Welcome to the June 16 edition of SafetyNet.
We have just heard that the COVID restrictions in Victoria will be further eased tomorrow, June 17. This means it is likely that more workers will be returning to work (up to 50 per cent of workplace capacity). However it is more important than ever for every workplace to have a thorough COVID Safe plan in place.
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
Victorian restrictions update (for the next seven days after 11.59 Thursday June 17):
For metropolitan Melbourne:
- 25km limit removed
- private outdoor gatherings increased to 20
- two visitors allowed to the home (plus dependents)
- gyms, etc open and more venues and businesses will be opening, with increased numbers
- if you can work from home, should do so, but workplaces can have up to 50 per cent staff or 20 whichever is greater.
The wearing of masks indoors (no longer outdoors), and the use of QR codes remain mandatory.
The restrictions for regional Victoria are further eased. For information on restrictions, go to this Victorian government page (which will be updated soon after the media conference)
There have been five new community cases identified in the past 24 hours (and three in hotel quarantine), but new exposure sites have been added. The total number of active cases in the state is 55. Go to this page for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions: Coronavirus the Victorian situation
Australia has had a total of 30,272 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and no COVID-related deaths for months.
Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 177,394,566 (last week it was 174,714,584). This is almost 2.78 million new infections in the past week, but continuing the downward trend which is now at 9 per cent. There have been a total of 3,837,610 COVID-related deaths around the world - a downward trend of about 9 per cent also. (note these figures are updated constantly)
VTHC COVID Safety courses
The VTHC has been running free 2 hour online training courses on COVID Safety. The free online training, done through Zoom, and open to any who is interested, have been extremely popular, with the two scheduled next week 'sold out'. And so two more have been scheduled. The two upcoming courses will be held on:
But be quick - these are very popular!
Every worker has the right to a safe work environment and employers need to implement controls that will minimise the chances of spreading COVID-19. This free training course will provide you with the knowledge on how to ensure that your workplace is COVID-safe, how to audit your workplace for COVID safety and much more.
Together, we can make our workplaces safer for everyone. Because if your workplace isn't COVID safe, it's not safe.
I currently work for a market research company and was wondering about the monitoring of calls. Our supervisors have the ability to monitor our calls and interviews without the respondents' and callers' knowledge. Should workers always be informed they are being monitored, and for what purpose? (as per the advice on your site). Is monitoring without permission a breach of the law?
On our website we advise workers that they "should always be informed they are being monitored, and for what purpose" - the advice provided is in terms of what sorts of things should and should not happen to try to ensure that the health and safety of workers is not affected.
The matter you’re asking about is not specifically addressed in legislation. This is because OHS/WHS legislation in Australia is what we ‘objective based’ – that is, the duties on employers require that they provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. The general duty of care covers everything in the workplace, tut the law is not ‘prescriptive’ – that is, it does not mandate HOW this should be done. See this page on Duties of employers.
Being monitored the way you and other workers are, is, as you said, stressful and so it's something that we would class as being a 'system of work' that is putting your health at risk. This is a hazard and the employer has a legal duty to do something about it. See the advice to elected health and safety resp about what they should do about hazards in call centres.
There may also be other, non-OHS related laws in place that mean that the company must inform the respondents that the calls are being monitored - but this is not my area of expertise.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
VCAT decision on HSR getting requested information
As HSRs know, the employer has a duty to provide them with access to information concerning hazards, health and safety of DWG members - under s69(1). However, under s69(2) the employer cannot give the HSR access to any medical information concerning an employee without the employee's consent unless the information is in a form that either does not identify the employee; or from which the employee's identity cannot reasonably be ascertained.
It has been the experience of many HSRs that when they have asked their employer to provide them with information such as what incidents their DWGs members have been involved in, or the names of DWG members who have been injured, their employer has refused. The reasons given vary from 'you don't need to know' through to 'this is medical information' to 'this information - the names of workers - is covered by privacy legislation.' We disagree with these responses: names are not covered by 'privacy' when the workers are members of the DWG; informing the HSR that there has been an incident, who was involved and what injuries they suffered is not 'medical information' and finally, an HSR does need to know this information in order to be able to exercise their rights (eg to undertake an inspection, to identify what the hazards and risks are in order to raise these for resolution with their employer on behalf of their DWG, and so on).
Unfortunately, on too many occasions, WorkSafe inspectors have agreed with the employer - cancelling a PIN issued by the HSR when the employer refused to supply this information. Last year this happened to an HSR, who then appealed the inspector's decision through WorkSafe's Internal Review process. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, IR agreed with the inspector's decision to cancel the PIN.
The HSR, and his union, were not going to give up, however, and took the case up at VCAT. In a great outcome, VCAT decided that the HSR did, in fact, have the right to this information. In this case, it involved getting more information on, including the names, of DWG members who had been assaulted. VCAT took into account a range of issues: the OHS Act and why it provides HSRs with the right to access information, Privacy laws, and more. This was a great decision and will hopefully affect how employers and WorkSafe inspectors respond to requests from HSRs for information.
Read more: Griffiths v Victorian Workcover Authority - WorkSafe Victoria (Review and Regulation)  VCAT 561 (1 June 2021)
ACTU: Urgent paid leave needed to ensure workers are vaccinated
Last week the ACTU wrote to Prime Minister Morrison seeking for his government to provide two days special paid leave per vaccination for all workers in aged care and disability support services, as well as ensuring that all workers are paid for travel to and from getting vaccinated. ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, said, “Workers in aged and disability care are being asked to go without pay for multiple days to get the vaccine and deal with routine side effects. This is a huge financial disincentive for low-paid, insecure workers."
The letter also calls on the Morrison Government to honour its promise to provide in-workplace vaccinations for aged and disability care workers, as well as providing a public information campaign to make sure that working people have the information they need about the vaccine and how they can get it.
The ACTU has been in constant communication with the Prime Minister and his Ministers since the start of the vaccine rollout, offering assistance and campaigning for the support which we know is necessary to ensure that insecure workers in aged and disability support get vaccinated. Instead of working constructively with workers’ representatives the Morrison Government has walked away from its commitment to in-workplace vaccinations and has attempted to shift blame for its failed vaccine rollout onto workers who have been on the frontline in the fight against the virus. Read more: ACTU media release
A reminder to share your OHS experiences
Remember to fill out the Australian Unions survey on your experience of health and safety in the workplace. The results will help Australian Unions, the VTHC and your union better understand your experience at work, what's important to you and what you think could be improved.
The responses will help frame our conversations with governments and employers and develop campaigns to bring about the changes necessary to make work healthy and safe. 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 2021. Take the survey now! Click here.
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.
UK: Almost 1 in 10 workers say they have been forced back to workplaces despite government guidance
The UK's top union council, the TUC, this week warned that UK employers were breaching official guidance by forcing staff to “needlessly” work in offices and other workplaces – and said this points to wider a health and safety enforcement crisis. New TUC polling revealed that almost 1 in 10 (9 per cent) staff have been put under pressure by bosses to return to the workplace – a number that rises to over 1 in 6 (17 per cent) for disabled workers.
This is contrary to current government guidance – and the union body says it is “the tip of the iceberg” of employers ignoring their health and safety responsibilities. The findings come amid heavy speculation that the Prime Minister would delay ending COVID restrictions in England, including the work from home guidance, in a bid to combat the sharp increase in cases. In fact, the government announced that the easing of restrictions would be delayed by four weeks after the original June 21 'unlocking'.
The TUC says the government must send a “clear message” to employers not to breach the current guidance - which states that people should work from home if possible – to reduce community transmission and keep workers safe. The TUC polling revealed that 1 in 4 workers (25 per cent) are working from the office or other workplaces despite being able to work from home. Read more: TUC press release; The Sydney Morning Herald
S-E Asia: workers face huge risks of contracting COVID
Across south-east Asia, countries that last year managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic are now facing new waves of COVID-19, fuelled by more contagious variants. In several countries in the region, such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia, there are now clusters in key manufacturing sites. In Vietnam, which had virtually eradicated the virus, total cases have tripled since the start of May, reaching almost 10,000, driven partly by outbreaks in factories.
Malaysia has been forced to impose a lockdown this month after daily cases surpassed 9,000. Much of the country’s manufacturing sector has been allowed to continue operating at limited capacity throughout lockdown, despite concerns raised by campaigners. Last week it emerged that more than 800 workers at glove maker WRP (a supplier to Ansell) had tested positive for COVID.
“Unfortunately the whole setup of these production lines and factories is not conducive to COVID-19 prevention,” said Andy Hall, a specialist in migrant workers’ rights.
Read more: Factory workers making goods for the west bear brunt of virus surge in South-East Asia The Guardian
Brazil: Public cleaning workers demand vaccination for the sector
Cleaning workers in Brazil, including garbage collectors, held a 24-hour demonstration in the city of São Paulo last week, demanding vaccination for the sector. Getting shots for these vital workers has not been prioritized during the pandemic.
According to Moacyr Pereira, president of Conascon, the Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores em Empresas de Prestação de Serviços de Asseio e Conservação, Limpeza Urbana e Áreas Verdes. ""The objective is to move the mayor to put the garis in the vaccination line. Conascon participated in the construction of the National Immunization Plan carried out by the federal government and the vaccination of garis is already planned, but the responsibility for putting workers on the vaccination list falls on the city mayors."
The president of SIEMACO-SP, Edson Andre dos Santos Filho, added, "these workers have been exposed since the beginning of the pandemic and without them the situation would be even more tragic in Brazil."
The "garis" are those who clean the streets in Brazil's cities and for the last year-and-a-half, they have been on the front line, keeping their communities sanitary while putting their health at risk. Since the beginning of the health crisis, more than 60 deaths have already been registered in the cleaning sector, with almost 2,000 confirmed cases in the capital alone. Read more: UNI global union news
Occupational standing and occupational exertion: association with musculoskeletal symptoms
Observational studies have linked occupational standing or walking to musculoskeletal pain. Researchers from the USA noted that these prior studies were flawed as few accounted for physical exertion; a potential confounder that accompanies many standing-based occupations. The purpose of their study was to examine the individual and joint associations of occupational standing/walking and exertion with musculoskeletal symptoms.
The researchers, from Columbia University, New York, took data from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, a US nationally representative survey. Occupational standing/walking and exertion were assessed by self-report on a 5-pointscale. The presence of musculoskeletal symptoms (pain, aching and stiffness) for upper extremities (neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers), lower extremities (hips, knees, ankles and toes) and lower back was also assessed.
They found that occupational standing/walking was associated with a greater likelihood of upper extremity, lower extremity and lower back musculoskeletal symptoms. However, with adjustment for exertion, the associations were attenuated and no longer significant. When stratified by levels of occupational exertion, occupational standing/walking was associated with musculoskeletal symptoms only among the group with high exertion for lower back symptoms comparing high/high for standing or walking/exertion vs low/low). Among groups with low exertion, occupational standing/walking was not associated with musculoskeletal symptoms for lower back symptoms comparing high/low for standing or walking/exertion vs low/low).
The researchers concluded that the results suggest that the association between occupational standing/walking and musculoskeletal symptoms is largely driven by the co-occurrence of occupational exertion and does not provide evidence that standing or walking incurs adverse musculoskeletal symptoms.
Source: , et al, Joint associations of occupational standing and occupational exertion with musculoskeletal symptoms in a US national sample [Abstract], Occupational and Environmental Medicine,
WorkSafe urges Victorians to 'stay safe'
After the storms which hit Victoria last week - and the aftermath which many Victorians are still dealing with, WorkSafe Victoria has urged people to stay safe. The regulator says that unstable or partially collapsed structures, fallen or damaged trees, fallen powerlines and floodwaters are among the common health and safety risks following the destructive weather across the state.
Many property owners and volunteers will also be using potentially hazardous equipment that they may be unfamiliar with or use infrequently, such as power tools and ladders.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said it was critical to fully consider how each task could be done safely before getting started. "It is not just those who are working on the clean-up who could be at risk but also friends and family, emergency service workers, vehicles, neighbouring properties and public infrastructure," Ms Nielsen said. Read more: WorkSafe media release
June 29: Free Webinar - Asbestos in Demolition
Do you think you know where asbestos is lurking?
WorkSafe is holding a FREE webinar (29th June - 1-2pm) where you will be able to hear from a WorkSafe Inspector and Occupational Hygienist about asbestos removal in demolition and a recent prosecution case study.
The webinar is open to Employers, HSRs and workers. Learn about how you, your employer and your fellow workers can manage asbestos safely in demolition. Register here today - remember, it's free!
Return to work campaign: "The sooner, the better"
WorkSafe's new Return to Work campaign, “The sooner, the better”’ focusses on the importance of early, genuine communication between employers and injured workers. The regulator says that HSR and employers are probably aware that long-term absence from work has been proven to have a negative impact on physical and mental health.
WorkSafe also says that research shows that if contact is made within the first three days of injury occurring, return-to-work outcomes increase by 63 per cent for psychological injuries, and up to 26 per cent for physical injuries.
WorkSafe understands there are often barriers stopping employers from reaching out to an injured worker due to not knowing what to say, or fear of saying the ‘wrong’ thing. But there is value in a phone call to simply ask ‘how are you? WorkSafe has developed a conversation guide to help, and is available to download here.
For more information on the above items, and a reminder of the duty on employers to consult with HSRs, go to the June edition of WorkSafe's HSR newsletter. The new edition also has tips for HSRs, and the contact details for WorkSafe's Health and Safety Support Officers.
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]
SA: Guidance on right of entry
New information and guidance about Entry Permit Holders (EPH) has been published on the SafeWork SA website. SafeWork SA has identified a lack of understanding relating to the rights and obligations of EPH, unions, and businesses.
Information developed covers topics including:
- Entry requirements
- WHS requirements
- Suspected contravention
- Rights of EPH and businesses
- Dispute resolution
Although the guidance applies to the SA WHS Act, the requirements under the Victorian OHS Act are very similar, and so the guidance would be useful for Victorian workplaces also. Read more: Information for Entry Permit Holders
Updated information on Psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australian workplaces
The 6th annual Psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australian workplaces statement has been published on the Safe Work Australia website. The statement identifies data trends in accepted workers’ compensation claims arising from mental stress, and specifically those arising from workplace bullying and harassment.
The data are accepted workers’ compensation claims caused by mental stress. This mechanism of injury or disease is assigned to claims when an employee has been exposed to one of a range of stressors e.g. harassment or bullying, traumatic events or unreasonable work pressure, that has caused an injury or disease. Mental stress claims provide a source of information on the psychosocial health and safety status of Australian workplaces.
Mental stress includes a subcategory of claims for harassment and/or bullying. These data provide a reasonable match to the accepted definition of workplace bullying, which is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.
The data shows that:
- the frequency rate (claims per 100 million hours work) of mental stress claims declined from 2002-03 to 2015-16, before rising again in recent years.
- the rate for harassment and/or bullying claims (a subset of mental stress) has increased over the same period reaching 17.5 claims per million hours worked in 2018-19 (preliminary data).
For more, see the statement and an accompanying graph, on the Safe Work Australia website.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities on June 10, at which time it had been notified that 43 Australian workers had been killed at work this year, nine more than the previous update on May 13. The nine fatalities were in the following sectors: three each in Construction and Manufacturing, one each in Agriculture, forestry & fishing, Electricity, gas, water & waste services, and Mining. The total numbers of fatalities have been in the following sectors:
- 15 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 7 in Construction
- 5 in Manufacturing
- 4 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 3 in Arts & recreation services
- 2 in Mining
- 2 in Other Services
- 2 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 1 in Wholesale trade
- 1 in Public administration & safety
- 1 in Accommodation & food services
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.
George Weston Foods convicted and fined $125,000 after worker crushed
George Weston Foods Limited, trading as Tip Top Bakeries at its premises on the South Gippsland Highway, Dandenong South, has been prosecuted, convicted and fined after a workers was crushed.
The workplace has the '8000 Prover', a large warming chamber using steam and humidity to help grow the dough. The dough, in tins that on large trays which weigh about 75 to 100 kilograms when loaded, move through the 8000 Prover on a six to seven level conveyor system.
At time, the dough tins fall off the trays (a ‘Tip’), making the trays unbalanced and jam in the conveyor. Maintenance crews release the trays, and this can involve use of crow bars, angle grinders or oxy-acetylene. The maintenance crew will also ‘inch’ the conveyors back and forth to assist in releasing trays jammed in the Tip.
On 4 January 2019 a maintenance worker crawled under the conveyor to work on clearing a Tip. Two others were working with him at the time, one inching the conveyor and the other standing nearby. The usual process was to isolate the Prover, stopping the conveyor, enter it and clean up.
Due to a misheard communication, the conveyor was started up by one of the other workers. The maintenance worker was crushed. He remained trapped for 30 minutes while emergency rescue was implemented. He was then taken to the Alfred Hospital, suffering internal bruising, minor scarring, and lower back muscular pain.
There were risks to the health and safety of workers undertaking maintenance works on the Prover. The company failed to provide suitable auxiliary controls. It pleaded guilty and was, with conviction, fined $125,000 and costs of $3,847.
To check for any Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
International: Child labour rises to 160 million
The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years – with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF.
Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward [pdf] - released ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on 12th June – warns that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.
The report points to a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labour, who now account for just over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.
The report warns that globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage. Read more: ILO/UNICEF press release
Tonight, Wednesday June 16: Dangerous Goods Advisory Group
The third DGAG bimonthly meeting for 2021 will be held tonight, 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:
Hazardous Chemicals / Dangerous Goods Incidents
The ADG Transport Code & Changes in the UN Model Regs, IMDG Code, IATA Regs, NZ Regs etc
Dangerous Goods (Storage & Handling), GHS Haz. Chemicals, & Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals
Update on Classification and Training for Dangerous Goods
Other meetings and events
- 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.
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.