SafetyNet 548

Welcome to the September 2, 2020 edition of SafetyNet.

Apologies for any confusion last week - the edition was mistakenly number '457' instead of ''547'! In any case, we Victorians are happy to report that the number of new coronavirus cases has dropped to under 100 all this week. We now see the light at the end of the tunnel for Stage 4 restrictions, with the government looking to announce two 'roadplans' for the easing of restrictions around the State.

In other exciting news: The biggest event of OHS Week, the VTHC HSR Conference, will be taking place in late October. HSRs are entitled to participate on paid leave so check the link below and register today!

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. If you have comments or want to send through any ideas, email us at ohsinfo@vthc.org.au

Union News

Tonight 7pm: Psychosocial Health Standard Live Show

A reminder that tonight at 7pm VTHC OHS Unit will be running a live show to launch our Psychosocial Health Standard. Most workplaces have any number of hazards that put at risk the psychosocial health - or psychological health - of workers. Employers have a duty of care to identify these and then take action to eliminate, or if this is not reasonably practicable, minimise them. There is almost no official WorkSafe guidance on this issue - much less legislation. For this reason VTHC has issued a Psychosocial Health Standard.  

Join Safety Boyz Sam and Luke and Dominic Melling, lead OHS Organiser to learn more about the standard: why it has been necessary to develop and issue it, what it means and how to start using it. When: 7pm Tonight Wednesday September 2 Where: We Are Union OHS Reps Facebook page  

October 27: The biggest event on the OHS calendar - VTHC HSR Conference

We are very chuffed to announce that we will be holding our annual HSR Conference again this year during OHS Week, on Tuesday October 27. The big difference this year is that the conference, which will be focussing on Risks to Psychosocial Health, will be online. It has been a huge task for the team to put this together and get approval from WorkSafe under s69 of the OHS Act - but we did it! This means that HSRs will be able to participate on paid leave. Deputy HSRs, while welcome, are not entitled to paid leave. Registrations are NOW OPEN! So REGISTER here.  

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

According to the latest official figures, there are 25,819 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 766 since last week, almost all in Victoria (but these figures may not include today's numbers). 657 people have died - 130 more than last week.  This morning Victoria's Premier announced there have been 90 new cases diagnosed since yesterday and unfortunately six more fatalities. However the numbers are generally trending down consistently, as we are over the half way mark of the six-week Stage 4 restrictions. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

The international situation keeps worsening: the number of people infected is now at  25,889,110 - last Wednesday it was 24,042,694: this is once again over 1.8 million more infections. There have now been 860,226 deaths around the world. The USA continues to 'lead' the world with cumulative cases at over 1.6 million, and recording 1,134 deaths in just one day. India now has the largest number of new infections daily: yesterday there were over 78,000. In Europe, Spain and France are facing a serious secondary wave, with 8,115 and 4,982 new cases respectively in the past day. Spain has had almost 60,000 new cases in just the past week! Experts have said the spike has occurred because businesses reopened too soon and public gatherings were held without proper safety precautions. This highlights the dangers of a resurgence if we open our economy too quickly and fail to maintain measures such as masks and social distancing.
Read more: What can we learn from the resurgence of COVID-19 in Spain? Healthline. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. NOTE: we have added some new checklists to the Action Plan for HSRs section of the page, so check these out. We would welcome your feedback. 

Woolies workers walk off

Approximately 240 Woolworths warehouse workers stopped work at a Melbourne distribution centre over safety concerns after a positive COVID-19 case on Friday night. The Laverton DC supplies alcohol to Dan Murphy's and BWS stores across the state. As in a recent COVID-19 dispute at a Spotless industrial laundry in Melbourne, unions have argued that stopping work is legal due to an immediate threat to safety.

United Workers Union (UWU) logistics industries director Matt Toner said that on Saturday the union gave Woolworths a list of demands from workers on actions to keep them safe. The list included a 72-hour "deep clean" to be observed by DHHS and health and safety representatives, all workers being tested for COVID-19 during the shutdown for cleaning and all new agency, contractors and employees commencing work at the site to be tested. However Woolworths had so far refused many of the workers’ requests. Source: Workplace Express

Fair Work Commission proposes working from home provisions

Under a draft model flexibility schedule driven by the risk of further COVID-19 outbreaks, employers will be permitted to direct employees to perform duties at home or another place outside of the usual workplace providing that place is safe and appropriate. Fair Work Commission President Justice Iain Ross noted in a statement issued this week that one of the most significant shifts in Australia's working arrangements since the start of the coronavirus pandemic has been the increase in working-from-home arrangements. "Government health advice, encouraging employees to work from home wherever possible, has accelerated what had been an emerging feature of contemporary working arrangements in some occupations and industries," the President Justice said.

ABS data show two in five workers have worked from home because of COVID-19 – a figure that does not include the large number of workers who regularly worked from home before the pandemic, he noted.  He also pointed to Swinburne University research that showed more than three in four managers believe their staff will work from home more often after the pandemic than they did before it, and a recent Centre for Future Work briefing paper suggesting working from home will become the "new normal" for millions of workers in the coming years.

The draft model flexibility schedule (attached to the President Justice's statement) was prepared by FWC staff "to promote discussion among industrial parties about appropriate flexibility arrangements". It includes a provision which allows for an employer and an employee to reach agreement on a working-from-home arrangement that balances the personal and work responsibilities of the employee with the business needs of the employer, as well as provisions for an employer to direct an employee to perform duties that are "within the employee's skill and competency regardless of their classification", providing those duties are safe and the employee is appropriately licensed and qualified.
Read more: FWC President Justice Ross' statement [pdf]. Source: OHSAlert

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

I was an HSR for a DWG in my workplace. However, I was recently redeployed to another facility. Some of the staff members in the DWG at my previous workplace have asked for assistance on an OHS issue. Their elected HSR is on leave. What should they do? Should they elect a deputy HSR? Can they still ask another rep from another DWG for assistance in the meantime? They have conveyed their concerns to their manager who has not responded to their concerns at all. 

If their HSR is not available due to being on leave then you can act on their behalf - this is allowed under s59 of the OHS Act:

59 Powers generally limited to the particular designated work group 

A health and safety representative for a designated work group may exercise powers under this Part only in respect of matters that affect, or may affect, members of that group, or persons mentioned in section 44(1)(e) or 48(1)(e) whom the representative is authorised to represent, unless— 

  1. there is an immediate risk to health or safety that affects or may affect a member of another designated work group; or 
  2. a member of another designated work group asks for the representative's assistance— 

and it is not feasible for the representative to refer the matter to a health and safety representative for the other designated work group. 

I would therefore step in and represent them on this, but making sure you then ensure their HSR is informed of the situation/provided with information when s/he returns.

However, this should really only be a short-term thing as you don't want them to keep having to call you in to assist them, so they should look to elect a deputy - or have two HSRs. This isn't totally straightforward though, as it means the DWG must be renegotiated. When a DWG is negotiated and agreed anything more than the default of one HSR must be a matter of negotiation and agreement. So, the members of the DWG need to formally request that the DWG be varied (under s44(3) of the Act). A renegotiation of the DWG could also lead to all positions being 'spilled' and new elections would have to be run again - if this happens, then the DWG needs to make sure that they run the elections.  I would suggest waiting until their HSR is back, and also seeking the assistance of the union if the members of the DWG think there's going to be an issue.  

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

Asbestos news  

New mesothelioma report

A new report, Mesothelioma in Australia 2019, presents the latest available information on the incidence of mesothelioma in Australia, as well as mortality and asbestos exposure information, using data from the Australian Mesothelioma Registry, the National Mortality Database and the Australian Cancer Database. On average, two people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in Australia each day – with a median age at diagnosis of 75 years old.

Australia has one of the highest measured incidence rates of mesothelioma in the world (Bray et al. 2017). Each year in Australia, between 700 and 800 people are diagnosed with the rare and aggressive cancer. Males are more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma than females across all age groups, and the number of cases diagnosed each year for both males and females has steadily increased over the past 40 years. There is no cure for mesothelioma. The main cause is exposure to asbestos, which has been banned in Australia since 2003.

In 2019, 724 deaths of people with mesothelioma were recorded on the AMR. From 1982–2019, the number of new cases of mesothelioma rose steadily: 135 to 532 for males and 22 to 127 for females. 94 per cent of people with mesothelioma who provided residential and occupational information were exposed to asbestos.

This data is a timely reminder of the dangers of asbestos not only for workers, but also those undertaking home renovations, given the increase in home improvement activities since COVID-19 restrictions. Read more: The report can be downloaded from this page.

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

International Union news

England: Face coverings u-turn for secondary schools 

Secondary pupils will now have to wear masks in school corridors in local lockdown areas of England, after the government reversed its guidance. Headteachers in any secondary school will also have the “flexibility” to introduce masks in their schools. England's Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the shift follows advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that was recently updated.

It also follows repeat demands from unions for clarity on the issue. The Department for Education said that, for most areas of England, it is keeping its recommendation against using face coverings - but that schools will be able to make their own decision whether to ask pupils and staff to wear them. This will apply in ‘communal areas’ of schools such as corridors, where it is difficult to have social distancing, and when schools “believe that is right in their particular circumstances”. But in parts of the country with high levels of coronavirus transmission, such as those with local lockdown measures, the wearing of masks will be compulsory in such communal areas for adults and pupils. But it will still not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, where “protective measures already mean the risks are lower, and where they can inhibit learning.”

The new guidelines, which apply from yesterday, 1 September, also warn that “stricter guidance” on face coverings could apply to all schools “if the rate of transmission increases across the whole country.” GMB said the u-turn showed why ministers must learn to listen to workers. NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney welcomed the move but said in its updated guidance “WHO called for staff aged over-60 or otherwise vulnerable and who work closely with children, to wear medical-grade masks,” a message he said the government should also heed.
Read more: 
Department for Education news releaseQ&A: Children and masks related to COVID-19, WHO, 21 August 2020. NEU news release. GMB news release. Source: Risks 962

UK: Predicted 'explosion in work cases' proved correct

The workplace is emerging as the new frontline for COVID-19 spread, after the UK government and health agencies ignored warnings on the dangers of a rush back to work, occupational health experts have warned. Janet Newsham, the chair of the union-backed national Hazards Campaign, which is tracking workplace outbreaks, said the organisation had earlier raised concerns about the unsafe opening of workplaces, including schools. “While the community transmission is so high reopening of schools will massively increase contacts between potentially infected individuals and will lead to pressure for more people to return to workplaces, greatly increasing risks,” she said.

The campaign’s analysis of Public Health England (PHE) figures shows that over the last five weeks the ‘workplace’ has emerged as the second most common site of COVID-19 ‘situations/incidents’, trailing only care homes. PHE’s definition of workplaces does not include work-related Covid incidents in hospitals, schools or prisons, so under-estimates the real extent of work-related cases. The campaign warns that evidence elsewhere, including France and Germany, shows workplaces are the ‘new frontline’ for virus spread. The report notes: “The COVID-19 workplace clusters that are now appearing all over the country, are being put down to individuals breaking the rules, but when that coincides with workplaces closing down, mass testing of workers and mass positive results of the same workers, then this is uncontrolled transmission of the virus in workplaces, especially where workers are working inside buildings with an aerosol risk of transmission.”  
Read more: Hazards Campaign reportNational COVID-19 surveillance report: 14 August 2020 (week 33) and National COVID-19 surveillance report: 21 August 2020 (week 34), PHE. Source: Risks 962


Research

Creating mentally healthy workplaces in uncertain times

There has been research into the factors that help manage and support workplace mental health for some time. International insights and findings have helped shape workplace policies and preventative workplace interventions that are now at the forefront of navigating a COVID-safe transition for Australian workers and workplaces.

A systematic review and meta-analysis on the association between work-related psychosocial risk factors and stress-related mental disorders undertaken by researchers from the Netherlands provides up-to-date insights into this issue. The study identifies that the following workplace factors reduce the incidence of stress disorders for workers, which, in turn, may improve mentally healthy workplaces:

  • effort-reward balance
  • procedural and relational justice
  • achievable job demands
  • co-worker and supervisor support
  • adequate emotional demands
  • greater decision authority.

The research draws on data from over 73,000 workers from Belgium, Denmark, England, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Read more: van der Molen HF, Nieuwenhuijsen K, Frings-Dresen MHW, et al, Work-related psychosocial risk factors for stress-related mental disorders: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis [Abstract] [Full articleBMJ Open 2020;10:e034849. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-034849

Mental health and work attitudes among people resuming work

The COVID-19 pandemic caused an economic downturn and increased the unemployment rate in China – as it has all around the world. As a result, workers face health and social economic stressors. In order to assess their mental health and ‘work attitudes’, a group of Chinese researchers undertook a cross-sectional study of people who returned to work after the Spring Festival holiday during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They identified that the major risk factor for mental health was worrying about unemployment. They found that worker resilience and optimism were two main protective factors for mental health and for workplace engagement. Further, they found that the nature of the organization, job status, age, position and income changes were also related to these work attitudes. They concluded that their findings shed light on the need for organization administrators to be aware of the status of and factors associated with employees’ mental health and work attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, building resilience and fostering optimism in the  workplace may help create a more mentally healthy workplace and maintaining positive work attitudes in the face of adversity.

Read more: Song, L, et al, Mental Health and Work Attitudes among People Resuming Work during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Study in China [Open Access Article], Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(14), 5059; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17145059

Hazelwood mine fire affected respiratory health of unborn children

A study published online by the Medical Journal of Australia has revealed that the Hazelwood coalmine fire exposed unborn children to respiratory damage. The fire occurred in February 2014, and started as a result of bushfire embers from surrounding bushfires.

WorkSafe Victoria subsequently charged the company in charge of the mine with five breaches of failing to maintain a workplace under its management and control that was safe and without risks to their health and safety arising from the conduct of its operations, and five breaches of failing to ensure that people other than its employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from the conduct of its operations. The operators were fined more than $1.9 million by the Supreme Court of Victoria

Australian researchers analysed data from 79 children who were exposed to the Hazelwood smoke while in utero, 81 who were 0-2 years old when exposed to the smoke, and 129 who were conceived after the fire.

They found that for children who were exposed in utero, each 10µg/m3 increase in mean daily PM2.5 exposure was associated with increased reports of runny nose/cough, wheeze, seeking health professional advice, and doctor diagnoses of upper respiratory tract infections, cold or flu.

In those exposed during early childhood each 100 µg/m3 increase in peak 24-hour PM2.5 exposure was associated with the increased use of asthma inhalers, but not any the health outcomes that were measured.

The authors concluded that their findings:

  • suggested an increased susceptibility to acute respiratory infections during childhood after exposure in utero to a severe air pollution episode. Severe episodic smoke events from bushfires and planned burns are common in Australia (and elsewhere), and their number will increase with climate change;
  • highlight the particular vulnerability of the very young, including unborn babies, to insults during critical developmental periods and the importance of protecting them during landscape fire smoke events and other causes of air pollution;
  • suggest that in utero exposure to smoke may have a greater impact on long term respiratory health than exposure during the first two years of life
  • suggest that protecting pregnant women and young children from episodic severe smoke events be central to public health responses to poor air quality

Read more: Willis, G A, et al, Respiratory and atopic conditions in children two to four years after the 2014 Hazelwood coalmine fire [Full article] Med J Aust doi: 10.5694/mja2.50719. Published online: 24 August 2020. Source: OHS Daily News, SafetyCulture


Regulator news

Victorian news

Advice on COVID-19 and WorkCover

WorkSafe has produced advice which is now available on its website on Workers' Compensation and COVID-19. The information provides answers on the following questions:

  • If I contract COVID-19 at work will I have an entitlement to compensation?
  • How can I access treatment if I'm required to self-isolate or am not able to attend an appointment because of COVID-19?
  • How do I get a certificate of capacity if I am required to self-isolate or am not able to attend an appointment because of COVID-19?
  • Should I attend an IME appointment if I am unwell?
  • Who can I contact with any other question about my claim and the COVID-19 measures in place?

Read more:  Information for injured workers about your claim and COVID-19

Safety Alert following death of electrician

On August 18 this year, a licenced electrician working at an older domestic property was fatally electrocuted. WorkSafe has issued a Safety Alert which provides information on the causes of the incident, potential safety risks in the task, other risks which may be present in older properties, and recommended ways to control these risks. It also covers the legal duties of employers and self-employed persons, and information on the requirements under electrical safety law, which is regulated by EnergySafe Victoria (ESV). Read more: Electrician electrocuted working at a domestic property

Information on cattle crushing and workplace manslaughter 

WorkSafe has sent information out to rural employers where there may be risk to life due to cattle crushing. The regulator says that being crushed or trampled by cattle is the second highest cause of farm deaths. The document provides information and advice to the sector.  Read more: Workplace manslaughter: Some steps to reduce risk of death from cattle crushing

NSW: Duty holders warned after rolling-vehicle death

In an incident information release, SafeWork NSW has told businesses to consider all reasonably practicable control measures to prevent the uncontrolled movement of work vehicles, after a 52-year-old tow truck driver was recently fatally crushed by a prime mover. The worker was loading the prime mover onto a tilt tray semi-trailer in Newcastle when it rolled backwards off the tray and crushed him. Among a range of recommended control measures, the document stresses that vehicles should be parked on level ground where possible. Read more: Tow truck driver crushed by rolling prime mover 

Safe Work Australia 

New resources for transition to GHS 7

Safe Work Australia has published new guidance to assist businesses with the transition to GHS 7. Australia will begin a two-year transition to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals Revision 7 (GHS 7) on 1 January 2021.

To help businesses understand the changes required under GHS 7, Safe Work Australia has published a dedicated GHS 7 web page and suite of information sheets. These information sheets provide details about classification and labelling requirements for workplace hazardous chemicals, and the duties of manufacturers, importers, suppliers and end users. Find out more on the new GHS 7 web page.

SWA notes that the transition to GHS 7 was due to start on 1 July 2020; however, it was delayed due to the impact of COVID-19 on Australian businesses.

To ensure that businesses who had started to implement GHS 7 are not disadvantaged, work health and safety (WHS) regulators are allowing importers and manufacturers to classify and label chemicals in accordance with GHS 7 from 1 July 2020 to 1 January 2021, ahead of the official transitional period. Read more: SWA news

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work updated its fatality statistics on August 27, at which time there had been 109 worker fatalities notified to the national body - this is five more than the previous update on August 13. The fatalities this year have been in the following sectors:

  • 36 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 21 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 18 in Construction
  • 12 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
  • 1 in Wholesale trade

Note that the figures are based on preliminary reports, and so at times will change. To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.

Podcasts from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Canada's CCOHS has produces a number of short, and free, podcasts on a range of issues, such as Workplace Inspections During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Maintaining Our Health When Working Remotely. Although they sometimes make references to Canadian legislation, it's interesting to hear the perspective of another regulator on what should be happening in workplaces. CCOHS Podcasts

 


Prosecutions

Aggravated charges for alleged chemical stockpiles

Last week WorkSafe announced that it has charged Bradbury Industrial Services Pty Ltd with new alleged breaches of the Dangerous Goods Act. It is accused of five aggravated offences under section 31C(1) of the Act in relation to alleged chemical stockpiles at three warehouses in Craigieburn and two in Campbellfield.

At each site WorkSafe alleges the company knew, or ought to have known, that its failure to take all reasonable precautions to prevent any fire or explosion would likely endanger the safety or health of another person, property or the environment.

These charges are in addition to 35 already filed in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court in relation to the Campbellfield and Craigieburn sites. The company, which is now in liquidation, has also been charged with three offences over an explosion and chemical fire at another Campbellfield warehouse in April 2019.

The latest charges have been listed for a further hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 21 October 2020. Source: WorkSafe media release

There have been no new prosecutions announced in Victoria since August 7 - check WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage if you want to check before next week's journal. 


International News

Global: Action call on big airborne COVID risks

Transmission of COVID-19 through an airborne ‘aerosol’ is “stronger than that for any other pathway”, greatly increasing the preventive efforts required, a US expert has warned. Jose-Luis Jimenez, a professor of chemistry and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said the evidence on airborne transmission demonstrates why more stringent efforts are needed to control the virus, going beyond current official guidelines.

Writing in Time magazine, he notes that that these guidelines prioritise prevention by reducing contact with contaminated surfaces (fomite transmission) or through exposures to small bits of saliva or respiratory fluid that infected individuals expel when they cough, sneeze, or talk (droplet transmission). The two-pronged transmission model is promoted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which still plays down the risk of a third pathway, airborne transmission. This “is a significant mistake and on 6 July I, along with 239 scientists, appealed to the WHO to reevaluate their stance”, Jimenez notes. “WHO updated its position in response, but the agency’s language continues to express scepticism of the importance of this pathway.”

He concludes: “It is critical to have a clear physical description of the ways in which COVID-19 is transmitted, so that individuals and institutions are able to visualise it and will understand how to protect themselves. Contrary to public health messaging, I, together with many other scientists, believe that a substantial share of COVID-19 cases are the result of transmission through aerosols.” He added: “The evidence in favour of aerosols is stronger than that for any other pathway, and officials need to be more aggressive in expressing this reality if we want to get the pandemic under control.” A new paper published online in the journal Environment International has concluded that for airborne transmission the “plausibility score (weight of combined evidence) is 8 out of 9, adding “precautionary control strategies should consider aerosol transmission.” Source: Risks 962

Read more: Time Magazine.
Lidia Morawska, Donald K Milton. It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19, Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciaa939, 6 July 2020.
Song Tang, et al. Aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2? Evidence, prevention and control, Environment International, volume 144, November 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2020.106039
WHO knew? WHO’s complacency over work virus risks a world class disasterHazards special report, July 2020.


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