The UFUSA Conference of Shop Stewards and State Councillors held last week expressed deep concern about the ongoing failure of the employer to address the risk of exposure to diesel particulate matter (DPM) in our workplace and called on them to immediately meet their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012.
The risk of exposure to DPM was one of the key issues addressed by the Conference which heard a report that our union has been raising our WHS concern on the matter since 2002, yet no satisfactory action has been taken to date by the SAMFS/Marshall government (the employer) despite the agreement reached that DPM is a hazard which needs to be addressed with a “Safety Alert” to all employees.
Our union advocates for and supports members suffering and too often dying from industrial diseases acquired at work, in particular from the 12 cancers listed in the Return to Work Act; we know that firefighters are already many times more likely to die from conditions caused by exposure to the products of combustion, yet exposure to DPM at the station home base or workshop lacks a plan of action to protect our firefighting and engineering staff.
As previously reported, DPM was declared as a Group 1 Carcinogen in 2012 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and fire services around the world have been taking strides to protect the health and safety of firefighting and engineering staff from the deadly risk of exposure to DPM. Sadly more effort appears to be going into finding reasons to not act in SA.
Repeated attempts by UFUSA Representatives to promote action in the SAMFS on DPM have included the presentation on 1 September 2020 to the MFS Health and Safety Committee of short term, medium term, and long-term goals to address the risk of exposure in our workplaces. Three months later the employer’s response of 2 December 2020 provided only vague undertakings to address these significant concerns of DPM, largely predicated on budgetary constraints.
Are these the same budgetary constraints that the MFS says don’t exist when they’re at the enterprise agreement bargaining table even as our union continues to argue for safety and resourcing including for DPM initiatives?
While there are clearly funds for the government’s Rejuvenation Scheme which looks set to suck out more than $1 million from the MFS budget between now and December, it seems there is “not one dollar more” to act to protect employees from exposure to DPM or indeed to meet the employer’s duty of care under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012.
Conference has now called upon the employer for immediate action with the strong endorsement of the following resolution which has been advised in correspondence to the Chief Officer:
“The 2021 UFUSA Conference notes the report and the continuing science presented, which highlight the significant work health and safety concerns related to diesel exhaust emissions and the carcinogenic listing by the WHO/ IARC of diesel particulate matter in the workplace.
UFUSA Conference seeks the implementation of best practices by the SAMFS, in this instance when dealing with the risk of exposure to Diesel Particulate Matter.
Conference in particular notes the lack of action by the SAMFS on this issue since 2012 and deems their lack of response as an unacceptable risk to the health of Firefighters and Engineering (Emergency Vehicle) Technicians.
This meeting calls upon the MFS/government, our employer, to immediately outline their plan and a timeline to take all practicable steps to eliminate the risk posed to MFS employees by the presence in the workplace of diesel particulate matter in accordance with the agreement reached with the UFUSA.
If no satisfactory response is received in accordance with the employer’s statutory obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act by COB Tuesday, 5 October 2021, the UFUSA Action Plan developed by this meeting will be implemented immediately by the union’s DPM Action Group.”
The MFS Health and Safety Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday 5 October 2021 which will enable discussion of the UFU conference resolution, and it is to be hoped, the provision to the union of the employer’s plan and timeline to take all practicable steps to eliminate the risk posed by DPM in the SAMFS. In accordance with their duty of care.
Members will be kept informed of progress.