Background
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2nd submission

Background

The contents of this page are basically taken from a report made to Comcare in year 2000.

Location : Telstra - Building 2, Level 1, 301 Burwood Hwy.

Date : August 2000

Since the arrival at this location there were reports from staff of ill health and sickness. Most of the those concerned had been employees of Telstra at other sites notably Queen St. and Collins St. Although those locations were not spacious, well designed for our operations, these people did not report the same problems with health.

The particular workplace had been under an OH&S Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) some years earlier as a result of problems with the air-conditioning system. On several occasions staff had to be evacuated from the floor or parts of the floor. During one such incident the effect on the eyes of the author was such that he had to threaten legal action in order to have himself and others removed to another building. The effect on the eyes was sufficient to have the author taken to Box Hill Hospital.

As a result of the action there was an attempt by the Centre Manager, Kelly Simpson to intimidate the author with an improper threat of a defamation action. The author was at the time a Union Delegate and therefore would have had the protection of the Industrial Relations Act. The air-conditioning system had to be modified when it was revealed that there was a design fault.

Over the years there had been a number of complaints in regard to the air-conditioning system. These ranged from temperature problems to bad smells. There were also reports of small objects and insects dropping from the air-conditioning ducts and ceiling area. The objects appeared to have caused skin irritation and lumps which were observed by the author.

The particular workplace had one of the highest Unplanned Absence Rates (UPA) in Telstra. In order to reduce the level of UPA the management embarked on a process of using unplanned absences as a staff assessment and disciplinary measures, in contravention of decisions of the Industrial Relations Commission. Supported by the union (CEPU) I demanded that this practice cease. The CEPU and I contended that the area was badly understaffed and as a result leave was restricted and not available in the way it should be. This led to unnecessary concern and stress, and contributed to the other high stress factors in the workplace. I had also contended that it would be better to seek to remove the causes rather than suppress the symptoms.

The Author and 2 others had been elected as OH&S representatives in 1999. OH&S representatives are required to have training under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Management forced them despite protest to attend the company run course instead of the Union course.

As part of the training course several of the participants came to the Specialist Products workplace to undertake a practical exercise in OH&S Inspections. After several hours in the building the trainees who were from other areas of Telstra sent a communication to Ananda Wanganayke of Telstra Care drawing his attention to the air of tension in the building amongst the staff. This action was taken by them independent from any involvement with the author. At that time and during the rest of the year I was attacked by members of the management team when I went to speak to staff on OH&S matters. Indeed that had occurred at the aforementioned training session when I sought to speak to members of staff.

OH&S Committee

In the first OH&S Committee Meeting I attended I had to battle to have it recognized that the roles of chair and secretary should rotate between reps and management. Proper minutes were not kept and what passed for records of the meetings were notoriously inaccurate, they were in need of constant rewriting.. I had to battle to have correspondence tabled and even 2 years later there was no correspondence file which has been tabled.

Staff reported to me that they had been discouraged by management from putting in incident reports, further that Incident Reports had gone missing. In as discreet a manner as possible I drew this to the attention of Kelly Simpson. I also asked for proper training for managers in regard to OH&S and the Act. A timely occurrence was when I asked a team manager to consider changing the seating of a member of a workplace who had complained for a considerable period of time about glare and who had taken sick leave for headaches as a result of the glare. The team manager refused to even discuss the matter with me. The compliance manager Deb Farrelly had also avoided the question and was inconsistent in how such matters should be addressed.

Air-conditioning PIN

As a result of many complaints by staff about the air-conditioning system I asked for the maintenance records of the system in the building. I repeated the request many times and was ignored eventually I warned that if they were not forthcoming I would have to impose a PIN. I was verbally attacked by members of the management team for this and Simpson accused me of "having ambushed her". The PIN was issued. The provisions of the Act were not observed by the management and notices were not issued to the staff as required by the Act. I put up notices and some of these were removed. I drew the attention of Simpson to the requirements of the Act and gave her copies of the relevant sections. Eventually the provisions were complied with.

Telstra Care Conference

A conference was to be arranged Ananda Wanganayke had phoned me and said that he would be at the meeting and would arrange for me to have access to the records. He did not honour his assurance and gave no apology. We were scheduled to meet with Telstra management and the advisors, we discovered that the met before us and we were not given entry till they felt ready. We were given some explanations about the system and plans of the ducting system. To this date I have not seen the records which were actually requested. It seemed to me that there had been changes in the operation of the system which were not fully informed about. Prior to the PIN we were told the information was too complex and could not be given.

The Second PIN

Late 2000 all of our computers and monitors were replaced. As OH&S representative I had received reports of itchy ears, eyes, stuffy noses, and itchy skin from staff members. In December 2000 after the increasing staff reports, and experiencing some of the symptoms myself I came across a report of research which had been done at Stockholm Univerity which stated that many new monitors (60%) contained in the plastic casing a chemical fire retardant called Triphenyl Phosphate. I was to find that this is an organo-phosphate all of which are neuro-toxins. The chemical gives emissions (elutes) into the air when heated. It is suggested that when seated within two feet of these monitors there could be health hazards with symptoms similar to those which we were experiencing.

I sought information from the management if the chemical was in the monitors and if so could they be tested for emissions. I tried for many months to get this information without success. I even pointed out to Deb Farrelly the Compliance manager responsible that as a first step thy could simply ask the manufacturer. Again without result.

Management non compliance with Act

After 6 months of frustration and a number of attempts to get action I imposed the second PIN. Farrelly & Simpson again failed to comply with the requirements of the Act. I put out the notices to staff these were again removed. After several confrontations they complied. I found the non compliance incredible as they were clearly aware of the provisions of the Act..

I was then told that the PIN was not on the proper form. I replied that I had conformed with the requirements of the Act. I contacted the Comcare Hotline who told me that there was no "requirement" and that I could write it on scrap paper if necessary. They then supplied me with a fax to that effect and other helpful information. I was then called by Wanganayake who tried to tell me I had not confirmed with the Act. When I quoted Comcare he then claimed I had not conformed with the regulations, both of which statements were untrue. This had to be known to him in his senior position in Telstra Care.

Non-Transparency

I asked Wanganayeke what the Telstra contract with IBM who leased the computers said about the requirements for the computers, what were the specifications, and what quality control testing had been done by Telstra. The reply was that I did not understand what was involved in purchasing in a large corporation. I found him patronizing in this and pointed out that I had in fact spent 6 years in the R.A.A.F. in just that sort of area and had frequent contact with inspection and assessment (AID). At a later meeting Wanganayeke said it would be difficult to get the criteria as they had recently changed. He also stated that Telstra no longer did its own testing.

Aspergillus extension of PIN

I gave the management an extension of time on the PIN. During that time I became aware that a fellow member of staff had an unusual device on his desk. On inquiry I discovered that he had been diagnosed as having an allergy to Aspergillus, and that the management had provided the device. The diagnosis had been confirmed by a specialist, a Dr. Colin Little. I found that the device had cost $700. I then discovered that several other members of staff who appeared to have the same or similar problems of allergic reaction. I then contacted my step-daughter Dr. Stojanovska in Europe, who is a leading researcher in infant lungs. She indicated that on the information I had given there should be an investigation. I contacted the Comcare Hotline again, outlined my information and asked if I would be reasonable in this matter in seeking information and testing. I was told that I would be, and "that is what you are there for".

I then contacted the state director of Comcare Richard Sutherland who gave further advice.

(This is fascinating as in the AIRC when the Comcare decision was challenged one of the prime arguments used by Comcare/Telstra legal eagles was that the PIN was "not reasonable".)

(At the time I had been led by Telstra to believe that Sutherland was a doctor. In this submission to Comcare I had referred to him with this title. It was not till just before the AIRC challenge he was to inform me that he was not a doctor. This false impression influenced my approach and contacts with him. This was also the case with other members of his staff.)

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Telstra management together with a Telstra hygienist conducted interviews with staff members without giving me or my advisors any opportunity to be present. During those interviews one or more members of staff are believed to have given information which coule be considered consistent with the presence of this or other fungi. I believe that our exclusion was in violation of the Act or the spirit of the Act. I a delegate is not made aware of meetings or if they are held when the rep is absent or unable to attend then that must be considered a violation at least of the spirit of the Act. In fact this technique has been a continual habit of the Management and Telstra Care.

Inconsistency and concealment

Initially and up to the first round table conference the contention of the management was that there should be no testing because there was no evidence there was any aspergillus in the building. (An interesting exercise in illogicality) . This line was pursued until it became clear that I would not be satisfied until there was testing. At this point a Telstra engaged consultant a Dr. Bisby who claimed to have done a "walk through" changed the Telstra position and required that the rules of testing should be that if testing were done it should be cleared if the level of aspergillus found were to be equal to or lower than that found outside as it was likely to be found in the building. He also at a later date made the statement that "if we look hard enough of course we sill find aspergillus" ( An interesting statement in view of the result of the Noel Arnold test)

Failure to consult, notify or permit presence

It is notable that the "walk trough was done without notification, consultation or opportunity for representation. These actions further eroded any confidence in the Telstra management. Any vestige of confidence was further eroded when it we discovered that at the time of the first round table conference another member of staff who had been diagnosed with an allergy to two of the forms of aspergillus which are potentially harmful to humans, and which Dr. Bisby had been unable to name, was in the basement of the building. She was unable to enter the building as a result of her medical condition. This was known to the management at the time and certainly to Deb Farrelly. It was my understanding that there existed an earlier incident report containing a reference to Aspergillus and with comments by Farrelly. Neither I nor the meeting was made aware of these facts by management. Management later made some admissions in this. (One is lead to ponder as to why the original concealment and attempt to mislead as to the presence of the Moulds) In the workplace some time earlier all real plants had been removed and replaced with plastic plants there were incidents where evil smelling balls of mould had to be removed form the premises.

Testing for Aspergillus

The testing was conducted without proper notification to and while I was absent ill with symptoms of influenza. I considered the testing which was done to have been inappropriate, inadequate and incomplete. On a number of occasions I requested a copy of the contract or the instructions given to the testers. This has never been provided. Wanganayeke eventually stated that it had been a phone call to the company, Noel Arnold. I would consider this process inappropriate in a large corporation and as a shareholder concerned that such a commission should be given without written guidelines or instruction.

A second opinion ???

In view of dissatisfaction with the testing and Telstra's own policies of requiring second opinions where worker injury claims are made against it I offered the services of Dr. Helen Sutcliffe of the Workers Occupational Health Centre in doing testing. Strangely this was rejected by Telstra Care. It is notable that the Commonwealth Comcare Investigator ws only called in when I stated that the PIN would not be removed until such time as I had a second opinion. Eventually Telstra management agreed that under the Act I could bring in Dr. Sutcliffe but they imposed a number of conditions. I part these were similar to those which I had required of their testing, including seeing the brief.

Credibility Gap

Telstra refused to even contribute to the cost of the testing and imposed impossible conditions. Dr. Sutcliffe could not bring any equipment into the building and could not take any samples. I believe the Telstra management contravened the spirit of the Act but gave the impression of obstruction rather than having the health and welfare of their employees genuinely at heart.

Non-communication

I asked to be able to communicate with my workgroup as a group or in small groups on the PIN and other OH&S matters, and was denied this right by the management. I believe that this violates the Agreeement and the principles of the Act.( This attempt to suppress communication between employees is and has always been a feature of dictatorships and dictatorship style management. It is still the management style of Telstra)

Triphenyl Phosphate Emissions

Even to this date there has been no testing of or for emissions of Triphenyl Phosphate (TPP). After nearly 7 months of pressure under the PIN The first statement which was eventually given was merely an assessment of some websites and quite unsatisfactory. Wanganayeke read part of a letter from the manafacturer, it was just an assurance from the manafacturer or supplier stating that they had not received any complaints so far. After further pressure I then received a copy of part of an email of which Wanganayeke would not let me see the full context. In this the Telstra Hygienist David Moulton stated on 9/8/2001 " Unfortunately this does not resolve our problem. Our Health and Sagety Act requires us to demonstrate "Duty of Care" by appropriate due diligence. This requires investigation and establishment of fact about issues raised, particularly those raised formally, such as in a Provisional Improvement Notice(PIN).If we do not receive appropriate assurances from our suppliers we will have little choice but to notify our regulator (Comcare) that we have been unable to resolve the issue". Telstra management made a statement to all staff in our workplace which seemed designed to mislead in this matter again widening the credibility gap. This was also in view of the reply from the supplier which did not meet the criteria specified by David Moulton.

My own investigations revealed that TPP was an organo-phosphate and was a recognized neuro-toxin. I was dismayed that we as a committee had not been informed of this fact by the medical advisor Dr. Bisby. I asked of the management for an explanation, and whether it was a fact that he had been employed for decades by an oil company and had to be aware of the fact.. Later I was attacked by Dr. Bisby who stated that he had sought legal advice on the matter. I believe that it was an attempt to intimidate me and that it was quite improper that an OH&S delegate should be threatened in this manner.

It should be noted that this workplace is a call centre where staff are literally tethered to their phones and computers. They are mouth breathers rather making them even more vulnerable to TPP and Indoor Toxic Moulds.

General Hygiene

The management had neglected despite frequent requests to have periodic replacement of ear pads on headsets. I had attempted to have a health survey of the staff. I was refused staff lists and blocked from conducting the survey. Despite the fact that Telstra is a communications company I was, and am still blocked from proper access to the internet at my workstation. Indeed Paul Baulch the current head of Telstra Care has sought to justify this situation with the statement that he does not give all his staff access.

Interim Recommendations

That there should a round table conference with all parties Management, Unions, Comcare OH&S reps.

The agenda including roles, functions and responsibilities of the workplace parties and the employer as a whole. Also agreed processes for speedy resolution, full consultation, and complete tranparency.

Decision making criteria

The criteria for decision making in this area could be a variant of the Null Hypothesis

If you assume there is no truth in the proposition that the offending item is present, what is the worst possible outcome. Compare and evaluate the outcomes

In the case of Aspergillus:

If the offending item Aspergillus is not in the workplace.

The worst possible outcome is that the emloyer might be involved in a minor expense of having the ducting cleaned once every 3 years. And the very minor expense of a test.

If the offending Item Aspergillus is in the workplace:

Failure to test could result in the long term of high legal and medical expenses and increased insurance fees.

Increased tension in the workplace. Illness increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, loss of confidence in management, decrease in profitability.

In the case of Triphenyl Phosphate

The arguments are similar but there should be almost no expense as the computers are leased. It is also notable that it is only the monitors which would need to be exchanged.

The major adverse consequences are long term and could like asbestosis be massive, especially if as I suspect that it will be shown that TPP is involved in the incidence of Parkinsons syndrome.

It is interesting that in spite of these cost benefit considerations that Telstra/Comcare chose to run an expensive case in the AIRC instead of taking what appears to be the better moral and cost effective pathway. One needs to ask WHY??????

 

 
 
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