SafetyNet 503

September 11, 2019

It is with great sadness that we report that a worker was killed on a demolition site in Ballarat this morning. This death should never have occurred - another family should not have lost a loved one.

We ask you to send your feedback as it helps us make SafetyNet as useful for our subscribers as possible. Please send your comments through to Renata at ohsinfo@vthc.org.au, but don't hit 'reply', start a fresh email! Love it or hate it, we want to know about it. So don't hesitate to send in your emails.

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Union News

Worker killed in Ballarat this morning

A construction worker on a house in Ballarat was killed this morning after being crushed by a collapsing wall. The house in Mount Pleasant was being demolished when the wall collapsed on the man about 9am.

The worker, who has not yet been formally identified, died at the scene. Another person working on the site was reportedly uninjured.

WorkSafe is investigating the incident and a report will be prepared for the coroner. This fatality brings to 23 the number of Victorians killed at work this year. The VTHC expresses our condolences for the worker's family, friends and colleagues. Read more: The Age

VTHC HSR Conference, October 29. Register NOW!

We have just received approval under s69 of the OHS Act to run our hugely successful Conference for Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs). This year, the Conference will be held on As usual, our HSR Conference will take place on Tuesday October 29. The theme of this year's conference is "Emerging Issues - Safe and Inclusive Workplaces". We are also expanding where we will be running the conference, so it will be easier for HSRs in non-metropolitan Melbourne to attend:

  1. Melbourne: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
  2. Bendigo: Trades Hall Council, Bendigo
  3. Gippsland: Federation University, Gippsland Campus, Churchill
  4. Portland: South West TAFE campus, Portland
  5. Wodonga: Wodonga TAFE Space, Lawrence Street Campus

The conference is free and is sponsored by WorkSafe - but registration is essential. It is the primary event for HSRs in Health and Safety Month. Elected HSRs are entitled to attend the conference on paid leave as per s69 of the Act, but they must give their employer at least 14 days' notice. Employers must grant HSRs the paid leave to attend. So get on to this as soon as possible to ensure you've got the leave and you're registered.

We also welcome Deputy HSRs - and many employers are happy to grant them paid leave to do so. So ask!

Go to the Registration website page now to register - it's super easy. Once you've registered you'll be able to download a letter for your employer and proof of the s69 approval from WorkSafe.

Ask Renata

Hi Renata
I wondered whether it is permitted to wear track suit pants at the workplace?

There is nothing in OHS legislation which either specifically permits or prohibits the wearing of track suit pants (or any other article of clothing) in the workplace.

Under the 'general duty of care', the employer has a duty to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

It may be that there is an OHS reason as to why track suit pants are not suitable - for example if workers are using chemicals and need to wear appropriate protective gear. Your employer should be explaining why track suit pants are unsuitable, and also providing appropriate overalls, etc. However, if there is no specific occupational health and safety issue why they cannot be worn, then it is not an OHS issue at all!

A second 'however', though: employers can require (legally) certain dress standards, as part of the requirements of a job. For example, if the employees of the business have interactions with the public, the employer may require 'neat casual' such as black pants, etc. This is because under ‘common law’ the employer has a right to give employees lawful instructions, and the employee is expected to comply.

If you have any ohs related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.

Injured Workers Support Network new website
Have you checked out the new Injured Workers' Support Network (IWSN) website yet? It's a great new site, with resources and advice for any worker who has been injured in the workplace. There's an invitation to join the Network, and also to sign up to get regular updates. Check the new site here.

VTHC upcoming events

Training on 'Independent Medical Examiners'
IMEs are part of the Workers' Compensation system, and judging from the experiences of injured workers, sometimes their 'independence' leaves a lot to be desired. The IWSN and the VTHC OHS Unit are combining to provide training to interested people (HSRs, union organisers, injured workers) around a campaign on IMEs. There will be two separate training sessions - in order to satisfy people's availability.  The training will take place at the Trade Hall (Corner Victoria and Lygon Streets, Carlton South). If you are interested in attending, please RSVP via the appropriate link, below. 

  1. Tuesday 24 September, 12 - 2pm.  Register here
  2. Thursday 26 September, 6 - 8pm. Register here

Non-conforming building products - cladding - can cost lives

Unions, the ACTU and the VTHC, as well as many other groups, made submissions to the Federal Government inquiry into non-conforming building products. The title of the report Non-conforming building products: the need for a coherent and robust regulatory regime, released in December 2018, speaks for itself. 

This week, Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, warned that lives could be lost unless the state and federal governments work together to resolve the cladding crisis. Mr Andrews said both levels of government have a responsibility to work together on resolving the “significant challenge”, warning a blame game could put innocent lives as risk. Questioned on Sunday about cladding falsely labelled as fire resistant being imported into Australia, Mr Andrews warned of "deadly outcomes".

The lack of safety of flammable cladding and poor building standards came into sharp focus when flames raced up the external wall cladding at the Lacrosse building in Docklands in 2014. The Andrews government has committed $600 million to remove the combustible material used on hundreds of high-risk buildings. Read more: Senate Inquiry Report Non-conforming building products: the need for a coherent and robust regulatory regime; Premier warns of 'deadly outcomes' in cladding crisis blame game, The Age

Asbestos news

Asbestos is in almost all NSW public schools
According to an audit tabled in parliament by the NSW Labor Party, almost half of NSW's public schools are contaminated with deteriorating asbestos. There have been a total of 2,185 schools identified with asbestos - 109 of these have friable asbestos, which is extremely hazardous, while the asbestos is damaged in a further 988.

Labor minister Courtney Houssos, addressing the Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, said, "Minister, this is not asbestos that is sealed up in walls, this is asbestos that is breaking down, that is underneath classrooms, that is debris that is potentially fraying in school toilets and staff toilets, in school libraries and halls around the state in over 1000 - so almost half of NSW schools."

According to Ms Houssos, the department had 'buried' the list, which had not been updated since 2017, on its website. Although the NSW Education Minister said that children's safety was of 'utmost importance', and the government had a plan to remove the asbestos - she was not prepared to discuss or give any details.  Read more: The Daily Mail

Queensland cracks down on asbestos work
It has been reported that Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) is running an ongoing campaign targeting unsafe work practices associated with high-risk asbestos activities. Over the past two years, WHSQ has launched 36 investigations into such activities, such as using high-pressure water on asbestos materials, demolishing structures without first removing the asbestos and removing asbestos from domestic premises without controls.

Action has also been taken over the removal of asbestos without an appropriate asbestos removal licence and illegal burying of asbestos waste. In the past 12 months, WHSQ has cancelled five asbestos removal licences and suspended three others over unsafe and incompetent asbestos removal. Another eight licence holders are currently being assessed.

The regulator said that ignoring asbestos laws and putting people at risk can result in stiff penalties, including on-the-spot fines, with clean-up costs exceeding $100,000.
The crackdown is ongoing, with a specialist asbestos team enforcing compliance with state laws, as well as educating employers and providing technical support to help address community asbestos concerns. Read more: AIHS news

Brazil: Eternit Abandons Asbestos!
In a press release issued by Eternit, S.A. – formerly Brazil’s biggest asbestos conglomerate – company President Luís Augusto Barbosa confirmed that Eternit had “abandoned 100%" asbestos and would now play a leading role in the green revolution by introducing a new asbestos-free photovoltaic tile, capable of transforming solar power into electricity. Product testing is ongoing and Eternit expected the tiles to be on the Brazilian market within 18 months. The USP of the new Eternit product is that the photovoltaic cells are applied onto the tile itself without the need for an additional panel.
See: Eternit lança telha de energia solar e diz que superou Amianto [Eternit launches solar power tile and says it has overcome asbestos]. Source: IBAS.

Brazil: denial of asbestos disease in miners
A PhD dissertation by Dr. A.P. Amaral published this year (2019) explores in depth what a Brazilian Commission had reported in 2010 about the dangerous conditions in which asbestos workers toiled with a focus on the situation in the town of Minaçu, home to the country’s sole remaining chrysotile asbestos mine. This brief article about the thesis highlights the isolation and deprivation experienced by victims and their families who received neither support nor acknowledgement of the occupational nature of the illnesses contracted. In a town where the asbestos discourse was dictated by those with vested interests in the survival of the industry, the injured were marginalized and silenced by the overpowering forces against them.
Read more: The full article on the IBAS website.

France: Backward step in asbestos control
On August 27 France’s Council of State  suspended provisions of an interministerial decree of July 16 stipulating that as of July 19 identification of asbestos prior to the commencement of work must be undertaken by certified operators. According to the ruling which accomplished this reversal: “While it is undeniable that the prevention of asbestos-related risks constitutes a public health imperative, it is not established, in the circumstances of the case, that the continued operation of these provisions is required.”

This is extremely disappointing as without identification prior to work commencing in buildings, the risk of asbestos exposure can be high. In Australia, the asbestos regulations stipulate that before any demolition or refurbishment work commences the asbestos register be reviewed, a further process of identification be carried out, and any asbestos present be removed.
See: Amiante: le Conseil d'Etat suspend l'obligation de certification avec mention pour le repérage avant travaux [Asbestos: Council of State suspends obligation of certification requiring identification before works].

ASEA Conference: Perth 11 - 13 November
A reminder of the 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference, at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.  The conference is a unique opportunity for all members of the asbestos management system to come together, exchange information and share ideas with over 300 domestic and international professionals from a range of sectors including workers’ health and safety, public health, the role of the non-government sector, and international campaign work. There will also be particular sessions focused on the work of asbestos support groups, the latest research into asbestos awareness communications and the latest from medical researchers.

This year ASEA will collaborate and focus on Australia's National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management 2019-2023 and the roles and responsibilities those in the asbestos management system have in working together toward preventing exposure to asbestos fibres. The roles of employees and their representatives in supporting and advocating for workers’ health and safety in relation to asbestos management is a key component to achieving this.
Check our the conference program here. For more information and to register, click here

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

International news

Lesotho: Agreement to end harassment at big brand factories
A union-backed campaign has won action to end widespread sexual harassment at factories in Lesotho which produces garments for major 'high street' brands. The action by the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) to stop long-running gender-based violence at Nien Hsing Textile company factories has resulted in the binding agreements signed by unions, apparel brands and women’s rights organisations.
Global union IndustriALL said its affiliate IDUL has been fighting gender-based violence and harassment at the company's factories for many years. In response the company, which employs over 10,000 workers, “even cancelled a memorandum of understanding in retaliation for being asked about the violations when IDUL wanted to access the factories to organise.”

IndustriALL said the agreements to address the pattern of abuse and harassment come after a report by the US-based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), revealing that managers and supervisors at Nien Hsing forced workers into sexual relationships by “conditioning the maintenance of employment contracts/or provision of more favourable working conditions on a female worker’s willingness to engage in such a relationship.” It found management was complicit as it did not take disciplinary action against the offenders, creating a tolerance of the abuse and a fear of reporting the violations.

After extensive negotiations, IDUL together with four other unions in Lesotho, IndustriALL US affiliate Workers United, WRC and the Solidarity Center signed agreements with Nien Hsing, Levi Strauss & Co, The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands to address gender-based violence at five factories in the country. May Rathakane, IDUL deputy general secretary, said: “We are committed to protecting workers’ rights and well-being at factories, and to ensure that female workers feel safe, valued and empowered.” She added: “This is a breakthrough to better working conditions and will protect workers from retaliation by employers.” A complaint and fact-finding body will be set up to investigate the abuses. Education and training on sexual harassment for factory workers, supervisors and managers will also be carried out.
Read more: IndustriALL news release. WRC news release and investigation. Source: Risks 931.


Research

Presenteeism bad all around - research proves it

A group of Swedish researchers have found that high workloads and other organisational factors have the effect of compelling workers to go to work when they're unwell. This significantly increases their levels of exhaustion and creates a vicious cycle that adversely affects employers.

They studied 3,525 employees of a Swedish university, and found that 38 per cent of workers who experienced eight or more days of presenteeism in the previous year were experiencing "severe" exhaustion. This compared to just seven per cent of those with no days of presenteeism. The researchers define presenteeism as "attending work while ill", and asked participants how often they went to work "despite feeling that you really should have taken sick leave due to your state of health".

Their findings echo previous research showing job demands increase the risk of exhaustion while job control reduces it.  Work-related or organisational factors that trigger presenteeism include high workloads and the need to catch up on work after taking sick leave, they say.

They said: "The pressure to go to work because of job demands may partially explain the propensity to choose presenteeism before absenteeism. This may start a reciprocal relation where presenteeism causes exhaustion and exhaustion reduces work performance, which in turn encourages more presenteeism to compensate for the impaired work ability, which then causes further exhaustion."

But workers are likely to choose to be absent from work when they need to be when there is no immediate pressure to deliver work and their co-workers aren't affected by their absence, the researchers say.

Read more: Emmanuel Aboagye, et al, Exhaustion and Impaired Work Performance in the Workplace Associations with Presenteeism and Absenteeism [Abstract - but PDF of full article can be opened from this page]. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first, August 2019, doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001701. Source OHSAlert. More information on Presenteeism on the site.

New ‘working women at risk’ tool

A new online tool – Working Women at Risk – intends to help researchers and advocates to visualise the exposures to chemicals that might be putting working women in California at risk for breast cancer. Using the tool, which is equally useful wherever you live and work, individuals can search data on over 1,000 chemicals, sorted into 24 chemical groups, by occupation, ethnicity/race, and age. The tool is part of a project exploring working women’s risk of breast cancer and is funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Program at the University of California, and supported by occupational health experts at the Public Health Institute, the California Department of Public Health, and the University of California San Francisco.

It provides useful information for Australian women working in a number of occupations to check what potentially harmful chemicals they may be being exposed to in the course of their jobs. The information can also be very useful for HSRs and union officials.
Read more: Working women and risk tool and background. Source: Risks 913


Regulator news

WorkSafe Victoria news

Reminder: Health and Safety Month, October 2019
WorkSafe Victoria has launched its program of events for this year's Health and Safety Month, which will be taking place October 2 - 31. There are over 20 events being run on topics, for a range of industries all across the state. Download the event program here, and register for an event.  Remember though, if you're an elected HSR, your event will be the VTHC HSR Conference.

New App for HSRs
Good news for HSRs looking for easy access to WorkSafe Victoria information and publications: a new app QIN Codesafe! It was developed by Sam Hatfield and Kim Giles in response to an identified need to provide HSRs in the field quick and easy access to both compliance codes and VWA guidance specifically on their role as HSRs. Sam, a past member of our own OHS team here at the VTHC, and Kim are HSR Support Officers, providing advice to HSRs in the field. To download the app, search for it in the App store or go to this link. Once you have it, it's easy to share with other reps.

NSW: Horrific woodchipper fatality
A worker was killed last Saturday morning after being dragged into a woodchipper at Lindfield on Sydney’s north shore. Reports indicate the man was working with two others  putting tree branches into a woodchipper when the incident occurred. It appears two of the men left the scene when they went down the street to see if they could find a motorist to move a car. They left their colleague working by the chipper. When they returned the 40 year old man had vanished but a pool of blood was visible. They immediately called emergency services. Police said the man died at the scene. SafeWork NSW is investigating the incident and a report is being prepared for the Coroner.
Read more: News.com.au,

Safe Work Australia

Fatality Statistics

Safe Work Australia has updated its fatality statistics: as of August 29, there were 101 fatalities notified to the national body. This is 18 more than the last update. Six of these were in Agriculture, forestry & fishing, and five were in the Transport, postal and warehousing sector, The workers killed came from the following industries: 

  • 33 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 25 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 14 in Construction
  • 6 in Public Administration & safety
  • 6 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
  • 7 in Mining
  • 3 in Manufacturing
  • 2 in Professional, scientific & technical services
  • 2 in Wholesale trade
  • 2 in 'Other services'
  • 1 in Administration & support services

To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage and in particular, here.


Prosecutions

Cleaner seriously injured: MCC gets slap on wrist

In a puzzling and disappointing decision, the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC), the body corporate that has management and control of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), was last week not convicted or fined, but ordered to pay costs of just $5,412 following an incident in which one of the contract cleaners suffered serious injuries when a delivery van reversed and knocked him over. The cleaner had been using a blower on the loading dock ramp, when a van entered, passed the cleaner, and parked at the bottom across a pedestrian crossing. The driver was then directed to reverse the van back up the loading dock ramp and off the pedestrian crossing. As the van reversed it collided with the cleaner, who suffered serious injuries including a double fracture of his pelvis.

The MCC pleaded guilty to breaching s26(1) of the OHS Act in that its traffic management system failed to reduce or eliminate the risk, so far as is reasonably practicable, of injury or death due to a collision between pedestrians and vehicles on the loading dock ramp. Despite this, it was not convicted but placed on an adjourned undertaking for a period of six months - with a 'special condition' that it make a charitable donation within two months to the Lighthouse Foundation in the sum of $50,000.   

Employer fined $35k for fall risk

Star (Australia) Construction Pty Ltd, trading as Knight Building Group, is a company involved in the design and construction of residential homes. Star engaged co-accused V&R Solid Plastering Pty Ltd to install polystyrene and plaster exterior walls. Star as the principal contractor had management and control of a workplace in Caulfield North where two double storey townhouses were being built.

On 10 November 2016, two V&R employees were observed working at height and near an unprotected veranda edge. There was a risk of falling from a height of 4.8 metres. In addition, there was an internal timber guard rail on the second floor around a circular opening which had no mid rail and excessive spacing between uprights, creating a risk of falling approximately 6 metres through the first floor and into the basement. Both of these posed a risk of serious injury or death to employees.

Star Construction pleaded guilty and was without conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $35,000 and to pay costs of $10,112.


Events

If you have an OHS related event you would like us to advertise, please email Renata at ohsinfo@vthc.org.au with details, including location, cost (if any), and where to RSVP.

BE TRADES HALL TRAINED: VTHC OHS Training Centre 

Make sure you attend training provided either by your union or the VTHC! HSRs are elected by their fellow workers to represent them. We understand what HSRs need and have been training effective HSRs for many years. Remember that under Section 67 of the OHS Act, both HSRs and deputies have the right to attend the training course of their choice (in consultation with their employer).

The VTHC OHS Unit is now running courses in a number of new locations to cater for HSRs in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. This is in addition to courses in our usual locations. If you have any questions on the registration process or the courses themselves, send an email to Lisa Mott (or call her on 03 9659 3511). Below are the dates for the next few courses run by the VTHC OHS Training Centre. You can now register and pay directly from the site here.

HSR Initial OHS training course  

October 7 – 11: Frankston
October 14 – 18: Carlton
November 11 – 15: Carlton AND Bendigo
November 18 – 22: Werribee
November 25 – 29 (Education Sector ONLY): AEU Abbotsford
December 9 – 13: Carlton

HSR Refresher OHS Training Courses*

September 18, Geelong
September 24 Carlton
October 23, Carlton
December 12 (Education Sector ONLY): AEU Abbotsford
December 16, Carlton

* HSRs are entitled to attend this course every year subsequent to attending the Initial OHS training course.

OHS Training at the ACTU

The ACTU (Australian Council of Trade unions) runs training courses in occupational/workplace health and safety. These are the upcoming courses in Melbourn

CERTIFICATE IV IN WHS
Part 1 14th – 16th October 2019  
Part 2 12th – 15th November 2019

The course will be delivered at the ACTU (VIC). 

For more information, phone Chris Hughes (03 9664 7389 Mon-Fri) or Anna Pupillo (03 9664 7334 Mon-Wed & Fri). ACTU health and safety training 

This week: 9-17 September Chile - September 11 events

September 11 will mark 46 years since the overthrow of the popular and democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende in Chile. The military and right-wing coup backed by the United States administration on September 11, 1973: “Our September 11” for many “The other September 11”.

President Allende lost his life alongside men and women in their thousands, who were killed, tortured, disappeared or sent to exile. The dictatorship imposed a repressive government and violent regime, consequences that still haunt and are felt across the country.

After nearly 46 years the Chilean people have continued the struggle and are still fighting for real democracy and better conditions of living, which have not improved even under successive, so-called, “democratic” governments and today under the "right-wing Piñera government". The tyranny of neoliberal individualism.

LASNET has organised a number of events at the Victorian Trades Hall:

  • 9 - 17 September: Photo Exhibition
  • 12 September (Thursday), 6.30pm: Tribute and Memory
  • 14 September (Saturday), 6.30pm: Cultural and Film Night 

All welcome. Enquiries: please email LASNET at lasnet.solidarity@gmail.com


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