Regulator News

Victorian news

More Amendments to workplace safety legislation

The Andrews Labor Government last week introduced the Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill, 2021 which will, among other things, strengthen health and safety laws to provide more support to workers and families affected by the debilitating effects of silicosis and similar occupational diseases.

The Bill recognises the progressive and ongoing nature of diseases such as silicosis, and will mean that workers with eligible diseases will not need to prove that their injury has stabilised to access lump sum payments. They will also be able to make subsequent applications if their impairments progress. Other amendments include increased support for the families of workers with silicosis and similar diseases, such as counselling and improved compensation and assistance entitlements. 

These are in line with the Labor Government’s Silica Action Plan, which has also permanently banned dry-cutting, introduced Australia’s first licensing scheme for businesses working with engineered stone and provided free health screenings for past and present stonemasons.

The bill will amend the OHS Act to improve compliance by:

  • changing the threshold required for a WorkSafe inspector to issue a prohibition notice not only in cases where a risk is immediate but also when they reasonably believe that an activity involves or will involve a serious risk to the health and safety of a person from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard. 
  • certain diseases or illnesses will be able to be prescribed as notifiable by regulation, recognising the significant impact and changeability of highly contagious or potentially serious illnesses in the workplace
  • ensuring that notifiable workplace-acquired or workplace-transmissible illnesses align Victoria with the model Workplace Health and Safety Act 

The Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt, said “We’re strengthening our laws to better protect Victorians from the full range of risks that exist in the modern workplace and make sure employers are accountable for their workers’ health and safety.”

Read more: Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill, 2021; Government Media release 

WorkSafe urges employers to protect new and inexperienced workers 

Over the coming weeks, WorkSafe Inspectors will be visiting businesses across Victoria with a focus on protecting at-risk workers, particularly in the Retail Industry.

As part of the campaign and to support this activity, WorkSafe has sent out a message to inform business owners, employers and managers of their responsibilities and obligations.

WorkSafe says: These workers can be at a higher risk of experiencing mental and physical injuries in the workplace. COVID-19 requirements and aggression towards workers from some members of the public are making conditions even more challenging for many people.

The communication also contains links to useful resources and information.

New guidance on welding

WorkSafe and its major stakeholders - unions and employer organisations - have developed a new and very informative resource: Controlling exposure to welding fumes

In March 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) re-classified welding fumes from a Group 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans) to a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans).

The purpose of the guidance is to:

  • Increase awareness of the risk associated with exposure to welding fumes
  • Provide guidance on controlling the risk from exposure to welding fumes

Read more: Welding fumes 

Updated guidance for 'surge' workforce

WorkSafe Victoria has updated its guidance: Surge workforces in healthcare and social assistance. The guidance has been written to help employers in healthcare and social assistance manage the risks associated with returning, new and redeployed employees entering the workforce to meet critical shortages. Check out the guidance here.  

National news 

National Return to Work 2021 Survey initial findings

Safe Work Australia has published the 2021 National Return to Work Survey Headline Measures Report.

The report provides an overview of key return to work measures captured in the 2021 National Return to Work Survey – Australia’s only national return to work survey of people who get workers’ compensation for a work-related illness or injury. 

The 2021 results, used for national reporting and jurisdictional comparison, show a national returned to work rate of 91.6 per cent and a current return to work rate of 81.3 per cent.

The ‘returned to work rate’ is the proportion of workers who reported they had returned to work since their work-related injury or illness. The ‘current return to work rate’ is the proportion of workers who reported they had returned to work since their work-related injury or illness and were in paid employment at the time of the survey.

A more detailed 2021 National Return to Work Survey summary report will be published in early 2022. Read the 2021 National Return to Work Survey Headline Measures Report.

National Fatality Statistics 2021  

Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics on fatalities since November 25, at which time it had been notified that 122 Australian workers had been killed at work this year. Fatalities have been in the following sectors:

  • 41 in Transport, postal & warehousing 
  • 22 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 18 in Construction
  • 12 in Manufacturing
  • 7 in Mining
  • 5 in Arts & recreation services
  • 5 in Public administration & safety
  • 3 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
  • 2 in Other Services 
  • 2 in Retail trade
  • 1 in Wholesale trade
  • 1 in Accommodation & food services
  • 1 in Education & training
  • 1 in Administrative & support services
  • 1 in Healthcare & social assistance

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. To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Preliminary worker deaths webpage. Updated information is used to publish Safe Work Australia’s annual Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities database which includes finalised work-related fatalities from 2003 onwards. Note that the figures are based on preliminary reports, and so at times will change.

International

The UK's OHS regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, has just published new guidance: Ventilation during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic This is very comprehensive and covers the following:

  • Overview
  • Assessing the risk of poor ventilation
  • Identifying poorly ventilated areas by using CO2 monitors
  • How to improve ventilation
  • Balancing ventilation with keeping people warm at work
  • Air cleaning and filtration units
  • Ventilation in vehicles 
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