Although schools are following advice to reduce the risk of transmission, such as implementing temperature checks and wearing of masks, many VCE teachers and specialist schools have raised concerns about being ordered back to face-to-face learning, with more than a dozen schools reporting COVID-19 cases since term three resumed on July 13. At least 12 schools have been shut down for cleaning as health authorities continue to investigate close contacts and sources of infection. Sources: The Age; nine.com.au
Welcome to the July 22 edition of SafetyNet - from a locked down and masked up Melbourne.
As the numbers of new infections in Victoria continue to increase, the restrictions in the greater Melbourne and Mitchell Shire have been extended, with the government announcing that anyone over the age of 12 leaving home for any of the four permitted reasons must wear a face covering after midnight tonight. This has implications for workers, particularly as it appears that 80 per cent of the new infections can now be traced to people working closely together.
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
According to the latest figures, there are 12,894 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 2,014 since last week, almost all in Victoria. 128 people have died - seventeen 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. There were 484 new infections yesterday - the highest number so far. (It is unlikely that yesterday's figures have been added to the overall Australian statistics)
Since the last edition of SafetyNet, new restrictions have been implemented due to the number of new infections not reducing as much as the government would have liked. Notably, the wearing of masks is now mandatory for anyone over the age of 12 leaving the home for any of the four permitted reasons.
The Premier noted that recently there has been a decrease in the number of cases being spread between families, and the majority of outbreaks are now coming from settings where people are working closely together. The Premier announced that to address this increase, an inspection and enforcement blitz will be carried out in workplaces across the state. WorkSafe, Emergency Management Victoria and Victoria Police will focus on at-risk workplaces, including distribution centres, call centres and meat processing centres. We await details on what the blitz will involve. Read more: Premier's media release
An alarming new analysis conducted by the Victorian government shows nearly nine out of 10 residents did not self-isolate upon experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The detailed analysis measured 3810 cases between July 7 and 21. "I'm very unhappy and very sad to have to report that nearly nine in 10 - or 3400 cases - did not isolate between when they first felt sick and when they went to get a test," Mr Andrews said today. Further, it appears that almost half of those who get a test are not staying home in the period between getting tested and receiving results - going to work, going shopping and so on.
The fact that many people are being infected through or at their workplaces highlights why the ACTU's call for pandemic leave for all workers is crucial. Currently, it is not straightforward for a worker to claim workers compensation if they contract coronavirus at work, either from other workers or their clients/patients/customers. If a worker has to go into isolation because he or she has come into contact with someone who has tested positive, then they have to use their own leave or, if they don't have any, can apply for the special one-off $1500 the Victorian government has made available. The ACTU's petition to the government for the paid pandemic leave has now reached over 115,000 signatures. Sign it now and send it around to all your contacts/post it on your social media.
The international situation keeps worsening: the number of people infected is now at 15,093,712 - last Wednesday it was 13,457,458, so this is over 1.3 million more infections - so the rate is still increasing. There have now been 619,467 deaths around the world, with the USA still being the worst affected country. However there is news that the official figures in India are very much fewer than the actual figures, and that India may be worse than the USA. Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.
Advice to teachers and students
As reported in last week's SafetyNet, most students in Victorian schools in areas under Stage 3 ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions returned to flexible and remote learning at the start of Term 3, limiting the number of people moving across our state to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
On Monday, the government announced that schools in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire would be one of the first priority areas to receive reusable face masks in coming weeks. All students aged 12 and over and staff who are attending school in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire will be required to wear a face covering or mask when at school from Thursday, 23 July. Masks will not be mandatory for teachers while they are teaching students but should be worn at other times. Specialist schools and primary schools are exempt from this rule.
The Premier, Daniel Andrews, said “We have over a million Victorian-made masks on the way and we will take steps to ensure every student has access to a face covering if they’re learning onsite.” Read more: Victorian government media release
Meatworks and abattoirs
There have been many new clusters of coronavirus in Victoria, not least in meatworks and abattoirs. The Victorian branch of the meat industry union, the AMIEU, says significant numbers of meat workers have now been diagnosed as having COVID-19. Cedar Meats was the first abattoir in Victoria - it was closed for some weeks but is now operating again. Next came Pacific Meats, then Somerville Retail Services (SRS), followed by JBS Brooklyn - these have all closed (although Pacific Meats may have re-opened). A number of regional meat processing plants have also closed after an inspector tested positive for coronavirus over the weekend. Australian Lamb Colac (ALC) announced that some workers tested positive and so it closed, and Midfield Meats has closed as a precautionary measure. The union is providing ongoing advice to members, so check their website. Read more: COVID-19 and Abattoirs, Workers Solidarity Bulletin, AMIEU website.
How do the new rules on wearing masks in Victoria affect me as a worker?
Both the announcement that the wearing of masks in Victoria's lockdown areas is now mandatory when outside the house AND the fact that now most of the infections are occurring in the workplace, the VTHC has amended our information page on masks, developed in consultation with our affiliates. The page provides advice on when to wear masks, who should provide them, and what employers should do about people coming into the workplace.
Note that as advice changes, so too will our page. WorkSafe Victoria, in consultation with employer groups and unions, is currently developing guidance on this issue also. See: COVID-19 and face masks
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
July 23, 3pm: APHEDA Campaigning in a Global Crisis Webinar
Join Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA and leaders and activists from Australia, Indonesia and India tomorrow to hear on-the-ground updates from the campaign to ban asbestos.
COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work and travel, but the campaigns to ban asbestos not only continue, but have a new urgency. Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA has started a campaign to move Multilateral Development Banks to make sure no COVID-19 health funding or economic stimulus funding is used to buy asbestos products and support that toxic industry. Sign the petition now!
The speakers are from the unions, organisations, and networks who are part of the global struggle to ban asbestos everywhere will provide information on what’s happening and what we can each do to support the campaign.
- Liam O’Brien – Assistant Secretary Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)
- Darisman – Coordinator of Indonesia’s Ban Asbestos Network (INA-BAN)
- Pooja Gupta – Coordinator of the India Ban Asbestos Network (IBAN)
Registration is essential!
Geelong: asbestos at footy oval
Removal of asbestos-containing material found during redevelopment in a soil mound at the southern end at West Oval, in North Geelong, has begun. “The asbestos-containing material is old building material that was buried in the soil mounds,” City of Greater Geelong city services director Guy Wilson-Browne said. Nearby residents were informed of the find on July 10. Other material was removed from the northern end of the oval last month over a two-week period. “Additional asbestos was later found in the soil mounds at the southern ends,” Mr Wilson-Browne said. Removal by a licensed removalist began on July 13, and is expected to take about three weeks. The council had put strict safety measures in place, including dust suppression, to ensure there was no risk to nearby residents. “The playground at the southwest corner of the precinct will be closed during the works,” he said. “Air-monitoring units will also be installed to capture air samples and detect any fibre movements in real time, and the city will work with WorkSafe to ensure the removal is undertaken safely.” management was in place. “Air monitoring is in place,” Mr Wilson-Browne said. Source: The Geelong Advertiser
Lara: final stage of huge asbestos clean up begins
The final stage of works to remove the remaining illegally dumped waste at a property in Lara has begun. Approximately 290,000 cubic metres of material remains on the Broderick Road site, spread across four main stockpiles.
More than 50,000 cubic metres of timber and asbestos-contaminated soil was removed from the site from September last year to this April. EPA Broderick Road Clean Up Project Manager Carl Gray said between now and September the EPA plans to have a further 30,000 cubic metres of pre-sorted materials removed from the two smaller stockpiles. Work is also under way on the larger stockpiles; during July and August about 25,000 cubic metres of rock, brick, concrete and soil will be sorted and removed from one, and from September, works will focus on removal of the remainder of both larger stockpiles.
Read more: Mirage news
Reminder: 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 today, 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)
International Union news
Global: International: WHO shouldn’t gamble with workers’ health
Health service workers could have been exposed to deadly COVID-19 risks because the World Health Organisation (WHO) refused to give their safety the benefit of the doubt, a global union has said. Public Service International (PSI) said WHO’s belated decision this month to update its much-criticised 9 March scientific brief on modes of transmission of coronavirus “would entail the use of personal protective equipment, including respirators in preference to medical masks.”
Unions have argued from the start of the pandemic that health care workers should have been provided respirators rather than the less protective masks recommended in WHO’s infection prevention and control (IPC) guidelines for most health care work. Use of the higher level of protection would be in line with the precautionary principle, PSI said. It added “putting the unacceptably high rate of infection among healthcare workers in perspective, we are strongly of the view that a precautionary approach should be palpable in WHO’s IPC guideline.”
Instead, in a 5 June recommendation on masks, WHO admitted its guidance – followed by many governments – was tailored to fit the “availability of medical masks versus respirators, cost and procurement implications, feasibility, equity of access to these respiratory protections by health workers around the world”. PSI said this approach has allowed “corporations’ wealth to be prioritised over people’s health.” It concluded “with mounting evidence that its transmission could be airborne [SafetyNet 540], many lives – particularly of health workers – could be saved if the precautionary principle is applied. With its global norm setting role, we urge WHO to take steps in this direction. PSI and its affiliates will also campaign for national bodies to take measures that better safeguard the lives of our members and the public at large.”
Read more: PSI news report. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: implications for infection prevention precautions, 9 July 2020 update, WHO. Source: Risks 956
Research on when workers should be wearing masks
Researchers from the UK's Institute of Occupational Medicine, say the current advice and knowledge around COVID-19 make it "difficult to decide when to advise workers to just wash their hands and social distance and when to use more stringent, in particular respiratory controls".
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), aerosol transmission in the healthcare sector is only possible during "a narrow range of aerosol-generating medical procedures", but this has been disputed by unions. They point out in an editorial in the latest issue of journal Occupational Medicine that several studies have identified aerosol concentrations of COVID-19 in a range of areas in and around hospitals, and found the aerosol "may remain infective for a period of hours".
According to the researchers, until an effective COVID-19 "control at source" is available, a special hierarchy of inhalation exposure control measures can assist in reducing transmission risks.
The hierarchy involves: providing public-facing workers like bus drivers and supermarket employees with a barrier screen or visor and a surgical mask; providing care workers where coronavirus-infected patients might be present with a visor and a disposable filtering facepiece respirator; and providing care workers in the vicinity of aerosol-generating procedures with, preferably, a reusable powered air-purifying respirator, or, at a minimum, a visor and filtering facepiece respirator.
However, they stress, personal protective equipment should never be a prime control measure because its protective value hinges on workers using it correctly. This is totally consistent with the union position (see our information COVID-19 and masks)
The UK Health and Safety Executive has previously warned that PPE can't be over-relied on because its effectiveness depends on it: being selected to fit each individual and correctly fitted whenever it is worn; remaining properly fitted throughout the relevant work task; and being properly stored, checked and maintained.
Read more: John W Cherrie, et al, Protecting healthcare workers from inhaled SARS-CoV-2 virus. Occupational Medicine, Volume 70, Issue 5, July 2020. Source: OHSAlert
Safe Work Australia
COVID-19 Information for workplaces
There is a lot of information for workplaces on the SWA website - for specific industries, case studies, how to do risk assessments, and much more. Check it here.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work has updated its statistics. As of July 16 there had been 95 worker fatalities notified to the national body - this is an increase of four since the previous update on July 2. Tragically, all four workers who were killed came from the Transport, postal and warehousing sector. We send our sincerest condolences to the families and friends of these workers. The fatalities this year have been in the following sectors:
- 32 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.
Victoria: Large food manufacturer enters into $1m Enforceable Undertaking
George Weston Foods Limited (GWF), a large scale food manufacturer, produces Don and KR Castlemaine smallgoods and smoked meats at its workplace in Castlemaine. The workplace had a Sealed Air Cryovac BL75 bagger (Cryovac), used to seal products in shrink-wrap. It was approximately 4 metres long, 1.8 metres high and 800 millimetres wide, and weighed approximately 1400kg.
On the weekend of 3-4 June 2017, the Cryovac was removed from the processing area and placed on the concrete area outside the P7 maintenance building. A job-safety analysis (JSA) and work-permit arrangement had been undertaken to transport the Cryovac out of the processing area, but did not include the task of moving the Cryovac into the P7 shed.
On Tuesday 6 June 2017, steel skates were placed onto each end of the Cryovac and used by GWF employees to move the heavy machine around. The machine was to be pushed 10 to 15 metres before turning it towards a roller door and up a ramp, where it tipped over and fell on the worker. He suffered serious injuries as result, including injuries to his neck, back, lungs, skull, brain, eye and shoulder.
WorkSafe accepted an Enforceable Undertaking, in lieu of prosecution, lasting 24 months with a total cost to GWF of $1,000,000.
To find out whether there are any new prosecutions before next week, check WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Queensland: Dreamworld owner charged over four fatalities
Dreamworld theme park owner Ardent Leisure Ltd has been charged with three category-2 breaches of its WHS duty to "other persons", after the park's 30-year failure to identify and control risks on its Thunder River Rapids Ride (TRRR) resulted in the October 2016 deaths of four patrons. Even though this tragedy was one of the two which led to Queensland including industrial manslaughter provisions in its WHS Act, no individual involved has been prosecuted. The independent Work Health and Safety prosecutor, Aaron Guilfoyle, said he does not intend to lay any further charges. This follows Queensland Police having last year recommended that no Dreamworld employees should face criminal charges.
The three charges relate to Ardent's alleged failure to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of persons other than workers was not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of its business by:
- providing and maintaining safe plant and structures;
- providing and maintaining safety systems of work; and
- providing the information, training, instruction and supervision that was necessary to protect all persons from safety risks arising from the Dreamworld undertaking.
Ardent could be fined a total of up to $4.5 million, with each charge carrying a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.
Patrons Kate Louise Goodchild, 32, her brother Luke Johnathan Dorsett, 35, Dorsett's partner Roozbeh Araghi, 38, and Cindy Toni Low, 42, were travelling in a raft on the TRRR watercourse ride when it collided with an unoccupied stranded raft and got pulled vertically into a conveyor mechanism. They all died from severe internal and external crush injures.
In the coronial inquiry held in February this year, the coroner, James McDougal concluded that the theme park relied on "frighteningly unsophisticated" safety systems and failed to learn from previous potentially serious incidents on the TRRR. The ride, which was one of the park’s most popular, had not had a proper risk assessment in its 30 years of operation.
The company issued a statement yesterday morning, in which it informed the ASX of the three charges and expressed its "deepest sympathies" to the families of the killed patrons. "There has been considerable change at Dreamworld over the last few years as was acknowledged by the Coroner in his report," the company claimed, adding "Dreamworld has taken substantive and proactive steps to improve safety across the entire park and continues to enhance existing systems and practices, as well as adopt new ones, as we develop and implement our safety case in accordance with the Queensland Government's new major amusement park safety regulations."
The reality is that the company demonstrated no commitment to the health and safety of staff or patrons, and it took the tragic death of four people for it to take actions it should have to comply with its duties under the law.
Sources: OHSAlert; SafetyAtWork blog; Australasian Leisure Management