March 17, 2021
We welcome subscribers to the latest edition of SafetyNet. Please remember: invite anyone at your workplace who has an interest in OHS to subscribe to the journal. This edition may seem a little shorter than normal - but we hope you find it interesting.
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 29,137 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed.
Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, although the rate of increase seems to be slowing, probably due to the rollout of the vaccines in several countries. The cumulative number of infections last Wednesday was 118,146,046 - the number today is 121,214,690. This is over 3 million more cases - last week it was over 5.5 million (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,618,564 COVID-related deaths around the world.
Vaccines: The vaccine roll-out is progressing steadily. As of today, there had been over 35,000 Victorians who have received their first vaccine.
A number of European countries have recently suspended the rollout of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine due to concerns that a small number of people vaccinated have suffered from blood clots. However, there is no evidence that the blood clots are related to the vaccine - in fact, the number of clots reported is lower than the number that would be expected in people not having received the vaccination. Both the Australian and the Victorian governments are taking advice from the TGA and Chief Medical Officers, and continuing the rollout in Australia. Both governments have produced up-to-date information on the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. These have been added to our webpage on COVID-19 Vaccines.
Two job vacancies at the VTHC Training Unit
Are you an OHS Trainer? Are you committed to HSRs and unions? If the answers to these questions are yes, then you might be interested in working in the VTHC Training Unit. The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) is looking for people who want to make a difference for working people.
The VTHC is seeking to employ two Safety and Rights Trainers. The positions are based within the OHS training team which is dedicated to advancing the rights of working people across Victoria. The OHS training team educates and organises working people about their rights and safety at work, supports unions to advance working people’s rights and campaigns for social change through building the capacity of unions and activists.
If this interests you, then go to Ethical Jobs to find out more about the duties, selection criteria, pay and conditions.
But hurry: Applications close at 5.00pm, 26 March, 2021
My employer has policy in place that certain items of PPE must be worn in the workplace. Who is responsible for supplying the PPE items such as work pants and shirts?
It would be expected that any compulsory PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and clothing is supplied by the employer – if the PPE is part of what is needed to reduce the risk to health or safety to employees, then this is the employer’s duty of care.
A few things though:
- If there are hazards creating a risk to employees at the workplace, then under the OHS Act, the employer has a duty to implement controls which seek to eliminate the risks at source. PPE should only be used when a risk remains despite the controls implemented
- Your employer has a duty to consult with you as the HSR on any measures they take/intend to take to control the hazards and risks at the workplace - and so if use of PPE is a control measure, then you should have been consulted. (see: Duty to consult) If you were not part of the process, then you can raise this as an issue under s73 of the Act - see: Resolution of issues.
- The Victorian OHS Act and regulations are silent on who pays for necessary PPE – unlike in some jurisdictions. This is often something which is nutted out and agreed upon by unions with the employer, on behalf of their members. I strongly recommend that you contact your union to have this issue followed up.
- There is a range issues which must be considered when choosing PPE – see this page on the site for more information.
- In some ways this is an ‘industrial’ issue – generally employers can expect/demand workers to wear appropriate clothing, however if they insist on particular and specific gear, then they should supply it
- Finally, if workers do need to provide their own, then the cost is a tax deduction – but this is the least preferable outcome, and it would be far preferable for this to be the employer's responsibility.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
NSW: Prosecution over fake asbestos disposal information
A contractor who was paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars to take asbestos contaminated soil to a lawful landfill has been handed a 12-month term of imprisonment, to be served in the community, for faking waste disposal dockets.
Paul Mouawad was sentenced in the Land and Environment Court on 26 February 2021 following prosecution by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) over the disposal of 1,400 tonnes of waste containing asbestos. An investigation by the EPA found 134 truckloads of asbestos-contaminated soil were collected from a building site in Darlington central Sydney in June and July 2016, but only one truckload was lawfully disposed of at the Elizabeth Drive Landfill at Kemps Creek. Read more: NSW EPA media release
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
Global: Deliveroo called out for pandemic profiteering
Deliveroo’s predatory business model means workers shoulder significant risks, including low pay rates, dangerous working conditions and unfair deactivations, its riders have said. Ahead of a major public share issue (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange, a global network of Deliveroo riders is warning potential investors of growing legal, regulatory, and reputational risks, urging them not to back the company until it improves rider safety, conditions and pay. A letter to Deliveroo CEO Will Shu calls on the company to stop treating riders like second class citizens.
Deliveroo profits have soared during the pandemic, with its riders delivering takeaways and groceries to millions of people across 12 countries. “Instead of affording riders the rights they deserve, Deliveroo has been putting even more pressure on them,” said Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which is supporting the riders’ network. “While competitors like JustEat are changing their ways, Deliveroo has left the riders feeding our cities struggling to feed their own families.”
Despite attempts by Deliveroo and other gig economy companies to misclassify riders, courts – including the Supreme Courts in the United Kingdom and France – are increasingly recognising direct employment relationships. Last month, a Dutch court ruled that Deliveroo misclassified its workers as independent contractors to avoid responsibility for holiday, sick pay and other employment entitlements. Spanish courts earlier came to a similar conclusion. These landmark rulings highlight a growing recognition of the legal and regulatory obligations on app-based companies, ITF said. I said it is supporting the #Rights4Riders network as part of its commitment to amplify organising by platform workers. In November 2020, the ITF launched 10 gig economy employer principles, which provide an outline for ending exploitation in the gig economy.
Read more: ITF news release and 10 gig economy principles. ETUC news release. Rights4Riders. Source: Risks 989
Global: 65 journalists died at work in 2020
The circumstances in which 65 media workers died last year while doing their jobs has been revealed in a new report from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The global journalist union detailed how they had been victims of targeted attacks, bomb attacks and crossfire incidents in 16 countries. The 2020 toll was 17 more than were killed in 2019, when 49 media workers died. It brings the total to 2,680 journalists and media workers who lost their lives to violence in the world since 1990, when the IFJ started publishing annual reports to highlight what it describes as a deepening safety crisis in the media.
The IFJ said the number of media professionals’ killings are more or less on the same levels as in 1990s. The report cites organised crime groups, extremists and sectarian violence among the main reasons for the safety crisis in journalism. “In this regard, 2020 was no exception,” said IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger. “The ruthless reign of crime barons in Mexico, the violence of extremists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, as well as the intolerance of hardliners in India and the Philippines have contributed to the continued bloodshed in the media.”
Read more: IFJ news release. Source: Risks 989
Working poor hardest hit by COVID
The working poor are bearing the greatest burden from COVID -19, a UK public health study has found. The research by Sheffield council showed people in low paid jobs, with insecure contracts, who couldn't afford to isolate have been hardest hit by the disease in the city. The council split its population into 10 income brackets, from the wealthiest to the most deprived, and looked at COVID case rates in each group. While the rates were generally greater among the less well-off, they were highest of all in the third income group, rather than the poorest or second poorest.
“The impact is really on the working poor,” said Sheffield's director of public health, Greg Fell. This group is “most likely to be low paid,” on insecure contracts and unable to afford to isolate. “Transmission in that group of people is much higher,” he said. The fact the disease has affected poorer areas more than wealthy ones in the UK has been well recorded. Work by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods are more than twice as likely to die from COVID as those in the least deprived. But Greg Fell told the BBC he is “surprised by the starkness” of what the council found in Sheffield. Read more: BBC News Online. BBC Newsnight. Source: Risks 989
WorkSafe Victoria calls on all Victorians to prioritise workplace health and safety
The call to prioritise health and safety following the tragic deaths of 65 workers in 2020. The toll was five fewer than the previous year when 70 people died from work related injuries or disease.
WorkSafe chief executive Colin Radford said every death was a tragedy for families, workplaces and communities grappling with the loss of a loved one. “These are not numbers or statistics. They are loved members of our families and communities. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, siblings, colleagues and team mates, who died as a result of a workplace incident that should have been avoided,” Mr Radford said. “There is no excuse for taking shortcuts and failing to make health and safety your number one priority. Victorian employers and workers – all of us – can and must do more to reduce the number of workplace deaths.”
The 2020 toll includes 29 workers who died in a Victorian workplace incident and 20 workers who died in work-related road incidents. A further 13 workers died from the effects of disease contracted as a result of their work, one worker died following a workplace-related medical incident and one worker died from a workplace-related suicide.
As of July 1, the criteria for defining a workplace fatality was broadened to include deaths from work-related transport incidents, disease, criminal acts, and medical or suicide incidents, to ensure every workplace death is recognised and acknowledged and every family gets the support they deserve.
Mr Radford said 20 work-related road deaths was a sobering reminder that employers have a duty to protect all their workers, no matter where they are employed.
There were 12 deaths in the public administration and safety industry in 2020, which was the most dangerous industry in the state. This includes the deaths of four police officers killed on the Eastern Freeway in April and five emergency services personnel who died from the effects of diseases contracted at work.
Read more: WorkSafe media release
March edition of Safety Soapbox
The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was posted today. In this month's editorial WorkSafe’s Stuart Duncanson discusses the safe use of synthetic (soft) lifting slings and WorkSafe's recently revised alert on the subject, which he helped develop. Stuart is an appointed Inspector and Senior Cranes Engineering Specialist in WorkSafe's Major Construction Projects team. His background includes working as a heavy-lift crane specialist in the heavy construction sector nationally.
The 'Absolute shocker' shows a worker on a scaffold standing on a bucket in order to reach where he needs to be working! The scaffold has no fall protection. Whoever organised the scaffold is in breach of his duties - and further there appears to be no supervision of the worker.
As always, the Safety Soapbox has the list of incidents reported to WorkSafe: In Feburary the construction industry reported 179 incidents to WorkSafe. Of these, 75 per cent resulted in injury. There we no fatalities, but nine per cent of the injuries were serious. Access the March 2021 edition of Safety Soapbox here - the summaries of reported incidents can be downloaded from the March Safety Soapbox.
Summary of Workers' Compensation Report now published
Safe Work Australia has published a snapshot of workers’ compensation scheme developments. This is the first edition of the Summary of Workers’ Compensation Scheme Developments in Australia and New Zealand - September 2018 to September 2020 – 1st Edition (Summary Report).
The biennial report summarises significant changes in administration and scheme delivery and policy and legislative amendments of workers’ compensation schemes in Australia and New Zealand from September 2018 to September 2020. It includes legislative developments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of presumptive legislation and provisional liability for first responders and firefighters.
A more comprehensive comparison of workers’ compensation scheme arrangements and the differences between schemes in Australia and New Zealand will be published in alternate years, with the next publication date being in 2022.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics on fatalities since March 4, at which time 18 Australian workers had been killed at work in 2021. The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:
- 9 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 2 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 2 in Construction
- 2 in Manufacturing
- 1 in Arts & recreation services
- 1 in Other Services
- 1 in Wholesale trade
These figures 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. 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.
Victoria: Employee prosecuted, convicted and fined for breaching s25
In an interesting case, a worker employed by New Pearl Trading Pty Ltd as a storeman, has been prosecuted, convicted and fined $2,500 plus costs of $4,625 for a breach of s25 of the Act - Duties of Employees. On 27 November 2018, the man was seen operating a forklift, in a shared carpark area, driving at speed in between cars and trucks. Further, there were pedestrians walking towards an adjacent gym, in close proximity to the forklift. The man refused to cooperate with WorkSafe inspectors and continued to drive the forklift around the carpark.
There was a risk of serious injury or death to members of the public from being struck by the forklift.
Victoria Police were called, but the man continued to be uncooperative and refused to provide his name and address to the police officers. When informed by the police officers that he would be arrested, he finally provided them with a copy of his driver's licence.
The employee did not have a forklift licence and was not in the process of obtaining a valid licence. There were no other employees at the workplace that had a licence to perform High Risk Work who were supervising him. The man pleaded guilty.
It has been a long time since an employee has been prosecuted under s25. It would appear that the man's behaviour in this case may justify the prosecution. However, it would be of interest to know whether the man's employer was also charged and prosecuted. While there is no doubt that the worker was in breach of the OHS Act, and should have cooperated with both WorkSafe inspectors and the police, the man's employer was also in breach of the Act and the regulations for failure to ensure the worker had a forklift licence before allowing him to undertake the work; for failure to provide supervision, etc; for failure to ensure that use of plant was safe and without risks to health; and more.
To check for any Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Charges laid over death in detention centre
The Department of Home Affairs and its healthcare provider International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) have both been charged with breaching Commonwealth work health and safety laws over the death of a man in immigration detention.
Following an investigation by regulator Comcare, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has filed two charges each against Home Affairs and IHMS alleging they failed in their duties under the federal Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).
The charges relate to an incident on 4 March 2019 where a 26-year-old Iraqi national took his own life at Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. At the time, refugee rights group the Refugee Action Coalition responded to the death by calling for an urgent independent inquiry into immigration detention in Australia, saying the man had shown signs of deteriorating mental health, and suicide had "become normal" within the system.
It is alleged that Home Affairs and IHMS failed to:
- provide and maintain a safe system of work at the facility as part of their health and safety duties that extend to detainees; and
- provide necessary training, information and supervision to mental health staff in relation to their care for the detainee.
Each charge is a Category 2 offence under the WHS Act, carrying a maximum penalty of $1.5 million. The matter is listed for mention in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court on 27 April 2021. Source: Comcare media release; OHS Alert
Department of Defence fined $350,000 over fatality
The Department of Defence was last week convicted and fined $350,000 under federal work health and safety laws after a worker was critically injured during a maintenance operation in Queensland.
Following an investigation by Comcare, Defence pleaded guilty in the Townsville Magistrates Court to a single criminal charge, admitting it failed in its duties under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
The incident occurred on the night of 16 August 2017 at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Townsville. RAAF personnel were tasked with removing the nylon tape from an aircraft arrestor unit designed to stop planes during emergency landings. Workers were using a tow motor to remove the tape from an eight-tonne arrestor unit on a flat-bed truck. The tape reached the end of the reel, pulling the arrestor unit from the truck and entangling a RAAF member who was on the rear of the vehicle at the time. The arrestor unit and the worker fell onto the runway and the unit landed on the man’s legs, severing one and causing severe injuries to the other.
In sentencing, Acting Magistrate Scott Luxton recognised the early guilty plea by Defence, but also the seriousness of the incident.
Read more: Comcare media release
Tuesday 13 April: Musculskeletal Issues - what's new in risks and prevention, Central Safety Group
Speaker: David Trembearth, Safety Business Partner, Coles
Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs), often referred to as ‘Body Stressing’, are the highest category of serious workers’ compensation claims for Australian workers, representing 36% of all claims in 2017-18.
David Trembearth will speak on the research and experience which show there is a lot can be done to prevent these injuries. David chaired the working group that developed a position statement on WMSDS for the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society in 2020. He will provide an overview of this and talk about evidence-based causes of WMSDs as well as intervention strategies for the prevention and management of these injuries.
When: 12 - 1pm, Tuesday, 13 April, 2021
RSVP: COB Monday, 12 April.
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. Non-members $10
[Individual membership fee for 2020: $75] *If unsure of your membership status, contact [email protected] Book online now