Exercise helps prevent depression

A study led by the Black Dog Institute has revealed that regular exercise of any intensity can prevent future depression – and just one hour can help.

The results show even small amounts of exercise can protect against depression, with mental health benefits seen regardless of age or gender.

The study involved more than 30,000 adults who had their levels of exercise and symptoms of depression and anxiety monitored over 11 years.

The study found that 12 per cent of cases of depression could have been prevented if participants undertook just one hour of physical activity each week.

According to an Australian health survey, 20 per cent of Australian adults do not undertake any regular physical activity, and more than a third spend less than 1.5 hours per week being physically active.

At the same time, around 1 million Australians have depression, with one in five Australians aged 16-85 experiencing a mental illness in any year.

To improve your physical and mental wellbeing through exercise, see the institute’s Exercise your Mood campaign.

SafeWork Licence Register: making it easier to do business

Following an amendment to the WHS Regulation, the NSW Government published a register of individuals who hold asbestos, high risk work and demolition licences as well as holders of general construction induction training cards (otherwise known as white cards).

The register includes the licence holder’s name, licence number and type, the licence status, the licence expiry date (if any), licence conditions, prosecution summaries and information about penalty notices issued in connection with the licence.

The register enables better protection for workers and the community by providing licence information via a single online portal, and makes it easier for businesses and consumers to check the validity of the licences/cards and make informed decisions regarding the contractors they engage.

The changes are consistent with the NSW Government’s objective to provide a single and accountable point for the administration of business regulation schemes, which in turn provides greater business confidence while maintaining appropriate levels of consumer protection.

For more information about the changes, visit our website.

If it’s not safe, speak up!

A recent survey of more than 2000 workers found that one in five have made a complaint about a workplace safety issue that was never fixed.

One in 10 workers were too afraid to report safety issues because they might be fired and one in 20 have been demoted after making a safety complaint at work.

The survey also found that 37 per cent of workers have witnessed a colleague not reporting their injury at work for fear of losing their job.

Consultation is a good way to use the knowledge and experience of your staff to achieve a safer and healthier workplace.

Through talking about safety, you can become more aware of hazards in the workplace and workers can provide suggestions about how the work could be done safely.

This short video outlines the basics of consultation at work and is available in Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese.

The best way to improve employee’s mental health

In Australia, more than six million employees take sick leave every year due to mental illness. Moreover, untreated mental health conditions are resulting in $10.9 billion being lost every year due to absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.

A world-first study published in Lancet Psychiatry, led by researchers at the Black Dog Institute and University of NSW, suggests that basic mental health training for managers can result in significant benefits for employees.

The research looked at the effects of a four-hour mental health training program delivered to Fire & Rescue NSW managers.

It found that the training was associated with a return on investment of $9.98 for each dollar spent on training and major reductions in work-related sickness absence. It is also the first study to show that training managers about mental health can have a direct impact in improving occupational outcomes for workers.

‘Having a supportive manager can make a huge difference to a person’s mental wellbeing, and as this study shows, giving basic mental health training to managers can bring significant changes to both confidence and behaviour among staff,’ says Samuel Harvey, who leads the Workplace Mental Health Research Program at the Black Dog Institute.

A roadmap in action

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service employs roughly 100 staff, who spend hours above the skies to save more than 1000 lives per year from its bases in Newcastle and Tamworth.

While their brave jobs are frequently in the spotlight, it’s the tireless role of the 950 volunteers that work behind the scenes that is perhaps less known.

These volunteers are crucial to the future of the service so it’s absolutely vital that the organisation looks after not only the safety of their rescue staff, but also their great volunteers.

“We need to ensure that not only our staff, but also our volunteers go home in the same shape that they came to work in,” said Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, Community Liaison Officer and WHS Committee member, Mick Wilson.

When they started to develop a new plan this year to ensure the safety of their volunteers, Mr Wilson said his organisation turned to SafeWork NSW’s Work Health and Safety Roadmap for NSW 2022 (Roadmap) for inspiration.

Launched in August, the Roadmap is a six-year strategy aimed at protecting workers from harm, reducing unnecessary compliance costs and securing safety standards in NSW workplaces.

Mr Wilson said that the Roadmap had provided his organisation with a clear outline in terms of how to improve safety outcomes for their staff and volunteers.


“The fact that it highlights a need to reduce musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses was a big influencer for us. The work our staff and volunteers do involves a lot of manual handling and we all know simple things can become long term injuries if they’re not addressed in a safe manner. The support from Safework NSW to assist has also been amazing.” Mr Wilson said.

Since its launch in August, SafeWork NSW has already started a wide range of activities that are contributing to the goals of a 20 per cent decline in worker fatalities, a 30 per cent decline in serious injuries and illnesses and a 30 per cent reduction in serious musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses by 2022.

In a little over three months since the Roadmap launch, SafeWork NSW has already accomplished a significant amount as well as planning and development of new activities and initiatives to support the Roadmap.

To help ensure that businesses can embed a health and safety landscape into their workplaces, SafeWork NSW has developed the Talking to your workers about safety webinar, and has started work on a Supply Chain and Network Guide as well as a Consultation@Work Strategy.

SafeWork NSW is also focused on prioritising high risk sectors, harms and workplaces. Work has started on drafting sector profiles to provide data on risks, issues and demographics for high risk sectors identified in the Roadmap. The NSW quad bike safety improvement program and forklift safety initiatives will also continue well into 2017.

SafeWork NSW recognises the cost and impact of mental disorders and is currently reviewing and engaging with stakeholders on our Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy 2022. Our approach to targeting serious musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses is also under review with a new strategy planned for early in 2017.

Finally, SafeWork NSW is focused on building exemplar regulatory services. Further details can be found in Our Approach to WHS Regulation.

The recent release of the SafeWork NSW Strategic Business Plan 2016-17 aligns with the Roadmap and provides details on the four strategic focus areas of SafeWork NSW for 2016/17.

For more information on the Roadmap, or to get involved, click here.

New test to prevent industrial asthma

Research from the UK has indicated that spray painters can develop industrial asthma at a rate 80 times higher than the general public. In response to this alarming statistic, SafeWork NSW has been looking into spray painting in the motor vehicle repair industry. Over a two year period SafeWork inspectors investigated risks to health and safety as well as how to improve harm prevention. They also launched an Australian first – a new urine test to monitor exposure to harmful urethanes.

It’s believed that hardener, one of the components in two pack urethane paint, contains a known respiratory sensitising agent, isocyanate, or more correctly monomeric isocyanate. In recent years, paint manufacturers have reduced the quantity of free monomeric isocyanate in paint products, but with cases of industrial asthma persisting, additional testing and research is required to understand where exposure is occurring and how to combat it.

The project involved:

  • urine testing to determine spray painter exposure to various isocyanates present in the hardener of urethane paints. The urine test was developed by TestSafe, SafeWork’s Thornleigh Laboratory.
  • testing spray painters’ overall solvent exposure by looking at urine for either solvents or solvent metabolites
  • determining compliance levels of spray painting booths in accordance with the Australian Standards and relevant codes of practice
  • re-familiarising SafeWork inspectors with the hazards associated with the motor vehicle repair industry and in particular, looking into the hazards around spray painting.

TestSafe’s urine test for isocyanate exposure is the first such test in Australia. It is a major advance in safety for people who work with isocyanates. Previously, a sick patient was all a doctor had to determine exposure, so by the time respiratory changes were picked up it was usually too late to reverse the patient’s asthma. However, as the test is so new it is not yet widely known in the motor vehicle repair industry or amongst general practitioners. SafeWork plans to increase knowledge around the availability of the urine test and its harm prevention applications in monitoring exposure levels and avoiding respiratory diseases.

Exposure levels

During the project, the isocyanate urine test was offered to spray painters at no cost to the business. Two hundred spray painters from 78 businesses submitted urine samples. Of these, five showed exposure to isocyanates and two yielded high exposure levels, one of which measured up to the current exposure limit and the other more than twice the limit. Exposures to toluene (a solvent often found in paint thinners) showed three workers over the exposure limit. Testing for other solvents or their metabolites was all below the exposure threshold. The good news is that there were less people with high exposure levels than in previous studies. This might be explained by the increasing use of water based paints in the industry.

Other hazards

In conjunction with creating general knowledge around the urine test, SafeWork inspectors were tasked with ensuring spray painting booths met the requirements of the Australian Standards and were maintained in accordance with best practice.

The relevant standards are: AS/NZS 4114.1:2003 Spray painting booths, designated spray painting areas and paint mixing rooms – design, construction and testing and AS/NZS 4114.2:2003 Spray painting booths, designated spray painting areas and paint mixing rooms – installation and maintenance, as well as the Code of Practice: Spray painting and powder coating – 2015.

Given the motor vehicle repair industry is the biggest urethane paint user; this industry was the main target for the project, which also looked at other hazards associated with spray painting. These included dangerous goods storage; correctly using and storing personal protective equipment (PPE); consistent health monitoring for spray painters; electrical safety; plant safety; noise; and hazardous manual tasks. SafeWork involved specialist business areas such as the Dangerous Goods, Ergonomics, Plant and Electrical Safety Teams to provide expert advice and training to the various regional offices that were part of the project.

Additional findings

SafeWork visited 340 motor vehicle repair businesses across NSW during this project and found compliance was low at 38 per cent. Inspectors issued a total of 760 improvement notices for spray booths but only four prohibition notices for plant and electrical. The main reasons for improvement notices were spray booth maintenance, electrical, plant, PPE, dangerous goods storage and chemical registers. By the end of the project all 340 businesses had achieved 100 per cent compliance. When it came to booths and PPE, the majority of spray painters did not wear +ve pressure air supplied respirators and if they did, failed to have a separate airline supplying the respirator mask as required by the Australian Standard. A number of spray booths inspected (+ve) were found to leak paint spray into the immediate environment around the spray booth. Finally, a survey of 10 paint mixing areas showed solvent vapours never came within the lower explosive limit.


  • Spray painters should take regular urine tests to monitor chemical exposure levels.
  • Use isocyanate-free coat lacquers where possible as this will significantly improve the health of spray painters and eliminate any inadvertent exposures to others in the industry.
  • Spray booth operators should use water based paints even if the final clear coat still contains isocyanates.
  • Air supplied respirators of the positive pressure kind should be considered against alternatives on the market such as powered air purifying respirators.
  • Paint mixing rooms/areas should have good ventilation and all electrical appliances and switches should be raised appropriately above the mixing table in case of a thinners spillage.
  • Electrical switches for equipment leads in paint mixing rooms should be elevated well above the mixing table to avoid the solvent vapours which are heavier than air and sit lower.
  • Electrical equipment such as scales and colour matching machines should be raised above the bench on non-flammable plinths to avoid the possibility of a major solvent spill on the mixing bench.
  • The need for interlocks on the booth doors could be reconsidered but the airflow/heater interlock must remain.
  • If there is cracked glass over the booth illumination lights and it is not severely broken, it can be taped up with clear tape and replaced when the booth filters are replaced.

If you would like more information on SafeWork NSW’s spray painting project or safety in the motor vehicle repair industry, call 13 10 50 or visit safework.nsw.gov.au.

A Safety Roadmap for NSW workplaces

Every worker should go home healthy and safe each day from work.

And in NSW we are working to ensure that workplace fatalities and serious injuries and illnesses are significantly reduced.

Since the 2015 split from WorkCover NSW, SafeWork NSW has worked with stakeholders to formulate a clear focus on improving work health and safety across the state.

One of the first actions was to get talking to stakeholders and find better ways to work together to enhance harm reduction activities.

We consulted with peak industry bodies, community leaders, employers and workers to produce the Work Health and Safety Roadmap for NSW 2022.

The Roadmap is a six year strategy to reduce fatalities, serious injuries and illnesses in NSW.

It aims to entrench a safety landscape in all NSW workplaces to ensure healthy, safe and productive working lives which includes leadership commitment, strong consultation, safe systems, safe design and supply chains, and capable workers looking out for each other.

The biggest risks to health and safety will be addressed head-on with clear targets in place to reduce work-related injury and illness.

The Roadmap could not have happened without the input of the many voices from across the state that participated in shaping the future of work health and safety in NSW.

They believe, as do we, that most injuries and illnesses can be avoided and that every fatality in the workplace is unacceptable.

We’ve come a long way to make a definitive statement like this.

In the 18th century, industrial machinery brought a serious threat to workers lives.

In NSW in 1896, the Department of Labour and Industry was established to administer industrial relations legislation and placed restrictions on the use of children and women for cheap labour in factories.

Factories were required to undergo annual registration and laws prescribed hours of work and minimum standards for wages and working conditions from 1927 onwards.

But there were still too many workers being killed and injured.

It wasn’t until the Roben’s Report in 1972 in the UK that things started to change globally for the better.

In 1983 new occupational health and safety laws in NSW extended across all industries and the focus shifted from prescriptive legislation to identification and management of risks.

The WorkCover Authority was born in 1989.

It was the first government agency to incorporate injury prevention, rehabilitation and compensation into a single body and by 1998 WorkCover had 24 offices across the state.

By 2008 NSW had the lowest workplace injury rates since the scheme began in 1987 and further improvements occurred with the enactment of 2011 harmonised work health and safety laws.

In the last ten years we’ve overseen a 49 per cent decline in work related fatalities.

However, workers are still being fatally injured in workplace incidents and suffering life-long injuries and illnesses.

The Roadmap is a collective response to change this situation.

It contains ambitious targets to reduce fatalities, serious injuries and illnesses and serious musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses.

Can it be done?

Yes. With the commitment from peak bodies, associations, community leaders, employers and workers in NSW, we can achieve these targets and realise the vision of healthy, safe and productive working lives.

Find out more by taking a look at the Roadmap website.

Then help us champion a safer, healthier, more productive NSW – let’s talk safety!

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