Welcome to the February 5 edition of SafetyNet.
Once again we begin with tragic news: a young worker was killed in an incident involving a truck, bringing the confirmed workplace fatalities in January to six.
Please note that due to some computer issues, this edition is a little shorter than it would normally be.
Truck driver killed
On Thursday January 30, a 26-year-old truck driver was killed while working in the Yarra Ranges. The thoughts of the union movement are with the young man's family, friends and colleagues.
TWU Vic/Tas Branch Secretary, John Berger, said "The cabin of a truck continues to be the most dangerous workplace in Victoria." Last November, Victoria's Premier, Daniel Andrews, committed to ensuring that road transport workers who are killed at work on Victorian roads will be included in the WorkSafe deaths at work tally. This will come into effect in July this year.
The death of this young man makes it six, or possibly seven (there is still a question regarding the fatality at Bruthen last week).
VTHC Releases Air Quality Standard
Last week, on January 30, 2020, the Victorian Trades Hall Council launched an air quality standard that connects workers health and safety at work with the Environmental Protection Authority's air quality rating, which can be found on the EPAs AirWatch website.
The document highlights what employers and workers can do proactively do reduce the risk of exposing workers to poor quality air, particularly at-risk workers and those working outdoors. Importantly, it is stated that all non-critical outdoor work must cease when the EPA Air Quality Index level is Very Poor. Download the VTHCs Air Quality Standard. Use it to get ready for the next poor air quality day. Read more: Air Quality
I work in a smallish office. My manager has told me they are going to install another desk into the office, which I think will make it far too crowded. How much space does the law say there must be?
There’s no regulation in terms of office space – only guidelines. The best place to find these is in Officewise (see this page for a link and for more information) . In other words, not law.
However, irrespective of what the guidelines say, your employer has a duty of care under s21 of the OHS Act – to provide and maintain so far as is reasonably practicable a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. What your manager is planning is creating stress for you as well as a potential physical problem – as well as not being compliant with the guidelines. Was there consultation prior to this decision being made? If not, then this too is a breach of the Act (s35 - Duty to Consult)
Do you have an HSR? If so, take the issue to them and ask them to take it up (under s73 - Resolution of Issues) with the manager. Make sure you have clearly worked out what the issues are and what you would like to see happen. I also recommend contacting the union/your organiser to let them know you’ve got an issue, in particular if you don’t have an HSR
If you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Tonight: 2020 VTHC OHS Unit launch
With the start of a new year and a new decade we want to take some time to look back on past achievements, and look ahead to the future. 2019 was the year we won the fight for Industrial Manslaughter legislation, a much better silica standard, and much more, and in 2020 we're keeping up the momentum for safer workplaces.
Join us in Trades Hall's historic Solidarity Hall for an evening of OHS, community, friends and refreshments. There will also be an announcement regarding the OHS Unit.
Scaffold collapse in Melbourne's north
Emergency services were called to an address at Fortitude Drive, Craigieburn, at just after 1pm yesterday following reports a person was trapped in a scaffolding collapse. Five workers were injured when a scaffold collapsed in Melbourne's north on Monday - two seriously. The two men, one in his 20's and the other in his 50's, were taken to hospital in a serious condition.
Helicopter footage showed a large amount of scaffolding had fallen in front of a partially constructed building at the site. Workers in high-visibility vests could also be seen sitting on the footpath beside the site, as firefighters and SES workers gathered nearby.
WorkSafe Victoria's chief of business operations Marnie Williams told ABC Radio Melbourne inspectors and investigators were on the scene but it was "too early to comment on the circumstances of the collapse". Ms Williams said the site was being made safe but she could not comment on whether WorkSafe had been in contact with the company responsible for the scaffolding. Source: ABC Online
Labor government funding boost for Catholic and Independent schools
Catholic and independent schools across Victoria will benefit from a record investment in infrastructure – to build and upgrade facilities, through a new round of the Andrews Labor Government’s $402 million Non-Government Schools Capital Fund.
Minister for Education James Merlino today opened the second round of the fund, for projects such as building new schools and increasing capacity or upgrading facilities at existing schools. It also supports removal of asbestos and cladding in these schools.
Read more: Victorian Government media release
International union news
Global: Maritime bosses urged to heed union coronavirus guide
Seafarers have been advised to familiarise themselves with new global guidance on the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has created a containment lockdown in central China and prevented some ships from calling at the major trade hub Wuhan.
Global transport workers’ union federation ITF has issued advice on the coronavirus, a never-before-seen virus that is transmissible from human to human. The virus, which originated in China in late 2019, causes pneumonia-like symptoms and can be life-threatening. The Wall Street Journal reported that vessels are being held back by China from entering Wuhan, in Hubei Province. The city is a major trade hub in the region and is located on the Yangtze River. The ITF alert “advises that those in China should avoid unprotected contact with live animals, ensure all animal products (including meat and eggs) are thoroughly cooked, practise good hygiene, and avoid contact with anyone displaying symptoms.”
Danny McGowan, international organiser with the UK seafarers’ union Nautilus, commented: “We will continue to monitor ITF and WHO reports. Seafarers are urged to familiarise themselves with onboard and company guidance for such situations. Those companies who may not yet have procedures in place are urged to seek advice on how their employees and passengers can be protected.” Nautilus and the ITF have said they will publish any further information that is relevant to maritime professionals and other transport workers as the situation develops. Nautilus issued a further news release following a coronavirus outbreak scare onboard a Costa Crociere cruise ship.The virus had sickened approximately 2,700 people and killed 80 as of 26 January, most of them in Wuhan and the surrounding Chinese province of Hubei. Read more: Nautilus news release. WHO news release. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 932
USA: Sharp rise in blue collar suicides
The US government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported a 40 per cent increase in working age suicides over the last two decades. Its analysis shows 38,000 persons of working age died by suicide in 2017. After analysing suicide data by occupation and industry, it emerged blue collar workers are the highest risk of death by suicide, mirroring findings in the UK (Risks 793).
Suicide rates were highest for men working in quarrying, oil and gas extraction, construction and other services, such as automotive repair, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. Rates were elevated in transportation and warehousing for both men and women. They were also significantly higher for six occupational groups: Construction and extraction (men and women); installation, maintenance and repair (men); arts, design, entertainment, sports and media (men); transportation and material moving (men and women). Elevated suicide rates were also seen for women working in protective services and healthcare support, again echoing UK figures showing care and home care workers were at greater risk. Study data was taken from the 2016 US National Violent Death Reporting System, in which 32 states participated. These statistics were gathered from a variety of reports on violent death, such as coroner reports, law enforcement reports and death reports.
Read more: Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), volume 69, number 3, pages 57-62, 24 January 2020. Local 12 News: US experiencing 40% suicide rate increase, higher in blue-collar workers. Source: Risks 932
WorkSafe issues Coronavirus advice
Last week WorkSafe Victoria issued an alert: Exposure to coronavirus in workplaces about the risks associated with potential exposure to novel (new) coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The alert provides advice on recommended ways to control risks of exposure, even though there have been very few diagnosed cases in Australia.
It reminds employers that they have a duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees. This includes identifying risks to health or safety associated with potential exposure to the coronavirus.
Employers should assess the risk of exposure by talking to employees who have:
- direct contact with people who have recently travelled to China
- direct contact with sick or ill patients or customers who have symptoms associated with the virus
- travelled or are planning to travel overseas for work, particularly to China
The alert provides more advice, including that employers should:
- develop an infection control policy that includes advice for employees showing signs and symptoms to remain at home and seek medical advice
- provide adequate facilities or products (such as hand sanitiser) to allow employees to maintain good hygiene practices
WorkSafe is recruiting
Victoria's regulator WorkSafe Victoria is excited to announce that recruitment for the next intake of Health and Safety Inspectors is now open.
The regulator says it is 'looking for passionate individuals who share their vision of Victorian workers returning home safely every day. If you or anyone you know is interested in finding out more information, please go to this page on the WorkSafe website.
Reminder: First aid in the workplace compliance code available for public comment
A reminder to our subscribers that the draft First aid in the workplace compliance code (First aid code) has been released for public comment. To view the materials and provide online submissions, go to the dedicated webpage on the Victorian Government’s consultation platform, engage.vic.gov.au. Submissions can also be lodged by email or post.
Supporting information including a copy of the proposed First aid code, a summary of changes, and frequently asked questions is also available from the webpage.
The public comment must be submitted by Cob Tuesday 18 February 2020. The VTHC participated in the working group and we encourage HSRs and other to provide comment. If you feel very strongly about any particular issue, please send your comment through to Renata: [email protected], and we will consider including it in the VTHC comment.
National Fatality Statistics
As at 30 January, there have been 15 Australian workers killed at work in 2020. These are preliminary figures, and are based mainly on media reports.
In 2019, 162 Australian workers were fatally injured while working, compared with 144 workers in 2018.
The fatalities this year have come from the following industries:
- 5 in Public administration & safety
- 4 in Construction
- 3 in Mining
- 2 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 1 in Manufacturing
Company charged over chemical stockpiles in Campbellfield
Last week WorkSafe has charged Bradbury Industrial Services Pty Ltd over alleged breaches of the Dangerous Goods Act for chemical stockpiles at a Campbellfield warehouse. The stockpile was uncovered during Environment Protection Authority and WorkSafe investigations into the storage of chemicals in Melbourne's northern suburbs in January 2019.
The company, which is now in liquidation, is facing seven offences under sections 31 (1) and section 45 of the OHS Act.
WorkSafe alleges that Bradbury failed to:
- take all reasonable precautions to prevent fire or explosion of dangerous goods at the site;
- reduce, so far as was reasonably practicable, the risk of dangerous goods leaking from intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) that were bulging, had loose top screw caps, or were partially collapsed;
- notify WorkSafe of the presence of an excess quantity of dangerous goods at the site;
- request the advice of the relevant emergency services authority in relation to the design of a fire protection system for the premises (having exceeded the regulated fire protection quantity of dangerous goods);and
- have a written emergency plan.
It is further alleged the company breached regulations relating to placarding and keeping a prescribed manifest.
WorkSafe issued improvement notices requiring the site to be made safe, which were complied with. The matter is listed for a filing mention in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 26 February, 2020. Source: WorkSafe media release
Construction company fined $125k for failure to comply with notices
Mainline Developments Pty Ltd is a company specialising in the development of small and large scale residential construction projects. In January 2018 it was constructing 28 double story and 3 single story townhouses in Narre Warren.
Between 15 January 2018 and 15 March 2018 WorkSafe Inspectors attended the workplace six times and observed numerous and repeated breaches including:
- works on the first floor, balconies and roof of townhouses with no controls in place to prevent falling off the live edges
- scaffolding with missing planks
- trucks accessing the workplace and unloading without a traffic management plan in place
- tripping hazards re excess debris on site and general rubbish in access areas
- poor housekeeping including open trenches, unhygienic toilet facilities without water or toilet paper, no meals area or facilities for employees
- no safe system of work regarding electrical safety
- no SWMS in place to address the risk of employees working at height, near energised electrical installations and near mobile plant
On various dates numerous Improvement Notices were issued to the company to address the breaches - however it repeatedly failed to comply by the due dates regarding most notices. By 5 April 2018 all notices were deemed complied with.
The offender pleaded guilty and was with conviction sentenced to pay individual fines for each offence totaling $125,000.
Plumber fined $15k after worker falls through skylight
Sole trader Andrew Frank Lowrie, trading as A.F.L. Plumbing was engaged to perform roofing works, including installation of approximately 70 skylights over a pool house, at a residential construction site in Ivanhoe.
On 14 November 2018, two employees were installing insulation paper on some of the skylights - they had already installed four or five papers that morning. One employee had his feet on either side of the skylight gap, whilst leaning over to nail down the paper. The other employee was looking at the road when he heard a noise, turned around and saw the employee fall head first through the skylight. The employee landed on his head, shoulders and back. The employee suffered serious head injuries and was taken to hospital, where he remained for six weeks.
WorkSafe inspectors attended and observed that there was no fall protection or guarding in place for the skylights, or around the roof. Measurements of the unprotected skylight edge to the ground revealed a 3.3 metre drop.
Lowrie pleaded guilty for failing to provide fall protection underneath or guarding around the skylight, and perimeter guarding on the roof. The Court sentenced him, without conviction, to pay a fine of $15,000 plus WorkSafe's costs of $3,505.
To find our more details, including the details of the EUs, and to keep up to date with new prosecutions, check WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.