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WHS News Alert

October 3, 2014



Welcome to the HSU NSW/ACT Work Health & Safety News page.

See below for all the latest news, views and alerts relating to your health and safety at work. They’re worth fighting for.

Heat Safety

SafeWork NSW issued a reminder for workers to work safely this summer.

Executive Director of SafeWork NSW, Peter Dunphy said heat stress could result to serious health conditions or even death if hot working conditions are not managed accordingly.

“Fatigue and heat stress are major causes of injury during the summer months,” said Mr Dunphy.

“They can reduce a worker’s performance and productivity, plus increase the chance of injury by reducing the ability to concentrate, recognise risks and communicate effectively.

“During the hottest months outdoor workers and those working in hot environments such as roof spaces or other confined areas are the most at risk.

“That’s why everyone should keep an eye out for each other and work together to minimise the effect of heat.”

In the three years up to July of 2014, there were 228 worker compensation claims for injuries and illnesses resulting from working in hot environments.

“Many workers have been seriously injured or died while working in hot conditions in the past,” said Mr Dunphy.

“Workers should be informed how to work safely in the sun and hot conditions.

‘Management should set realistic workloads and work schedules, ensure fair distribution of work, provide shaded rest areas and regular breaks.

“If possible, try to re-schedule work to cooler times of the day such as early mornings or late afternoons.”

SafeWork NSW also encourages employers to provide workers access to drinking water, ensure workers are provided sun protection in all outdoor conditions, providing clothing with UPF 50+ rating, broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses which meet Australian Standards for UV protection.

“By taking these steps, we can ensure everyone comes home safely this summer,” said Mr Dunphy.

More sun safety resources can be accessed from the Cancer Council website.

Workplaces not prepared for extreme heat

According to a study done in August of this year, many Australian workplaces are not managing heat-related hazards. Researchers surveyed 180 occupational health and safety professionals, such as occupational hygienists, for their views on these hazards, in particular given temperature increases projected due to climate change; how prepared workplaces are for extreme heat; and barriers to implementing heat stress prevention measures.

Most professionals were concerned about the hazards of extreme heat, but about one in five were did not believe workplaces were taking adequate measures. While some industries, such as mining and construction, had implemented hot weather plans and measures, many had not. This included sectors where workers would be particularly at risk – such as the agricultural sector.

Of concern is that the most common heat prevention measure was the provision of cool drinking water – not a control at all. Employers should be looking to develop and implement thorough heat policies, and do this in consultation with elected health and safety representatives. See this page for advice and draft policies: Heat.

Read more:  Xiang, J & Ors: Perceptions of Workplace Heat Exposure and Controls among Occupational Hygienists and Relevant Specialists in Australia, PLOS One, 19 August 2015.

Prolonged sitting: bad for liver as well!

A group of Korean researchers undertook a study to examine the association of sitting time and physical activity level with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in Korean men and women. They found that prolonged sitting time and a lack of physical activity are independently associated with fatty liver disease. The study involved 140,000 middle-aged men and women who underwent a health examination between March 2011 and December 2013, including nearly 40,000 with NAFLD.

There are a growing number of studies which have suggested an association between sedentary behaviour and chronic diseases (including obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even death).

Read more: Ryu, S & Ors: Relationship of sitting time and physical activity with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, [abstract] and related Editorial; Journal of Hepatology, 14 September 2015

Methyl Chloride – a killer

Methylene chloride is a common solvent in paint strippers, widely available products with labels that warn of cancer risks but do not make clear the possibility of rapid death. In areas where the fumes can concentrate, workers and consumers risk asphyxiation or a heart attack while taking care of seemingly routine tasks. That hazard has led to the European Union removing methylene chloride paint strippers from general use in 2011. This is not the case in either the United States or Australia. A Center for Public Integrity analysis identified at least 56 accidental exposure deaths linked to the chemical in the US since 1980.

Read more: Common solvent keeps killing workers, consumers The Center for Public Integrity

Working longer hours increases stroke risk

Long working hours greatly increases your risk of suffering a stroke, a major study has found, with the risk increasing the more hours you work. The research, carried out in three continents and led by scientists at University College London, found that those who work more than 55 hours a week have a 33 per cent increased risk of stroke compared with those who work a 35- to 40-hour week.

They also have a 13 per cent increased risk of coronary heart disease. The researchers, publishing their findings in The Lancet, note: “Sudden death from overwork is often caused by stroke and is believed to result from a repetitive triggering of the stress response

Mika Kivimäki and others. Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: A systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603,838 individuals, The Lancet, published online 20 August 2015 – Science DailyThe Guardian

Environmental and occupational exposures as a cause of male infertility

A study published in the Ceylon Medical Journal determined the association between environmental and occupational exposures, semen parameters and lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) levels in seminal plasma of men investigated for infertility.

Data was collected from 300 men investigated for infertility using an interviewer-administered questionnaire. Seminal fluid analysis and classification was done according to WHO guidelines. Positive exposure was defined as environmental or occupational exposure to agro or industrial chemicals, heavy metals and living in areas within 50m of potential sources of pollution for three months or more. Seminal plasma lead and cadmium levels were estimated by graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrophotometry after digestion with nitric acid. The means of sperm parameters, Pb and Cd concentrations between exposed and non-exposed groups were compared.

All sperm parameters were lower in the exposed group when compared to the non-exposed. Lead and cadmium were detected in 38.3 per cent and 23 per cent of men respectively. The authors concluded that environmental and occupational exposures were associated with reduced sperm count motility, viability, normal forms and detectable levels of lead and cadmium in seminal plasma.

Read more: Wijesekara GU, et al Environmental and occupational exposures as a cause of male infertility: A caveat [Abstract] Ceylon Medical Journal. June 2015, Vol 60 Issue 2 pp.52-6. doi: 10.4038/cmj.v60i2.7090.

Low-level exposure to glyphosate may damage liver and kidneys

According to a new study, long-term exposure to tiny amounts of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH), such as Roundup, thousands of times lower than what is permitted in U.S. drinking water, may lead to serious problems in the liver and kidneys.

The study looked at the function of genes in these organs and bolsters a controversial 2012 study that found rats exposed to small amounts of the herbicide Roundup in their drinking water had liver and kidney damage.

The British and French study is the first to examine the impacts of chronic, low exposure of Roundup on genes in livers and kidneys and suggests another potential health impact for people and animals from the widely used weed killer. “Given even very low levels of exposure, Roundup can potentially result in organ damage when it comes to liver and kidney function,” said senior author Michael Antoniou, head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King’s College London.

The findings, while in rats, are concerning for people. These tests are the kind used to test what chemicals may do to humans, Antoniou said, which is concerning given glyphosate’s widespread use.

Read more: More evidence of Roundup’s link to kidney, liver damage Environmental Health News; Michael N. Antoniou, et al. Transcriptome profile analysis reflects rat liver and kidney damage following chronic ultra-low dose Roundup exposure. Full text Environmental Health 2015, 14:70 doi:10.1186/s12940-015-0056-1

Fenthion use to cease in October this year

The Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) has announced that products containing fenthion must not be used after October 2015. This marks the end of a 12-month phase out period that commenced following the finalisation of the review into fenthion and subsequent cancellation of the active constituent.

Existing stocks can be used until current permits and conditions expire in October 2015. The APVMA says that any product that remains unused should be disposed of responsibly.

Fenthion is a broad-spectrum organophosphorus insecticide. Fenthion is used to control insect pests in agricultural, commercial and domestic situations and external parasites on cattle. It is also used to control pest birds in and around buildings. Fenthion was nominated for review in 1994 because of concerns about public health, occupational health and safety, the environment and food residues.

Source: APMA Regulatory Update

Asbestos linked to other types of cancers

French researchers have confirmed that asbestos causes a range of digestive cancers. This means there are implications for employers who have exposed workers to asbestos in the past – they could face new damages claims.

It has been assumed that the consequences of asbestos exposure were generally limited to diseases of the respiratory tract, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and primary bronchopulmonary cancer.

However, this study, which examined incidence of digestive cancers (between 1978 and 2009) among over 2000 men and women who worked at an asbestos reprocessing plant near Caen in France for at least a year before 1978, provides new data suggesting an association between asbestos exposure and colorectal cancer in men.

The researchers said. “[The results] also suggest a relationship between asbestos exposure and cancer of the oesophagus in men… [and] a possible association with small intestine and liver cancers in men.”

Read more: Mathilde Boulanger, et al, France. Digestive cancers and occupational asbestos exposure: incidence study in a cohort of asbestos plant workers. [abstract]  Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 24 August 2015.