7 no 1, 1999
Police Association Prosecutes NSW Police over Lead
The following is the
Editorial from POLICE NEWS, JANUARY, 1999, Page 3.
UNSAFE WORK PRACTICE AND LEAD
The emphasis on Occupational Health and Safety is increasing daily with the increasing costs of death and injury in the workplace. The New South Wales Government has initiated processes to have the Occupational Health and Safety Act No. 20 of 1983 redrafted. The redraft of the legislation is to be written in plain English to make it more user friendly so that everyone can understand their roles and responsibilities. The Police Association, in conjunction with the Labor Council of new South Wales, is involved in this process. John Cumberland, our Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator, was invited to represent the Labor Council and place a submission before the Parliamentary Subcommittee.
The Act obliges employers to provide a safe system of work. Unfortunately some of the steps taken by corporations and Government bodies fail to comply with this requirement. The recent injuries to a number of our members as a result of overexposure to lead is an example of this.
Lead is an industrial toxicant with a long history of use in the workplace. The negative health effects it produces means it requires control. Boston University's Department of Public health suggests that lead poisoning of employees at weapons ranges may be more significant than formerly realised.
Inhalation of airborne lead, or ingestion, at least at high does, can cause nerve, blood or kidney damage. Symptoms include general fatigue, irritability, concentration difficulties, tremor, headaches, abdominal pain, vomiting, weight loss or constipation.
Members of the New South Wales Police Association have been subjected to an intense conversion-training program for the issue of new firearms. Concerns have been raised over the increased numbers of rounds fired which have led to a higher exposure to the hazardous by-products of the firearm or ammunition. No ongoing monitoring of ranges or trainers has occurred for a number of years.
During testing of weapons trainers, a higher concentration of inorganic lead was found in some blood samples. Students undergoing training and ranges were subsequently tested. The students returned elevated blood lead concentrations and some readings from ranges were quite alarming and well over the National Standards for airborne contaminants. Three ranges have been closed due to the high concentration of airborne lead particles. It is assumed at this stage, that the airflow patterns and the ventilation's inability to remove the lead hazard at these ranges caused the concentration levels.
The Lead Reference Centre and Lead Advisory Service have provided valuable assistance. Initially, in September  our knowledge of the effects and health risks of lead was minimal. These agencies supplied us with the initial documentation and contacts enabling our Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator to better comprehend the problem.
Unfortunately the lack of rudimentary knowledge of the effects of lead extends to the medical field. Members affected by lead weren't able to obtain relevant information from their local general practitioner and even received differing viewpoints from those within the Police Service.
At this stage arrangements are under way to test all weapons trainers, both full and part-time, all ranges, as well as students who have undergone training at specific ranges. The testing of homes of members with elevated blood levels have also been conducted to ensure no secondary contamination of their families.
Meetings have been held with affected members and their families at the instigation of the Police Association. These meetings have been held with Local Area Health Services, the Lead Reference Centre and the Lead Advisory Service and have proved an invaluable tool for the dissemination of information to our members and their families.
A timely education meeting for affiliates of the Labor Council was held at Newcastle at the time of the media release on our concerns about lead. As a result of that meeting we have fielded numerous questions from associate unions and other policing unions nationwide seeking further advice.
It is our belief that the dangers associated with lead have been known by the Police Service since the early 1980s. The Police Association is therefore in the process of launching prosecution against the Police Service for unsafe workplace and work practices with regard to this issue. This task has been assisted with the guidance and information provided by all the above agencies.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Police Service should ensure a safe workplace for all employees. While we know that policing is often unpredictable and contains hidden dangers, employees should be entitled to a workplace that is free from risks in their day to day processes and procedures. For too long police have been restricted by inadequate budgeting forcing them to make do with inadequate resources and training.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act is very specific. Not only do we as an employee representative organisation and our members have to adhere to this Act, so too does the Police Service.
It will be our intention to make sure they do so
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