Welcome to a special, shorter edition of our SafetyNet journal on Wednesday Octgober 30 - the day after our annual HSR Conference, and also the day after the Victorian Government introduced the Industrial Manslaughter Bill into parliament.
Tragically, on this same day, another Victorian worker was killed at work, and there was also a fatality involving a cement truck on Monday, bringing the number of fatalities this year to 27.
Two more Victorian fatalities
On the day new industrial manslaughter laws were introduced into parliament, and just up the road from the dreadful trench collapse that killed Charlie Howkins and Jack Brownlee, a man in his 50s man was killed yesterday morning after becoming trapped in machinery at a factory in Delacombe. WorkSafe is investigating the incident.
News has also come in that former leading country trainer Brian Cox was killed after a concrete truck he was driving rolled in north-east Victoria on Monday. Wodonga-based Cox was serving a disqualification from training and had turned to truck driving during his ban ahead of being eligible to reapply for his trainers' licence in May next year. According to some reports, both the police and WorkSafe were investigating the incident at Talgarno.
Our thoughts are with the family, workmates and friends of both men, as well as with first responders who attended, these terrible incidents. Every worker deserves to come home safely at the end of the day.
These two fatalities bring the total fatalities in Victoria to 27. It is worth noting once again that WorkSafe does not include workplace deaths that occur as a result of road crashes in its workplace fatality tally. This is one of the reasons why the real number of people killed as a result of their work is much larger than the recorded figures would indicate.
In an update, WorkSafe has confirmed it is investigating the death of a three-year-old boy who was thrown from a side-by-side vehicle at a farm in the state's north-east on 6 October. The child's father, who was contracted at the property, was allegedly driving the vehicle when the incident occurred at Deddick.
Minister announces new laws
For the first time in several years, the minister responsible for workplace safety did not attend the VTHC's annual conference for HSRs. But this is because the Attorney-General and Minister for Workplace Safety, Ms Jill Hennessy could not be in two places at once: while the HSRs watched a video of the Minister, she was in the Parliament introducing the laws. Under the proposed new laws, which deliver on an Andrews Labor election promise, employers who negligently cause a workplace death will face fines of up to $16.5 million (much higher than Australia's current highest maximum work health and safety fine of $10 million for industrial manslaughter in Queensland) and individuals will face up to 20 years in jail.
The proposed laws will cover deaths due to fatal incidents and illnesses caused by unsafe or unhealthy workplaces, as well as deaths caused by mental injuries, including trauma from bullying or other forms of abuse.
The offence will fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and will apply to employers, self-employed people and ‘officers’ of the employers. The legislation will also apply when an employer’s negligent conduct causes the death of a member of the public – ensuring that all Victorians are safe in, and around, our workplaces. WorkSafe Victoria will investigate the new offence using its powers under the OHS Act to ensure employers can be prosecuted.
The Minister made the announcement alongside Dave and Janine Brownlee whose son Jack died after a 3.2 metre trench collapsed on him while he was at work in Ballarat. “All workers deserve a safe workplace and the proposed laws send a clear message to employers that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace will not be tolerated,” said Ms Hennessy. “I cannot begin to imagine the pain felt by the families who have lost a loved one at work.”
Not unexpectedly, the tabling of the legislation drew immediate criticism from industry groups including the Victorian Chamber of Commerce, Master Builders Association and the Victorian Farmers Federation, who claim the laws will have a discriminatory effect on smaller businesses. However, standing outside Victoria's Parliament House, Ms Hennessy said the burden of proof for employers to be charged under the new laws would be high, because the the penalty is high. The criticism was expected and it was for this reason that bereaved family members and union officials who have had to deal with the deaths of their members have been meeting with both cross-benchers and members of the Labor government to ensure support for the legislation.
Read more: Victorian Government media release; Bosses face manslaughter charges for suicides under new workplace laws, The Age
HRS Conference a huge success
Many hundreds of HSRs both in Melbourne and regional Victoria had a fruitful and informative day at the annual HSR Conference yesterday. The HSRs cheered when the Minister, via a lengthy video recorded especially for the conference, announce that she was introducing the new Industrial Manslaughter laws in Parliament at that very moment, and acknowledged the role that they, their unions and the VTHC had had in the lead up to this moment.
Luke Hilakari, VTHC Secretary, reminded everyone of the long campaign that has been waged in this state to achieve these laws: a campaign of over 20 years. The death of 18 year old Anthony Carrick on November 12, 1998, his first day at work, was the catalyst for a campaign to have laws against 'corporate killing'. Anthony and another 18 year old were dropped off at Drybulk in Footscray by a labour hire company and told to sweep the floor in front of several 5.5 tonne cement slabs. The unrestrained slabs had been known to shift and wobble due to vibration from nearby traffic. One fell, killing Anthony and seriously injuring the other young man. The company was fined $50,000 but it went into liquidation and the fine was never paid. Soon after, the company owning Drybulk re-opened and operated from the same premises. At that time the then Labor Government introduced laws, but these did not make it through the Upper House.
So the battle has been long, and too many Victorians have been killed - with their employers getting off with a fine. This will now change.
The HSRs also heard from Ms Clare Amies, the outgoing Chief Executive of WorkSafe Victoria, and Daniel Gili, the 2018 HSR of the Year. They had an opportunity to ask questions of the panel and give their views on a number of issues.
The Keynote Speaker was Professor Lisa Heap who, after the HSRs were shown a video on gendered violence in the workplace, explained how this serious issue was an OHS one, and how it could be tackled in workplaces, as any other workplace hazard must be.
Sexual harassment in retail, food and warehousing industries
Coincidentally, yesterday the Human Rights Commission (HRC) launched a report on the results of a survey into the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment of retail, fast food and warehousing workers. The results have revealed that female workers and younger workers, often in their first jobs, are particularly at risk of workplace sexual harassment.
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), the union for retail, fast food and warehousing workers, approached the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to conduct a comprehensive survey of its members. The survey was conducted in early 2019. The report was launched by Commissioner Jenkins and SDA National Assistant Secretary Julia Fox in Melbourne.
Read more: HRC media release and full report; The Age
November 28: Feminism in the Pub
As part of the 16 days of Activism against gender based violence, Feminism in the Pub is celebrating women fighting for everyone to be physically and mentally safe at work. The VTHC Women's and Equity Team and activists invite you to attend the next event which will be on November 28. The topic: Eliminating Gendered Violence at Work will be of great interest to HSRs. There will be a panel and discussion on safe and inclusive workplaces, gendered violence as a workplace hazard and collective action. The event will be co-facilitated by Renata from the OHS Team.
When: 6.30pm, Thursday November 28
Where: Clyde Hotel, 365 Cardigan St, Carlton
Cost: Free - drinks and food at your own expense - but please RSVP at Union Women
Are there any regulations in Victoria regarding vehicle steps on trucks? I know there are for buildings, but no one seems to know if any exist for truck steps. Not cabin entry steps, but steps to access the rear of a truck body, the ones on our new truck are like building steps, but they are very far apart and the first step is quite high off the ground.
I’m not aware of any – unless they come with the truck and then it might be something that is covered by the design of the vehicle.
However, in saying that, if there’s an issue with these steps, and this (eg height of lowest step is high and not consistent with the sort of riser building steps must have) then it’s a legitimate OHS issue to raise with your employer under s73 of the Act – the plant is unsafe, and necessitates an unsafe system of work (in loading/unloading the trucks). There also should be consultation in the identification of hazards and risks and on actions to control theses. (See the following pages: Duties of employers; Resolution of issues; and Duty to consult). Give the union a call too…
If you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Union puts pressure on ALDI over driver safety
Transport workers are battling a supermarket monster that not only refuses to talk about safety but is waging a war to silence opponents. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) is asking the community to help to put pressure on Aldi to make safety a priority.
Aldi truck drivers have reported:
- pressure to work long hours despite being fatigued
- being humiliated for saying they’re fatigued
- blocked fire exits
- loading docks held open by wooden pallets
- sub-contractors in the Aldi supply chain not paying drivers the wages and superannuation they are entitled to.
Despite all this, Aldi won’t talk to the union about safety. Instead the billion-dollar retailer took a Federal Court case to stop the TWU speaking out about these problems. After two long years, Aldi dropped key charges against the union last week, but is still refusing to take responsibility for safety. Truck drivers and supporters have been protesting at Aldi stores, and they intend to continue. Read more, go to an action and/or sign the petition to ALDI here.
International union news
Qatar: ITUC welcomes end of the kafala ‘slavery’ system
Qatar has dismantled the kafala system of modern slavery that has seen migrant workers abused and killed. In a move welcomed by the global union confederation ITUC, exit visas for workers – including domestic workers, those in government and public institutions, and workers employed at sea, in agriculture as well as casual workers – have been eliminated. These workers now have the same rights as all workers in Qatar.
The abolition of no objection certificates (NOC) will allow workers to change their jobs without the permission of their employer, following normal contractual commitments. “Qatar is changing. The new tranche of laws will bring an end to the kafala system of modern slavery: exit visas for all workers including domestic workers eliminated; a system of contracts that are transparent and labour courts to enforce them; the end to permission to leave a job, with criteria equivalent to any modern industrial relations system; and a government fund to ensure workers are not disadvantaged by exploitative employers, while the state pursues recovery of entitlements,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “Workers want to work in the Gulf states, they want to support their families at home, but they also want decent work where they are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. While we witness the changes in Qatar, sadly this is not the case in neighbouring countries where migrant workers are still treated as less than human with few rights and freedoms.”
The union leader added: “The reforms need to become embedded in employment practice and strong legal compliance. But the partnership between the Qatar government and the ILO supported by the ITUC is working to change lives – to change a nation.” The new laws will be submitted to the Advisory (Shura) Council in November and are scheduled to come into effect on 1 January 2020. Read more: ITUC news release. ILO news release. Source: Risks 920
UK: Workers fear the sack for reporting sexual harassment
One in four young women are scared they will be sacked if they report sexual harassment at work, a UK study has found. The research by Young Women’s Trust found that just 6 per cent of young women who had been sexually harassed at work reported the misconduct. Sophie Walker, chief executive of the charity, said: “No woman should feel unsafe at work or put up with sexual harassment as something that's part of the day job - we've heard so many testimonies, read so many reports and yet it's still not mandatory to stop this from happening.”
The trust’s research found:
- 16 per cent of young women said they “know of cases of sexual harassment at work that have been reported and not dealt with properly”.
- Five per cent of young women said they have had to change job due to sexual harassment, assault or abuse.
- Eight per cent said they have been treated less well at work because they rejected sexual advances.
Walker continued: “We’re calling on the government to make it mandatory for all employers to protect their workers and volunteers from harassment and victimisation. Alongside this, employers should make it easier to report abuse by customers and clients, as well as colleagues, and put in place unbiased reporting processes that do not penalise victims.”
Earlier this month, in what the TUC described as a ‘significant advance’, revised Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance said the safety regulator may act where an employer fails to address workplace harassment risks. The HSE investigation policy change came three months after it was accused of having an ‘enforcement anomaly’ and a ‘prevention blindspot’ on workplace harassment.
Read more: Young Women’s Trust news release. The Independent. Source: Risks 920
Victoria: Huge toxic waste sites clean up bill
It appears that it might have to be taxpayer money - at least $230 million - which will have to be used to clean up a minimum of 15 toxic waste stockpiles linked to the largest illegal dumping syndicate in Victoria’s history. The Environment Protection Authority and WorkSafe are now expecting budget blowouts amid concerns those responsible for the illegal waste operation cannot be held financially accountable for the clean-up bill.
According to The Age the regulators and emergency services have already spent $27 million and expect to spend another $76 million remediating 13 highly toxic sites and the fallout from chemical blazes at West Footscray and Campbellfield properties linked to self-described “recycler” Graham Leslie White and waste company Bradbury Industrial Services. However, an eventual EPA operation to neutralise an estimated 50 million litres of chemical waste buried on a bush block in the state’s west, is expected to cost up to a further $125 million. Read more: The Age
SA: EWP audit and safety guidance
SafeWork SA has followed up a major WHS audit, prompted by two elevating work platform (EWP) fatalities and a coronial inquest, with three new information sheets on working safely with EWPs. They are:
"The range of motion available on some modern EWPs, such as the ability to move into and between structures, increases the likelihood of a crush incident occurring," the second document says. "Before operating an EWP in, around or near fixed structures, duty holders must eliminate crush risks where practicable to do so."
Safe Work Australia news
SafeWork has updated its stats page: as at October 24, the number of fatalities notified to national body was 124 - this is 3 more than the previous update on October 10. The workers killed came from the following industries:
- 43 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 28 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 19 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'
- 1 in Administration & support services
- 2 in Arts & recreation services
Plumbing company fined after trench collapse
All In One Plumbing Pty Ltd operates in the inner south eastern suburbs of Melbourne and specialises in residential and commercial plumbing. In August 2017, the company's employees were installing and connecting pipes inside a trench at workplace located at Keysborough. Two trench shields had been rented so they could safely work inside the trench.
The method used was for an excavator to dig down and then drop one of the trench shields into the trench. then the excavator would dig a second hole and the second trench shield would be placed next to the first. Once the work was completed in that specific area, the excavator would dig the next section and the first shield would leap-frog the second shield and be placed in the trench.
On 1 September 2017, a worker entered the trench in an area outside of the trench shield and used a jackhammer to chip away some concrete: the trench, which was about 2.2 metres deep, collapsed. The man suffered three fractures in his pelvis which required surgery, as well as a soft-tissue injury to his right shoulder. The worker could have been killed as a result of this incident.
All In One Plumbing pleaded guilty and was, without conviction, sentenced to pay an aggregate fine of $32,500 (plus costs of $7,500) for breaching Sections 21(1); 21(2)(a) & 21(2)(e) of the OHS Act.
Bendigo Foundry after worker's hand caught in machine
Keech Foundry Pty. Ltd designs and manufactures steel castings in Bendigo East. Part of the business involved using a "paddle mixer" to mix "magcast" powder with water. 200 kilograms of powder and water would be placed in the paddler mixer and a four bladed auger mixed it together. Once mixed, a hinged steel gate would be opened by hand and the mixture would flow down a guarded chute into a hopper/wheelbarrow to be carted away.
It was not uncommon for blockages to occur in the chute during the task. Workers were trained to close the hinged steel gate and use a metal bar to loosen the mixture, before opening the steel gate again to continue. However the guard was in poor condition. In July 2018, there was a blockage - the worker put his hand in a gap in the guard to loosen the mixture. The auger sheared the tips of two of his fingers. He was taken to hospital and underwent successful reattachment surgery.
WorkSafe inspectors attended shortly after the incident and issued a prohibition notice. Later that day, WorkSafe inspectors re-attended the workplace and observed a new guard had been designed, manufactured and installed on the chute. The prohibition notice was then lifted.
Keech pleaded guilty, had been in business for about 80 years and had had no prior OHS matters heard. But for the plea of guilty, the Court would have imposed a fine of $40,000. Instead, the court imposed a fine of $20,000 plus $3,904 costs.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Nov 19 - 21 International Symposium on the system of radiological protestion
Mines - Medicine - Mars
ICRP 2019 is a combined event that offers the opportunity for more than 400 professionals, experts and researchers worldwide to discuss their respective concerns and the current challenges faced in all areas of radiological protection, as well as the ways forward through new research, updating doctrines, or better interactions with stakeholders. The program looks at a range of issues associated with radiological protection in mining including the latest science on radon risk, waste management practices, and best practice in the protection of the environment.