the risk involved.

Factors that contribute to slips, trips and falls include wet or oily floors, uneven or slippery surfaces or slopes, working on ladders or scaffolding or in fact working from any height, stairs, areas with bad lighting, working near trenches or pits etc.

Each of these need to be considered individually and if they cannot be eliminated or replaced with less hazardous work, the necessary control measures should be implemented to deal with them.

3. Hazards associated with Heavy Construction Equipment –

A number of construction workers die every year due to heavy construction equipment. The main causes of such accidents include ground workers struck when a vehicle is reversing or changing direction; equipment rollovers that injure the operator; mechanics run over when brakes are not properly set and ground workers crushed by falling equipment from backhoes, buckets, and other moving construction vehicles. To prevent these risks, workers should follow all construction safety guidelines necessary to eliminate the exposure to such injuries and accidents.

Safety risks on construction sites are unavoidable; however, these can be prevented if workers are instructed on how to identify the hazards that might be present at the work-site. The employer must establish proper safety standards that meet Australian regulations. This will ensure that workers will have a safe working environment during normal operation.

Most importantly ensure that all staff are aware of the risks and control measures implemented to deal with hazards on construction sites. Training and ongoing education of workers is vital in avoiding incidents on construction sites.

 

 

WorkSafe Vic Warns of Dangers Associated with Precast Concrete Panels

WorkSafe Victoria has warned of the dangers associated with precast concrete panels, being increasingly used for various types of building projects around the state.

Anyone in the construction industry would have noticed that precast concrete panels are becoming more commonly used in construction but the risks associated with their use is often underestimated, a recipe for disaster.

WorkSafe Victoria are warning builders to be aware of the risks associated with the use of these panels and implement the necessary controls to ensure worker safety.

WorkSafe Victoria is currently on a 10-week campaign to visit construction sites across the state to alert builders of the dangers of these huge panel structures. The greatest risk associated with these panels is that they may fall and because of their size, the damage and injury they can cause is great. WorkSafe has warned that because concrete panels can be over 12 metres high and weigh more than 15 tonnes, they require significant temporary bracing to keep them stable and avoid possibly fatal accidents.

On its website WorkSafe warned:

WorkSafe construction manager Allan Beacom said that precast panels were used in many types of commercial and residential developments, such as shopping centres, warehouses, factories, and apartment complexes, but their size and weight made their use a high-risk operation.

“There have been several recent near misses from the collapse of precast panels,” Mr Beacom said. “Concrete panels can be over 12 metres high and weigh more than 15 tonnes, and they also require significant temporary bracing to keep them stable. So there is no margin for error when panels are used.”

Mr Beacom said the panels had to be erected and temporarily braced by licensed riggers and crane operators. Builders then had the responsibility to ensure the stability of the panels until they were locked into the building structure.

See more at: http://www.worksafenews.com.au/component/k2/item/345-beware-the-risks-when-using-concrete-precast-panels.html#sthash.R9y35Cx4.dpuf

One of the issues that seem to be contributing to the problem is that many builders in the industry do not have sufficient experience working with these precast panels and workers aren’t trained to work with or around them safely. Mr Beacom warns that employers need to be aware of the risks and have safe working methods in place to keep workers out of danger.

It is vital that employers develop and implement specific processes and procedures if precast concrete panels are to be used on site to ensure the safety of everyone on site because if it should fall, it is very likely that someone could be seriously injured or killed.

The post on WorkSafeNews.com.au went on to explain,

Mr Beacom said there were no second chances when a concrete panel fell. “Its size and weight means it’s either going to be a near miss or a fatality should something go wrong,” he said.

“This campaign is aimed at ensuring anyone involved in this type of construction gets home safely at the end of their day.”

See more at: http://www.worksafenews.com.au/component/k2/item/345-beware-the-risks-when-using-concrete-precast-panels.html#sthash.R9y35Cx4.dpuf

Unions against Proposed Changes to QLD OHS Safety Laws

Unions in Queensland are outraged by proposed changes which were made by the Attorney General recentlyto the occupational health and safety laws. The changes would mean that unions who wish to inspect safety breaches on work sites will have to wait a whole 24 hours before they are allowed to access construction sites, something the unions say will compromise safety.

The aim of the changes according to a representative is to give government safety regulators time to deal with safety issues and to access it first before the unions can step in and takeover, however union bosses are very concerned by the proposed changes.

The president of the Queensland Council of Unions, John Battams, believes that lives will be endangered if unions are forced to give notice before entering worksites because employers will have forewarning to be able to simply cover up their safety neglect.

According to an article on http://ohspolicy.com.au companies are welcoming the proposal while unions have warned against it. This excerpt from the article explains,

The purpose of these changes, according to Jarrod Bleijie, is to make sure that all safety issues are dealt with by the government’s safety regulator and to “stop unions hijacking work sites.”

The Property Council has welcomed the proposal union bosses are concerned.

John Battams, the president of the Queensland Council of Unions, said that lives will be put at risk if usions are forced to give notice before entering worksites as employers will have time to cover up dangerous practices.

He said that 24 hours gives employers plenty of time to “hide what would be otherwise obvious dangerous situations.”

Source: http://ohspolicy.com.au/proposed-changes-to-qld-ohs-safety-laws-will-risk-lives-according-to-union/

The unions fear that those “cowboys” in the building industry who are still putting productivity before safety are going to benefit from the proposed changes because they will be able to commit safety atrocities and workers will pay, with no hope of help from unions who will be barred from the workplace until it is too late to make a difference.

Michael Ravbar of the CFMEU said that safety would be likely to decrease while accidents would undoubtedly increase if the proposal was to be implemented.

It seems the Queensland construction sector safety has become a serious issue especially because this year has seen an increase in fatalities. Although the increase was minimal (only 2 more workers died this year as compared to last year), even one life is one too many. This year alone 9 people have died while working on building sites in the state.

The number of workers suffering hand injuries and other diseases seems to have fallen according to figures provided by Safe Work Australia.

The article goes on to explain:

Michael Ravbar, the CFMEU secretary said that though most builders valued safety over profits there are still those that are considered cowboys and rednecks who don’t.

He said that the proposed changes would cause safety to decrease, fatalities increase along with accidents.

However, according to Mr Bleijie it is the unions that are hurting workers by causing them to be locked out of workplaces.

Source: http://ohspolicy.com.au/proposed-changes-to-qld-ohs-safety-laws-will-risk-lives-according-to-union/

Road Construction Collision sets off Chain Reaction

Any construction work is risky but when you combine the risks involved with work on the road it is even more so. Not only are construction workers at risk but passing motorists can also be caught in the crossfire of any safety incidents that may occur. An accident which took place in Buffalo, in the USA is an example of this.

A man has been accused of vehicular assault and drug charges after his actions set off a chain reaction accident in a construction zone. The man hit into the back of the vehicle in front of him as they were stopped at the road construction site. That vehicle subsequently hit into the tractor in front of it.

The following explains what happened:

Robert Frost, 38, of Angola, was behind the wheel of sports utility vehicle stopped behind a tractor trailer driven by Samuel Fixico, 27, of Sanborn while merging into the construction zone at about 10 p.m. Thursday, troopers said.

Bryan P. Mackinnon’s vehicle hit the SUV from behind, pushing it into the back of the tractor-trailer, troopers said.

Frost, Mackinnon and his passenger, Patrick D. Slisz, 27, of Blasdell, were taken to Erie County Medical Center, where they were treated and released. Fixico wasn’t injured.

Troopers reported finding 31.9 grams of marijuana in Mackinnon’s car.

In addition to the felony vehicular assault charge, Mackinnon, 36, was charged with a misdemeanor count of criminal possession of marijuana, as well as driving while ability impaired by drugs, following too closely and unsafe speed in a work zone, troopers said. Slisz was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Source: http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/police-blotter/blasdell-motorist-charged-after-chain-reaction-accident-in-thruway-construction-zone-20130913

Although as a workman you have little control over the actions of public motorists there are some things that you can do to make your site and ultimately yourself safer.

Perhaps one of the most important issues, if not the most important is advanced warning for motorists. Motorists need to be made aware in advance that they will be approaching a construction site and they need to slow down accordingly. By not warning them in advance, workers are being endangered especially if motorists continue at high speeds and fail to brake in time to avoid an accident.

To control the risks associated with working on roads or road-related areas, consider road closures, footpath closures, detours and signage. Also periodically drive through the worksite to check that all signs, markings and delineation devices intended to warn road users are satisfactory and in their correct position.

Ensure that all workers are clear of the work area during lunch breaks and work breaks. Also ensure that mobile plant and heavy machinery are parked clear of the traffic lanes.

Remove or cover signs such as “Traffic Controller Ahead” if workers leave the site or work is on hold. Also instruct traffic controllers to remain on the job where there are traffic hazards, or where only one lane is open to traffic.

Reposition barriers, signs and tapers as necessary to adjust the length of single lane traffic operation, keeping it to a minimum. Keep records of any changes made, and the time these occurred. Also make sure you coordinate the maintenance of the travelled path with other job operations.

Reasons to Complete Your White Card: Improvements in the Construction Industry Expected

According to economists the housing sector’s recovery is anticipated and construction activity is expected to strengthen later this year. This is good news for members of the construction sector and those currently unemployed, but it is also good news for young people who wish to enter the industry.

Construction is one of the largest industries in Oz and also one of the most rewarding. It is also a dynamic environment so workers seldom experience the exact same thing every day, which makes this an exciting job. It also helps that when work on one site is finished workers are free to seek work across borders or anywhere in Oz, as long as they have been adequately trained on general construction safety – also known as the White Card.

Building approvals are up by 7.7 per cent in the 12 months to August. There has been enough of an increase in approvals to suggest construction activity will improve over the second half of this year, economists believe.

According to economists as quoted by a post on Smh.com.au the growth is expected to strengthen over the course of the year. The article also explained that,

“Overall, the story for the residential construction market remains relatively positive, but on a month to month basis, these data are quite volatile and do tend to bounce around quite a bit,” Mr Eades said.

“We saw a significant amount of strength last month and so what we’re seeing now is just an unwinding of the strength that we did see in the previous month.

“We’re still very much of the view that given the lower interest rate environment, dwelling approvals will continue to strengthen over the rest of this year and next year as well.”

Read more: http:// /business/the-economy/construction-activity-expected-to-strengthen-20131002-2urte.html#ixzz2gYMPOriE

Because of this increase in building activity, it is a good time to consider entering the construction industry but first workers and potential tradespeople need to ensure that they are qualified to do so, in Oz this involves completing the general safety training course also known as the White Card.

A large majority of the industry’s workforce are employed as sub-contractors who undertake work on many different sites managed by different contractors, and often within different sectors of the industry.WHS Regulation requires that all persons who carry out construction work must complete general construction induction training before they can carry out construction work on the site, whether a temporary, permanent or casual worker.

In Australia this safety training needs to take the form of the White Card, general construction safety induction card. This mandatory training must be completed before beginning work. Not only is it the law, it is also the right thing to do in order to ensure worker health and safety.

According to Workplace Health and Safety Legislation you must be in possession of your white card before beginning any work on a construction site in Oz, no matter your trade.

Once this mandatory general construction safety training is completed, workers are free to seek employment on any construction site, anywhere in Oz. Visit our home page for more information on the White Card or to register today.