Welcome to the March 25 edition of SafetyNet.
Sadly, another Victorian worker was killed in the last week.
This week's journal will be dominated by coronavirus (COVID-19) related news. As more and more restrictions are introduced, we must not forget OHS.
Many people are now working from home, including the OHS Unit at the VTHC. However, we are still available to answer queries and help in any way we can. As we face extraordinary conditions and challenges due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the message from us is "we're all in this together". Take the necessary precautions to stay safe and not panic. Social distancing is now a must.
To keep up to date and informed between editions of the journal, go to our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page.
Another Victorian worker killed
On Friday March 20, a young worker was killed after being crushed by a silo on his family’s dairy farm at Mooroopna North.
WorkSafe believes the 23-year-old man was working underneath the silo alone when it collapsed on top of him about 4pm. The regulator is investigating the incident.
The fatality brings the number of official workplace deaths this year to 14, which is eight more than at the same time last year. According to the VTHC, this is the 16th fatality so far this year. Tragically, it's the fourth death on a farm this year, which is only two fewer fatalities than the agriculture sector recorded for all of 2019.
WorkSafe Chief Executive Colin Radford said the shocking toll less than three months into the year was a reminder that every workplace needs to stay focused on safety despite their changing priorities.
"Each of these deaths is a tragedy for families, co-workers and communities who are having to deal with the loss of a loved one at an already difficult time," he said. Mr Radford said many Victorian workplaces will look very different as the community continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean safety should take a back seat. "While employers are spending a lot of time and energy on adapting to the crisis, they must continue to do everything they can to protect the health and wellbeing of their workers." Source: WorkSafe Media release
Cyclist killed when hit by garbage truck
A cyclist was killed last Wednesday March 18 in a crash involving a garbage truck on Mt Alexander Rd in Travancore, sparking peak hour traffic delays. The crash closed Mt Alexander Rd in both directions at Mooltan St near CityLink, 4km north of Melbourne's CBD. Police believe the truck was driving city-bound on Mount Alexander Rd and turned left into Mooltan St, striking the cyclist at about 6am. The rider died at the scene. It appears the rider was on his way to work.
It is unclear whether this fatality would be included in the work-related fatality tally once WorkSafe begins to count road fatalities.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update
The situation is changing daily. Australia's eighth death was confirmed on Tuesday March 24 - a female passenger in her 70s who had been on the Ruby Princess cruise ship. According to NSW Health the woman, who was among the first group of people infected on the ship, died in hospital yesterday morning. There have been 133 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 aboard the Ruby Princess, which docked in Sydney last week
The restrictions on what is open and the activities people can do have been increasing almost daily. Currently, in Victoria:
- Almost all venues where people gather to eat, exercise, be entertained or worship are now closed. This includes Crown Casino, fitness centres, libraries. Restaurants and cafes can remain open to provide take away meals/coffee
- Parties are banned, even small family gatherings or dinners are discouraged
- There is currently no change to:
- supermarkets, shops and shopping centres (but food courts must close)
- deliveries and mail service
- medical centres
- traders, plumbers, electricians
- School holidays in Victoria were brought forward to begin on Tuesday March 25. Premier Daniel Andrews has said at the moment term two will begin on April 11, but a decision on whether to reopen schools after the term break would be determined following advice from the Chief Health Officer
- There will be arrangements in place for essential service workers with children in primary or specialist schools
- Both private and public hospitals are enforcing stricter visitor protocols: patients will be able to have a maximum of two visitors per day for no more than two hours. Palliative patients and maternity wards are the exception
- To slow infection rates down everyone must exercise 'social distancing' - that is, stay at least 1.5 metres away from the next person.
- Many thousands of workers are now working from home.
Health and Safety Reps and workers: check out the Coronavirus (COVID-19) hazard information page on our website, we 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. Anyone can also sign up to receive email updates.
- New or updated guidance on working from home:
- Working from home on our site
- WorkSafe Guidance (March 2020) Minimising the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19): Working from home. This guidance provides information on the duties of employers and the health and safety issues to consider when setting up a home office.
- Advice from Comcare on working remotely - on its Coronavirus page.
With everything that's going on I am feeling extremely stressed. I work in the community health sector and although my employer has put measures in place to try to minimise contact with our clients, it's impossible not to come into contact with them! It's part of the job. What can be done?
During times such as these there are going to be workers who are employed in what are deemed to be 'essential services' - these include workers in the health and community sector. If you are in one of these industries, then it is crucial to work with your employer to make sure that there are appropriate measures in place which will decrease the number of infections and potentially save lives. The employer has a duty to consult with HSRs and workers when developing and implementing these measures. What measures are taken will depend a great deal on the type of work that needs to be done.
However there are a number of measures that can be taken to manage the risk:
Management and plans to control risks and support the workplace
- Is there a plan in place in the event that the workplace or an individual worker has been exposed to COVID-19?
- Is there an adequate procedure in place for workers to report if they’re feeling unwell, have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 or to update their employer on their condition if they are unwell?
- Have procedures been amended to, where possible, limit unnecessary contact and support social distancing both in the workplace and outside it?
- Are there arrangements for free Influenza vaccines?
Cleanliness and hygiene
- Are safe hygiene practices in place in the workplace? Has the employer provided adequate information and training on these to workers?
- Do workers have access to hand washing facilities and other products which support good hygiene, such as hand sanitizer?
- Is the workplace being cleaned regularly and sanitized to an appropriate standard?
- What measures are in place to maximise hygiene if work is being done outside the workplace - for example in clients' homes?
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- If required, have workers been provided with their own, individual personal protective equipment (PPE)? For example, disposable face masks, disposable gloves? This is particularly important for those working in the community and health care sector and/or visiting clients in their homes.
- If PPE or tools needs to be shared, are they regularly cleaned and disinfected to an appropriate standard?
If you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Useful information and advice
- Many of us may be feeling generally anxious, which this is natural, given that we are being bombarded with news and information about the COVID-19 pandemic. The international organisation Médecins Sans Frontieres has provided some simple tips for coping with stress during the pandemic: Taking care of your mental health during COVID-19 - check it out. It will make you feel better.
- Normal life has been disrupted - Managing the disruption caused by COVID-19 [pdf] This is an Occupational Therapy Guide providing general advice for those spending much more time at home, either due to work or just generally. It has some useful advice.
All workers losing their jobs need help!
Million of Australians face losing their jobs. We need the government to act urgently and decisively to help keep us in work. It doesn't matter whether someone is a casual, someone on a work visa or someone who is a sole trader - they all have bills and need to eat and so must be assisted. Other governments are doing it. The UK government is guaranteeing up to 80 per cent of people's wages - demand the same here.
Big win for workers - Wage theft legislation introduced
In some good news, the wage theft legislation went through the lower house of the Victorian parliament last week. Employers who deliberately underpay or don’t pay their workers will face up to 10 years jail under new laws introduced into parliament on March 18 by the Andrews Labor Government.
The Wage Theft Bill 2020 will establish new criminal offences targeting employers who deliberately withhold wages and other employee entitlements. Employers who dishonestly withhold wages, superannuation or other employee entitlements, will face fines of up to $198,264 for individuals, $991,320 for companies and up to 10 years jail.
Offences will also capture employers who dishonestly falsify or fail to keep employee entitlement records, such as payroll records. These are aimed at employers who try to conceal wage theft by falsifying or failing to keep records.
The legislation will establish the Wage Inspectorate of Victoria as a statutory authority with powers to investigate and prosecute wage theft offences.
Attorney-General Jill Hennessey said, “This problem is systematic – that’s why our laws will apply beyond wages and include allowances, gratuities, superannuation and other accruals such as leave, as well as ensuring directors and officers are held to account.” Read more: New laws to crack down on wage theft. Victorian Government media release
NSW: new safety campaign warns builders to beware of lurking asbestos
A new safety campaign is warning New South Wales builders to beware asbestos lurking in more places than expected. The campaign, launched by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), warns that more than 3000 products containing asbestos were used in Australian homes and workplaces before it was banned in 2003.
These include roofs, eaves, downpipes and insulation, interior walls, kitchen splashbacks, under lino, some carpets and tiles (and the cement compounds used to fix tiles), lagging around pipes, inside fuse boxes or as part of ventilation shafts, fences, garden sheds and small outdoor constructions like chicken coops, and as part of bonded cement compounds that make up walls, which can be disturbed when sanded in preparation for painting. Read more: BCM for Tradies
UK: TUC guide for for unions on COVID-19
The UK's peak union council, the TUC has produced a new guide on coronavirus for union reps. It says: “Safety representatives are urged to ensure that their employer notifies all their staff of what arrangements they have made to prepare for an outbreak of pandemic Covid-19, including what role they expect individual staff to take.” The guide includes information on workplace hygiene, personal protective equipment and on transmission of the coronavirus.
Read more: COVID-19 Coronavirus - Guidance for Unions.
Experts warn some children may become seriously ill with coronavirus
Evidence shows that coronavirus disease (COVID-19) most often affects older adults, who are 60 years old or more, and those with underlying medical conditions. But a new study has shown that several children in China had developed severe or critical conditions, with one child dying from COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged parents to protect their children against the coronavirus that is now running rampant across the globe (see Update, above).
In a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers studied a group of 2,143 cases of children with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, which were reported by the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between January 16 and February 8.
They found that more than 90 percent of the cases in children had no symptoms, or with mild or moderate illness. However, approximately 6 percent of the coronavirus cases in children were severe or critical. In comparison, 18.5 percent were critical in adults.
Read more: , et al - Epidemiological Characteristics of 2143 Pediatric Patients With 2019 Coronavirus Disease in China, [Full article, downloadable as PDF here]
Scientists pinpoint protein that plays key role in lung cancer and melanoma progression
Scientists from Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU, Russia), University of Geneva (Switzerland), Minjiang University, and Fuzhou University (China) have identified WDR74 protein playing an important role in lung cancer and melanoma primary tumors/metastases progression. During the research, the artificially gained WDR74 function brought about a high activity in cancer cells. However, when the function had been dropped cells failed to metastasize becoming more vulnerable to chemotherapy.
Except for brain cancer and some forms of blood cancer, it is not the main tumor but its metastases that kill the patient taking over vital organs. Metastases form at a certain stage of the primary tumor progression when its cells start separating and entering the bloodstream. Such cells are called circulating tumor cells, and they give rise to metastases which are secondary tumors appearing in different parts of the human body.
Read more: News Medical Life Sciences
WorkSafe Victoria News
Nominations for WorkSafe 2020 Awards now open
Here's something to look forward to: the 2020 WorkSafe Awards are now open. The WorkSafe Awards are a way to recognise those individuals, teams or organisations that go above and beyond for workplace safety. They are also an opportunity to celebrate the people involved in helping injured workers return to work and health.
- Health & Safety Representative of the Year
- Health & Safety Invention of the Year
- Best Solution to a Specific Workplace Health & Safety Issue
Entries close May 9 - so turn your mind to something pleasant, and get organised. For more information on the awards, and the nomination process, click here.
Solar company charged over fatal fall
WorkSafe has charged a solar panel installation company with failing to control the risk of a fall from height at a residential property in Bendigo. Solar 2.0 Pty Ltd was last week charged with two breaches of section 21(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to maintain a working environment that was safe and without risks to health. These charges relate to an incident on 30 November 2018, in which a 21-year-old young worker was killed after he fell from a ladder while installing solar panels in Bendigo suburb Kennington.
WorkSafe will also allege that the company failed to implement a Safe Work Method Statement for the high risk construction work. The matter is listed for a filing hearing at the Bendigo Magistrates' Court on 15 April 2020.
More charges for alleged chemical stockpiles
Last week WorkSafe charged Bradbury Industrial Services Pty Ltd with even more alleged breaches of the Dangerous Goods Act, relating to a chemical stockpile at a warehouse in Campbellfield. These follow 35 charges relating to stockpiles at other Bradbury’s sites in Campbellfield and Craigieburn already filed in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.
The company, which is now in liquidation, has been accused of committing seven offences under sections 31(1) and 45 of the Act. WorkSafe alleges Bradbury failed to:
- take all reasonable precautions to prevent a fire or explosion of dangerous goods at the premises
- reduce the risks associated with dangerous goods storage
- notify WorkSafe of an excess quantity of dangerous goods at the site
- request the advice of the relevant emergency services in relation to a fire protection system, having exceeded the regulated fire protection quantity of dangerous goods
- have a written fire protection plan
- properly display HAZCHEM placarding and
- keep a manifest of its dangerous goods.
The stockpile was uncovered in March 2019 as part of a joint WorkSafe and Environment Protection Authority investigation into chemical storage in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The latest charges were listed for a filing hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on April 3, 2020.
New Safety Alerts and guidance
- Employee fatally crushed in elevating work platform - a reminder about the risks of being crushed against fixed structures on a mobile elevating work platform (EWP).
- Preventing electric shocks to electricians - for employers, electricians and electrical contractors. It provides information to help eliminate or reduce the risks of electric shock when doing electrical installation or repair work on smaller electrical installations, including houses, shops and small commercial premises.
- Site supervision for housing construction - for principle contractors undertaking housing construction. Builders must provide adequate site supervision to ensure that work is carried out safely and without risks to health.
Latest edition of Safety Soapbox
The March edition of Safety Soapbox was posted last week. In this edition, the editorial is on the Silicosis Summit held on 27 February. It attracted registrations from over 600 employers and workers from the stonemasory, construction, mining and quarry industries - all eager to learn about prevention. Among them were CEOs, senior executives and HSRs from companies that work with engineered stone, safety advocates, employees and medical experts, as well as suppliers of products containing engineered stone.
The edition has news of WorkSafe’s activities in the sector and links to new and updated guidance. There's also a reminder of the imminent arrival of the Industrial Manslaughter laws/ The roundup of information from other jurisdictions includes links to Safety Alerts alerts from around the country.
This edition has the list of incidents reported to WorkSafe during February 2020, during which 153 incidents were reported to WorkSafe. Of these, 63 per cent resulted in injury with four serious 'near misses'. Access the March 2020 edition of Safety Soapbox here - the summaries of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.
WorkSafe Victoria has finally updated its two-year old data. It has made available contemporary injury claims data and reported death tallies for the state jurisdiction, plus helpful links back to annual reports and prosecutions for financial and enforcement information. However the data is still hard to the find from its jumbled home page and does not show in its meta-search. According OHSIntros, WorkSafe says the delay in data updates was due to the ongoing build of its new website.
Access the WorkSafe Data and Statistics here.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia has not 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.
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