Regulator News

Victorian news

Regulator launches campaign to raise awareness of sexual harassment at work

Yesterday WorkSafe Victoria launched the Let's Be Very Clear campaign to raise awareness of what sexual harassment is in order to educate employers on their responsibilities and encourage workers to call out unacceptable behaviour. The campaign will run across digital, print, radio and social media channels for a month.

WorkSafe reminds employers that preventing and effectively dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace is their responsibility and that failing to protect workers is a crime. WorkSafe Health and Safety Executive Director Julie Nielsen said the campaign was a wake-up call that this kind of behaviour can never be ok. "Let's be very clear - a workplace where sexual harassment is tolerated is an unsafe workplace," she said. "Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace and we all have a role to play in calling out this unacceptable behaviour when we see it."

The campaign targets employers in industries identified as high risk, including information, media and telecommunications, healthcare and social assistance, retail, education and training, and manufacturing. It follows the announcement on International Working Women's Day (March 8) by the Victorian government that it has begun work on a new plan to stamp out sexual harassment in Victorian workplaces.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, one in three people have been sexually harassed at work in the past five years – highlighting the urgent need to tackle this pervasive workplace health and safety problem.

Acting Premier James Merlino joined Minister for Workplace Safety Ingrid Stitt and Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams to announce the establishment of a Ministerial Taskforce on Workplace Sexual Harassment to develop reforms that will prevent and better respond to sexual harassment in workplaces. A key initiative of this reform program will be starting consultation on a mandatory incident notification scheme that would require employers to notify WorkSafe of workplace sexual harassment. 

The Taskforce will consider ways to strengthen the occupational health and safety framework to address sexual harassment, clarify employer obligations to boost accountability, encourage and support workers to speak up and consider measures to prevent the misuse of non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment matters. It will be co-chaired by Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety Bronwyn Halfpenny MP and Chair of the Equal Workplaces Advisory Council and experienced workplace injury lawyer, Liberty Sanger, will include union, employer and legal representatives, and has been asked to deliver its advice to the Government later this year. Read more: WorkSafe media release. Victorian Government media release

Updated Employee Representation Guide now available

WorkSafe has just released the updated version of vital guidance on the importance of consultation, discrimination, HSR training entitlements, obligations of employers and more. One of the most useful pieces of guidance every produced by WorkSafe, unions and employer groups put our head together to ensure that the updated version is as useful as the original one. It is a fabulous tool for many HSRs trying to ensure their employers comply with their duties under the OHS Act. Check it out here

WorkSafe accepts silica-related autoimmune compensation claim

WorkSafe Victoria insurers have accepted a compensation claim for an employee who was diagnosed with lupus rheumatoid arthritis after being exposed to toxic silica dust, in what lawyers believe could be an Australia-first decision. She developed the autoimmune conditions five years after working at a silica mining factory for nearly two decades. The woman is one of seven people who became unwell after being exposed to toxic silica dust. Her compensation claim was initially rejected, but a revised decision handed down on March 3. 

Roger Singh, the National Practice Leader of Shine Lawyers' Asbestos and Dust Diseases Team who represented the worker believes it is an Australia-first decision.

The link between exposure to silica dust and permanent lung damage is well established. Now lawyers have successfully drawn a connection to silica exposure and a number of autoimmune conditions including lupus, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis. Read more: ABC News online More on Silica 

Meanwhile, in Queensland, regulator finds multiple silica breaches

An inspection of 158 silica stone benchtop workplaces in Queensland has found hundreds of breaches of the Code of Practice. A quarter (84) of the 331 enforcement actions were issued on the Gold Coast, including three prohibition notices, which demonstrates that some of the city’s 45 businesses are continuing to ignore the serious health risks associated with silica dust.

Originally, the state government had only planned to reinspect a “sample” of the workplaces to check they were complying with the Stone Benchtop Code of Practice 2019 [pdf]. The regulator then decided to inspect them all after newspaper inquired why only a sample were being revisited when a Stage 2 audit in September 2018 revealed widespread noncompliance across 138 workplaces. At that time Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) issued 600 statutory notices for respirable crystalline silica-related contraventions, including 57 prohibition notices and 541 improvement notices. 
Read more: The Advertiser 

National News 

Major update to the Hazardous Chemicals Information System

Safe Work Australia has announced that more than 1,200 chemicals have been added or updated on the Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS).

HCIS is a free database of chemical classifications and workplace exposure standards for manufacturers, importers, suppliers and end users. This update adds classifications for more than 700 new chemicals and updates over 500 existing entries. The total number of hazardous chemicals listed on HCIS is now over 6,300.

The updated classification information is from tranches 21 to 26 of the Inventory Multi-tiered Assessment and Prioritisation framework, run by the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme. Details of the new and updated chemicals can be found by using the advanced search feature to show chemicals revised this week.  Go to the Hazardous Chemicals Information System. For more information about working with chemicals, go to the Hazardous chemicals page on the Safe Work Australia website. 

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities on March 4, at which time 18 Australian workers had been killed at work in 2021.  This is an increase of seven fatalities since the previous update on February 18. Five of the deaths occurred in the Transport, postal & warehousing sector. 

The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:

  • 9 in Transport, postal & warehousing

  • 2 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing

  • 2 in Construction
  • 2 in Manufacturing 

  • 1 in Arts & recreation services
  • 1 in Other Services

  • 1 in Wholesale trade

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. 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.

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