SafetyNet 576

May 19, 2021

Welcome to another week's edition of SafetyNet.  

It is with great sadness that we inform our readers that a worker was killed on a Victorian construction site this week. 

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]

Research

WHO, ILO: Long working hours increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke

Long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000, according to the latest estimates by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization published in Environment International this week.  

In a first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, WHO and ILO estimate that, in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42 per cent, and from stroke by 19 per cent.

This work-related disease burden is particularly significant in men (72 per cent of deaths occurred among males), people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers. Most of the deaths recorded were among people dying aged 60-79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years.

With working long hours now known to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, it is established as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden. This shifts thinking towards a relatively new and more psychosocial occupational risk factor to human health.

The study concludes that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35 per cent higher risk of a stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.

Further, the number of people working long hours is increasing, and currently stands at 9 per cent of the total population globally.  This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.

The new analysis comes as the COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on managing working hours; the pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,“ said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” added Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization. “It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.

Governments, employers and workers can take the following actions to protect workers’ health:   

  • governments can introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time;
  • bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations can arrange working time to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours;
  • employees could share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.   

Teleworking, or working from home, has increased greatly in Australia also, putting workers in a position where their hours increase, perhaps not to 55 initially, but nevertheless putting their health at risk.
Source: WHO News   


Union News

Worker killed on construction site

On Monday this week a worker was killed on a construction site in St Albans, in Melbourne's western suburbs. While WorkSafe is investigating, it s believed the 40-year-old was working alone operating a concrete pump and boom when the overhead boom collapsed and struck him. 

The VTHC expresses its deepest condolences to the worker's family, friends and work colleagues. No one should die at work.

The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 16 for 2021.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

Australia has had a total of 29,983 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and a total of 910 COVID-related deaths. Sadly, an Australian man has died of COVID in India.  The family of the Sydney businessman who died in hospital in India after contracting COVID-19 says he was desperately trying to get back to Australia in the weeks leading up to his death. Govind Kant, 47, had flown to India in early April for the funeral of his mother, who died from the virus in March. 
Read more: Sydney Morning Herald 

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths continue to mount: the cumulative number of infections last week was 160,316,996. Today it is 164,878,741. This is 4.5 million new infections in the past week, continuing the downward trend which is now at -14%. There have now been 3,418,020 COVID-related deaths around the world - a downward trend of about 4 per cent. (note these figures are updated constantly)

COVID-19 Vaccinations

As of May 3, any Australian over the age of 50 has been able to book in for their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and we urge people to do so. There are a number of 'hubs' in Victoria which are delivering the vaccines, including a new one located at the Sandown Racecourse on the Princes Highway in Springvale, which is open 9am - 5pm, seven days a week. GPs are also now administering the vaccines.  At time of press, 816,551 vaccine doses had been administered in Victoria. 

Reminder: The Department of Health's 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. The guidelines are updated weekly. Please ensure you are using the most up to date version. Updates are highlighted in yellow in the document.

For more information, go to these pages on the website: Coronavirus disease and Coronavirus the Victorian situation 

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata,  

I'm an elected HSR at my workplace, and have a question for you.

If the MSDS or SDS for a herbicide states what PPE to wear, can the user of the herbicide take that as just an ideal suggestion and continue to wear what they please (still with care) or can WorkSafe enforce fines if you fail to follow the SDS to the letter?

The scenario is that we are using a particular herbicide the SDS of which calls for elbow length PVC gloves, goggles, boots and cotton coveralls. However the users will wear most of these PPE items but opting to just wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants and not wear the SDS specific "coveralls" because either they feel too hot or uncomfortable.

There are a few issues to go through in answering your question.

While by law a manufacturer/supplier must provide an up to date SDS for all hazardous substances, its strict adherence is not law. Rather, it provides advice to employers to ensure that the substance is used as safely as possible.  The OHS/WHS authorities prosecute so very few cases, and usually only after there has been an incident and someone has been injured/hurt.  So it is extremely unlikely that an individual worker would be prosecuted for something like this. Also because it’s not just the individual workers who have a duty here, but also the employer. See below:

So this is what should happen:

  1. First, your employer has a duty to consult with you as the HSR, on what is used at the workplace, controls, and so on (see s35: Duty to Consult)
  2. Secondly, as the HSR you represent your DWG members – and this means taking issues up to the employer.. don’t get sucked in to being the person who ‘polices’ what the employer should be doing – see point 5, below.
  3. You should be asking the employer whether a safer, less toxic chemical/product could be used – something that does not require the full PPE to protect workers against toxic effects. The Act says that where practicable, employers must seek to eliminate hazards and risks at the source. Where is it not practicable to eliminate, then the risk must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable, according to the hierarchy of control.  Providing PPE is the last control measure (See regulation 163 of the Hazardous Substances chapter of the regs)
  4. If there are no safer alternatives, OR if the alternative, though safer, is still toxic, then:
    1. Ensure there is an up to date SDS with the substance
    2. Discuss with your employer the controls which can be put in place before issuing PPE
    3. If PPE is needed, in addition to other measures, then the employer must ensure that it is the PPE as recommended by the SDS
  5. The employer has a duty to provide such information, instruction, training or supervision to employees of the employer as is necessary to enable those persons to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health. So this means not only providing the workers with training about the substance, how to use it safely, what its effects are if they are exposed, what controls are in places, why it’s necessary to wear the PPE, etc.. but also ensuring that they comply with this and wear the PPE – ie supervise them. (See: s21 Duties of Employers)
  6. The employees also need to understand that they have a duty in the OHS Act – to ‘co-operate with his or her employer with respect to any action taken by the employer to comply with a requirement imposed by or under this Act or regulations’. (see: s25 Duties of Employees)
  7. However, it may be that the PPE is in fact not suitable – if it is very very uncomfortable, or hot, or whatever, then you should raise this with your employer and see if there are alternatives (especially as per point 1 – something safer that would mean no or different PPE)
  8. Finally, under employment law, employees must follow any legal instructions from their employer.

So… IF the employer has trained the workers, and provided information on the chemicals and use of PPE, every effort has been made to reduce the need for PPE, and also find the best PPE in terms of suitability, comfort, etc, and there are workers who refuse to wear it, then the employer has the right to take action – such as warn the employees, formal warnings, and so on.

Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. 

Andrews government announces reforms to address workplace psychological hazards and injuries

Last week the VTHC launched a petition calling on our government to introduce regulations on psychological health, as more Victorian workers than ever before are suffering psychological injury from mentally unsafe workplaces. 

This week the government has committed to keep strengthening workers' right to a safe place of employment through new regulations to better prevent workplace psychological hazards and injuries. On Monday Minister for Workplace Safety Ingrid Stitt announced the priority reforms today ahead of her meeting with state, territory and federal counterparts at the Work Health and Safety Ministers’ meeting later this week.

The regulations will strengthen the occupational health and safety framework by providing clearer guidance to employers on their obligations to better protect workers from mental injury.  

"The impact of a mental health injury can often be less obvious – but is no less serious – than a physical one. That’s why we’re making these changes to protect workers and ensure they are safe when on the job,” said Minister Stitt. “We’re making it clear to every employer that the responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace means one that is free from psychological and physical harm.”  Read more: Keeping Workers Safe From Psychological Harm, Victorian government media release

We expect that there will be significant push back from employer groups, so it is important to show your support by signing our petition to help us reform OHS laws and win mentally safer workplaces for all workers.

Asbestos news

WA: New guidance on asbestos contaminated soil

WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) recently released an information sheet explaining how to deal with soils at a workplace which are contaminated with asbestos-containing material (ACM). The information sheet provides advice to persons in control of a workplace and those involved in inspecting, removing, managing or disposing of asbestos contaminated soils at those workplaces. It deals with soils which are contaminated with asbestos containing material (ACM), but does not cover naturally occurring asbestos. Access the information sheet here

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home

VTHC's Women Onsite: Try a Trade Day, May 23

Women Onsite have partnered with Maker Community Inc. to deliver a ‘Try a Trade’ afternoon to provide aspiring tradeswomen with practical experience across three types of trades. Workshops for the day include:

🗜️Plumbing – Joining, bending and brazing copper tubes that are used in plumbing systems
🔨 Carpentry – We’ll be sighting pieces of timber and using a nailgun to get an understanding of what being a carpenter on big jobs is like
👩‍🏭 Welding – a chance to weld steel plate with an experienced female welder.

Participants will also have the opportunity to chat to the team about the Women Onsite program, next steps and opportunities.

WHEN: Sunday 23rd May 2021, 11am -2:30pm 
WHERE: Maker Community Inc. 215 Albion St, Brunswick 
COST: FREE. Spots are limited! Register now for this FREE program.

Job vacancy in the VTHC's OHS Unit

The OHS team is looking for a Project Organiser to join the Carlton-based team – responsible for the WorkWell project (short-term position until July 2022). 

The role will be responsible for delivery of the WorkWell project, aimed at increasing mental health safety for workers, run in conjunction with ACTU and affiliated unions. The WorkWell Project Organiser will provide outreach and support to unions, mental health advocates and OHS delegates in over 100 workplaces as they learn how to identify and manage psychosocial hazards.

The job is being advertised on Ethical Jobs here, please check it out for more details.  Applications close 5.00 pm, 24th May 2021


Regulator News

Victorian news

New campaign: Put a stop to workplace violence

Earlier this week, WorkSafe Victoria launched a new campaign highlighting the need for employers and the community to come together to stamp out violence in the workplace. 

WorkSafe claims data shows that while only 2.5 per cent of claims relate to violent or aggressive incidents in the workplace, many incidents are unreported. These can range from verbal abuse and yelling, spitting, swearing, demeaning language to gendered violence and physical assault.

The campaign, on major television, radio, online and in print media with the simple message that violence in the workplace is never okay. builds on the previous Its Never Ok campaign, which focussed on workplace violence and aggression towards healthcare workers. 

Featuring incidents from the worker’s perspective, the campaign aims to remind employers and the community that violence and abuse is never ‘just part of the job’.  WorkSafe is also running additional education and awareness campaigns with employers to remind them of their obligations to protect workers from violence and aggression in the workplace. This includes targeted inspection programs in the high risk healthcare and corrections industries and the provision of new guidance for employers.

WorkSafe Chief Executive Colin Radford said the campaign would send a clear message to the Victorian community that everyone deserves to be treated with respect while at work. Read more: WorkSafe media release 

May edition of Safety Soapbox

The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was posted today.  This month WorkSafe’s focus is on asbestos and the risks posed to tradespeople in particular, as the deadly substance 'lurks in more places than you think.' It is estimated that about 1 in 3 Australian homes contain asbestos. 

The 'Absolute shocker' shows incorrect ladder use - putting two workers at risk of falling.  The edition has news of the recently released industry standard on Elevating Work Platforms, prosecutions and incidents around Australia. There is also a short, but shocking, video on nail guns: since January 2019, there have been 107 reported incidents of workers who had been shot with a framing nail gun in construction - most commonly resulting in impalement or puncture to the body.

As always, the Safety Soapbox has the list of incidents reported to WorkSafe: In April the construction industry reported 139 incidents to WorkSafe. Of these, 68 per cent resulted in injury. There we no fatalities, but 13 per cent of the injuries were serious. Access the May 2021 edition of Safety Soapbox here  - the summaries of reported incidents can be downloaded from the March Safety Soapbox.

National News 

New work health and safety fact sheets on the risks of online abuse

These resources have been developed by Safe Work Australia in collaboration with eSafety to provide practical steps to support PCBUs (such as employers) and workers manage the risks of online abuse in the workplace.

What is online abuse?

Online abuse is behaviour that uses technology to threaten, intimidate, bully, harass or humiliate someone. It can take place on social media, online chat and messaging services, by telephone (calls and text messages), email or any other technology used at the workplace.

Work health and safety laws require PCBUs to take care of the health and safety of workers and others. This includes managing the risks of online abuse while working.

The new facts sheets provide PCBUs and workers with practical steps to manage risks of online abuse and provide information on what to do if it does happen:

For more information, go to our online abuse in the workplace webpage.

New workers' comp data on COVID

Safe Work Australia has released a new report which provides a snapshot of COVID-19 related workers’ compensation claims from 1 January to 31 December 2020. The report uses preliminary data from Commonwealth, state and territory workers’ compensation authorities and details claims by type, industry, occupation and jurisdiction. 

The scope of data included in this report is different to the previous report (containing claims to 31 July 2020) published in November 2020. For this reason, the two reports are not comparable. SWA warns that consequently there are significant variations in the way jurisdictions collect and report data on COVID-19, and caution should be used in interpreting the data. The report can be downloaded from this page of the SWA website.

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities on May 13, at which time they had been notified that 34 Australian workers had been killed at work in 2021, an increase of two since the previous update on April 29. The fatalities have been in the following sectors:

  • 15 in Transport, postal & warehousing 
  • 4 in Construction
  • 3 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 3 in Arts & recreation services
  • 2 in Manufacturing 
  • 2 in Other Services 
  • 1 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
  • 1 in Wholesale trade
  • 1 in Public administration & safety
  • 1 in Accommodation & food services
  • 1 in Mining

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, consequently sometimes the numbers of deaths in each sector change. 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


Prosecutions

Company cops $120k fine after worker run over by truck

Concrete manufacturer Dandy Premix Concrete Pty Ltd was last week convicted and fined $120,000 (plus $13,850 in costs) after a worker was run over by a truck at its Pakenham plant in 2018. The company was sentenced in the Dandenong Magistrates' Court after being found guilty of failing to provide a safe workplace by failing to take reasonably practicable steps to eliminate the risk of powered mobile machines colliding with pedestrians.

On 20 July, 2018 workers were cleaning up spilled slurry as a truck was loading concrete. Once the truck was full, it pulled out, passing the two workers. One of the workers tripped and fell under the truck's rear wheels and his left arm was run over. He suffered serious injuries, including amputation of his little finger and partial amputation of his ring and middle fingers. He has required multiple surgeries and ongoing rehabilitation.

WorkSafe investigations fouond the company did not have a traffic management plan that identified hazards, including collisions between trucks and pedestrians while spilled slurry was being cleaned up, and that there were no risk control measures in place, such as exclusion zones or physical barriers to separate pedestrians from vehicles.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said there was no excuse for failing to use appropriate safety measures to keep pedestrians and vehicles separated. "This worker is still living with the consequences of an incident that could have been avoided," she said. "It is vital that employers have appropriate traffic management plans and risk control measures in place to keep vehicles and pedestrians at a safe distance."
Read more: WorkSafe media release

To check for any Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. 


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