SafetyNet 509

Welcome to the October 23 edition of the VTHC's OHS Unit's weekly journal SafetyNet. Today's is a short edition, due to a number of factors, but we hope you still find it informative and useful.

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 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.

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 1600 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 last week. 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 OHSCampaigns@vthc.org.au. 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,

I was wondering whether there is a minimum size requirement for staff laptops that have been provided for work use.

There’s nothing specific in the OHS Act or the regulations which addresses laptops – our Act and regs are objective based, so this means employers must "so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure that there is an ‘absence of risk’ in connection to the use, etc of equipment (plant)" – s21(2)(b). Also, the employer has a duty to consult with HSRs (with or without employees) when proposing changes to plant or other things (s35(f)).

What I would recommend is establishing a working group to look into the options, identify any potential risks with any of them, organise a trial, and so on. It would also be worth doing a bit of research and getting advice from an ergonomist. There’s a little bit of information on this page  -  but not very much.

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

Asbestos news

Asbestos find illustrates ongoing problems
Last Friday workers in protective clothing continued removing asbestos next to an Altona North childcare centre, two weeks after it was first revealed. WorkSafe Victoria is investigating after the asbestos was left exposed at the Millers Road construction site next to the Early Learners centre. Such incidents illustrate how much of a problem 'in situ' asbestos still is in Australia.

The asbestos was discovered on land being developed by the Greek Orthodox Community of Hobsons Bay by an official from the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union who was visiting another worksite nearby. The union’s Victorian occupational health and safety unit manager Gerry Ayers said the childcare centre had been told not to let children play outside. “We have advised the management of the childcare centre next door that children should not play outside until further notice,” he said. “And that they register their potential asbestos exposure through the national asbestos, dust, fumes and chemicals register. In this day and age, it is atrocious …knowingly exposing preschool children to this toxic hazard just beggars belief.”
Source: The Star Weekly

USA: Johnson & Johnson recalls baby powder
Last Saturday Johnson & Johnson announced a voluntary recall of its talc-based baby powder products, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found traces of asbestos in sample testing. The recall follows legal losses and an investigative report linking asbestos exposure to the company’s talc products.

The recall will affect only one lot of baby powder, which nevertheless amounts up to 33,000 bottles. According to the company, it was prompted by the FDA finding “sub-trace levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination” in a sample taken from a bottle bought online; another lot tested by the FDA turned up negative. There seem to have been no reports of injury linked to the products. But in a statement by the company Saturday, the company said that the recall was made “out of an abundance of caution. The source article notes that it is unlikely that any of this 'batch' of bottles was sold in Australia. The company has faced  more than 14,000 alleging the baby powder caused mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.  Read more: Gizmodo More on this and the troubles of Johnson & Johnson in The Daily Mail.

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.

UK: Ambulance staff facing ‘epidemic’ of mental ill-health

A survey of ambulance staff has revealed they are suffering mental health problems at ‘epidemic’ levels. The initial findings from the union Unite are based on responses from the 550 members have so far taken part in its survey. Unite found over half of ambulance staff have suffered from anxiety (54 per cent) while 44 per cent recorded they had suffered from depression. Two-thirds (67 per cent) described being excessively irritable or angry and over three quarters (77 per cent) reported they were suffering from stress. Nearly a fifth (17 per cent) of respondents also reported trauma as a result of their work responding to life-threatening emergencies.

The staff also registered other problems including tiredness (89 per cent), problems with sleep (85 per cent), generalised aches and pains (70 per cent), poor diet/loss of appetite (64 per cent), headaches (55 per cent) and gastric problems (54 per cent). Workers recorded the primary reasons for experiencing stress at work as excessive workloads, unrealistic targets, late finishes, the lack of flexible working and a lack of consultation on changes at work. Nearly a third of respondents reported having been diagnosed with a mental health problem and the vast majority of those said that their work contributed significantly to causing their mental health problem or to making it worse. Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) reported missing days of work over the last 12 months as a result, with the same proportion stating their employer was not supportive or understanding to people with mental health issues. 

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett Thorpe said: “Unite will use the findings of the report to lobby individual trusts to remove the pressure from workers and tackle the mental ill-health epidemic which is afflicting our members.” Read more: Unite news release. Source: Risks 919.


Research

DNA Breaks: Cell Phone Radiation Led to "Significant Increases"

The National Toxicology Program tested two common radiofrequency radiation (RFR) modulations emitted by cellular telephones in a 2‐year rodent cancer bioassay that included interim assessments of additional animals for genotoxicity endpoints.The results of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) studies on DNA breaks in rats and mice following exposure to cell phone radiation have recently been published in Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis.

The NTP concludes that: "[S]ignificant increases in the levels of DNA damage measured by the comet assay were seen in several tissues from rats and mice, indicating that RFR may be capable of causing increases in DNA damage.” The authors concluded that
Read more: Smith-Roe, S, et al, Evaluation of the genotoxicity of cell phone radiofrequency radiation in male and female rats and mice following subchronic exposure [Abstract], Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis


Regulator news

WorkSafe Victoria news

Safety alert issued after three year old killed last week
After last week's tragedy when a three year old was fatally injured on a Victorian farm, WorkSafe has issued a Safety Alert to highlight the importance of ensuring vehicles used on farms are suitable for the task, fitted with the appropriate operator protective devices and operated safely.
Read the Safety Alert here.

Assault on youth justice worker: charges laid
WorkSafe has charged the Department of Justice and Community Safety for alleged health and safety breaches. Two charges have been filed at the Melbourne Magistrates Court under section 21 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, for failing to maintain a working environment that was safe and without risks to health.

The charges relate to an incident in which a youth justice worker was assaulted with a guitar in the Deakin Unit of the Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct on 24 January 2018. The worker suffered head and shoulder injuries, requiring hospital treatment. WorkSafe alleges DJCS failed to provide and maintain safe systems of work and failed to provide necessary information and instruction to reduce this risk. The matter will be heard at Melbourne Magistrates Court on 13 November 2019. Source: WorkSafe media release

Workplace injury rate at 'near record low'
The rate of workplace injuries in Victoria rose last year but remains at a near record low, according to data in WorkSafe’s 2018/19 annual report. Claims for workplace injuries in Victoria per million hours worked rose slightly to 6.31 in the 2018/19 financial year, but were still the second lowest level on record, 0.6 per cent above the previous year's record low. Read more: WorkSafe media release

Tottenham fire site clean up continues 
WorkSafe Victoria and the EPA have released a joint statement after a stockpile of toxic waste was discovered at the site more than a year after a huge fire. The watchdogs are demanding the owners and occupiers of the Tottenham site clean up the property. EPA and Worksafe have issued notices demanding the duty holders remove waste and chemicals from the site, contain any run-off, and render any residual dangerous goods harmless.All demolition work must comply with construction and asbestos regulations. The clean up must be completed by August 2020.

EPA’s onsite investigations to date show there are still aerosols, solvents and paint residues on site. Of an estimated 7-15 million cubic metres of waste to be cleaned up, around 7-10 million litres are estimated to be residual chemicals, including dangerous goods.  However the discovery - nearly 14 months after the fire - raises serious concerns about the EPA’s handling of the investigation and its decision to wait more than a year to conduct a survey of the site wreckage. Read more: Joint WorkSafe EPA statementToxic waste stockpile found in rubble of burnt-down warehouse, The Age.

NSW: new initiatives to protect workers from silica dust

On Monday, the NSW Government announced a range of new measures to prevent exposure to silica dust. Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson said the initiatives were good news for those working in the manufactured stone, sandstone stonemasonry, as well as the tunnelling and domestic construction industries. “To reduce the possible exposure to silica dust, the NSW Government will support SafeWork Australia’s recommendation to reduce the Australian Workplace Exposure Standard from 0.1 to 0.05 mg/m3, and will also support SafeWork Australia undertaking further research on whether a reduction to 0.02 mg/m3 is achievable,” Mr Anderson said. The government will also boost safety rebates available to the manufactured stone fabrication industry, by introducing an industry specific safety rebate of $1000 until June 2020, to assist with improved safety controls. The Greens, however, maintain their position that manufactured stone be banned. Read more: SafeWork NSW media release

QLD: WorkSafe Queensland issues three safety alerts

In the past week, Queensland's regulator has issued three alerts following serious and fatal incidents. Each contains advice on how to prevent similar incidents:

  1. Fatal fall from height while working on air conditioning system: In August, a man was killed after falling approximately 6 metres while working on an air conditioning system at a civic centre. It’s believed he may have fallen from a ladder.
  2. Young worker seriously injured by meat slicing machine: Also in August, a young worker suffered serious hand injuries after an incident at a meat processing workplace. The regulator's early investigations indicate he was operating a guillotine style slicing machine used to cut frozen meat.
  3. Worker killed after tyre explosion: In September, a truck driver was killed while inflating a tyre. Initial indications are the transport firm employee sustained fatal injuries when the tyre he was inflating exploded.
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    In August, a man died after falling approximately 6 metres (m) while working on an air conditioning system at a civic centre. It’s believed he may have fallen from a ladder.

Safe Work Australia news

Fatality Statistics
SafeWork has not updated its stats since last week: As of October 10, the number of fatalities notified to national body was 121. 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.


Events

Please remember: 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  

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*

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 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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