SafetyNet 558

Welcome to the November 18 edition of SafetyNet 

It is with great sadness that we report that two young Victorian workers were killed in the past week. 

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

Two Victorian workers killed in the past week 

On Thursday last week, a farm hand was killed while operating a telehandler on a property at Gerang Gerung, near Dimboola. WorkSafe, which is investigating the fatality, believes the 29-year-old was preparing to remove bales from a stack when a raised bale attachment made contact with overhead power lines.

The second death is disturbing and tragic. A young woman was stabbed to death in the early hours of Monday morning when an intruder broke into her home. The 23 year old woman had gone to police about her alleged killer, an ex-colleague her family says became obsessed with her after she was kind to him the day he was fired. The young woman was a team leader at a Mill Park call centre run by global company Serco. The man who allegedly stalked her was one of her former team members who left the company about a year ago. Police are investigating. 

Her brother said: "(the man) got fired and she wasn’t close with him at all but just to give him some support she walked him out the door, and ever since that day he has just been obsessed with her," he said. Her father said the system had let his daughter down. According to news reports, some of the young woman's fellow workers were aware that she was being stalked. Read more: The Age

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the workers who lost their lives this week. The deaths of these young workers brings the workplace fatality toll to 63 for 2020, three more than at the same time last year. (Note, WorkSafe's official figure may be 61; the discrepancy may be whether the regulator classifies Monday's death, and the death of the food delivery worker the previous week as 'work-related'.)  

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

As Victoria continues to record 'double zero' figures (no new infections and no deaths for 19 days straight now), there has been an outbreak in South Australia. There are now 34 active COVID-19 cases in the state - 20 of which are linked to a cluster. It is suspected that the community outbreak had its source in one of the quarantine hotels. There were five new cases diagnosed today, and the South Australian government has announced that from midnight tonight the state will begin a six-day lockdown to seek to control the growing COVID-19 outbreak. The lockdown will implement a number of restrictions, including limiting movement of residents. These include:

  • All schools will close   
  • Pubs and restaurants will close
  • Regional travel will not be allowed
  • Certain  factories will close 
  • Construction industry will close
  • Weddings and Funerals banned 
  • Masks must be worn outside

The outbreak illustrates how infectious the virus is and the necessity to maintain a high level of vigilance. According to the latest official figures, there are 27,760 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia. The total number of COVID deaths remains at 907. The restrictions in Victoria have not been totally lifted - masks must still be worn whenever leaving the house; if workers can work from home they should; and although most businesses have opened and activities recommenced, there are limits in terms of numbers. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths continue to break records.  The cumulative number of infections is 55,932,624. One week ago it was 51,790,088this is an increase of over 4.1 million more infections in just seven days. There have now been 1,342,934 confirmed COVID-related deaths around the world. It appears that while infections are growing at increasing rates, the percentage of deaths is decreasing. This may be because more is now known about how to treat the infection. 

In good news, there are two vaccines - one from Pfizer/BioNtech and another from Moderna - which have undergone hugely successful trials, with announcements that they appear to be 90 per cent and 95 per cent successful respectively. There are others under development and at different stages of being trialled. Vaccines will be 'fast tracked' for use - but when are they likely to be available? Pfizer believes it will be able to supply 50 million doses worldwide by the end of this year, and about 1.3 billion by the end of 2021. Read more Covid: Will there be more than one coronavirus vaccine? BBC News

For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata 

I’ve been told by a manager that casual workers are ineligible to nominate in HSR elections, is that true?

The manager does not know what s/he is talking about - any employee in the DWG is eligible to nominate and be elected as the HSR.  
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Who is eligible to stand for election?

To be eligible for election, a person must be a member of the DWG and must not be disqualified from acting as an HSR. DWG members may nominate themselves or another member of the DWG to stand for election as an HSR.

And can casuals be members of DWGs?

Again, from the Act and the guide, when negotiating DWGs included in the factors which must be taken into account is: “the number and grouping of employees who perform similar types of work, such as doing the same tasks or working under the same or similar working arrangements (e.g. having the same shift arrangements; the same breaks; being part-time, casual or seasonal; working under the same contract or certified agreement; or having the same job grade).”

It is inconceivable in today's workforce that casuals would be ineligible. There are many workplaces where the majority of workers are casuals - in many the only permanent workers are in 'management'.  And anyone in a managerial position, while technically eligible to be a member of a DWG and therefore eligible to nominate as an HSR - should not be one. Again from the guide:

Can a manager be an HSR?

Strictly speaking, the OHS Act allows any employee of the employer to nominate to be elected as the HSR of a DWG. However, consideration must be given as to whether line management (i.e. managers, supervisors, team leaders, etc.) should or should not be an HSR. The HSR role is one of representation – not one of responsibility for meeting workplace health and safety duties.

If a DWG is defined in such a way that a manager/supervisor (who is an employee) is a member, they can be nominated and elected as an HSR.

For example in a larger workplace, people in managerial or supervisory roles are not the employer per se; they are still employees under the Act with the right to have their OHS interests represented.

However, in practice, managers/supervisors are designated people who usually have some level of control of the working environment.

A person who has a line management role who is also an HSR may be placed in an awkward, and possibly inappropriate, position. For example, they may be the person with whom an OHS concern is raised (as the employee representative) and, at the same time, be the person who, at least initially, has the responsibility (on behalf of the employer) to respond to that concern. WorkSafe would, in general, counsel against such an arrangement.

Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. 
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TONIGHT, November 18, 7:00pm -  OHS Live Show 

Join us on the We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook Page for a very special OHS Live Show, as we have three guests to discuss the relationship between HSRs and Injured Workers. If you've ever wanted to know about the Workcover system, returning to work and what the HSR's role can be after an injury has occurred, this is the episode for you! Those participating will have the opportunity to ask questions. So don't forget to tune in. 

Asbestos news  

A reminder of Asbestos Awareness Week November 23 - 29

Asbestos is still present in millions of Australian buildings and can be easily disturbed when doing renovations, home improvements and maintenance. If a building (workplaces, offices, hospitals, homes, etc) was built or renovated prior to 1990, there is a good chance it has some asbestos. Over 650 Australians died of mesothelioma last year. Experts warn the high number of cases could persist for years with hundreds more cases possible after latency of more than 30 years from work-related (builders, plumbers, gasfitters, mechanics and marine engineers) or other exposure. Firefighters may also be at risk after the devastating bushfires destroyed old buildings and sheds across Australia.

So we can never be complacent about asbestos - as reflected in this year's theme: ‘Asbestos lurks in more places than you’d think’ and will be supplemented with the sub-theme ‘before you start, be aware’.

The sub-theme relates to the fact that people are using the extra time we all have at home due to COVID-19 to do home improvements and maintenance. It encourages people to be aware of the potential asbestos risks before they start any work.

The campaign messaging has three parts:

  1. KNOW the health risks of asbestos exposure
  2. BE AWARE of where asbestos might be found before you start work (“it lurks in more places than you’d think”)
  3. CALL a professional to check, remove and dispose of it safely.

A campaign pack has been developed which provides a range of template materials, social tiles and graphics for organisations and individuals to use.

Research into chemotherapy alternatives for mesothelioma

With more than 650 Australians diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma last year, Flinders University is leading new research to discover alternatives to chemotherapy and even prevent deaths by early detection in future. In 2021 the university will be testing the natural therapeutic benefits of curcumin, a key component of the spice turmeric, in a clinical trial as part of world-leading research.

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Sonja Klebe, are studying the safety and feasibility of using a form of intrapleural liposomal curcumins to benefit patient survival and quality of life – with fewer toxic side-effects than chemotherapy. Read more: Mirage News

ACV/GARDS Newsletter

The November edition of the ACV/GARDS newsletter is now available to download [pdf] from their website. There is plenty of news to catch up on in the 20 page newsletter, including Asbestos Awareness Week events, an article on the demolition of the Hazelwood Power Station, profiles of Professor Tim Driscoll, Dr Tom John and Perdita Dickson, Senior Occupational Hygienist at WorkSafe. 

QLD: company fined for improper removal

A specialist demolition company and its two directors has been fined $16,000 for not properly demolishing a house which had asbestos-containing material (ACM). The company was found guilty of six charges under the state’s Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011, of improper removal of ACM, and fined $8000 (plus$1100 costs), with no conviction. The two company directors, who carried out the demolition works, were each fined $4000.

The company, which held a removal licence, had been contracted to remove a Toowoomba house which had ACM that should have been appropriately removed prior to any demolition work – this did not occur. Instead, an excavator was used to demolish the dwelling and ACM was pushed into piles across the site. Limited effort was made to remove the asbestos or put in control measures against its inadvertent dispersal. An excavator should not have been used. Also, the company failed to:

  • put up appropriate signs,
  • implement an adequate asbestos removal plan, 
  • inform nearby property owners of the ACM removal work
  • properly contain and label the ACM prior to removing it from the site.

As a licensed asbestos removalist company, it was aware of the safe methods of handling and removal of asbestos; however, these methods were not followed.
Source: Safety Solutions

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

Migrant Workers' Conference: The Pandemic, The Recession and Social Safety Nets

Migrant workers, unionists, campaigners and specialists in this field are invited to attend our upcoming Migrant Workers Conference: The Pandemic, The Recession and Social Safety Nets. The Conference will take place over three evenings from Monday 23 November to Wednesday 25 November.

This year has been especially tough for migrant workers. From those on sponsorship or bridging visas to international students and working holiday makers - migrants faced this pandemic without any Federal government support.

The Migrant Workers Conference will explore the impacts of COVID-19 and the recession on migrant workers. Come to hear what changes migrant workers are asking Australia to make and add your voice. Click here to find out more and to RSVP.  A written conference guide and multilingual glossary will be also be provided prior to the event.


Research

Australia: Billions of working hours lost due to COVID-19 pandemic

New research shows that working Australians on average lost 167 hours of work worth more than $5,000 each and $47 billion to the economy from the start of March to the end of October because of COVID-19. There were about 1.3 billion hours lost due to the COVID-Recession. The figures for Victoria will be higher.

Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) tallied the total loss in working hours and productivity costs. The total number of average hours worked by individuals between February and October was 692, which according to the study co-lead, Professor Nicholas Biddle, this was down from the expected 760 hours if everyone worked at the February levels.

According to the analysis, based on their longitudinal study running since February and before the spread of COVID-19 in Australia, weekly work hours dropped for both males and females between February and April, with a steady uptick since then – although not yet to February levels. The average hours worked for all females fell from 18.8 in February to 16.1 in April, but were 18.2 hours in October. For males, average hours worked declined from 25.0 in February to 21.5 in April and are currently at 22.7.

Workers born overseas in a non-English speaking country lost a substantially larger number of work hours (104) than an otherwise equivalent Australian-born worker.

Read more: Nicholas Biddle and Matthew Gray: Tracking outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (October 2020) – Reconvergence [pdf]  ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods. 


Regulator news

Victorian news

Wanted: HSRs for workshops

WorkSafe Victoria is currently looking at how it can better support HSRs.

The regulator would like to talk to HSRs from the manufacturing and health care and social assistance industries to understand the barriers, frustrations and ideas for solutions.

WorkSafe is wanting to know:

  • What stops you from being effective in your HSR role?
  • What supports/training/guidance would enable you in your role?

This is a chance to help shape future HSR support programs at WorkSafe - and it wants HSRs to get involved.

WorkSafe is running virtual workshops on:

  • Wednesday 9th Dec: 12.30pm-2.30pm or 6.30pm-8.30pm (for Manufacturing HSRs) 
  • Thursday 10th Dec: 12.30pm-2.30pm or 6.30pm-8.30pm (for Health Care and Social Assistance HSRs)

Those participating will be reimbursed for their time. If you are interested and willing to be consulted as part of this work, please contact Monica Butler at WorkSafe on monica_butler@worksafe.vic.gov.au

New WorkSafe video on consultation

If you haven't yet checked out WorkSafe's new video on consultation, then do so now. Everyone should know that employers have a duty to consult with HSRs, and also directly with employees if they wish, in a wide range of situations. This includes when considering any changes to the workplace, the systems of work, plant and so on. But sometimes, people forget.... So WorkSafe's new video on consultation, specifically in relation to COVID-19 is a useful tool for HSRs and workers to watch and bring to the attention of their employers. It may also be worthwhile arranging to watch it during your next OHS Committee meeting. Check the video here

WorkSafe's Health and Safety Month webinars available

The regulator's Health and Safety Month series of webinars ‘Navigating through COVID-19’, are now available to download. You can catch up on any webinars you may have missed, or share the ones you liked with your team. There are 12 videos available to download that cover topics such as:

  • managing mental health through the pandemic,
  • working remotely,
  • leadership,
  • fatigue,
  • supporting injured workers,
  • and the impact on premiums.

Hear from WorkSafe and industry experts on how to manage the risks and what support is available. Go to this YouTube page where they are all accessible.

November edition of Safety Soapbox

The November edition of Safety Soapbox was posted this morning.  The editorial in this month's edition notes that there are only a few weeks until the festive season which means that builders, sub-contractors, and workers will be under pressure to get jobs completed prior to the holiday break. The pressure to get work finished often results in workers taking shortcuts and safety measures being ignored.

The editor stresses that it is important site supervisors are especially vigilant during this time to ensure site safety, and recommends extra communication such as site inductions, toolbox talks or informal chats can help keep safety top of mind, and ensure workers remain vigilant. Other issues discussed in the editorial are worker fatigue and the importance of preparing sites for being left unattended over the shutdown. 

This week's absolute shocker is a photo of a worker at a high risk of falling while working on a completely illegal 'scaffold' and comes before an update that WorkSafe is undertaking a falls prevention and scaffolding blitz.  

As always, the Safety Soapbox has the list of incidents reported to WorkSafe: In October the construction industry reported 189 incidents to WorkSafe. Of these, 59 per cent resulted in injury. There were no fatalities, but a total of 71 per cent were either 'significant' or 'serious'. 35 incidents involved young workers. The serious incidents include: a worker losing an unspecified 'bodily function' after falling from a ladder; an electric shock and head injury after a worker suffered an electric shock and fell; and a worker suffering vision impairment and eye injury, after an energised cable came into contact with a conductive material caused an arc flash. Access the November 2020 edition of Safety Soapbox here  - the summaries of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.

Reminder: Independent review of Dangerous Goods Act and Regs - submissions close soon

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. 

Other news

NSW: trial of silica monitor 

The NSW Government has launched a trial of world-first technology to accurately monitor silica dust levels in the air that has the potential to protect NSW’s workers from contracting the deadly lung disease silicosis.

Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation, Kevin Anderson, said the innovative detector could be used by workers cutting or working with manufactured or other silica containing stone, protecting them from unknowingly inhaling dangerous levels of silica dust. He said that the new detector is one element of the NSW Government’s two-year plan to tackle dust diseases, including silicosis and asbestosis, in the state.

Under the plan the NSW Government has already taken measures to protect workers, including reducing the legal exposure standard for silica exposure and banning dry cutting of manufactured stone: measures taken also in Victoria. NSW has also made silicosis a notifiable disease and established a dust diseases register that will track, respond to, and prevent deadly dust diseases, including asbestosis and silicosis.

The NSW Dust Strategy 2020-22 seeks to coordinate SafeWork NSW’s widespread exposure prevention activities to ensure consistent application of the controls and best practice principles across NSW’s worksites.

“We’ve consulted widely with unions, employers’ associations and the building and construction sector to develop a robust and practical strategy and look forward to working with industry to implement these principles and end dust diseases for good,” Mr Anderson said.

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work has not updated its fatality statistics since November 5, at which time there had been 140 worker fatalities notified to the national body. The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:

  • 44 in Transport, postal & warehousing
  • 27 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 27 in Construction
  • 14 in Public administration & safety
  • 11 in Manufacturing 
  • 5 in Mining 
  • 4 in Accommodation & food services
  • 3 in 'other services' 
  • 1 in Arts & recreation services
  • 1 in Retail trade
  • 1 in Administrative & support services
  • 1 in Wholesale trade
  • 1 in Education and training 

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 have not been any recent prosecution summaries added to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. The last update was mid-October. 

QLD: McDonald's franchisee fined for not allowing workers water, toilet breaks or sick leave

A McDonald's franchisee has been fined $82,000 for the conduct of its managers, who threatened young workers regarding their right to water and toilet breaks, and the right to take sick leave.

Federal Court Justice John Logan found Tantex Holdings Pty Ltd recklessly failed to discharge the "core managerial function" of correctly understanding and applying the legalisation and industrial instruments that regulated the terms and conditions of the employment of its workforce.

The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union and a junior Tantex worker sued Tantex: they alleged the company engaged in unlawful adverse action and coercion after the young worker wanted to take a 10-minute paid break, as provided by the enterprise agreement. A general manager of the company, which owned a number of McDonald's stores in Queensland, posted a message on a store employees' Facebook group in January 2019 stating that if Tantex implemented the policy, this break "would be the only time you would ever be permitted to have a drink or go to the toilet".

In September this year, Justice Logan upheld the claims against Tantex, finding employers had a WHS obligation to allow workers access to toilet and drinking facilities and could not restrict such access to scheduled breaks. He found Tantex also made false representations about taking personal leave, when a store manager said on another Facebook post that workers were not permitted to be absent from work due to illness or injury during the 2018 Christmas public holidays.

Justice Logan said underlying each of its breaches was a "managerial failure in responding to particular operational challenges and pressures". He said when an employer chose to make representations to workers about the terms and conditions of their employment, it had a statutory obligation to be accurate. The company failed to do this, and there were at least two occasions that should have forced it to pause and properly consider the correctness of its position. 

Justice Logan stressed that employers needed to be sensitive to the power imbalance between a company and a young worker that occurred when such a worker asserted a workplace right. "Even if one were disposed not to react to the assertions of an individual worker, the union's emphatic adoption of that same position and advocacy for it ought to have occasioned this and at least a careful, studied reading of the clause, if not the taking of advice," he said. "Tantex had multiple potential sources of such advice, either in-house from its human resources staff, from the franchisor or, based on its apparent financial resources, from external legal or industrial relations advisers.

"The threat made by Tantex by [the manager] on 5 January 2019 was a sinister one. There is a quality of cruelty to workers about it. Its object was to quell agitation about a right to take a break in accordance with... the enterprise agreement. The threat did hit its target," Justice Logan said. He said the union and the young worker "have each well-served the public interest" through their case. Source: OHSAlert. More information on Breaks and Drinking water


Events

Wednesday November 25: 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 sixth DGAG Meeting for 2020, will be held next Wednesday 25 November, 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 8239 9791 Password: 158089

The meeting will have a similar agenda to past meetings, but Jeff notes that a key Issue not discussed at the DGAG October Meeting is Victoria: Industry Health & Safety Buffers. He also notes there is a key draft for the DGAG to comment on: Australian Standards Draft AS 2243.2 Safety in Laboratories, Part 2: Chemical Aspects. Comment by 12 Jan 2021

The topics to be discussed will be:

  1. Hazardous Chemicals / Dangerous Goods Incidents 

  2. The ADG Transport Code & Changes in the UN Model Regs, IMDG Code, IATA Regs, NZ Regs etc

  3. Dangerous Goods (Storage & Handling), GHS Haz. Chemicals, & Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals

  4. Update on Classification and Training for Dangerous Goods

  5. Information sharing 

  6. Other meetings and events

  7. Discussion regarding a possible end of year event - possibly in a public garden

For more information, contact Jeff Simpson (DGAG 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 or adjusting computer settings. Contact Jeff for instructions on how to join.  

The following 1st DGAG meeting in 2021, will be on Wednesday 17th February 2021 (meetings are now the 3rd Wednesday of the month), as another DGAG Webinar Discuss/Chat Meeting at 5.30 - 7.30pm. This may become a combined physical meeting / webinar meeting in Port Melbourne or in South Melbourne.


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