It is with great sadness that we report that another Victorian worker was killed in the past week.
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Horse trainer killed after fall
A 60-year-old man has died after he was thrown from a horse he was breaking in on a roadside at Carlsruhe, near Kyneton on Thursday morning. It is believed the horse trainer was thrown and struck a power pole when the horse bucked. WorkSafe is investigating the fatality. The VTHC extends its condolences to the man's family, friends and colleagues.
This death brings the total number of workers killed in Victoria this year to nine - the official tally is seven.
Industrial manslaughter update
The Premier, Daniel Andrews, and the Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, last week met families whose loved ones died at work in the Delacombe trench collapse in 2018, and announced a new Implementation Taskforce to consult on the proposed legislation to make workplace manslaughter a criminal offence..
The taskforce will be led by former Minister for Industrial Relations Natalie Hutchins, and comprises members from unions, business and victims' families. It will be supported by a Workplace Fatalities and Serious Incidents Reference Group representing victims' families to ensure that those who have lost loved ones in workplace accidents can contribute to the reforms. A Legal Advisory Group comprising legal sector stakeholders will also be established to consult on the proposed model for the new offence.
Read more: Victorian Government media release
Living standards dropping
Research released this week by the ACTU has found that Australian living standards are in decline for the first time since the 91-92 recession despite strong corporate profits, obscene CEO salaries and an increase in the number of billionaires. The report, Inequality in Australia, includes work from the Australian National University's Associate Professor Ben Phillips which uses data from Australian Bureau of Statistics measuring wages, welfare payments and investment incomes, and more.
The report shows that real wages growth has fallen dramatically, and Australia has seen the biggest fall in living standards in 30 years. It is now experiencing an 'incomes recession.' After analysing the figures, the paper sets out policy implications and recommendations.
"Working people in Australia need fair pay and good, secure jobs so that we can maintain good living standards," said ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus. "The Morrison Government has overseen multi-nationals and the very wealthy taking more than their fair share of the nation's wealth at the expense of the living standards of millions of working people."
Read more: The Inequality in Australia briefing [pdf] and summary [pdf]. ACTU media release.
Gig workers: what's been your experience?
Gig workers Victoria is a network of on demand workers housed in Victorian Trades Hall Council. Workers alongside Victorian Unions are standing up to improve their safety, pay and conditions for all in the 'on-demand' economy. These workers know first hand how difficult it is to earn a 'living wage'!
There is a team of organisers who are seeking to empower on demand workers in Victoria with the knowledge and skills needed to end workplace exploitation and insecurity.
Check out the new Gig Worker website, come along to one of the meetings being organised in March. There's also a survey, which can be taken in English or in a range of languages where gig workers can 'tell their story'. If you or someone you know has had any experience in this sector, please take the survey or pass it on.
Our employer has provided us with a 'portakabin' for coffee and lunch breaks. About 20 staff use the facility although not all at once. Although we have contracted cleaners on site they have been told not to clean the facility and as a result it gets very messy and dirty. The management position is that we must clean the facility ourselves. Is management breaching its duty of care?
While it's reasonable for your employer to ask employees to keep things tidy and to clean up after themselves (for example wash their own cups, put things away), it is not reasonable for you to be expected to 'clean' the facility. The employer needs to ensure that the facility is properly maintained and things like cleaning floors, emptying rubbish bins, etc, need to be done on a regular basis and by someone who has the appropriate cleaning materials and time. This should be part of what the contract cleaners are required to do.It's the employer's duty of care to 'provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health' - and this includes providing 'adequate facilities' (See Duties of employers).
The Workplace Amenities and Work Environment Compliance Code sets out what the employer needs to do in order to comply with the general duty of care. Here are two relevant sections of the Code:
26 - Workplace amenities need to be maintained so that they continue to meet the needs of employees. This means they need to be hygienic, safe, secure and in serviceable condition.
28 - Workplaces and amenities need to be cleaned regularly, usually daily. The cleaning schedule needs to take into account the requirement for hygienic maintenance of amenities such as dining areas, toilets, hand basins and showers. These amenities need to be cleaned more frequently, taking into account shift work, the type of work performed and the number of employees.
So... I would say that your employer is definitely breaching their duty of care and must arrange for the 'portakabin' to be cleaned by the contract cleaners on a regular basis.
Please send any OHS related queries in to Ask Renata - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.
Reminder: Draft silica standard
Safe Work Australia is seeking input on the recommended values for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and respirable coal dust (RCD). The draft report on silica recommends a TWA of 0.02 mg/m3 to protect for fibrosis and silicosis, and consequently minimise the risk of lung cancer, in workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica at the workplace.
To provide comments on the draft evaluation reports and recommendations for respirable crystalline silica and respirable coal dust by 30 April 2019, access the SWA consultation platform Engage. Help strengthen the VTHC submission supporting the reduced exposure standard by signing Greg Ballantyne's petition now!
Joint call to end workplace sexual harassment
The ACTU has joined with more than 100 organisations and individuals to issue a joint statement to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's National Inquiry into Workplace Sexual Harassment. The statement outlines a five-point plan to Change the Rules, which would require employers take proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and introduce an efficient, effective and accessible complaints mechanism in the Fair Work Commission.
The rates of sexual harassment in Australia are alarming, particularly for women, with 85 per cent having experienced it in their lifetime. These organisations stand together to call for change to make sure workplaces are free from sexual harassment.
Read more: The joint statement [pdf]
School asbestos scare
Last week asbestos dust was found covering children's belongings in primary school classrooms at Essendon North Primary School, in Melbourne's north. The two classrooms were eventually closed and an investigation has been launched into maintenance works at the school.
It appears workers had pulled up carpet and ground down flooring to repair damage caused by a leaking roof. Dust from the works went through two open windows and two doorways into the classrooms, where a layer settled everywhere. While children were not in the classrooms during the grinding works last Tuesday, they were there while the carpets were pulled up.
Of great concern is that students had been let back in to the dust-covered classrooms on Wednesday morning, where parents spent more than an hour cleaning!! This is totally unacceptable, and in breach of the OHS regulations.
The Department of Education confirmed an occupational hygienist took samples of the dust the day the complaint was made, on Wednesday. Those samples were found to contain asbestos.
Read more: Asbestos found in Melbourne primary school during renovations
Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce
A dedicated asbestos taskforce for the Latrobe Valley has been launched, ensuring locals have their say over the removal of dangerous asbestos waste material from former power station and industrial sites.
A key election commitment from the Andrews Labor Government, the Latrobe Valley Regional Asbestos Forum will bring together government agencies, local groups, councils and unions to make sure there is a consistent and transparent plan for removing and disposing of asbestos contaminated materials from local industrial sites.
The taskforce will design a plan for the management, demolition, transportation and disposal of asbestos waste material from sites including the decommissioned Hazelwood Power Station and the Energy Brix Australia site at Morwell, and ensure the community is fully engaged throughout the process.
Read more: Minister for Workplace Safety media release
Greens want "Mr Fluffy" inquiry
Greens candidate for the new ACT Federal seat, Tim Hollo, has said he will push for a Commonwealth-supported inquiry into the Mr Fluffy crisis.
As the buyback and demolition program is nearing conclusion, homeowners have have repeated their calls for scrutiny of what led to it. They want to know why "Mr Fluffy" Dirk Jansen was allowed to sell and install the asbestos insulation for more than a decade despite warnings from federal bureaucrats about the dangers, why owners were allowed to sell and rent Fluffy homes without alerting new owners and tenants, and why the government approved renovations - exposing owners and tradespeople to asbestos - without explicit warnings. Read more: Sydney Morning Herald
Long working hours linked to depression risk in women
A study has found that working very long hours – 55 plus a week - is linked to a heightened risk of depression in women. The observational study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health also found working weekends is associated with an increased risk in both sexes. The paper noted the expansion of the global and gig economies has driven the need to work outside standard 'office' hours - a factor that has been associated with poorer physical health. The researchers, led by Gillian Weston of University College London, drew on data from Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), which has been tracking the health and wellbeing of a representative sample of 40,000 households across the UK since 2009.
There was no difference in the number of depressive symptoms between men who put in fewer or more hours than the standard working week, or who worked weekends. But weekend working was associated with significantly more depressive symptoms among men when work conditions were accounted for.
Among women, depressive symptoms were associated with the number of weekends worked. In addition, women who worked 55 or more hours a week and/or who worked most/every weekend had the worst mental health of all, with significantly more depressive symptoms than women working standard hours. The authors note: "Such jobs, when combined with frequent or complex interactions with the public or clients, have been linked to higher levels of depression." They add: "Our findings of more depressive symptoms among women working extra long hours might also be explained by the potential double burden experienced by women when their long hours in paid work are added on their time in domestic labour. Previous studies have found that once unpaid housework and caring is accounted for, women work longer than men, on average, and that this has been linked to poorer physical health."
Read more: Gillian Weston and others. Long work hours, weekend working and depressive symptoms in men and women: findings from a UK population-based study, [Full article] Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, published Online First, 25 February 2019. Source: RIsks 887
OHS Regulator News
Labour Hire laws start April 29
Victoria's new labour-hire licensing scheme will come into force on 29 April 2019, after which time labour-hire providers will have six months to apply for a licence to operate in the State or "face significant penalties", Victorian Industrial Relations Minister Tim Pallas announced last week.
To obtain and keep a licence, labour-hire firms will need to pass a "fit and proper person test", which involves demonstrating long-term compliance with workplace laws like Victoria's OHS and workers' comp Acts, as well as Commonwealth laws like the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. They will also have to meet minimum accommodation standards, where applicable, and report annually on their activities.
Firms could fail the test if they have been found by a court or regulator to have contravened a workplace law, or entered an enforceable undertaking in respect of an alleged contravention, within the preceding five years. Host employers that use unlicensed providers face fines of up to $500,000.
Read more: Victorian government Media release
New Safety Alert
WorkSafe has issued a new Safety Alert on the hazards and risks of working in confined spaces following the tragic death of an apprentice on October 4 last year (SafetyNet 460). The 20 year old died while working in an open-ended tanker. WorkSafe notes it is still investigating the causes of this incident, including whether the apprentice "was in fact and at law" working in a confined space. However, the regulator has taken the opportunity to remind employers of the dangers of working in confined spaces.
Warning after object falls 56 floors
WorkSafe has warned construction employers about the dangers of falling objects after a large metal prop fell from the 56th level of a Melbourne CBD construction site on Thursday morning. Initial investigations suggest workers were removing bracing for the three metre prop, which was used to support a concrete slab, when it fell over a parapet at the Collins St site about 8am, and struck a work shed 53 levels below.
No workers were in the shed at the time and no one was injured.
The serious nature of the incident has prompted WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety, Julie Nielsen, to warn all employers about the dangers of falling objects: "We are thankful there were no injuries, but this is a stark reminder to every duty holder that managing risks associated with falling objects is a priority."
Ms Nielsen said falling objects were a leading cause of death and serious injury in the construction industry and posed a risk not just to workers, but to people walking past work sites.
Read more: WorkSafe media release
The regulator runs events around the state which provide an opportunity to meet with WorkSafe staff, get information and so on. Click on the event for more information
- Wimmera Machinery Field Days 5 - 7 March
- Farm World Seymour 11 - 14 April
- East Gippsland Field Days Bairnsdale 26-27 Apr
Safe Work Australia news
As of 28 February, 21 fatalities had been notified by the state authorities to Safe Work Australia. This is three more since the last update of 18 February. The workers killed have come from the following industries:
- 7 Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 5 Transport, postal & warehousing
- 4 Construction
- 2 Public Administration & safety
- 2 Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 1 Mining
Company fined $100k following forklift injury
Logistics company, Hellmann Worldwide Logistics Pty Ltd, which supplies supermarket chains has been fined $100,000 (plus costs of $6,555) after a worker was injured by a forklift.
The company was convicted and fined at Sunshine Magistrates' Court after pleading guilty to a single charge under Section 21(1) of the OHS Act of failure to provide a safe system of work by not having a traffic management system in place.
The incident occurred at a factory operated by Hellmann Worldwide Logistics in Laverton North where containers of food and other consumables are received for distribution to supermarket chains. On 2 August 2016 an electric forklift operated by a labour hire worker was reversing when it struck a second worker, also labour hire, who was walking behind. He was pushed to the ground and under the forklift, resulting in a fractured leg.
A WorkSafe investigation revealed there was no traffic management system in place and no physical barriers or other means of separating mobile machinery from pedestrians. The company has since put in place pedestrian walkways defined by fixed barriers at the factory.
The labour hire company was separately charged for failing to conduct a risk assessment and failing to liaise with Hellmann Worldwide Logistics regarding risks arising from the work to be performed. That matter was resolved by way of an enforceable undertaking on 11 July 2018.
Read more: WorkSafe media release
Hand caught; company fined $35k
A manufacturer of woollen doonas, Veolia Pty Ltd, has been convicted and fined $35,000 after pleading guilty to breaching the OHS Act following an incident in which a worker's hand became caught in the rollers of a 'carding machine' in November 2017. The worker lost a finger and also lost the skin and ligaments from two other fingers and his palm. WorkSafe found that there was no interlocked guarding on the access panels of the machine, nor were there time delay interlocks for the rollers to run down and stop moving, no guarding to protect employees from moving components, no perimeter fencing to restrict access. Further, the employer had not provided sufficient information, instruction and training to employees on the use and maintenance of the machine.
Worker crushed; company fined $20k
In an incident in October 2017, an employee of Jim's Group Pty Ltd which operates Bayswater Welding & Fibreglass ended up pinned underneath a trailer he had been working on. He sustained a broken left upper arm and a cracked collar bone and was taken to hospital. A 'sling' he had used to lift the trailer in order to access a non-functioning battery had broken. The company pleaded guilty to breaching s21 of the OHS Act, and was fined $20,000 (plus $4,012 costs) without conviction.
Falling steel injures worker
Stilcon Holdings Pty Ltd which operates a steel fabrication factory in Sunshine West has been fined $10,000, without conviction, following an incident in which steel weighing about 290kg fell on a worker's foot.
In August 2017 an employee was moving the 8 metre long section of steel from one part of the factory to another, using a lifting component identified as a plate dog clamp to attach the steel to the overhead crane. Under the OHS Regs, this lift was 'high risk work', which required the employee to hold a high risk work licence (class Dogging) - which he did not. As he was moving the steel it detached from the clamp and fell on his foot. He was transported to Footscray Hospital and missed one month of work.
To check all of the recent prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
China: Five killed by liquid ammonia
Five Chinese workers were killed by liquid ammonia which leaked from a freight house unit in a foreign refrigeration transport vessel during loading in east China's Shandong Province on Friday night, local official said. The cause of the incident is under investigation.
Read more: CGTN News; source: OHSIntros
Indonesian mine collapse kills scores of workers
On Tuesday Feb 26 a landslide and mine collapse at an unlicensed goldmine in Indonesia's North Sulawesi province overwhelmed and trapped miners working in it. Even after some days of rescue effort it is unclear how many workers were actually inside the mine. So far rescuers, often working with bare hands and hand tools due to the remote location, have said that seven people have died while another 19 have been rescued, some of whom are badly injured. It is estimated that another 50 workers may still be trapped underground. The number of small and often unauthorised mining is rising throughout Indonesia as workers struggle to secure employment in other areas. Workers at these illegal mines are then at the mercy of landslides, tunnel collapse, flooding and exposure to dangerous chemicals.
Read more: Peoples Dispatch; ABC news online