Shocking Safety Conditions


By Dave Mizon

MELBOURNE — As part of the settlement to the Hoechst dispute, a Health and Safety Review Committee was set up to investigate the problem of DCB (dichlorobenzene) contamination. The committee was made up of an independent consultant approved by Trades Hall, a company consultant, a Department of Labour representative and an independent consultant appointed by the government.

The findings, published in mid-January, are a damning indictment of Hoechst management's safety practices and attitude towards the health of workers at the plant.

The report, pointing out that DCB is a probable human carcinogen and citing the evidence for this assertion, states that tests performed on the pigment plant show conclusively that the whole of the plant is contaminated. The air duct that was supposedly bringing fresh air into the workers' lunch room was shown to be heavily contaminated, as were the toilet and shower facilities.

These findings put the lie to the company's assertion that the workers were exposed only during the loading of certain vessels involved in the pigment making process.

All workers currently employed at the pigment plant have returned positive results for possible bladder cancer, which makes the testing of workers who previously worked in the plant all the more urgent. It also raises questions about the safety of workers employed in other sections of the Hoechst Altona plant.

The report recommends that:

l the whole pigment plant be scrubbed and chemically treated to neutralise any residual DCB;

l a substitute for DCB be found or, failing that, the safest form of DCB be used (ie, the water-soluble form used in Germany);

l safe and remotely controlled loading facilities be installed.

The committee also recommended that the pigment plant should not resume production until all of the above conditions are met.

The company's reaction was to claim it could not afford to implement the recommendations and that production at the pigment plant would start as soon as possible.

In line with this, management has been pressuring workers to enter the plant and prepare for start up. The arrogance of the company has been due in part to the lacklustre performance of Trades Hall and the officials involved both during and after the strike.