SafetyNet 508

Welcome to the October 16 edition of the VTHC's OHS Unit's weekly journal SafetyNet.

Victorian HSRs: Have you registered for the HSR Conference? It's now past the date you needed to inform your employer to get guaranteed paid leave to attend .. but it's not too late to register to come along. Deputies and others interested in OHS are welcome as well. (See below)

Please continue to send feedback (good or bad) as it helps us make SafetyNet as useful for our subscribers as possible. Please send your comments through to Renata at [email protected], 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.

To keep up to date and informed between editions of the journal, go to our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page. Also, if you're an HSR or deputy, you should join the OHS Network Facebook

Union News

Victorian HSRs and deputies: October 29 HSR Conference

There are now over 1500 HSRs (and deputies) who have registered to come to our 2019 conference! 

The Conference for Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) is the biggest Health and Safety Month event in Australia and has approval under s69 of the Victorian OHS Act meaning employers must allow elected HSRs to attend on paid leave. So if you haven't done so already, register now! The conference is being held on Tuesday October 29, with the theme of "Emerging Issues - Safe and Inclusive Workplaces".

This year we will be running the conference in more non-metropolitan Melbourne locations, so it will be easier for HSRs in country Victoria 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. 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 - the deadline was yesterday. However, many employers will still allow HSRs to attend on paid leave and 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 Victoria.

FREE posters for the conference are available now - we have lots of these available and if you'd like some, contact [email protected] You can check out the poster here.  Feel free to copy it and post it on your noticeboard if you can't get hard copies.

Ask Renata

Hi Renata

Is the Five day Initial HSR course actually a Certificate IV course?

No, the five day initial training course for HSRs is a course which has been approved as a s67 training course by WorkSafe Victoria. Its aim is to ensure that HSRs (and deputies) understand the law and their rights and powers under the OHS Act, as well as the duties of employers and others. The course also covers processes to resolve OHS issues in the workplace, negotiation and inspection skills and much more. 

However, there is no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ nor a determination of competency, as the position of HSR is a voluntary one, unpaid and the only people an HSR must answer to are the members of the DWG.  There is no ‘qualification’ required and ‘normal’ workers are encourages to take up this role and represent their fellow DWG members.

Consequently, it is not a Cert IV course – for all the above reasons. Sometimes though there may be some ‘prior recognition’ granted by the Cert IV training provider for someone who has completed the 5 day initial training course. Remember: The employer must pay the course costs, pay the HSR as if s/he is working and also cover any reasonable additional costs the HSR may have to attend the course. Read more: OHS Reps right to training

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

Anniversary of the collapse of West Gate Bridge

This Tuesday marked the 49th anniversary of the most deadly industrial incident in Australia: the collapse of the West Gate Bridge on October 15, 1970. There was a commemoration service held at the memorial below the bridge to remember the 36 people who were killed, and the 18 others who 'rode the bridge down' and survived but were seriously injured. Workers, union organisers and families of both the deceased and those who survived attended the service.

Survivor Tommy Watson was 23 years old and here he talks of the day he lost so many of his fellow workers. He tells how the bridge collapsed on the Thursday, those who survived worked Friday, and Saturday: 'they let us go home early Saturday afternoon, we come in Sunday morning for a couple of hours' and part of what they had to do was lift huge parts of the bridge to get to two dead workers who were still trapped beneath. Then 'we had Monday off with pay, and then when we went in Tuesday morning, the gates were locked - we couldn't get on the job. So they herded us to this car park... and this engineer stood up and told us what a great job we'd done .. how much they thought of us.. then we all got the f**'ing arse. Every one of us got sacked on the spot. We got one week's pay and we got our wages and that was it.'  While some eventually got their jobs back, no-one got counselling, or compensation and overall families and those who experienced this traumatic event were treated very badly by the company.  Read more: 2103 feature on the West Gate Bridge

Industrial manslaughter: Update

Yesterday the VTHC organised meetings with the Victorian cross benchers and Labour members to ensure that the government's Industrial Manslaughter Bill, expected to be put to parliament in the next few weeks, gets the support it deserves and is not weakened. Families who have lost someone to a workplace incident, union organisers who have been called in to sites where such incidents have occurred had multiple meetings with our elected representatives. Members of the VTHC's OHS and Research units were on hand to help. As Luke Hilakari, Secretary of the VTHC said, "This campaign has been decades long, and this generation of families who have been thru the worst type of trauma, with workers and unionists will get this done. This change doesn’t happen without the power of the Andrews Govt prioritising this important change in law. Particularly the leadership Jill Hennessy and Natalie Hutchins has been outstanding. This bill will save lives. It will reduce workplace injuries. And with everyone’s efforts we will overcome the objections of the bosses, and this will be made a law." Check out the Facebook post and photos here.

ACTU: Anti union bill will stymie workplace safety

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACtu) has warned that the Federal Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, currently before the Senate, will put in danger unions' powers to tackle major health and safety issues, like it did with asbestos and other life-threatening hazards in the past. Under the Bill, union officials who visit a workplace without 24 hours' notice would risk being disqualified from office or having their entire union shut down. This would severely limit unions' powers to inspect workplaces to keep workers and their members safe, and "must be opposed".

Asbestos disease sufferers agreed and have said that campaigns such as the one which eventually succeeded in having asbestos banned would be made illegal under the this Bill. They joined ACTU president Michelle O’Neil and occupational lung disease specialist Dr Chris Clarke to call on Senate crossbenchers to block its passage, saying it would leave workers vulnerable to employers like James Hardie. This company was a major asbestos manufacturer in Australia and ignored the health risks of handling asbestos for years, before stopping production and paying out many workers compensation after union lobbying.

“The Ensuring Integrity Bill – whoever dreamt that up needs a gold Logie. It’s more like ensuring inequity,” said Jim Iverson, recently diagnosed with asbestosis. Dr Clarke said the union movement was valuable in terms of ensuring workplace health and safety. Unsurprisingly, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said claims by the ACTU and sufferers were “an incorrect contention”. Sources: ACTU Media release; OHSAlert; The Northern Territory News; Watch Michelle O'Neil and Dr Chris Clarke address the media in Canberra, The Adelaide Advertiser.

Silica: Update

A very informative article provides an overview of where things are 'at' in Australia with silica:

  • Queensland: it seems that silicosis rates are so high that this state now has a shortage of stonemasons. Too many are disabled or have died due to the disease. It seems that some workers have left the industry, hoping it’s not too late to save their lungs and lives. Despite there being a ban in place in Queensland in relation to dry cutting of engineered stone, and despite national workplace health and safety (WHS) guidelines around reducing the risks of silica dust exposure, an audit of stonemason workshops by Worksafe Queensland found multiple instances where workplace hazards were not being effectively managed.
  • NSW: the author calls this a 'black spot', because there is "no effective oversight, regulation or enforcement of safety requirements for those working with engineered stone products". The article quotes Dr Graham Edwards, a member of the national taskforce on silicosis and other dust diseases and an occupational physician, who said that lack of information about the statistics for NSW means the problem could be much worse than current data shows. “We still don’t have any real visibility about what is happening in NSW. We know that there is end-stage disease in NSW but we just don’t know the quantity of cases.”
  • Victoria, on the other hand, is 'facing facts': the government has implemented regulations banning dry cutting of manufactured stone. WorkSafe Victoria received 55 claims for silica-related conditions in the 2018-19 financial year and 15 workers have died from the disease since 1985. The state's 1400 stonemasons have been offered free health screening: last month 232 stonemasons had commenced the screening, with 73 out of 98 who had completed it referred for further tests. Twenty workers tested positive for silicosis out of the 98 – which represents around one in five workers who have been screened being handed a medical death sentence.

There is no 'safe level' of exposure - Victoria is campaigning nationally to reduce the Australian silica workplace exposure standard to 0.02 mg/m3 over an eight-hour day. This is even lower than the VTHC proposed standard of 0.025 mg/m3. Safe Work Australia is reviewing its exposure level recommendation of 0.1 mg/m3 (eight hour time weighted average).  Read more: More must be done to keep us safe at work. The Fifth Estate; Silica information page; Silicosis: Life without breath Medical Forum

Asbestos news

ASEA Conference: Perth 11 - 13 November
The 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference, at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, is coming up soon.  All members of the asbestos management system have the opportunity 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 sessions focused on the work of asbestos support groups, the latest research into asbestos awareness communications and the latest from medical researchers. Check out the conference program here. For more information and to register, click here

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


X-rays not reliable in detecting lung disease

Chest X-rays on workers exposed to dust from manufactured stone are ‘‘failing to reliably detect’’ serious lung disease, with one study showing X-rays overlooked disease in more than 40 per cent of workers, according to an item in this week's Sydney Morning Herald. The Royal College of Radiologists issued a statement last week and ‘‘strongly recommended’’ CT scanning for the screening of workers at risk of occupational lung disease such as silicosi - a potentially deadly lung diseases highly prevalent among construction and demolition workers exposed to engineered stone products with high silica dust levels, such as benchtops and tiles.

NSW workers at risk of this disease currently have access to free and subsidised X-rays through the government’s icare NSW screening clinic and the icare Lung Bus, which travels around NSW offering mobile screening. More than 6500 workers have been screened by icare since 2017 under the Dust Diseases scheme, which also tests for other workplace diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. But icare’s testing practices will now be reviewed after the college revealed X-rays were‘‘failing to reliably detect disease’’ in affected
workers, while the technology lacked the‘‘sensitivity’’and accuracy of CT scans.

‘‘Silicosis is much more readily detected in a low-dose CT, a more sensitive test. That’s what you would want for your family. You want the best test,’’ college president Lance Lawler said. He said current government screening programs were effective in picking up disease and used the best of what has been available, ‘‘but we could do better’’, describing CT scanning as‘‘far superior’’. The college highlighted one study of workers in Queensland, in which 43 per cent produced normal chest X-rays only to have disease show up on a CT scan. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Insufficient sleep in shift workers leads to unhealthy eating

An analysis of sleep cycles has shown that poor sleep quality among shift workers increases their appetite and leads them to make unhealthy dietary choices, increasing their risk of obesity. In a study of 147 female hospital nurses working rotating shifts, Taiwanese researchers from Taipei Medical University found poorer sleep quality scores were associated with increases in body mass index. They found nurses with greater irregularity in their sleep-wake cycles were more likely to have higher BMIs. 

Shift work is a risk factor for weight gain, with research showing shift workers are more likely to be overweight and have abnormal levels of cholesterol, they said. Previous studies, like those showing that individuals with inadequate sleep and poor sleep quality are up to 1.46 times more likely to be overweight, suggest a "complex relationship" exists between sleep, metabolism and weight stability.

The researchers say their findings emphasise that maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle and good sleep quality is important to maintain healthy body composition among female shift workers.  "Poor sleep quality may affect dietary choices; individuals suffering from sleep deprivation show a greater tendency to choose food or drink that are high in fat and sugar than those with normal sleep," they say.  They also referred to another study that showed people who sleep fewer than six hours a day drank significantly more sugary beverages than those sleeping seven to eight hours.
Read more: Wen-Pei Chang, et al Influence of sleep-wake cycle on body mass index in female shift-working nurses with sleep quality as mediating variable. [Abstract - but pdf of full article can be downloaded from this page] Industrial Health, online first October 2019, doi: 10.2486/indhealth.2019-0066. Source: OHS Alert

Regulator news

Victorian news

HSR Newsletter promotes new online support channel

WorkSafe today sent out the latest edition of its HSR Newsletter. In it there's news of WorkSafe’s new online support channel for HSRs proved a hit at last week’s DELWP Health & Safety Representatives Forum. It was promoted at a Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning Expo at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 15th of August. WorkSafe says that HSRs have a critical role to play in Victorian workplaces, representing the interests of employees. It is widely acknowledged that HSRs can make a real difference in having OHS issues addressed and can help achieve better health and safety outcomes.

HSR Support Officers, Kim Giles and Sam Hatfield promoted the HSR Support Channel using CodeSafe (QR code technology) to give HSRs online access to a library of guidance materials relevant to their role via a simple app which they recently developed. Check out the newsletter, including a report on the online support channel.

Safety Soapbox October edition

The latest edition of Safety Soapbox was sent out on Monday this week. In this edition, the editorial remembers that October 15 was the 49th anniversary of the West Gate Bride collapse, still one of Australia’s worst peace-time workplace tragedies. Thirty five construction workers died when one of the West Gate Bridge spans collapsed during construction.

At 11:50 am on 15 October 1970, two years into its construction, the 365 ft. (112m) 2000-tonne span between piers 10 and 11 of the West Gate Bridge collapsed and fell 164 ft. (50m) onto the Yarra River’s muddy edge below. The annual memorial service took place yesterday.

In September the construction industry reported 150 to WorkSafe. Of these, 59 per cent resulted in injury. There were two 'serious near misses' and 16 incidents involved young workers. The pdf summarising the incidents can be downloaded from the October edition, together with the 'Absolute shocker' and more. Go to this page on the WorkSafe website for the October edition of Safety Soapbox.

Targeted blitz on hydraulic mobile cranes

WorkSafe Victoria will continue the targeted blitz on hydraulic mobile cranes operating on construction sites throughout October. The regulator says that more than 100 visits have already been conducted around Victoria so far. With yet another crane toppling incident recently occuring, the regulator urges employers using cranes to remain vigilant.

Health and Safety Month

Don't forget that in addition to the world's biggest event for HSRs (our HSR Conference), there are a number of events being organised as part of Health and Safety Month around the state, including the big WorkSafe event on October 30. Go to the WorkSafe website for details of events and to register.

Safe Work Australia news

Fatality Statistics
SafeWork updated its stats last week: As of October 10, the number of fatalities notified to national body was 121. This is another five more since the last update on September 26. Three of the five fatalities were in Transport, postal & warehousing. The workers killed came from the following industries: 

  • 41 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 28 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 17 in Construction
  • 8 in Mining
  • 6 in Public Administration & safety
  • 6 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
  • 5 in Manufacturing
  • 2 in Professional, scientific & technical services
  • 2 in Wholesale trade
  • 2 in 'Other services'
  • 2 in Administration & support services
  • 2 in Arts & recreation 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.

Mandatory rollover protection for quad bikes

The federal government has responded to calls from the ACCC, unions, farmers and community groups, announcing last week that roll-over protection will be mandatory on all new quad bikes within 24 months. Minister for Housing and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said the new standard would see improved safety information available to consumers, reduce the frequency of rollovers and provide increased protection to operators in the event of a rollover to reduce the risk of serious crush injuries and deaths. “Quad bikes are the leading cause of fatalities in Australia of all consumer products that aren’t regulated,” Mr. Sukkar said.

Prominent manufacturers, such as Honda and Yamaha, along with industry body the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries have strongly opposed mandatory roll-over protection, arguing instead that behavioural changes such as helmet use, as well as preventing children and passengers from using quad bikes, would be more effective. Some are threatening to no longer import quad bikes into Australia. Read more: Farm online



Solar panel installation company convicted and fined $120k

Sandarra Electrics Pty Ltd (now in liquidation) was a company that installed solar panels. On 23 November 2017, it was installing solar panels on a two storey residential property in Belmont. That day, WorkSafe Advisory got an anonymous call that two workers were installing the panels on a pitched double storey roof - only one person was wearing a harness.

When WorkSafe inspectors checked this out, they saw a worker on the first-floor verandah roof without fall protection. Another worker was on the second storey roof. Though he wearing a harness, it was not worn correctly, as he did not have his legs in the harness, instead it was fitted over his shoulders and arms. The harness was not attached to any fall protection ropes. In other words, it was useless.

The inspectors directed the workers to stop work and come down off the roof. The worker on the verandah roof was the director of the company. The worker on the second storey roof was a first-year apprentice. A work experience worker was also present and had been working on the ground. The inspectors also found there was no fall protection in place for the ladders being used to access the roof and no evidence of a bracket being used to attach the ladder to stop it from falling, should it slip. Further, there was no Safe Work Method statement for the works.

An ex parte plea was heard and the offender was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $60,000 for each charge ($120,000 in total).

Manufacturer fined after worker's fingers caught in machine

In another example of a worker having his fingers caught in a machine with badly designed guards, Regal Beloit Australia Pty Ltd was fined $12,500 (plus $3592 in costs) in the Ringwood Magistrates Court. The worker, who had been employed at the company for 22 years, needed surgery on his fingers. About 6 months after the incident, he was still receiving hand therapy twice a week and did not have full feeling or motion in his injured fingers.

Company fined $80k after tyre shredding injury

The operator of a tyre recycling facility has been convicted and fined $80,000 (and costs of $4,217) after a young worker was left with life-changing injuries.  Tyre Recycling Australia Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Dandenong Magistrates' Court last week to a single charge alleging three breaches of the OHS Act of failing to provide a working environment that was, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

The 18-year-old had been working on a tyre shredding machine at the Dandenong factory for less than a week in August 2018, when his right arm was dragged into a conveyer belt and crushed. He had reached into the machine while it was still running in an attempt to brush away shredded tyre material.

The father of three young children suffered extensive damage to his right hand and forearm and spent more than three months in hospital, undergoing several reconstructive surgeries. He requires ongoing medical treatment - it is estimated he will at best recover only 30 percent movement in his arm.

The court heard there was a serious injury risk to employees from an exposed conveyor belt and rollers at the rear of the tyre shredder, because the company failed to provide fixed guarding or a permanent physical barrier. It also failed to provide the necessary information, training and supervision to ensure employees did not approach the exposed danger areas while the machine was running. The company has since installed a combination of guarding and perimeter fencing on the tyre shredder, including interlocked gate access.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said there was no excuse for allowing workers to risk their health and safety using unguarded machinery, or clearing or cleaning machinery that is not switched off. "This worker has been left with permanent injuries that could have been avoided if appropriate guarding or training had been in place," Ms Nielsen said. "This incident will also have a life-long impact on his young family and is a tragic reminder of why employers must ensure the safety of their workers is always their first priority."

To keep up to date with prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.


Please remember: If you have an OHS related event you would like us to advertise, please email Renata at [email protected] with details, including location, cost (if any), and where to RSVP.


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  

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*

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


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 

November 6: An evening with Professor Patrick Hudson

A lively Q&A session will explore the challenges we face as we work to improve the safety culture and performance in organisations.  It is co-hosted by Professor David Caple AM for the Australian Institute of Health and Safety. The event is free, but registration is essential.

When: Wednesday, 6 November, 5:30–7:30 pm
Where: 990 Latrobe Street, Docklands
Cost: Free Register here for your free ticket.


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