October 21: Welcome to a very short edition of SafetyNet.
Both this edition and probably next week's, will be short editions, due to our Risks to Psychological Health Conference next Tuesday. While registrations closed last week (we have literally thousands registered!), those who either missed out or want to be able to see what went on can do so. We will be recording the sessions and uploading these to the Conference webpage. The materials we posted to Victorian HSRs and deputies are available now to download, also from the page.
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 [email protected]
Coronavirus (COVID-19) - update
Due to the number of cases in Victoria continuing to be very low, with only three new cases reported yesterday, there were a number of changes made to the restrictions in metropolitan Melbourne, with some restrictions being eased. Some of these mean that more workers - such as barbers and hairdressers, those working in outdoor sports facilities such as golf and tennis, and some others, will now be at work. It is expected that there will be further changes announced this weekend. Read more on the Victorian situation here.
According to the latest official figures, there have been 27,429 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - only 112 more than last week. The total number of COVID deaths is now 905.
The international situation continues to worsen and as the northern hemisphere goes into winter, it is unlikely to improve: the cumulative number of infections is 41,022,134. Last Wednesday it was 38,347,804: this is almost 2.7 million more infections in just one week - and the rate is increasing. There have now been 1,128,879 confirmed COVID-related around the world. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.
In some international COVID news:
Spain: there are now over one million coronavirus infections so far –making it the first European country and sixth country overall to reach this number. More than 34,000 people have died.
Health experts say the true number of infections is probably much higher: insufficient testing, asymptomatic cases and other issues mean official counts fail to capture the real scale of the outbreak.
USA: CDC finds 300,000 excess deaths
A report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has seen 300,000 more deaths than it usually would. The CDC has been tracking how many deaths have been reported and comparing them with counts seen in other years. Usually, between the beginning of February and the end of September, about 1.9 million deaths are reported. This year, the figure is closer to 2.2 million - a 14.5 per cent increase, AP reports.
The CDC says around 200,000 of the deaths are already attributed to coronavirus, but that the it’s likely COVID-19 was a factor in many other deaths, too. Deaths were up for different racial and ethnic groups, but the largest increase - 54% - was among Hispanic Americans.
October 15: 50th Anniversary of West Gate Bridge collapse event
Last week was the 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. 35 workers were killed, 17 were injured. If you missed the live streamed event to remember those workers who were killed, you can still see it on the VTHC Facebook page.
There were a number of articles in various publications - all worth reading:
- a Feature article published in the current edition of the Workers Solidarity Bulletin [pdf].
- Anniversary of the West Gate Bridge Collapse, The Age. This includes some news footage of the day
- s special edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox, and a news article: Fifty years since the West Gate Bridge tragedy
- a terrific documentary which aired on Channel 9 on the day of the anniversary, West Gate Bridge Disaster: The Untold Stories. The documentary has a lot of footage, interviews with survivors, the families of those killed, union officials and politicians.
A reminder that the events planned by the West Gate Bridge Committee for this year will be held next year.
I'm coordinating mural project on large wall site. At what ladder height do installers automatically require White Card certification? Is it 2.4 or 2 metres?
However, there are regulations to do with working at height which kick in once work occurs above 2 metres. The regulations require employers to eliminate or minimise the risk of falls by implementing a hierarchy of control once any work is undertaken at this height. In addition, the employer's general duty under section 21 applies in terms of providing safe systems of work and safe use of 'plant', which includes ladders, even if work is done at 2 metres or less.
Check the following pages out:
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Last chance to complete Gig workers survey!
If you haven't yet completed the VTHC Young Workers Team survey for gig workers, do so right now to ensure your views go into the submission. Please complete the survey by the end of this week. For those with friends or family members who work in the sector, please let them know and encourage them to fill it in too.
International union news
UK: Higher ethnic risk death linked to jobs
Ethnic minorities’ higher risk of dying from COVID-19 is linked to where they live and the jobs they do, rather than their health, figures for England and Wales suggest. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis found almost all ethnic minority groups are more likely to die than white people. The ONS looked at the total number of people in each community in England and Wales whose death involved COVID-19, factoring in underlying health conditions. It concluded: “These findings show that ethnic differences in mortality involving Covid-19 are most strongly associated with demographic and socio-economic factors, such as place of residence and occupational exposures, and cannot be explained by pre-existing health conditions using hospital data or self-reported health status.” Ben Humberstone, deputy director of health analysis and life events at the ONS, commented: “Our statistical modelling shows that a large proportion of the difference in the risk of COVID-19 mortality between ethnic groups can be explained by demographic, geographical and socioeconomic factors, such as where you live or the occupation you’re in. It also found that although specific pre-existing conditions place people at greater risk of COVID-19 mortality generally, it does not explain the remaining ethnic background differences in mortality.”
GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said the figures were “yet more proof that fundamental change is needed. As an employer itself, the government should be taking its public sector equality duty seriously and publishing equality impact assessments of COVID-19 policies. Instead, they have hidden such reports from the public and ignored their legal duty to keep vulnerable ethnic minority workers safe.”
Read more: Updating ethnic contrasts in deaths involving the coronavirus (COVID-19), England and Wales: deaths occurring 2 March to 28 July 2020, ONS, 16 October 2020. BBC News Online. The Guardian. Source: Risks 970
Action call on airborne virus transmission
Following a statement this month from top US scientists that ‘airborne’ transmission is a major cause of COVID-19 spread, the opposing position taken by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has come in for further criticism.
The recognition of airborne transmission risks has been discounted by WHO throughout the pandemic. Acceptance of this mode of transmission would signal that a much wider range of workers in health care and other occupations should have been provided much higher levels of protection. In recent weeks, both US and UK authorities have changed their guidance to acknowledge this airborne mode of transmission, and their positions are now closer to the long-established guidance from the global trade union body ITUC.
Now a paper published in the journal New Solutions, analysing WHO’s workplace safety guidelines on COVID-19 and comparing it to ITUC’s position, notes: “The WHO’s health and safety guidelines on COVID-19 at work are unacceptably complacent in parts, patently dangerous in others and contain serious gaps. Omissions include no mention of the essential role of labour inspection and enforcement, and a lack of recognition of potential interactions with other workplace hazards, and of the necessity for wider employment protections to make safety and safe behaviour a realistic prospect.” Highlighting ITUC’s call for greater precaution to protect workers, it adds: “Potential risks in outdoor work and the need to address the impact of job segregation related to inequalities in health outcomes are also absent. The advice on physical distancing, requirements for protective equipment, and the estimations of risk by occupation is also error strewn and potentially dangerous.”
Read more: Rory O’Neill. WHO Knew. How the World Health Organization (WHO) Became a Dangerous Interloper on Workplace Health and Safety and COVID-19, New Solutions, first published 8 October 2020. https://doi.org/10.1177/1048291120961337. Source: Risks 970
Safety Soapbox October edition
The latest edition of Safety Soapbox was sent out today. In this edition, the editorial reminds the construction industry about the risks associated with the use of scaffolding, use of ladders and works at height. Over the past 12 months three Victorian construction workers have been fatally injured as a result of falls from heights. Many other workers are also seriously injured as a result of falls from portable ladders. From 2019-2020, there were 162 incidents reported involving falls.
The edition also has news that WorkSafe is running a blitz on electrical safety. WorkSafe Inspectors are visiting domestic and commercial construction sites to highlight the importance of managing electrical risks onsite during construction work, of buildings or parts of buildings and associated permanent or temporary structures with builders, contractors and workers.
In September the construction industry reported 189 incidents to WorkSafe. Of these, 77 per cent resulted in injury. A summary can be downloaded from the Safety Soapbox newsletter.
Other news in the bulletin: Mandatory training for solar workers
Solar Victoria’s commitment to safety means all workers in the Solar Homes Program must complete the free mandatory training unit VU22744 Work safely in the solar industry by 30 June 2021. This includes accredited installers, licensed plumbers who work with retailers in the program, apprentices, trades assistants and labourers on installation sites. The two day course consists of five units, all of which are fully funded – no charges apply. Check the October edition of Safety Soapbox for more information on this training, and also for interstate news.
WorkSafe: Health and Safety Month helping to navigate COVID-19
A reminder that there are still WorkSafe events for Health and Safety Month happening. 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.
Reminder: Independent review of Dangerous Goods Act and Regs - submissions sought
A comprehensive review of Victoria’s dangerous goods laws is currently underway. The Review is part of the Victorian Government’s response to high profile incidents associated with illegal chemical stockpiling at several sites across Melbourne, and is considering issues and challenges in the management of dangerous goods. The Consultation Paper 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.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work has not updated its fatality statistics since October 8, at which time there had been 121 worker fatalities notified to the national body. The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:
- 38 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 25 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 22 in Construction
- 12 in Public administration & safety
- 10 in Manufacturing
- 5 in Mining
- 3 in Accommodation & food services
- 2 in 'other services'
- 1 in Arts & recreation 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.
There have been some prosecution summaries listed on WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. Due to shortness of time, this is a very brief summary:
Baptcare Ltd: prosecuted for a breach of s23 of the OHS Act, over an incident in which a 100 year old resident of a residential aged care facility sustained a serious burn as a result of spilled coffee. Baptcare pleaded guilty and was with conviction sentenced to pay a fine of $20,000 and to pay costs of $5,633.
TAD Pty Ltd: a labour hire service provider, who provided labour hire services to the co-accused, The Australian Steel Company (Operations) Pty Ltd. One of three TAD employees who were sent to an Australian Steel Company site in Laverton North to cut, trim, fell and remove 16 trees using a chainsaw, sustained a serious gash to his thigh.
TAD pleaded guilty and was, without conviction, fined $20,000 and costs of $3,000. On 2 March 2020, the co-accused had also pleaded guilty to a similar charge relating to this incident as was, without conviction, fined $27,500 plus costs of $3,000.
Tonight Wednesday October 21: Dangerous Goods Advisory Group
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. Jeff Simpson, the convener of the DGAG, has informed us that the fifth DGAG Meeting for 2020, will be held tonight Wednesday 21 October, at 5.30pm - 7.30pm AEST.
Like many meetings we are now participating in, the DGAG will be a Webinar Chat meeting. To join the Zoom Meeting click here. Meeting ID: 827 4546 6341 Password: 158089
The topics to be discussed will be:
Hazardous Chemicals / Dangerous Goods Incidents
The ADG Transport Code & Changes in the UN Model Regs, IMDG Code, IATA Regs, NZ Regs etc
Dangerous Goods (Storage & Handling), GHS Haz. Chemicals, & Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals
Update on Classification and Training for Dangerous Goods
Other meetings and events
For more information, contact Jeff Simpson (DGAG convenor and Webinar host), Haztech Environmental, Ph: 03-9885-1269 Mob: 0403-072-092, Email: [email protected]
Jeff can assist in setting up the Zoom meeting or adjusting computer settings. Contact Jeff for instructions on how to join.
The following DGAG meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday 25 November 2020, most likely again on Zoom.