Welcome to another ISO edition of SafetyNet. We hope you are all taking care, whether working from home or at work.
Tragically, in the week when we marked International Workers Memorial Day, another two Victorian workers were killed at work. These fatalities demonstrate that despite what may be happening with the pandemic, many workers are still facing serious workplace hazards. Please remember that if you need any assistance or advice, contact your union. Further, we remind you that everyone at the VTHC is still available to answer queries and help in any way we can. This includes the OHS Unit, the Young Workers Centre, the Migrant Workers Centre, the Women's and Equity Team and everyone else.
To keep up to date and informed between editions of the journal, go to our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page. If you have any questions or need any advice, we can be reached via the Ask Renata facility on the website or through the closed OHS Network Facebook page.
Two more workers killed in Victoria
Tragically two young workers were killed in the state last week.
The first fatality was a 26 year-old man, who died in hospital last Wednesday night from serious head injuries after a fall at a Templestowe residential construction site on Monday. The second death was that of a 34-year-old woman who was crushed by marble slabs inside a shipping container at Dingley Village on Thursday morning. This is the third shipping container death so far this year, at least two of those involved unloading stone.
WorkSafe is investigating both incidents.
These last fatalities bring the number of Victorians killed at work this year to 23. The VTHC OHS Unit sends the families, friends and colleagues of these workers our sincerest condolences. No one should die at work: all workplace deaths are preventable.
Further news on police fatalities
Today's media has reported that the trucking company involved in the Eastern Freeway crash in which four police officers were killed has been raided by Victorian police. Officers went to the head office of Connect Logistics in Riverstone, about 50 kilometres from Sydney, earlier this week. As well as the Connect Logistics head office, two residential properties in Kenthurst, 20 minutes drive from Riverstone, were searched.
A total of four search warrants were carried out. It is understood police seized a number of documents in the raids, including logbooks. NSW Police confirmed that it was helping officers from Victoria Police's heavy vehicle unit with the execution of a search warrant in western Sydney. Source: The Age
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update
As of this morning, there had been 6875 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia. 97 people have died - 13 more than last week. These figures highlight the success of measures taken - but it is not time to become complacent, with an outbreak in a Melbourne meatworks this week (see below). New cases and deaths worldwide are still on the increase, with some countries not yet reaching the 'peak'. In the United States for example, where there are a total of 1,237,633 cases and 72,271 deaths, many states are looking at severely winding back restrictions - surely too soon. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.
Outbreak at Melbourne meatworks
The number of COVID-19 infections in Victoria suddenly increased this week with a cluster of 45 (CHECK NUMBERS) workers at Cedar Meats in Brooklyn testing positive. Eleven of the 17 new cases diagnosed in Victoria on Monday are connected to Cedar Meats. A total of 45 people have contracted coronavirus at the facility. Both the company and the state's chief health officer have assured the public meat from the factory is safe to eat. All 350 staff were tested for COVID-19 by May 1 and the site has been shut down. Sources: ABC news online; SBS online
School closes after teacher tests positive
Also this week, a school in Melbourne's north, Meadow Glen primary school in Epping, was closed after a music teacher tested positive for COVID-19. He believes he contracted the infection when he played at a live gig in March. Despite the increase in testing in the state, he said he had been rejected for testing three times. The principal of the school said that despite the teacher not having been in contact with any students this year, the school would be closed for three days to allow for deep cleaning and any necessary contact tracing.
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said, "This staff member has been on site recently ... this is why it is necessary for the school needs to be cleaned." The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the case on Saturday and was working to support the school, she said. Parents, carers and staff were contacted by the school to let them know a staff member had tested positive. It was organised for students who had been attending the school in person to go to a neighbouring school until the school reopens tomorrow (Thursday).
AEU Victorian Branch President Meredith Peace said, "The fact that a teacher has tested positive for COVID-19 shows that Victoria's cautious approach to schools is smart and necessary.
"Our main concern is keeping Victoria's students and education staff safe and healthy and we hope the teacher in question makes a quick and full recovery and the school is provided with appropriate support."
Sources: SBS news, ABC news online, AEU
ACTU: Pandemic leave and WHS reforms needed before workers return to work
This week the ACTU, Australia's peak union council, has issued a statement saying that as isolation measures are going to be relaxed, there are a number of essential reforms which must be made to ensure people are kept safe as they return to work. There are three things the ACTU is seeking:
- Paid pandemic leave for all workers who believe they might have contracted COVID-19, allowing all workers to get tested and if necessary, take additional time to recover. This can be provided for 90 per cent of workers by the Morrison Government, but states and territories will be essential to ensuring universal coverage.
- A legal obligation on employers to protect their workers and their customers by implementing the highest practical standards and controls for their work to prevent infections and stop the virus from spreading. This will require new regulation from state, territory and federal governments.
- Compulsory notification to local health authorities and work health and safety regulators in all states and territories of any cases of COVID-19 infection that may have been the result of work.
The ACTU has said that these reforms must be legislated before any relaxation of isolation orders in order to keep working people and the community at large safe from a second peak. ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said, “This is essential to protect workers’ health and to avoid a second wave of infections. 1 in 3 workers have no access to paid sick leave. Health authorities, including the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) have regularly cited the lack of paid sick leave as an unacceptable risk that will see more people infected with COVID-19."
This campaign is not limited to Australia: Unions around the world are calling for the disease to be declared as an occupational disease. Read more: ACTU media release; ITUC news release and Council of Global Unions Statement on Recognition of COVID-19 as an Occupational Disease [pdf]. Read more: Risks 945.
Will hot-desking be a thing of the past?
Over the past couple of years, some employers have sought to save on office accommodation costs by introducing the practice of 'hot-desking'. This practice has not been welcomed by workers and unions as it has caused a number of problems (see: The hidden hell of hot desking is much worse than you think. The Australian Financial Review). But as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like in the UK at least, hot desking and 'shared pens' will be banned as workers return to their offices. A similar message has come from Australia's chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, who said in a press conference yesterday in response to a question about hot desking: "Well, I think hot desking would have to be done in a different way. .. If you are doing hot desks or sharing common spaces, frequent cleaning. We want cleaning products everywhere." Read more: Chief Medical Officer's press conference May 5. Hot desking could be banned and no shared pens in plan to re-open offices. Metro News
- workers who perform skin penetration procedures (such as tattooists and body-piercers)
- funeral workers
- other workers who have regular contact with human tissue, blood or body fluids
- other workers who have regular contact with used needles or syringes
- hepatitis A
- tetanus (dT or dTpa)
For more information, see these pages on the site: Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Also, check out this page on Health Department website, which sets out recommendations in the Immunisation handbook.
Her lawyer Jonathan Walsh, of Maurice Blackburn, said she had potentially had only days or weeks to live. He said the cancer was very aggressive and progressing and doctors said her life expectancy was incredibly unpredictable. “Here is a young woman, really just at the beginning of her adult life, committed to raising her young child and helping others in her role as a nurse, now having to face this cruel disease,’’ said Mr Walsh, a specialist dust diseases lawyer.
Source: The HeraldSun
Read more: Risks 945
Work-related impact of COVID-19 worse than GFC
In an editorial in BMJ journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine Professor Malcolm Sim from the Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in Melbourne has warned that the current pandemic poses major health risks to frontline workers, but also that other less obvious serious safety issues will arise from pandemic-related job insecurity and prolonged teleworking.
Read more: Malcolm Sim The COVID-19 pandemic: major risks to healthcare and other workers on the front line [Full editorial]
Working from home risks 'amplified' by COVID-19
French researchers have said that the sudden large-scale increase in telework as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has "amplified" a range of physical and psychosocial occupational risks. They say, however, that key prevention measures for employers can be as simple as providing information on ergonomics and facilitating virtual collective working periods.
The researchers from France's National Conservatory of Arts and Trades' department of epidemiology and surveillance of health risks, and other bodies, say that more than 3.4 billion people across 84 countries have been confined to their homes in the pandemic - meaning many millions of workers temporarily at least, working from home.
In a letter on how to "preserve occupational health" – to BMJ journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine – they say that in many cases, employers and workers haven't had the opportunity to ensure the safety of home working environments during the unanticipated shift to remote work. In addition to this, the widespread closure of schools has forced many parents to telework and look after and plan home-schooling for their children at the same time. These overlapping responsibilities increase the psychosocial risks associated with unstructured working periods.
On top of all that, add the general anxiety around COVID-19, which is "likely to worsen telework-associated psychosocial and behavioural risks, especially those associated with addictions". Referring to a recent editorial by Professor Malcolm Sim from the Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in Melbourne (see item above), the researchers say these factors taken together suggest the pandemic "may exacerbate occupational hazards beyond the more obvious examples of healthcare settings or other jobs on the front line". They outline a number of risks and control measures for remote work identified in academic literature since the emergence of telework-facilitating digital and broadband internet in the early 2000s including: Risks associated with the home; increased risks of musculoskeletal injuries; increased psychological risks due to isolation, blurring of work/home boundaries; increased behavioural risks - eg diet, sleep, addictions. Source: OHSAlert
See this page on Working from home for advice on issues and what to do.
New discussion paper coming soon
Barry Naismith, of OHSIntros, has announced that his next paper, 24. Deaths at Work. Victoria 2019, will be available soon.
The paper will be available to download free for a short period from a link on the OHSIntros FB page.
This will be the 12th paper in a series for OHS professionals. It covers traumatic deaths during 2019 and recent prosecutions over deaths at work in the Victorian OHS jurisdiction. The paper has been prepared to mark this year’s international workers memorial day and to inform the lead up to industrial manslaughter laws coming into operation in the state on July 1. A theme of the paper is the rising annual death toll in Victoria, supposedly the nation’s safest state in which to work, and what OHSIntros believes are soft penalties given by Victorian courts over serious harms at work. These fines are consistently well below the maximum specified in the OHS Act, and as result are, in the view of OHSIntros, blunting the sharpness of deterrence. Worse than that, the perfunctory fines are failing to deliver “justice” in context of the wider harm done to the community by a death at work that was preventable. According to OHSIntros, "Simply adding an industrial manslaughter offence to the enforcement mix for the most abhorrent of safety fines is not the solution."
Already this year, as of just our first four months, there had been 23 fatalities in Victoria - not all, however, in the WorkSafe official tally. When the paper is available, we will also promote it in this section of SafetyNet.
WorkSafe Victoria news
Reminder: Webinar on the Workplace manslaughter laws
This is a reminder of the WorkSafe webinar on Tuesday May 19, at 11am - 12.30pm, WorkSafe. There will be a panel of WorkSafe experts, who will explain what the introduction of the new industrial manslaughter law will mean for employers and what needs to be done to comply. Participants will be able to ask the panel questions during the live session.
- Rob Kelly, Director, Specialist Services in Health and Safety
- Gordon Cooper, Director, Enforcement Group
- Dmitry Rozkin, Director, Legislation Policy and Information Services and
- Adam Watson, Head of Operations and Emergency Management in Health and Safety
There is a limit to the number of participants, so if you are interested, register asap. To find out more and register, please click here.
Fire warning on hand sanitisers
WorkSafe has issued a Safety Alert: Fire hazards when manufacturing or storing alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has decided that two types of hand sanitisers will be exempt from TGA regulation, as long as they contain particular ingredients, comply with advertising and meet labelling conditions. Both these types of alcohol are classified as flammable liquids, as they present a fire hazard. Because they are flammable, alcohol-based sanitisers and some of their ingredients have the potential to harm persons and property. Hand sanitisers may also contain other ingredients that are dangerous goods.
The Safety Alert provides information on the risks, the duties of manufacturers and suppliers, and those storing sanitisers, as well as recommended ways to reduce the risks.
EPA powers to be delayed
In a development which could mean increased danger to the community from dangerous goods sites, strong new powers promised to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) have been delayed by more than a year. The new laws to increase both the EPA's power to crack down on environmental offenders and the penalties for polluters were due to come into effect in July this year. However, the introduction has been delayed a further 12 months as part of the “omnibus” coronavirus legislation the state government passed in an emergency sitting of State Parliament last month.
Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said the EPA would continue its monitoring activities and to conduct audits. "The EPA has already established a Waste Crime Prevention Inspectorate and will waste no time stopping polluters and keeping our community safe," she said. "The Victorian government postponed the beginning of the new legislation to allow industry to focus on navigating the impacts of coronavirus." Read more: The Age
Safe Work Australia news
New COVID-19 workplace guidance
The Safe Work Australia website has been updated to provide a central hub of work health and safety (WHS) guidance and tools to help Australian workplaces manage the health and safety risks posed by COVID-19.
The website gives users easy access to guidance that is directly relevant to their specific industry. It includes guidance about physical distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, workers’ compensation, how to conduct risk assessments and design emergency plans, as well as providing case studies to help explain how to manage the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace. Unions have had some input into this guidance.
Go to COVID-19 Information for workplaces and filter the content using the new drop-down menus to find information and resources tailored for:
- employers, small business and workers
- the industry you work in, and
- the health and safety topic that you would like information on.
You can also use the search bar to find specific COVID-19 WHS content or browse through the information for your industry. New information and guidance continue to be developed and the website will be updated with new information as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia has not updated its workplace fatality statistics since 23 April at which time there had been 63 worker fatalities notified to the national body. The fatalities have been in the following sectors:
- 20 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 12 in Construction
- 9 in Public administration & safety
- 8 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 5 in Manufacturing
- 4 in Mining
- 2 in Arts & recreation services
- 1 in Accommodation & food services
- 1 in Retail trade
- 1 in 'other services'
To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.
Solar company fined after worker’s deadly fall
On 30 November 2018 a 21 year old worker was killed after he fell from a roof. On that day employees of Solar 2.0 were installing 14 solar panels to the pergola roof of a residential property at Kennington. Access to the roof was via an extension ladder placed against a timber veranda with a polycarbonate roof. At about 12.30pm two of the workers were leaving the roof via the ladder. While one was going down, he turned and saw the second worker fall before hitting the concrete ground. Emergency services attended the workplace and he was taken to hospital where he later died from complications arising from head injuries.
WorkSafe investigations found:
- The extension ladder was not fixed at the bottom;
- Where it touched the guttering of the pergola, an item known as a 'gutter guard' was in place;
- No fall protection system was in place for work on the roof; and
- The company failed to implement a Safe Work Method Statement for the high risk construction work
Solar 2.0 Pty Ltd was charged with two breaches of section 21(1) of the OHS Act for failing to maintain a working environment that was safe and without risks to health. The company pleaded guilty and was with conviction fined $30,000 plus $14,197 in costs. The Court declared that, but for the plea of guilty, the fine would have been $50,000.
Both the actual fine and the potential one seem extremely paltry in light of the fact that a very young worker was killed due to an employer's actions.
To find our more details, and to keep up to date with new prosecutions, check WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
ILO: COVID-19 and our world of work
The ILO's Director-General, Guy Ryder, has written an 'op-ed' for May Day, in which he says the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare in the cruellest way, the extraordinary precariousness and injustices of our world of work. He points to the over 3 million cases and about 250,000 deaths from the virus (as of May 1) globally, and the expected loss of the equivalent of 305 million jobs worldwide by mid-year, the stakes have never been higher. Governments continue to “follow the science” in the search for the best solutions while foregoing the obvious benefits of much greater international cooperation in building the needed global response to the global challenge. Read more: New Normal? Better Normal!