SafetyNet 544

Welcome to the August 5 edition of SafetyNet - from Melbourne, in week 1 of a six-week Stage 4 lock-down.

On the weekend and earlier this week, the government announced further restrictions which have implications for all Victorians, metropolitan and non-metropolitan, workers, parents, teachers.. everyone. See below for details. The number of new cases in Victoria announced today is high: 725.

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) - Further Victorian restrictions and update  

Metropolitan Melbourne is now in Stage 4 restrictions, and the rest of Victoria is now under Stage 3 restrictions. This means everyone in the state can only leave home for one of the four permitted reasons and must wear a mask or face covering when leaving the home - including at work. Stage 4 restrictions are more severe both for the general public and for workplaces. Many businesses will now be closed, meaning more workers will be working from home. Employers/businesses which are 'essential' and will remain open have specific measures they must take, such as a COVIDSafe plan and Worker Permits.  For updates go to this page: COVID 19 Victorian situation

According to the latest official figures, there are 18,728 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 3,148 since last week, almost all in Victoria. 232 people have died - 56 more than last week.  These figures do not include today's Victorian update announced just after midday by the Premier: there have been 725 new cases diagnosed since yesterday and 15 more fatalities - one of whom was a man in his 30's. While these numbers are demoralising, it is hoped that Stage 4 restrictions will show results soon. 

The ACTU is still calling for pandemic leave for all workers - while there have been some payments, equivalent to pandemic leave, made available to Victorians - announced by the Federal government, but paid for by the state government, there are still many workers who are missing out. 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 ACTU's has also set up a page to email your MP to demand Paid Pandemic Leave. 

The international situation keeps worsening: the number of people infected is now at  18,683,573 - last Wednesday it was 16,893,293, this is over 1.8 million more infections. There have now been 703,135 deaths around the world. 
Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Melbourne workers concerned about COVID-19 threatened by employer

About 35 workers at the Dandenong Spotless Laundry, owned by Ensign Services, did not show up to work last Wednesday after two people from the workplace tested positive to coronavirus in less than a week. Since then a third has been diagnosed. The United Workers Union (UWU) said the staff took this action because they were afraid the employer was not handling the COVID-19 outbreak properly. The workers’ actions led Spotless to file an application with the Fair Work Commission compelling the staff to return to work. The hearing on Wednesday afternoon was adjourned to Thursday morning, but in the meantime, the company dropped its case - no doubt realising it was being draconian.  

In a statement, UWU executive director Godfrey Moase said the withdrawal of the action did not resolve workers' concerns and the union wanted to see pandemic leave offered to the workers. "Low-wage migrant workers have done the right thing by taking a stand for the safety of themselves, their families and the entire community," he said. "The question now is who pays. Time and time again, corporations shift their responsibilities to stop the spread onto low-wage migrant workers; many of whom don't qualify for JobKeeper or JobSeeker." 
Read more: Spotless takes staff to Fair Work Commission for refusing to come to work after coronavirus outbreak and Melbourne company withdraws its Fair Work case against staff over coronavirus outbreak. ABCNews online 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

I'm working in an 'essential industry' and I just want to know if the conditions that we have to work in are OK. This is a typical shift at a site staff are sent to: 12.25 hours shift; no toilet; no washing facilities; sitting in a delivery van for the entire shift; no breaks; no facilities to eat or drink. 

:-0  No, what you describe is totally not OK!! Your employer is not complying with their general duty of care under the OHS Act. If you are working as a contractor at another employer's worksite, then that employer has duties to you as if you were their employer - see this page for what the employer's duty of care is. 

Specifically the duty of care is being breached in these ways:
  1. Your employer is not providing a 'system of work' that is safe and without risks to health. The length of shift, 12.25 hours, is far too long to work without a scheduled, as well as some 'unscheduled' breaks - see this page on Breaks which explains why the employer must provide breaks. However, EXACTLY what these must be will be in your EBA - you will need to contact your union about this.
  2. Facilities and amenities: the employer must provide adequate facilities for the welfare of employees. If you are at another employer's site, then your employer and the other employer need to work together to ensure that you and other employees have access to adequate facilities. While the Act doesn't give details, the Workplace Amenities and Work Environment Compliance Code sets out what employers need to do.  This includes: Toilets, Dining facilities, Drinking water, Change rooms and other facilities, and First aid.
You need to get on to your union organiser as soon as possible. Do you have an elected HSR at your workplace? This situation is totally unacceptable!

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

Schools: most Victorian students now 'remote learning'  

Last week we reported the concerns of the Australian Education Union (AEU) and its members with how schools were operating under a mix of remote and face-to-face teaching in Melbourne/Mitchell Shire during the Stage 3 lockdown period. The government listened to the concerns - and the campaign - as is clear from the new arrangements. 

The majority of school staff will be required by the Department of Education and Training to work from home from today with a small number of staff members attending on-site to supervise vulnerable students and children of essential workers in the remote learning program.  Since the weekend, the AEU has been raising a range of issues with DET and the government on behalf of members, including:

  • additional planning time/pupil free days for all schools in rural and regional Victoria, for special schools, and for VCE/VCAL teachers in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, to support the transition to remote and flexible programs
  • arrangements for special school staff attendance and work in regional and rural areas
  • clarity on the list of essential workers whose children are permitted to attend school if there are no other care arrangements available
  • a process to identify staff needed on-site to supervise students who must attend schools
  • who is considered a vulnerable staff member and who cannot be required to work on-site
  • VCE and VCAL, including practical subject program and SAC arrangements
  • arrangements for school staff to be able to have their school-aged children attend school on-site if necessary (as well as arrangements for childcare or preschool for children who are not of school age) 

ACTU survey for working from home

A reminder to fill out the ACTU's 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. 

August 14: ANMF Conference on Psychological Hazards in Healthcare

Another reminder: The ANMF (Vic branch) is organising a half day online conference in a couple of weeks. The union says: “Whether you’re a nurse, midwife or personal care worker, the online 2020 Psychological Hazards in Healthcare Conference will provide you with information and skills to recognise, report and manage psychological hazards.”

Psychological hazards such as bullying and harassment are just as damaging to healthcare workers as physical hazards associated with lifting and moving patients. Hazards such as excessive workload and occupational violence and aggression can place pressure on the psychological health of nurses, midwives and personal care workers.

Conference presenters including Dr Kate Blackwood, of New Zealand’s Massey University, will present evidence-based frameworks to build healthier workplaces.

Find out more here and register now for the 2020 Psychological Hazards in Healthcare Conference, to be held online from 9 am to 1 pm on 14 August.

Asbestos news  

NSW: EPA fines council

Public, staff and contractors were exposed to asbestos for almost two weeks because Narrabri Shire Council (NSC) failed to notify the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) about an incident at the landfill. The EPA has fined the council $35,000 and ordered it to pay the EPA’s legal and investigation costs after it crushed a stockpile of asbestos contaminated material and used it to build roads at the landfill.

The EPA also ordered the council to publish a notice of conviction in the newspaper. The statement, drafted by lawyers, reads: "The council became aware of the pollution incident on November 1, 2018, but did not notify the EPA or implement its pollution incident management plan until November 13, 2018. As a result of the offences, members of the public and council staff and contractors at the Narrabri Landfill were exposed to the risk of asbestos for a period of 13 days in November 2018." Source: The Northern Daily Leader

Sydney: Businessman, council investigator 

Corrupt businessman, Nosir Kabite, 50, who bribed council investigator and former NRL player, Craig Izzard, 56, to turn a blind eye to illegal dumping of waste and asbestos in Sydney’s northwest has narrowly avoided being sent to prison. He paid bribes of thousands of dollars during 2015 and 2016 to help him illegally dump waste. 

Izzard was employed by Penrith City Council at the time of the offences and was working as a regional illegal dumping squad (RIDS) officer in western Sydney. The Independent Commission Against Corruption found Izzard corrupt in 2017 and both men were later charged with criminal offences. Izzard was sentenced in April and Kabite was sentenced late last month in the NSW District Court including for agent corruptly solicit benefit (between $5000 and $15,000) and corruptly give or offer to other benefit (between $5000 and $15,000). Source: The Daily Telegraph

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

International Union news

England: Earlier lockdown would have saved bus driver lives

Imposing an earlier lockdown in England would have saved workers’ lives, according to a report into the high death rate of London bus drivers in the pandemic by a leading expert on health and social inequalities. Male London bus drivers aged 20 to 65 were 3.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 between March and May than men in other occupations across England and Wales, said Sir Michael Marmot of the Institute of Health Equity (IHE). The report was commissioned by Transport for London amid major concerns over the deaths of bus drivers in the capital.

“Driving a bus, coach or taxi is among the frontline occupations associated with increased risk of death from COVID-19. Because London was an early centre of the pandemic, it is likely that the increased risk among London bus drivers is associated with exposure,” said Prof Marmot. “Our review explicitly suggests that lockdown was the main factor that saved bus drivers’ lives. If lockdown had occurred earlier, it would likely have saved more lives. For those with high blood pressure, exposure to COVID-19 is particularly hazardous, disproportionately affecting drivers of ethnic minority backgrounds. In addition to reducing exposure to the virus, all drivers should therefore be screened for health risk, with those most vulnerable to dying from the virus receiving the most benefit.”

The report noted that heart disease has been known to be an occupational hazard to bus driver since the 1950s. Ten bus companies were working for TFL at the start of the pandemic, employing about 30,000 people, of whom 34 reportedly died with COVID-19. Of those, at least 29 were among the 25,000 bus drivers. The report found there may have been two more, one of whom went off sick in February, while the other died in June. The findings are not limited to London. Looking at excess mortality for England and Wales over the period from March to May, it was higher everywhere for bus and coach drivers than other occupations.

Several unions responded to the report. Transport union RMT senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This report is an indictment of the government’s sluggish and irresponsible initial responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the timing of actions by most companies was similar, the majority of actions were probably initiated after most of the drivers who died had become infected. Bus companies need to be more proactive in understanding existing health conditions of bus drivers, supporting better health and identifying those most at risk of Covid-19 mortality.” Unite's regional officer John Murphy said: “This report makes it quite clear that in its approach to lockdown the government tried to lock the stable door after the horse had bolted. London bus drivers and their families paid a terrible price for the government’s mistakes during the pandemic and these should be fully scrutinised in a public inquiry.”
Read more: Institute of Health Equity (IHE) news release. London Bus Drivers Review, IHE, 2020. TfL statement. RMT news releaseUnite news release. Source: Risks 958


Research

IARC: Night shift work and cancer - not just breast cancer!

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has made the IARC Monograph Volume 124: Night Shift Work available online. This volume comprises a single monograph on night shift work. 

Night shift work was defined as work during the usual sleeping hours of the general population, and included transmeridian air travel. Disruption of normal physiological circadian rhythms is the most marked effect of night shift work. In health-care, manufacturing, transport, retail, and services sectors, night shift work is essential for ensuring that production and activities can continue 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

The IARC Monographs Working Group classified night shift work as “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A), on the basis of limited evidence of cancer in humans (for cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, and rectum), sufficient evidence of cancer in experimental animals, and strong mechanistic evidence in experimental animals. The emphasis in the past has been on night shift work and breast cancer, so the expansion to cancers of the prostate, colon and rectum is new. 
The monograph can be downloaded in pdf format from this page on the IARC website.

Bad managers breed unsafe behaviours

Managers who fail to display confidence or are condescending toward staff when dealing with safety issues, are major barriers to encouraging safe behaviour at work, a joint Australian and Iranian study has found. The researchers explored workers’, supervisors’ and safety managers’ attitudes and perceptions of safety in a petrochemical company in Iran, in order to identify the factors that discourage safe work behaviours. The researchers’ motivation was the hazardous nature of the petrochemical industry,  in part because of the inherently dangerous nature of the work conducted, and the significant financial and social losses due to incidents. According to the researchers, the most common immediate cause of incidents and injuries is “unsafe worker behaviour”.  

They conducted individual face-to-face and semi-structured interviews with twenty participants to gain an in-depth understanding of factors acting as barriers to safe behaviour. The participants reported managers lacking confidence when dealing with safety hazards or issues, and safety officers lacking authority and experience, the researchers from Tarbiat Modares University and the University of Sydney say. Poor safety directions and monitoring inhibited safe behaviours, they found.

The main themes the researchers identified were: (i) poor direct safety management and supervision; (ii) unsafe workplace conditions; (iii) workers’ perceptions, skills and training; and (iv) broader organisational factors.
Read more: Azita Zahiri Harsini, et al: Factors associated with unsafe work behaviours in an Iranian petrochemical company: perspectives of workers, supervisors, and safety managers [Full article] BMC Public Health, published online July 2020, doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-09286-0. Source: OHSAlert

Editor's Note: The premise that "unsafe worker behaviour" is the cause of incidents is, in the view of many experts, and the union movement, extremely superficial. Factors such as those identified here, but also training, experience, supervision, equipment and maintenance and more contribute to how workers are able to do their work. 


Regulator news

Victorian news

New strategy for health care workplaces

Improving health and safety outcomes for health care and social assistance workers is the focus of a new WorkSafe strategy for the state’s fastest growing industry. The sector employs more Victorians than any other, accounting for almost 15 per cent of the state's workforce, with most of those workers in frontline roles.

According to the safety regulator, the industry is also among the state's most dangerous, accounting for the most claims for workplace injuries in both 2018 and 2019, and recording six workplace fatalities in the past six years. WorkSafe says its Health Care and Social Assistance (HCSA) Industry Strategy 2020-23 aims to drive industry wide cultural change to make workplaces healthier and safer, reduce injuries and illness, and improve support for injured workers. The strategy will specifically focus on the high risk sectors, hospital, residential care and home-based care, and the issues causing the most harm, hazardous manual handling, fatigue and occupational violence and aggression.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said WorkSafe and industry stakeholders had worked collaboratively to develop the strategy which puts the health, safety and wellbeing of workers on par with the protection and care of patients and clients. Read more: WorkSafe media release

WorkSafe urges farmers to 'take a break'

The regulator last week sent out emails regarding the need for farmers and farm workers to prioritise taking breaks through the day, pointing out that while this can be hard on farms, breaks might be good for the farm’s bottom line. WorkSafe says breaks help reduce fatigue, meaning improved reaction times and memory.

The regulator is asking farmers to commit to taking regular well-deserved breaks, and are offering a safe-tea break pack to assist. The pack includes:

  • a thermos
  • box of Yarra Valley Tea
  • cooler bag
  • bag tag
  • a fridge magnet and pen to communicate your breaks and working location with family or friends. 

WorkSafe asks that once the pack has been received, the farmer sends a photo or short video of themselves enjoying a well-deserved break - and go in the draw to win a years’ supply of Yarra Valley Tea.  Order the pack here. For more tips to avoid fatigue on the farm, visit this WorkSafe webpage.

Reminder: employers must notify WorkSafe of any positive COVID-19 cases in the workplace

As of July 28, 2020, employers and self-employed persons must 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, email the employer a link to an online incident notification form,and advise whether an inspector will attend, 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

Safe Work Australia

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

Safe Work Australia has launched the theme for this year’s National Safe Work Month: Work Health and Safety through COVID-19. It 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 updated its statistics since the last edition of SafetyNet. As of July 30 there had been 100 worker fatalities notified to the national body - this is five more than the previous update. The fatalities this year have been in the following sectors:

  • 33 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 19 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 16 in Construction
  • 11 in Public administration & safety
  • 9 in Manufacturing 
  • 5 in Mining
  • 2 in 'other services' 
  • 1 in Arts & recreation services
  • 1 in Accommodation & food services
  • 1 in Retail trade
  • 1 in Administrative & support services
  • 1 in Electrical, gas, water, & waste services

To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.


Prosecutions

Company convicted, fined $850,000 following death of sub-contractor

Residential construction company, Seascape Constructions Pty Ltd, was last week convicted and fined $850,000 in the Melbourne County Court after a worker fell to his death on a building site in Melbourne’s north. The carpenter was killed in 2017 at a two-storey house under construction in Kalkallo.

Seascape Constructions pleaded guilty to a single charge of failing to ensure that persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety by failing to prepare and conduct work in accordance with a safe work method statement (SWMS). Seascape engaged the carpenter and a handyman via the website Gumtree to work at the site, including to lay flooring. 

The carpenter was lowering a compressed air nail gun by its air hose when he fell from an unprotected edge, landing on a concrete slab about 3.1 metres below. The 68-year-old died of head injuries at the scene.

The court heard the workers were not provided with a SWMS before commencing the high risk construction work or while performing the work and that no safety procedures or safe working methods were discussed.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said it was vital that all workers are appropriately trained, equipped and supervised to do their jobs safely. "Falls from height are a well-recognised safety hazard and are among the biggest killers of Victorian workers," Ms Nielsen said. "This death is a tragic reminder that WorkSafe will not hesitate to prosecute any employer who fails to do all they can to protect their workers' health and safety." 
Source: WorkSafe media release

Company fined after electric shock

In a typically complex contracting situation at a domestic construction site in Clayton South:

  • MAK Construction and Design Pty Ltd (MAK) was the principal contractor
  • MAK engaged Harbour Concreting Services (Harbour) to provide concreting services
  • Harbour engaged Primo Concrete Pumping Pty Ltd (Primo) to pump concrete
  • Primo subcontracted the concrete pumping task to G & I Developments Pty Ltd (G&I)

On 19 February 2018 a G&I employee attended the workplace with a 32 metre Volvo concrete boom and boom pump (the plant), registered to G&I. The G&I employee immediately saw it was too large and that he would not be able to safely operate it in the space available, given the proximity of overhead power lines and the location of a tree. He called Primo who instructed him to stop the pour whilst a smaller pump was sourced. Ultimately the smaller pump was cancelled by a Harbour employee, who assisted in manoeuvring the plant between the tree and the overhead powerlines to enable the pour to occur.

Whilst being packed up by the G&I employee, the plant made contact with overhead powerlines and injured an employee of Harbour, who was using the hose from the plant to clean tools. He received an electric shock and was taken to hospital by ambulance, but released a short time later. He did not suffer any permanent physical injury. Inspectors attended the workplace post incident and two Improvement Notices were issued, both of which were later complied.

G&I pleaded guilty to one charge under s21(1) of the OHS Act, of failing to ensure a safe work method statement (SWMS) was prepared before high risk construction work was performed, and that such work was performed in accordance with the statement. Two further charges relating to plant exposed to electrical hazards and risks to other persons were withdrawn. The company was without conviction fined $30,000, plus costs of $4,248.

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


International News

Lebanon: huge chemicals explosion at Beirut port

There have been two huge explosions in Beirut at about 6pm local time, killing at least 78 people, including one Australian, and injured at least four thousand more. The blast, which had the force of an earthquake, has caused an enormous wave across the city and shattered windows, knocked down doors and shook buildings. While peoples' first thoughts were that the explosions were caused by a bomb, it now appears that the main blast at Beirut’s port was caused when an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate ignited. The chemical, used in fertilizers and explosives, had been left unsecured for six years in a warehouse, after being confiscated at the port.

The explosions have devastated the city, which is in chaos. The shock waves felt in Cyprus, over 230km away. The capital's hospitals are overwhelmed and issued an urgent call for blood donations. Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, has vowed to punish those responsible.

Victoria too has seen the devastating consequences of badly or illegally stored hazardous chemicals - it has been sheer luck that no-one has been killed.

Sources: The Guardian, BBC, etc


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