SafetyNet 538

Welcome to the June 24 edition of SafetyNet

It is with great sadness that we note that another Victorian worker was killed this week. 

Just as we thought we were getting through the COVID-19 pandemic well, Victoria has in the past week suffered a set-back with the number of new infections being in the double digits every day. This has meant some restrictions being re-introduced or tightened, and advice on working from home extended.  

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. 

Union News

Fatality in Melbourne's western suburbs

It is with great sadness that we report that another Victorian worker was killed in Geelong at about 4.20am on Tuesday morning. It appears the 78-year-old died after being hit by his own car while delivering newspapers. According to police, the man was partially out of his stationary car when it accelerated and struck him, before crashing into a fence, police said. The newspaper delivery man, from the Geelong suburb of Whittington, was taken to hospital where he later died.

The VTHC sends its sincerest condolences to the family, friends and work colleagues of the worker. According to our tally, this latest death brings the number of Victorians killed in workplace incidents this year to 28. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update  

As of this morning, there had been 7,492 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 17 of the 20 new cases overnight, an issue of concern to the Victorian government, and which has led to an increase in the number of people getting tested, and a tightening of some restrictions. The increase in cases, although much smaller than many other countries, demonstrates that we must remain vigilant, particularly as we start returning to school, work and on public transport. 

The increased number of infections has led to two schools - Brunswick East Primary School and Keilor Views Primary School - and one childcare centre being closed for at least three days this week, and the Premier reducing the number of people allowed into homes to five. 

The local government areas of Moreland, Brimbank, Hume, Casey, Cardinia and Darebin have been identified as coronavirus hotspots due to their high level of community transmissions in recent weeks. Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told the ABC, "If the numbers keep tracking in this way in these particular hotspot areas we'll have to consider options like going back to the stay-at-home direction that we had in place for a number of weeks earlier in the year." She said, however, that "very localised" restrictions, which might be applied to local government areas or even individual suburbs, were under "active consideration" due to the pockets of accelerated coronavirus transmission.

The situation in Victoria has implications for workers.  At the moment, the advice is that people should avoid travelling to and from the nominated areas, although if they needed to go/leave for reasons of work or school, then this was allowed. However, employers are being urged to keep employees working from home if possible.

The number of new infections around the world has continued to climb alarmingly. There is growing fears of large second wave infections in some countries, such as China. The number of people infected is now at 9,341,567 - last week it was 8,257,885, so this is OVER one million more infections. 
Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

I’m a full-time employee. If I’m instructed by my supervisor to operate a forklift without a license with no training involved, and then injure another worker, who is at fault? And what trouble could I get into even though I’d been told by my boss and my supervisor that if I refused to do so I would face getting fired? 

Your employer and supervisor are breaking the law: a person is not allowed to operate a forklift anywhere in Australia without a licence. The only exception is if the worker is in training and is being supervised - by sight and sound - by some with a licence.   

Furthermore, they cannot sack you for refusing to carry out what is an illegal instruction, or for refusing to do something on the basis of occupational health and safety. If they try, then you have the right to take them to the Fair Work Commission for unfair dismissal - and I am sure they would  not want that, because then it would become known that they terminated you for complying with the law, and that the instruction to operate the forklift was illegal. (go to this page to find out what your basic rights are under the Fair Work Act). 

Take a look at this page on forklift safety and what the laws are.  

I recommend that you do the following:
  • go back to them and explain that you've found out that it's illegal for them to make you do this, and illegal for you to do it.
  • point out that if they don't believe you, you're happy to contact WorkSafe and an inspector could come out to explain it to them... (if you want more 'official' advice, give WorkSafe Advisory a call anyway.. you don't have to necessarily give them where you work in the first instance).
  • Also let them know that if they sack you (or even threaten to do so), this too is illegal - they can check this with Fair Work Australia. 

IF someone were to be injured/killed - and unfortunately this does and has happened with forklifts - then they would certainly be prosecuted, and though you shouldn't be, there's a chance you could be too, so my final advice is: Just don't do it. 

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

ACTU says Government has fallen short in COVID-19 response

ACTU President Michele O’Neil will tell the Senate Inquiry into the Government’s response to COVID-19 that the response has fallen short on wage subsidies, sick leave and OHS while ignoring the impact of the pandemic on women and young people.

The ACTU call for paid pandemic leave will be a key focus of Ms O’Neil’s testimony. The ACTU has been calling for two weeks paid pandemic leave to be made available to all employees, including casuals, but despite both the Queensland and Victorian Government’s introducing a similar scheme the Morrison Government has not acted.

Ms O’Neil will tell the Inquiry the Government was slow to act in introducing a wage subsidy and has failed to expand the system to those who are excluded or extend it beyond September despite underspending by $60 billion.

The Morrison Government has failed to address the gaps the pandemic has exposed in our OHS system, and despite evidence - including polling conducted for the ACTU which showed only a tiny proportion of businesses were ready for workers to return – has failed to update the system to ensure that working people are kept safe.

The Government has also failed to recognise the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on young people and women, who have lost the majority of jobs and hours of work since the beginning of the shutdown. Ms O'Neil said, “The fight against the virus isn’t over, and the Morrison Government must do more to ensure that Australian workers are protected.”
Source: ACTU medie release

VTHC Young Workers Centre: Gig economy workers urgently need a better deal

Research commissioned by the Victorian Government reveals that workers in the gig economy are predominantly young, are being paid significantly below the national minimum wage and do not have safe working conditions. Young workers in the gig economy have gone without the protections that other working people in Victoria enjoy. We need to change laws to ensure gig economy workers receive fair pay and safe working conditions. 

In its submission to the Victorian Inquiry into the On-Demand Workforce, the Young Workers Centre called for protections for young workers in the gig economy, including updating OHS laws to protect gig workers. The YWC’s own independent survey of 240 gig economy delivery riders found three in four were earning below the minimum wage for transport workers, some as low as $6.67 an hour and up to 20 per cent had been involved in an accident while at work.

Felicity Sowerbutts, Director of Young Workers Centre, said “It’s essential young workers in the gig economy are given the protections they deserve. Our employment and occupational health and safety laws must be updated to protect gig economy workers from these unscrupulous employment practices.” Source: VTHC YWC Media release

Asbestos news  

WA: Safety alert issued regarding asbestos in demolition 

In a recent Safety Alert, WorkSafeWA says it has identified instances where demolition work was conducted without first removing asbestos-containing materials. As in Victoria, this is in breach of the asbestos regulations. 

The regulator says that workers may have been exposed to asbestos while carrying out demolition work on a residential building. The workers examined the building prior to commencing the demolition and noted the presence of fibre cement sheeting on the dwelling and an attached garage. This material was not deemed to be asbestos cement and the workers proceeded to demolish the building using an excavator. Read more: WA Safety Alert

Spain: asbestos found in train parts

In a company circular dated June 19, 2020, Metro de Madrid – the rapid transit system in the Spanish capital – announced that asbestos had been found in a G32 valve gasket integrated in suspension panels in train cars 2000B, 6000, 7000, 8000 first and 9000 series. The company assured workers that it was committed to the removal of “all traces” of asbestos from the network and was analyzing “each and every part of the trains, as well as the Metro facilities to detect this material, and, where appropriate, remove it.”  Source: IBAS

Italy: Asbestos remediation program

On June 11, 2020 the council of the Italian town of Siena, in collaboration with a privately-owned company: SEI Toscana, launched a “stop asbestos” service to progress the eradication of asbestos in the municipality; asbestos remediation has been designated a high priority objective by the regional authorities in Tuscany. Individuals can access the service for the collection of asbestos-cement material from their homes in Siena for an initial payment of €57; additional charges may be imposed. This initiative was designed to prevent the illegal dumping of asbestos waste in rural areas.  Source: IBAS 

US: Ban asbestos now!

A statement released by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley on June 22, 2020, the 4th anniversary of the passing of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, deplored the US Government’s failure to progress public safety under the Act, citing the stalemate on asbestos saying: “Today, not only has EPA failed to ban asbestos, they have failed even to complete the review required by law. This unconscionable delay will cost thousands more American lives. Roughly 40,000 Americans each year die from asbestos-related causes, and this number will not decline until we take decisive action to protect Americans from asbestos.” Read more: Merkley criticizes years of EPA delays, urges Congress to ban asbestos.
Source: IBAS

Global: Double standards on sale of talc

Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has issued a statement saying it was withdrawing its iconic talc-based baby powder – which is at the center of thousands of US legal claims over asbestos-caused cancers – from sale in North America. The news about J&J’s desertion of its signature product – which had been in constant production since 1894 and was sold worldwide – was reported not only in the US and Canada but throughout the world. Health and safety campaigners from India, Brazil, Korea and elsewhere have denounced the implied double standards of this action saying lives outside North America are equally at risk from the use of J&J’s asbestos-contaminated talc-based baby powder. Read full articleSource: IBAS

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

International Union news

UK: Union launches COVID-19 charter for Tube staff

On the day that face masks were made compulsory on public transport in England, London Underground union RMT has launched a COvID-19 charter for Tube workers. The transport union said its charter, announced on 15 June, offers support to the London Underground workers who have kept the Tube and other Transport for London (TfL) services running throughout the COVID-19 crisis. It explains that while union members want to provide the best possible service to workers in London, there cannot be increased use of the Tube without the necessary safety planning and before conditions are right. The RMT charter calls for workers and their trade unions in every sector of the economy to be involved in risk assessments of all types of work in each workplace before they are required to return to work. It says that workplaces should only be re-opened when the workforce agrees it is safe to do so. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The key message of the charter is that no worker should be forced on to the Tube without the necessary safety planning and before conditions are right. The situation must also be kept constantly under review.” He added: “London Underground and TfL must be able to assure the union that different phases of lifting lockdown can be achieved without forcing usage above 13 per cent of capacity, which is the maximum that can be carried while maintaining social distancing.” per cent of capacity, which is the maximum that can be carried while maintaining social distancing.”  Read more: RMT news release. British Transport Police news release. Source: Risks 952


Research

Position paper on Musculoskeletal disorders

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia (HFESA) last week released a position paper on Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) in which it states that while hazardous manual task training forms an important part of an employer's risk identification and control processes, it cannot be relied on to control the most common work-related injuries - musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) - partly because it does not address the multiple causes of these injuries, and the techniques taught are often ignored or impractical. This reflects the duties and the hierarchy of control in the Hazardous Manual Handling regulations.

The paper states:

Factors that are known to influence the development of Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs) involve a combination of physical as well as psychological and / or social (psychosocial) hazards. Their level of influence varies depending on the task and equipment involved, the way in which work is designed and organised, the workplace environment, communications and the worker profile.

Physical hazards include high force, awkward postures, repetition, long duration, fatigue and vibration. Psychosocial hazards include high job demands, low job control, high job strain, low social support, low job satisfaction and low job security. Personal characteristics such as age, pre-existing physical and psychological conditions may impact personal WMSD risk.

Consequently, the association recommends that a “holistic systems-based approach be taken to establish the workplace WMSD risk profile”. It says the risk management strategies need to be comprehensive and include identification and then control of physical and psychosocial hazards. Participation of workers and managers in the process is fundamental to ensure the process accurately captures the most relevant hazards and the controls are appropriate for the work.
Read more: Work-related musculoskeletal disorders resource page. The Position paper [pdf] and a short summary version [pdf] can be downloaded from this page. HFESA. Source: OHS Alert

 


Prosecutions

It appears that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have not been any prosecutions during this period, and consequently no update to 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.

This is not the case for some other jurisdictions - in NSW Three PCBUs fined $765k for multiple WHS breaches

Last week District Court Judge Wendy Strathdee sentenced Komatsu Pty Ltd, Bay Trusses & Frames Pty Ltd and Hadcon Constructions Pty Ltd in separate proceedings. 

They all pleaded guilty to breaching sections 19 ("Primary duty of care") and 32 ("Failure to comply with health and safety duty–Category 2") of the NSW WHS Act, and faced maximum fines of $1.5 million each.

Case 1:

In early 2016, Komatsu Pty Ltd supplied a bulldozer to a Veolia Environmental Services Pty Ltd facility in Tarago. Komatsu had modified the bulldozer by installing an electric winch system for lowering the 290kg belly plate, but fitted a wire rope to the system's hoist that didn't match the hoist manufacturer's recommended wire rope diameter or breaking strength. 

In February 2017, Komatsu sent a field technician to service the bulldozer, then instructing him to remove and clean the vehicle's cooling system, which involved removing the belly plate's retaining bolts and lowering the plate to the ground. After he finished cleaning the cooling system, he reinstalled it and used the winch to raise the belly plate, before moving beneath the plate to reinstall the retaining bolts, at which point the wire rope snapped and the plate fell, striking him on his hard hat and the right side of his head and face.

He sustained numerous injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, multiple skull and facial fractures, loss of hearing in his right ear, cognitive impairment, back and neck injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Judge Strathdee found the company had a "golden rule" prohibiting workers from entering the "fall zone" of a suspended load, but didn't train the technician on how to comply with the rule while re-bolting the belly plate, or provide him with any specific training or instructions on how to safely remove and reinstall the bulldozer's cooling system.

The Judge noted that in January 2015, a Western Australian mechanic was killed when a Komatsu-supplied bulldozer's belly plate, held up by a single external hoist, fell and crushed him after the bolts were removed. A transport and exploration company was fined $110,000 over the death. "[The Western Australian events] allow this Court to come to the conclusion that [Komatsu] ought to have been aware that there had been a death as a result of the belly plate on one of their bulldozers and to that extent this [Veolia] incident was foreseeable, which affects the relative seriousness of the offence," she said in finding Komatsu's offence fell within the mid-range of objective seriousness. She found an appropriate fine for Komatsu was $500,000, before reducing it by 25 per cent to $375,000 for its guilty plea, and ordering it to pay $40,000 in costs.

Case 2:

In July 2017, the contract truck driver was helping a forklift operator load floor sheets, frames and trusses onto the truck at one of Bay Trusses and Frames Pty Ltd's three operational sites when he fell from the trailer and sustained a traumatic brain injury, as well as spinal cord damage and shoulder injuries.

In October 2011, a worker was killed in a fall from the top of some frames and trusses on a Bay Trusses trailer. The PCBU pleaded guilty to safety breaches and was sentenced in August 2014. From these events the PCBU "must have understood that its work health and safety procedures were most inadequate. Yet, less than three years later, [another worker] fell from one of [its] trucks and was badly injured", Judge Strathdee said.

After the 2011 incident, the company had conducted a risk assessment that concluded truck drivers could safely climb on truck loads, but the document hadn't been reviewed for seven years, and wasn't prepared specifically for the incident site, which had uneven, sloping ground and limited space for vehicles, Judge Stathdee found. She fined Bay Trusses $300,000 after a 25 per cent discount, plus $27,500 in costs, after raising concerns about the PCBU's failure to respond to a 2011 fatality.

Case 3:

The Judge fined Hadcon Constructions Pty Ltd $90,000, also after a 25 per cent reduction, after the sole director of subcontractor Tiger Construction Group Pty Ltd fell through scaffolding at a Hadcon building site and struck his head on a concrete balcony, and was killed. 

At the time of the June 2017 incident, the scaffolding on the six-storey residential apartment development in Lidcombe had been altered and planks were missing or not secured in the level-four area where the director fell. The Judge found that although Hadcon had conducted inspections of the scaffolding prior to the incident, but these were inadequate in that they failed to identify significant safety issues. 

"[Hadcon] did not prevent the unauthorised alteration of scaffolding on the site by way of adequate supervision and/or appropriate disciplinary action against those workers altering scaffolding, such as excluding workers from the site or issuing non-conformance notices," Judge Stathdee said. She found that Hadcon required its site manager to instruct workers not to alter the scaffolding, but didn't take steps to verify whether the manager complied with the direction. 

Source: OHS Alert

 


International News

England: WHO warns against relaxing lockdown 

England’s coronavirus lockdown should not be further lifted until the government’s contact-tracing system has proven to be “robust and effective”, the World Health Organisation has said. The UN body’s comments came after widespread criticism of the first results of the new tracking operation. As shops across England prepared to reopen, and people were encouraged by the government to come out of their homes and on to the high street, Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s director for Europe, cautioned that the UK remained in a “very active phase of the pandemic”. His remarks coincided with ministers confirming a review of the 2-metre physical distancing rule, with the government coming under pressure from business leaders, Tory backbenchers and rightwing media to further ease the lockdown. Boris Johnson said on 14 June that the falling numbers of coronavirus cases has given the government “more margin for manoeuvre” in easing the 2-metre physical distancing rule. In response to data showing the government had failed to trace the contacts of a third of those testing positive in the first week of the new system, Kluge warned in an interview with the Guardian against rushing into reopening the economy. “In the UK I would say this is a very active phase in the pandemic so, more let’s say, careful,” he said. Read more: The Guardian. Source: Risks 952


Events

TONIGHT Wednesday 24 June: Dangerous Goods Advisory Group meeting

The DGAG bimonthly meeting is a general networking/discussion update meeting, open to all, to discuss issues that are going on for Dangerous Goods and Chemical Regulation at the moment. Jeff Simpson, the convener of the DGAG, has informed us that the third DGAG Meeting for 2020, will be held on Wednesday 24 June, at 5.30pm - 7.30pm AEST.

Like many meetings we are now participating in, the DGAG will be a Webinar Chat meeting. To join the Zoom Meeting click here. Meeting ID: 864 4370 7750 Password: 158089

The topics to be discussed will be:

  1. Hazardous Chemicals / Dangerous Goods Incidents 

  2. The ADG Transport Code & Changes in the UN Model Regs, IMDG Code, IATA Regs, NZ Regs etc

  3. Dangerous Goods (Storage & Handling), GHS Haz. Chemicals, & Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals

  4. Update on Classification and Training for Dangerous Goods

  5. Information sharing 

  6. 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


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