Image of tape to cordon off asbestos site

Assistance for loose-fill asbestos houses

In December 2014 the NSW Government announced its response to the discovery of loose-fill asbestos in NSW homes. To demonstrate government’s commitment to helping affected NSW residents, an assistance package was announced that includes free property testing for owners residing in 26 identified local government areas.

Free ceiling insulation tests are being provided for homeowners in the identified local government areas (LGA) to identify all loose-fill asbestos in residential premises. These areas have been identified through the analysis of archival government records.

Owners of homes built before 1980 in these local government areas can contact Service NSW where you can register online to have your property tested and assessed for the material. Free testing is available until August 2015.

For homes tested positive, free independent technical assessments advising on and confirm risk controls are being offered, as is a make safe assistance package.

Concerned residential property owners are encouraged to call 13 77 88 or visit nsw.gov.au/loosefillasbestos to register for the free testing program and to find out more about the assistance available.

In addition to the assistance package, government also announced the formation of a dedicated loose-fill asbestos taskforce. The taskforce is led by former Deputy Commissioner of the NSW Police Force, Dave Owens, and includes representatives from a number of NSW Government agencies including NSW Ministry of Health, Office of Local Government, Environmental Protection Authority and WorkCover NSW.

The taskforce will be responsible for developing a comprehensive action plan for a government purchase/demolition scheme for homes with loose-fill asbestos insulation, including identifying risk mitigation strategies, costings and implementation and operational aspects, in consultation with affected residents.

To find out more, call Service NSW on 13 77 88 or visit nsw.gov.au/loosefillasbestos

Image of young worker and supervisor on construction site

Young construction workers at risk

Ensuring all new workers are familiar with health and safety arrangements on your construction site is critical, but young workers in particular require special treatment.

Workers aged 15 to 25 have a 75 per cent greater chance of being hurt, and in NSW 15 people in this age group are injured every day, with building sites one of the highest-risk workplaces. Typical injuries include cuts, lacerations, bruises, contusions, punctures and fractures.

Young construction workers are also more likely to experience manual handling injuries, such as sprains, strains and tears, from incorrect lifting or moving heavy or awkward objects. Falls from height are another major risk and building sites usually have numerous pitfalls such as ladders, floor openings, roofs, scaffolds and stairs.

One reason why young workers are more vulnerable is they are less likely to recognise and be able to cope with potential hazards. This requires knowledge, skills and experience only gained by time on the job. On a building site, this inexperience and lack of awareness can increase the chances of being injured or causing an injury.

So while it might be costly and time-consuming to provide extra training to bring younger workers fully up to speed on potential hazards and safe working practices, it is a smart investment as well as a legal requirement.

A training checklist for young workers could look like this:

  1. Give clear instructions about a job or task and safety precautions to take.
  2. Ask them to repeat your instructions back to you to make sure they understand.
  3. Encourage them to ask you questions about the task or anything else.
  4. Show how to perform a task and get them to demonstrate and repeat it until they have it correct.
  5. Provide written instructions on their job and tasks, and stress the importance of learning these and referring to them as often as required.
  6. Explain and demonstrate equipment and machinery safety features and make sure they understand how these work. Also show them the personal protective equipment required to do tasks safely, where to find it, and how to use it properly.
  7. Ask if they have any questions and make sure you or a supervisor monitors the worker’s progress and performance, especially in their first few weeks, and repeat training where necessary.

Before entering a construction site, all young workers must complete external General Construction Induction Training (GCIT) and hold a current WorkCover-issued GCIT card.

More guidance is available at the WorkCover website or call 13 10 50.

Image of slippery floor caution sign

Ten tips to cut slips and trips

A slip or trip in a hazardous workplace doesn’t bear thinking about.

Poor housekeeping is a major cause of incidents in all types of workplaces and if a worker is lucky, they might escape unscathed with nothing more than injured pride.

But as can often be the case, a worker can sustain serious or even horrific injuries.

In, for example, a hospitality environment such as a busy kitchen prone to splashes and spills, the typical injuries are cuts or burns and head injuries.

One particularly nasty incident involved a chef slipping on a pool of water and in an attempt to prevent his fall, he plunged one arm into a pan of boiling oil. He suffered extreme burns requiring surgery and was off work for almost six months.

The implications were not only plummeting productivity and morale but finding a similarly qualified and skilled stand-in chef to keep trading and prevent a slide of the restaurant’s reputation.

So clearly it is in your best interests to do everything you can to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls – but where do you start?

  1. A good kick-off point is to seek input from your workers about potential hazards as they are often more aware of issues due to the nature of their work.
  2. Spend a day walking around your workplace with your health and safety representative monitoring worker activity and tasks, identifying potential slip and trip hazards, and making a checklist.
  3. Recognise housekeeping issues, such as stacked boxes or supplies, cables, general mess or fluid spills or leaks, take appropriate action then monitor areas to avoid any repeat activity.
  4. Provide bins for workers or customers to dispose of rubbish, ensure containers have secure lids, and install drip trays beneath machines or water coolers.
  5. If your workplace is prone to spills, splashes, leaks or moisture build-up, consider installing slip-resistant flooring designed to function even when coming into contact with liquids.
  6. Acid-etching of hard surface floors, including tiles, may help improve slip-resistance properties in wet conditions but can wear off quickly depending on foot traffic volume.
  7. Profiled metal floor surfaces can be effective depending on what type of footwear your workers wear but can be more slippery than expected – mild steel is better as it gets more abrasive and slip resistant with age.
  8. If a path, walkway or stairway has uneven sections or holes, possible fixes include relaying the surface, filling in holes or installing handrails – but if these are impractical, then highlight hazards with eye-catching colours, erect warning signs or improve lighting to make the risk more obvious.
  9. Workers or customers entering your business might carry water or mud inside on their footwear, making the surface slippery – a possible solution is laying slip-resistant rubber or absorbent matting.
  10. Introduce an effective hazard monitoring and cleaning system to react quickly and efficiently to any spills, leaks, splashes or accumulation of material that might pose a risk.

Visit workcover.nsw.gov.au for more advice or call us on 13 10 50.

An App-ropriate safety move for Luke

When he’s not belting out rockabilly tunes with The Philistines, Luke Sullivan is likely to be coordinating the myriad of safety aspects of a concert for up to 100,000 people.

After 20 years in the construction industry as a dogman, rigger, concreter and the like, Luke decided to  give his brain cells a workout by completing an economics degree and embarking on a career in workplace safety and risk management. He became involved in civil engineering, logistics, maritime and manufacturing projects, and in 2011 was appointed Principal Advisor for HSE at Staging Connections, one of Australia’s largest event management companies.

“Our events can be anything from a flip chart and projector for 10 people to a Taylor Swift tour with hundreds of thousands of attendees,” Luke explains.

When he joined the company, fatalities and serious incidents at events around the world had placed the event management industry in a state of crisis and Luke was determined to change the company’s safety culture from complacency to commitment.

“I’m an outspoken critic of my own profession and urge my colleagues to adopt a steadfast high-risk focus,” Luke says.

“At any given time we have several tonnes of rigged AV equipment slung directly above people’s heads, which is a huge public risk.”

“Competency and skill-set management are critical in controlling this risk,” Luke says.

To meet the challenge, Luke garnered the support of senior management and set about developing the first risk management system designed specifically for events. He called it Stagesafe and made it available to staff via the company’s intranet and to the wider industry via a mobile app, ‘The Stagesafe App’. The system allows event crews to apply consistent safety controls at all shows, backed by thorough risk assessment and safe work procedures periodically reviewed by subject matter experts.

Given the geographical spread of the business and its young mobile workforce, Luke was aware that communication and consultation were vital in implementing the Stagesafe culture. He launched a quarterly newsletter with a ‘LukedIN’ column raising risk management issues and building safety awareness in the teams, published safety alerts to highlight ‘near misses’, and introduced the ‘Stagesafe Champion’ to acknowledge those who most contribute to the company’s new safety culture.

Within two years of implementing Stagesafe, lost time injuries halved at Staging Connections and Luke won the 2014 SafeWork Awards for best individual contribution to work health and safety by a WHS professional.

Have you made a difference to safety like Luke? We would love to hear from you. Entries in the 2015 SafeWork Awards are now open. Entry is quick, online and free. Apply now at safeworkawards.com.au.

Image of Debbie Dunn with employer and rehab provider

Get injured workers back on track

Trying to find a new job while recovering from a workplace injury can be tough.

Former cleaner Debbie, for example, was doing her best to maintain a can-do attitude despite experiencing no success with numerous job applications and speculative calls to businesses.

The 44-year-old was still undergoing physiotherapy for workplace injuries sustained more than six months previously and feeling increasingly concerned about her situation.

Fortunately she qualified for assistance under WorkCover’s JobCover Placement Program (JCPP), which has helped over 1800 workers secure suitable long-term employment with a new employer.

The program offers generous financial incentives, exemptions and safeguards to eligible employers willing to hire workers unable to return to work with their pre-injury employer.

Eligible new employers can receive an incentive payment of up to $27,400 for a year’s employment and exemption of the worker’s wages from their workers compensation premium calculation for up to two years.

There is also protection against further costs arising from the worker’s existing injury for up to two years. Furthermore, a workplace rehabilitation provider will match the worker’s capacity with their new role and address any potential risks.

An employer may be eligible for the JCPP if they meet the program requirements in the guidelines and offer the worker secure and ongoing employment for at least 64 hours per month.

Workers can participate in an initial work trial of up to 12 weeks to upgrade their existing skills before beginning employment using the 12-month JCPP.

One such success story is Debbie, now a contented full-time employee with the manufacturing company where she completed a year-long JCPP.

Previously she had been working as a flour mill cleaner when sustaining serious knee-joint and back injuries after a fall in March 2012. Debbie required knee surgery and intensive rehabilitation, and her surgeon estimated it would take at least six months before she was fit enough for pre-injury duties.

Experiencing problems negotiating stairs despite her knee injury improving, Debbie was given medical approval to apply for admin roles and received job seeking training and support.

It gradually became apparent, however, that her lack of skills was not conducive in an increasingly competitive employment marketplace.

Debbie’s workplace rehabilitation provider, Skilled Health, canvassed local businesses and found a manufacturing company interested in several vocational programs offered by WorkCover NSW.

In April 2013, with medical and insurer approval, a delighted Debbie commenced her work trial. Not only was she warmly welcomed by new workmates but discovered her determination during treatment had accelerated recovery and she could easily fulfill the required tasks.

Another big boost was receiving pre-injury duties clearance from her doctor during the first month of the work trial, which was monitored by Skilled Health, who then negotiated Debbie’s JCPP. Skilled Health also helped to coordinate the JCPP agreement forms before Debbie began employment.

The employer was clearly happy with Debbie’s performance as ultimately, with input from Skilled Health, she continued onto ongoing, full-time employment.

Learn more about the JobCover Placement Program at the WorkCover website or call us on 13 10 50.