Coronavirus (COVID-19) - update
According to the latest official figures, there have been 27,847 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia and none of the new ones in the past few weeks have been in Victoria. We have had 'double zero' figures - no new infections and no deaths for 26 days straight. There are now also no active cases in the state. 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 continues to be frightening. The cumulative number of infections is now 60,076,389. One week ago it was 55,932,624: this is again an increase of over 4.1 million more infections in just seven days. There have now been 1,413,702 confirmed COVID-related deaths around the world.
The good news in relation to vaccines continues: Health Minister Greg Hunt says the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine results have opened up a pathway to a "fully safe Australia", with the first doses set to be distributed to healthcare workers and the elderly by March.
The Federal Government has committed to buying 33.8 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with 3.8 million of them to be imported from overseas manufacturing plants. It is the one of four vaccine deals the Government has committed to, and experts say it the cheapest and easiest option for transportation around the country.
The first 3.8 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will most likely be the first to be distributed to healthcare workers and the elderly in March, if the vaccine gains Therapeutic Goods Administration approval. The other 30 million doses will be manufactured locally by Melbourne-based firm CSL. Source: ABC News online. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.
I'd like to know the correct distance that needs to be free from obstruction of fire extinguishers and emergency door exits.
The OHS Act does not go into this level of detail. This is because OHS/WHS legislation in Australia is what we call ‘objective based’ – that is, the duties on employers require that they provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health (See Duties of Employers). This is called the ‘general duty of care’, and this covers everything. But the law is not ‘prescriptive’ – that is, it does not mandate HOW this should be done. The only exceptions are to do with certain chemicals like lead or asbestos, or things such as licences.
Under section 26 of the Act, there is also a duty on persons who control workplaces to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering it or leaving it are safe and without risks to health. The level of duty is in relation to matters over which the 'person' has management or control - the higher the level of control, the higher the duty. So things such as the physical workplace and emergency and evacuation plans are covered under this section. (See information on Emergency Evacuation). There is also some advice in the Workplace amenities and work environment Compliance Code about width of passageways, etc, but specific building requirements are in the building code.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
New resource for HSRs and unions
The VTHC has developed a library of EBA clauses which specifically address occupational health and safety. These come from unions, developed for use when they negotiate their EBAs. Others come from work done some years ago by the ACTU OHS Unit. Check out the EBA Library resource here.
Crown Casino workers win suspension of smoking
Following an eight-month shutdown at Crown Melbourne due to pandemic restrictions, this week the casino will reopen gaming areas, including VIP rooms where patrons can smoke. Initially Crown intended to pick up where they left off, and allow indoor smoking from this week, permitted under archaic exemptions by the Victorian Government.
However, under pressure from casino United Workers Union members, Crown has now advised they will suspend indoor smoking temporarily until the 6th of December. While workers are particularly concerned about the impact of indoor smoking during COVID-19, they are pushing to make this ban permanent post-pandemic. Chris, Crown Melbourne Dealer and United Workers Union member, said, “Crown has been allowed to endanger the lives of workers for decades. The time to eliminate the deadly hazard of passive smoke is now.”
Across the country, casinos are among the few venues where smoking is still allowed inside, but workers and the public are increasingly calling for an end to this practice. Earlier this year, The Star, which operate casinos in Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, announced they would phase out indoor smoking completely by the end of 2022.
Tobacco smoke is carcinogenic, and exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke in the workplace puts workers' health at risk. Approximately 1,000 Crown Melbourne workers are exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke as part of their work. The United Workers Union is calling for Crown Melbourne to transition to a smoke-free workplace and for all Crown workplaces to be smoke-free.
United Workers Union Casinos Director Dario Mujkic said, “This is an important step for the health and safety of both workers and the public. Now we need to make it permanent and transition all Crown venues to be smoke-free.”
Adrian, dealer/croupier at Crown, and an elected HSR and UWU Delegate, said, "It’s an amazing first step and it feels like this is the greatest opportunity to once and for all remove the smoking exemption at Crown. It’s been a long journey for many former and current HSRs and delegates that have played a significant part in this amazing win. We appreciate the knowledge, assistance and guidance provided by our union and the VTHC."
Read more: Environmental Tobacco Smoke. Source: UWU Media release
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:
KNOW the health risks of asbestos exposure
BE AWARE of where asbestos might be found before you start work (“it lurks in more places than you’d think”)
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.
WorkSafe Webinar - Friday November 27
Join WorkSafe and guests for a free ‘Asbestos in Victoria’ webinar from 1 – 2.30 pm this coming Friday 27 November 2020. Hear about how the use of asbestos, even after its ban in 2003, still impacts Victorians and learn about the strategies in place to reduce exposure
WorkSafe’s occupational hygiene specialists will be joined by:
- Brian Healy, a mesothelioma sufferer
- Professor Tim Driscoll (University of Sydney)
- Dr Tom John (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre)
- Executive Director Simone Stevenson (Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency).
Sign up here today for the virtual event to secure your spot. You will receive your access link a couple of days prior to the event.
More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home.
Migrant Workers' Centre news
Since the Migrant Workers Centre launched in 2018, they have assisted over 500 workers who've collectively clawed back over a million dollars in stolen wages, unpaid superannuation and entitlements, and WorkCover claims.
MWC 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. It's not too late to participate.
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.
NSW: two more food delivery drivers killed
An Uber Eats cyclist — understood to be a 37-year-old man from Malaysia — was killed after being hit by a truck carrying an excavator in Redfern on Monday night. Twenty-seven-year-old Uber Eats worker Bijoy Paul died on Saturday afternoon after being involved in a crash with a car at Rockdale in Sydney's south. Five delivery riders have died nationally in the past three months, four of them in Sydney, the fifth in Melbourne. The NSW Government has set up a taskforce to investigate a number of recent deaths of food delivery riders. The taskforce will be led by SafeWork NSW and Transport for NSW and will examine whether any avoidable risks may have contributed to the deaths.
Xiaojun Chen, Dede Fredy, Chow Khai Shien, Bijoy Paul and a fifth worker yet to be named, all died while working as food delivery drivers in the past 2 months. This cannot keep happening, these five lives lost have created irreparable holes in families and communities. Everyone should come home safe from work. At 1pm today food delivery workers and supporters held a vigil outside Uber's Sydney HQ to pay respects to those dead and call on food delivery companies to improve safety and protections for all workers.
Uber Eats has admitted the industry needs to do more to improve worker safety. A spokesperson from Uber said, "It is clear the industry needs to do more to improve road safety, and we are committed to playing a leading role in achieving this."
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said riders want to see urgent change and noted the move by the NSW Government to set up a taskforce. “This is a very sad time for delivery riders and anyone who works in road transport. A death of a worker will always send shockwaves throughput the community. The death of five workers in less than two months is devastating. Riders will today pay their respects to these riders and will also call for changes so that the carnage stops,” he said.
“The likes of Uber have been allowed to get away with trampling on workers’ right and risking their lives. Denying workers minimum rates, forcing them to race around to make enough to pay bills and threatening them with sacking if they are even a few minutes late is endangering workers. Workers urgently need minimum pay, training, proper protective gear and insurance,” Kaine said.
“It has taken four rider deaths in Sydney for the NSW Government to set up a taskforce. The State Government needs to get on with this taskforce and ensure workers are central to it. The Federal Government also needs to acknowledge its role. It’s not good enough that states are in a piecemeal way trying to address the problem these billion dollar global tech giants have created. We need the Federal Government to act and regulate,” he added. The union is calling for the Federal Government to investigate Uber and other food delivery companies.
Sources: TWU Vigil in memory of killed delivery drivers, and TWU to call for investigation into Uber; ABC news online
UK: Royal Mail workers to wear masks indoors
The introduction of mandatory facemask wearing in Royal Mail indoor work situations “is not an end in itself” insists postal workers’ union CWU. The move came after the company and the union agreed the measure, but with what CWU described as the “crucially important caveat” that this must not replace other preventive risk control measures. CWU deputy general secretary postal Terry Pullinger said: “In contrast to the first lockdown, the wearing of face masks is now commonplace in any under-the-roof area where people are together – be it on public transport or in shops. So clearly we would support this as part of an holistic approach to the safety of our members to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives, that people who are able to do so, wear masks in the workplace.”
He added “the disciplines that were in place during the first lockdown should be rigorously enforced once again, along with the wearing of face masks for those able to do so – ie. two-metre social distancing, all PPE in place, one person to a van and high levels of cleanliness for all equipment and buildings. The CWU supports all of these safety measures being applied so long as they are applied with equal status, and local reps and members should be demanding that all of these safety measures are in place.” CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said the union is also pressing for the urgent introduction of a workplace weekly testing regime, adding it has “formally put this forward to Royal Mail Group in order to further improve safety, and reduce workplace transmissions and infections – as well as giving a huge reassurance to the workforce at this tough time.” Read more: CWU news report. Source: Risks 974
UK: Court victory on access to PPE and OHS protections for gig workers
A “groundbreaking” court victory on workplace safety protection for gig economy workers has been welcomed by unions and safety organisations. In a judgment delivered in the High Court in London on 13 November, Mr Justice Chamberlain ruled that Britain had failed to properly implement an EU directive on personal protective equipment (PPE) in relation to self-employed workers who provide a service as part of a business. He also found that Britain has failed to properly implement part of another EU directive designed to “encourage improvements in the health and safety of workers at work.”
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) argued successfully that the directives required Britain to provide protection to “workers,” but that hundreds of thousands of gig-economy workers were left unprotected because British law only protected “employees.” IWGB brought its action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in October. Following the ruling, lawyer Kate Harrison of Old Square Chambers, who acted for IWGB, called on the government to take “urgent steps” to ensure that gig economy workers can exercise their rights to health and safety and PPE.
Commenting on the court victory, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity at work. But many in low-paid and insecure jobs have been forced to shoulder huge risk during this crisis.” She said the judgment “shows that the government was wrong to exclude gig-economy workers from key health and safety protections. It must now urgently review other key areas where vulnerable workers miss out, including parental rights and redundancy rights. If ministers are serious about levelling up Britain, they must level-up working conditions.” Richard Jones, head of policy at the safety professionals’ organisation IOSH, said: “IOSH welcomes recognition from the High Court that ‘gig’ workers should have the same occupational safety and health protections as employees and emphasises that responsible organisations should already be protecting workers during this pandemic, to support both occupational and public health.”
This news comes as the VTHC launches a campaign for better wages and conditions for gig economy workers. In the past few weeks, five food delivery drivers have been killed while doing their jobs.
Read more: IWGB news release. Old Square Chambers news release. IOSH news release. Morning Star. Source: Risks 974
Cumulative work exposures increase mental risk
Australian researchers have found that being exposed to poor quality work at each phase of their 12-year study increased participant workers' odds of developing a mental disorder by 30 per cent.
The study of almost 1,300 workers, led by Dr Lay San Too of the University of Melbourne's Centre for Mental Health, found 41 per cent were employed in poor quality jobs during at least one of the four study waves between the early 2000s and 2013. Poor quality roles included those with excessive demands, experienced by 54 per cent of participants. 47 per cent experienced high job insecurity and 46 per cent low job control.
The researchers found that at the end of the study period about 21 per cent were suffering a common mental disorder, like depression or anxiety. They found "each additional exposure to poor job quality over time was associated with a 30 per cent increase in the odds of subsequent common mental disorder".
They said their results highlight the detrimental effect of cumulative exposure to poor psychosocial job quality on mental health - many previous studies have shown poor psychosocial job conditions lead to mental health problems, but only a small number examined whether an accumulation of such exposure over time has a greater negative impact.
"These findings underline the important role of adequate psychosocial job quality in preserving mental health and suggest that the risk of common mental disorder could be reduced by ensuring better quality work," the researchers say. These modifiable psychosocial risk factors "should be a focus of workplace policy to prevent common mental disorder in workers, which could then have flow on benefits including a reduction in sickness absence and increased productivity at work". They noted, however, the participants were between the ages of 40 and 46 and the findings may not be able to be generalised to other age groups.
Resources: more information about Psychosocial hazards, and the VTHC Standard here. Download materials and a psychosocial risk survey to use in your workplace here.
Read more: Lay San Too, et al, Cumulative impact of high job demands, low job control and high job insecurity on midlife depression and anxiety: a prospective cohort study of Australian employees. [Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first November 2020, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2020-106840. Source: OHSAlert
Black and Asian people at increased risk of COVID-19
Black people are twice as likely as white people to catch the coronavirus, a study of 18 million people suggests, with higher exposures at work one of the contributory factors needing attention.
Researchers at the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham say their findings, based on an analysis of US and UK studies, are of “urgent public health importance” and raise questions about how vaccines will be prioritised within at-risk groups. The authors, whose study is published online in the journal EClinical Medicine, note: “Our findings should inform public health strategies to minimise exposure risk of SARS-CoV-2 in ethnic minority groups, by facilitating timely access to healthcare resources, and targeting the social determinants, structural racism, and occupational risk underlying inequities.”
The research examined data from 50 studies - 42 from the United States and eight from the UK. Lead researcher Dr Manish Pareek said there are many explanations behind the heightened risk, including people from ethnic minority groups being more likely to be employed in frontline roles and more likely to live as large households with several generations. He added that so far he had seen little evidence to suggest the risks were driven by genetic factors. He said he hoped the findings would be taken into account in discussions about prioritising vaccines for people already considered to be at high risk.
Read more: Shirley Sze, Daniel Pan, Clareece R Nevill and others. Ethnicity and clinical outcomes in COVID-19: A systematic review and meta-analysis, [Full study] EClinical Medicine, Open Access. Published: 12 November 2020. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100630 BBC News Online. Source: Risks 974
Professional drivers at increased risk of cancer
Professional drivers are facing a routine and serious health risk from diesel exhaust fume exposures at work. In what they described as “the largest real-world in-vehicle personal exposure study to date”, researchers from the MRC Centre for Environment and Health, Environmental Research Group and Imperial College London, found that professional drivers are regularly exposed to hazardous levels of diesel emissions as part of their work. Other studies have linked diesel fume exposure at work to lung and blood cancer and heart, lung and other diseases.
The new study funded by safety professionals’ organisation IOSH found that professional drivers are disproportionately affected by exposure to diesel exhaust fumes, including taxi drivers - the worst hit group - couriers, bus drivers and drivers working for the emergency services. Dr Ian Mudway of Imperial College London, who led the DEMiSt research team, said: “We believe there are around a million people working in jobs like these in the UK alone, so this is a widespread and under-appreciated issue – indeed, it was very noticeable to us just how surprised drivers taking part in the study were at the levels of their exposure to diesel.” In total, 11,500 hours of professional drivers’ exposure data were analysed in the baseline monitoring campaign. The results showed that, on average, professional drivers were exposed to 4.1 micrograms of black carbon per cubic metre of air (µg/m3) while driving, which was around four times higher than their exposure at home (1.1 µg/m3). The levels recorded at home would be similar to levels experienced by office workers at their desks, the researchers said. The study found massive exposure spikes often occurred in congested traffic within Central London, in areas where vehicles congregate, such as in car parks or depots, as well as in tunnels and ‘street canyons’ (between high buildings).
Read more: IOSH news release and full report. See: Diesel - a declared carcingogen; Hazards magazine feature Fuming, factsheet Diesel out and poster Die diesel die. Source: Risks 974
Asthma risk linked to permanent night shift work
Shift workers, especially those working permanent night shift rosters, may be at heightened risk of moderate to severe asthma, new UK research has indicated. Approximately one in five employees in the developed world works permanent or rotating night shifts. Shift work causes a person’s internal body clock (circadian rhythm) to be out of step with the external light and dark cycle, the researchers note, adding this misalignment is associated with a heightened risk of various metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
The new findings, published online in the journal Thorax, drew on medical, lifestyle, and employment information supplied between 2007 and 2010 by 286,825 participants in the UK Biobank. The researchers from several UK and US universities compared the effect of working office hours with shift work on asthma diagnosis, lung function, and symptoms of asthma. After taking account of age and sex, and a wide range of other potentially influential risk factors, there was a 36 per cent increase in the odds of having moderate to severe asthma in permanent night shift workers compared to those working normal office hours. Similarly, the odds of wheeze or airway whistling were 11-18 per cent higher among those working any of the three shift patterns, while the odds of poorer lung function were around 20 per cent higher in shift workers who never or rarely worked nights and in those working permanent night shifts. “The public health implications of our findings are potentially far-reaching, since both shift work and asthma are common in the industrialised world,” the authors warn. Asthma affects 339 million people worldwide and costs health and care services more than £1 billion in the UK alone.
Read more: Maidstone R, Turner J, Vetter C and others. Night shift work is associated with an increased risk of asthma, [Full text] Thorax, Published Online First: 16 November 2020. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2020-21521. More information on Asthma Source: Risks 974.
Kentucky Fried Chicken operator fined $10k after teenagers scalded
Mylora Holdings Pty Ltd, owner and operator of a small number of Kentucky Fried Chicken retail fast food outlets including that in Plenty Road, Bundoora, has been fined over an incident in November 2017.
Two seventeen year old employees both received scald burns to their body when hot water and steam spilt out of the “Collectramatic pressure cooker” they were cleaning. They had filled the cooker with water, added soap and closed the lid. At some point it was turned on and left on for approximately half an hour – when they noticed this, one of switched it off at the main power point. One then tried to release the pressure by manually releasing a valve on the lid, but when this happened the lid popped open, causing water and steam to flow out of the cooker onto both workers. They were taken to the Austin Hospital where their burns were treated and dressed. They were discharged on the same day.
The young workers had not followed the correct procedure for cleaning the cooker - however the employer had failed to provide an adequate and regular system of supervision for the safe cleaning operation of the cookers. The company pleaded guilty, and was fined $10,000 (and $3,000 in costs), without conviction.
Carpentry company fined $10k after sub-contractor falls ten metres
Tynan Construction Pty Ltd, specialising in residential carpentry works, was engaged by Chloch Homes & Developments to undertake works at a domestic building site in Mount Waverley. Chloch engaged the offender to undertake carpentry works at the site. Tynan in turn engaged sub-contractors to perform the work.
On 23 October 2018, a sub-contractor was installing pre-fabricated roof trusses on the roof over the first floor of one of the units near an unprotected stair void. He fell approximately six metres through the stair void onto the basement concrete floor below. There was no information provided on the extent of the worker's injuries.
There was a risk of falling through the void, which the company could have reduced or eliminated by ensuring that work on the roof trusses was not done near the stairwell void until fall protection was in place.
Tynan pleaded guilty and was without conviction, fined $10,000 plus costs of $2,500.
More fines after Mt Waverly collapse
An engineering company was last week convicted and fined $250,000 after the collapse of a pit on a Mt Waverley construction site in 2015 which led to the evacuation of nearby residents.
The sole director of the firm, Ranjan Fernando, was also convicted and fined $60,000. Mr Fernando and Ranjan Fernando Consulting Engineers Pty Ltd were found guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court in January of one count each of failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to health and safety.
The court heard that in February 2015 the company certified structural drawings for a mixed commercial and residential development to be built on the site, including plans for the construction of a two-level underground carpark. The plans failed to include an appropriate retention system for the excavation, however.
Excavation works for the basement had just been completed in July 2015 when a collapse occurred after heavy rain, leaving two adjacent townhouses teetering on the edge of the 10m-deep hole. Tenants living in the properties were forced to evacuate and find alternative housing.
The structural engineering firm which drew up the plans for the excavation and its director were separately convicted and fined a total of $240,000 after pleading guilty to workplace safety breaches in 2018.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said the collapse could have had catastrophic consequences for workers or for members of the public in the immediate vicinity. "Thankfully no one was on site at the time of the collapse and the homes that had to be evacuated didn't fall into the pit," Ms Nielsen said. "But it's clear this company and its director should have been aware both of the risk of collapse and the safety measures that would eliminate or reduce that risk."
Source: WorkSafe Victoria media release
To check for more prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.