SafetyNet 553

Welcome to the October 7 edition of SafetyNet

After nine weeks in lockdown, there are high hopes that Melbourne's residents will soon be able to get out and about more than what we have been able to do. While we are expecting this to happen over the next couple of weeks, the current restrictions have meant that there will be no commemoration event at the West Gate Bridge next week. October 15 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of one of Australia's worst industrial incidents. 

Visit our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page for news, memes and more. 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

Victorian worker killed

It is with great regret that we note that a bindery finishing operator died in hospital on Monday after falling about 1.4 metres at a Clayton South marketing and printing business on October 1. WorkSafe believes the 64-year-old man was accessing a box on the first shelf of a pallet rack and was hoisting himself onto it when he fell forward onto a concrete floor. WorkSafe is investigating the incident.

All of us at the VTHC and the worker’s union, the AMWU, send our sincerest condolences to his family, friends and work colleagues.

The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 56 for 2020, five more than at the same time last year.

October 15: 50th Anniversary of West Gate Bridge collapse

At 11.50am on October 15 1970, a span of the West Gate Bridge, then under construction, collapsed. 2000 tonnes of steel fell 45 metres - 35 workers were killed, 17 were injured. Some ‘rode’ the bridge down and, miraculously, survived. All were traumatised, as were many people living the working class suburbs surrounding it.

Every year hundreds of people gather at the memorial plaque to hear speakers and remember those who were killed. This year, the West Gate Bridge Memorial Committee had planned a number of event to commemorate the  the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. However, due to the COVID-19 restrictions currently in place in metropolitan Melbourne, there will no event at the memorial. Instead, the Committee is working with the VTHC to live stream an event on our Facebook page

The event will begin at approximately 11.30 am, with guest speakers speakers David Setka, James Webster and Tommy Watson, who was working on the bridge the day it collapsed. Tommy went on to become a union official and eventually President of the CFMEU. Dave Setka is the grandson of Bob Setka, one of the 18 workers who survived on that day, and James Webster is the grandson of a worker who was killed. 

Check next week's journal for more details. 

Injuries in West Gate Tunnel project

According to WorkSafe reports three workers on the West Gate Tunnel project were hospitalised after seriously injuring their hands between May and July, including two subcontractors in the space of two weeks. However, of great concern is that the project's safety director believes that the incidents have been caused because workers have been 'distracted'. Posters with a photo of a four fingered hand captioned with "Things have been getting out of hand" and the question "What priority have you placed on your hands?" have been put up around the project.  

According to CFMMEU organiser Joe Myles, however, tight deadlines had been driving up injuries on the West Gate Tunnel project. "The job is so far behind; everything is a rush," he said. "They are cutting corners to catch up." When companies cut corners, workers get injured. 

The Age reports that a separate WorkSafe notice detailed unsafe work practices at the project's Millers Road site in Brooklyn. In some areas workers widening Millers Road under the West Gate Freeway had to crawl along an elevated scaffold deck to avoid hitting their heads on bridge beams above them – at times up to six times a day, and sometimes carrying tools, which could result in injuries, WorkSafe said. Read more: The Age

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

According to the latest official figures, there are 27,181 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - just 126 more than last week. The total number of COVID deaths is 897. After nine (!) weeks in lockdown, yesterday there were just six new cases in Victoria. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

The international situation continues to be dire: the cumulative number of infections is 36,041,783. Last Wednesday it was 33,828,215this is over 2.2 million more infections in just one week. There have now been 1,054,604 confirmed COVID-related around the world - but many experts say there is no doubt that this is a huge underestimation. Many countries do not have the health resources to properly diagnose the cause of death. 

The big news this week of course, was that both Donald Trump, the President of the USA and his wife, Melania, tested positive for Coronavirus. However, unlike the 7.7 million Americans who also contracted the disease, they have received the best treatment and no doubt most expensive treatment. This includes the use of experimental treatment. And unlike the 215,780 who have died, they appear to be recovering quickly. For the families of these people, President Trump's comment: “Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines, all developed recently” is disrespectful and extremely hurtful. 

It is difficult to know for sure how many COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed as the 'White House' cluster, but at least 19 cases have been confirmed. Now, the White House press corps is increasingly anxious and angry about the Trump administration's handling of COVID-19 cases within its own building. Several reporters have tested positive and many are trying to determine whether they and their families need to quarantine. 

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced Monday that she tested positive for coronavirus, sending White House reporters scrambling to figure out whether they had been exposed. McEnany briefed reporters without wearing a mask at the White House, a practice that speaks to the overall dismissal of White House officials around COVID-19 safety protocols.
For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

I am an HSR in a primary school. Does the school need to have an MSDS in every classroom for pencils, crayons, glue sticks, and so on? Unfortunately some our students eat the glue sticks!  Some classrooms could have over 50 items. Thank you

The answer is 'no' - you don't need an MSDS in each classroom for each of the 50 items.

The law requires that the workplace establish and maintain a REGISTER of MSDSs (or SDSs - safety data sheets - as they are now called) which lists and has a copy of the most up to date SDS for each hazardous substance in the workplace. This must accessible to all employees. I will assume that all the materials that students may be putting in their mouths are non-toxic - however this needs to be checked before any items are purchased and brought into the school. Therefore the glue sticks, crayons and so on are not hazardous, and do not require SDSs. However, just because something is not officially 'hazardous' it does not mean it is totally safe, so teachers, aides, etc, need to be provided with information on what potential effects ingesting the glue sticks for example, might have. 

Check this page for general information on hazardous substances, including an action plan for HSRs, and also a summary of hazardous substances regulations.

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

VTHC HSR Conference October 27: There's still time to register!

If you are an HSR and have not yet registered for the 2020 VTHC OHS Conference on October 27th 2020, then do so quickly. As we are posting out the materials, and the Victorian Post Office is currently under some pressure, unless you register by Friday, you may not get the materials. Remember too that HSRs are entitled to a day's leave with pay if they register and inform their employer at least 14 days in advance.  

To remind everyone, the theme this year is Risks to Psychological Health, and it’s being held entirely online. Read more about the conference on this page of the website. 

With uncertainty regarding restrictions in Melbourne and across Victoria due to COVID-19, this year the conference is going to be held entirely online - but it's still going to be a great experience.

We’ll be mailing a parcel of materials to HSRs and deputies with everything you’ll need to make the day a success - but to make sure it arrives on time, you need to register by this Friday so there’s plenty of time for yours to arrive. Find all the details, including a copy of the s69 Approval letter from WorkSafe and register here

Reminder: Anna Stewart Memorial Project for women unionists

Designed to encourage more women to be active in unions, the Anna Stewart Memorial Project (ASMP), which is running from October 12 - 23, is a structured, two week long skills development and leadership program designed and run by the VTHC's wonderful We Are Union Women team. The interactive workshops will be online via Zoom. The 15 workshops cover a range of topics including:

  • Sexual Harassment and Gendered Violence at Work
  • Union Women’s History Insecure Work, Covid19 and the Impact on Women Workers
  • Superannuation
  • The industrial relations system
  • Women in Bargaining
  • and much more

If you see a workshop that you would like to participate in but just can’t fit it in, many of the ASMP workshops will be recorded and available on the We Are Union Women Facebook page. 

The ASMP is free and open to any woman who is a member of her union and would like to participate. Women can register and attend as many workshops as they like which means being able to tailor the program to fit specific skills, interests, and schedule. If a participant would like to receive a certificate of completion for the Anna Stewart Memorial Project then she will need to attend at least five workshops over the course of the two week program. A participant can choose any five workshops - none is compulsory.  Women who have access to union training leave in their workplace agreement can apply for this leave to attend the ASMP. For more information on how to apply for union training leave contact the union. Check out the ASPM program and register for workshops here. For more information email Jodie at: jpeskett@vthc.org.au

Reminder to Gig workers: complete our survey now! 

Two weeks ago the VTHC Young Workers Team launched a new survey to get the views of gig workers. The Daniel Andrews State government wants to take action to better regulate gig platforms, following the findings of a major report into the gig economy. It's a chance to fix the wage violations, dodgy employment arrangements, and unsafe working conditions plaguing the gig economy in Victoria. 

The State Government will soon decide what recommendations it plans to pursue, and it is crucial to ensure that those changes are in line with what affected workers want. So the VTHC’s Young Workers Centre Gig Economy Survey for any worker who currently or has previously used online apps and platforms to find work; from transport and delivery platforms like Uber and Deliveroo, to health and caring work on platforms like Mable and Care.com, to ‘odd jobs’ platforms like Airtasker.

If that’s you - fill in the survey to tell the government how you want your working life to be improved, and together the VTHC will fight to make sure it happens. For those with friends or family members who work in the sector: tell them about the survey too. 

Asbestos news  

James Hardie stops funding asbestos research

Each year in Australia approximately 700 people still die a terrible death from mesothelioma. In an article in The Financial Review it has been revealed that James Hardie is no longer paying an annual $500,000 paid towards funding research into a treatment and cure. That funding was part of a 10-year agreement with the Australian government, which concluded in 2018 - and the moment it did, the funding ceased.  The amount is not great – so why would the company not just continue to provide the funds? In fact CSR, the other major asbestos manufacturer in Australia at the time, has increased its contributions to research by 50 per cent. Read more: James Hardie stopped funding asbestos research the moment it could. The Financial Review 

US: Asbestos Ban Bill update

Hopes were dashed on September 29, 2020 when the House of Representatives failed to pass a bill – H. R. 1603 – banning asbestos in the US. Commentators from the Democratic Party claimed that the bill’s progress had been stalled by Republicans over potential legal ramifications the legislation might have had on toxic talc lawsuits. Expressing his disappointment over this turn in events, Frank Pallone Jr., Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said: “Everyone should be able to support a ban on this known carcinogen, which has no place in our consumer products or processes. More than 40,000 Americans die every year from asbestos exposure, but Republicans are willing to look the other way.”
Read more: Asbestos ban stalls in Congress amid partisan fight, The Hill. Source: IBAS 

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

International union news

UK: Government admits COVID airborne transmission risk

A UK government COVID-19 prevention strategy based on an assumption the disease was transmitted by close contact with viral-loaded droplets was wrong, latest Public Health England (PHE) guidance suggests. The 2m and 1m+ social distancing rules and recommendations limited the best respirators to those in the immediate vicinity of infected individuals or using ‘aerosol generating procedures’ meant only a small proportion of workers were provided the more effective respirators and other stringent protective measures.

But revised guidance on ‘SARS-CoV-2’ issued by PHE on 30 September notes COVID-19 “is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory (droplet and aerosol) and contact routes. Transmission risk is highest where people are in close proximity (within 2 metres). Airborne transmission can occur in health and care settings in which procedures or support treatments that generate aerosols are performed.” Crucially, though, the guidance now adds: “Airborne transmission may also occur in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, particularly if individuals are in the same room together for an extended period of time.” The recognition of airborne transmission indicates a much wider group of workers could be at risk, and helps explain the higher COVID-19 death rates in some non-medical service sector jobs and in construction identified by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in a 22 September report. It could also explain the high number of outbreaks now hitting a wide range of UK workplaces. In July, over 200 scientists backed a letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO) urging it to recognise the risks posed by airborne transmission. The UK government had until this revision of its guidance followed the WHO’s controversial line downplaying the risks of airborne transmission.
Read more: COVID-19: epidemiology, virology and clinical features, PHE guidance, updated 30 September 2020.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by occupation, before and during lockdown, England and Wales: deaths registered between 9 March and 30 June 2020, 22 September 2020.
Lidia Morawska, Donald K Milton. It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19, Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciaa939, 6 July 2020. 
WHO knew? WHO’s complacency over work virus risks a world class disasterHazards special report, July 2020. Source: Risks 968


Research

Electrolytes important in hot weather

US researchers have found that providing electrolyte drinks those working in hot and humid conditions can prevent muscle damage and associated complications. They noted that with rising global temperatures, outdoor agricultural laborers are increasingly exposed to heat and high humidity for extended periods. Plus their work can be extremely physically demanding, such as in manual sugarcane cutting, and is often performed in very hot, humid weather, especially in Latin America. The high intensity of the work coupled with extreme climate put agricultural workers at increased risk of dehydration and hypohydration (a state of decreased body water of two percent of body mass change due to sweat loss). Performing physical activity while losing body water impairs the body’s ability to dissipate heat, increasing the risk for heat-related illness and injury, such as acute kidney injury.

Agricultural workers in some parts of Australia would find themselves at similar risks. With summer approaching, the researchers' conclusions should be considered by employers here. 

The researchers, from the Colorado School of Public Health at the Colorado University, provided 50 sugarcane workers in Guatemala with increasing amounts of electrolyte solution, from 2.5 litres per day to 10 litres per day, for two weeks over a three-week period where the average temperature ranged from 31.2 and 34 degrees Celsius. Workers were also allowed to freely drink plain water.

They found that increased electrolyte intake led to less muscle breakdown from physical exertion in hot conditions, and added that maintaining hydration is important for physical performance in the heat, because dehydration is associated with increased cardiovascular strain and reduced productivity and endurance. However, they also found mild hyponatremia – excessively low levels of sodium in the blood – in workers with higher levels of fluid intake, indicating overhydration.

Their trial demonstrated the feasibility of maintaining workers’ electrolyte levels under extremely hot and humid conditions while mitigating muscle injury. Electrolyte supplementation should be added to standard workplace water, rest and shade interventions to protect workers. They also recommended that workers be provided with training and information to reduce intake of plain water and replace it with an electrolyte solution. 

The researchers concluded: “It is critical to understand the role that volume and electrolyte losses during the workday contribute to the onset of heat-related illness in order to improve upon existing acclimatization and occupational hydration/rest/shade programs and policies designed to prevent injury.”
Read more: Krisher, Lyndsay, et al, Electrolyte Beverage Intake to Promote Hydration and Maintain Kidney Function in Guatemalan Sugarcane Workers Laboring in Hot Conditions, and full article [pdf]. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first September 2020, doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000002033. Source: OHS Alert

 


Regulator news

Victorian news

Independent review of Dangerous Goods Act and Regs - submissions sought

In April 2020 the then Minister for Workplace Safety, the Hon. Jill Hennessy MP, announced a comprehensive review of Victoria’s dangerous goods laws and appointed Andrew Palmer QC as the Independent Reviewer. The Review is part of the Victorian Government’s response to high profile incidents associated with illegal chemical stockpiling at several sites across Melbourne.

The Review is considering contemporary issues and challenges in the management of dangerous goods including emerging risks and issues and their impact on the safety of people and property. A Consultation Paper has been released: it raises a number of issues which address the Review’s Terms of Reference and suggests ways in which those issues might be addressed. It also discusses Victoria’s dangerous goods landscape, the current regulatory framework and presents a list of questions to assist in making submissions.

All interested individuals and organisations are invited to share their views by making a submission. The Terms of Reference, the Consultation Paper and the list of questions can be downloaded from this page of the Engage Victoria website. The closing date for submissions is 5pm, 30 November, 2020. 

WorkSafe: Health and Safety Month helping to navigate COVID-19

The focus of WorkSafe's first fully virtual Health and Safety Month will be helping employers and workers navigate through coronavirus (COVID-19). 

There are more than a dozen free webinars and online sessions featuring guest speakers and industry experts covering topics like managing mental health through the pandemic, working remotely, leadership, fatigue, supporting injured workers and the impact on premiums. All sessions will be interactive with presenters ready to answer questions.

Some of the sessions include;
  • Surviving COVID-19 - a WorkSafe perspective
  • Leading the way: Industries innovating workplace mental health prevention
  • COVID-19 and Healthcare
  • Managing the risk of COVID-19; what does an inspector look for?
  • How the Building and Construction industry is dealing with COVID-19
  • How does COVID-19 impact your workcover premium

One of the sessions being promoted is with Ambulance Victoria’s CEO Assoc. Professor Tony Walker ASM. On October 26 he will be running an interactive session on the importance of leadership in workplace mental health during COVID‐19 and beyond. He will share his experience on how to address work related factors that can impact workers’ wellbeing and how to create a mentally healthy workplace. Health & Safety month events are free, but registration is essential. Go to this page on the Worksafe website to check out what webinars are being run and to register. 

Comcare COVID-19 webinars

1- Accelerated workplace change in the face of COVID-19 (Last chance to register)

The webinar, tomorrow at 10.30 am, will explore the rapid and large-scale changes that workplaces of different sizes and across various industries have undertaken in the face of COVID-19. Presenters from Comcare and Safe Work Australia will discuss shifts in work health and safety (WHS) risks and hazards, leadership, culture, working arrangements and WHS policy and systems that have contributed to accelerated workplace change.

There will also be the opportunity to submit questions to the presenters.

Webinar details

Date: Tomorrow, Thursday 8 October 2020
Time: 10.30 am – 11.30 am AEDT
Via: Microsoft Teams

Who should attend:

  • employers
  • work health and safety practitioners
  • health and safety representatives
  • human resources managers
  • mid-level managers
  • workers.

Register to attend on the Comcare website.

2 - As part of Mental Health Week, Comcare will be hosting a free webinar: COVID-19, our work, mental health and wellbeing, on Wednesday 14 October 2020; 2.00 - 3.30pm AEDT (Australian Eastern Standard Time).This will be their second webinar as part of National Safe Work Month 2020.

Comcare’s Ngaire Anderson, Director Mental Health and Research will be joined by Beyond Blue’s Linda Sheahan, Workplace Engagement Manager and Associate Professor Karina Jorritsma, Future of Work Institute, Curtin University.

Topics include:

  • Emerging research and insights on our work, mental health and wellbeing
  • COVID-19 and some of the challenges associated around mental health and our wellbeing
  • Opportunities and risks related to working from home and the future of work

For more on this webinar visit the Comcare website. Anyone with any questions about the webinar, contact Comcare by email at events@comcare.gov.au

SafeWork SA: Silica activity

SafeWork SA has committed to a second-round of audits from October 2020 on silica dust exposure ensuring ongoing compliance within exposure limits and rectification of any previously identified issues. Following audits in 2019, SafeWork SA inspectors are again visiting workplaces identified as either being involved in fabrication and installation of engineered stone products or having the potential for high levels of exposure. Read more: SafeWork SA Alert

Safe Work Australia news

National Health and Safety Month

A reminder of the upcoming national health and safety month in October - next week! Safe Work Australia has a dedicated National Safe Work Month website. There are resources available to download including a WHS best practice checklist for employers.  

Each week in October focuses on a WHS topic that acknowledges the impacts of COVID-19 and encourages best practice WHS. Check these out here.

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work last updated its fatality statistics on September 24, at which time there had been 113 worker fatalities notified to the national body. At the same time last year, there had been 137 reported fatalities - it appears that fewer workers are being killed in Australian workplaces, possibly due to fewer workers being on worksites due to the coronavirus pandemic. The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:

  • 38 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 22 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 20 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 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

There still has not been an update to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage since our last edition. However, go to it to check for further prosecutions before next week's SafetyNet. 

NSW: Bad example leads to serious injury and fines of $270,000

A NSW company and its director have been convicted and fined a total of $270,000, after a worker suffered catastrophic injuries climbing out of a vehicle in the unsafe manner regularly used by the director.

Banana's Truck & Tipper Hire Pty Ltd (BTTH) and sole director David Monk argued their culpability was reduced by the fact that Monk did not direct workers to climb in and out of a truck's large bin over its sides. However, NSW District Court Judge David Russell said BTTH employees had seen Monk similarly accessing the truck's tray and bin when the tray's back gate was closed.

"If the boss is doing it that way, he is in effect demonstrating how the workers can access the bin," the Judge said.

In February 2017, a BTTH crew attended a property in Asquith, NSW to cut down and remove a palm tree. The worker had just finished trimming the tree from inside the bin when he attempted to climb out and fell, landing on the back of his head on the road three metres below. 

The worker was airlifted to hospital where he was treated for a skull fracture, broken rib, collapsed lung and a torn spinal cord that resulted in permanent paraplegia from the waist down. In sentencing the defendants, Judge Russell said the lives of the 37-year-old worker, who now needed a carer to assist with his daily needs, and his family had been "forever blighted by the catastrophic injury which he suffered at work".

Judge Russell fined BTTH and Monk $225,000 and $45,000 respectively, after 25 per cent reductions for their guilty pleas, plus the prosecutor's costs. The parties agreed Monk should pay $25,000 in costs. Source: OHS Alert


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