SafetyNet 526

Welcome to the April 1 edition of SafetyNet, the VTHC's weekly OHS journal. We will continue to bring you the journal each week.

This week's journal will again be dominated by coronavirus (COVID-19) related news. However, we must not forget OHS, particularly for those workers who are in 'essential services'. 

More workers are probably working from home than last week. But remember that the staff of the VTHC's OHS Unit 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.

Many of you will have questions - we can be reached via the Ask Renata facility on the website or through the closed OHS Network Facebook page. 

To keep up to date and informed between editions of the journal, go to our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page

Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

As expected the situation is changing daily. At the time of posting, Australia had recorded its twentieth death. Our state and federal governments have introduced increasingly restrictive measures, seeking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible. 

While these measures will hopefully 'flatten the curve', they are clearly affecting workers and their families. There are health and safety implications whether you are working from home or going 'in' to work. 

On Monday of this week the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, moved the state to Stage 3 coronavirus restrictions as we recorded 821 cases - this morning there were 917 confirmed cases. Gatherings have now been restricted to no more than two people except for members of the immediate household, and for work and education. The main message? If you can stay at home, stay at home. He added that he would not rule out a fourth stage. 

Ask Renata 

Hello Renata

I'm the HSR at my workplace and have a question: Is it true that in the current time of Covid-19 should workers over 60 years of age be sent home from the workplace as they be more likely to be more vulnerable than others?

Apologies for the long answer, but hopefully this will be useful both to you and other HSRs.  
I think that someone may be vulnerable for any number of reasons, and being older is one of these if the person's health is not very good. However this is not to say that all 60 year olds are in this category, particularly if they are well. The Australian government has said that people over 70 should stay at home as much as possible. This week the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), which develops and delivers policies and programs and advises the Australian Government on health, aged care and sport, recommended special provisions be applied to vulnerable people in the workplace.  This is an excerpt from the AHPPC statement
Excluding healthcare settings where appropriate PPE and precautions are adhered to, the AHPPC considers that, given the transmission characteristics of the virus, the following settings are at higher risk of outbreaks of COVID-19:
  • Correctional and detention facilities
  • Group residential settings

AHPPC considers that, based on the limited current evidence, the following people are, or are likely to be, at higher risk of serious illness if they are infected with the virus: 

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • People 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions.5 Conditions included in the definition of ‘chronic medical conditions’ will be refined as more evidence emerges. The most current list can be accessed on the Department of Health website 
  • People 70 years and older
  • People with compromised immune systems (see Department of Health website)

AHPPC recommends that where vulnerable workers undertake essential work, a risk assessment must be undertaken.  Risk needs to be assessed and mitigated with consideration of the characteristics of the worker, the workplace and the work. This includes ensuring vulnerable people are redeployed to non-customer based roles where possible. Where risk cannot be appropriately mitigated, employers and employees should consider alternate arrangements to accommodate a workplace absence.

AHPPC recommends that special provisions apply to essential workers who are at higher risk of serious illness and, where the risk cannot be sufficiently mitigated, should not work in high risk setting.

I recommend as the HSR you have a meeting with your employer to:
  1. discuss the AHPPC advice 
  2. undertake an audit of all work to determine what can be moved off-site, and that arrangements be made that everyone who can work remotely do so. This will reduce the risk of infection for all workers and is in fact what our political leaders are now recommending (see the Coronavirus (COVID-19) hazard information page)  However, it will require the employer planning and putting things in place to ensure compliance with duties under the Act (see: Teleworking - or working from home)  
  3. for work that cannot be taken off-site, an audit of the workers doing this work to determine whether any are at serious risk according to the AHPPC advice
  4. on the basis of this audit, seek the redeployment of vulnerable workers to ensure they no longer work in a high risk setting
In addition, make sure that you consult with members of your DWG both before and after you meet with your employer. Make sure they are aware of the AHPPC advice and let you know if they believe they are at increased risk. If necessary, they should seek advice from their doctor. I would have also recommended that you contact your union if you have any difficulties. 

Go to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) hazard information page on our website as well as the ACTU's COVID-19 resource page.

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

New arrangements for HSR training

With the lock down and physical distancing rules, the Trades Hall has suspended all face to face HSR training until it is once again safe to do so.  In the meantime however, we have received WorkSafe to run Refresher Training online! For those many HSRs who haven't yet done their annual Refresher Course, this is the perfect time to do so and still ensure they are complying with the need to social distance.  Go to this page for more information and to enrol. 

April 28: International Workers Memorial Day

International Workers’ Memorial Day or Workers’ Mourning Day is April 28. This is the international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work. The focus this year is of course the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

The ITUC makes the point that while everyone is affected by the crisis, workers are on the front line. “Healthcare workers in particular are risking their lives doing their job to take care of the sick. There are people working in aged care facilities looking after the most vulnerable group of people. But then we also need transport, supermarket workers, and providers of for essential services, to keep the economy going. People should thank these workers because if you can’t buy food, then you can’t keep your family sustained and healthy” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the international union body.

International Workers’ Memorial Day 2020 will be held in support of all these courageous workers and in remembrance of the people who have died or become sick or injured while doing their job.

Social distancing and lockdown measures most likely mean that physical meetings and events will not be possible. The VTHC will be organising a virtual event this year - so keep your eyes on the journal and our We Are Union OHS Facebook pages for updates.  ITUC 28 April Campaign website

Asbestos news

Victoria: Misuse of EPA logo leads to conviction and fine 
A Hallam based asbestos removal company has been convicted and fined for misusing the logo of Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) on its business stationery and website.

Asbestos Australia Pty Ltd and its director Tom Visal Clappers each pleaded guilty to one charge of falsely suggesting that asbestos removal services were approved by EPA, in contravention of the Environment Protection Act 1970. The company was convicted and fined $2,500 and ordered to pay EPA’s prosecution costs of $813.46 and Mr Clappers was fined $1,000 without conviction. Read more: Mirage News 

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home.

International Union News

UK: minimum wage 'heroes' get pay rise

Commenting on the new, increased, national minimum wage rates of 6.2 per cent which come into force in the UK today (Wednesday), TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Britain is indebted to its army of minimum wage heroes. Many – including care workers and supermarket staff – are currently on the frontline of the battle against coronavirus. They deserve every penny of this increase, and more. The best way to show our respect is to get the minimum wage up to a real living wage as soon as possible. Millions of low-paid workers are struggling to make ends meet. That’s not right during a pandemic – or at any time.”

This contrasts starkly with the position of some employer bodies in Australia. The Restaurant & Catering Association and Master Grocers Australia have both called for a wage freeze this year due to the impact of the coronavirus on business and jobs. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the Australian Industry Group have called for this year's wage decision to be delayed so parties can properly consider the impact of COVID-19 virus on the economy. In fact ACCI went so far as suggesting that if the COVID-19 crisis worsens and the "economic and jobs curve starts to look like the infection and fatality curves", approaches like those adopted during the Great Depression might this year require active consideration. In January 1931, said the employer organisaton, "the Court reduced 'all' award wage rates, including the basic wage and margins, by 10%, because of the depressed state of the economy in Australia and overseas".

The ACTU is seeking a modest 4 per cent increase in its submission, which would lift the minimum weekly wage to $770.43 and the hourly rate from $19.49 to $20.27. 
Sources: Workplace Express, The Australian Financial Review

UK: ‘Petrified’ Amazon workers stuck in packed warehouses
Amazon workers in the UK are ‘petrified’ of being infected by Covid-19 after being left to work in packed warehouses, without hand sanitiser or personal protection equipment, the union GMB has said. People at 'fulfilment centres' across the UK report being left in crowds of 200-300 people and having to reuse equipment multiple times with no hand sanitiser available. Workers say water dispensers are used over and over again without being disinfected, dirty canteen tables with used tissues on them, team leaders giving feedback without staying two metres away and no sanitiser or alcohol wipes to clean equipment.

GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “We are so angry about this - these workers are petrified of catching and spreading Covid-19 and rightly so. Amazon is blatantly disregarding the two metre social distancing rules, there are no masks, no sanitiser and with the vast amount of people working there there’s no way of keeping them from getting ill.” He added: “It’s impossible for Amazon workers to keep a safe distance from each other and hit their productivity targets. Amazon has a duty of care - not just to its own workers but to the whole of the British public.” Read more: GMB news release. Source: Risks 940

Global: ‘Havoc’ as half of countries placed on lockdown
Over half of all countries surveyed (53 per cent) are containing the spread of the coronavirus with national lockdown measures, the closure of schools and non-essential businesses. The Covid-19 pandemic survey by the global union confederation ITUC found six out of fifteen G20 countries which are the drivers of the global economy closed non-essential businesses between 17-23 March 2020 - but only 50 per cent of countries are providing free health care.

“The financial and humanitarian impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will stay with us for many years to come if governments don’t protect workers, supply chains and small business. As shops close and demand falls in G20 countries which are the engine of the global economy, the impact on global supply chains and the millions of workers who livelihoods depend on them will be felt in the weeks to come,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of ITUC. She added: “G20 leaders in their virtual meeting this week have no excuse to be caught off guard – if workers can see the crisis before them so should world leaders. Only by planning for a humanitarian and economic crisis for the year ahead will we protect people’s lives and livelihoods and stabilise the economy.”

The global union leader noted businesses were better protected than their workers. “Despite these necessary changes, more countries (29 per cent) are providing bail out funds for business than providing sick leave or part-time leave, with only 23 per cent of countries providing part-time leave for carers and only 21 per cent of countries providing sick leave for all or some workers. The early responses of many governments have been inadequate and as the situation changes rapidly, they need to step up,” said Burrow. Health workers, transport workers and the retail and service sectors are among those hardest hit by the pandemic due to their risk of exposure as well as a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).  
Read more: ITUC news release and Global Covid-19 survey key findings. ITF news release. Source: Risks 940

 


Research

Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19

New research co-authored by Xihong Lin, professor of biostatistics at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, provides insight into the epidemiological features of COVID-19 and the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as a city quarantine and social distancing, on the spread of the disease in Wuhan, China.

Professor Lin discussed the new research in a virtual seminar on March 13, 2020. The research, conducted in collaboration with colleagues in China, examined individual-level data on 25,961 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases reported through February 18, 2020. It was published March 6, 2020 on medRxiv, a non-peer-reviewed platform.

In their article, the authors wrote that “aggressive disease containment efforts, including isolation of the source of infection, contact tracing and quarantine, social distancing, and personal protection and prevention, have considerably changed the course of Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, when there was neither effective drug nor vaccine for this new infectious disease with high transmission.”
Read more: Chaolong Wang, Xihong Linet al: Evolving Epidemiology and Impact of Non-pharmaceutical Interventions on the Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Wuhan, ChinamedRxiv. Slides from the presentation [pdf] and an accompanying video of the presentation


Regulator news

WorkSafe Victoria news

New Safety Alert: Increased demand for transport and logistics

WorkSafe Victoria has issued a Safety Alert as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased need for deliveries to shops, homes and distribution centres, and the temporary lifting of heavy vehicle curfews in Victoria. The Alert lists the safety issues this has created, and goes through measures employers and self-employed persons need to implement in order to identify and control hazards and risks. Access the alert here

Western Australia stops FIFO workers from NSW; Queensland to take similar steps

Fly-in, Fly-out workers in NSW will not be allowed to fly to Western Australia from Monday.  The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia’s (CME) said the decision had been made by the WA resources sector in the interests of community safety. CME Chief Executive Paul Everingham said the move had the support of the WA resources sector. 

“The sector is very grateful for the support given to us by the WA Government, and we want to do all we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 across our sites and the wider community,” said Mr Everingham. “We have been in discussion throughout the day with our members across all commodities and decided this was the best course of proactive action to take.” 

Queensland too is banning interstate FIFO except for those critical to a project’s operation. Only critical interstate fly-in-fly-out mine workers will be allowed into Queensland in order to protect remote and regional communities and local mine workers. According to Mines Minister Dr. Anthony Lynham, Queensland will close its borders from midnight Saturday to interstate FIFO workers unless they were critical to a project’s operation. Source: SafetyCulture

ACT: be kind!

The ACT government had reminded the public to be kind and respectful to frontline workers. The reminder was released following reports of aggression and verbal abuse of healthcare staff in the ACT. Incidents have also occurred in other states. The ACT government said, “abusing doctors, nurses, health workers or their support staff is never OK. In all your dealings with others during the COVID-19 response, whether in person or online, please be respectful and kind,” it said in a statement.

 

Safe Work Australia news

COVID-19 webpage updated

The national body has updated its information on COVID-19 in the workplace and has the following pages:

  • Preparing workplaces for COVID-19: this section has information on steps to take to prevent the spread of the virus, worker and customer hygiene, cleaning and physical distancing 

  • Preparing workers for COVID-19:  includes information about emergency plans, communicating and consulting with workers, PPE and workplace entitlements.

  • What to do if a worker has COVID-19: includes a step-by-step guide and contact details for the COVID-19 hotlines in the states and territories.  

  • Fact sheets and industry information: this section has fact sheets on minimising the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for a range of industries.  

  • Working from home: includes information about working from home safely and other useful resources on working from home. 

  • Mental Health and COVID-19: the duties of employers under OHS/WHS legislation apply to psychological health too. This section includes information on risks to psychological health and steps to minimise workplace stress. 
     
  • COVID-19 information for workers: includes information for workers on their and their employers' duties in relation to COVID-19.  

  • COVID-19 information for small business: has information for small businesses on identifying and minimising risks and what to do if a worker has COVID-19

  • Staying informed about COVID-19: this section assists in keeping up to date with the latest information and has links to resources on health, tax, workplace entitlements, travel advice, and more

National Fatality Statistics

Safe Work Australia has updated its statistics. As of 26 March there had been 43 worker fatalities notified to the national body - five more since the previous update on 12 March. Four of these were in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries. 

The fatalities this year have come from the following industries:

  • 17 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 9 in Construction
  • 6 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • 5 in Public administration & safety
  • 3 in Mining
  • 2 in Manufacturing
  • 1 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.


Prosecutions

There have been no summaries added to the WorkSafe Prosecutions page since March 11. There may be no news here for a while. 


International News

Niger: journalist jailed for reporting on Coronavirus

Niger’s authorities have detained journalist Mamane Kaka Touda for informing the public about a suspected case of COVID-19 infection.

On 5 March, Mamane Kaka Touda published posts on social media about a suspected case of COVID-19 at the Niamey Reference Hospital. The authorities arrested him at his home that same day. They charged him with “disseminating data tending to disturb public order”. Amnesty International says that in these uncertain times, we need journalists reporting the truth and holding people in power to account. Together we need to ensure journalists, whistle blowers, activists and human rights defenders can continue their vital work. Read more and sign the Amnesty International petition to release Mamane here.

South Africa: police fire rubber bullets at shoppers during lockdown

South African police enforcing a coronavirus lockdown on Saturday (March 28) fired rubber bullets towards hundreds of shoppers queueing outside a supermarket in Johannesburg, according to an AFP photographer.

Between 200 and 300 people gathered outside a popular grocery store, Shoprite, early Saturday in Yeoville, a crime-prone area in Johannesburg's gritty central business district on day two of a nationwide lockdown. As they scrambled to secure their spots, many did not observe the recommended safe distance between them.

Police arrived in 10 patrol vehicles and started firing rubber bullets towards the shoppers. Startled shoppers trampled on each other and some fell to the ground. Later the police used whips to get the shoppers to observe social distancing rules.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered South Africa's 57 million people to stay at home for 21 days and deployed the police and the military to enforce the lockdown.
Read more: The Straits Times

India: thousands of workers left stranded in lockdown

On Saturday Prime Minister Narendra Modi abruptly announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown. This resulted in thousands of migrant workers, now without jobs, shelter or money, crowding into bus terminals around the national capital desperately trying to return to hometowns and villages across the border in Uttar Pradesh. 

Delhi’s "total lockdown", intended to halt the spread of the highly infectious COVID-19 that transmits rapidly in crowded spaces, had suspended all interstate bus and railway services, leaving migrants and their young families no option but to walk hundreds of kilometres foot in searing heat. Read more and check out a video here

Pakistan: Daily wagers struggle to survive in lockdown

Daily wage workers and poor face hunger as authorities in Pakistan impose lockdown to check the spread of COVID-19. Pakistan's government has imposed varying restrictions across the country, in part, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said, to safeguard the incomes of daily wage workers. In Islamabad, public gatherings are banned, schools are closed and all shops other than those selling groceries or medicines have been shut down. Read more: Aljazeera


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