SafetyNet 579

Welcome to this week's edition of SafetyNet.  

While COVID restrictions will ease in metropolitan Melbourne at the end of the week, it is likely that many Victorians will continue to work from home, at least for another week. check out the information on our site here

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]

Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

Tomorrow it will be two weeks since Victoria went into Stage 4 restrictions, introduced as a 'circuit breaker' when an outbreak related to a local man who contracted COVID in an Adelaide quarantine hotel under control. Since then, two separate variants of the virus have been identified in Victoria - the Delta and the Kappa variants (both previously referred to as 'Indian' variants). 

Today the deputy Premier, James Merlino, announced that restrictions would be easing from midnight Thursday: there will be no restrictions on leaving home, but people in metropolitan Melbourne can only go 25 km from their home. Workplaces can begin to bring workers back - beginning with 25 per cent of the total workforce or a 10 workers, whichever is greater. Schools will also go back. 

The wearing of masks, and the use of QR codes remain mandatory. 

There has only been one new community case identified in the past 24 hours (and one in quarantine), and two the day before. The total number of active cases in the state is 83.  Go to this page for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions: Coronavirus the Victorian situation 

Australia has had a total of 30,270 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and no COVID-related deaths for months. 

Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 174,714,584 (last week it was 171,938,586). This is over 2.77 million new infections in the past week, but continuing the downward trend which is now at 15 per cent. There have been a total of 3,761,133 COVID-related deaths around the world - a downward trend of about 11 per cent. (note these figures are updated constantly)

COVID-19 Vaccinations

We urge workers who are eligible to get their vaccines, particularly in the light of the fact that we now have two variants of concern in our community. If you are a 1a or 1b category worker, and under 50, you are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. Anyone between the ages of 40 and 49 can also book to have a Pfizer shot. For those who are over 50, get the AstraZeneca shot as soon as you can. The Victorian government has introduced measures to prioritise certain workers - at the moment this is paramedics and ambulance officers.

There have currently been 697,903 doses of vaccine administered in Victoria. 

For more information on vaccines, go to this Department of Health webpage to check the Victorian COVID-19 vaccination guidelines (the guidelines), appendices and resources available online. 

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

Tell us about your experiences of OHS

Australian Unions are conducting a survey about workers’ experience of health and safety in the workplace, and we really want your input. The survey will help Australian Unions, the VTHC and your union better understand your experience at work, what is important to you and what you think could be improved.

The responses we collect help to frame our conversations with governments and employers and develop campaigns to bring about the changes necessary to make work healthy and safe.

Unions had a win this month when work health and safety ministers from across Australia voted in favour of strengthening laws to protect workers’ mental health. These changes are a huge step forward in the prevention of mental illness, sexual harassment and gendered violence in the workplace.

Valuable input from workers like you has the power to bring about more of these changes that result in better health and safety conditions in every workplace.

The survey is open until 9th July 2021Take the survey now! Click here

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

My employer has decided that we don't need to have any first aiders, and that no one is required to have first aid training, as our workplace is within 30 minutes of an ambulance service. Are we still required to have a first aid box on site?
Thanks

No, your employer is not right to say that there is no need for a first aider - unless there are fewer than 10 workers onsite. Even if your workplace is within 30 minutes of an ambulance service, and is also designated as 'low risk', then at least one trained first aider is required:

 

Low-risk (eg offices, banks, libraries, most retail operations):

  • no exposure to hazards that could result in a serious injury/illness (as described below) requiring immediate medical attention
  • the business is located where medical assistance/ambulance services are readily available  

It may also be that your workplace is not 'low risk'. With regards to first aiders, the code states:

Low-risk workplaces:

  • one for 10 - 50 workers
  • two for 51 - 100 workers
  • one additional for every additional 100 workers

So, unless there are fewer than 10 workers at the site, you still need a first aider. See this page for more information. 

With regard to first aid kits - the answer is yes, the employer needs to have at least one first aid kit on site - even if there are fewer than ten employees. See this page on First Aid Kits for more information.   

So, I recommend that you raise the issue and question the decision they have informed you of - they have an obligation to consult with you about this before doing anything. Call the union for help if you need to. 

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

ACTU calls on government to act on silica

The ACTU has called on the Federal Government to urgently act on silicosis as 1 in 5 of those working with engineered stone are diagnosed with the incurable disease.

Workers across a wide range of industries are exposed to silica and other hazardous dusts. The ACTU has called for a number of actions to be taken, including the introduction of national laws to ban uncontrolled cutting of high silica content engineered stone, a reduction of the Workplace Exposure Standard for Respirable Crystalline Silica to 0.02 mg/m3 (the health-based standard) from the recently adopted 0.05 mg/m3, and a three year staged ban on the importation and manufacture of high silica content engineered stone. It has also called for the establishment of compensation funds to support those suffering from dust diseases such as silicosis and coal workers pneumoconiosis, and their families. These funds should be financed by particular industries, on the basis that ‘you pay for the harm you cause’.

The ACTU's Assistant Secretary, Liam O'Brien, said, "“Exposure to high quantities of silica causes lung cancer, silicosis and autoimmune diseases like scleroderma. These diseases are entirely preventable and the Federal Government must ban high silica content engineered stone products and promote the use of safer alternatives."

Last week the TV program, The Project, ran a very affecting story on the effects of inhaling dust from engineered stone benches, which, as Mr O'Brien says in the segment, are nothing more than a fashion item. Read more: ACTU media releaseCheck out The Project's story here. More information on Silica.

Have you downloaded the OHShelp App yet?

A reminder to HSRs about the OHShelp app - a free, all-in-one app for Health and Safety Representatives. It has been designed to help HSRs stay informed, organised and in touch with their unions.

HSRs are now able to use the app to identify workplace hazards and access fact sheets written in plain language. The app also allows users to log issues as they find them, and to share the details with their employer, workmates and union. Check out more information on what's on the app, and how to sign up on the OHShelp website. For the moment the app is only available for union members, but a free trial is being organised for non-union members. 

Asbestos news

National: ABF targets asbestos imports

The Australian Border Force (ABF) has begun a targeted period of action against imported building products at risk of containing asbestos.

Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs, Jason Wood said the intention of the ABF’s Action was not to hold up any legitimate and safe building materials, but to protect the Australian community from asbestos.

The government is urging importers to consider if they may be unintentionally bringing in asbestos, including noting whether the country of manufacture allows any use of asbestos in the goods they are importing.  Asbestos has been detected in building materials such as cement fibreboards and panels, pre-fabricated housing kits, cut stone and tiles. Also of particular risk, said the minister, are parts, components and structural goods designed to resist heat or flammability.

Australia was one of the few countries in the Asia/Pacific region that had a comprehensive ban on all six types of asbestos and the ABF operated year-round to guard against its importation. 

Offences related to asbestos importation by individuals could attract fines of up to $222,000 or three times the value of the goods and/or imprisonment for up to five years. “For a body corporate the same border offence attracts a higher penalty of up to $1,110,000 or 15 times the value of the goods, whichever is the greater,” said the Mr Wood. Read more: psnews.com.au

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

State Library of Victoria Exhibition 

The changing face of Victoria exhibition explores the spirit of activism and invention, and its impact on modern Victoria, through four everyday themes: water, workers’ rights, camping and coffee. The exhibition is temporarily closed, but can still be explored online. 

On show are more than 150 objects, artworks and photographs that reveal the large and small ways we can all make a difference in shaping our world. 90 per cent of these collection items have never been exhibited before.

The Workers' Rights gallery celebrates the local 19th-century pioneers who set an international precedent for workers’ rights, and the movements continuing the fight today. From the ‘Do-it-together’ movements and the establishment of trade unions, to Victoria’s hidden workforce and work equality for women, discover the places where Melburnians have made their opinions heard and the changing power of political graphics and slogans. 

HSRs and workers will find this exhibition and its topics, for instance the history of the 8 Hour Movement, extremely interesting. 

International union news

UK: Union demands inquiry into government's handling of pandemic

UK union GMB says there needs to an ‘immediate public inquiry’ over the government's handling of COVID-19. This comes after big questions emerged over the government's role in the crisis. In a revealing seven-hour testimony on 26 May, the prime minister’s former senior adviser Dominic Cummings raised questions over the UK government’s response to the pandemic and the role played by the prime minister. He also accused health secretary Matt Hancock of lying 15 to 20 times and blaming others for PPE failings. The health secretary subsequently said the claims were “not true”.

GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “It’s abundantly clear that there was a lack of strategy and direction, hence why we are now getting so many differing accounts.” She added: “Last year during a PPE shortage, thousands of care workers and NHS staff were put in the line of fire whilst the government squabbled and lied to each other. They even hid thousands of COVID deaths, with just the HSE reporting 111 people have died at work whilst their own statistics, showed more than 5,000 people had died from COVID. It’s a disgrace and they deserve so much better.”

The GMB official concluded: “It's time for an immediate public inquiry as needless lives have been lost. We need answers and urgent safeguards put in place to protect workers still putting themselves in harm’s way.” A report last week from the peak council TUC noted that between April 2020 and April 2021 the ONS reported that 15,263 people of working age died from COVID. But according to the legally-required reports filed by employers just 387 (2.5 per cent) of these deaths were work-related. Read more: GMB news release. BBC News Online and related article on Dominic Cummings’ claims. Source: Risks 999

Bangladesh: Garment safety transition accord extended

Negotiations on the future of the 2018 Transition Accord on labour standards in the Bangladesh garment sector will continue after global unions and international fashion brands agreed to a three-month extension. The deal between global unions UNI and IndustriALL and a negotiating committee representing leading fashion brands must still be signed by the individual brands.

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said, “The Accord has played an outstanding role in preventing fatal accidents since its creation in 2013, and the work must continue. This three-month extension is a very important commitment. It demonstrates that we will not allow the safety and health of the Bangladeshi garment workers to be jeopardised while we continue negotiating a successor agreement with the brands, preserving the achievements in Bangladesh and also expanding them to other countries.”

Christy Hoffman, UNI general secretary, added, “We welcome this extension, which will allow us more time to negotiate a successor agreement to the Accord. We must put the mechanisms in place to ensure the success and credibility of the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council  (RSC) as well as a safe workplace for millions of workers.” She said: “A decision by the Bangladesh High Court led to the day-to day Accord operations being handed over last year to the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council - a tripartite body made up of brands, factory owners as well as global and national unions.” Read more: IndustriALL news release. UNI news release Source: Risks 999


Research

Australia: insecure work making us a more divided society

The ABC’s 2021 Australia Talks survey highlights the effect insecure work is having on the way young workers and women think about their lives and their jobs, as Australia becomes a more divided society.

The survey finds that Australian workers are concerned about the increasing rate of insecure work, nervous about having a secure retirement, and concerned about what future generations will face.

  • Three-quarters of young workers and 59 per cent of Australians now believe that this generation will be worse off than their parents.
  • 50 per cent of Australians are not confident that they will have enough to retire with, the division widening between men and women, with 55 per cent of women facing an uncertain future.
  • 27 per cent say they have difficulty making ends meet.
  • Australians are pessimistic that being a hard worker will be rewarded, with a 12 per cent drop in Australians who believe that ‘if you work hard, you can be successful no matter what’.

The ACTU has responded by urging the Morrison Government to act now to reduce the negative impact of insecure and unreliable work by restoring rights for casual and gig workers. Instead of taking this action, the government has recently legislated to make it easier for employers to keep workers in unreliable and insecure casual contracts.

ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus, said, "These results shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. We have witnessed consecutive coalition Governments strip workers’ rights and oversee the lowest wage growth period since the great depression."

The Australia Talks National Survey asked 60,000 Australians about their lives and what keeps them up at night. Anyone interested can use the ABC's interactive tool to see the results and how their answers compare. 

At 8pm, Monday, June 21 Annabel Crabb and Nazeem Hussain will host a program on the key findings of the survey. Read more: ACTU media releaseOne in four of us struggle to make ends meet, Australia Talks data showsABC online

USA: Survey exposes health care worker safety concerns

A George Washington University survey of frontline health care workers during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic has found many reported unsafe working conditions and faced retaliation for voicing their concerns to employers.

“This survey gives a voice to US health care workers who have been on the frontlines of COVID-19,” said David Michaels, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University and former administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Michaels, an adviser on the study, added: “Health care workers have valuable first-hand knowledge about this pandemic and this report offers recommendations that could help keep the US on a steady course now and in the future.”

Approximately 1,200 health care workers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia took part in the survey. They expressed frustration with unsafe working conditions, especially the unavailability of adequate personal protective equipment. Respondents also described instances of retaliation and at times bullying for voicing their safety concerns to employers. There was a perception that employers prioritised hospital profits over worker safety and created an unhealthy work environment where workers felt devalued and threatened.

“The responses to the survey contain important insights that cannot be gleaned from statistics alone,” Nathan L McCray, a lead author of the report, said. “Workers voiced a range of experiences during the first few months of pandemic, including those that were positive and others that were excruciating.” 
Read more: GWU news release and study, COVID-19 National Health Worker Survey [pdf], May 2021.


Regulator News

Victorian news

Reminder: Proposed Workplace facilities, amenities and work environment compliance code out for public comment

One of the most important Compliance Codes has been redrafted and updated by a tripartite committee and has been released for public comment.

The proposed Workplace facilities, amenities and work environment compliance code (proposed code) was made available for public review and comment until  close of business on Monday 28 June 2021

There is a dedicated webpage for public comment on the Victorian Government’s consultation platform, Engage, to allow employers, employees, other interested parties and members of the public to view materials online and provide online submissions. Submissions can also be lodged by email or via post. 

If HSRs have any comments they would like to send through to the VTHC, we will consider it and if agreed, include it in our submission. Send these through to [email protected]

National News 

WA: Workplace Behaviour draft code of practice released

draft Code of Practice, Workplace Behaviour has been developed by Western Australia's Commission for Occupational Safety and Health, and is open for comment until 30 August. The 44-page draft Code focuses on the general principles applied to the prevention and management of inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour like prolonged conflict, discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, threats and intimidation. It is to be read in conjunction with the general duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1984.

According to the code, higher level safety controls for inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour include adjusting staff levels for peak periods and setting achievable targets. 

NSW: Resources regulator tells employers to check traffic management and parking 

The NSW Resources Regulator has called for mine and quarry operators to assess the adequacy of their traffic management plans for parking locations, the separation of pedestrians and vehicles, and warning and communication systems, following a light vehicle fatality on 24 May.

The worker, a contractor, was a passenger of the vehicle when it parked in a West Wyalong Quarry yard and the driver alighted to assist some electrical workers. The contractor also left the vehicle and knelt to pick up some dropped washers.

The driver got back in the vehicle, did a left U-turn, striking the contractor and killing him. 

In an investigation information release, the regulator says mines and quarries must comply with the general risk management and traffic-specific legislative requirements of the NSW Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Act 2013, as well as the regulations underpinning them.

It adds that light vehicle operators must "vigilantly: observe the surrounding area and intended path of travel prior to starting vehicles; and ensure the intended path of travel is clear of pedestrians and other obstructions prior to moving". Source: OHSAlert

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics on fatalities since May 13, at which time they had been notified that 34 Australian workers had been killed at work in 2021. 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

WorkSafe Victoria has not added any new prosecutions to its Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. 

UK: Waste firm convicted after traffic marshal is killed

Grundon Waste Management has been found guilty of a criminal health and safety offence after a traffic marshal was hit and killed by a waste truck at a construction site at the former BBC Television Centre. The incident took place on 22 February 2016. The worker was one of the marshals guiding vehicles down a ramp for the BBC Worldwide Offices during a redevelopment. He was struck and killed by a 26-tonne waste truck as it reversed down the slope into a loading bay.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Grundon “failed to identify reversing as a hazard that needed to be eliminated or controlled and that suitable actions had not been taken to control the risk of reversing”. In May, Grundon Waste Management Limited was found guilty of a criminal safety offence at Southwark Crown Court and fined £550,000 (AUD$1,004,960) plus £96,874 (AUD$177,008) costs. In November 2020, construction logistics provider, Wilson James Limited, was fined for its role in the incident. It pleaded guilty to a criminal breach and was fined £850,000 (AUD$1,553,270) plus £11,750 (AUD$21,472) in costs. Read more: HSE news release and earlier news release. Source: Risks 999


Events

June 16: Dangerous Goods Advisory Group

The third DGAG bimonthly meeting for 2021 will be held on Wednesday June 16, via Zoom, from 5.30pm - 7.30pm. The DGAG is a general networking / discussion update meeting, open to all, to discuss issues that are going on for Dangerous Goods and Chemical Regulation at the moment. 

Like many meetings the DGAG will be a Webinar Chat meeting. To join the Zoom Meeting click here. Meeting ID: 811 2532 1093 Password: 676155

The meeting will have a similar agenda to past meetings

The topics to be discussed will be:

  1. Hazardous Chemicals / Dangerous Goods Incidents 

  2. The ADG Transport Code & Changes in the UN Model Regs, IMDG Code, IATA Regs, NZ Regs etc

  3. Dangerous Goods (Storage & Handling), GHS Haz. Chemicals, & Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals

  4. Update on Classification and Training for Dangerous Goods

  5. Information sharing 

  6. Other meetings and events

  7. Discussion regarding a possible end of year event - possibly in a public garden

For more information, contact Jeff Simpson (DGAG convenor and Webinar host), Haztech Environmental, Ph: 03-9885-1269 Mob: 0403-072-092, Email: [email protected]

Jeff can assist in setting up the Zoom meeting or adjusting computer settings. Contact Jeff for instructions on how to join.  

The 4th DGAG meeting will be on Wednesday 18th August 2021, and will be a combined Physical Meeting and Zoom Meeting between 6.00pm and 8.00pm (meet at 5.45pm), at the Liardet Community Centre Meeting Room in Port Melbourne (to COVID Rules). Note: This may become a webinar only meeting at IF we are locked down at that time.

HSR Initial & Refresher training

Most HSRs attend the five day Initial training course - it's extremely important that they do in order to understand their rights and powers as HSRs, and also the duties of employers and others. (Check this page for the 5 day training courses)

However, many do not then enrol in the subsequent 'Refresher' courses. All HSRs are entitled, and should, attend 'Refresher Training' each year subsequent to completing the five day initial training. 

Section 67 of the OHS Act 2004 entitles all OHS and Deputy Reps who have completed a 5 day initial training course to attend a one day refresher training course each year to keep their knowledge of OHS law and practice up-to-date.  It's important to take this right up, as the Refresher training provides an opportunity to catch up with new legislation and material, meet with other HSRs, and further hone skills. 

The refresher course covers:

  • Session 1 - covers legislative update on the Victorian OHS 2004 Act, OHS Regulations 2007, WorkSafe compliance codes and guides.
  • Session 2 - covers consultation, communication, problem solving.
  • Sessions 3 & 4 - covers hazard identification and control with either manual handling, work related stress, incident investigation or hazard mapping.

Details:

Course hours: 9am - 5pm
Course length: 1 day
Course fee: Metro: $330.00 incl. GST Regional: $350.00 incl. GST 

Upcoming 2021 dates and locations:

  • 25 June – HSR Refresher Training (Frankston)
  • 15 July – HSR Refresher Training: Work-related gendered violence including sexual harassment (Carlton)
  • 29 July – HSR Refresher Training (Carlton)
  • 30 July – HSR Refresher Training (Ballarat)
  • 18 August – HSR Refresher Training: Education AEU (Abbotsford)
  • 19 August – HSR Refresher Training (Carlton)
  • 21 September  – HSR Refresher Training (Geelong)

Read more about the Work-related gendered violence course here: Knowledge is power in fight against gendered violence.  Go to this link to enrol in a course. Remember to then notify your employer at least 14 days' of the course.


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