SafetyNet 560

Welcome to the first December 2020 edition SafetyNet. Victorians, and all Australians, can look forward to a great summer - of course maintaining caution and physical distancing. 

Visit our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page for news, memes and more. If you have any questions or need any advice, we can be reached via the Ask Renata facility on the website or through the closed OHS Network Facebook page. If you have comments or want to send through any ideas, email us at ohsinfo@vthc.org.au


Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Australia has had a total, to date, of 27,912 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed. None of those recently diagnosed in the past weeks have been in Victoria, where there have not been any new cases identified for 33 days.  There are now also no active cases in the state. The total number of COVID deaths however, increased to 908, with a Victorian woman in her 70's dying earlier this week - she had been cleared but died of complications. While the restrictions have now been substantially reduced, masks must still be worn at work and in some other circumstances, and limits remain on the number of people who can gather indoors, including in workplaces. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths continues to climb.  The cumulative number of infections is now 64,178,843. One week ago it was 60,076,389this is again an increase of over 4.1 million more infections in just seven days. There have been 1,485,762 confirmed COVID-related deaths around the world.

While the news continues to be positive in terms of effective vaccines getting emergency approval over the next few weeks, in the U.S the situation looks like it will worsen. White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. is likely to see a “surge upon a surge” of COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks given the number of people who traveled for Thanksgiving last week and shared meals with family and friends. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata 

We have a permanent part time floor worker who has been seconded for over one year to forklift duties. The forklift operators have their own DWG - but management has told him he is not a member of the forklift DWG, but remains with his original DWG. He wants to be DHSR as there are many OHS issues in that area, and the HSR is not active. Can you work within a work group but not be a member of their DWG?

This worker needs to be included in the Designated Work Group that he's been working in for a year - he has been there long enough for the situation not to be 'temporary' and the OHS issues he has identified are putting his health and safety at risk. How this happens will depend on the arrangements at the workplace. Even though DWGs are usually defined by physical location or type of work (as it is here - 'forklifts'), it is very important to then have a list of the actual workers within the DWG - every member of a DWG has the right to nominate as HSR/DHSR and vote in any election. At the moment, and for the past year, this worker has not had these rights. 

He should raise this with the employer - and if he doesn't get anywhere, then either one of the HSRs, or else his union organiser can follow up. Once he is a member of the forklift DWG, there are a few ways forward:

  • if there's a vacant DHSR position, he could nominate for it. However this depends on whether there was agreement when DWG was established that there would be positions in addition to the 'standard' HSR position. If not, then under the OHS Act, the establishment AND variation of Designated Work Groups must be negotiated and agreed between the employer and employees. This could take some time.
  • Even as a DHSR, his role would be limited, as a deputy can only take issues up, issue PINs, and so on, if the HSR is not physically available - he could not be active simply because the current HSR is not doing much.
  • If the current HSR is not active, then s/he should be approached and asked to resign. If the HSR is not willing to do this, then s/he ceases to hold that position if a 'majority of the members of the DWG resolve (in writing) that the person should no longer represent the DWG, but only if the person has held office for at least 12 months' [s55(2)(d) of the OHS Act].

I recommend that if you have any issues getting this addressed, then you (or the worker you're referring to) contact the union for assistance. 

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

Have you checked our EBA Clause library? 

The VTHC has developed a library of EBA clauses which specifically address occupational health and safety. These come from unions, developed for use when they negotiate their EBAs. Others come from work done some years ago by the ACTU OHS Unit. Check out the EBA Library resource here. 

Sign the petition for Gig workers 

In our last edition we reported on the deaths of five food delivery drivers in just weeks. The gig economy is literally killing workers. Without health and safety rights, insurance and a living wage riders are forced into working quickly rather than safely over long hours to pay their bills and buy groceries.

Platforms like UberEats are getting away with turning a blind eye to the health and safety of their workers as the Federal Government attempts to wash its hands of responsibility and fails to act. Federal Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter, must step up and act immediately to enforce minimum standards to keep gig workers safe.

This is a crisis of national proportions and it is not enough for Christian Porter to simply extend his “deepest sympathies” to the families of the workers who haven’t made it home safely. As the Federal Industrial Relations Minister he has the powers to regulate the gig economy and extend protections and support to these workers. Tell the Minister and the Federal Government that 'enough is enough' - sign the Megaphone petition now

Join young workers to fight for a better future

Earlier this year approximately 50 young workers built a Log of ClaimsThe Log of Claims is a list of demands that young workers will take action on in 2021 to campaign for a fairer, safer Victoria for all young workers. They are fighting for good, clean, secure jobs, roofs over their heads and an education and healthcare system that helps young workers get ahead. This year young workers won wage theft laws, and together they can win a whole bunch of other changes so that young workers aren't left recovering from the pandemic for decades to come. Next Wednesday 9 December at 5pm young workers will come together on Zoom to form action groups and plan how to win the demands in 2021. The event is being coordinated by the VTHC's Young Workers' Centre. RSVP and join other young workers on Wednesday 9 December!

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Government must ratify ILO C190 Violence and Harassment Convention now

Eighteen months ago Australia supported the adoption of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on Violence and Harassment (C 190), which recognises every worker’s fundamental right to be free from all forms of violence and harassment at work, including gender-based violence and harassment. Australian women unionists were active and influential in the debate.

Yet despite this support, the Morrison Government has not followed through on its commitment and has failed to ratify the Convention so it can become law in Australia. Everyone has the right to a workplace free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment.

The Australian Government must recognise that worker safety has never been more important. Help the CFMEU and MUA send a message loud and clear that the government must now ratify the ILO Convention so it can become law in Australia by signing this petition. Also check out this short video by Dr Gerry Ayers, OHS Manager at the Victorian branch of the CFMEU, who explains why this issue is so important. 

As a comparison, Argentina is one step closer to becoming the third country in the world after Uruguay and Fiji to adopt ILO Convention 190 on the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, after the Chamber of Deputies approved a bill for ratification. The bill was approved by a large majority on 11 November. 

Unions in Argentina have played an important role in promoting the bill's approval. In the session of the Chamber of Deputies, deputy Vanese Siley, spokeswoman for the federal group of women trade unionists of the CGT, underscored the role of the inter-union network (made up of more than 100 unions from the three national centers) in campaigning for the elimination of violence at the workplace. Read more: Argentina's parliament in favour of ratifying C190. Industriall media release

Asbestos news  

Canberra mesothelioma sufferer awarded $250k 

A Canberra man who contracted mesothelioma after playing in loose-fill asbestos as a toddler has been awarded more than $250,000 by the ACT Government to cover his medical treatment, despite the territory's position that the blame for his suffering is the Commonwealth's.

The 54 year old man was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma earlier this year and called on the ACT Government to establish a compensation fund to support his and future 'Mr Fluffy' mesothelioma cases. Chief Minister Andrew Barr committed to investigating a scheme for future victims, but confirmed an "act of grace" payment had been made to the man as a contribution to his medical costs. It is the first time any level of government has paid out any claim for sickness associated with the 'Mr Fluffy' loose-fill asbestos saga.

The man was a young child when he and his three brothers played with piles of loose-fill asbestos as if it was snow in the garage of their Canberra home. Fifty years later, the man was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is incurable. He was one of the first-known Mr Fluffy residents to contract the disease. Read more: ABC online

The asbestos toll

The following is an excerpt from a letter published in the Jimboomba Times (QLD) and sent by J. Jarratt, Asbestos Awareness. It brings home the terrible legacy of Australia's use of asbestos.

"In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit all Australians hard and tragically taken the lives of more than 900 Aussies who have left behind heartbroken loved ones.

But what many do not know is that in 2020, more than 4000 Australians will die from asbestos-related diseases caused from exposure to asbestos fibres either in the home or in the workplace.

For more than 100 years Australians have been dying from asbestos-related diseases and as with COVID-19, the most effective means of preventing more deaths is to prevent exposure to the cause.

We have listened to the warnings about COVID-19. Now it's time Australians listened to the warnings about asbestos.

Asbestos was used extensively in the manufacture of more than 3000 products, products that can be lurking in any home built or renovated before 1987 including brick, weatherboard, clad and fibro homes and even apartments."

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

International news

Global: Union call for rapid antigen testing for workers.  

The global union confederation ITUC is pressing for urgent and large-scale investment in rapid antigen testing for the virus that causes COVID-19, in order to bring the pandemic under control. These tests, also know as ‘strip’ tests, can be done by anyone at home, in workplaces or in other settings and produce a result in 15-30 minutes. Their key feature is that they give a positive reading when people are still contagious. ITUC says the commonly used Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests can give a positive result well after an individual is contagious, are expensive and logistically complicated. It is planned to use rapid tests on workers in Victoria's quarantine hotels, when the program restarts next week. On Monday it was announced that staff will be tested for coronavirus daily, and their households will also undergo regular testing.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “Adding these tests to the existing armoury of measures to tackle the pandemic would enable workplaces that have been shut down to reopen safely with a very high degree of confidence.” She added: “Masks, social distancing, sick pay for everyone who tests positive, social protection and job and business support measures are still essential and are vital to the effective roll out of rapid antigen or ‘strip’ tests but those tests can make a real contribution to stopping the virus and saving jobs. The world cannot continue to yo-yo between lockdowns and partial reopening. The social, economic and health costs are too high and are a price that does not need to be paid.”

A briefing prepared by the ITUC, which draws on specialist input and the work of epidemiologists, virologists and other experts, sets out the rationale for major investment in strip tests and large-scale rollout. “We need to add these simpler and cheaper but effective strip tests to enable economies to reopen for the long term, and help suppress the virus to the point where we can begin to trust safety in the workplace and in public spaces,” said ITUC’s Sharan Burrow. 
Read more:  ITUC news release, briefing paper and short video explainer. Source: Risks 975. Read more on rapid antigen testing: Rapid COVID-19 testing a potential game-changer in worker protection Institute for Work and Health Newsletter

UK: TUC warns food factories could be COVID 'super spreaders' this Christmas

The TUC this week warned that food processing factories could become “super spreaders” of COVID-19 in the run up to Christmas. Food processing has the third highest rate of outbreaks of any sector across Europe, after care homes and hospitals, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Control.

People working in food plants already face a higher chance of contracting COVID-19 due to the lack of airflow, lack of social distancing and low temperatures, says the UK's peak union body: With the number of temporary workers in food manufacturing set to increase by more than 40 per cent this Christmas, the risk of workplace infections will grow. Since March, several UK food factories have been forced to close during the pandemic after reporting hundreds of cases of coronavirus, among them suppliers to major supermarkets. 

The TUC warns that current workplace safety guidance for food production is “out-of-date”. New scientific studies have shown the significance of airborne transmission with COVID-19 aerosols remaining suspended in the air for hours. But the existing UK government guidance is still largely based on stopping spread of droplets which fall to the ground in seconds.  

The TUC says ministers must update the guidance to deal with issues including:  

  • Ventilation: the current guidance fails to offer advice on effective ventilation beyond opening windows. And it doesn’t state what additional measures should be implemented in instances where this is not possible to achieve.  
  • Face coverings: the government should issue detailed standards on the quality of face coverings. The World Health Organisation says there should be three protective layers.  
  • Workplace temperature: studies show that coronavirus thrives in the cooler temperatures found in meat packing factories. But there is no mention of workplace temperatures in the current official guidance.  
  • Social distancing: the current guidance states that, where two metre distancing is not possible, working side-by-side is preferable to face-to face. The TUC says this rule should be reviewed based on the most recent scientific findings.  

TUC polling published in September revealed that just two-fifths (38 per cent) of workers say they know their employers have carried out Covid-Secure risk assessments. And only four in ten (42 per cent) reported being given adequate PPE.
Read more: TUC media release

 


Research

Pandemic sees rise in support for Working from home; Compressed weeks, and Job sharing

Research commissioned by the FWC as it considers inserting a WFH clause in the clerical award has found that support among workers for performing their duties from home, compressing their hours and job sharing has increased dramatically during COVID-19.

Sydney University's Marian Baird and Daniel Dinale found that 58 per cent of workers now want to work from home occasionally in the future – up from 35 per cent pre-pandemic – with two days the preferred option, followed by one day. With a strong preference for a mix of both in-person time and working from home, they say there may be the need for a right to “not work from home”.

There is also a huge worker increase in support for compressed working weeks (CWW), up from 28 per cent pre-pandemic to 60 per cent wanting to access it after COVID-19. There is also an increase in support for job sharing: from 20 per cent to 41 per cent.

The authors warn that the effects of working from home on women need to carefully considered, due to the potential for a “gendered take up with more men not working from home, and increased potential to see further gendering of flexibility use and the division of tasks at home”.

Baird and Dinale recommend “further and very targeted research on preferences amongst workers, disaggregated by sex, age, occupation and industry would be ideal to reliably understand Australian worker and employer preferences for flexible work arrangements post-COVID-19”. 
Read more: Professor Marian Baird AO and Daniel Dinale, Research report: Preferences for flexible working arrangements: before, during and after COVID-19, A report to the Fair Work Commission,  November 2020 [pdf]  Source: Workplace Express

COVID: adequacy of controls and PPE linked to workers' mental health

A study conducted at the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency finds workers who felt safe at their physical worksites had better mental health than workers who felt workplace COVID-19 safety practices were inadequate.

The new Institute for Work & Health (IWH) study of Canadian workers conducted in the (northern) spring of 2020 found that adequate protections such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and workplace infection control protocols (ICP) are linked to the mental health of workers.

The study, conducted jointly with the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), found symptoms of anxiety and depression were highest among people who continued to go to work during the lockdown but felt none of their needed PPE and ICP protections were in place. In contrast, anxiety and depression symptoms were least prevalent among people who physically went to work but felt all the needed measures and PPE were available.

Also, workers who felt fully protected at their worksites had similar or even slightly better mental health compared to people who worked from home. Likewise, people who felt entirely unprotected at work had even poorer mental health than people who had lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic.

The study, accepted for publication in the Annals of Work Exposures and Health, was based on a survey developed by OHCOW, IWH and an ad-hoc pandemic survey group. The analysis compared anxiety and depression symptoms across three groups of workers. These were: people who worked remotely (42 per cent of the sample), people who were at work at their workplace (51 per cent of the sample) and people who had lost their job since the onset of the pandemic (seven per cent). 
Read more: Adequacy of COVID infection control and PPE linked to workers’ mental health: study
Institute for Work and Health newsletter

COVID-19 in Cold Environments: risks in meat processing plants

A team of public health experts led by Dr. David Nabarro, co-director of the Institute for Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London and Strategic Director 4SD Switzerland, has produced a working paper for the global union IUF on the factors which make cold food processing facilities high risk environments for the spread of COVID-19.

The paper recommends essential and practical steps employers and regulatory agencies should take to mitigate against the spread of the disease in meat and other cold food processing environments. Key findings and recommendations include:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the profound societal inequality within the meat industry.
  • Employment conditions which incentivize reporting systems and provide financial support to workers when sick or isolating are critical factors in the successful fight against the disease.
  • Local health authorities, businesses and trade unions must work together. Public health and occupational health and safety are interconnected.
  • Temperature, humidity and poor ventilation all play a role in the spread of the disease.
  • Crowded work places, the speed of production, and aerosols combining with dust, feathers and animal waste, are all factors which encourage transmission of the coronavirus.
  • The implementation, in conjunction with workplace health and safety representatives, of standard OSH processes including risk assessments can have a major impact in reducing the spread of infection.

Welcoming the report, IUF Assistant General Secretary James Ritchie said: “A healthy and safe workplace established through the elimination and control of hazards, thorough testing and contact tracing systems enacted by appropriately funded public health authorities, and adequate paid sick leave for workers who are sick or must isolate, are the essential components of a strategy to keep essential food workers safe and to fight the spread of the coronavirus. There is no excuse to delay implementation.” Source: IUF news 
Access the paper "COVID in cold environments: risks in meat processing plants" in these languages: English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.

Cleaning chemicals risks can increase during COVID

In a review of 39 studies, researchers from the UK's National Heart and Lung Institute have found a 50 per cent increased risk of asthma, and 43 per cent increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among cleaners. They say these findings are particularly relevant under the current COVID-19 pandemic, with the use of and exposure to cleaning chemicals increasing globally through infection controls. "We recommend adding to pandemic guidance documents information on cleaning-related respiratory health effects and on safe use of cleaning products to prevent the associated public health burden."

According to the researchers, their findings appear to support the "still debated" hypothesis that cleaning-related airway obstructions are caused by irritation rather than immuno-related mechanisms. "Also, our results suggest that if exposure at work to noxious cleaning agents persists a reversible airway obstruction could become irreversible" they add.

The findings have important public health implications as there is a growing "epidemic" of respiratory symptoms among occupational cleaners worldwide, the researchers say. "Preventive measures to avoid, or at least reduce exposure to cleaning agents at [the] workplace should be implemented, and respiratory health surveillance should be strengthened among this category of workers in order to detect early signs of respiratory health effects." 
Read more: Olia Archangelidi, et al, Cleaning products and respiratory health outcomes in occupational cleaners: a systematic review and meta-analysis. [Abstact], Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first November 2020, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2020-106776. Source: OHS Alert

Increased risk of neurological disease in miners 

A study of more than a million workers has identified an increased risk of neurological disease in those from a major sector. Researchers from Canada's Occupational Cancer Research Centre say their findings could support a review of workers' compensation claims for neurodegenerative conditions among workers in mining occupations and related industries.

The researchers analysed workers' comp data and the healthcare usage records of 1.1 million male workers from 1999 and 2016, and found elevated rates of motor neuron disease, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease among miners compared to non-mine workers. Those affected worked in metal mines like gold, uranium, nickel, copper and zinc mines, and in roles involving rock and soil drilling work.

They say established at-risk occupation groups include those working around electromagnetic radiation, pesticides and heavy metals, like lead in materials, fumes, dust or liquid.  Exposures to nickel, aluminium "McIntyre Powder" and diesel engine exhaust in mines could be the source of the elevated risk of neurodegenerative conditions shown in their results. "Diesel engine emissions are an important component of total outdoor fine particles and have been a common exposure at Ontario underground metal mines since the 1960s," they say. 
Read more: Xiaoke Zeng, et al, Neurodegenerative diseases among miners in Ontario, Canada, using a linked cohort. [Abstract], Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first November 2020, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2020-106958. Source: OHS Alert


Regulator news

Better mental health support for Victorian workers

Victorian workers who suffer a work-related mental health injury will soon be able to access early treatment and support, after new legislation was introduced into Parliament last week.    

The Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Provisional Payments) Bill 2020 comes after an election commitment from the Andrews Labor Government to ensure no worker has to wait to get urgent care. Under the new laws, Victorian workers who seek compensation for a mental health injury under WorkCover will receive payments to cover reasonable medical expenses while they await the outcome of their claim.  Mental injury claims have grown significantly in recent years and are expected to account for a third of all workers’ compensation claims by 2030.

“These landmark reforms will ensure that Victorian workers gets the urgent support they deserve – and can get better and return to work as soon as they can,” said the Minister for Workplace Safety Ingrid Stitt. “With more and more workers seeking help for mental health injuries, it’s vital that we remove barriers that prevent people from accessing care and support as soon as they need it.” Read more: Victorian government media release

WorkSafe Victoria news

WorkSafe urges holiday safety

The regulator says: "Don’t let the holiday rush lead to tragedy - the holiday season is fast approaching and many of us are keen to get 2020 over and done with". But WorkSafe warns that when workers are rushed to finish jobs before the holidays, the chances of errors are higher and can lead to serious, or even tragic incidents. WorkSafe says: "Slow down and stay safe, so we can all put 2020 safely behind us". The regulator has made resources available for specific industries - check out the material here.

New Safety alert on powerlines

WorkSafe has issued a safety alert about managing the risks of overhead powerlines. Over the past 2.5 years, there have been two fatalities involving overhead powerlines on farming properties. The alert goes through the safety issue, recommended ways to control the risk, and provides advice to employers. Read more: Managing the risks of overhead powerlines 

Sill needed: HSRs for workshops

WorkSafe Victoria is currently looking at how it can better support HSRs. The regulator would like to talk to HSRs from the manufacturing and health care and social assistance industries to understand the barriers, frustrations and ideas for solutions. WorkSafe needs extra HSRs from the manufacturing sector in particular. 

WorkSafe wantings to know:

  • What stops HSRs from being effective in their role?
  • What supports/training/guidance would enable JSRs in their role?

This is a chance to help shape future HSR support programs at WorkSafe - and it wants HSRs to get involved.

There are going to be two virtual workshops on:

  • Wednesday 9th Dec: 12.30pm-2.30pm or 6.30pm-8.30pm (for Manufacturing HSRs) 
  • Thursday 10th Dec: 12.30pm-2.30pm or 6.30pm-8.30pm (for Health Care and Social Assistance HSRs)

Those participating will be reimbursed for their time. If you are interested and willing to be consulted as part of this work, please contact Monica Butler at WorkSafe on monica_butler@worksafe.vic.gov.au

Other news

National Work-related fatalities, 2019

Safe Work Australia has released the Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities Australia 2019 report, which provides the latest detailed national statistics on all workers and bystanders fatally injured at work.   

The 2019 report shows that over the last decade, the number and rate of work-related fatalities have been gradually decreasing. In 2007, the fatality rate was 3.0 fatalities per 100,000 workers.  In 2019, this rate has decreased by 53 per cent to 1.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers.  The number of work-related fatalities recorded in 2018 represented an unusual decrease compared to the longer-term trends in fatality numbers.  

While the number of work-related fatalities has been steadily decreasing over the last decade, any workplace death is tragic and unacceptable. Understanding the causes of injury and the industries most affected can help reduce work-related fatalities.

The report details that in 2019 62 per cent of worker fatalities occurred in the following industries: 

  • Transport, postal and warehousing (58 fatalities) 
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing (30 fatalities) 
  • Construction (26 fatalities)

The most common causes of worker fatalities in 2019 were: 

  • Vehicle collisions (43 per cent) 
  • Falls from a height (11 per cent) 
  • Hit by falling objects (11 per cent) 

The report and data is drawn from a range of sources, including reporting of fatalities in the media, notifications from jurisdictional authorities, and the National Coronial Information System.  This report provides complements and provides additional detail to the Key Work Health and Safety Statistics published on 12 October 2020.

New national guidance on prevention of falls

Safe Work Australia data shows that over the past 5 years, there were 122 fatalities from falls from heights. This accounted for 13 per cent of worker fatalities. Workers most at risk were those in the construction industry, with most fatalities caused by falls from buildings or other structures. 

Serious workers’ compensation claims that resulted from falls from heights declined 17 per cent between 2009-10 and 2018-19, however, during this period, falls from heights still accounted for 6 per cent of serious claims. Employers and those who manage or are in control of a workplace, have a responsibility to eliminate or minimise the risk of falls from heights. 

Eliminating the risk may include working on the ground or on a solid structure. Minimising the risk may involve using:

  • fall prevention devices (e.g. fences, edge protection)
  • work positioning systems (e.g. an elevating work platform), or
  • fall arrest systems (i.e. safety nets, harnesses).

In most cases, a combination of control measures will provide the best solution to minimise the risk to the lowest level reasonably practicable.

For practical guidance, check Safe Work Australia's model Code of Practice: Managing the risk of falls at workplaces and model Code of Practice: Managing the risk of falls in housing construction.

SWA has also published three infographics that can be downloaded and shared with workers or placed around the workplace:

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work has not updated its fatality statistics on November 19, at which time there had been 147 worker fatalities notified to the national body. The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:

  • 49 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 30 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 27 in Construction
  • 14 in Public administration & safety
  • 12 in Manufacturing 
  • 5 in Mining 
  • 3 in 'other services' 
  • 2 in Accommodation & food services
  • 1 in Arts & recreation services
  • 1 in Retail trade
  • 1 in Administrative & support services
  • 1 in Wholesale trade
  • 1 in Education and training 

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.

 


Prosecutions

Multiple breaches, serious injury lead to conviction and fine of $80,000

Taylor Ferguson & Co. Pty. Ltd, a company that operates a bottling and packing plant in Kyneton has been convicted and fined $80,000 after an incident in which a worker was seriously injured when crushed by a piece of plant. The company had failed to act on a number of occasions and failed to both notify WorkSafe and preserve the scene of the incident.

  • On 8 October 2018 a WorkSafe Inspector conducted an inspection and issued improvement notices on inadequate guarding on four pieces of plant which created risks of entanglement, amputation and electric shock.
  • On 29 November 2018 Inspectors attended to follow up on the improvement notices. The company had not taken any action to fix the guarding issues on any of the machines, continuing to expose employees to risks to their health and safety.
  • On 30 November 2018 Inspectors re-attended the workplace, along with an external contractor who commenced identification and rectification works.
  • On 8 January 2019 Inspectors re-attended the workplace: access to the danger areas on three of the four items of plant had been adequately guarded.
  • On 22 February 2019 Inspectors re-attended the workplace:  action had been taken on the last piece of plant.

Then, on Friday 16 August 2019 an employee was working near another item of plant - the Depallatiser - which mechanically loads pallets of empty bottles onto a conveyor for processing. Workers in an area near the depallatiser were at risk of serious injury or death due to entanglement, crushing or being struck by it and its robotic arm.

The worker was collecting bottles that had fallen over during loading and ensuring the depallatiser was working correctly. He had been shown to use either a hook on a stick or a tall broom, but as it was a fast-paced environment sometimes he used his hands. As he leaned over, the depallatiser descended, crushing his head and face. He sought help and collapsed nearby. He was transported by paramedics to hospital, where he underwent numerous facial surgeries and spent a week in intensive care.

Production at the workplace was stopped after paramedics arrived and the noise hindered their treatment of the man. Once paramedics left production was restarted, disturbing the scene of the incident. WorkSafe was not notified, only becoming aware after a subsequent service request was made on Monday 19 November 2019.

The offender pleaded guilty and was with conviction sentenced to a total effective fine of $80,000. ($25,000 for the observational breaches commencing 8 October 2018; $30,000 for the incident on 16 August 2019; $25,000 for failing to notify WorkSafe and failing to preserve the incident scene, plus $6,866 in costs).

The worker could have been killed. 

Bakery fined $30k after worker loses finger

A labour hire worker was provided to Davies Bakery Pty Ltd, a commercial bakery in Broadmeadows, by Chandler Personnel Pty Ltd. Chandler provided the worker with induction training. Davies, however, did not induct him at the workplace or give him any training or information on the machines used to manufacture pastry products. The worker worked in the pastry section for about year and then was directed by Chandler to work in the bread packing area the day prior to the incident.

On 27 June 2018, his first day in the bread packing area, the worker was removing bread from the infeed conveyor to the slicer. As he was picking up the bread, the middle finger on his right hand went through the conveyor belt and was amputated when it came into contact with the in running nip point on the operating conveyor belt. Removing bread from the conveyor belt was a common practice and was done on a daily basis to prevent bread building up when the slicer stopped working.

Following the incident, two improvement notices were issued and, in order to comply with the notices, Davies arranged for the replacement of the conveyor belt with finger safe conveyor belts within 9 days of the incident.

Davies pleaded guilty to one charge and was without conviction, fined $30,000 plus $3,725 in costs.

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

WA: Tunnel contractor fined $150K for worker’s electrocution

A tunnel contractor for the Forrestfield Airport Link Project has been fined $150,000, plus $3000 in costs following an incident in which a worker sustained major electrical burns in October 2017 when a crane made contact with or came too close to high voltage overhead power lines. The company pleaded guilty in the Perth Magistrates Court in October to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment and, by that failure, causing serious harm to an employee.

A cane crew tasked to relocate and install a 10 metre long time-lapse camera pole on top of a concrete block to monitor the construction works at the south site of the project did not receive an induction specific to that site. When they moved the pole vertically, the boom of the crane either came into contact with or came within close proximity to 132,000-volt overhead power lines, causing an electrical flashover. A rigger standing on the ground and holding the pole and tag line received a severe electric shock, and suffered severe electrical burns to 38 per cent of his body. He has been left with permanent physical injuries and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Source: SafetyCulture


International News

NZ: Thirteen charges laid over volcano deaths

Ten organisations and three company officers face maximum work health and safety fines totalling NZ$15.9 million (A$15.129 million), after being charged this week in relation to the Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption that killed 22 people, including 14 Australians, in December 2019. Most of those on the New Zealand island at the time were tourists from a cruise ship, and being guided by a local tour company. It has been reported that they were not alerted to the elevated risk of eruption, identified by New Zealand authorities, until they were on the island.

WorkSafe New Zealand has charged nine organisations with breaching section 36 ("Primary duty of care") of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, in allegedly failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and other persons at the island. A 10th organisation will face either a section-36 charge or a charge under section 37 ("Duty of PCBU who manages or controls workplace").  Each charge carries a maximum fine of NZ$1.5 million (A$1.427 million).

In addition, three individuals were charged with breaching section 44 ("Duty of officers") of the Act, in allegedly failing to comply with their duties, as company directors or individuals with significant influence over their companies, to exercise due diligence to ensure their companies met their health and safety obligations in relation to the island. The officers face maximum fines of NZ$300,000 (A$285,444) each.

WorkSafe NZ chief executive Phil Parkes said while the volcanic eruption "was an unexpected event, but that does not mean it was unforeseeable. There is a duty on operators to protect those in their care," he said. "There were 47 people on the island at the time of the eruption, all of whom suffered serious injuries and trauma, and 22 of those have lost their lives.”
Source: OHSAlert


Events

Reminder - Central Safety Group Tuesday 8 December
Topic: What COVID-19 means for workplace safety

Central Safety Group is wrapping the year up with the subject that has had such an impact on our lives and work these past eight months.

Join Professor David Caple when he discusses Covid-19 and workplace safety via zoom on Tuesday 8 December at midday. David has been working on COVID-related projects with the healthcare and government sectors during the crisis. He will reflect on the psychological and physical risks, ways these can be managed and what long-lasting impacts coronavirus could have on the workplace. He will then open the session for questions and discussion.

Participants are encouraged to join in and talk about what is being done in their own industry or workplace.  It should be an interesting session!

When: 12:00-1:00pm, Tuesday, 8 December, 2020 
How: Online via Zoom. Financial members will automatically be emailed the Zoom meeting link. (N.B. A video recording of the session will be available on the website exclusively for financial members.) 
Cost: Financial members* free. Others $10 [Individual membership fee for 2020: $75] *If unsure of your membership status, contact membership@centralsafetygroup.com

Book online now (RSVP by 7 December)