SafetyNet 589

Welcome to the August 18/19 edition of SafetyNet.

Our subscribers will be award that Melbourne's lockdown will now be extended to September 2 - with even stricter restrictions. 

The situation in NSW is not yet under control, with over 400 cases reported each day this week - and over 630 reported on Wednesday. This triggered the lockdown being extended, finally, to the whole of NSW. 


Research

Changes in work and life patterns associated with COVID-19

It is known that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people limited going out, started working from home (WFH), and suspended work or lost their jobs - and that these changes could affect their mental health. Researchers in Japan investigated how such pandemic-related changes in work and life patterns were associated with depressive symptoms. Previous studies suggest that working from home increases employees’ well-being, whereas other studies show that it induces longer working hours and results in the overlapping responsibility of taking care of children by blurring boundaries between work and home time.

The researchers, from the Graduate School of Medicine and School of Public Health, Kyoto University, conducted an online survey among participants who use a health app called CALO mama from 30 April to 8 May 2020 in Japan. There were 2846 users (1150 men (mean age=50.3) and 1696 women (mean age=43.0)) who were working prior to the government declaration of a state of emergency (on 7 April - 13 May 2020). Their daily steps from 1 January to 13 May 2020 recorded by an accelerometer in their mobile devices were linked to their responses.  They also assessed depressive symptoms.

They found that on average, participants took 1143.8 fewer weekday steps during the declaration period. Depressive symptoms were positively associated with females, decreased weekday steps and increased working hours. Conversely, starting WFH was negatively associated with depressive symptoms.

The researchers concluded that decreased weekday steps during the declaration period were associated with increased odds of depressive symptoms, but that working from home may mitigate the risk in the short term. They recommended that further studies on the longitudinal effects of WFH on health are needed.
Read more: Koryu Sato, et al Changes in work and life patterns associated with depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic: an observational study of health app (CALO mama) users (Full text, Open access article) 


Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update   

The extreme transmissibility of the Delta variant of the COVID virus, the numbers being stuck at around 20 and some frightful breaches of the COVIDSafe orders led to Premier Dan Andrews this week announcing that Melbourne's hard lockdown would be extended to September 2, and some further restrictions imposed. These include the re-introduction of a curfew - this time from 9.00pm to 5.00am, limits to numbers of workers on construction sites, and a re-introduction of work permits. For more details, go to this page:  Coronavirus the Victorian situation 

The number of new infections announced in Victoria on Wednesday was 24, six of which had been out in the community for at least part of the time they were infectious. The issue of most concern to the Chief Health Officer are the so-called 'mystery cases' where contact tracers have been unable to identify where they contracted the virus. 

The current number of active cases in Victoria is 246 (12 are in hospital, two in ICU). It's very important to keep up with the listed exposure sites, of which there are now more than 530 and comply with the directions (eg to isolate and get tested). Go to this Victorian government page.    

In news from around Australia:

  • NSW: Greater Sydney is now in its eighth week of lockdown - with lockdown having been declared for the entire state last weekend. There were 633 new community infections in the state in the 24 hours before Wednesday morning. Of these, at least 92 were in the community for part or all of their infectious period - but the isolation status of 447 was still under investigation when we posted. 

    Unfortunately, there have been eleven more COVID-related deaths in NSW the past week. There have now been 60 deaths related to the current outbreak which began on July 16.  

  • ACT: the territory went into lockdown last week - this was also extended for a further two weeks to September 2, after 19 new cases were identified on Monday. 

  • Northern Territory: Greater Darwin and Katherine were put under a snap 72-hour lockdown at midday on Monday August 16. 

As at August 18, Australia has had a total of 40,782 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 967 deaths. There are some epidemiologists who are now saying we are in the third wave.  

Worldwide: there had been 209,357,040 infections (last week it was 204,722,211). This is over 4.6 million new infections in the past week. The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,394,364 - the upward trend has finally slowed. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus   

Vaccinations update 

According to the ABC Vaccine tracker 26.88 per cent of Australians are now vaccinated (48.7 per cent have received one dose). This is a great improvement - but according to The Guardian we are still ranked 35/38 for OECD countries - we must improve. 

In the past week it appears large numbers of Victorians over the age of 18 have booked and been given the first AstraZeneca jab. This is great news. 

Meanwhile the issue of employers wanting to make vaccinations mandatory for their employees has been bubbling away in the media. Companies claim mandatory vaccinations are necessary in order to keep their staff safe and their businesses open. This week federal Industrial Relations Minister, Michaelia Cash, called a meeting of employer associations and unions on the vaccine rollout and workplaces. A dozen major employer groups and unions were due to participate in the forum and hear from three officials that help regulate workplace vaccinations: the Fair Work Ombudsman, Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner and chief executive of Safe Work Australia. 

But the media was reporting that the unions will use the meeting to push another topic: universal paid vaccination leave so workers, including casuals, don’t have to lose income or use up other time off to get vaccinated. According to research done by the ACTU, Australia's peak union council, about 1.6 million workers have already been given some form of vaccination leave by their employers, including major brands such as Woolworths and Westpac.

The ACTU’s paid leave proposal, however, goes further than what many of those companies have provided. All workers, regardless of income, would get two days paid leave per dose to cover vaccination appointments and any immediate side effects. Sources: ACTU media release; and joint statement with the BCA on mandatory vaccinations; Sydney Morning Herald. The Fair Work Ombudsman has recently updated information on the website including: COVID-19 vaccinations: workplace rights and obligations; Pay, leave and stand downs and more.

ACTU petition for paid vaccination leave - we need your support!

The message is clear: Australia needs to be vaccinated as soon as possible. But the country is running almost last in the race to get it done. 

The ACTU says the biggest barriers to vaccination continue to be the government’s failure to secure adequate supply and a struggling roll out system that is still beyond the reach of too many Australians. Workers currently have no right to be absent from work to get their vaccinations. In fact, over two million casual workers currently face the real risk that they will miss out on shifts and lose pay if they have to get vaccinated and recover outside working hours. 

As reported above, the ACTU is campaigning for a better deal for workers. The country needs a rollout program that does not rely on workers to try to get the jab on weekends or during lunch breaks. Too many workers are in low paid jobs where they cannot afford to lose shifts and pay to get the jab - they should not have to choose between paying the bills and being vaccinated.

The ACTU is calling on the Morrison Government to give workers time off to get their jab and recover from the side effects, without being left out of pocket. Securing a universal right for workers to access paid leave is essential for individuals and the community as a whole, which will be less vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks through the exposure of unvaccinated workers.

Last year, unions campaigned for and won paid-pandemic leave and JobKeeper. This year, together, we can win this too – but we need everyone to work together. 

Please sign the ACTU's petition demanding nationwide vaccination leave - and ask all your work colleagues and family to do so as well.

Ask Renata  

While our service is designed to provide information and advice primarily to HSRs and workers, we often get queries from managers and employers, such as the following one, which came in this week: 

Good morning, Renata  

I would like some information on solutions and considerations around staff working after hours and then having to leave the building and access their car or public transport. This is after 6.30pm till early hours of the morning and on public holidays/weekends. How do we address these issues for our staff?

You are right to have concerns about your staff's safety. Both the employer and the person who manages or controls the workplace both have duties in relation to this under the OHS Act.

The employer: Under s21, the employer has a duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing 'safe systems of work' - such as the hours worked, the start and finish times and so on.

In order to fulfill this duty, the employer must identify, and then either eliminate (or minimise) any hazards and risks to workers - so far as is reasonably practicable. Further, the employer has a duty under s35 of the Act to consult with elected HSRs (or with employees directly affected if there are no HSRs) when identifying hazards and risks and also when making decisions about what controls they will implement.

The Person who manages/controls a workplace: Under s26, the person who has, to any extent, the management or control of a workplace must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it, are safe and without risks to health.  

In other words, taking the above into account, there is a duty to staff members in terms of their safety when leaving work - particularly in the dark, or in the early hours of the morning. In addition to the duties under the OHS Act, there have also been cases where employees who have been attacked and suffered serious injuries have sued their employer for negligence - the court then considering whether this risk had been 'foreseeable' and therefore the employer should have taken appropriate measures. 
What I recommend is a meeting with the elected HSRs (assuming you have them) or a representative group of employees, if you don't, to go through the issues, the hazards/risks and what could be implemented to address these and eliminate/minimise the risks. If your organisation has a health and safety unit/team or officer, they should assist with options and ideas. 
I cannot tell you what these may be as I am not familiar with your situation - the building/workplace; the work; the possible risks; and so on.
However, these are some things to consider:
  1. develop specific procedures and provide training
  2. avoid staff working late/very early/on their own whenever possible - reschedule any work that can be done during 'standard' hours 
  3. improve lighting and security at exits and in car parks
  4. provide staff with a car park at or near the office - this should be possible on public holidays/weekends when not all staff will be in attendance 
  5. arrange for security staff to accompany staff members to their cars (this was done for catering staff at the Melbourne Open who finished their shifts very late depending on the length of tennis matches)
  6. organise a car to drive staff to their cars
  7. issue taxi vouchers for taxis for staff finishing very late to avoid public transport (some awards/agreements had this provision in the past)
  8. organise/facilitate car pools 
  9. provide personal duress alarms
  10. you/your staff will probably have more ideas! 

I have not found anything very useful on the internet - but there may be general advice 'out there'. 

Please remember if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. 

Apply now if you would like to join the VTHC OHS Unit

A reminder that there are a number of new roles now being advertised for positions in the VTHC's OHS Team - joining the COVID-safe project.

The jobs are for 10 months (approx – until 30 June 2022) and will be working on:

  • Outreach to workers and workplaces about the importance of QR codes and other COVID safe measures
  • Finding out about the barriers to COVID safe compliance
  • Tackling vaccine hesitancy if found

The closing date for applications for the Level 3 Outreach Workers and the Level 6 - Senior organiser is COB August 20. 

ABCC Spent Half a Million Dollars Fighting CFMEU on Women's Bathrooms

In a revelation that was shocking even for us at the VTHC, it was disclosed last week by Attorney General Michaelia Cash that the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) spent $432,469 on legal fees in its attempt to fine the CFMEU for stopping work on a Brighton construction site in 2015.

The union stopped work on the site due to a failure to provide bathroom facilities for women, with one woman on-site reporting that she had been forced to use the men's bathrooms.

The news comes off the back of the ABCC's announcement of their intent to bar unions from crowdfunding money for fines on workers and union officials. Source: Megaphone Journal (subscribe to this great free ejournal)

Asbestos news

National: The Block contestants' tragic story  
Those who follow the popular TV reality show 'The Block' will be aware that the current season features twin brothers Josh and Luke whose father contracted peritoneal mesothelioma after having ingested asbestos. They hope to use their time on this show to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure. 

ASEA, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, has been working with the producers of The Block to provide them with awareness messaging and information to use as part of their production when asbestos issues arise. 
Check out this clip of the show: Josh and Luke forced to stop work when asbestos is found on site;  

India: huge company to abandon asbestos 
HIL Ltd., formerly Hindustan Asbestos, has announced its intention to abandon toxic asbestos technology as it transitions to “an integrated green building materials company.” In a press interview, CEO Dhirup Roy Choudhary said that: “The Asbestos business, which was contributing 80 per cent of revenue has now come down to 30 per cent, with rest of the 70 per cent from non-asbestos business.” The company has 22 factories in India, and 2 in Germany and Austria; it plays a leading role in India’s building products’ sector, and it can be certain that where HIL goes, others will follow.
Read more: HIL eyes $1b revenues as it transforms to an integrated green building materials company. Source: IBAS

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home

International union news

Iceland: Unionists win shorter working week

The working world looked on in excitement recently as Iceland secured a shorter working week for a significant portion of its workforce. Workers saw a reduction of their working hours from 40 to 36, which has seen vast improvements in health and productivity, even for what might be seen as a small change.  

Is this a conversation we’re ready to have in Australia? A closer look at Iceland’s journey might yield some lessons about the path to get there, not just the scenic destination. Read more: How Icelandic Unionists Won a Shorter Work Week Megaphone Journal 


International news

South Korea: Foreign workers more likely to die at work

Official figures have revealed that foreign workers are three times more likely to be killed in South Korea’s workplaces as Korean nationals. Data from the Ministry of Employment and Labor submitted to Rep. Kang Eun-mi of the Justice Party showed that one in eight (12 per cent) of the victims of work fatalities over the past 18 months were workers of foreign nationality. A total of 1,113 workers were killed between January 2020 and June this year, 135 of whom were foreign national workers. However, foreign workers make up just 4 per cent of the 24 million salaried employee positions in the country, suggesting their risk of death at work is three times that for Korean nationals.

“As migrant workers often take jobs shunned by Koreans, such as in agriculture, fisheries and the so-called 3D (dirty, difficult, dangerous) sectors, they are exposed to a higher risk of industrial or workplace disasters,” Rep. Kang said, stressing the need to increase preventive measures to ensure workplace safety.

Sul Dong-hoon, a professor of sociology at Chonbuk University, told The Korea Times that workplace discrimination may be one of the reasons for the high fatality rate among people of foreign nationality working in Korea. “In some cases, crucial safety equipment, such as gas masks and helmets, is provided only to Korean nationals. Employers should adhere fully to safety measures and recognise that the lives and safety of their workers are the top priority - irrespective of the nationality of the workers.” Read more: Korea Times. Source: Risks 1009


Prosecutions

Developer fined for multiple safety breaches

A Melbourne developer that repeatedly failed to address safety issues at a Doncaster building site has been convicted and ordered to pay fines totalling $75,000.

Pacific Land Consolidated Pty Ltd, which did not attend the hearing at Ringwood Magistrates' Court on 11 August, was convicted of 16 breaches of the OHS Act, 2004.

The company was convicted and fined:  

  • a total of $21,000 for seven charges of failing to ensure the workplace was safe and without risk to health;
  • $12,000 for two charges of failing to produce documents; and
  • $6000 for one charge of refusing or failing to comply with a requirement to produce documents to an inspector.

It was also fined a further combined $36,000 for six charges of failing to comply with improvement notices issued. 

The court heard that between April 2018 and February 2019, WorkSafe inspectors visited the townhouse development a total of 12 times, identifying a number of health and safety risks and issuing 18 improvement notices.

The company failed to comply with eight of those notices and failed on seven occasions to control the risks associated with working at heights above two metres. 

WorkSafe Acting Executive Director of Health and Safety Andrew Keen said the case showed a shocking disregard for workplace health and safety. "The number of safety breaches at this workplace is just staggering and the company's failure to address many of the issues shows a complete disregard for workers' health and safety," Mr Keen said.
Read more: WorkSafe media release

Smallgoods manufacturer fined $30,000

In June 2019 an employee of RN Brand, a company trading as Alpine Smallgoods which produces and manufactures smallgoods such as sausages and kranskys, fell while unloading boxes from a delivery truck and suffered a fractured skull, multiple fractured ribs and a fractured spine. He spent more than a month in hospital.

He and other employees had placed two stacks of five pallets each at the back of the truck as a platform to stand on in order to unload the truck’s contents.

A WorkSafe investigation found the company could have eliminated or reduced any risks to workers during the unloading of trucks by using a platform with perimeter guarding. The company pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $30,000 plus costs of $3,164.

WorkSafe Acting Executive Director of Health and Safety Andrew Keen said the idea of standing on stacked pallets to unload boxes was obviously flawed. "Falls from height remain one of the biggest killers of workers in Victoria and you don’t have to fall a great distance to suffer serious injuries, or worse," Mr Keen said. Read more: WorkSafe media release 

To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. 


Regulator News

Victorian news

2018-2020 fatality statistics

WorkSafe Victoria recently updated its fatality statistics to the end of 2020. The new expanded definition of reportable deaths has been backdated to 2018. The total for 2018 is now recorded as 49 (previously 26). The additional 23 additions are in the previous excluded categories of transport deaths, fatal occupational illness/disease and suicide at work.

The total number of reported fatalities for 2019 and for 2020 is 71 and 67 respectively. 

The Excel document provides clear definitions for all the terms used, and also gives a breakdown of the fatalities for each year according to:

  • Month and Year
  • Age and Gender
  • Industry and Category
  • Local Government Area
Not surprisingly, the majority of workers killed were males. In terms of LGAs - tragically, over the reporting period, Ballarat had 10 fatalities. WorkSafe: Workplace fatalities.  

Asbestos Demolition Case study

In late June, WorkSafe held a webinar on Asbestos in Demolition. A case study used in the webinar has been developed into guidance. The case study: Asbestos removal in domestic demolition, highlights the importance of having proper controls in place when dealing with asbestos during demolition of domestic buildings. In May 2018 WorkSafe Victoria (WorkSafe) received a report of suspected asbestos being removed from a residential property. Such calls, often from neighbours, are not uncommon. WorkSafe Inspectors attended the property: two workers were doing demolition work using hand tools. They were not wearing any personal protective equipment (PPE). An independent hygienist confirmed the building contained asbestos.

OHS Essentials program

During Tradie Week, WorkSafe is reminding employers of the OHS Essentials program, which is a free workplace safety consultation service for small businesses with 60 employees or fewer, delivered by independent occupational health and safety (OHS) experts. The service is a great way to receive free, independent and personalised advice to manage safety at the workplace.  The program has run for many years and has successfully provided assistance to thousands of small businesses in the state. Read more.

Latest edition of Safety Soapbox

The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox (news for the construction and utilities industries) was posted today.  This month WorkSafe’s focus is on the new infringement notices recently introduced by the Victorian government, with links to a YouTube video of WorkSafe's webinar on this topic.  

Other information in this month's edition:

  • a feature on Tradie Week, reminding employers that their crews' physical and mental safety should be top of mind, and providing links to more information and assistance. 
  • an announcement that WorkSafe Inspectors are conducting visits to sites where concrete placing boom pumps are operating. The focus of these visits will be the inspection and maintenance regimes after an employee was fatally injured when a critical component of a concrete-placing boom failed, causing the boom to collapse and strike the employee. 
  • some recent prosecutions
  • news from interstate
  • As always, the Safety Soapbox has the list of incidents reported: In July the construction industry reported 186 incidents to WorkSafe. Of these, 72 per cent resulted in injury. 

Access the August 2021 edition of Safety Soapbox here  - the summaries of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.

Reminder of the August 31 Webinar on mentally healthy workplaces

The second webinar in WorkSafe's WorkWell series, 'Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces Where Young People Thrive', will focus on the role of leaders in creating workplaces where young people can do their best work, so that everyone benefits. Industry leaders and mental health specialists will share what they have learnt.

Creating workplaces where young people can thrive and contribute is important because young workers are particularly vulnerable to injury at work. Employers and managers make a big difference to the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.

The webinar will look at:

  • why preventative strategies are needed to improve mental health in the workplace
  • how to create psychologically safe environments where conversations can be started and continued
  • how leaders can make a difference for young people

When: Tuesday 31 Aug 2021 at 10:00am to 11:00am.
Where: Online webinar event. Register now by going to this page on the WorkSafe website.

National News

NSW: Teenager killed at Baiada poultry plant

On Monday this week a 19-year-old worker was killed at the Baiada poultry plant near Tamworth in north-west NSW. The media is reporting that the 'accident' involved a piece of machinery and that both the police and SafeWorkNSW was investigating. This was no 'accident' - there could be many contributing factors to such a tragedy, many of which would be under the control of the employer. This could include insufficient or lack of training and supervision; work pressures; fatigue; poor workplace conditions; and more. It is hoped that these will be thoroughly investigated, and appropriate action taken by the NSW regulator. 

This company does not have a good OHS record (in Victoria a contractor was horrifically killed in August 2010; and further serious incidents occurred as reported in this 2012 article in The Age: Behind the closed doors of poultry processing
Source: ABC news online

National Fatality Statistics  

Safe Work Australia had not updated its statistics on fatalities since August 5, at which time it had been notified that 67 Australian workers had been killed at work this year. The total numbers of fatalities have been in the following sectors:

  • 26 in Transport, postal & warehousing 
  • 10 in Construction
  • 6 in Manufacturing 
  • 6 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 5 in Arts & recreation services
  • 3 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
  • 2 in Mining
  • 2 in Other Services 
  • 2 in Public administration & safety
  • 1 in Wholesale trade
  • 1 in Accommodation & food services
  • 1 in Education & training
  • 1 in Retail trade 
  • 1 in Administrative & support services

These figures are based mainly on initial media reports and provide a preliminary estimate of the number of people killed while working. Once the appropriate authority has investigated the death, more accurate information becomes available from which Safe Work Australia updates details of the incident, consequently sometimes the numbers of deaths in each sector change. Updated information is used to publish Safe Work Australia’s annual Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities report which includes finalised work-related fatalities from 2003 onwards. Note that the figures are based on preliminary reports, and so at times will change. To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.  


Events

HSR Initial & Refresher training

With the lockdown still underway in Victoria, the VTHC training courses are still being delivered online. If you've enrolled in a course and are not sure what's happening, then please contact Natalie Wood at [email protected] at the VTHC Training Unit.

Remember: if you haven't got around to doing your annual refresher, then you should enrol now: it's a very important 'update' on all the new stuff going on. Most HSRs do their initial training, but many do not then enrol in the subsequent 'Refresher' courses. All HSRs are entitled, and should, attend 'Refresher Training' each year subsequent to completing the five day initial training. 

Section 67 of the OHS Act 2004 entitles all OHS and Deputy Reps who have completed a 5 day initial training course to attend a one day refresher training course each year to keep their knowledge of OHS law and practice up-to-date.  It's important to take this right up, as the Refresher training provides an opportunity to catch up with new legislation and material, meet with other HSRs, and further hone skills. 

The refresher course covers:

  • Session 1 - covers legislative update on the Victorian OHS 2004 Act, OHS Regulations 2007, WorkSafe compliance codes and guides.
  • Session 2 - covers consultation, communication, problem solving.
  • Sessions 3 & 4 - covers hazard identification and control with either manual handling, work related stress, incident investigation or hazard mapping.

Details:

Course hours: 9am - 5pm
Course length: 1 day
Course fee: Metro: $330.00 incl. GST Regional: $350.00 incl. GST 

Upcoming 2021 dates and locations (some of these may be online):

  • 9 September – Gendered Violence & Sexual harassment: Education (Abbotsford)
  • 21 September  – HSR Refresher Training (Geelong)
  • 29 September - HSR Refresher Training (Carlton)
  • 26 October - HSR Refresher Training (Carlton)

Read more about the Work-related gendered violence course here: Knowledge is power in fight against gendered violence.  

Go to this link to enrol in a five-day initial or a refresher course. Remember to then notify your employer at least 14 days' of the course.