March 31, 2021
Welcome to the latest edition of SafetyNet. The OHS Team wishes everyone a safe and happy Easter break. Remember - whatever you do, be COVID-Safe.
There will be no edition next week: expect the next SafetyNet in your inbox on Wednesday April 14.
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]
Reminder: April 28 is International Workers Memorial Day
April 28th is International Workers Memorial Day, and this year for the first time in Victoria, official statistics will acknowledge the toll of workplace illnesses.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim the lives of health workers and frontline workers around the world, it is particularly relevant to stop and hold a (socially distanced) vigil remembering the dead and fighting for the living. Join workers and bereaved family for a moving ceremony at Trades Hall on 28 April at 10.30 am. RSVP here.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) - update
Australia has had a total, to date, of 29,293 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed.
Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still worryingly high: the cumulative number of infections last Wednesday was 124,789,223 - the number today is 128,788,291. This is almost four million more - the week before it was almost 3.5 million (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,815,032 COVID-related deaths around the world.
Meanwhile, many Australians' holiday plans have been put in doubt: yesterday Queensland premier Annastacia Palazczuk announced eight new local cases of COVID, bringing the latest outbreak to 15 cases of the highly contagious UK variant. Also on Tuesday, the greater Brisbane area entered the first day of a three-day lockdown. Another measure introduced in the efforts to control the spread, Queensland workers must wear face masks in indoor workplaces, unless it is unsafe to do so, where physical distancing cannot be achieved. All Queenslanders must carry masks when they leave home, and wear them (with some exceptions) in indoor workspaces, hospitals, aged care facilities, shopping centres, and public transport spaces including vehicles and waiting or queueing areas. The mask requirements apply to the whole state. Today the Premier said it is "absolutely encouraging news" (for the lifting of the lockdown) that the state has recorded just three new cases of COVID-19 — one in hotel quarantine and two linked to an existing case.
Meanwhile in NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has implemented new restrictions until the end of Easter for the Byron, Ballina, Tweed and Lismore shires. These are: limiting the number of people into the home to 30 and having a list anyone who has attended; re-introduction of the four square-metre rule; compulsory wearing of masks in retail, hospitality venues if you're a worker, on public transport, and taxis & ride sharing.
Vaccines update: At time of press, 99,065 Victorians had received at least their first vaccination. There is growing concern that the roll out of the vaccines has been too slow - far short of the federal government's proposed timeline. The problem seems to be availability of vaccines (from the federal government), even though there are more than 2 million vaccines currently in the country.
The Department of Health has now made the Victorian COVID-19 vaccination guidelines (the guidelines), appendices and resources available online on this DHS webpage.
The guidelines provide advice and describe the minimum requirements for delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination program in Victoria, in accordance with the requirements set out by the Commonwealth Government. Compliance with the most current version of these guidelines is a condition of the Public Health Emergency Orders and Secretary Approvals that have been developed to authorise the workforces participating in Victoria’s COVID-19 vaccination program. Copies of these authorisations can also be accessed from the new webpage. Currently, the guidelines are being updated weekly. Please ensure you are using the most up to date version. Updates are highlighted in yellow in the document.
Good afternoon Renata,
My job means I have to stand for 7.5 to 8 hrs a day, on concrete. I am in this particular job as I sustained a back injury at work. I have foot pain, so I purchased orthotics, but these have not been much help. I also purchased new work boots. I still have back pain, and now also heel, leg, and hip pain. Is there anything I can do about it with my work? I am worried if I speak up they might not have a job for me anymore. I can walk around to do some stretches, and if it does get too much I can sit for a bit. I do spinal fitness for my back pain also.
Under s21 of the OHS Act, employers have a legal duty to provide and maintain for employees, so far as is reasonably practicable, ‘systems of work’ that are safe and without risks to health.
There are clearly problems with standing for so long, and also standing on concrete – so your employer is breaching their duty of care under the OHS Act (which is law). There is also actions they can take to make the system of work safer. See this page, Working standing up for more information. I strongly recommend that you speak to your elected health and safety rep (HSR) and ask them to raise the issue with your employer. HSRs have the right to take up OHS issues on behalf of members of their DWG through the issue resolution procedures – see Resolution of issues.
If you are in this job because you were injured, was on workers’ comp and are now back, then you also need to see your own doctor so that you can get clear advice to take to your employer regarding what you can and cannot do.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Have you checked out the VTHC's new COVIDSafe workplace project?
The COVIDsafe workplace project is run by Trades Hall to make sure that workers in communities and industries that are most at risk of COVID are provided with a safe workplace and are informed enough to be COVIDsafe at work.
If you have any concerns about anything that’s happening at work regarding COVID safety- such as your workplace being unclean, too crowded or you’re being told to attend work when sick- then join together with other workers and do something about it. Visit the COVIDsafe workplace website to get the information you need to help make sure your workplace is safe.
Visit the COVIDsafe workplace website now. Because if your job isn’t COVIDsafe, it’s not safe!
Victoria: Changes to rental laws require disclosure
On March 29 the changes to the rental laws in Victoria came into effect. The changes clarify the rights and responsibilities of renters and rental providers – from before you sign a rental agreement until after the agreement ends – and apply to all types of tenancies, private rentals, caravan and residential parks, and rooming houses.
The law changes include a ban on rental bidding, new rental minimum standards, no eviction without a reason, allowable modifications by renters and urgent repairs.
The new laws include 'disclosure requirements'. Rental providers (landlords) must disclose important information to renters before they sign a rental agreement. Before entering a residential rental, rooming house or site agreement, the renter, rooming house resident or caravan/residential park resident must be informed of a number of things, including whether the premises is known by the rental provider to have friable or non-friable asbestos based on an inspection by a suitably qualified person. Read more: Disclosure requirements before entering into a rental agreement guide
Unfortunately, the requirement is limited by what 'is known by the rental provider', so while the intention is good, it may be that many landlords will not know whether the premises has asbestos or not. Read more about the new rental laws: Consumer Affairs Victoria.
The Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation Melissa Horne, said “These reforms are about giving renters the right to safe, secure and affordable accommodation, while ensuring rental providers can continue to manage their properties effectively.” Victorian government media release
Russia: Asbestos Cancer
Russian and Kazakhstan asbestos stakeholders have long denied that the mining and processing of asbestos was a cause for concern for workers or people living near asbestos mines and factories. A March 26, 2021 article on the website of Tass – “Russia’s leading news agency” – which discussed research breakthroughs into the signature asbestos cancer, mesothelioma broke ranks with official policy stating: “residents of settlements near which fine-fiber asbestos silicate is mined are more likely to suffer from malignant tumors.” Source: Нейросеть научили подбирать терапию от вызываемого асбестом рака [Neural network taught to select therapy for cancer caused by asbestos]. International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS)
Canada: The Winds of change
In a sign of the changing times, a Quebec community which had long defended the commercial exploitation of chrysotile (white) asbestos is now lobbying the Provincial Government for millions of dollars to help manage the toxic environmental legacy from decades of asbestos mining. The president of the Economic Development Corporation of the Thetford region and mayor of Thetford Mines, Marc-Alexandre Brousseau has requested that the Minister of Finance Eric Girard allocate $320 million over five years for the decontamination and reclamation of the Bell asbestos mine site in downtown Thetford Mines; $50m is needed to carry out phase 1 of this project. See: Expected budgets for the management of asbestos and mining residues. Source: IBAS
International Union news
UK: TUC Union Health and Safety Rep Survey - 2020/21
TUC’s 2020/21 survey of more than 2100 workplace safety representatives reveals that many employers are failing to follow COVID-secure rules and keep workers safe.
Survey findings on Covid-19 and health and safety at work
- Risk assessments: More than a quarter of HSRs said they were not aware of a formal risk assessment being carried out in their workplace in the last two years, covering the period of the pandemic. One in ten said their employer had not carried out a risk assessment, while 17 per cent did not know whether a risk assessment had taken place. Of those who said their employers had carried out a risk assessment, more than a fifth said they felt the risk assessments were inadequate.
- Workplace outbreaks: More than three quarters of HSRs (83 per cent) said employees had tested positive for COVID-19 in their workplace
- Enforcement by the Health and Safety Executive: Less than one quarter said their workplace had been contacted by an inspector in the last 12 months.
- Social distancing: A quarter said their employer did not always implement physical distancing between colleagues through social distancing or physical barriers. Just over a fifth said their employer did not always implement appropriate physical distancing between employees and customers, clients or patients.
- Personal protective equipment: More than a third (35 per cent) said adequate PPE was not always provided.
- Mental health concerns and stress: Almost two thirds of HSRs said they are dealing with an increased number of mental health concerns since the pandemic began. Three quarters cited stress as a workplace hazard.
UK: TUC research into COVID-19 workplace safety outcomes in the food and drinks sector
The research report responds to the TUC’s calls for a strengthened health and safety agenda, improved safety guidance and tougher regulatory activity in the light of CoViD-19. Alongside the reps’ survey, this report commissioned from the University of Greenwich, which shows an absence of health and safety compliance in UK workplaces.
The research found 1 in 4 managers working in the food and drinks industry in the UK – a sector that has had several COVID outbreaks – were unaware of a COVID risk assessment in their workplace.
- shows those in workplaces with union health and safety reps were significantly more likely to have sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (73 per cent versus 53 per cent of those with no health and safety representative).
- identifies the role that Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) have played during COVID-19, lessons learned and best practice for continuing and future waves.
- the role of HSRs in risk assessment and the provision of PPE, but also in the (re)organisation of work and workplace ergonomics.
- explores the role of unions in the protection of mental health, in ensuring that health and safety measures cover all groups of workers, and in maintaining the confidence of workers in their organisation’s capacity to keep them safe.
- recognises the specific issues for the protection of key workers, the disproportionate outcomes for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers, but also for those on contractual arrangements with no direct relationship with employers.
The impact of intervening in workplace bullying
There is comprehensive evidence that workplace bullying is detrimental to worker health and wellbeing. A recent research study explores the mental health outcomes for witnesses and targets of bullying, when bystanders intervene.
The research demonstrates that the association between observing bullying and negative mental health outcomes is dependent on whether the observers try to intervene in the bullying they witnessed. It may be surprising to learn that observers who did not intervene reported increased mental health problems. The research also found even failed interventions were still beneficial for the targets of bullying, as the demonstration of social support from colleagues buffered the negative effects of the bullying.
Employers may benefit from investing in educating bystanders and witnesses regarding how to be active and constructive in negative social situations at work and to prevent bullying-related risks in the workplace.
Read more: Morten Birkeland Nielsen et al: Killing two birds with one stone: how intervening when witnessing bullying at the workplace may help both target and the acting observer [Open access article], International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health volume 94, pages 261–273 (2021) Source: Comcare Emerging Evidence Report. More information on bullying: Bullying and Violence section on OHS Reps @ Work; Psychosocial Hazards Comcare
New Victorian COVID advice useful for health sector
The Victorian Health Service Guidance and Response to COVID-19 Risks (VHSGR) has been developed to inform health service processes and interventions in response to changing risks of COVID-19 transmission in the community. It includes guidance on topics such as:
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) use
- Health care worker surveillance testing
- Patient pre-operative testing and screening
- Elective surgery
- Visitor information
- Outpatient consultations
- Emergency Department policy
- Healthcare worker mobility.
If it is decided that a risk rating should be changed, the Department of Health will enact and communicate the decision to health services. This website will also be updated immediately to reflect the new change to risk ratings. Further information can be found here.
New Safety Alerts
With the Easter break and school holidays coming up, WorkSafe Victoria has issued the Alert on the dangers of camping under trees. Without saying when the fatality occurred, the Alert provides the following background information:
"A camper at a holiday park died when a branch fell on his tent. The man had set up camp in his allocated camping spot, locating his tent under a tree canopy. A large branch fell on his tent in the night as he was sleeping."
In the second Alert, WorkSafe reminds employers about the risks associated with mobile plant operating over uneven ground after multiple recent incidents involving rollovers at quarries. The regulator states that in recent months it has been notified of a number of these incidents, involving a bulldozer, drill rig, water cart and trucks. The truck rollovers occurred during tipping activities.
Fortunately, in all cases the plant operators were not injured. Whilst the incidents occurred across multiple sites and operators, a common causal factor identified is the operation of plant over uneven, inclined or unstable running surfaces.
Both Alerts goes through the associated safety issues, recommended ways to control the risks, who has what legal duties under the OHS Act, and have links to further WorkSafe information.
Workplace Safety is our Common Language - new campaign
WorkSafe is ensuring safety is a common language for all Victorians following the launch of its latest campaign to assist workers from culturally diverse backgrounds. The $970,000 ‘Workplace Safety is our Common Language’ campaign speaks directly to workers in 19 different languages to help everyone understand their health and safety rights, and equip them with the knowledge and confidence to raise questions or concerns. This includes translated advice for workers, resources for employers, and videos featuring real workers who share their experiences in Victorian workplaces.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said employers had to ensure workers from culturally diverse backgrounds understood their health and safety rights. "We know people who speak multiple languages and are learning English face unique risks compared to their co-workers, but that is no excuse for failing to ensure their health and safety," Ms Nielsen said. "WorkSafe is providing resources in additional languages to help all workers and employers understand their rights and responsibilities and to ensure every worker returns home safe at the end of the day."
Workers wanting to know more about their health and safety rights can call TIS National on 131 450 to reach WorkSafe with an interpreter, between 7.30am and 6.30pm Monday to Friday. Read more: WorkSafe media release
Victorian government introduces Gender Equality Act
Victoria has taken a nation-leading step towards achieving gender equal workplaces in the public sector, with the commencement of the Australian-first Gender Equality Act 2020. The new Act requires 300 public sector employers – including local councils and universities – to report on and improve gender equality in the workplace.
Victoria’s inaugural Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner Dr Niki Vincent is working with public sector workplaces, which employ more than 380,000 people, to close the gender pay gap, improve gender equality at all levels of the workforce and eliminate workplace sexual harassment. Organisations will also need to undertake gender impact assessments – ensuring that policies, programs and services consider the different needs of Victorians of all genders.
The Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector has published detailed guidance and resources on its website and will provide training and support to organisations. Read more: Victorian government media release
NSW: Blitz into gig companies reveals disgraceful OHS breaches
Six gig economy companies have been issued safety notices after a Sydney blitz revealed widespread non-compliance with WHS laws, including the absence of hi-vis gear and explicit health and safety instructions.
Conducted by SafeWork NSW, the blitz found that 90 per cent of bike riders performing food delivery work for gig platforms had inadequate PPE, while 60 per cent were unable to demonstrate or refer to any work safety protocols provided to them by platforms.
Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson said he was putting the gig economy sector on notice after all but one of the riders observed were found operating in an unsafe manner. “What we’ve seen is disgraceful - riders out in the dark without high-vis, wearing thongs, cutting in front of trams, using mobile phones and giving passengers a lift while on the job,” Mr Anderson said. “Enough is enough. In the last 12 months alone four lives have been lost in this industry and I won’t sit on my hands while vulnerable workers are at risk.”
SafeWork inspectors will continue to be out in force on Sydney’s streets issuing improvement notices and penalties to anyone who fails to comply with NSW’s work health and safety standards. Last month, SafeWork introduced new draft guidelines to help food delivery operators, drivers and restaurants understand how to fulfil their obligations under the NSW Work Health and Safety Legislation. The guidelines outline existing hazards in the industry, such as poorly maintained bikes, fatigue and extreme weather conditions, and the actions that must be taken by delivery platforms, drivers and restaurants to mitigate these risks.
Data from SafeWork’s compliance activity will be presented to the NSW Government’s Joint Taskforce: Food Delivery Rider Safety, which is due to provide its findings to the Minister in the coming weeks. Read more: SafeWork NSW media release; Joint Taskforce: Food Delivery Rider Safety (the draft guidelines can be downloaded here)
Review of the workplace exposure standards - public comment closes 30 July
In March 2020, Safe Work Australia paused the release and public consultation for the workplace exposure standards (WES) review until further notice. Public feedback resumed on 1 February 2021 with Release 15: paraffin wax to zirconium compounds. This release will be open on the SWA consultation platform, Engage until 30 July 2021. Read more.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia last updated its statistics on fatalities on March 18, at which time they had been notified that 23 Australian workers had been killed at work in 2021. The deaths this year have been in the following sectors:
- 9 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 3 in Arts & recreation services
- 3 in Construction
- 2 in Manufacturing
- 2 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 1 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 1 in Other Services
- 1 in Wholesale trade
- 1 in Public administration & safety
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.
WorkSafe has not updated the information on the Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage since our last edition. Go to the webpage to check for any Victorian prosecutions before the next edition.
Tuesday 13 April: Central Safety Group
Musculskeletal Issues - what's new in risks and prevention,
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. Book online now
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]