Companies must declare use of dangerous chemicals, warns AMWU

A workers union is calling on manufacturers to lessen the amount of toxic chemicals they use in the factory, after workers at a truck assembly factory reported ‘side affects’ from exposure to a cleaning substance. 

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) announced yesterday that it had won negotiations with PACCAR Australia  – which makes Kenworth Trucks in Bayswater, Victoria – to ban the use of a ‘dangerous’ chemical used to clean windscreen rubber.

According to AMWU delegate and worker at the factory, Les Takacs, a number of his colleagues complained about side affects from exposure to the chemical late last year.  

“I asked the responsible site safety engineer whether he read the material safety data sheet. His response was ‘we use worse chemicals in the factory than this,” he told the AMWU.

“Needless to say I was flabbergasted.”

Takacs reportedly spoke to the Kenworth management team and succeeded in having the chemical banned from use on the site.

AMWU’s national occupational health and safety co-ordinator, Deborah Vallance, says this case study represents a wider problem in industry.

“There needs to be a change in our mindset, from ‘just wear more safety gear’ to actually reducing the amount of toxic chemicals we use,” she said.

“Our current system is piecemeal and based on supplying information or reporting emissions. There are no incentives to reduce the usage and production of toxic chemicals. It doesn’t make it easy for employers or workers.”  

Vallance points to current legislation in the United States and urges Australian industry to use the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) as a model.  

“Under TURA, a list of toxic or hazardous substances has been created and any firm that uses or generates or imports any of these must prepare a toxics use reduction plan,” she said.

“They must also report the quantities of toxics they deal with and pay a levy based on the quantity reported.”

WorkSafe Victoria recently published a safety alert called More Information About – Storage and handing of dangerous goods, containing "Advice for occupiers of sites storing and handling dangerous goods on the requirement to notify WorkSafe when quantities exceed manifest levels."