Welcome to the March 18 edition of SafetyNet.
As we face extraordinary conditions and challenges due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the message from us is to take the necessary precautions to stay safe and not panic. Increasing numbers of workers are now working remotely from home, and it seems more and more employers are looking into this option.
For the many thousands of workers whose employment is being affected because of the downturn or because they are casuals, these are going to be difficult times. The union movement has launched a campaign to get guaranteed paid special leave for all workers. Sign the petition to Prime Minister Scott Morrison now.
And in further tragic news, two Victorian workers were killed this week.
We invite feedback on the journal - this helps us to ensure that SafetyNet is as useful and interesting for our subscribers as possible. Please send your comments through to Renata at [email protected] We welcome all and any comments.
Two workers killed this week
In an absolute horror start to this week, two workers were killed in Victoria on Monday.
WorkSafe Victoria has issued a media release with a few details:
A 52-year-old man died in hospital following an incident in which a circular saw cut into his leg during landscaping works at a Cobblebank property. It the worker was using the saw to cut timber posts when the incident occurred about 9am, Monday.
In the second incident, which occurred at about 2pm on Monday afternoon, a 55-year-old man was killed while weed spraying at Yea after his vehicle rolled about 40 metres down a steep hill. It is believed the man was thrown from the vehicle when it rolled over.
WorkSafe is investigating both incidents. These fatalities bring the total number of workers killed this year, according to our calculations, to 15. WorkSafe's official number is 13.
The VTHC extends our sincerest condolences to the families, friends and work colleagues of these workers.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update
There is a great deal of information on the net, the radio, and the TV on the current unprecedented situation in Australia and around the world. However the information and advice is changing daily. We have a page on the Coronavirus Disease on the site, and will try to keep it up to date. Other sources of information are:
- Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services Information page on Coronavirus. This is updated regularly and is the source for accurate information. Other useful DHHS resources are: a ‘self-assessment tool' [pdf] for risk of coronavirus’ to be used as needed.
- From the ACTU Centre for Health and Safety a COVID-19 resource page. This page will be regularly updated to provide unions, HSRs and workers information on how they can protect their workplaces from COVID-19.
- The Coronavirus (COVID-19) hazard information page on our website.
Remember too to sign the Megaphone petition - we need as many signatures as possible before Parliament resumes next week. Sign it, and share it as widely as possible.
Things get ugly
COVID-19 is starting to affect people everywhere - we are all aware of the panic buying which has seen supermarket shelves empty of basics such as toilet paper, rice, pasta and other staples. Many employers are now organising for their workers to work from home (read more: Teleworking)
But there are many workers who are having to bear the brunt of public frustration. Retail workers have been abused, are under a great deal of stress and now at physical danger. This week a Woolworth's employee was stabbed while trying to collect trolleys in the carpark of the Rosebud supermarket, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. The man was airlifted to hospital with a lower body injury. A Rosebud man has been arrested over the incident.
An angry shopper accused of striking a Coles employee with a stick in Brunswick on Sunday has also been charged. The 43-year-old man was held down in a citizen’s arrest by a group of customers at the Sydney Rd supermarket.
Read more: news.com.au
TWU advice to members
The Transport Workers Union, which represents many workers on the front line, has been providing advice on its website for members since early February when there were concerns regarding flights from China. Currently, it is providing advice to bus drivers and other members. Check the TWU website for updates.
I work in a coffee and ice cream cafe, and I have a few questions.
According to my employer, I must eat in the dining area of the cafe where customers sit and eat. I do not think is either professional or sanitary.
Also, are we entitled to a separate bathroom to customers (which we have on the premises)? There are over ten employees however only ever a maximum of six working at any one time. We also have a mix of genders. There is an upstairs section where we had both a dining area and a toilet, but now this has been converted into a private office.
Your employer has duties to employees under the Victorian OHS Act – but when it comes to particulars, these duties are qualified by ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. See: Duties of employers.
In response to your particular questions:
- Dining area – the employer is supposed to provide a dining area for you – read more here. But if it’s not ‘reasonably practicable’ to provide a separate space, then they cannot order you to eat with customers – it’s your break and you should be able to take it elsewhere
- Separate bathroom – yes, there should be toilets, etc for employees – read more here. However I know there’s some loophole in shopping centres which means small shops don’t even have to have toilets for their customers.. but there should be separate toilets for employees.
- If they have turned a part of the workplace into a private office, then it should be practicable to allow staff a little space and certainly to use that bathroom
- Finally, employers have a duty to consult with workers and their elected HSRs when proposing changes to the workplace that may affect their health and safety (see: Duty to consult). This obviously did not happen here, but your employer needs to start consulting about how this will be addressed.
So... what can you do? If you have an elected HSR, then talk to them and ask them to take the issue up with the employer. If you don't have an HSR, contact the union. If you're not in a union (why not?) then you will need to contact WorkSafe Victoria.
If you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Shortage of respirators around Australia
The Australian Institute of Health and Safety has issued a notice that there is currently a shortage of particulate respirators in Australia due to an increase in demand from health care workers and from the public, and also because many Chinese manufacturers have temporarily shut down. This is an issue for workplaces which require disposable respirators to protect workers from exposure to hazardous dust generated from various work processes, including asbestos removal. The AIHS refers to advice from Workplace Health & Safety Queensland (WHSQ).
Read more: What to do when disposable respirators run out?
NSW: Changes to property industry
As of March 23 new rules will apply to the NSW property market. There will be increased clarity around what agents and property managers must disclosed about a property they are selling or leasing. They will have to disclose whether the property has 'significant health or safety risks', is listed on the loose-fill asbestos insulation register, and more (such as whether the building has external combustible cladding).
Read more: Sweeping changes to property industry come into effect this month
National model WHS Act amended
Safe Work Australia has amended the model WHS Act to ensure that regulators have appropriate powers to deal with prohibited asbestos when it is found in a workplace.
A total ban on asbestos came into effect in Australia on 31 December 2003 making it illegal to make, use or import asbestos in Australia. Despite this ban, asbestos that has been fixed or installed since 2003 is still being found in Australian workplaces.
The changes to the model WHS Act ensure greater certainty in the regulation of prohibited asbestos. In this context, prohibited asbestos means asbestos fixed or installed in a workplace after the prohibition on asbestos was introduced.
Read more: Safe Work Australia Media release
International union news
TUC produces COVID-19 resources for Union reps
The UK's peak union council, has produced a guide Coronavirus/ COVID-19 Guidance to Unions for union reps. It is designed to give reps an understanding of the workplace issues in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide support in being effective at negotiating with employers steps that can be taken to best protect the health and safety of the workforce.
Global: Workers need coronavirus health, pay and job protection
Global union confederation ITUC is calling for urgent measures to ensure workers who show possible coronavirus symptoms have access to free health care and can take sick leave without fear of losing their jobs or their incomes. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning of a “very high risk of global spread and impact” of the disease, the union body says workplaces are ‘frontlines’ in combatting the infection’s proliferation.
“The WHO is warning of very high risk of global spread and impact of the virus, and workplaces are at the centre of containment and mitigation efforts. Many millions of people around the world have no right to take sick leave or face financial ruin if they have to go into isolation. That exposes them, their colleagues and the public to the risk of serious disease and can only accelerate its spread,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “Along with all the other urgent measures required, governments need to ensure that employers provide time off without penalty for people who have symptoms, and to fill the gaps in social protection that make it difficult for people to stop work when they are sick. Never has the need for paid sick leave been more evident.”
ITUC said that while the infection risk is highest for health workers, especially where protective equipment and facilities are lacking or sub-standard, other sectors - in particular where large numbers of people gather or are in transit - can also be major vectors for transmission. Global union UNI also warned that “workers are in the frontlines of the fight” against the virus.
Read more: ITUC news release. UNI news release. Source: Risks 938
COVID-19 Medical journal editorial
An editorial in the journal Occupational Medicine has noted that a wide range of workers had ‘probable occupationally-acquired’ coronavirus, with 17 of the first 25 locally transmitted cases in Singapore (68 per cent) “probably related to occupational exposure. They included staff in the tourism, retail and hospitality industry, transport and security workers, and construction workers.”
Read more: David Koh. Editorial: Occupational risks for COVID-19, Occupational Medicine, published online 28 February 2020.
Workload and stress - Correction
This article first appeared in SafetyNet 522 - and regrettably, we mistakenly said the paper was written by Dr Lorraine Patterson..
In fact, the article Cold Indifference – is this the new normal? Inadequate support, a ridiculous workload and an appalling exit for a committed and seasoned Community Services Worker was written, on the basis of her experience and observations, by Dr Lorraine Harrison.
We sincerely apologise for this mistake - and recommend that all our subscribers check out this very interesting article and provide feedback to Dr Harrison directly.
You might also like to check out her thesis, Feeling the heat: workers' experiences of job stress in the Victorian community services sector on the site.
Construction company fined $15,000 after supervisor falls down stairwell void
Pivot Construction Group Pty Ltd was the principal contractor of a workplace in Cranbourne East where 76 townhouses were being constructed. The company engaged a third party to undertake the flooring, framing and installation of prefabricated pine roof trusses.
In one of the townhouses there was a stairwell void that had not been fitted with a landing, or with safety railing, creating a risk of fall.
On 3 October 2017 there were three supervisors onsite when three units of trusses were delivered by truck. These were in packs of 10-12 trusses. Each truss weighed about 20-25 kilograms, spanned about 7-8 metres and about 0.6 metres in height. Using a crane that was fitted to the rear of the truck, the truck driver unloaded the trusses, lifted and placed the trusses onto the top plate of the wall frame of the first floor of the townhouse.
One of the supervisors, responsible for OHS safety on site, entered the partly constructed townhouse, used a secured internal ladder to climb up onto the first floor, and walked along the flooring where the trusses were being landed by the crane in order to check on their position to ensure they were in the correct location. Whilst the third pack of trusses was being unloaded, the supervisor stepped backwards and inadvertently into the unprotected stairwell void. He fell onto a concrete slab 2.4 metres below suffering injury to his shoulder and lacerations to his head. He was aware that townhouse did not have access to the upstairs area and did not follow the correct method of work when the trusses were being unloaded. A stair void platform was due to be installed the next day - that is, after the roof trusses delivery.
As principal contractor, Pivot had control over stairwell void protection. The company pleaded guilty, thus acknowledging it had failed to reduce the risk of fall by taking a number of practicable measures. Despite the guilty plea, the company was, without conviction, sentenced to pay a fine of $15,000 plus $4,248 in costs.
To find our more details, and to keep up to date with new prosecutions, check WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
New guidelines to combat gendered violence in the workplace
Last week new guidelines were launched by Jill Hennessy, Minister for Workplace Safety, regarding eradicating gendered violence in the workplace. The union movement has been unwavering in its resolve to see an outcome like this, and has been actively involved in the development of the guidelines. .
Women, members of the LGBTIQA+ community, migrants and persons with a disability are more likely to experience gendered violence as well as when a person faces multiple forms of discrimination.
The guidance provides information on identifying, preventing and responding to gendered violence in the workplace, which can range from comments and gestures through to sexual assault and rape.
Work-related gendered violence is any behaviour affecting a person because of their sex, gender or sexual orientation, or because they don’t adhere to socially prescribed gender roles, that creates a risk to health and safety. This can include:
- Stalking, intimidation or threats
- Verbal abuse
- Ostracism or exclusion
- Offensive language and imagery
- Put downs, innuendo and insinuations
- Someone being undermined in their role.
Victorian employers face serious consequences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act if they fail to provide a safe working environment.
“More than 60 per cent of women in Victoria have experienced some form of gendered violence at work and have felt at risk in their workplaces – we all have a responsibility to do more to address this,” said the Minister. “These guidelines make clear the types of behaviour that are unacceptable and what employers can do address them and change attitudes.”
Read more: Victorian government media release. Work-related gendered violence including sexual harassment: A guide for employers on preventing and responding to work-related gendered violence and work-related sexual harassment.
myWorkSafe is an online portal that will reduce form processing times and give users greater flexibility about when and where they interact with WorkSafe.
One of the first stages of the myWorkSafe functionality is digital licences. Licence applicants can now apply for certain types of licences online via the myWorkSafe portal. When applicants apply online through myWorkSafe they will be issued with a digital licence and will not receive a plastic licence. Digital licence holders will be able to access and display their licence digitally via their myWorkSafe account, using digital devices such as mobile phones or tablets.
- Dangerous goods driver licence
- Driver transporting explosives licence
- Pyrotechnician licence
- Use blasting explosives licence
- High risk work licences
- High Consequence Dangerous Goods permit
March 20: Jobs At Home Day
On Jobs At Home Day, Friday 20 March, Victorians can create a customised sticker featuring a fun job at home title such as Chief Cuppa Maker or Master of All Things Doggo – a reminder to return home safely to where they're needed most.
WorkSafe Chief Executive Colin Radford said the stickers are a fun, wearable way to start a conversation about workplace safety. "We know being injured on the job changes everything at home," Mr Radford said. "A workplace injury isn't left behind when you clock off," he said. "I'm the Unpaid Uber Driver in my house, and for me that's a pretty important reason to get home safe every day."
In the past two years almost 20,000 Victorians have taken part in Jobs At Home Day. This year, WorkSafe is hosting coffee carts around Melbourne and regional Victoria where people can receive a Jobs At Home Day sticker and stay for a free coffee. The stickers are designed to be displayed on laptops, hard hats, phones or notebooks. Those participating can also enter a competition to win $1000.
To order a free, customisable sticker, and learn more about the competition and pop-up cafes, visit the Jobs At Home website.
COVID-19 Advice from regulators
Almost all the regulators have been issuing, and updating, advice on COVID-19. Here is a sample:
- Safe Work Australia: Advice for Employers
NSW has issued advice on commuting safely to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said travelling to work outside of peak hour, whenever possible, is one of the key actions commuters can take to curb the spread of COVID-19.
- both NSW and Victoria have introduced tough penalties for those who breach new isolation orders
- Western Australia has announced special leave arrangements for public servants affected by the coronavirus.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia has updated its statistics since the last edition of SafetyNet. As at 12 March, there had been 38 worker fatalities notified to the national body - ten more since the previous update on 27 February. This is a terrible statistic - each one represents a worker with family, friends and work mates who will feel their loss. Five of these occurred in the Transport, postal and warehousing sectors; two were in construction; one each in Agriculture, forestry and fishing, Manufacturing and Arts & recreation services. SWA is still saying that these are preliminary figures, and are based mainly on media reports.
The fatalities this year have come from the following industries:
- 16 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 9 in Construction
- 5 in Public administration & safety
- 3 in Mining
- 2 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing
- 2 in Manufacturing
- 1 in Arts & recreation services
CANCELLED: March 27 Conference on Working hours, shifts and fatigue conference
The ANMF has announced:
"It is with sincere regret, due to the current concerns regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) we have made the decision to cancel our WHSF conference 27 March 2020. We currently have in excess of 200 attendees registered and given it is a full day conference where attendees would be in the conference centre in close proximity to each other, under the current circumstances it is not ideal and contrary to advice from government health experts.
We hope to be able to reschedule this conference again later in the year once things settle but at this stage we have yet to confirm a future date. We will reach out to you once we have a new date and hope that you will be able to attend at this new time. We appreciate your understanding and apologize for any inconvenience caused."
If anyone has any questions or queries, please contact [email protected]au
BE TRADES HALL TRAINED: VTHC OHS Training Centre
Note: at the moment all planned VTHC training will go ahead. We are taking a number of measures to ensure that any risks are minimised. All courses have fewer than 20 participants, and are being held in venues which allow for separation of participants. If you have any queries or concerns, please contact Lisa Mott on 03 9659 3511
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 runs 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).
It's the start of a new year, and so all HSRs should be thinking about registering for their annual one-day refresher course.
You can now register and pay directly from the site here.
The upcoming Initial 5 day courses for HSRs are:
|March 30 - April 3|
|April 27 - May 1|
|May 11 - 15|
|May 25 - 29|
Course hours: 9am - 5pm
Course fee: Metropolitan: $870.00 incl. GST Regional: $895.00 incl. GST
Course Length: All initial OHS training courses are 5 days.
And the one day refresher courses:
1 Day Refresher Training
1 Day Refresher Training
1 Day Refresher Training
1 Day Refresher Training
|1 Day Refresher Training||
1 Day Refresher Training
1 Day Refresher Training
1 Day Refresher Training