Welcome to the December 9, 2020 edition SafetyNet.
This has been a very good month for Victoria in terms of coronavirus. We have had 39 days of zero new cases, and can look forward to a happy holiday season. Talking of 'holidays', this is the second last edition of SafetyNet for the year. Next week will be the last. Keep an eye out in February for the first edition for 2021.
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
Australia has had a total, to date, of 27,987 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed. None of those recently diagnosed in the past weeks have been in Victoria, where there have not been any new cases identified for 38 days. As a result, the Andrews government this week further reduced restrictions, including numbers of workers allowed in workplaces, and the wearing of masks. There have also been changes which affect the public. We have updated the information on the website: Coronavirus the Victorian situation and Masks and face coverings.
Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, with some countries recording huge increases. The cumulative number of infections is now 68,479,299. One week ago it was 64,178,843: this is an increase of over 4.3 million more infections in just seven days. There have been 1,560,989 confirmed COVID-related deaths around the world.
The United Kingdom has begun the largest vaccination program in the country's history with four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine expected to be administered by the end of the month. The shipment arrived in the country just two days before the roll out began. Meanwhile, Canada, Brazil, Germany, United States and Indonesia prepare to follow UK in rolling out COVID-19 vaccines. Because Australia is in such a good situation, having effectively controlled community infection, it is likely the government will wait to see how successful the vaccination programs in other countries are and take into account any issues which may arise Read more: ABC news online For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page.
Can the director of a company elect themselves to be the OHS rep?
- an employee of the employer; and
- elected by the members of the Designated Work Group - who must also be employees; and
- cannot be the employer's ohs representative.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
VTHC Events TONIGHT, Wednesday December 9
1 - OHS Live Show - Vulnerable workers
Tonight we have two guests, to discuss Vulnerable Workers, and the unique OHS challenges facing them.
Vulnerable workers are in workplaces everywhere, in every industry. This will be a great episode for HSRs looking to act more on the needs of young workers, migrant workers, women or workers from any other vulnerable sector of society that some employers love to take advantage of.
Right here on the We are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page - 7pm tonight - tell your mates.
2 - Join young workers to fight for a better future
Earlier this year approximately 50 young workers built a Log of Claims. The Log of Claims is a list of demands that young workers will take action on in 2021 to campaign for a fairer, safer Victoria for all young workers. They are fighting for good, clean, secure jobs, roofs over their heads and an education and healthcare system that helps young workers get ahead. This year young workers won wage theft laws, and together they can win a whole bunch of other changes so that young workers aren't left recovering from the pandemic for decades to come. Tonight Wednesday 9 December at 5pm young workers will come together on Zoom to form action groups and plan how to win the demands in 2021. The event is being coordinated by the VTHC's Young Workers' Centre. RSVP and join other young workers on tonight!
Sign the petition for Gig workers
In our last edition we reported on the deaths of five food delivery drivers in just weeks. The gig economy is literally killing workers. Without health and safety rights, insurance and a living wage riders are forced into working quickly rather than safely over long hours to pay their bills and buy groceries.
Platforms like UberEats are getting away with turning a blind eye to the health and safety of their workers as the Federal Government attempts to wash its hands of responsibility and fails to act. Federal Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter, must step up and act immediately to enforce minimum standards to keep gig workers safe.
This is a crisis of national proportions and it is not enough for Christian Porter to simply extend his “deepest sympathies” to the families of the workers who haven’t made it home safely. As the Federal Industrial Relations Minister he has the powers to regulate the gig economy and extend protections and support to these workers. Tell the Minister and the Federal Government that 'enough is enough' - sign the Megaphone petition now.
Demand for national industrial manslaughter laws grows
Families of workers killed on the job and unions have gathered in Canberra to call for the introduction of industrial manslaughter into model workplace health and safety laws. They will be pushing for the implementation of recommendations from the Senate Inquiry into industrial deaths that were handed down in October 2018 and Boland Review of Australia’s work health and safety laws in all states and territories. Industrial manslaughter laws are currently in place in Victoria, Queensland, Northern Territory, and Western Australia.
In 2019, 183 Australian workers were fatally injured while working – an increase of 37 avoidable deaths since 2018 and the first increase since 2007.
The Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) said the law provides justice for the families who have lost loved ones and acts as a deterrent for employers who might otherwise cut corners on work health and safety. ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said everyone should feel safe at work. “Everyone has a right to go home to their families at the end of every day,” Mr. O'Brien said. “Employers that cut corners that kill workers should face serious consequences. Sadly, this is not the case. Every year hundreds die in workplaces and their families deserve justice." Read more: ACTU Media Release
Portugal: Asbestos in schools
A statement by a Ministry of the Portuguese Government has announced the extension of the deadline for submissions to be made for financial support for the removal of asbestos from the country’s schools. Applications made, to date, will incur the expenditure of more than €75 million (A$119.3 million) for the asbestos remediation of 460 schools (approximately 74 per cent of all the schools) in 130 cities. The financing of the work is guaranteed by European funds for regional programs. The new deadline for submissions is December 30, 2030. Source: IBAS
Addressing Italy’s asbestos legacy
A feature length article examines options for decontaminating the Italian infrastructure and environment within a broader discussion of the country’s historic mining and usage of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. During much of the 20th century, Italy was Europe’s second largest asbestos supplier and consumer after the Soviet Union. On average 6,000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases and toxic exposures continue even though asbestos was banned in 1992. The author of the article, Ezio Bonanni, asserts that asbestos remediation tax credits are the only feasible solution to the country’s asbestos problem.
Read more: Credito d’imposta, unica via per una reale bonifica dell’amianto [Tax credit, the only way for a real asbestos remediation]. Source: IBAS
UK: Food factories could be Covid xmas ‘super spreaders’
UK’s food processing factories could become “super spreaders” of COVID-19 in the run up to Christmas, the TUC has warned. The union body says people working in food plants already face a higher chance of contracting COVID-19 due to the lack of airflow, lack of social distancing and low temperatures. With the number of temporary workers in food manufacturing set to increase by more than 40 per cent this Christmas, the TUC says the risk of workplace infections will grow. Since March, several UK food factories have been forced to close during the pandemic after reporting hundreds of cases of coronavirus, among them suppliers to major supermarkets.
The TUC warns that current workplace safety guidance for food production is “out-of-date”. New scientific studies have shown the significance of airborne transmission, with COVID-19 aerosols remaining suspended in the air for hours. But the existing government guidance is still largely based on stopping spread of droplets which fall to the ground in seconds. The TUC wants stricter controls on ventilation, face coverings, workplace temperatures and physical distancing. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “Ministers urgently need to update the guidance for food production. They must require employers to publish their risk assessments. And they must resource the HSE properly, so it can get into food factories and crack down on unsafe working.” The TUC has said too little official safety enforcement action is taking place, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issuing just 31 enforcement notices for COVID-19 safety breaches since April. Read more: TUC news release Source: Risks 976
UK: Intrusive monitoring on the rise since coronavirus
The TUC has launched a new taskforce to look at the “creeping role” of artificial intelligence (AI) in managing people at work. The taskforce launch comes as a new TUC report, ‘Technology managing people: the worker experience’, reveals that many workers have concerns over the use of AI and technology in the workplace.
A poll of over 2,000 workers found 1 in 7 (15 per cent) say that monitoring and surveillance at work has increased since COVID-19; 6 in 10 (60 per cent) say that unless carefully regulated, using technology to make decisions about people at work could increase unfair treatment in the workplace; and fewer than 1 in 3 (31 per cent) say they are consulted when any new forms of technology are introduced. More than half of workers (56 per cent) say introducing new technologies to monitor the workplace damages trust between workers and employers.
The TUC says AI-powered technologies are currently being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles. And the report highlights how AI is being utilised by employers to analyse team dynamics and personality types when making restructuring decisions. Left unchecked, the union body warns that AI could lead to greater work intensification, isolation and questions around fairness. The report notes the TUC’s survey found “only a quarter had… experience of a health and safety employee representative being consulted before new technology was introduced,” and points to increased injuries, stress and strains linked to work pressures. It warns that global corporations, like Amazon and Uber, are driving advances in the use of AI to monitor and set more demanding targets for workers.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Big companies are investing in intrusive AI to keep tabs on their workers, set more demanding targets – and to automate decisions about who to let go. And it’s leading to increased loneliness and monotony. Workers must be properly consulted on the use of AI, and be protected from punitive ways of working. Nobody should have their livelihood taken away by an algorithm.” She added: “As we emerge from this crisis, tech must be used to make working lives better – not to rob people of their dignity.”
Read more: TUC news release, blog and report, Technology managing people: the worker experience, 30 November 2020. Source: Risks 976
Global Campaign: Make Amazon pay
According to global union body IndustriALL, the pandemic has exposed how Amazon places profits ahead of workers, society, and our planet. It says Amazon takes too much and gives back too little; it is time to Make Amazon Pay. On Black Friday, 27 November, the biggest retail sales day in the United States, as well as in other parts of the world, workers, unions, global unions and activists took action.
As another step of the global campaign on the textile, garment, shoe and leather sector, IndustriALL joined the global action against Amazon together with UNI Global Union, ITUC, Oxfam, Tax Justice Network and others to call Amazon to account. Read more: IndustriALL
Irregular work schedules increase risks of occupational injury
Work schedules are made up of various variables and can cause health and safety effects, including work-related injury, which causes socioeconomic problems, such as productivity loss and damage to worker health.
Korean researchers investigated the association between work schedule irregularity and the incidence of work-related injury among South Korean manual workers using data from the 5th Korean Working Conditions Survey. In total, 18,330 manual workers were included.
They calculated the influence of an irregular work schedule on occupational injury after controlling for personal and work environment-related factors. The adjusted odds ratio (OR) for work-related injury was 1.66 for an irregular work schedule. The interaction had an additive effect when the work schedule was irregular, even when sufficient safety information was provided. Manual workers had a higher incidence of injury (2.1 per cent). Even in adjusted analyses, work schedule irregularity conferred greater risks of work injury, particularly when not working the same number of days weekly.
The researchers concluded that policymakers and health professionals need to consider the impact of work schedule irregularity on worker safety and health.
Read more: Lee et al. Work schedule irregularity and the risk of work-related injury among Korean manual workers [Full text] International Journal of Environmental Research and Pubic Health, vol. 17, no. 20.
Report: Widespread exploitation and wage theft in fruit picking
A new McKell Institute report has recommended that the Morrison Government implement a national labour-hire licensing scheme (as has been introduced in Victoria), remove entry barriers to enable inspections by unions and redesign the visa system to curb widespread exploitation and wage theft in fruit-picking.
The paper, commissioned by the Retail Supply Chain Alliance (the AWU, TWU and the SDA's NSW branch), focused on the Coffs Harbour region's blueberry industry and found that Australian and foreign workers to be systematically underpaid and exploited.
Authors Edward Cavanough and Connor Wherrett found many foreign workers particularly vulnerable because of the "power imbalance inherent in the 88 days regional work requirement associated with [working holiday] visas". They said the "[working holiday visa] program creates a second-tier labour market, in which a minority of nefarious employers – often labour hirers – can source cheaper labour than otherwise would be available in Australia, under the auspices of a program with very little oversight that is designed to meet labour demands in often remote locations".
The authors' audit of job advertisements specific to blueberry-picking in the area demonstrated an "over-reliance" on small labour-hire operators to source workers, some who offered pay rates as low as $60 a day in their ads. This involved abusing the piecework system, with rates often as low as $2.50 to $3 per kilogram. For a worker to earn the minimum wage on these rates they would need to pick between 75 - 90kg of blueberries per day!
The report called for the Federal Government to remove entry barriers for unions, particularly in designated areas such as the Coffs Coast where employees are demonstrated to be highly vulnerable to exploitation.
Read more: Blue Harvest: Wage theft & other labour infringements in the NSW Mid-North Coast’s 2019/20 Berry Harvest by Edward Cavanough and Connor Wherrett of the McKell Institute, sponsored by the AWU, TWU and SDA NSW, November 2020 Listen to the ABC's AM story here. Source: WorkplaceExpress
Shift workers continue to be exposed to workplace hazards
Improving health and safety at work has been an important issue for the European Union since the 1980s.
Researchers from Sweden noted that while the existing literature supports that shift work is associated with multiple indicators of poor health it frequently neglects the potential impact of occupational hazards. This study sought to describe and compare the exposure to different workplace hazards among shift and other workers before and after 1980.
Exposures to different workplace hazards (noise, dust, pollutant, and other physical stressors) were analyzed among 119,413 participants from the UK Biobank cohort. It was also compared between shift and other workers. The researchers adjusted for potential confounding variables (sex, age, ethnicity, education level, occupational category, and neuroticism).
They found that shift workers were more likely than other workers of being exposed to almost all identified hazards both before or after 1980. They were also more likely to be exposed to multiple hazards compared to other workers, also both before and after 1980 - more so, in fact, after 1980. Of note, however, was that the work environment has improved overall for other workers. The findings suggest that changes at the workplace have benefited other workers more than shift workers as they are still more exposed to all occupational hazards.
Read more: Miguet et al. Important difference between occupational hazard exposure among shift workers and other workers; comparing workplace before and after 1980 [Full text] International Journal of Environmental Research and Pubic Health, vol. 17, no. 20.
New simplified PIN form now available for HSRs
WorkSafe has redesigned the Provisional Improvement Notice it has available on its website.
The document provides HSRs with a blank PIN form to capture information about OHS laws being contravened by an individual employer. What needs to be completed on the PIN form include:
- the name of the HSR completing the PIN form
- who will receive the PIN
- check box that the HSR has consulted the person receiving the PIN before it is issued
- how the PIN will be issued
- details of how OHS laws that have been contravened
- how the HSR believes the contravention can be fixed
Important: The PDF needs to be downloaded to a computer. It can then be filled in using Adobe Reader. Check it out here.
Updated information on ARREOs
WorkSafe Victoria has, in consultation with unions and employers, revised and updated its information on ARREOs - Authorised Representatives of Employee Organisations. The guidance provides advice on ARREOs right to enter workplaces following suspected contraventions of occupational health and safety legislation (the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 or the Regulations). Read more: Guide to right of entry by authorised representatives.
New Safety Alert
WorkSafe Victoria has issued a new Safety Alert Decanting and storing dangerous goods after two workers were seriously burnt when they attempted to extinguish a machine fire with liquid from an unmarked container. They mistakenly thought the liquid in the container was water when it was actually a flammable liquid. The Alert reminds employers and occupiers that if dangerous goods are transferred into a portable container for use at the workplace that:
- the container into which the dangerous goods are transferred must be clearly labelled with the class, subsidiary risk and product name of the dangerous goods, or
- if this is not possible, another means of clearly identifying the dangerous goods is used
Trial of Pipecon delayed
In December last year, Ballarat-based construction company Pipecon was committed to stand trial on charges relating to the death of two young men, Charlie Howkins, 34, and Jack Brownlee, 21, in a trench at a Ballarat housing estate in March 2018.
Pipecon pleaded not guilty, but Magistrate Gregory Robinson found there was sufficient evidence to support conviction on both charges after a two-day contested committal hearing. This week there have been reports that the trial is not expected to start until ‘late next year’ - despite the case being classed as 'high priority'.
The deaths of Charlie and Jack triggered a significant union and community campaign, and the tireless efforts of their families in lobbying for reform and the introduction of industrial manslaughter legislation in Victoria played a huge role in the Andrews government's commitment to the law and its eventual introduction. Note: Pipecon is not being charged with industrial manslaughter as the offence was not in effect at the time of the fatalities.
There is a nominal two-year deadline for bringing OHS cases to court but no deadline on proceedings. Prominent OHS experts are asking whether it is time for a re-think. OHSIntros asks: “Is it time for an industrial court to fast-track such matters? Is the American system on pre-emptive penalties a better option? The point is made that this would be an issue for the new ministerial committee on work harms – which, however, has still not been formed after six months. The responsibility for this sits with the DOJ and new workplace safety minister, not WorkSafe.”
SafetyAtWork's Kevin Jones, says "Justice delayed is justice denied" - apparently the reasons for the delay include renovation works on the courthouse and the workload of the Court. Sources: OHSIntros; SafetyAtWork blog; The Ballarat Courier
Safe Work Australia warns of dangers of working in heat and in air pollution
The national body warns that this time last year, parts of Australia were badly affected by extreme heat and bushfires. Working in heat and/or in air pollution can be hazardous and can cause harm to workers in both indoor and outdoor work environments.
Employers must take precautions this summer and know the risks of working in heat and/or air pollution and protect worker health and safety.
Over the 10 years from 2009-10 to 2018-19, there were 1,774 workers’ compensation claims resulting from working in heat.
1,679 of these claims were from working in the sun
- 940 of these claims were cancer-related
- 441 of these were claims regarding heat stroke or heat stress
- 95 of these claims were from working in hot indoor conditions
Check out the web-based version of the bulletin, which has a list of useful resources on working in heat.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia updated its fatality statistics on December 3, at which time there had been 150 worker fatalities notified to the national body, three more since the previous update on November 19. Two of these were in the Transport, postal & warehousing sector. The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:
- 51 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 30 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 26 in Construction
- 15 in Public administration & safety
- 12 in Manufacturing
- 5 in Mining
- 3 in 'other services'
- 2 in Arts & recreation services
- 2 in Administrative & support services
- 1 in Accommodation & food services
- 1 in Retail trade
- 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.
Juice company fined after worker's hand dragged into machine
A Mildura drinks manufacturer has been convicted and fined $30,000 (plus costs) after a worker's hand was dragged into an unguarded bottling machine in June, 2019. Lencia Fruit Juices Pty Ltd, which is in liquidation and did not attend the hearing at Mildura Magistrates' Court, was found guilty of failing to provide or maintain plant that was, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.
The 33-year-old worker was operating the machine and reached in to remove empty bottles when his right hand became trapped. He suffered partial de-gloving, a burst tendon and nerve damage. The company had bought the second-hand machine earlier that month and there was no guarding to prevent workers becoming caught in the moving components.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said there was no room for complacency around high-risk hazards like moving machinery. "This horrific incident could have been easily avoided if the company had put adequate guarding in place," she said. "Employers must ensure the safety of their workers is always their first priority."
Read more: WorkSafe Media release
Company fined after worker falls through ceiling
In July 2019, an employee of Turnkey Communications and Power Solutions Pty Ltd was removing cabling from a suspended ceiling cavity, using an extension ladder to access the ceiling via a manhole at a vacated Optus retail outlet in South Yarra.
As he entered the ceiling cavity, he placed a foot on the ceiling itself, and fell about 3.5 metres when the plaster gave way. Luckily, he received only minor injuries.
The employer did not implement a SWMS as required, and failed to provide information, instruction and training in relation to the risks associated with suspended ceilings. The company pleaded guilty to two charges and was without conviction, fined $25,000 plus costs of $3,058.
Fine of $16,000 after worker loses part of finger
In September 2017, an untrained worker unfamiliar with the task, was assigned to trimming excess plastic material off a hardtop sliding door using an electric planer. The planer came amputated his left middle finger below the knuckle.
The employer, Viscount Rotational Mouldings Pty Ltd, which specialises in rotational and injection moulding processes, pleaded guilty to one charge and was sentenced, without conviction, to pay a fine of $16,000 plus costs $3,738.
To check for more prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
UK: Explosion in Bristol kills four
Four workers were killed and another injured in a large explosion at a waste water treatment works at Wessex Water's premises in Avonmouth, Bristol, on Thursday last week. Three of the workers killed were employed by the firm; the fourth was a contractor. One of those killed was just 16 years old.
The blast occurred in a silo containing treated biosolids. Avon and Somerset Police declared a major incident and are investigating the circumstances of the blast. The investigation is being supported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and a team of chemical and mechanical experts, the force said. Read more: BBC news online