Welcome to the July 15 edition of SafetyNet - apologies for the late delivery last week: we had some technical issues, so thanks Sam for sending it out on Thursday.
Well, it's been over a week now since Stage 3 restrictions were re-introduced for Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, and if people are feeling like me, it's going to be hard going. This edition has plenty of news of developments for workers, including VTHC advice on the wearing of masks.
Make sure you stay informed by checking out the latest news in this week's journal, and by going 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 10,880 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 1,607 since last week, almost all in Victoria. 111 people have died - five more than last week. The number of new infections in Victoria has continued to grow which has led to increased concern and talk of even tougher restrictions.
Since the last edition of SafetyNet, new arrangements have been put in place regarding Term 3 for students, with only years 11 & 12, students at specialist schools and the children of essential workers physically going to school. This has had implications for principals, teachers, and other school staff (see story below).
The international situation keeps worsening: the number of people infected is now at 13,457,458 - last Wednesday it was 11,949,281, so this is over 1.5 million more infections - so the rate is still increasing. There have now been 581,221 deaths around the world, with the USA being the worst affected country.
Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.
New VTHC Guidance: When should workers wear a mask?
This has continued to be a hot topic of discussion, but there is increasing advice that wearing of masks outside the home is extremely important. Even POTUS Donald Trump has begun to wear a face mask in public!
The state's Chief Health Officer, Dr Brett Sutton, this week made an announcement regarding the wearing of masks (see the latest DHHS Advice on Face masks), a reversal of his previous position. And also this week, the Federal Health Minister announced that aged care workers in Victoria are required to wear surgical masks. WorkSafe Victoria is currently developing guidance on this issue also.
Taking into consideration the increasing evidence that the coronavirus can be spread by aerosol, the matter of wearing masks is crucial. The VTHC, in consultation with our affiliates, has developed advice specifically on face masks for workers.
See: COVID-19 and face masks
Limited face-to-face teaching recommenced this week
On the weekend the Victorian Government announced that most students in Victorian schools in areas under Stage 3 ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions will return to flexible and remote learning for the start of Term 3, limiting the number of people moving across our state to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
On the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer, students in Prep to Year 10 at government schools in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire will learn from home from Monday 20 July until at least 19 August, following five pupil free days already scheduled for this week.Onsite supervision will be available for students when they are not able to be supervised at home and no other arrangements can be made – including children whose parents cannot work from home, vulnerable children and children with a disability.This has meant concern and many queries from teachers in the Stage 3 areas regarding what measures need to be taken in schools. The Australian Education Union (AEU) has provided up to date advice to its HSRs, emphasising the need for consultation and what needs to be done to identify and control hazards and risks.
Meanwhile, The Age has reported that the principal of Gisborne Secondary College, a large regional high school close to one of Melbourne’s COVID-19 hotspots, has urged staff and students to wear face masks in term three, as anxiety about the coronavirus led some parents to keep their children home this week. This is despite the Education Department guidelines confirming the Chief Health Officer’s position that masks in schools were not necessary. The guidelines state that unlike public transport and supermarkets, schools are "controlled settings where entry is restricted to only students, staff and those delivering essential school services", making control measures more enforceable.
Gisborne Secondary College has more than 1200 students and is close to Melbourne’s metropolitan boundary, with a large number of students who travel from the neighbouring Hume council area.
Read more: Government media release; AEU advice for HSRs (members only); The Age
International unions call on WHO to revise guidelines
Until the World Health Organisation (WHO) revises its guidance on personal protective equipment, physical distancing and other protective measures in the workplace, workers will continue to die unnecessarily, global unions have warned. WHO has denied repeatedly that there is evidence for the airborne mode of transmission, instead saying the risk was limited to droplet transmission from close contact with infected individuals. This is contrary to the views of over 230 international scientists (see SafetyNet 540).The UN body has devised its recommendations on worker protection accordingly. This has meant WHO has only recommended the higher quality protections, particularly use of N95/FFP3 or better respiratory protection, for a small proportion of almost entirely health care staff involved in a small number of particularly hazardous ‘Aerosol Generating Procedures'.
However, another UN agency, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), recommends a far more protective 2 metres. ILO, unlike WHO, has a specialist workplace safety unit and consults routinely with employers and unions on its rules and guidance. UK statistics show some of the highest rates of Covid-19 have been in occupations WHO classifies as medium or low risk, including transport, construction, security and food processing workers. Global union organisations have called repeatedly for worldwide reporting, recording and recognition of Covid-19 as an occupational disease eligible for compensation.
Read more: A safe and healthy return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, ILO policy brief, 22 May 2020. Key issues on the return to work, ITUC Covid-19 briefing, 15 May 2020. ITUC and Council of Global Unions letters calling for recognition of Covid-19 as on occupational disease.
Can I get some advice please? My employer is telling us it is safer to be at work than home during the COVID-19 pandemic. I work in the administration office of a company that provides services to the public. It is very possible for us to do all our work from home. However my employer is not allowing this. We deal with a large range of 'external' people, including contractors and members of the general community. The amenities are shared, and although we have a good sanitising and cleaning regime in place, we are all very concerned due to the numbers of infections in Melbourne. I, and my colleagues believe that we should be working from home at this point. What do you think?
- exposure on the trip in to work - especially if using public transport
- contact with members of the public and contractors in the course of work
- contact with other workers - and being in an enclosed space for a long period of time
- the fact that asymptomatic people can be infectious
- shared facilities
When the Premier announced that Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire were going back into Stage 3 'Stay at home' restrictions, he emphasised the seriousness of the situation and said:
"For six weeks, and if you live in these areas, there’ll be only four reasons to leave your home:
Shopping for food and essential items. Care and caregiving. Daily exercise. Work and study – if you can’t do it from home.
Otherwise: Stay home. Stay home. Stay home. In case it needs repeating, stay home. We are fighting a global and deadly pandemic."
This is the subsequent advice from the government on the DHHS website:
"From 11:59pm on 8 July if you live in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire you must stay at home. You can only leave home for one of the four reasons – shopping for food and supplies, care and caregiving, exercise, and study and work, if you can’t do it from home."
My recommendation: you and the other workers need to support each other and together take the issue up with your employer: you are not prepared to put your health, that of your families and that of the broader community at risk by complying with directions that clearly flout what the government and the Premier are saying.
Under s 21 of the OHS Act, the employer has a legal duty to all employees to provide safe systems of work. And under s35 he has the duty to consult with workers (if they have elected Health and Safety Representatives then this is through their HSRs, if not, then the duty is to consult directly with employees (see Duty to Consult). What your boss is trying to enforce is nt a safe system of work, and he must consult with you as affected workers.
If possible, you all need to contact your union for advice and assistance on this matter. In the first instance the union should be able to help, and also, if you don't have one, can assist in starting the process to have an HSR elected. The other thing you and the other workers could consider is contacting either your local member or DHHS and explaining the situation. I am sure they would be prepared to contact your employer to give him appropriate advice.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Victorian Gig economy inquiry reveals workers underpaid and unsafe
A report into the gig economy released today by the Victorian Government reveals young workers are being pushed further into insecure work and are increasingly turning to the gig economy and working two or more jobs to make ends meet.
The VTHC Young Workers Centre welcomes the report and the 20 recommendations that will improve the lives of young workers in insecure work. These recommendations will mean that workers in the gig economy can be recognized as employees, which is a significant move. There is also a call for a standalone streamline support and advice service which means that workers can easily resolve their issues and enforce their rights.
The inquiry’s own research reveals gig economy workers - who are predominantly young, migrant workers on temporary visas - are being paid significantly below the national minimum wage and do not have safe working conditions. These young workers have gone without the protections that other working people in Victoria enjoy, and the laws need to be changed in order to ensure they receive fair pay and safe working conditions.
“This report confirms a picture of exploitation that young workers, particularly migrant workers on temporary visas, in the gig economy face. They are struggling with low-pay, unpaid work and their work isn’t covering their bills," said Felicity Sowerbutts, Director of Young Workers Centre. “The rise of gig economy work has meant too often young people are being exploited and are performing work without standard employment protections and are on wages that are below minimum wage."
In its submission to the Victorian Inquiry into the On-Demand Workforce, the YWC 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. The YWC has long advocated for intervention into the gig economy to ensure that all workers in Victoria are paid a living wage, are safe at work and have the ability to collectively organise and negotiate their working conditions.
Read more: Victorian Government media release; The Report of the Inquiry into the Victorian On-Demand Workforce [pdf], YWC media release, The Age.
Reminder: from July 22 watch Devil's Dust miniseries on Stan
Devil's Dust, the 2012 two-part ABC docu-drama mini-series will be available to watch on Stan from July 22. The series is based on journalist Matt Peacock's 2009 book Killer Company. It tells the tragedy of many Australian workers and their families afflicted with asbestosis and mesothelioma in the asbestos mining and processing industries though the true-life tale of Bernie Banton. (Information on the series sourced from Wikipedia)
Australia's APHEDA demands no funding for asbestos
An online petition sponsored by Australia’s Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA) has called on international agencies and lenders – such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which have offered “tens of billions of dollars in grants and additional ‘concessional’ credit to the world’s poorest countries” – to ensure that Covid-19 health and economic stimulus funding is not used to purchase asbestos-containing products for the construction of new infrastructure projects such as hospitals and other public buildings.
APHEDA has launched a Megaphone petition, and is asking you to join this campaign and make sure that the asbestos industry doesn’t profit from this health crisis. It is working with international allies to take this urgent matter straight to the Boards and Presidents of the Banks responsible. They will add the names of everyone who signs to this global campaign to make it even more powerful. Check the petition and sign it: To World Bank, IMF and AIIB: No asbestos in Covid 19 relief.
International: Non-profits urge Johnson & Johnson to halt global sales of baby powder
Last week more than 170 not for profit groups called for Johnson & Johnson to stop selling its talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder world-wide, citing concerns that it contains asbestos, according to a statement from advocacy group Black Women for Wellness. The groups, which include educational institutions such as Emory University and activist groups such as Greenpeace, among others, also want the company to recall existing inventory in North America.
In May, the company said it would stop selling its talc Baby Powder in the United States and Canada, saying demand had fallen in the wake of what it called “misinformation” about the product’s safety amid a barrage of legal challenges. However,it said it would continue to sell its talc-based products in other markets around the world.
“Decades of independent scientific studies by medical experts around the world support the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder," J&J said in a statement on Wednesday. "We continue to offer this product in many other regions around the world where there is higher consumer demand.”
A 2018 Reuters investigative report found the company knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its talc. J&J now faces thousands of lawsuits from consumers and their survivors claiming its talc products caused cancer due to contamination with asbestos, a known carcinogen.
Read more: Reuters
Portugal: National Asbestos Audit Update
On July 8, 2020, Portugal’s Minister for the Environment and Climate Action João Pedro Matos Fernandes released a list of 3,868 public buildings in need of asbestos remediation work to a Parliamentary Commission. The majority (84%) of the affected buildings belonged to the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Justice. Parliamentary Deputies expressed concerns over the disposal of contaminated construction and demolition waste in landfills and the degree of danger to the environment and members of the public from that source. See: Edifícios com necessidade de intervenção e remoção de amianto são 3.868 [Buildings requiring intervention and removal of asbestos number 3,868]. Source: International Ban Asbestos Secretariat
International Union news
France: Bus unions strike after driver killed by passengers refusing to wear masks
A French bus driver who was left brain-dead from a brutal assault on July 5 after he ordered a group of passengers to either wear masks or get off the bus, has died. Philippe Monguillot, 58, died in hospital last Friday. His daughter Marie said, “We decided to let him go. The doctors were in favour and we were as well.”
According to police accounts, the driver was attacked by one or multiple passengers at a stop. He had told one passenger trying to get on the bus that he would not be allowed on without wearing a mask, as required by law on public transport. At the same stop he reportedly told three other passengers on the bus that they would have to get off if they did not put on masks. Two men, aged 22 and 23, have been charged with murder, two others with non-assistance to a person in danger and another with attempting to hide a suspect, the local prosecutor’s office said.
On Monday, the bus drivers at Chronoplus, where Monguillot worked, announced that they were on strike until after Monguillot’s funeral service. Chronoplus serves bus routes in Bayonne, Anglet and Biarritz, a sea-side resort on the south-west Atlantic coast of France. Routes in all three areas were stopped' The drivers are demanding greater protection.
The bus unions met with Chronoplus management on Monday evening, and are seeking to reach a deal to end the strike and return drivers to work. On July 7, Macron administration’s minister for transport, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, travelled to Bayonne and spoke with drivers, proclaiming the government’s grief at the tragic incident. This is seen by many as cynical as they believe the Macron administration’s policies - including initially denying the pandemic would reach France; not having a testing infrastructure in place; and declaring the wearing of masks unnecessary - are directly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths throughout the pandemic.
Read more: The Guardian, World Socialist Website. The New Daily.
South Africa: Thousands of miners hit by Covid-19
Mining industry figures show 18 mineworkers in South Africa have so far died from Covid-19, with nearly 3,000 workers testing positive for the virus. The Minerals Council said more than half of the deaths were in the platinum sector, which has seen the highest number of infections as companies ramp up production following the easing of lockdown regulations. Gold mines, which have some of the world's deepest shafts, have reported six deaths, while no deaths have occurred in the coal sector. The number of deaths has been slowly rising, the industry body said, despite hygiene and safety guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of infections, including the daily screening of employees before they enter work spaces. The Minerals Council has previously dismissed claims the mining sector was a hot spot for infections, attributing the rising number of infections to rigorous testing mechanisms. It said so far 290,535 workers have been screened and 21,386 tests conducted. However, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) believes that the explosion of infections in the platinum belt was a result of lack of adherence to safety guidelines during the earlier stages of the lockdown. “Some mines in the early stages of the lockdown applied to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to be allowed to operate during the lockdown. During that time there was no adherence to safety regulations,” said union spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu. “We are not surprised that this is now happening… it is a result of mines chasing profits ahead of lives.” The NUM now wants the government to shut down mines that fail to comply with healthy and safety regulations, and arrest mine managers found to be flouting the law.
Read more: News 24. Source: Risks 955
Europe: Chemical restrictions drive use of safer substances
Replacing harmful chemicals with safer alternatives and greener technologies is strongly driven by regulation, with companies reporting that restrictions and authorisation are their main drivers for substitution, research by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has concluded. Based on a survey of industry associations and more than 80 companies, many of which were affected by authorisation or restriction, around 19 per cent indicated that restriction is their main reason for replacing hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives. ECHA said adding a substance to the substances of very high concern (SVHC) Candidate List or Authorisation List was the next most significant trigger for companies, with authorisation selected by 15 per cent of the companies responding. Aside from regulation, companies also highlighted demands from their customers, enhancing their public image and adopting their own corporate sustainability policies as their main drivers to substitute hazardous substances with safer alternatives. “While regulation pushes for harmful substances to be replaced, moving away from them is also increasingly becoming an essential part of their corporate policies and the way towards a sustainable and greener Europe in the future,” said Bjorn Hansen, ECHA’s executive director. ECHA said the progressive substitution of SVHCs with suitable alternatives is one of three key objectives of the REACH. The others are making sure that the risks to human health and the environment are properly controlled and ensuring the good functioning of the internal market.
This comes at a time when Australia's chemicals controls - including restrictions and authorisations - are being deregulated.
Read more: ECHA news release. Source: Risks 955
Face Masks now required for Aged care workers
An announcement that aged care staff who work in residential facilities or provide home care support across Victoria’s lock down zones will be required to wear surgical masks following recommendations from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) was made by the Federal Health Department yesterday. The latest advice for aged care workers is in addition to all other infection control and staff screening measures already in place across the sector to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt and Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, today said personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, would be vital in preventing the introduction of COVID-19 to senior Australians receiving aged care as well as providing protection for carers. An additional four million masks will be made available to aged care and home care providers in the areas with restrictions including Greater Melbourne and Mitchell Shires.
Victoria reviewing anti-harassment measures across legal sector
The Andrews Government has announced separate reviews of protections against sexual harassment in the state's courts and tribunals, and in the law firms that tender to the government for legal services.
Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said the review of legal service providers would extend to working with partners to examine anti-sexual harassment training for all barristers and solicitors, and seeking internal audits and assurance on their processes.
The Attorney-General has previously noted that legal services suppliers are covered by the Government's supplier code of conduct, which commits them to a workplace free from bullying, harassment, victimisation and abuse. "Suppliers are expected not to bully workers or threaten workers with, or subject them to, unlawful or inhumane treatment," the code says. "This includes, but is not limited to, abuse and harassment which can be verbal, physical, sexual or psychological."
The other inquiry will be conducted across the State's courts and tribunals to examine practices aimed at preventing and addressing sexual harassment. The inquiry will "identify ways to build a culture that calls out sexual harassment, and give workers and others across the justice system the confidence to speak up without fear of reprisal," she said.
The review will consider measures to prevent sexual harassment, improve reporting and support for those who experience sexual harassment, raise awareness, and ensure accountability in workplaces.
It will be led by the former head of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Dr Helen Szoke, who is also a member of the Judicial Commission and a former federal Race Discrimination Commissioner.
QLD: regulator cracks down on electrical licenses
Head of the Queensland Electrical Safety Office (ESO) Donna Heelan said a blitz on unlicensed work being advertised and performed via online platforms has already produced results. “Put simply, ‘unlicensed is unlawful’ and we are doing everything in our powers to stamp out this dangerous practise – those who are falsely advertising, those who are actually performing unlicensed work and those who are getting it done. You are all in the ESO’s sights,” Ms Heelan said.
Earlier this year, a Queensland concreting business and its sole director were fined $42,500 for unsafe and unlicensed electrical practices. In a separate matter, an individual was charged with a total of nine offences relating to unlicensed electrical work and unlicensed electrical contracting and was fined $100,000.00.
Conducting electrical work without a license is an on the spot fine of $400 for an individual and for performing work without holding an electrical contractors license attracts a $500 fine for an individual and $2000 for a corporation.
For more information on Electrical Safety, visit this page Read more: Queensland Government cracks down on unlicensed electrical work
Safe Work Australia news
COVID-19 Case Studies
Safe Work Australia has developed a range of COVID-19 case studies for small business. These cover topics such as hygiene, physical distancing, PPE and much more. These are added to - for example this week the hand sanitiser one was added. Check them out on the SWA web page.
New materials and guidance
1 - Practical resources to reduce prolonged sitting when working from home
Safe Work correctly says that one of the most significant factors impacting work/occupational health and safety (WHS) when working from home is prolonged sitting. This year has seen an increase in desk-based workplaces transitioning to, or increasing existing, working from home arrangements to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Workplaces across the country have had to adapt their policies and procedures and consult with workers to ensure WHS requirements are met even if workers are at home.
As someone working from home the past few months, I heartily agree!
Safe Work Australia is supporting BeUpstanding – a free evidence-based program designed to address the WHS risks associated with prolonged sitting. Employers and businesses can sign up to the BeUpstanding trial to gain access to resources and guidance on how to encourage workers to stand up, sit less and move more.
The BeUpstanding toolkit includes fact sheets, videos and email templates which are tailored to desk-based workers working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Go to the BeUpstanding website for more information.
2 - Storage of flammable liquids
Safe Work Australia has published a new guide on the storage of flammable liquids, particularly for small to medium sized businesses. It describes the risks of flammable liquids and explains, step by step, how to manage those risks, including working out how flammable the chemicals stored are, which other chemicals they can be safely stored with, how to make sure there is proper ventilation, and ensuring there is correct fire-fighting equipment.
The guide also includes an example of a business that uses and stores flammable liquids, and provides advice about workplace placarding for businesses storing large quantities of flammable liquids. It was developed in consultation with representatives from work health and safety regulators, unions and industry groups.
3 - Storing and rebottling hand sanitiser case study
SWA has also published a new case study for businesses using and storing flammable hand sanitisers in response to COVID-19. The case study discusses some simple steps that need to be taken when storing or rebottling hand sanitiser, such as making sure you have the chemicals safety data sheet and making sure you store it in a safe place.
National Fatality Statistics
There has been no update of the workplace fatality statistics: since July 2 there had been 91 worker fatalities notified to the national body. The fatalities this year have been in the following sectors:
- 28 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 17 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 15 in Construction
- 11 in Public administration & safety
- 9 in Manufacturing
- 4 in Mining
- 2 in 'other services'
- 1 in Arts & recreation services
- 1 in Accommodation & food services
- 1 in Retail trade
- 1 in Health care & social assistance
- 1 in Administrative & support services
To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.
Aged care operator fined $10k after resident dies as a result of burns
Aged Care Group Pty Ltd (ACG) operates nine aged care facilities across Victoria, including Northern Gardens in Coburg North (the workplace).
On January 6, 2019, one of the ‘high care’ residents sustained serious burn injuries when another resident, a dementia and Alzheimer's sufferer, took the stainless-steel jug of hot coffee from the afternoon tea trolley and poured it over her. The trolley had been left in a pre-determined designated area in the corridor.
The resident was taken to hospital where she passed away one week later due to complications arising from thermal burns.
Victoria Police conducted an investigation, but recommended that no further action be taken against the resident with dementia.
Following the incident, ACG implemented control measures for food trolleys and the service of hot beverages, which would ensure that unattended trolleys would not be accessible to residents. They also replaced the stainless-steel jugs with portable urns.
WorkSafe investigated the incident and charges were laid. AGC pleaded guilty to one charge under s26(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. The company was without conviction fined $10,000, and ordered to pay the prosecution's costs of $4,200.
Aged care catering firm enters into enforceable undertaking after resident burnt
Cater Care Australia Operations Pty Ltd ('Cater Care') were engaged to provide catering services for residents at an aged care facility in Frankston South, including the provision of morning and afternoon tea. There were risks to the health and safety of residents in that there were risks of:
- residents being given the wrong food or beverage by Cater Care employees; and/or
- Cater Care's employees not knowing the location of the emergency or call buttons should an emergency occur.
On 11 January 2018 a Cater Care employee provided a resident with a black coffee for afternoon tea in the dining area. The resident was unable to communicate, was mostly immobile and had limited upper body strength. She was served the black coffee in an over bed table service. A couple of minutes later the worker heard a sound, and saw the resident kicking her arms and legs around after the black coffee had spilled onto her upper thigh. The catering assistant went to find assistance. As a result of the incident the resident received a serious burn injury. The resident passed away two weeks later. WorkSafe do not maintain Cater Care's alleged failure resulted in the resident's death.
It is alleged that Cater Care failed to ensure that its employees:
- had sufficient information to perform their tasks correctly; and/or
- were sufficiently inducted at the site they were working at, so they knew where the emergency or call buttons were located in the event of an incident or emergency.
WorkSafe accepted an Enforceable Undertaking in lieu of prosecution.
To find out whether there are any new prosecutions before next week, check WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.