Welcome to the August 19 edition of SafetyNet - from Melbourne: week 3 of a six-week Stage 4 lock-down.
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Paddy Garrity last weekend. Anyone who had anything to do with the Trades Hall in the 90's, will remember Paddy, who was instrumental in bringing 'the Yarts' to our wonderful and historic building in Carlton South. He is one of the many victims of COVID-19 - one of the over 30 who died last weekend.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Victoria announced today was 216, which is a good sign that the numbers are consistently coming down.
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.
Vale Paddy Garrity
Born: 1937, Seaham Harbour, England. Died: 2020, Melbourne, Australia.
Paddy was a seaman, renovator, arts activist, administrator, circus rigger, concert manager, festival organiser, staunch unionist, beloved husband, friend, comrade. He migrated to Australia in 1951. He was a passionate warrior for the working class, for the unemployed, for the arts, was involved in many organisations and fought many battles. In the words of some who knew him:
"When I was Secretary of Trades Hall for a decade, Paddy was the heart and soul of the place. He opened it up as a venue. He was a friend and mentor to so many, me included. His life was one of doing and activism - seafaring and workers rights, arts officer at the Naval Dockyard, Unemployed Workers Union, rigger for Circus Oz. Paddy loved people and stories. There was always that mischievous twinkle in his eye. He was the eternal optimist. Paddy could make things happen and in record time - the logistics of most of our big rallies were his work." (Leigh Hubbard - VTHC Secretary 1995 - 2005)
"Paddy was a bright star in the firmament of the Melbourne trade union and progressive political community for many years. Humanity passion and humour were his hallmarks. He will be missed." (Dave Noonan - National Secretary, CFMEU)
"[I] Still picture Paddy standing on a window ledge at the Melbourne Club toasting the demo outside with a champagne glass. Coalition Against Poverty and Unemployment rally just before Hawke got elected." Marcus Banks.
A life well lived - you will be sorely missed Paddy Garrity!
Coronavirus (COVID-19) - update
According to the latest official figures, there are 23,898 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 2,148 since last week, almost all in Victoria. 450 people have died - 118 more than last week. This morning the Premier announced there have been 216 new cases diagnosed since yesterday and 12 more fatalities. The numbers are now consistently decreasing, as Stage 4 restrictions are now in the third week. Read more on the Victorian situation here.
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 22,306,538 - last Wednesday it was 20,503,280, this is once again over 1.8 million more infections. There have now been 784,353 deaths around the world. Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.
Due to the current COVID-19 crisis and protocols in workplaces such as segregation and/or split shifts what should happen with regards to a worker wanting to come off a PM shift, for instance, and go onto the AM shift? Is there an isolation period?
If there is no COVID-19 in the workplace, and no-one on the shift the worker is coming from has tested positive, and there's no-one who has been asked by DHHS to self-isolate (which they do when someone is identified as a close contact to someone who has tested positive), there would be no reason for that or any other worker to go into isolation for any length of time.
Remember that under the new notification regulations, the employer must notify WorkSafe if any worker or contractor has tested positive for COVID-19. This then allows for special arrangements, such as identifying any workers who may be have been in close contact with the positive case, and any other necessary measures. Any HSRs should also be informed.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Masks and face coverings advice updated
We have update our information on COVID-19 and masks - adding advice on face shields. WorkSafe Victoria has also issued new advice: Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) risks: Face masks in workplaces.
ACTU COVID-19 resources
A reminder to our subscribers of the ACTU resources for working people on 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.
Health Care workers seek automatic WorkCover rights
Doctors, paramedics and other healthcare workers have called on the Andrews government to guarantee that those infected with coronavirus will automatically qualify for WorkCover compensation, as the sector warns it is being put at unnecessary risk of exposure. Healthcare staff now represent more than 14 per cent of active Victorian cases, with 2414 coronavirus cases detected in this group since the pandemic began.
Citing concerns with substandard personal protective equipment and safety measures, over 3000 healthcare workers have signed a letter to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill wrote to the state’s Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy in April, asking her to create a new "presumptive" right for those on the healthcare front line to automatic WorkSafe compensation.
Mr Hill said the government should make coronavirus a "proclaimed disease", as was the case for firefighters who dealt with asbestos and got sick with some types of cancer. "Firefighters don’t have to justify that on this date and in this place you breathed it in," he said. "All they have to prove is that they were engaged in the act of firefighting."
Read more: The Age
International Union news
Global: COVID led to ‘brutal crackdown’ on workers’ rights
Some of Europe’s biggest retailers are standing by while COVID-19 is used as a pretext for union busting and other workplace abuses, human rights activists have warned.
A new report, from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), portrays an “emerging and widespread pattern of supplier factories appearing to target unionised workers for dismissal”. Thulsi Narayanasamy, senior labour rights lead at BHRRC, said: “Workers face a brutal crackdown when exercising their most fundamental rights, and brands aren’t stepping up enough to ensure workers in their supply chains are protected. Threatening the right to organise collectively and be part of a trade union at such a critical time… stops them from being able to ensure they are paid wages, are safe at work and free from harassment.”
The report looks in detail at several ongoing disputes between unionised workers and managers in factories in India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Bangladesh and India. In every case it is alleged that big name brands should have been more active in ensuring workers were not punished or targeted for being union members. Several of the companies named in the report, including Primark, Levi Strauss, Inditex, H&M and Mango, all stressed in responses to the BHRCC and The Guardian that they are committed to protecting workers’ rights to join and form unions and bargain collectively.
Read more: Union busting and unfair dismissals: Garment workers during COVID-19 [pdf], BHRRC, August 2020. The Guardian. Source: Risks
UK & EU: COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks in occupational settings
Outbreaks and clusters of COVID-19 have been reported since the start of the pandemic in the European Union, the European Economic Area (EU/EEA) and the United Kingdom (UK). Fifteen EU/EEA countries and the UK reported 1,376 clusters of COVID-19 in occupational settings between March and early July 2020.
Workers in occupations which bring them in close physical proximity to other people (co-workers, patients, customers, etc.), particularly when working in indoor settings or with shared transport or accommodation, are more exposed to and at higher risk of COVID-19 in the absence of mitigation measures.
The majority of occupational COVID-19 clusters reported were from the health sector, however testing of healthcare workers has been prioritised in all EU/EEA countries and the UK. Large numbers of clusters were also reported from the food packaging and processing sectors, in factories and manufacturing, and in office settings. Fewer clusters were reported from the mining sector, however some of these clusters have been large.
Occupations are commonly linked to socio-economic status which can also affect the individual’s risk of COVID-19. Moreover, workers in many essential sectors cannot work from home, which may explain why certain occupations have been shown to have a higher risk of COVID-19 infection and mortality than others.
Read more: Executive Summary: COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks in occupational settings in the EU/EEA and the UK The Technical report can be downloaded as a pdf from this page.
Remote workers more likely to engage in self-endangering behaviours
According to German researchers, workers working remotely because of COVID-19 or other reasons are more likely to engage in self-endangering behaviours such as working while unwell. In a study of over 25,000 workers, researchers from the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found those working from home either daily or several times a week had an 11 per cent increased likelihood of 'presenteeism' than workers who never worked from home. They also found that workers working from home daily spent nearly 15 per cent of the days on which they were sick working compared to three per cent among workers who worked from home infrequently.
Remote work has been vital for containing the COVID-19 pandemic and has also provided workers with benefits like reduced commuting time, and increased flexibility, autonomy and work-life balance, the researchers say. This has certainly been the case in Australia where many workers have now been working remotely for several months. But employers and managers need to be aware of the potential health risks, and design remote work in a way that minimises the triggers for self-endangering or "self-exploitative" behaviours, they say.
According to the researchers, workers have fewer barriers to working when they're sick while working from home, and it is harder for them to justify sickness absences to supervisors or colleagues.
The German researchers say their findings are consistent with growing evidence pointing to an increase in self-endangering behaviour associated with flexible work and new managerial practices that shift control and responsibility from supervisors to workers. For example, other research has found that remote workers tend to work longer, work in their leisure time, and work more intensively than workers working at the workplace.
Read more: Corinna Steidelmüller, et al, Home-Based Telework and Presenteeism Across Europe. [Abstract - but full article can be downloaded from this page]. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first August 2020, doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001992. Source: OHSAlert
Health care workers face increased stress during pandemic
A new Swiss study has stressed the importance of managing the mental health needs of healthcare workers before, during and after outbreaks of pandemic disease.
These pose unique challenges for these workers in that there is often no treatment, they are suddenly required to carry out unfamiliar tasks in high-intensity environments and they fear for the safety of their family members.
The researchers analysed existing research from recent outbreaks like SARS and MERS and found that working with infected patients amplified workers' risk of short and long-term mental health problems.
Forty per cent of exposed healthcare workers suffered from psychological distress, while 21 per cent reported post-traumatic stress disorder. Other effects included burnout, insomnia, depression and anxiety, and alcohol and drug misuse, resulting in sickness absences and poor patient care.
The researchers found that job stress, lack of control over one’s job, being involuntarily assigned infected patients, negatively influenced mental health outcomes – however trust in equipment, infection control procedures and precautionary measures decreased workers' concerns and alleviated emotional exhaustion.
The researchers recommended organisations put in place a infections disease prevention program that provides for training, planning and allocation of staff, provisioning of protective equipment and establishing a mental health team for workers.
The findings highlighted the importance of implementing mental health plans for before, during, and in the aftermath of outbreaks. Given the resurgence of coronavirus infections in Victoria, and the increased risks to health care professionals, this is a particularly timely study. The research paper is Open Access.
Read more: Suzannah Stuijfzand, et al, Psychological impact of an epidemic/pandemic on the mental health of healthcare professionals: a rapid review. BMC Public Health, published online August 2020, doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-09322-z. Source: OHSAlert
Charges laid over Tottenham fire
WorkSafe has charged a Harkness man with endangering people at a workplace following a 2018 chemical fire at Tottenham.
Graham Leslie White, 59, has been charged under sections 32 and 26 of the OHS Act for recklessly engaging in conduct that placed or may have placed people in danger of serious injury and for failing to ensure that the Tottenham site, and the means of entering and leaving it, were safe and without risks to health. This is one of the few prosecutions ever taken by WorkSafe under s32 of the Act. If found guilty, then White could face up to five years in jail.
They are among 26 charges under the OHS Act and sections 31 and 31C of the Dangerous Goods Act, (which relate to four warehouses at which it is alleged that dangerous goods were stored – the Tottenham warehouse and three sites in Campbellfield). The matters are listed for a filing hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 14 September.
Read more: WorkSafe media release
New COVID-19 related resources from Victoria's regulator
- Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) risks: Mental health at work - The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can cause heightened anxiety and stress for employees. Employers have a responsibility to support employees and control risks to employees’ psychological health associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Responding to family violence when employees work from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic - This guidance provides information to help employers understand their duties to respond to family violence during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
August 25: Maintaining mental health at work through COVID-19
A reminder of the WorkSafe webinar 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.
Reminder: employers have increased duties due to COVID-19
In extending Victoria's state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic by four weeks, Premier Daniel Andrews this week reminded employers that they could be fined $100,000 for failing to comply with social distancing, isolation or worker-permit requirements.
"[The pandemic] is far from over and our best weapon against the spread of this deadly virus is limiting movement. In Melbourne, that means following Stage 4 restrictions and not leaving your house during the curfew hours of 8pm to 5am, unless it is for work, medical care or caregiving," the Premier said yesterday. "Only permitted workers can attend work premises," he said.
Melbourne employers in industries allowed to continue operating under the current restrictions must have in place COVIDSafe plan and comply with the Permitted Worker Scheme, which involves providing a permitted worker permit to employees required to attend a work site, and these employees carrying their permits when travelling to and from work.
In addition, the notification requirements changed in late July: 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, which must be completed and lodged within 24 hours, and advise whether an inspector will attend, and whether the incident scene can be disturbed before the inspector's attendance. 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.
Read more: WorkSafe media release. More information on the WorkSafe website.
Tradie Health and Safety Month
WorkSafe has announced that it's Tradie National Health Month. It tells employers that "now more than ever your workers' physical and mental safety should be top of mind. Get the right tools for the job by taking advantage of free programs that offer support for small and medium businesses - just like yours." WorkSafe has a webpage with tips and tools for employers and tradies. Check it out here.
Advice for farms on workplace manslaughter
WorkSafe Victoria reminds farmers that workplace manslaughter is a criminal offence under occupational health and safety laws. Farm owners, managers and directors must ensure a safe and healthy workplace. WorkSafe says: "if someone dies on your farm, you could be prosecuted under the new law."
It stresses that the new law does not create additional responsibilities; it just introduces tougher penalties. It says, "If you're already complying with your work health and safety duties, and continue to, you're doing the right thing. If you're not complying, and not thinking about workplace risk, the consequences can be much tougher."
Go to this page to download general tips for ensuring the farm is a safe and healthy workplace.
Safe Work Australia
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 this page for the range of information and resource.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work updated its statistics on August 13, at which time there had been 104 worker fatalities notified to the national body - this is four more fatalities since the last update on July 30. The fatalities this year have been in the following sectors:
- 34 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 21 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 16 in Construction
- 11 in Public administration & safety
- 10 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.
There have been no new prosecutions announced in Victoria since last week - check WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage if you want to check before next week's journal.
QLD: New manslaughter charge
A Queensland business owner could be jailed for up to 20 years, after becoming the first individual to be charged with industrial manslaughter since the offence came into effect in late 2017. A business has been charged with category-2 WHS breaches in relation to the same incident.
Jeffrey Owen, of Owen's Electric Motor Rewinds in Gympie, has been charged with one offence under section 34C ("Industrial manslaughter–person conducting business or undertaking") of the State Work Health and Safety Act 2011. The business repaired generators and electric motors
It has been alleged that in July last year, Owen negligently caused the death of a worker at his business premises. It has been reported that Owen was involved in overloading a forklift, which subsequently flipped over and struck the worker.
Shortly after the incident, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland issued an alert stating that a worker had been fatally crushed by a portable generator being unloaded from a truck by a forklift.
Owen faces a maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment. The company has been charged with breaching sections 19 ("Primary duty of care") and 32 ("Failure to comply with health and safety duty–category 2") of the WHS Act, which carry a maximum penalty of $1.5 million. Source: OHSAlert