SafetyNet 543

Welcome to the July 29 edition of SafetyNet. 

It is with great sadness that we report that there have been two workplace fatalities since our last edition. The VTHC sends sincerest condolences to the family, friends and work colleagues of the deceased men. 

The number of new infections in Victoria is still concerning, but the good news is that the numbers over the past couple of days have come down. This week we bring you more news from around the state, the country and world. A bit of good news: the VTHC has great masks available for sale - check them out here.  

Make sure you stay informed in between editions of journal 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. 

Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update  

According to the latest figures, there are 15,580 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 2,686 since last week, almost all in Victoria. 176 people have died - 48 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 384 cases reported on Monday, and 295 new infections yesterday - this is from the high of over 500 on Sunday, so hopefully the numbers are coming down. Victoria has had a total of 90 deaths - nine were reported yesterday. (It is unlikely that the latest figures have been added to the overall Australian statistics) 

On Tuesday the Premier announced that in order to free up medical staff to be able to attend private sector aged care facilities, all elective surgery will be cancelled. The system will try to accommodate anyone with surgery already booked, and urgent surgery will continue. There were over 800 active cases linked to private sector aged care. 

Last week the ACTU renewed its call for pandemic leave for all workers - since then Luke Hilakari, Secretary of the VTHC has echoed the demand. This came following the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, linking the state’s surge in coronavirus cases to insecure work meaning that people miss out on pay if they self-isolate. The Victorian government responded quickly by making $300 available to people who could show that by testing and having to remain home until they got their test results they would not be paid their normal wages. 

We need a fair national system - so sign the ACTU's petition 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 16,893,293 - last Wednesday it was 15,093,712, so this is almost 1.8 million more infections - so the rate is still increasing. There have now been 663,465 deaths around the world. Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Victorian tragedy: Two fatalities in 48 hours

WorkSafe Victoria yesterday released news of two workplace fatalities which occurred over the weekend.

The first fatality happened on Friday when a 60-year-old farmer was killed after his tractor rolled on a property at Myrniong, near Bacchus Marsh. It is believed the man was slashing on uneven ground when the incident occurred.

The second was the death of a 34-year-old man who was crushed while working on a tipper truck at his Lilydale home on Sunday. It is believed the man was working on the chassis of the truck with the cargo bin raised when it fell on top of him. According to WorkSafe, these fatalities bring the number of workplace deaths this year to 42, which is two more than at the same time last year. Readers will notice that this number is a big jump from when we reported the two previous fatalities in the May 13 edition of SafetyNet, when the number was 23. This is because WorkSafe is now using the amended definition of a workplace death, which came into effect when the Workplace Manslaughter legislation kicked in on July 1 this year. Source: WorkSafe media release. Read more: Workplace deaths in Victoria almost double under new tally. Sydney Morning Herald; Workplace Manslaughter legislation. 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

Due to COVID-19, our healthcare staff are currently being kept as separate as possible. There is only one 'tea room' in the workplace to share and another space has been allocated as a 'break room' for the staff being 'siloed'. The problem is that this space has no facilities and we are asked to use the 'tea room' for a short a time as possible, to use the microwave, the kettle and so on. Can we get a kettle for the second break room? There is no direct sink access, and the employer is suggesting it is a fire hazard. We would be happy to provide equipment to minimise the risk of fire - for example a fire blanket as there is in the actual tea room.

Why would having a kettle (or even better, setting up an urn and filling it in the morning) be a fire hazard? I would be challenging the employer on this perhaps baseless assertion! If the equipment is not damaged, and has been tested and tagged regularly (when new, it is taken to have been tested), there's no reason why it would be a fire hazard. 

Given that the current situation is going to probably last a while, I would recommend taking a look at what the employer 'needs to provide' to employees (under the Workplace amenities and work environment code of practice - see individual FAQs on this section of the site - the link to the code is on most of them). 

I suggest negotiating what can and should be provided in the new 'break room' so that it 'works' for everyone. It shouldn't be you providing the needed extra equipment, either, the employer has a duty under s21 to provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, adequate facilities.  I recommend that you make a time for a meeting with management, go in with a case: their duties, options, what you want, etc. See Resolution of Issues to see how to go about negotiating and coming up with a solution. If they don't come back with something reasonable, think about taking it further - issuing a PIN for example. 

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

AEU calls for greater flexible learning for schools 

The Australian Education Union (AEU) Victorian branch has called on the Department of Education and Training (DET) to allow a flexible approach for both special schools and year 11 and 12 students in its learning guidelines for schools during term three, and allow schools to make suitable arrangements where necessary to provide high-quality public education as well as meet the needs of staff, students and parents. Those arrangements may include remote learning on set days or for set students.

AEU Victorian branch President Meredith Peace said the DET’s unwillingness to compromise and allow a flexible approach meant some students were missing out and had led to additional stress for principals, teachers and support staff. “We’re seeing drop-offs in attendance rates, particularly in our special schools, and because schools have not been authorised to make local decisions those kids who aren’t physically attending school are getting limited, if any education,” said Ms Peace. 

Some special schools have reported attendance rates of around 50 per cent, with many parents choosing to keep their children at home due to COVID-19 concerns and the high number of infections in Victoria. The AEU has been particularly concerned about special schools because the hands-on nature of the education and care of students makes physical distancing almost impossible, and staff have been frustrated by the lack of PPE and clear guidelines about its use.

“Right now, our special school staff feel they are being neglected and we want to see some action from the department that shows us they will prioritise the health and safety of their employees and students,” said Ms Peace. Read more: AEU media release

Principals want an end to face-to-face teaching in lockdown zones

Yesterday the Australian Principal's Federation (APF), the union for state school principals called on the Andrews government to abandon face-to-face classes for students in years 11 and 12 and in specialist schools and return to remote learning in Victoria's COVID-19 lockdown zones. More than one in 10 Victorian secondary schools were closed on Monday after being linked to a recent coronavirus infection, with most of the affected schools located in Melbourne’s north and west.

In light of the growing number of coronavirus-related closures - 59 by Monday afternoon - the Federation called  for "an immediate return to flexible learning for all students in metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire".  It also criticised DHHS's ''staggeringly poor" management of positive cases in schools, saying some had waited for days for advice on how to handle closures and contact tracing. Read more: The Age

ACTU survey for working from home

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has launched a survey on the impacts people are experiencing whilst working from home during the pandemic, and to gain insights into workers’ attitudes to this becoming a more permanent feature of work into the future.

The results will be used to build a claim for working people in terms of what concerns people have and what protections need to be built into the system if this is to become part of the ‘new normal’. You can fill out the survey here, and please distribute it widely - tell your colleagues, your friends and family about it. 

Aged care staff missing out on training, PPE, pay 

On Monday, the national office of the United Workers Union, which has aged care workers in a number of states (other than Victoria) released the results of a survey of more than 1000 members. It says the survey revealed shocking gaps in coronavirus preparations by aged care providers, and showed that lockdowns and other coronavirus measures had seriously affected aged care workers and the residents they care for, with staff shortages, increased workloads and some residents not seen for days at a stretch. The members surveyed are predominantly from Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia (residential) and NSW (home care).

Results from the survey include: 

 The union said the survey raised structural issues that make stopping coronavirus and keeping aged care staff challenging:


Research

PTSD affects multiple job types, women face "mobbing"

Researchers looking at cases of work-related post-traumatic stress disorder, in what were ‘low-risk’ occupations, have found that women often experience hostile behaviour and even ‘mobbing’ (bullying) when they return to work from maternity or sick leave.

"Mobbing (or bullying) is one of the most formidable psychosocial risk factors found in the workplace," researchers from the University of Pavia's Occupational Medicine Unit in Italy say. "It consists of repeated and prolonged psychological harassment, towards a worker, due to hostile actions usually carried out by a superior (vertical mobbing or bossing) or by a small group of colleagues (horizontal or transversal mobbing), exercised through aggressive, persecuting and detrimental behaviours... capable of provoking damage to individual psychophysical health," they say.

The Italian researchers examined the cases of five people with work-related PTSD who worked in occupations not usually associated with the condition. The article goes into detail examining what happened, and what should have happened. They say, for example, that in the "acute phase" following a traumatic event like a violent physical assault, it is crucial that the individual "regains emotional control, restores interpersonal communication and group identity, recuperates a sense of empowerment through participation in work, and strengthens hope and expectation of recovery". 
Read more: Stefano Candura, et al, Work-related post-traumatic stress disorder: report of five cases. [Abstract -free access – full article can be downloaded free] Industrial Health, online first July 2020, doi: 10.2486/indhealth.2020-0079. Source: OHSAlert


Regulator news

Victorian news

New regulation on notifying positive COVID-19 cases in the workplace

The Victorian government yesterday, July 28, 2020, declared the Occupational Health and Safety (COVID-19 Incident Notification) Regulations 2020 - effective immediately and in place for one year. 

In essence, the new regulation requires employers and self-employed persons, with management or control of a workplace to notify WorkSafe immediately after becoming aware that:

  • an employee, independent contractor, employee of the independent contractor or self-employed person has received a confirmed diagnosis of coronavirus (COVID-19) and;
  • the employee, independent contractor, employee of the independent contractor or self-employed person has attended the workplace within the relevant infection period.

Immediate notification to WorkSafe is to be done on this number: 13 23 60. WorkSafe will then lodge details of the incident and email the employer a link to an online incident notification form. WorkSafe will then advise if an inspector will make a site visit and whether the incident scene can be disturbed before the inspector's attendance.

The online incident notification form must then be completed and lodged within 48 hours - employers will then receive a confirmation email with a copy for their records. Failing to notify WorkSafe under section 38 of the OHS Act can lead to fines of up to $39,652 (240 penalty units) for an individual or $198,264 (1200 penalty units) for a body corporate.

The regulations are already accessible in both word and pdf format on the Victorian Legislation website, here. Read more: WorkSafe media releaseMore information on the WorkSafe website

July edition of Safety Soapbox

The July edition of Safety Soapbox was posted yesterday.  In this edition, the editorial is on scaffolding safety awareness. Earlier this year five employees were injured, two seriously when a scaffold they were working from collapsed. Then in May, a worker at a residential construction site fell from scaffolding to the ground. He suffered severe head injuries and died in hospital two days later.

The edition also reminds employers and workers of the safety issues of working on roofs, and links to WorkSafe guidance.  There is news of interstate activities and incidents, including the death 50-year-old worker in Maningrida, NT who was fatally injured when a chain used in a towing operation failed.  

As always, the Safety Soapbox has the list of incidents reported to WorkSafe: In June the construction industry reported 156 incidents to WorkSafe, 67 per cent of which resulted in injury. 26 incidents involved young workers, and there were two serious near misses. Access the July 2020 edition of Safety Soapbox here  - the summaries of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.

Building regulator on working during COVID-19

The Victorian Building Authority has issued advice to building industry on working during the pandemic and the wearing of masks. The VBA is urging Victorians to take extra precautions when using a builder or plumber to slow down the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Builders, plumbers, and other trades can continue work in private homes and buildings if the owner or tenant is not self-isolating or in quarantine. If the owner or tenant has coronavirus, feels unwell with a fever, or has cold or flu-like symptoms, any non-urgent work should be postponed. An exception exists for any building or plumbing issues – such as blocked or burst pipes, blocked stormwater drains, roof leaks, collapsed balconies, ceilings or walls, faulty heaters, gas leaks, no hot water, and non-functional smoke alarms - that pose a serious risk to health or safety. In these cases, homeowners can call a builder or plumber, but need to inform the tradesperson that they are self-isolating, so the trade can take all necessary safety precautions.

In advice to tradespeople, the VBA says that masks are now compulsory for workers in the building and plumbing industry who live or work in Melbourne or the Mitchell Shire. It clarifies that this means wearing a face covering at all times, including when:

  • travelling to and from sites on public transport or with other people in a vehicle
  • travelling in a personnel hoist or lift
  • working in a confined space
  • operating an item of plant or equipment with another person.

There are exceptions for people affected by a relevant medical condition, such as breathing problems or a severe skin condition on the face, and for those whom wearing a face covering creates a health and safety risk as determined through OH&S guidelines. Read more: VBA news on Face masks; and working during the pandemic [pdf]

Safe Work Australia

National Safety Month theme - Work Health and Safety through COVID-19

On Monday Safe Work Australia launched the theme for this year’s National Safe Work Month: Work Health and Safety through COVID-19. It has also launched a campaign kit.

The national body says that this year’s theme acknowledges and reflects the impacts of COVID-19 on work health and safety. It recognises that every Australian workplace has been affected by the global pandemic and that workplaces have had to adapt their practices and procedures to reduce the WHS risks associated with the disease. This year’s campaign kit resources are digitally focused and include web graphics, social media tiles and document templates which can be customised to appeal to a broad range of organisations and industries. 

Safe Work says that over the coming months, additional resources will be made available on the National Safe Work Month website, including animations and information sheets on COVID-19 work health and safety.

COVID-19 Information for workplaces

A reminder of the 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 not updated its statistics since the last edition of SafetyNet. As of July 16 there had been 95 worker fatalities notified to the national body. 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.


Prosecutions

Austin Health fined after nurse assaulted

Last week Austin Health was fined $30,000 after pleading guilty to breaching section 21 of the OHS Act in failing to alert a nurse that a patient was having paranoid delusions about him, or take steps to redeploy him. The nurse was assaulted by the patient, who used a motorcycle battery in a bag as a weapon.

The Heidelberg Magistrates Court heard that in October 2017, the hospital's Secure Extended Care Unit Ward had a patient with treatment-resistant schizophrenia and a history of psychotically driven violence. He was known to develop delusional beliefs that led to violent behaviour, including becoming fixated on a person he believed was trying to kill him.

A few days before the assault, the patient's daughter contacted Austin Health multiple times to warn that her father believed the nurse was trying to kill him. Although the nurse the patient was then told the patient was experiencing paranoid delusions, he was not told they involved him.

The employer failed to alert the nurse that he was at risk of physical violence, or provide him with the option to leave work or be deployed until the risk abated, in accordance with Austin Health's policies, the Court found. The court fined Austin Health without conviction.  Source: OHSAlert 

Repeat offender Diamond Valley Pork fined $130k after worker's hand crushed

Also last week, meat processing plant operator Diamond Valley Pork Pty Ltd was fined $130,000 (plus $4256 in costs) for breaching sections 21(1) and 21(2)(a) of the OHS Act, after a worker to reach into a machine with inadequate guarding to grab a fallen object, and his hand was crushed in January last year.

The worker was operating the casing machine when a knife fell into its offal chute, which had a pneumatic ram that pushed waste into a disposal area. The worker's hand became entrapped and seriously injured.

In January 2014, the company had identified the risk of workers sustaining crushing, entanglement, entrapment or shearing injuries accessing the area near the ram, and installed a guard.  However, the guard was inadequate and did not prevent workers from accessing the danger area. Within one day of the incident, the employer was able to create a different guard that eliminated this risk by preventing access, the Werribee Magistrates’ Court heard.

Diamond Valley, which pleaded guilty and was convicted, has previously been fined a total of $145,000 over two incidents where workers' fingers were crushed by moving machine parts.  Source: OHSAlert

Hire company in Victoria fined $85K over worker’s death

United Access Pty Ltd, a hire company, was last week convicted and fined $85,000 in the Melbourne County Court following the August 2017 death of a worker who was thrown from a mobile elevated work platform (EWP).

The man was loading an EWP onto a truck when a passing vehicle made contact with the EWP’s bucket. He was ejected from the bucket and suffered serious head injuries. He died later in hospital.

WorkSafe Victoria alleged the company failed to have a written system of work that required, as a default position, that loading and unloading of EWPs occurred within the premises or, where this was not reasonably practicable, a system of work that allowed safe loading or unloading in front of the site. The company also failed to have a written system of work defining what additional precautions were needed when loading or unloading occurred on the road or communicate the system of work to truck drivers who attended the site.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said the death was a tragic reminder of the importance of having safe systems of work in place and communicating them with both employees and contractors who enter work sites. “It is critical that employers outline to workers the work that needs to be done, the potential risks involved, and identify how the risks must be controlled,” said Ms. Nielsen. “Not doing so means workers are exposed to extreme danger and employers can face enormous consequences."

While a successful prosecution of an employer who has so clearly failed in providing workers with a safe and healthy working environment is positive, $85,000 for the preventable death of a worker seems tragically inadequate. The VTHC hopes that following the introduction of the Workplace Manslaughter legislation, there will be higher fines, and even jail sentences for employers who flout the law.  Read more: WorkSafe media release 

To find out whether there are any new prosecutions before next week, check WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.


International News

Global: Stop sending toxic chemicals to poor nations – UN expert

The practice of wealthy states exporting their banned toxic chemicals to poorer nations lacking the capacity to control the risks is deplorable and must end, a United Nations expert has said. The comments by the UN special rapporteur on toxics, Baskut Tuncak, were endorsed by 35 other experts from the Human Rights Council.

Last year, at least 30 states exported hazardous substances that had been banned locally because of health and environmental reasons to Latin America, Africa and Asia. Tuncak said that wealthier nations often create double standards that allow the trade and use of prohibited substances in parts of the world where regulations are less stringent, externalising the health and environmental impacts on the most vulnerable. The ‘racialised nature’ of these standards cannot be ignored, he said, as the dangers are externalised to communities of African descent and other people of colour – a grave concern he said also exists internally in exporting countries with respect to the siting of polluting industries and dumping of hazardous waste. “In nearly every case there is no legitimate public interest justification,” Tuncak said. “These loopholes are a political concession to industry, allowing their chemical manufacturers to profit from inevitably poisoned workers and communities abroad, all the while importing cheaper products through global supply chains and fuelling unsustainable consumption and production patterns. It is long-overdue that states stop this exploitation.”

In reports from Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom, the special rapporteur highlighted dangers posed by the export of toxic chemicals. “States exporting banned chemicals without a strong public interest justification are in violation of their extraterritorial obligations under international human rights law, including their obligations relating to a healthy environment and safe and healthy working conditions,” Tuncak said. “Failing to address this longstanding exploitation is discrimination, pure and simple.”  Read more: OHCHR news release. Source: Risks 957


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