Welcome to the June 17 edition of SafetyNet.
It's been a big week for Victorian workers, with wage theft laws passing Victoria's Upper House. This was one of the big campaigns run last year by the VTHC, the other being Industrial manslaughter laws. Both will make our workplaces better.
And in case you don't have time to read the whole journal today, just remember our live webinar on DWGs and HSR elections tonight at 7pm.
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.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update
As of this morning, there had been 7335 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia. 102 people have died - this means that there have been no deaths in over two weeks. However Victoria recorded 21 new cases overnight, although the majority of these were people who were in isolation having returned from overseas. This demonstrates that we must remain vigilant, particularly as we start returning to school, work and on public transport.
As noted last week, however, the pandemic has not yet peaked around the world and there is fear of large second wave infections in some countries, such as China. The number of people infected now at 8,257,885 - last week it was 7,318,12,4, so again, it means there have been almost a million more infections.
Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.
When establishing a Health and Safety Committee, does the committee need to mirror the structures of the workplace DWGs? That is, should there be a committee for every DWG? For example, my DWG doesn't have its own committee but as HSR I sit on an OHS committees that deals with issues beyond my DWG. Advice welcome!
- the employer has a duty to consult on the make up of the committee (see s35[e])
And, under, s72:
- the employer must establish a committee withing 3 months after being requested to do so by an HSR, and
- at least half the members must be employees, HSRs or Deputy HSRs where practicable.
- the committee must meet at least every 3 months or when at least half the committee request it
- it's up to the committee to develop its own operating procedures and functions
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Advice for teachers
As noted in the past few editions, we've been getting a number of queries from teachers around the state on returning to face-to-face teaching, and COVID-19. Subscriber Peter Thlimenos, who is Employee Wellbeing Senior Advisor, Employee Wellbeing Response Team, Employee Health Safety and Wellbeing Division, Department of Education and Training, sent in some resources for us to promote:
- DET: Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for early childhood services
- DET: Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for schools
- DET: Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for TAFE, training providers, apprentices and trainees
Each of the above pages has various topics - however an education login is required for some of these. Thank you Peter!
TONIGHT! Wednesday June 17 - Webinar on DWG and HSR elections
Tune in tonight on our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page at 7pm for our webinar on Designated Work Groups and HSR elections. What should DWGs look like, how to negotiate them, what happens if there are labour hire workers or multiple employers on site, and much more.
We have come across some workplaces where the DWGs have been in place since the 1980's when the original OHS Act came into force in Victoria. That's older than may of our readers! The workplace, the type of work and more has changed, yet the old DWGs remain. We are also hearing of some employers wanting to make changes to the DWGs unilaterally, without consulting anyone. Can they do this?
So if you have questions about any of this, then join Renata, Luke and Sam tonight at 7pm. You'll have plenty of opportunities to ask questions, and we may even have a new tool or two.
Warning on fake masks
One of our subscribers last week sent through a reminder that many commercial outlets have been caught out selling fake masks. Some of the sellers are claiming their masks are certified by the 'TGA' or the 'FDA' - but neither of these bodies actually certify masks. Read more: Sydney Morning Herald.
One less pressure for young workers - Wage theft now a crime in Victoria
The VTHC's Young Workers Centre, young workers and activists have campaigned hard and successfully to ensure wage theft laws that stop dodgy bosses stealing wages passed in Victoria.
While at first glance you might say, "Great, but what has this got to do with occupational health and safety?" the answer lies in how workers, often young workers, have been treated and the pressures they have faced in jobs where they were not being paid the right amount, not being paid for overtime, or 'training' or meetings. Too often workers have been too frightened to stand up for their rights, accepting 'free pizza' in lieu of fair wages. So this issue to make wage theft a crime was taken up by Trades Hall, and young workers campaigned over thousands of hours, knocked on doors, made phone calls and rallied outside businesses to ensure these laws would be passed in Victoria, which they were this week!
Check out the VTHC Facebook page for more information, and this great video.
NZ: High-pressure water blasting of poultry sheds with asbestos cladding
WorkSafe New Zealand has issued aA safety alert after becoming aware of poultry and broiler farm sheds being cleaned between chick rearing cycles using high pressure water blasting. In New Zealand, a large number of these farms have sheds clad inside and out with asbestos containing material. The regulator advises that the asbestos regulations prohibit the use of high pressure water blasting or compressed air on asbestos.
The alert states: "Farmers, breeders, and shed owners need to identify if sheds and buildings contain asbestos, or asbestos containing material so they can record these details and management controls in an asbestos management plan. If asbestos containing material is damaged, or is showing signs of disrepair, it should be a priority for removal, using a licenced asbestos removalist." Read more: NZ Safety Alert
Global: dangers of beauty products
An article on the website of the Huffington Post looks at a 2019 documentary Toxic Beauty. The article, "Are Your Beauty Products Safe? Why 'Clean Beauty' Isn't Always Enough". The article says the film unpacks the harmful ingredients inside beauty products while following a class-action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in which hundreds of women claim that use of the brand’s baby powder led to them developing cancer.
Talc, the main ingredient in baby powder, may contain naturally occurring asbestos. But despite studies that suggest asbestos-contaminated talc can be hazardous, it is not explicitly banned by the US Food and Drug Administration. Meanwhile, talc is found in a wide range of cosmetic products including lipsticks, face powders, foundations, deodorants, eye shadows and face masks. Read more, and access the documentary on the Huffington Post website.
International Union news
UK: Employers illegally forcing pregnant women out
A quarter of pregnant women have faced discrimination at work during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new TUC survey. The poll of more than 3,400 women who have been pregnant or on maternity leave during the COVID-19 pandemic found that one in four (25 per cent) had experienced unfair treatment at work, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough. Pregnant women told the TUC they were required to take sick leave when they were not sick, to take unpaid leave, to start their maternity leave early or to leave the workplace, because their employer did not act to make their workplace safe for them. All of these actions are illegal, said the TUC. Pregnant women have the right to be suspended on full pay if workplace risks to their health cannot be removed or reduced, or suitable alternative work is not available.
The TUC poll exposed a range of health and safety concerns for women who have been pregnant during the coronavirus outbreak, with one in four telling the TUC they felt unsafe at work. More than two in five (42 per cent) responding to the poll said they had not had a workplace health and safety risk assessment. Of those who had a risk assessment, almost half (46 per cent) said their employer did not take the necessary action to reduce the risks identified – which is against the law – and a quarter said the risk assessment did not include the additional risks posed by COVID-19.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Work should be safe for pregnant women and new mums. But our research has uncovered shocking levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination during the coronavirus outbreak.” She added: “Employers are routinely flouting health and safety law. This puts women’s lives – and the health of their unborn babies – at risk.” The TUC leader concluded: “Ministers must require every employer to do an individual risk assessment for every pregnant woman and new mum. If it’s not safe for women to keep working, employers must suspend them on full pay. Employers must stop illegally selecting pregnant women and new mums for redundancy. And bosses who break the law should be fined.”
Read more: TUC news release and report, Pregnant and precarious: new and expectant mums’ experiences of work during Covid-19, 11 June 2020. Source: Risks 951
Canada: Thousands get COVID-19 workers’ compensation
Workers compensation boards across Canada have approved thousands of claims from employees who believe they contracted COVID-19 at work, underscoring how the pandemic has become a new workplace hazard for many Canadians. The flood of unconventional requests has led to calls to expand the legal definition of an occupational disease. Nurses, orderlies and other health-care workers - especially those at long-term care homes - have filed the largest number of claims, followed by municipal workers, agricultural labourers and firefighters.
By late May, claims totalled 5,786 in Quebec, 4,156 in Ontario, 1,366 in Alberta and 541 in British Colombia. The majority of applications in the country’s four biggest provinces have been approved by their respective compensation boards. Hassan Yussuff, president of the national union federation CLC, commented: “We know there are certain professions right now that are far more likely to interact with people that are carriers of the virus.” Receiving workers compensation is preferable to going on Employment Insurance because it generally pays out more for lost time, covers the cost of rehabilitation if needed and documents the illness in case it has long-term effects, Yussuff noted. There are calls to make coronavirus related ill-health subject to a ‘presumptive’ test, meaning people in designated jobs don’t have to prove they got sick at work. The board of directors of WorkSafeBC - that province’s compensation agency - has promised to do just that within six months. It would mean creating “a formal institutional memory for diseases such as COVID-19” so evidence of “work-relatedness” would not be required in every case, says a white paper issued by the organisation.
Read more: National Post. Global News. Source Risks 951
Whole body vibration risk to pregnant workers
An increasing number of women are choosing to work in industries where whole-body vibration exposure is common, but still, very little is known about risks of such exposure during pregnancy. And in a country like Australia, there is no exposure standard.
Swedish researchers, noted that some occupational exposures have been inconsistently associated with pregnancy complications, but that exposure to whole-body vibrations (WBV) had been largely overlooked even though it has been associated with adverse birth outcomes. Consequently, they studied the Fetal Air Pollution Exposure cohort, formed by merging multiple Swedish, national registers containing information on occupation during pregnancy and diagnosis codes. It includes all working women who gave birth between 1994 and 2014 (over 1 million). They derived WBV exposure from a job-exposure matrix, and divided into exposure categories. The aim was to assess whether occupational WBV exposure during pregnancy is associated with pregnancy complications.
They found that among women working full time there were increased risks of all pregnancy complications in the highest exposure group (≥0.5 m/s2), compared with the lowest. Exposed women (mainly truck drivers, forklift and heavy machine operators) working full time had an increased risk of both preeclampsia, gestational hypertension and gestational diabetes. However, there were no clear associations for part-time workers. The researchers said the results are alarming, as the associations were apparent below the current exposure limit value set by the European Union. They said that women should not be exposed to WBV at/above the action limit value of 0.5 m/s2 (European directive) continuously through pregnancy. However, these results need further confirmation.
In terms of policy implications, the researchers said that the results are likely to lay the foundation of future risk assessment of pregnant women exposed to whole-body vibrations. If confirmed by others, they said the results indicate that women should not be continuously exposed to whole-body vibrations throughout pregnancy, which supports development of policies for reassignment or pregnancy allowance for at least part of the pregnancy. It is concerning that despite the evidence and standards in other countries, there are NO EXPOSURE STANDARDS for vibration in Australia (see: Vibration).
Read more: Helena Skröder, et al. Occupational exposure to whole-body vibrations and pregnancy complications: a nationwide cohort study in Sweden (Full text) Occupational and Environmental Medicine Online first June 2020
IARC confirms night work cancer link
An association between night work and breast and other cancers has been confirmed after a major review by an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) expert group. IARC’s 2007 ‘probably carcinogenic in humans’ Group 2A ranking was challenged in 2016 after an Oxford University study co-financed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK) concluded “night shift work, including long-term night shift work, has little or no effect on breast cancer incidence.” The paper, which attracted headlines worldwide and whose findings were welcomed by both HSE and CRUK, concluded IARC’s ranking of night work as a ‘probable’ cause of breast cancer in women “is no longer justified.” However, the paper attracted strong criticism and was dismissed as ‘bad science’ by leading work and breast cancer experts (Risks 781).
The controversy led IARC, a World Health Organisation (WHO) agency, to convene a ‘Monographs Working Group’ in June 2019. The findings of IARC’s reevaluation, published online this month, rejected the HSE/CRUK study’s conclusions. Instead, the IARC expert group again “classified night shift work as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2A), on the basis of limited evidence of cancer in humans (for cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, and rectum), sufficient evidence of cancer in experimental animals, and strong mechanistic evidence in experimental animals.” However, unions have expressed concern that the doubt cast on the cancer association by the HSE/CRUK backed paper adversely affected efforts to recognise, address and compensate night-work related breast cancer.
Read more: IARC Monographs Volume 124: Night Shift Work, June 2020. Volume 124 webpage. Graveyard shift: Cancer all-clear for night work based on ‘bad science’, warn scientists, Hazards magazine, number 136, December 2016. Source: Risks 951
There has not been any news regarding prosecution outcomes in Victoria - to find out whether there are any new prosecutions before next week, check WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Wednesday 24 June: Dangerous Goods Advisory Group meeting
- Hazardous Chemicals / Dangerous Goods Incidents
- The ADG Transport Code & Changes in the UN Model Regs, IMDG Code, IATA Regs, NZ Regs etc
- Dangerous Goods (Storage & Handling), GHS Haz. Chemicals, & Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals
- Update on Classification and Training for Dangerous Goods
- Information sharing
- Other meetings and events
For more information, contact Jeff Simpson (DGAG convenor and Webinar host), Haztech Environmental, Ph: 03-9885-1269 Mob: 0403-072-092, Email: Jeff.Simpson@haztech.com.au
Jeff can assist in setting up the Zoom meeting (a prior meeting to do this will be run on the Monday before the meeting). Contact Jeff for instructions on how to join.
The following 4th DGAG meeting, may be on Wed 26 August 2020, at the MFB Burnley Complex. If COVID-19 does not allow this, the Jeff will organise another DGAG Webinar Chat Meeting on that evening.