Electric shock incurs $1 million fine

An employer has been fined a record $1 million after a subcontractor suffered an electric shock and burns to 30 per cent of his body, while installing windows in a set of apartments.

The worker was standing on scaffolding at the front of the apartments, installing angles on the windows, when the angle he was holding came in close proximity to the 33Kv power line adjacent to the window ledge.

The district court judge said the employer showed a ‘blatant disregard of its safety obligations’, given that it had already been issued with two improvement notices and three prohibition notices for similar contraventions.

Judge Scotting said the employer was aware of the risk posed by the work but did not warn the worker.

Read the district court judgment for more information.

6 ways to stay safe

Unsafe storage or improper handling of hazardous chemicals is like playing with fire.

Depending on the quantity and type – paint, glue, cleaning agents, fuel, pesticides or solvents – the consequences could be catastrophic.

Not only could your workers be exposed to harmful fumes or toxins that may cause chronic illnesses such as cancer or asthma, but leaks or spills can cause costly environmental damage such as water contamination.

Unchecked, a gradual-release or prolonged exposure could come years down the track, via financially crippling legal action by affected workers or environmental watchdogs.

Some potential hazards might not be obvious, such as a spray painter working in a booth listening to a portable radio – a possible ignition source for flammable fumes.

“Often the risk has never occurred to them because it’s how they’ve always done it or been told how to do it. And unfortunately it’s often only when an accident does occur that the penny drops” explained SafeWork Assistant State Inspector, Nathan McDonald.

Aside from the risk of an explosion or violent chemical reaction, simply inhaling vapours could render your workers drowsy and more likely to make errors or suffer an injury.

Here are some pointers.

  • Make sure chemicals delivered to your workplace are clearly labelled.
  • Make sure workers understand safety data sheet and labels.
  • Make a list of all your hazardous chemicals – and always keep it up to date.
  • Isolate hazardous chemicals from the rest of the workplace, restrict access to dangerous areas, and use exhaust ventilation for fumes.
  • Develop an emergency plan and provide appropriate personal protective equipment.

Finally, check out simple safety to find out how easy it is to use, store and handle hazardous chemicals safely.

Depressed? Tell someone.

Almost 50 per cent of Australian workers who take time off work due to depression keep the reason hidden from their employer.

This was a key finding of a national study, Impact of Depression at Work: Australia Audit, released recently by SANE Australia.

The research found that almost 1 in 2 (48 per cent) did not tell employers about their depression as they felt that being truthful about why they were off work could put their jobs at risk.

Depression has a variety of symptoms and will affect everyone in different ways. Symptoms include: feeling extremely sad or tearful; disturbances to normal sleep patterns; loss of interest and motivation; feeling worthless or guilty; loss of pleasure in activities; anxiety; changes in appetite or weight; loss of sexual interest; physical aches and pains; impaired thinking or concentration.

Treatment can do much to reduce and even eliminate the symptoms of depression. Treatment may include a combination of medication, individual therapy and community support.

Workplace mental wellness expert and RUOK board member, Graeme Cowan, says mental health issues don’t discriminate.

‘Employee mental wellbeing must be at the top of every CEO’s agenda,’ icare CEO Vivek Bhatia says.

Get everything you need to develop a simple, effective and sustainable workplace health program.

Working with trees

Imagine, if you will, having $19 million.

A luxury car, harbour side mansion, or a round-the-world trip might spring to mind.

Unfortunately, $19 million is the total cost of claims in NSW for injuries – lacerations, amputations, brain injuries and the like – that occurred in the tree work industry between 2013 and 2016.

In the past four years, there have been more than 600 workplace injury and occupational disease claims for the tree work industry. The injuries are often serious, sometimes catastrophic and average $30,000 per claim. Major causes of incidents include the lack of planning related to working at heights and around power lines; the unsafe use of high risk machinery such as wood chippers; and the failure to assess the condition of trees and poor ground stability.

If you are in the tree work industry, watch our video safety alert for tips on working safety with trees, use our tree work guide to help you operate safety and avoid injury and conduct a self-assessment of your workplace.

When working with trees, planning is the key.

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New guidelines for workplace return to work programs

The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) has updated the ‘Guidelines for workplace return to work programs’.

Following extensive stakeholder consultation, the updated guidelines came into effect on 31 May 2017 and replace the version released in 2010.

Employers should update their return to work (RTW) program to ensure it complies with these guidelines at the next scheduled review. All RTW programs must comply with these guidelines within two years from the date of effect, but in the interim must meet the requirements of the 2010 guidelines.

The update means reduced regulatory burden, improved customer experience and importantly, improved recovery at work outcomes for workers with a work related injury or illness.

The guidelines will support, inform and guide employers and other stakeholders in the development of an effective workplace RTW program. Learn more about the changes and how they affect you on the SIRA website.