Welcome to the August 12 edition of SafetyNet - from Melbourne: week 2 of a six-week Stage 4 lock-down.
There is a lot of activity in workplaces which are still able to operate under our Victorian restrictions: COVID Safe Plans, Permitted Worker Permits, and much more, that HSRs need to be involved in. The number of new cases in Victoria announced today was 410 - lower than last week, but an increase in yesterday's 322.
Make sure you stay informed in between editions of the journal by visiting 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 official figures, there are 21,750 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 3,022 since last week, almost all in Victoria. 332 people have died - 100 more than last week. This morning the Premier announced there have been 410 new cases diagnosed since yesterday and 20 more fatalities. The curve is certainly flattening, with the Stage 4 restrictions now having effect. However numbers are still too high and it is hoped that over the next week we will see more dramatic reductions.
In the media conference this morning, the Premier called for less movement between regions. He said, "We have seen some increases of concern to us in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. They are stable. They're very low numbers, but coming off such a low base, any additional cases are of concern to us." Consequently, Mr Andrews said, "I just ask people to give that little bit of extra thought to that and if there's any sense that that trip could be avoided, that that travel could be limited, well then that is conducive with less movement, less cases and getting to the other side of this." Read more on the Victorian situation here.
Remember: the ACTU is 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 20,503,280 - last Wednesday it was 18,683,573, this is once again over 1.8 million more infections. There have now been 744,527 deaths around the world. Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.
Can you tell me whether my employer has to have a workplace COVIDSafe plan - and what should be in it?
Under Stage 4 restrictions now in place in metropolitan Melbourne, all open businesses and services must now have a COVIDSafe plan in place (as of 11:59pm Friday 7 August). This plan must focus on safety, prevention and response in the event that coronavirus is linked to the workplace. Meat processing plants (including poultry and seafood) around the state must also have COVIDSafe plan.
The COVIDSafe Plan must set out:
- The employer's actions to help prevent the introduction of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace
- The level of face-covering or personal protective equipment (PPE) required in your workplace
- How the employer will prepare for, and respond to, a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace
- How the employer will meet all of the requirements set out by the Victorian Government. Some higher-risk industries or workplaces have additional requirements of employers and employees.
More information can be found on this section of the Business Victoria website. There is a template provided which can be utilised.
Remember, your employer has a duty to consult with HSRs under s35 of the Act, including when developing and implementing the COVIDSafe plan. Contact your union or the OHS Team at Trades Hall if you have any questions.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
ACTU COVID-19 resources
As many workplaces around Australia are being affected by the pandemic, the peak union council, the ACTU, has put together a range of free resources for working people about coronavirus and their workplace rights and safety. The peak union body has a dedicated COVID-Aware fact-sheet site from where HSRs and other can download a kit. The ACTU Support Centre can also provide free and confidential advice on any additional questions workers may have about their rights at work and COVID-19. The Support Centre phone number is 1300 486 466.
HSRs take action, issue Cease Works
Last Friday, August 7, some workers at a distribution centre at Truganina stopped work after their HSRs issued a cease work order. The massive $120 million site on Melbourne's western fringe supplies products to all Kmart stores across Victoria but is run by the logistics company Toll.
Three workers at had been told to isolate after a staff member, whose most recent shift was on Friday July 31, recorded a positive result on Wednesday last week. The distribution centre was cleaned on Thursday afternoon and was due to have started up again on Friday August 7. After the HSRs issued the cease work, staff was threatened over the site's loudspeakers that they would be disciplined if they took this action - check the footage on the UWU's Twitter feed here.
Read more: The Age.
Poultry worker dies of COVID-19
In what may be the first reported fatality tied to a workplace infection, a Victorian chicken plant worker has been found dead in his home after contracting COVID-19. the 51 year old reportedly contracted the virus at the Golden Farms plant at Breakwater, near Geelong, which has been linked to 44 cases. The long time United Workers Union member had been employed at Golden Farms for more than 15 years.
The UWU reports that Golden Farms recently shut down following the identification of a number of positive COVID-19 cases at the worksite. The Union understands that at the time of death the worker was isolating as a result of contracting COVID-19.
Workers are demanding Golden Farms provide answers on whether he contracted the virus at Golden Farms. If the cause of death is determined to be related to contracting COVID-19 at his workplace, then workers stand ready to fight for justice for their co-worker.
“This case highlights the absolute gravity of the current situation facing essential food workers. It is tragic that workers could contract this deadly virus simply because they have turned up to work to feed our communities,” said UWU’s Director of Food and Beverage Susie Allison. “Food workers across the country are putting their own lives and their family lives at risk by attending work to ensure our supermarkets remain stocked. Every measure must be taken to ensure their safety. In particular, workers must be provided with readily accessible paid pandemic leave so they are not forced to choose between keeping their workmates safe and no income or digging into sparse leave entitlements.”
Meat processing and abattoirs have been deemed “high risk” sectors under Victoria’s Stage 4 restrictions, with poultry production cut back to 80 per cent of full operational capacity. More than 870 cases have been linked to meat facilities in Victoria since the pandemic began. Read more: UWU media statement
Teachers lodge most COVID-19 compensation claims
According to the ABC, more teachers have had WorkCover claims approved for conditions, such as mental injury, related to the pandemic than people in any other profession in Victoria.
The figures supplied to the ABC show that fewer health professionals who have contracted coronavirus at work have had claims approved than teachers who have not contracted the virus. This is despite the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reporting over 1,200 Victorian health professionals have tested positive.
As of July 30, there were 111 people who had had claims relating to coronavirus approved – but it is expected that these numbers will rise. For example, few, if any, workers from one of Victoria's largest clusters at Cedar Meats Australia, have submitted WorkCover claims, despite least one worker spent several weeks in intensive care.
Justin Mullaly, the Victorian deputy president of the Australian Education Union, said it was also possible some teachers who had contracted the virus at work had not put in WorkCover claims because they could access three months of specific infectious disease leave under their agreement. Read more: ABC News online
August 14: ANMF Conference on Psychological Hazards in Healthcare
The final reminder of the ANMF's online conference on Psychological Hazards in Healthcare, which will be this Friday. According to the union: “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.
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.
SA: Asbestos removalist fined and convicted
A South Australian waste removalist convicted of assaulting two environment protection officers was given a suspended sentence, and his company has been fined $49,000 for illegally storing more than 17 tonnes of asbestos.
Gavin Piller snatched a camera and audio recorder from two SA's Environment Protection Authority (EPA) officers. He grabbed one of the officers by the shirt, pushed him to the ground and punched him in the head. After being pulled off the officer, he grabbed a piece of wood before being disarmed by a worker from behind. Piller was convicted of two counts of assaulting an EPA officer, using abusive language and two counts of hindering an EPA officer. A 12-month jail sentence was suspended, but the court imposed a $500 good behaviour bond and a $2,100 fine.
Piller's company, GP and Sons, pleaded guilty to illegally stockpiling seven tonnes of asbestos at one of its depots between January 29 and February 2, 2018, and a further 10 tonnes at another depot between March 27 and May 2, 2018. The company was fined $49,000.
EPA chief executive Tony Circelli said, "This type of illegal activity will not be tolerated — it risks both harm to the environment and the community, and damages confidence for investment and fair play for legitimate waste operators."
Read more: ABC News online
International Union news
Global: Danone agrees to support workers post-COVID
The global food and farming union federation IUF and food multinational Danone have committed to opening negotiations on measures to support workers during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. A joint statement recognises that, as a priority, any future agreement will need to focus on identifying and protecting the most vulnerable workers within Danone. Criteria would include workers with low qualification levels and salaries, women and those at risk from systemic racism and discrimination. IUF said a new agreement with the firm would give priority to repositioning workers within the company in the event that employment changes are proposed. It said this “would be achieved by focusing on upskilling programmes that provide employees with new skills to facilitate internal repositioning within Danone but could also be of value and practical assistance in the broader jobs market.”
It added: “During the training, which could last up to two years, Danone would guarantee that workers retain their Danone employment contracts, salaries, and relevant benefits. Implementation would be through negotiations between IUF affiliates and management at local and national level while monitoring would take place through the established mechanism used to monitor all existing IUF-Danone agreements.”
Read more: IUF news release and IUF/Danone joint statement [pdf]. Source: Risks 959
Loss of sense of taste and smell best COVID-19 predictors
An emphasis on the presence of a persistent cough and fever as evidence of infection led to an under-estimation of COVID-19 infection rates in workers, new studies indicate. They suggest loss of sense of smell and/or taste could be more sensitive indicators. In May, Public Health England added a new loss of taste or smell (anosmia) to the list of symptoms for COVID-19.
A large proportion of UK healthcare workers may already have been infected with COVID-19, according to new research led by the University of East Anglia in collaboration with University College London. Research published in The Lancet Microbe finds a high prevalence of anosmia cases among healthcare workers between mid-February and mid-April.
Senior author Prof Carl Philpott, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Smell loss as a symptom of COVID-19 is particularly important for healthcare professionals because they are at the frontline of pandemic – and at high risk of both contracting and spreading the virus. In many cases smell loss can be the only symptom of COVID-19, or accompanied by mild symptoms."
The researchers wanted to find out how widespread smell loss has been among healthcare workers. The team distributed questionnaires to staff at London’s Barts Health NHS Trust – one of the largest NHS trusts in the UK.
The questionnaire was completed by 262 healthcare workers in the week April 17-23. At this time, anosmia was not yet listed as an official symptom and COVID-19 testing among NHS workers was still limited to those displaying symptoms of a new continuous cough and/or a high temperature (>37.8°C) as per national guidance. Nevertheless, 73 (27.9 per cent) of the participants had been tested for COVID-19, with 56 of these (76.7 per cent) confirmed positive.
In line with Public Health England guidance at the time of the study, staff who only had anosmia as a symptom would not have been required to isolate or be eligible for testing.
Like other trusts, staff testing for COVID-19 at Barts Health has been available since late March 2020. Loss of smell was included as a symptom in national guidance since May 18 2020 and any staff with that symptom are required to have a test and self-isolate for seven days.
Prof Philpot said: “The really interesting thing that we found was that 168 of the participants – nearly two thirds – said that they had lost their sense of smell or taste at some point between mid-February and mid-April. We also found a strong association between smell loss and the positive COVID-19 test results, with those who had lost their sense of smell being almost five times more likely to test positive. This suggests that a large proportion of healthcare workers may have already been infected with COVID-19, with only mild symptoms."
He said: “Cases like this most likely went undiagnosed at the time because of a lack of awareness about smell loss as a symptom. This is really important because healthcare professionals are at the frontline of the pandemic and are at high risk of both contracting and spreading coronavirus," adding "There is a need for awareness and early recognition of anosmia as a means to identify, urgently test and isolate affected healthcare workers in order to prevent further spread of disease.”
The study also involved a follow-up survey in May, in which 47 per cent of respondents reported that their sense of smell and taste had completely recovered. A further 42 per cent said they had partially recovered their sense of smell and taste, but just over 7 per cent still suffered anosmia.
The survey has also been running in two Norfolk hospitals and in two hospitals in the North West with the responses of over 1,000 healthcare workers due to be published soon.
The research was led by UEA in collaboration with Whipps Cross University Hospital (part of Barts Health NHS Trust), University College London, the Royal National ENT and Eastman Dental Hospitals (part of UCLH NHS Foundation Trust) and the Norfolk Smell & Taste Clinic, at Norfolk & Waveney ENT Service.
Read more: Lechner, M, et al, ‘Anosmia/hyposmia in healthcare workers with a SARS-CoV-2 infection’ [Full text], published in The Lancet Microbe on August 6, 2020.
USA: Distancing key to preventing workplace outbreaks
Working too close to fellow workers is the main factor linked to major workplace COVID-19 outbreaks, new studies have shown. Two reports in the 7 August 2020 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) examine outbreaks at US meat processing plants.
In an outbreak in a South Dakota plant in March and April 2020, 929 workers were infected, representing just over 25 per cent of workforce. Two employees died and 210 further cases were identified in contacts of the infected workers. The report of the study in MMWR, published by the US government’s Centers for Disease Control, noted: “The Cut, Conversion, and Harvest department-groups, in which numerous employees tended to work <6 feet (2 meters) from one another on the production line, experienced the highest attack rates. Salaried employees, who typically had workstations that could be adjusted to maintain distancing and did not work in close proximity to other employees on the production line, had a lower attack rate than did non-salaried employees.”
In an outbreak at a Nebraska plant in April and May, 1,216 meat processing facility workers were tested, with 375 (31 per cent) returning positive results. The MMWR report on this outbreak noted that “nearly one half of interviewed workers worked in close proximity to others highlights the need for physical barriers between workers, physical distancing throughout the facility (especially locations prone to crowding, such as production areas and cafeterias or break areas), and consistent and correct use of masks to reduce transmission in the workplace in this critical industry.”
Read more: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) [pdf], volume 69, number 31, 7 August 2020. COVID-19 Outbreak Among Employees at a Meat Processing Facility - South Dakota, March–April 2020 and Notes from the Field: Characteristics of Meat Processing Facility Workers with Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 Infection - Nebraska, April–May 2020. Source: Risks 946
August 25: Maintaining mental health at work through COVID-19
A webinar is being run at 7pm on August 25 with the Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy and Chief Executive of WorkSafe Victoria, Colin Radford.
COVID-19 has seen many Victorian workplaces close or change and challenged all of our mental health like never before. Anyone who is interested is invited to join Ms Hennessy and Mr Radford as they discuss the importance of maintaining positive mental health throughout this crisis and how we can ensure we have mentally healthy workplaces now, but also on the other side of it. Mr Radford will also participate in a Q&A session with Kashif Bouns, General Manager of the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation.
Ms Hennessy said, “We need to talk about mental health in the workplace, a conversation that's incredibly important during COVID-19. But it's also a conversation that we need to keep having. This pandemic will end one day, but the need for workplaces to be safe won't.
The webinar is free, but those wishing to participate must register here.
WorkSafe Victoria last week issued a new Safety Alert: Ensuring the safety of dangerous goods in the event of a shutdown or reduced operations due to coronavirus (COVID-19) about the importance of having a plan to manage the risks of dangerous goods when temporarily shutting down or reducing the extent of your operations due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Farmers: have you got your safe-tea break pack?
Too often farmers and farm workers don't end up taking adequate breaks through the day. WorkSafe says even though this may be hard on farms, breaks are not only good for health and safety, but also for the farm’s bottom line. Breaks help reduce fatigue. ' WorkSafe urges farmers to commit to taking regular breaks, and is 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 breaks and working location with family or friends.
WorkSafe asks that once the pack has been received, the farm/farm worker 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. Find out more and 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.
Safe Work Australia
Report published: Occupational lung diseases in Australia
Last week Safe Work Australia published Occupational lung diseases in Australia 2006-2019. The report gives an overview of occupational lung diseases in Australia and identifies industries and occupations where workers may be at risk, such as the construction, mining and quarrying industries, and those working with engineered stone.
The report highlights several significant trends, including:
- a substantial increase in:
- pneumoconiosis, especially coal workers pneumoconiosis, and
- silicosis from working with engineered stone
- a decline in workers’ compensation claims for asbestos-related occupational lung diseases, such as asbestosis
- an increase in the understanding of the role of occupational exposure and the risk of developing coal workers pneumoconiosis, and
- an apparent decline in work-related asthma cases as evidenced by fewer compensation claims.
The report shows that occupational lung diseases continue to be a health concern in Australia and substantially contribute to the burden of lung disease. It was was prepared by the Monash Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health. Read more on this page, where you can also download a copy of Occupational lung diseases in Australia,2006 - 2019.
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 30 there had been 100 worker fatalities notified to the national body. 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.
SKM Pty Ltd convicted and fined total of $165k for multiple contraventions
SKM Services Pty Ltd is a company providing recycling sorting services to councils around Victoria. It has sorting facilities in Coolaroo, Mornington and Laverton North. Last week the company was convicted and fined over multiple contraventions committed in two separate incidents. The company pleased guilty in both incidents.
Incident 1: Convicted and fined $65,000 Aggregate costs: $18,000 (for both cases)
On 2 November 2017, an SKM employee was doing on a 'Spaleck' separator/conveyor at the Laverton North workplace. The machine was greater than 2 metres in height, with components including a conveyor and a vibrating grid, and surrounded by perimeter guarding. However, there was no fall protection risk controls for work performed at two metres or more. The worker needed to access the conveyor belt which was at over two metres.
He had forgotten to turn off the isolation switch – and after about 30 minutes he heard an alarm indicating that the machine was ready to be operated. He grabbed his tools and tried to get out of the Spaleck, at which point the conveyor started up. The worker was dragged sideways up the conveyor and his right hip was forced against the steel beam.
Another worker heard screaming, yelled for the machine to be stopped and looked for an emergency stop button, which he could not find. The Spaleck was eventually stopped.
The man suffered four fractures to his pelvis, a fracture of the left acetabulum and damage to the right hip joint. He was unable to work for approximately four months.
An inspection revealed a number of problems, including badly placed isolation switches, lack of emergency stops near the machine, gaps in the guarding – some of the problems remained when the company reconfigured the machine.
Incident 2: Convicted and fined $50,000
At one of the workplaces there was a paper sorting line, consisting of a conveyor on a work platform, 2.9 metres off the ground. The footbridge over the conveyor belt 1.2 metres above the work platform. The railings running around the work platform had a top-rung height of about 1 metre from the floor of the work platform. Approximately four employees worked on each side of the conveyor, manually sorting paper.
At about 6pm on 26 April 2018, WorkSafe was notified of an incident of an employee falling from height. She had been working on the paper sorting line and had fallen approximately 2.9 metres to the ground below, and was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital with a serious head injury.
A WorkSafe Inspector observed that the footbridge was accessible by twin-style rung-type ladders on each end, and that there was no fall protection adjacent to the ladders and that the ladders did not have a 'D' shaped handrail at the top of the stiles to assist with access and egress to/from the footbridge.
The inspector issued a Prohibition Notice (and also an Improvement Notice) on the ladders and the risk of a fall from height for workers accessing and egressing the footbridge.
To find out whether there are any new prosecutions before next week, check WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.