SafetyNet 549

Welcome to the September 9 edition of our weekly journal SafetyNet. 

We are still in Stage 4 lockdown in metropolitan Melbourne - and will be for at least another two weeks. We are hating it, but this virus is insidious and if we don't want another, third outbreak, we need to get it under control.

Remember to register for the biggest event of OHS Week, the VTHC HSR Conference, in late October. HSRs are entitled to participate on paid leave so check the link below and register today! DHSRs are welcome too, but need to square their attendance (and payment) with their employers. See details below.

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

October 27: VTHC HSR Conference

You can now register for the Section 69 approved 2020 VTHC OHS Conference, being held October 27th 2020.

This year, the theme is Risks to Psychosocial Health, and it’s being held entirely online.

If you’re just after the bullet points, the 2020 conference is:

  • Focusing on risks to psychosocial health.
  • Completely free.
  • Section 69 approved.
  • Being held entirely online and open to all Victorian HSRs (and deputies - but they will need to talk with their employer about attendance and payment).
  • On October 27th 2020.
  • Open for registration now.

Why Psychosocial Health?

For the past several years running, WorkCover claims for psychological injury have been rising. We're always getting questions from HSRs about psychosocial health: "What are the risks, how can I identify them, and what can I do about them?"

Sometimes psychosocial health can feel tougher to understand in the context of a HSR, but HSRs have all the same powers under the Act to address psychosocial hazards in their workplace, and employers have the same duty to address these hazards as they would a physical hazard.

An online experience.

With current restrictions across Victoria due to COVID-19, this year the conference is going to be held entirely online, but rest assured it's going to be the same great experience.

We’ll be mailing everyone out everyone a parcel with everything you’ll need to make the day a success - so make sure you register well in advance so there’s plenty of time for yours to arrive. Find all the details and register here

Tomorrow is RUOK? Day

September 10 is national RUOK? Day, according to the organisers, a "national day of action when we remind Australians that every day is the day to ask, “Are you OK?” if someone in your world is struggling with life’s ups and downs." While it is very important to care for those around us, particularly in these difficult times, from an OHS perspective, we need employers to be identifying employment-related risks to the mental health of their employees, and then take action to eliminate/minimise them. That's why we're asking Victorian HSRs and deputies to enrol and participate in our annual conference. 
Go to the RUOK? Day website for more information and resources. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

According to the latest official figures, there are 26,374 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 555 since last week, again almost all in Victoria (but the numbers are coming down - last week there had been an increase of 766 new cases). 770 people have died - 113 more than last week.  This morning Victoria's Premier announced there have been 76 new cases diagnosed since yesterday - this number is higher than it has been over the past few days, which is of concern. Unfortunately, there have been eleven more deaths. Generally, though, the numbers are trending down consistently - but it is for this reason that the government has announced that, with a few changes, Melbourne will remain in Stage 4 restrictions for another two weeks. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

The international situation keeps worsening: the number of people infected is now at 27,722,014 - last Wednesday it was 25,889,110: this is once again over 1.8 million more infections. There have now been 900,876 deaths around the world - that's over 40,600 in one week. India has overtaken both the USA and Brazil in the number of new cases diagnosed each day: yesterday there were almost 90,000 new cases, and over 1,100 deaths. 
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. 

In Metropolitan Melbourne, while this is our sixth week under Stage 4 restrictions, and we are seeing the number of new infections coming down, the government has decided it is too soon to completely move out of this stage. So while as of September 13 there will be some relaxing of some of the restrictions, we are still fundamentally at Stage 4. Read more about the roadmaps for Melbourne and the rest of Victoria here

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

What are the OHS obligations to staff who have finished their shift or are yet to start but are 'loitering' around the car park or street?

Under 'normal' circumstances I would say this should not be much of an OHS issue...

However, due to the current situation with coronavirus, and the requirement for employers with companies/workplaces that are operating to have a COVIDSafe plan in place, this is what I think needs to be done:

  1. Consideration of and consultation around the COVIDSafe plan: while this may have been developed without input from the HSRs (although hopefully you and any other HSRs on site did have the opportunity to provide input), you can now raise that there are other issues that need to be discussed, namely the one  you've mentioned. Section 35 of the Act requires the employer to consult with HSRs on a range of matters, and the development, review and amendment of the workplace COVIDSafe plan would fit the criteria on matters on which there must be consultation. See: Duty to consult
  2. Discussion and assessment of the potential risk of infection when workers congregate outside - it could be that there is no/little risk, but to be safe there could be instructions from the employer, such as:
    1. everyone must wear a mask
    2. workers who have finished their shifts need to leave the workplace as soon as practicable
    3. workers coming in for their shifts should not arrive more than (say) 10 minutes prior to their shift commencing
    4. and any other matter/instruction you might identify
  3. Consideration of the areas where workers must 'clock on' or 'clock off', as well as entry and exit points from the workplace.
  4. And while this matter is being considered/consulted on, it would be a good opportunity to go through the COVIDSafe plan and check how it's working, whether there need to be any changes, whether any other risks have been identified, and so on.

For more general information and advice on COVID-19, go to the Coronavirus page on the site.

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

Ruling on breaks supports rights of workers to get a drink, go to the toilet

Employers have a WHS obligation to allow workers access to toilet and drinking facilities and cannot restrict such access to scheduled breaks, the Federal Court has confirmed after finding a major employer misled young workers on this issue in a Facebook post. Without going into too much detail, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) launched proceedings against Brisbane-based McDonald's franchisee Tantex Holdings Pty Ltd after its general manager said on a staff Facebook page that if workers wanted to enforce the 10-minute-break rule then this break would "be the only time you would ever be permitted to have a drink or go to the toilet." Workers had complained that they were not getting their scheduled breaks. 

Justice John Logan found Tantex had breached the Fair Work Act, and said, "Denial of access as needed to toilet facilities or drinking water could, as a matter of ordinary life experience, have adverse health and safety ramifications for an employee and thus enliven the primary statutory duty of an employer found in section 19 of the [Queensland] WHS Act." (Source: OHSAlert)

This principle should now apply to all workers around Australia - see Drinking Water and Rest/meal breaks

Asbestos news  

WA: Perth guitarist John Meyer dies of mesothelioma 

Perth musician John Meyer, guitarist for legendary Australian blues and hard rock bands Rose Tattoo, Chain and Saracen, has died at age 67 after a lengthy battle with mesothelioma and other cancers. The first son of Dutch immigrants, Meyer grew up in the small farming town of Three Springs. Articles on his death describe at length his stellar music career, noting that he was inducted into the WA Music Hall of Fame in 1993. However there is no mention of when or how he came into contact with the asbestos that caused his mesothelioma, and eventually killed him. Read more: Kalgoorlie Miner

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

Stonemason seeking $2.5m in compensation

A 47-year old father-of-three, who would come home covered in dust after cutting stone products is unable to work, after developing the dust disease silicosis and rheumatoid arthritis.  Over 15 years as a stonemason, the man worked for 12 companies on the Gold Coast and around Tweed Heads in northern NSW – he was exposed to silica dust, and often without the protection of PPE. In August 2019, the worker was told the rheumatoid arthritis was most likely caused by the exposure to silica. He has now filed a $2.5 million personal injury damages claim against eight companies that manufactured or supplied five reconstituted stone products.

Lawyer Jonathan Walsh of Maurice Blackburn said his client’s injuries had a devastating effect on him and his family. Mr Walsh said the law firm was now seeing a number of clients with auto-immune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma, resulting from silica exposure. Source: The Mercury. Read more: Silica

International union news

UK: Government ‘abdicating responsibility’ on work risks

The UK government has been accused of “abdicating responsibility” for making workplaces safe before urging people back to offices, ahead of the launch of a publicity campaign aimed at reducing working from home. The Independent Sage (I-Sage) group of scientific advisers has called for a national system of inspections to make sure even the worst employers are complying with social distancing best practice to keep workers safe. I-Sage said workplaces should have to be certified before employees return, and that unannounced inspections should be introduced to ensure they continue to follow the rules. The group also criticised the timing of the official push back to offices, which coincides with the mass return of pupils and students to school and universities – as well as a rise in daily Covid cases, with the UK reporting its highest daily number of new coronavirus cases since 12 June on 27 August, with 1,522 confirmed positive results. Yesterday, September 8, there were 2,460 new cases. 
Find out more: Independent Sage YouTube channel, 28 August 2020 and The COVID-19 Safe Workplace Charter and briefing document on ending work lockdowns in GB. The IndependentSource: Risks 963


Research

‘Outdated’ physical distancing rules criticised

Current rules on safe physical distancing are based on outdated science, with evidence suggesting the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 may travel much further than 2m through activities such as coughing and shouting. In an analysis published in the British Medical Journal, Nicholas Jones of Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, and colleagues note the rigid physical distancing limit “overlooks the physics of respiratory emissions, where droplets of all sizes are trapped and moved by the exhaled moist and hot turbulent gas cloud that keeps them concentrated as it carries them over metres in a few seconds.” The paper adds that studies have demonstrated airborne spread of virus-containing aerosols of up to 8 metres.

The analysis says rules should take account of a range of factors that can lead to risk. After the cloud slows sufficiently, ventilation, specific patterns of airflow, and type of activity become important. Viral load of the emitter, duration of exposure, and susceptibility of an individual to infection are also important, it adds. The paper concludes: “Physical distancing should be seen as only one part of a wider public health approach to containing the COVID-19 pandemic. It needs to be implemented alongside combined strategies of people-air-surface-space management, including hand hygiene, cleaning, occupancy and indoor space and air managements, and appropriate protective equipment, such as masks, for the setting.”
Read more: Jones, N et al. Analysis: Two metres or one: what is the evidence for physical distancing in Covid-19?, [Full article] BMJ 2020;370:m3223, published 25 August 2020. 

Mobile workers have poorer health outcomes

A new study has found that those people working away from home face greater health and relationship challenges, but there are simple steps that workers, their families, and their employers can do. For the purposes of the study, mobile workers are those who do types of work that include but go beyond FIFO or fly-in-fly-out workers and those who have to commute over 100 km for their work and spend time away from their families and friends.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne and Western Sydney University looked into the personal lives of this increasing group of workers with the aim of improving their wellbeing.

The researchers identified five areas of ‘challenge’ for these workers:

  1. Relationship challenges: The main challenges include the lack and disruption of routines as well as establishing regular and intimate or personal communication with family members and friends
  2. Health challenges: these relate to unhealthy eating habits, lack of maintaining fitness, alcohol consumption and work- or travel-related fatigue, all of which can negatively impact on physical and mental health. These are fostered by the work environment (e.g. lack of access to fresh food or cooking facilities), working culture (e.g. after-work drinks) or work-time pressures (e.g. lack of time for leisure or exercise).
  3. Homemaking challenges: creating liveable, personal spaces while working away can be difficult. Their partners mobile workers can experience a heightened burden of domestic unpaid work responsibilities when they are home alone.
  4. Parenting challenges: Children can suffer from the regular separation from one parent, especially when they are younger. Periods away also challenge the parental authority of the mobile worker and place uneven parenting burdens on the parent who stays home
  5. Employment challenges: job insecurity and unpredictability; and the nature of periodic working and shifting rosters make the establishment of personal relationships and support networks at work difficult, and can hinder career progression. In addition, employment opportunities of partners of mobile workers are also compromised by the periodic work of the mobile worker.

For each of these the authors make a number of recommendations to both the mobile workers and to their employers. For example, one of the recommendations to address relationship challenges is that work rosters should not require workers to be away from home for longer periods than they are at home. 
Read more: David Bissell, Andrew Gorman-Murray, Kim McNamara, Elizabeth Straughan, Living Apart Together: How Working Away Affects Individuals, Households and Wellbeing [pdf]


Regulator news

WorkSafe Victoria

Wind warning for construction sites

WorkSafe has this week warned of wild winds and urged Victorian employers to ensure their work sites were secured as potentially damaging winds moved across the state over Monday and Tuesday. This was particularly the case on construction sites. It is not unusual for there to be very strong winds in Spring - as was seen last week and as we will no doubt see again over the coming weeks. Read more: Secure worksites for wild winds

Rock fragments safety alert

Worksafe has issued a reminder to businesses in the mining and quarries sector about the importance of managing the risks associated with fly rock generated when undertaking shot firing activities. During the firing of a quarry production shot recently, fly rock ejected from the blast travelled several hundred metres and entered a neighbouring property. Several rock fragments struck and damaged buildings. These fragments narrowly missed employees who were actively working on the property at the time of the shot fire. Read more: Rock fragments Safety Alert

NSW: regulator releases draft code on psychological risks

NSW has released a draft WHS Code of Practice for managing psychological risks, Australia's first. It advises duty holders to apply the hierarchy of controls and eliminate the risks by redesigning work processes. The problem is a serious one: there was an increase of 53 per cent in claims for psychological injury between 2014/15 and 2018/19 in NSW, compared to an increase of 3.5 per cent for physical claims. In 2018/19, psychological health claims accounted for 1.2 million days lost, $585 million in gross costs and the average length per claim was 175 days. 

In launching the consultation process, State Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson said the draft SafeWork NSW Code, Managing the risks to psychological health, is a "practical guide" that makes it "easy for [employers] to create a mentally healthy workplace". Like the VTHC position, the code makes it clear that employers (PCBUs) must seek to eliminate work-related hazards that present psychological health risks, or, if this is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

An explanatory paper released with the draft Code, states that fewer than nine per cent of NSW workplaces report having a systematic, integrated and sustained approach to dealing with mental health issues. Go to this page to access the draft Code and the explanatory paper. Comments are due by October 31. 

Safe Work Australia 

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work has not updated its fatality statistics since our last journal when, as of August 27, there had been 109 worker fatalities notified to the national body. 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.

 


Prosecutions

John Holland charged over Sydney Metro rail incident

Comcare has charged construction company John Holland with breaching federal work health and safety laws over an incident that severely injured a worker on the Sydney Metro rail project.

Following a Comcare investigation, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has filed a single charge alleging John Holland Pty Ltd failed in its duties under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

On 11 September 2018 during the construction of Castle Hill Station, a bricklayer fell approximately seven metres through a void onto a concrete floor, suffering severe leg fractures. He was employed by sub-contractor DJD Brick and Blocklaying.  John Holland was the principal contractor for the project.
Read more: Comcare 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

Ship with 43 crew goes down in typhoon

Livestock carrier Gulf Livestock 1, with 43 crew members (39 from the Philippines and two each from Australia and New Zealand), was carrying 5,867 live cattle from New Zealand to Jingtang in Tangshan, China. It left New Zealand on August 14. The Panamanian-registered, 11,947-tonne ship was west of Amami Oshima island in south-western Japan as Typhoon Maysak lashed the area with strong winds and heavy seas. It sent a distress call from the East China Sea at 1.20am on Wednesday September 2 as heavy rains and winds caused by a typhoon battered the region.

The cattle were being exported by the Australia-headquartered Australasian Global Exports, which specialises in live animal exports and owns quarantine facilities in China. Several unions have reported problems with this company in Australia. New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) temporarily suspended live cattle export applications after the vessel went missing. Only two survivors have been found so far, both Filipino nationals.

Another man who was found floating face down in the water on Friday morning was later pronounced dead. This means 40 people are still unaccounted for, including two Australians. Another system, Typhoon Haishen, is making the continuing search effort extremely difficult. Earlier this week Japanese authorities found an empty lifeboat, believed to be from the Gulf Livestock 1, but it did not appear as if anyone had been in it. This morning, almost a week after the vessel sent out a distress signal,  it was announced that the Japanese are scaling down the search effort, 
Read more: What we know about the capsized live export ship Gulf Livestock 1 and the search for survivors off Japan and Japanese authorities find empty lifeboat in search for missing Gulf Livestock 1 crew  ABC news online  


Events

TONIGHT: Wednesday 9 September - Chemical Hazard Communication Network (CHCN) meeting

The DGAG bimonthly meeting is a general networking / discussion update meeting, open to all, to discuss issues that are going on for Dangerous Goods and Chemical Regulation at the moment. Richard Greenwood and Jeff Simpson have reminded us that there is a meeting of the CHCN tonight, Wednesday 9 September, at 5.30pm - 7.30pm AEST.

Like many meetings we are now participating in, the CHCN will be a Webinar Chat meeting. Join Zoom Meeting from 5.20pm using this weblink in your browser. If you have a Zoom account you can also join with: Meeting ID: 886 1236 8715  Passcode: 158089

The topics to be discussed will be:

  1. Classification matters

  2. Labelling and SDS issues

  3. Chemical Hazard Communication Regulatory Matters

  4. Australian, EU & USA Hazardous Chemical Management developments

  5. Hazardous Chemicals - Evaluation / Issues / Incidents

  6. Conferences, Workshops, Discussion Groups / Forums

For more information, contact Jeff Simpson (CHCN convenor and Webinar host), Haztech Environmental, Ph: 03-9885-1269 Mob: 0403-072-092, Email: Jeff.Simpson@haztech.com.au

Jeff can assist in setting up the Zoom meeting. Contact Jeff for instructions on how to join.  Note from the organisers: "For transparency, we require that everyone attends with video on. Casual dress is acceptable and encouraged, but we want to ensure that those attending adhere to our meeting standards on not making recordings, and for that we need to confirm who you are.  Attendees without their video being on, will not be permitted to remain in the meeting."

The following 5th DGAG meeting, will be on Wednesday 21 October 2020, also as a DGAG Webinar Discuss/Chat Meeting at 5.30-7.30 pm.


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