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ETU Media Releases

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Unions slam Sunshine Sugar for moving meeting to asbestos mill

Paul Lister - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Unions have slammed Sunshine Sugar for moving a meeting about a new enterprise bargaining agreement from their Ballina head office to the asbestos-laden Broadwater Mill, which is the focus of concerns around worker and public safety.

Sunshine Sugar management has refused a written request by union representatives to change the location of the meeting due to be held at the Broadwater Mill tomorrow, despite the company’s own asbestos expert identifying the site as being high risk and ordering the workshop and stores area be urgently decontaminated.

Officials from the Electrical Trades Union and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union said they have been left with no choice but to boycott the meeting over concerns that union representatives and workers could be exposed to asbestos if it takes place at the mill.

The unions accused Sunshine Sugar management of unreasonably refusing to relocate the meeting to an alternate venue, saying they believed management were trying to make a point given recent concerns about asbestos contamination at the mill.

The scheduled meeting relates to negotiations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement that governs the wages, conditions, and workplace rights of employees at Sunshine Sugar’s three mills in northern NSW.

“These meetings are normally held at Sunshine Sugar’s head office in Ballina, but for some reason management are insisting that tomorrow’s meeting be held at the Broadwater Mill,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.

“We are extremely concerned that by attending this meeting, union representatives and workers may be exposed to asbestos fibres given the company’s own asbestos testing confirmed the location of asbestos in various parts of the mill and recommended the isolation and decontamination of the workshop and stores area.

“We have made a reasonable request — in writing — to move this meeting to a safe alternate location, but management are digging their heals in and refusing to budge.”

CFMEU secretary Brian Parker said the unions were keen to get on with the planned negotiations, but not if it meant putting people’s health at risk within the asbestos-laden mill.

“We believe this facility still poses a significant risk, and we’re simply not willing to allow the health and safety of our officials and the negotiating committee to be compromised,” he said.

“All we are asking for is that management agree to hold tomorrow’s meeting in their Ballina office, which is where all prior EBA meetings have been held, rather than playing this silly game.”

Unions are currently exploring legal options in relation to the approach taken by Sunshine Sugar management towards the EBA negotiations and their refusal of a reasonable written request to move the meeting.

Sunshine Sugar ordered to provide asbestos training to workers; remove asbestos products and contaminated soil

Paul Lister - Monday, August 28, 2017

The NSW Government’s workplace safety regulator has ordered Sunshine Sugar, which operates three sugar mills in northern NSW, to isolate asbestos contaminated areas of the company’s Broadwater mill and remove damaged asbestos products along with asbestos contaminated soil.

The inspection by SafeWork NSW followed specialist asbestos testing at the mill that revealed 80 per cent of the samples taken — including swabs of damaged walls, dust, and soil — contained asbestos fibres.

The company has been ordered to implement the recommendations of the specialist asbestos consultant that examined the workplace (see link below for full report), including: the immediate isolation of the workshop and store areas; the application of a PVA solution to damaged asbestos sheeting; the engagement of a specialist asbestos removal contractor to decontaminate the workshop and stores area; the removal of asbestos wall sheeting and guttering from the north and east sides of the mill; and the removal of contaminated soil on the north side of the mill.

Sunshine Sugar is also required to carry out urgent asbestos awareness training for all workers, including information on how to identify asbestos risks, the safe handling procedures for asbestos containing materials, and the control measures put in place by the company to address the risk.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Dave McKinley said the findings of the safety regulator and asbestos specialist vindicated union safety concerns and revealed that the company had been misleading with its public statements.

“Sunshine Sugar management attacked the union and claimed there was no substance to our safety concerns, yet we’ve now got documentary proof that 80 per cent of the samples taken by their own asbestos specialist tested positive for a range of potentially-deadly asbestos fibres,” Mr McKinley said.

“Not only were these asbestos fibres found on walls and among dust within the workplace, but soil directly across the road from residential properties was also found to be contaminated with asbestos.

“The specialist hired by the company confirmed that the asbestos risks in the workshop and store areas were at the highest end, setting out a series of urgent safety measures that need to be undertaken by Sunshine Sugar.”

Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union secretary Brian Parker said it was significant that the NSW Government safety regulator had demanded immediate safety training for workers.

“It is clear that workers at Sunshine Sugar had not been made appropriately aware of the asbestos risks or how they were to be safely managed, putting their health and safety at risk,” Mr Parker said.

“Our members, who raised these concerns, have also been vindicated, with SafeWork NSW and the company’s own asbestos specialist revealing serious shortcomings in how this deadly fibre was being managed.”

Asbestos documents and photos: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0By76Vf0DtLKXRG92WFZiN0RLdEE

Electrical safety issues uncovered on Sydney Metro Northwest after vehicle hits live wiring, blacking out tunnel

Paul Lister - Thursday, August 24, 2017

Workplace safety standards on the NSW Government’s Sydney Metro Northwest rail project have come under fire after an all-terrain Manitou forklift came into contact with live electrical wiring, blacking out the construction site and activating emergency lighting which was reported as inadequate.

Following the incident, a safety inspection by a licenced electrician from the Electrical Trades Union revealed additional breaches of Australian Standards and safety legislation on the project.

The union said the safety issues included three phase electrical wiring that had been wrapped around a water pipe and run through the tunnel without any physical protection in place to prevent vehicles or power tools from coming into contact with it and compromising insulation.

ETU Secretary Dave McKinley said that the most concerning moment of the safety investigation came when management on the project refused to cut power to the cable despite being informed it was not only dangerous, but also illegal.

“We have serious concerns that electrical safety standards are not being met during the construction of the Sydney Metro Northwest, putting workers at risk of injury or death,” Mr McKinley said.

“Days after power was cut to the railway tunnel when a vehicle struck a live power cable, our inspectors found electrical cabling that is breach of relevant electrical standards and safety laws.

“Wrapping a power cable around a water pipe, with nothing to protect it from being impacted by heavy vehicles or workers with power tools, is unacceptable on any building site, yet for some reason it is being done on a massive Government-funded infrastructure project.

“We fear that because so much of the construction is occurring underground and in tunnels, where the public and media can’t see what’s going on, management think they are able to cut corners with safety.”

Mr McKinley said that Safe Work NSW have failed in their obligation to investigate serious and repeated safety breaches on the site and that that NSW regulator needed to act.

“Safe Work NSW are nowhere to be seen on one of NSW largest and most dangerous worksites,” he said.

“I am calling on Safe Work NSW to do their job and enforce workplace safety laws that are in place to protect workers.

“It is simply unacceptable that such a cavalier approach to workplace safety that continues to put lives at risk  is being allowed to occur on a major, state government infrastructure project.”

Safety issues at northern NSW sugar mills put workers and community at risk of asbestos exposure: union

Paul Lister - Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sunshine Sugar, which operates three sugar mills in northern NSW, has been issued with a series of safety rectification notices after a union investigation found broken and badly degraded asbestos sheeting was potentially exposing workers and the public to the risk of inhaling deadly asbestos fibres.

Union officials conducted safety inspections of the company’s Condong, Broadwater and Harwood mills after workers raised concerns that management had failed to respond to their concerns in relation to the presence of dangerous, friable asbestos fibres.

The Electrical Trades Union said the inspection located a number of serious asbestos safety breaches, including: broken asbestos pieces on the ground in public access areas next to the Broadwater mill; corrugated asbestos sheeting that contained holes, cracks, and visible asbestos fibres; and broken asbestos sheeting in a lunchroom that had simply been covered with clear contact sheets rather than being properly remediated.

As a result of the inspections, a number of safety rectification notices were issued under the Work Health and Safety Act regarding asbestos safety breaches at the Condong and Broadwater mills.

ETU secretary Dave McKinley said the company had been notified by workers of their asbestos concerns last month but had failed to act, with the CEO claiming it was because the wrong form had been used.

“Even a tiny exposure to asbestos fibres, which lodge deep in the lungs, can be enough to cause deadly cancers and other debilitating asbestos-related diseases,” Mr McKinley said.

“That’s why it is so concerning that Sunshine Sugar management have failed to properly address very visible safety issues that have not only been putting their workforce at risk, but also the general public.

“Both the Condong and Broadwater mills are constructed with large amounts of asbestos cement sheeting, but natural weathering and age have resulted in these products breaking down, releasing friable asbestos fibres which can easily become airborne and be inhaled.

“In the short term, the company needs to immediately remove the damaged products, but they also need to move towards a plan for full asbestos removal and remediation to avoid similar incidents occurring in future.

“Australia’s industrial use of asbestos has left a deadly legacy, with 600 people dying each year from the aggressive lung cancer mesothelioma alone, while thousands more are diagnosed with other asbestos-related diseases.

“The danger of asbestos is well know, and companies like Sunshine Sugar that know their workplaces contain extensive quantities of aging asbestos products have a legal and moral obligation to protect their employees and the neighbouring communities from this very foreseeable risk.

“We have also been disappointed that management tried to pass the blame for their failure onto staff, with the CEO claiming the reason no action was taken was because a worker used the incorrect form to report the issue.

Apprentice electrician rushed to hospital following serious fall at Barangaroo construction site

Paul Lister - Thursday, May 05, 2016

A first-year electrical apprentice has been rushed to Royal North Shore Hospital following a fall of approximately five metres at the Barangaroo construction site in Darling Harbour.

The incident occurred shortly after 8am today when the apprentice fell through a temporary floor cover over one of the service risers.

The apprentice, employed by the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) Group Training company and working for Stowe Australia, was being supervised by another apprentice at the time of the fall. This second apprentice raised the alarm.

Officials from the Electrical Trades Union attended the site immediately following the incident and have already identified a number of other safety breaches, including workers being exposed to live electrical cables.

The builder, Lend Lease, has moved to stop all riser work in tower three until a review of the electrical contractor Stowe Australia has been undertaken.

ETU organiser Stewart Edward said that the apprentice suffered leg and back injuries.

“From what we know so far, the apprentice appears to have suffered leg and back injuries after calling approximately five metres,” Mr Edward said.

“He was treated on the scene by ambulance paramedics and has been transported to Royal North Shore Hospital.

“Thankfully, his injuries do not appear to be critical.

“Today’s incident is the latest in a string of safety breaches on the Barangaroo site, including some that have resulted in workers losing their lives.

“Both Stowe Australia and NECA Group Training have a legal responsibility to provide a safe work environment.

“If it is found that they have breached their responsibilities it could lead to prosecution of both organisations, which is something we will be looking at very closely.”

The union informed SafeWork NSW, with inspectors attending the scene to carry out their own investigation.

“This incident could easily have ended with a tragic outcome,” Mr Edward said.

“The ETU will be pursuing this matter to ensure that this kind of incident does not occur again.”

Union raises safety concerns after electrical worker dies following fall from ladder on Sydney construction site

Paul Lister - Monday, July 27, 2015

A 62 year old electrical worker has died in hospital of his injuries just days after falling from an extension ladder while working on a construction site in Kensington Street, Chippendale.

The Electrical Trades Union said building work on the site had stopped following the worker’s fall on Wednesday afternoon, with WorkCover NSW issuing prohibition notices in relation to all ladders on the site.

The injured man suffered serious head injuries when he struck the ground, and despite being transported to hospital he later passed away.

ETU spokesman Dave McKinley said union officials had visited the site on at least two occasions prior to the fatal fall, raising a range of safety concerns including in relation to work at heights.

Mr McKinley said that while the deceased man was employed through a labour hire company, workplace health and safety legislation places the ultimate duty of care for providing a safe working environment on builder Rapid Construction and principal electrical contractor Ozlect Electrical.

“From our initial investigations, it appears there have been multiple safety breaches on this construction site that may have directly contributed to this man’s tragic death,” he said.

“Despite previous visits by union officials who highlighted serious safety concerns, including in relation to work carried out at heights, there appears to have been no safe work method statements in place and faulty equipment, including ladders, in use.

“Investigations are ongoing, however a site-wide safety audit conducted following this accident revealed what appear to be systemic failures to implement safe systems of work.

“All work on the project has halted, and safety regulator WorkCover NSW has issued prohibition notices in relation to all ladders on site.

“There are serious questions that still need to be answered by the builder and electrical contractor to explain how this tragic accident was able to occur.

“It is shocking that dozens of workers still die on Australian construction sites every year due to accidents that are easily avoidable if safe work practices are made a priority.”

Electricians stop work on $1 billion Lend Lease convention centre project after potentially fatal safety breach

Paul Lister - Saturday, November 22, 2014

A potentially fatal electrical safety breach during construction of the International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour has led to more than 40 electricians refusing to carry out non-emergency work.

All electrical workers on the site — employees of major electrical contractors Stowe Australia and Fredon — yesterday voted to halt work following a meeting of the safety committee, where they indicated they had no confidence in the ability of builder Lend Lease to provide a safe workplace.

The decision follows an incident where an electrician had “locked out” a switchboard, ensuring a circuit remained off while electrical work was carried out.

When the electricians finished work for the day, a Lend Lease foreman allegedly ordered another worker to use an angle grinder to cut off the padlock and restore power to the circuit. The following morning an electrical worker was just moments from being electrocuted when he recommenced work on what he believed was still a de-energised circuit.

The Electrical Trades Union said the incident, a clear breach of basic safety precautions, had almost led to the fourth fatality on a Sydney construction site in less than a fortnight.

“It is an industry standard that electricians use special padlocks to ‘lock out’ switch boards and other electrical equipment, preventing power from being restored to circuits that are currently being worked on,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“These large padlocks include a written warning explaining that the circuit is locked out, with only the electrician that installed the lock authorised to remove it, for obvious safety reasons.

“It is extremely concerning that a Lend Lease foreman would deliberately breach this procedure by ordering a worker to cut the lock off and restore power, with no warning to electricians that this had taken place.”

Mr Butler said workers were also concerned that it had taken almost a week for Lend Lease to report the incident to WorkCover NSW, and that the safety regulator had said it would not be investigating the breach.

“The union is demanding that both Lend Lease and WorkCover NSW conduct a thorough investigation of how basic safety practices were suspended, putting lives at risk,” he said.

“Lend Lease is currently responsible for several major construction sites across Sydney, including Barangaroo, with workers complaining of systemic safety issues across these projects.

“In this case, an essential and long-standing safety practice — an electrician ‘locking out’ a circuit that was currently undergoing work — was completely disregarded, putting lives at risk.

As a result electrical workers have been left with no choice but to halt work and only respond to emergencies until Lend Lease can ensure their safety.

“It really shouldn’t be too much to ask that basic safety practices be undertaken to ensure every worker is able to return home safely to their family each night.”


Warning issued to outdoor workers as mercury soars

Paul Lister - Friday, November 21, 2014

The Electrical Trades Union has issued a health warning to outdoor workers across NSW due to the serious risk of heat related illnesses as extreme temperatures look set to continue for several days.

The notice reminds workers of the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and highlights the health and safety requirements for managing work in high temperatures.

These requirements include a mandatory stop to work when temperatures exceed 38 degrees, with a risk assessment then undertaken to determine if it is safe to continue work. Such work should be limited to fault repairs, emergency situations, or the finalisation of current work, with no new work commencing.

For temperatures between 28 degrees and 38 degrees, a minimum 15 minute break per hour worked and regular intakes of cool water are required to manage heat risks.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said extreme temperatures, particularly over a sustained number of days, risk overloading the natural cooling mechanisms of the human body.

“Extreme heat can cause a range of health problems, from the uncomfortable to the potentially deadly,” Mr Butler said.

“With sustained high temperatures over several days, exceeding 40 degrees in some areas, it is essential that people working outdoors are aware of appropriate measures to manage the heat.

“Our union has produced a detailed policy for working in heat, while individual employers should have a heat management policy in place and WorkCover NSW also has a code of practice for managing hot work environments.”

The union said possible health effects faced by outdoor workers include heat rashes, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and in the most extreme cases heat stroke.

“Heat exhaustion is related to a rapid loss of body fluids, with those workers unable to have enough to drink or those suffering from illnesses such as diarrhoea at particular risk,” Mr Butler said.

“It is essential to keep an eye out for workmates, with warning signs including pale and clammy skin, thirst, fatigue, tiredness, nausea and vomiting.

“Heat stroke, which can be potentially fatal, is more likely when high temperatures are combined with high humidity, with symptoms including flushing, hot dry skin, headache, drowsiness, convulsions, delirium and even collapse.

“Workers and their employers should take appropriate action to manage the risk, with regular breaks, the consumption of cool water, and an immediate halt to work when the mercury is above 38.

“When assessing the risk it is also essential to be aware that thermal radiation from the sun, and high humidity, both exacerbate the risk posed by hot temperatures.

Noraville: Ausgrid workers fear asbestos exposure at depot

Paul Lister - Monday, August 18, 2014

Energy workers on the Central Coast fear they have been exposed to asbestos fibres after contamination tests carried out by a specialist hygienist confirmed the presence of the deadly substance at the Ausgrid depot in Noraville.

Electrical Trades Union spokesman Mark Buttigieg said it was believed that the asbestos fibres were disturbed during the process of transferring equipment from the soon-to-be retired Noraville depot to a new Ausgrid facility at Ourimbah.

“What we believe has happened is that a number of boxes have been disturbed during the move between depots, resulting in airborne asbestos fibres being detected at the Noraville depot,” Mr Buttigieg said.

“The union immediately advised all members not to enter the Noraville depot until further testing can take place and required remedial work is carried out.

“We are also advising members not to go anywhere near the new stores depot at Ourimbah, as this is where the material that is suspected of being contaminated has been transported to.

“What is most disturbing is that the workers did not find out about the contamination and potential exposure from management, but from a contractor.

“It was not until management were confronted that they admitted a positive result to airborne asbestos had been received.

“All it takes is a single fibre to become lodged in a person’s lungs and that person could face a long and painful death from mesothelioma – a cancer caused only by asbestos.

“Given the serious nature of airborne asbestos, the ETU would have expected management to act swiftly to notify the local workforce of the test results.

“It is very disappointing that they had to find out through other means.

“We are continuing to work with management to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to fix this situation and we have advised any members that were in the vicinity to complete a record of potential exposure to asbestos.”

ETU Calls on NSW Government to act over Mr Fluffy asbestos

Paul Lister - Friday, August 08, 2014

The NSW Government is being urged to immediately implement a plan to locate, identify and remediate homes containing Mr Fluffy asbestos fibre to rotect residents and tradespeople following the death of a Canberra electrician this week.

John Jorritsma, an electrician who was exposed to asbestos while crawling through the roof spaces of Mr Fluffy homes, died on Wednesday from Mesothelioma, an incurable cancer caused solely by asbestos exposure.

The Electrical Trades Union said that while millions was spent remediating properties in the ACT that contained the Mr Fluffy product — made of highly-dangerous loose asbestos fibres that were pumped into the roof — the NSW Government had never acted.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said he feared electricians and other tradespeople were continuing to be exposed to the loose asbestos fibres that were also used in Queanbeyan and other parts of the State’s south-east.

“Mr Jorritsma’s tragic death is a stark reminder of the dangers of asbestos, in particular to tradespeople,” Mr Butler said.

“The loose asbestos fibres used by Mr Fluffy are the most dangerous form of this deadly substance, easily becoming airborne where they are inhaled and lodge in the lungs.

“With an unknown number of houses in NSW still containing this insulation product — and no warning notices or information for tradespeople working on those properties — I have no doubt that without government action more tradespeople will suffer Mr Jorritsma’s fate.”

Mr Butler called on the NSW Government to end decades of inertia and take immediate action to address the Mr Fluffy issue.

“It has been known for decades that this product is deadly, and that it is still in many NSW homes, yet there has been no action to proactively identify the properties, provide warnings for residents and tradespeople, and to remove the risk,” he said.

“If the NSW Government continues to sit on its hands, more people will be exposed to asbestos and more lives will be cut short.”


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