March 3, 2021
Welcome to the latest edition of SafetyNet.
Next Monday, March 8, is a special day for workers in Victoria - it is Labour Day. It's also a special day for women: International Women's Day. The history of IWD is long - but the struggle continues. There are a number of events leading up to the day, as well as the traditional IWD March and Rally. See the item below for more details.
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
The Victorian government has relaxed some of the restrictions, with now up to 75 per cent of workers being able to return to work. Employers need to remember that they have a duty to consult with HSRs - or with employees directly if there are no HSRs - to ensure that the return to work is done in a manner that does not workers' health or safety at risk. The return to work process will be difficult for some, after many months working from home, and it will be important to keep this in mind. Some of the other restrictions still in place are:
- Victorians are allowed to leave the house for any reason, and can now have up to 30 visitors to the home each day;
- Masks are mandatory in certain circumstances (eg supermarkets, public transport, etc) and recommended when keeping a physical distance of 1.5 metres is not possible;
- Up to 100 people are allowed at public gatherings. Registration is required for larger events.
Australia has had a total, to date, of 28,986 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed.
Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, although it appears that the vaccines are beginning to take effect, with the increases reducing. The cumulative number of infections was last Wednesday was 112,636,741 - the number today is 115,242,343, so still an increase of over 2.6 million new cases. (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,557,778 COVID-related deaths around the world.
Last week we reported concerns that some countries will struggle to get adequate, if any, supplies of vaccines. Today stories are emerging about how some communities in the US, particularly African American and Hispanic, are missing out on COVID vaccines, despite being the hardest hit by the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. (ABC AM program)
We are about to hold our HSR election and my manager just sent me an email saying – "I believe the regulations say the term of office for HSRs is a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of 3 yrs. I would like to suggest a term of 12 months to ensure fairness for those that would like the opportunity to apply for this role."
I thought the period was 3 years only unless something else happens but I did not know they could only be elected for just one year?. Can you advise if this is correct?
The default term of office for HSRs is in fact three years. While it cannot be more than three years, it can be less, for example 12 months, or two years, or whatever. HOWEVER, anything different to the default term of office of three years must be negotiated and AGREED as part of the DWG set up [s44(1)(d)]. If the manager wants anything different then the employer (not the manager) must formally seek to ‘vary the DWG/s’ under s44(3). This triggers a negotiation, but the variation sought goes through only if agreed between the employer and the employees.
So I recommend that you respond along the lines of: ‘Under Section 44(1)(d) of the OHS Act, 3 years is the default – and this is what we currently have in place. If you think this needs to change, then our employer will need to put a request in writing to vary the DWG/s. We then need to negotiate on varying the term of office and agree – and if we do not agree, then it’s status quo.’ The manager probably hasn’t also thought about the potential cost to the organisation – if there are NEW HSRs elected each 12 months, then each new HSR is entitled to attend a 5 day initial training course on paid time, and the organisation must also pay for the course.
A specific reference to '12 months' only comes up in s55 of the Act, Term of office, and refers to the time an HSR must have been in the position before a majority of the DWG members can resolve, in writing, that the person should no longer represent them. So I think the manager has actually confused two sections. There is nothing about term of office in the Regulations.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
March 8: International Women's Day
Monday March 8 is both International Women's Day (IWD) and also Labour Day in Victoria. This is fitting, as recent data has shown the women workers have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, and it's a good time to participate in events which seek to address these issues.
It must be remembered that IWD originated in the struggle of working women. IWD has been observed since the early 1900's - a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. There was great unrest and critical debate amongst women. Women's oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
The first National Woman's Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on February 28. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.
In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women's Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day - a Women's Day - to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women's clubs - and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament - greeted Zetkin's suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women's Day was the result.
Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen, International Women's Day was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on March 25, the tragic 'Triangle Fire' in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women's Day events. 1911 also saw women's Bread and Roses campaign.
International Women's Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. Then in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. Read more on the history of IWD here.
Women have struggled to achieve equity in work and other areas of their lives ever since.
Events you can attend in Melbourne:
- International Women's Day Event at Trades Hall for union women, beginning at midday, and then moving on to the rally. This will be an opportunity to meet with like-minded union women, learn a little union history and take part in a musical production like no other. When: 12 pm, Monday March 8, at the Victorian Trades Hall, corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton South.
- IWD Rally and March - organised by a voluntary IWD Collective. When: 2pm, Monday March 8, Steps of Parliament House. Check out the FB Event page and the IWD page proper with information on the demands of the day and lots of interesting articles.
Marshaling Support Wanted:
The IWD Collective has put out a call for marshals for the March and Rally. There is training being run at midday on Monday March 8 at the Carlton Gardens (corner Victoria and Rathdowne Streets, Carlton. If you're unable to attend the training (because for example you're at the Women's event at the Hall), then the organisers welcome you joining any of the marhaling teams once you arrive at the Rally. Register for training here.
NSW: Sydney beach closed due to asbestos
A popular beach in Sydney’s southwest, Little Bay Beach, will be closed for two weeks as authorities seek to establish why asbestos fragments keep getting washed up. Randwick City Council has closed the beach to the public after hundreds of pieces of material containing asbestos, mainly small fragments from cement sheeting, have been collected from the beach since August last year. A local resident first alerted council on August 2 and within a week more than 100 visible fragments were found. All of them were removed and tested. While the fragments are regularly removed by specialists, they continue to wash ashore, leaving experts searching for the source.
In a very odd decisions, Council said the beach would be closed for two weeks in late April and early May while the investigation is carried out. But it will be open on weekends during that period. Source: The Courier Mail
ACT: Asbestos removal work at the Australian War Memorial
A major project to remove asbestos and lead paint from the Australian War Memorial is about to begin and parts of the building will be covered with scaffolding. The project will also restore some of its damaged stone facade.
A construction company will undertake the removal of asbestos found in the gaps between the sandstone blocks; the removal of lead paint from the window frames; and the repair of damaged blocks on the main building's north-facing wall. The asbestos is non-friable and therefore does not pose a risk to the general public. Read more: The Canberra Times
November: National Asbestos Awareness Week
This year, National Asbestos Awareness Week will be held the week of 22 - 28 November.
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) says that the 2020 week saw excellent participation from organisations all over Australia, spreading the message that asbestos can be present in more places than you’d think. There was a range of different activities that focused on knowing the health risk of asbestos, taking precautions before working with potentially asbestos-containing materials, and seeking professional help.
The Agency will be developing this year’s campaign for National Asbestos Awareness Week and will be sharing the theme and related key messages in the coming months. As with previous years, it will work closely with stakeholders to develop a consistent and tailored theme and related messaging for 2021.
This year, ASEA will continue to provide updates for National Asbestos Awareness Week through the National Asbestos Awareness Week mailing list. To ensure you receive the latest information, updates and news, subscribe to the mailing list.
International Union news
Ireland: code to address 'always on call' workplace culture
COVID-19 has highlighted the need for workers to have greater rights to ‘disconnect’ outside of working hours. The Irish Government has asked its Workplace Relations Commission to develop a code of practice to promote the practice.
In the National Strategy on Remote Working, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Employment, Leo Varadkar, asked the WRC draft a code of practice on the ‘right to disconnect’ which ‘will set out guidance for employees and employers with regard to best practice and approaches to employee disengagement outside normal working hours’.
The strategy says that COVID-19 has ‘blurred the boundaries between people’s professional and private lives’ and ‘advancements in technology have allowed employees to be constantly accessible’, creating "pressure for employees to always be on call’.
According to Eurofound, the EU agency for the improvement of living and working conditions, the 'right to disconnect' is a worker’s entitlement to disengage from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails or messages, outside of working hours.
In its submission to the WRC, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions' says it wants to "preserve workers' hard-won rights to leisure time, improve working conditions and safeguard workers' health and safety; and reflect the new realities in the way we work". The ICTU recommends that "employers be required to collaborate with employees and their representatives to develop a set of rules that suits the business and the workforce . . . with a clear obligation on the employer for the right to disconnect to be effectively safeguarded" rather than the WRC creating a "one-size-fits-all protocol".
Source: Workplace Express
Changes in work and life patterns due to COVID-19
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people refrained from going out, started working from home (WFH), and suspended work or lost their jobs. It is known that these changes in work and life patterns could affect their mental health. Previous studies suggested that working from home increases employees’ well-being, whereas other studies showed that it induces longer working hours and results in the overlapping responsibility of taking care of children by blurring boundaries between work and home time. This study from Japan examined how such pandemic-related changes in work and life patterns were associated with depressive symptoms.
The researchers, from the Universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, conducted an online survey among participants who use a health app called CALO mama from 30 April to 8 May 2020 in Japan. There were Participants consisted of 2846 users (1150 men (mean age=50.3) and 1696 women (mean age=43.0)) who were working before the government declaration of a state of emergency (7 April 2020). Their daily steps from 1 January to 13 May 2020 recorded by an accelerometer in their mobile devices were linked to their responses. Depressive symptoms were also assessed.
The results indicated that on average, participants took 1143.8 fewer weekday steps during the declaration period (from 7 April to 13 May). Depressive symptoms were positively associated with women, decreased weekday steps and increased working hours. Conversely, starting WFH was negatively associated with depressive symptoms.
The researchers concluded that decreased weekday steps during the declaration period were associated with increased odds of depressive symptoms, but that WFH may mitigate the risk in the short term. Further studies on the longitudinal effects of WFH on health are needed.
Read more: Koryu Sato, et al, Changes in work and life patterns associated with depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic: an observational study of health app (CALO mama) users [Open Access - Full Article] Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, the two national organisations have released a "myth-busting" resource on why domestic, family and intimate partner violence is a workplace issue. Australian businesses lose $1.9 billion a year to this "shadow pandemic", through victim and perpetrator absenteeism and additional management costs, the organisations say. The issue is especially critical now, with the COVID-19 pandemic further blurring the line between the home and office, driving a documented spike in violence against women, they say.
According to the 36-page myth-busting resource, some organisations are still reluctant to address this issue because it has long been seen as purely belonging in the home domain. However it is a workplace health and safety issue and one in five Australian workers experiencing domestic and family violence reports that the violence continues into the workplace, it says.
The resource addresses seven myths on domestic and family violence and the workplace. Research by Our Watch shows nearly 80 per cent of people want practical tips on how to respond to "casual sexism" and to safely intervene when witnessing disrespectful behaviour toward women and girls.
Read more - watch a short video, download the document: Myth Busting Domestic and Family Violence at Work: Using Evidence to Debunk Common Myths and Assumptions, Sydney, Diversity Council Australia and Our Watch, 2021 Source: OHS Alert
New resource: Preventing and managing workplace stress
Work stress, when it is excessive or long-lasting can have a negative effect on employees' health, safety and wellbeing and can lead to psychological injury. This guide will help employers and leaders to identify, eliminate or reduce and manage the risk of work-related stress. Also provided are useful links with related information. More on Stress.
WorkSafe investigates dozens of companies for COVID breaches
It was reported last month that WorkSafe Victoria is investigating 24 companies for potentially breaching COVID-19 workplace safety measures. The regulator's Chief Executive Colin Radford revealed the names of the 24 companies in a written submission to the parliamentary Public Accounts and Estimates Committee. The parliamentary Public Accounts and Estimates Committee is probing the Victorian Government's Response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The list includes a major hospital, several residential aged care facilities, several meat processing companies/abattoirs, and a large retail hardware chain. In reply to a question as to whether the investigations concerned the workplace safety of healthcare workers and private security guards, Mr Radford said, “Yes, they do in so far as each of the investigations is looking at whether there has been a breach of a duty holder’s duty of care under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.” Read more: news.com.au
New campaign targets 'bullet-proof' farm safety attitude
WorkSafe Victoria has launched what it calls a 'confronting new campaign' to highlight that farm deaths and life-changing injuries can happen to anyone who doesn't prioritise safety. The six-week advertising campaign launched last week across regional television, print, radio, digital and social media channels.
The campaign's key message - "It's never you, until it is" - aims to challenge a common mindset among farmers and agriculture workers that a serious incident won't happen to them. Emotional story telling targets owner-operator farmers, their workers and families, to bring home the cost of not taking a safety-first approach.
Agriculture remains one of the state's most dangerous industries, with 24 people dying as a result of on-farm workplace incidents in the past three years. Last year 424 people working in agriculture, or about eight people every week, were injured seriously enough to make a worker's compensation claim.
The campaign is part of a wider push to shift attitudes around farm safety under WorkSafe's Agriculture Strategy 2020-23, which sets out how the regulator will engage with industry to drive change and encourage a mindset that farm workplace deaths and injuries are preventable, not inevitable. It focuses on high-risk hazards such as machinery, livestock and chemicals and will collaborate with industry to improve the safety of vulnerable employees, including migrant and seasonal workers. Read more: WorkSafe media release
New tool - Assessing Psychosocial Risks
Safe Work Australia has published a new online tool to help businesses identify, assess and manage psychosocial risks at work.
People at Work has been developed to help businesses to identify key psychosocial hazards in the workplace and provides guidance on practical ways to manage them.
A systematic approach to psychological health benefits everyone. SWA says: "The benefits may include decreases in work-related injuries, illnesses, claims, absenteeism and turnover, and increases in engagement, productivity, job satisfaction and attraction of top talent."
People at Work can help businesses comply with their health and safety duties, better manage work-related psychosocial hazards and prevent psychological harm. People at Work was developed through collaboration between Australian work health and safety regulators and leading researchers. Check out the People at Work website. There is a great deal of material: learning modules, assistance in writing a survey, and much more.
Reminder: COVID-19 vaccine information for workplaces
If you haven't yet done so, check out the Safe Work Australia information on work health and safety and COVID-19 vaccines.
This advice is very useful, as SWA not only reminds employers of their duties to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but also provides advice on whether employers can make the vaccination mandatory. Vaccine work health and safety information is available for employers, small business and workers in 37 different industries and is accessible via the dropdown menu tool on the SWA site.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics since the last edition of SafetyNet. As at 18 February, 11 Australian workers had been killed at work in 2021. 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:
4 in Transport, postal & warehousing
2 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
1 in Arts & recreation services
1 in Construction
1 in Manufacturing
1 in Other Services
1 in Wholesale trade
Note that the figures are based on preliminary reports, and so at times will change. To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.
There have been no new Victorian prosecution results published since the last edition of SafetyNet.
To check for any Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria'sProsecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
NSW: Employers fined for failures related to COVID-19
NSW workplace duty holders have, to date, been issued a total of at least 330 COVID-19-related penalties worth more $1.3 million, from inspections conducted by SafeWork NSW, NSW Fair Trading and Liquor and Gaming NSW, the State Government has revealed. In a recent case, the Lord Wolseley Hotel in Ultimo was fined $5,000, plus $2,400 in prosecution costs, for "failing a COVID compliance inspection" and failing to attend court twice. Source: OHS Alert
USA: Amazon sued for failure to protect workers
New York is suing Amazon, with a court filing accusing the world’s largest retailer of a ‘flagrant disregard’ for safety and labour laws at two warehouses in the state as COVID-19 infections surged nationwide. The suit from Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, came days after Amazon pre-emptively sued to block the suit over its coronavirus safety protocols and the firing of one of its employees who objected to working conditions. “While Amazon and its CEO made billions during this crisis, hardworking employees were forced to endure unsafe conditions and were retaliated against for rightfully voicing these concerns,” said James. “Since the pandemic began, it is clear that Amazon has valued profit over people and has failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers.”
The suit filed on 17 February states “Amazon’s flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements has threatened serious illness and grave harm to the thousands of workers in these facilities and poses a continued substantial and specific danger to the public health.” It adds the company retaliated illegally against employees who raised alarms. An investigation by the attorney general’s office found evidence showing that Amazon’s health and safety response violated state law with respect to cleaning and disinfection protocols, contact tracing and allowing employees to take precautions to protect themselves from the risk of infection. Read more: NY Attorney General news release and filing. BBC News Online. The Guardian. Source: Risks 986
USA: Scientists call on CDC to act on airborne virus risks
Almost a year after scientists demonstrated that the coronavirus could linger in workplace air, more than a dozen top experts have called on the Biden administration to take immediate action to limit its airborne transmission. The 13 experts — including several who advised President Biden during the transition — have urged the administration to mandate a combination of respirators and environmental measures, like better ventilation, to blunt the risks in workplaces.
“It’s time to stop pussyfooting around the fact that the virus is transmitted mostly through the air,” said Linsey Marr, an expert on aerosols at Virginia Tech. “If we properly acknowledge this, and get the right recommendations and guidance into place, this is our chance to end the pandemic in the next six months.” She warned: “If we don’t do this, it could very well drag on.”
The federal safety regulator, OSHA, will only mandate standards that are supported by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University and one of the signatories. Michaels led OSHA during the Obama administration. “Until the CDC makes some changes, OSHA will have difficulty changing the recommendations it puts up because there’s an understanding the government has to be consistent,” Dr Michaels said. “And CDC has always been seen as the lead agency for infectious disease.”
Dr Marr was one of the experts who wrote to the World Health Organisation (WHO) last summer to push for an acknowledgment of airborne transmission. She did not expect to be in a similar position again so many months later, she said, adding: “It feels like Groundhog Day.” The call has been welcomed by the US national union federation, AFL-CIO. Read more: George Washington University news release and 17 February 2021 experts’ letter. AFL-CIO news release. New York Times. Petition urging CDC to recognise Covid-19 airborne risk. Source: Risks 986
Tonight, March 3: Chemical Hazard Communication Network
This regular meeting of the CHCN will be on Zoom and will be discussing a range of issues:
- Classification matters, including GHS 7, Workplace exposure standards
- Labelling and SDS issues
- Chemical hazard communication regulatory matters
- and more
When: Tonight, March 3, 2021
Time: from 5:20 pm Meeting 5:30pm-7:30pm,
How: via Zoom on this link. Meeting ID: 898 6499 2548 Passcode: 214966
If anyone has any trouble with the audio, they can dial in by phone from their AU location
- +61 7 3185 3730 Australia
- +61 8 6119 3900 Australia
- +61 8 7150 1149 Australia
- +61 2 8015 6011 Australia
- +61 3 7018 2005 Australia
Tomorrow, March 4: APHEDA Sister to Sister Palestine and South Africa
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is very excited to let everyone know that their new series of Activist Chats (Sister to Sister) launches this week as part of VTHC’s Women’s Rights at Work (WRAW) Festival in the lead up to International Women’s Day 2021.
The APHEDA Sister to Sister Series links Australian based APHEDA Activists and interested people with one of the organisation's project partners or country offices in a LIVE chat.
Through these shared online conversations, APHEDA hopes to provide a deeper understanding of the political, social and economic environment of their partner organisations and how their work (supported by members' monthly contributions) is making a real impact in the lives of workers, women and displaced or marginalised communities.
Join Melbourne APHEDA Activist, Kate Shuttleworth (AMWU) & APHEDA Women’s Development Organiser Samantha Bond in conversation with Mercia Andrews (APHEDA Partner -Trust for Community Outreach and Education, South Africa) and Hiba Yasin (APHEDA Palestine Social Inclusion Officer)
When: Tomorrow, Thursday 4th March
Time: 6pm-7pm (EST)
How: via Zoom on this link. Meeting ID: 830 7372 0741 Passcode: 144426
March 9: Central Safety Group
Topic: Hospital safety during the pandemic
When the COVID-19 crisis exploded just over a year ago, the demand for special safety measures in our hospitals was massive, sudden and urgent. Christina Rennick, General Manager Health, Safety and Wellbeing at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital, will do a presentation via Zoom at 11 am on 9 March about how her workplace responded.
The hospital has a big and complex structure, a workforce of 7,000, and a large number of patients and visitors to protect. Beyond implementing large-scale basic requirements for Covid protection, the safety team had to develop new rules and systems, learn from experience and adapt. This has been ongoing as knowledge of the coronavirus unfolds and the situation in the community changes
When: 11:00am-12:00pm, Tuesday, 9 March, 2021 *Note earlier start time*
How: Online via Zoom. Financial members will automatically be emailed the Zoom meeting link. (N.B. A video recording of the session will be available on the website exclusively for financial members.)
Cost: Financial members* free. Others $10 [Individual membership fee for 2020: $75] *If unsure of your membership status, contact [email protected]
Book online now (RSVP by 8 March)