February 17, 2021
Welcome to the second edition of SafetyNet for the new year, 2021.
How much changes in just a week? Last week we began by letting our subscribers know that the OHS Unit had returned to 'base', the Trades Hall Council in Victoria St, Carlton South, after almost a year working from home. By the end of the week, the Victorian government re-introduced a five-day Stage 4 lockdown due to the cluster of COVID-19 cases originating at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport - this means those Victorians who could work from home had to do so. The great news today is that the lockdown worked, and Victorians are now no longer under these severe restrictions.
We regret to inform you that another two workers were killed over the past week in Victoria.
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]
Another two fatalities in Victoria in the past week
A 47-yr old truck driver from Parafield Gardens (SA), was killed near the SA-Victorian border at about 2.20 am last Thursday morning. That truck was part of a queue of vehicles several kilometres long waiting to get into South Australia after new travel restrictions were announced by the SA government on Greater Melbourne residents.
The collision involved three B-doubles, and police believe the man's truck crashed into the back of another stationary truck, which then collided with a third truck in front. The first vehicle burst into flames, killing the driver, and fire engulfed the other two vehicles, about five kilometres east of the South Australian border. The driver and a passenger in the middle truck were injured and taken to Bordertown Memorial Hospital.
In the second fatality, a man was killed in an explosion at a property north-west of Melbourne. Emergency services were called to a farm in Troups Road South in Fieldstone, after reports of an explosion shortly after 12.40 pm on Monday. A police spokesperson said the man has been working at the farm when the explosion occurred. Aerial footage of the scene showed police, paramedics and firefighters at the rural property which houses shipping containers, forklifts and a number of large sheds. WorkSafe has since said that a diesel fuel tank exploded at the property, which was a part time engine repair business.
The VTHC extends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the two men killed. These deaths brings Victoria's fatalities for the year to four.
Victorian Parliament passes Provisional Payments Bill
In great news for a group of injured workers, the Legislative Council of Victoria's Parliament yesterday passed the Provisional Payments Bill - even members of the Opposition voted in favour.
This Bill will allow workers who have lodged a mental injury workers compensation claim to get payments for reasonable medical and like expenses while their claim is being assessed. This will make a huge difference to them, as it means earlier treatment for their mental injury, better long term health outcomes for the worker and a better prospect of returning to work. Fiona Patten, leader of the Reason Party, referred to a worker's story sent by the VTHC in her contribution and acknowledged the Police Association, as did Jeff Bourman (of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party) who spoke briefly. Andy Meddick (Animal Justice Party), and Harriet Shing (Labour) also acknowledged the hard work of the union movement in championing this change.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) - update
Since our last edition of SafetyNet the Victorian government implemented a snap 5-day Stage 4 lockdown from 11.59pm last Friday night to 11.59 tonight, Wednesday February 17, in efforts to prevent a "third wave" as a result of the cases linked to the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport. Welcome news this morning is that the "short, sharp circuit-breaker" coronavirus lockdown will end on schedule tonight. However, mask rules and gathering limits will remain in place.
- Schools will re-open, workplaces will return to 50 per cent capacity and people will be allowed to leave the house for any reason;
- Masks will remain mandatory indoors when keeping a physical distance of 1.5 metres is not possible;
- Victorians will only be allowed five visitors to the home (as opposed to the previous 15-person limit);
- Up to 20 people will be allowed at public gatherings.
Australia has had a total, to date, of 28,905 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed. Most of the new cases over the past few months have been diagnosed in returning travellers in hotel quarantine. However, as noted above, a number of Victorian hotel quarantine workers contracted the virus at the Holiday Inn and then infected some of their contacts.
Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, with some countries continuing to record huge increases. The cumulative number of infections was last Wednesday was 107,376,344 - the number today is 110,015,844 (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,482,091 COVID-related deaths around the world.
We believe that COVID-19 vaccines are going to be rolled out in the near future - and that some workers/workplaces will be designated 'priority' and will be receiving them first. What can you tell us about this?
You are right - there is a lot happening in this 'space' at the moment. Firstly, it's important to know that in Australia all vaccines will be free of charge. Discussions between the State and Federal Health departments have taken place to identify priority groups who will be first in line to get vaccinated. These considerations include occupation.
At this stage at least, neither the state nor federal governments are making it mandatory for anyone to be vaccinated. It is possible individual employers may introduce a policy stating that vaccine is mandatory. Such a decision must follow consultation with the workforce and the HSR and a thorough assessment of the risks. A requirement to vaccinate may be disproportionate in many workplaces. If there are concerns about this, we encourage you to contact your Union.
The first category, 1A - those facing the highest risk of infection - is likely to include the following:
- Hotel quarantine workers
- Airport workers
- Front line health workers
- Workers involved in the vaccination program
- Private aged care workers and residents
If there are contractors on these sites, they too need to invited to receive the vaccination.
Workers and others who will be in the next categories, 1B and 2A, are still being finalised. However, 1B is likely to include:
- Emergency service workers
- Correctional services (workers and inmates)
- Workers in the meat and poultry industries
Employers in industries in Category 1A have already received notification and told they will be asked to identify and nominate workers who will then be sent an invitation to register for the vaccination. Workers then need to contact the service delivering the vaccine to make an appointment.
The Victorian government has some information on the vaccine program on the DHHS website, here. This website is likely to be updated as more information is known. The information on Australia's vaccination strategy, including information on the approval process, the rollout strategy as it stands currently, and much more can be found in the document: Australia's CoVID-19 Vaccination and Treatment Strategy [pdf]
Advice for HSRs: If you work in one of these industries, or in one that is potentially in 1B, then go to your employer now and remind them that they need to consult with you and the other HSRs when putting together the list of workers to be included in the list.
Note: The team is currently planning a Live Show on the COVID-19 vaccines, which will cover the planned roll-out, the different vaccines, how this will be organised and more. We will have two very special expert guests. The date has not yet been finalised, but keep your eyes on the Facebook page and also SafetyNet, as it will be in the next couple of weeks.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
NSW: Government steps in over redevelopment of former asbestos James Hardie site
Plans to redevelop the heavily contaminated former James Hardie asbestos factory site near Parramatta in New South Wales, Australia hit a snag when the Department of Planning refused a request for a change to planning rules and called for the development of a “place strategy” to address the remediation of the 6.7-hectare site. It is likely that the compilation of such a strategy would take at least 18 months. Developers had hoped to build 3,200 dwellings on the property. Local politicians and members of opposition parties criticized the Government’s intervention saying additional accommodation and infrastructure were desperately needed in the Parramatta area. Read more: Sydney developer’s plans for old James Hardie site suffer setback. Sydney Morning Herald
UK: HSE Asbestos prosecution
Last week, a Manchester Magistrates’ Court fined a construction company and a property management company for failing to manage asbestos safely during a refurbishment of a former office block in Stockport in August 2018, despite the existence of a May 2018 asbestos survey which had identified the presence of asbestos- containing materials. This case was the result of a prosecution by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Commenting on the verdict, HSE Inspector Phil Redman said: “Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.” The company was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,428.
Read more: Construction firms fined due to unsafe removal of asbestos Source: International Ban Asbestos Secretariat
Campaign for gig workers continues
Last year, the Transport Workers Union and Trades Hall launched a campaign for gig workers’ rights. The campaign calls for gig workers to be legally recognised as employees rather than independent contractors and for companies like Uber to be held accountable for meeting the same workplace obligations as every other employer. Migrant workers are heavily represented in the gig economy as the work is often more accessible for those who face language or visa barriers from employers. The deaths of five migrant worker delivery riders within two months at the end of 2020 highlighted the urgency of the campaign.
Also last year, Trades Hall ran consultation sessions with gig workers and made a submission to the Victorian Government for legislative changes to enforce stronger rights for workers in the gig industry. Facing increased scrutiny, Uber Eats has overhauled its business model in Australia. But in lieu of introducing better protections for their workers, the company has made superficial changes such as allowing delivery riders to transfer their job to other riders to double down on the claim their riders are independent contractors. The changes will come into effect in March. Hungry Panda has similarly attempted to avoid employer obligations by directing their riders to work for other companies in order to claim their riders aren’t their employees, despite cutting pay and kicking a delivery driver off its platform for protesting the pay cut. These moves are shameful attempts by gig companies to evade meeting workers’ rights and both the union and Trades Hall will continue to fight until every gig worker is treated fairly. If you’re a gig rider, you can join the TWU here.
International Union news
Union Launches UK Firefighter Cancer And Disease Registry
UK firefighters’ union FBU has launched a new nationwide database to assess the potential link between exposure to fire toxicants and the increased occurrence of cancers and other diseases among firefighters.
The union, which has developed the registry with researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), is calling on every current and former UK firefighter suffering from a serious or chronic illness to add their name to the registry, a move it says will help save firefighters’ lives in the future.
The UK Firefighters Cancer and Disease Registry (FCDR) will collect information on firefighters’ work routines, exposure to fire effluents, lifestyle and health. The FBU says this will “enable scientists to identify and recognise most common cancers and diseases related to firefighters’ work, and, in the future, offer preventive health screening, education and support that is specifically designed to protect firefighter’s health.” The register covers cancers, nervous, circulatory and respiratory diseases, liver and kidney disorders and ‘other’ ailments potentially related to work. Read more: Work Cancer Hazards blog
Non-seatbelt use linked to multiple work deaths every year
OHSAlert reports that a WorkSafe New Zealand data analysis has found that not wearing seatbelts in work vehicles is a major contributing factor to fatal work-related accidents in the country.
The regulator found that not wearing the safety device contributes to 52 per cent of all work-vehicle-related deaths and 15 per cent of all workplace fatalities, equating to about 10 lives a year. In the agricultural sector, non-seatbelt use contributes to about 40 per cent of vehicle-related deaths, and that out of every 10 fatalities where seatbelt use "may have been relevant", nine people were not wearing them. "If all agricultural workers wore seatbelts, claim costs to [the Accident Compensation Corporation] could be reduced by almost $2 million a year," the regulator said.
Read more: Almost half of vehicle-related deaths on farms could be avoided if seatbelts used. Guidance on seatbelts at work. WorkSafe NZ. Source: OHSAlert
WorkSafe Victoria news
Latest HSR newsletter
WorkSafe has just posted out its latest newsletter for HSRs. The newsletter has items on:
- the updated PIN form released last year - funnily enough though, the video which accompanies this item and is quite good, still features the old PIN form!
- WorkSafe's HSR research group - an invitation for HSRs to sign up to this group (and to have the chance to win a prize!). This may provide HSRs with a unique opportunity to tell WorkSafe directly what they think and the issues they are facing
- the importance of consultation, particularly in ensuring the employer manages heat risks in the workplace
- using a QR code to access materials for HSRs on your phone.
Download the February 16 edition of WorkSafe's HSR newsletter here.
Reminder: Public comment sought on proposed OHS Amendment (Crystalline Silica) Regulations 2021
Public comment on the proposed Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Crystalline Silica) Regulations 2021 (proposed Regulations) and associated Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) closes COB tomorrow, Thursday 18 February 2021.
The proposed Regulations aim to improve risk assessment and information relating to the control measures for reducing exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust. They will also maintain a ban on uncontrolled dry-cutting of engineered stone and includes a licensing system for workplaces that use engineered stone - currently banned under the interim regulations introduced in May 2019. These had been due to expire on August 20, 2019, but were extended to allow the development of the current proposed amendment, and public comment. WorkSafe Victoria invites workers, HSRs, unions, employers and members of the public to review and make comment on the proposed Regulations and RIS. Find out more here.
New Safety Alert
WorkSafe has issued an alert to highlight the dangers of the incorrect use of soft slings when lifting loads. A number of soft sling failures in workplaces have occurred recently, resulting in life threatening injuries and serious near-misses. Incorrect use of soft slings (also known as synthetic fibre slings) can result in the sudden failure of a sling, even when the load being lifted is below the working load limit (WLL) of the sling.
The Alert goes through the numerous safety issues and provides recommendations on how to control the associated risks. These include sling selection, cut protection, regular inspections and storage & handling. Read more: Safety Alert Soft sling failures due to incorrect use
February edition of Safety Soapbox
The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was posted today. The editorial in this month's edition is on new workers and the requirements for training. This edition's absolute shocker is on the dangers of using ladders incorrectly and the high risk of falls. There is also an item which outlines the results of WorkSafe's recent Electrical Blitz on domestic and commercial construction sites with a focus on the Principal Contractor’s management of electrical risks onsite. Of the 286 visits conducted over a six week period, 59 per cent were conducted in the domestic sector and 35 per cent in the commercial sector. The good news was that they found a high level of compliance (80 - 90 per cent) in a number of areas. However, the bad news is that they found that the Residual current Device (RCD) was not appropriately restricted, inspected or appropriately maintained at over a quarter of sites visited.
As always, the Safety Soapbox has the list of incidents reported to WorkSafe: In December the construction industry reported 179 incidents to WorkSafe. Of these, 68 per cent resulted in injury. The figures for January, 2021 were 98 incidents, with 70 per cent resulting in injury. There we no fatalities. Access the February 2021 edition of Safety Soapbox here - the summaries of reported incidents can be downloaded from the page.
Major Hazards forum
WorkSafe is hosting the National Major Hazard Facilities Forum online this year. It will be a 'virtual' two day event, to be held on May 4 and 5.
- Engage Major Hazard Facility operators, safety practitioners and regulators with modern safety theory
- Challenge existing paradigms about safety management at Major Hazard Facilities
- Hear from guest speakers from industry, regulators, and academia as well as practical case studies and facilitated workshops
New fact sheet on Ventilation and COVID
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics since the last edition of SafetyNet. As at 4 February, 9 Australian workers were killed at work in 2021. In 2020, 173 Australian workers were killed at work compared with 183 workers in 2019.
The 2020 and 2021 figures listed in the table on the SWA website are based mainly on initial media reports and provide a preliminary estimate of the number of people killed while working. Once the appropriate authority has investigated the death, more accurate information becomes available from which Safe Work Australia updates details of the incident. Updated information is used to publish Safe Work Australia’s annual Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities report which includes finalised work-related fatalities from 2003 onwards.
The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:
- 3 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 2 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 1 in Arts & recreation services
- 1 in Construction
- 1 in Manufacturing
- 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.
Charges laid over fatal wall collapse
WorkSafe Victoria has charged a contractor following the death of a worker at a residential building site in Ballarat in September 2019. The 56-year-old man was crushed when a brick wall collapsed onto him during demolition work at the Mount Pleasant property.
Horsham Back-hoe Hire Pty Ltd has been charged with two alleged breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to provide a safe working environment. WorkSafe has alleged the failure to establish and maintain an exclusion zone around the live demolition areas was a breach of section 21(2)(c) of the OHS Act. The regulator further alleges the company's failure to provide the information, instruction and training necessary to enable its workers to perform their work in a way that was safe and without risks to health was a breach of section 21(2)(e).
The matter is listed for a filing hearing at the Ballarat Magistrates' Court on 19 February.
Ballarat hospital fined after staff assault
After pleading guilty, Ballarat Health Services was last week fined $20,000 without conviction for failing to comply with duties under s21(2)(e): to inform staff about occupational violence and aggression risks in the workplace in 2018. It was also ordered to pay $4256 in costs.
On August 2, 2018, a female nurse at Ballarat Base Hospital was exposed to inappropriate, sexualised behaviour while attending to a patient with an impaired cognitive condition. A WorkSafe inspector later attended the hospital and found that following the incident the health service had failed to update the patient’s Behavioural Observation, which records incidents of physical and verbal aggression, agitation and resisting care. This in turn exposed workers to potential future incidents of inappropriate, sexualised behaviour from the patient.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said employers had to ensure their workers were not exposed to inappropriate, sexual behaviour in the workplace. "Having to put up with occupational violence and aggression should never be ‘just another part of the job’," Ms Nielsen said. "Even when someone’s clinical condition means their cognitive functions are affected, employers must take every reasonable step to reduce the risks to their workers." Read more: WorkSafe media release
Tip fined $45k after woman seriously injured in fall
A Gippsland tip operator was last week convicted and fined $45,000 after a woman was seriously injured when she fell 2.5 metres into a skip bin in November, 2018. Towards Zero Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Sale Magistrates’ Court to failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety. They also paid $1875 in costs.
Skip bins at the company’s Kilmany Resource Centre were located beneath elevated concrete platforms where users could park their vehicles and drop waste into the bins. A woman unloading material from the back of a ute slipped and fell between two guard rails while climbing down from the vehicle’s tray. She landed on the bottom of a skip bin, fracturing several ribs and injuring her spine.
A WorkSafe investigation found that guard rails had been moved to widen the gap between them at the edge of the platform, leaving enough space for a person to fall through. There was also no instruction directing users how to dispose of waste safely.
WorkSafe's Julie Nielsen said the injured woman was lucky to be alive after falling more than two metres. "Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of injury and death in Victorian workplaces and these risks should always be taken seriously," Ms Nielsen said. "Every employer must consider the dangers of unguarded edges or steep drops and take every reasonable step to reduce risks to the health and safety of workers and the public." Source: WorkSafe media release
Company convicted, fined over lack of roof protection
A roofing truss manufacturer has been convicted and fined $40,000 over a lack of fall protection at a Cranbourne North building site. Melbourne Truss Pty Ltd this week pleaded guilty in the Dandenong Magistrates' Court to breaching s21 of the OHS Act. The company was also ordered to pay $6,683 in costs.
In October 2018 a prime mover fitted with a loading crane delivered wooden roof trusses to the two-storey residential construction site. After the trusses were lifted onto the building, a worker climbed up the frame to the first floor to unhook the crane's chain sling. The worker, who was not wearing a safety harness, then sat on the chains as the crane operator lowered him down and placed him on the tray of the truck.
A nearby resident recorded video footage of the incident and contacted WorkSafe.
An investigation later found there was a risk of serious injury or death due to a fall from over two metres and the company could easily have ensured workers used a portable ladder to access and exit the building's first floor.
WorkSafe's Julie Nielsen said while thankfully the risk did not eventuate in this instance, the company's offending was still serious. "It's crucial that all workers are appropriately trained, equipped and supervised to do their jobs safely," Ms Nielsen said. "Falls from height are among the biggest killers of Victorian workers and WorkSafe will not hesitate to take action against employers who fail to address well-known safety hazards." Source: WorkSafe media release, which has advice on controlling fall hazards.
To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria'sProsecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
QLD: Companies and directors fined $310k for labour-hire breaches
Queensland poultry processor B&E Poultry (Qld) Pty Ltd, and its director Xu Chun Dong, were this week fined $100,000 and $50,000 respectively for breaches of the State Labour Hire Licensing Act 2017 detected by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and the Labour Hire Licensing Compliance Unit.
In sentencing B&E, Dong and other parties involved in the breaches yesterday, Beenleigh Magistrate Michael O'Driscoll stressed that the overriding purpose of the licensing scheme, which commenced in 2018, was to protect vulnerable labour-hire workers, and the offences were serious. It requires labour-hire providers to obtain a licence after demonstrating strict compliance with WHS and workers' comp laws and other legislation.
A 2019 joint compliance blitz found that three companies without labour-hire licences were unlawfully providing labour-hire workers to B&E's Ormeau factory, and B&E was breaching the Act by entering into arrangements with the unlicensed providers. The offences continued for several weeks after being warned to only use licensed providers.
The Magistrate fined two of the unlicensed providers, GY Services Pty Ltd and MK Sun Pty Ltd, $40,000 each, and fined their respective directors $15,000 each. The third unlicensed provider, Fancey Pty Ltd, was fined $50,000 in November last year, after pleading guilty to breaching the Act.
Magistrate O'Driscoll noted the parties' early guilty pleas, but pointed to the maximum available penalties – $400,000 for corporations and $138,000 for individuals – in finding others needed to be deterred from committing such offences.
NT: Townsville Engineering firm charged over worker's death
CASA Engineering has been charged over a worker’s death, after an incident at the site in Enterprise Street, Bohle on 14 December 2018. The case was mentioned briefly in the Townsville Magistrates Court last week.
The worker was unloading steel pipes from a truck, when a pipe fell and crushed him. Nearby workers tried in vain to use a forklift to free him before paramedics arrived; however, he could not be saved. CASA Engineering faces a single charge of failing to comply with a health and safety duty. The charge is a category two offence under the federal Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and carries a maximum penalty of $1.5m. Source: Townsville Bulletin
TONIGHT February 17: Dangerous Goods Advisory Group
The first DGAG bimonthly meeting for 2021 will be held tonight, via Zoom, from 5.30pm - 7.30pm. The DGAG 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.
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: 834 2162 3437 Password: 394140
The meeting will have a similar agenda to past meetings
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
- 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: [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 2nd DGAG meeting in 2021, will be on Wed 21st April 2021 (meetings are now the 3rd Wed), as another DGAG Webinar Discuss/Chat Meeting at 5.30-7.30pm.
(This may become a combined physical meeting / webinar meeting at Fire Rescue Vic in their Burnley Complex)