ETU Media Releases

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

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.

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.”

Concerns over safety at Barangaroo after worker made contact with live power during 15 hour shift

Paul Lister - Monday, May 18, 2015

Workers are demanding a thorough investigation into safety at Barangaroo South following a serious incident that saw a labour hire contractor come in contact with live electricity while carrying out commissioning work in a switch room, in the second serious electrical incident at the site this year.

The Electrical Trades Union said two electricians, employed by labour hire company LUHAN Group, had been working on the site for more than 15 hours when one of them came into contact with a live circuit.

Despite the incident occurring at 9.40pm on Thursday, safety regulator WorkCover NSW was not notified of the accident until 200 workers from major electrical contractor Stowe Australia stopped work on the site and demanded proper scrutiny of the accident.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said inspectors from WorkCover issued two prohibition notices — preventing certain work from occurring — following their visit to the site.

“There are serious questions that still need answering about how this electrician was able to make contact with a live circuit, which had the potential to deliver a fatal electric shock,” Mr Butler said.

“The union has been told that these two men — employed by a labour hire contractor — had been working for more than 15 hours at the time of the incident.

“They were there without supervision, no safe work method statement had been prepared for what they were doing, there was no observer in the switch room in case of an emergency, and there were reportedly delays with the response to the accident.

“It is also concerning that the safety regulator was not notified about the incident until after the union and workers demanded the cause of the accident be properly investigated.”

Mr Butler said he was deeply concerned that labour hire workers, who have no job security, were being pressured to work long hours in dangerous conditions at Barangaroo.

“Unlike the electrical workers employed by major contractors on site, these labour hire workers have no job security, so they find it extremely challenging to raise safety concerns,” he said.

“It is difficult to imagine permanent electricians being forced to work more than 15 hours straight without proper safety procedures in place, yet that was what was asked of these two men.”