SafetyNet 581

Welcome to the June 23 edition of SafetyNet.  

We have had several days of zero locally acquired cases, and so Victoria's COVID restrictions will be further eased later this week. This means it is likely that more workers will be returning to work. The VTHC stresses that workplace measures must remain in place and that COVID Safe plans are followed.  

Of concern though, is that there has now been an outbreak in Sydney and, unlike Victoria, the government is very hesitant to introduce restrictions, with masks being made mandatory only in the past few days. 

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 

Victorian restrictions have been further eased to take effect later this week. Workplaces will be able to have 75 per cent or 30 workers at work, whichever is greater. The numbers of visitors to homes increases to 15, and many more will be allowed in venues, weddings, etc and at public gatherings. The wearing of masks indoors (no longer outdoors), and the use of QR codes remain mandatory. 

For information on restrictions, go to this Victorian government page (which will be updated soon if it hasn't already been updated).

In good news, there have been no locally acquired cases identified in the past few days.  The total number of active cases in the state is 51.  Go to this page for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions: Coronavirus the Victorian situation

In bad news: NSW is now facing an outbreak of the highly infectious delta strain of the virus in the Bondi area, with 16 new cases yesterday bringing the total to 31. The NSW government has been slow in making the wearing of masks and checking in with QR codes mandatory. The Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, was expected to introduce some further measures today. 

Australia has had a total of 30,366 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and no COVID-related deaths for months.

Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 179,909,844 (last week it was 177,394,566). This is just over 2.1 million new infections in the past week, but continuing the downward trend which is now at 4 per cent. There have been a total of 3,897,354 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. The next two upcoming courses, to be held on 27th July and the 3rd of August have 'sold out', but more will be scheduled. 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 provides workers and HSRs the knowledge on how to ensure that the workplace is COVID-safe, how to audit the 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.

The coming sessions will be recorded and available to access, and we may schedule more courses, so keep your eyes on the journal for news of upcoming developments.  

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

I need some advice: a former staff member has contacted me and the other HSRs claiming his allegations of bullying by another (still current) staff member were never fully investigated or resolved. The information we have is that the matter was investigated by an independent 3rd party, that due process followed, and so on. The former staff member accepted a redundancy package at the end of 2019.

The bullying allegations, the investigation and the acceptance of a redundancy package all occurred before the current (three) HSRs were elected. I am not sure how to respond to him or what our responsibilities are here. Any advice would be appreciated.

Remember that under the OHS Act, you have no duties or responsibilities as HSRs at all – not to current DWG members and not to past members.

If the person accepted a redundancy AND it was before your time as HSRs I don’t think there is anything you can do about this at all. If he believes he was unfairly treated, he may be able to get assistance/advice from the union, but I’m not sure what could be done at this stage, given how long ago everything happened. You might just let the union know you’ve had this person contact you, and he may be getting in touch.

What you might like to do as the current HSRs, though, more in terms of ensuring that any future bullying allegations are properly, fairly and independently investigated is to look at the policies and procedures in place at your workplace – check whether you think they are:

  • Adequate – or do they need to be amended. Do they cover all steps needed (what the organisation’s policy is; expectations of staff; how to report an incident; how it will be investigated; due process for both alleged victim and alleged perpetrator; assistance available; etc)
  • Agreed – were HSRs/the OHS Committee involved in their development and implementation
  • Followed – or are they basically ignored?

It may be that it’s time to review them to ensure that they are as useful, fair, etc as possible. This should be done through the OHS Committee and you should contact your union for assistance and advice. You may find some useful materials in this section of the site.

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

QLD: Coroner will not investigate preventable backpacker death

This week the Northern Coroner found that the death of a 27-year-old backpacker while picking fruit was ‘preventable’ however decided not to hold an inquest into the death.

The young Belgian backpacker suffered multiple organ failure as a result of heat stroke after picking fruit for three days in 2017. The coroner found that the young man was ill-prepared for fruit picking, having brought limited food and drink to work and wearing only a singlet and shorts with no hat. The conditions were extreme, with high temperatures, humidity and limited shade.

The hirer (farm owner) was fined $65,000 after an investigation by the Office of Industrial Relations found failure to adequately assess environmental conditions and the effects of working in direct sun with little to no shade. The investigation also found no safe work or risk assessment procedures in place, no supply of PPE, no first aid officer on site and no induction for new fruit pickers.  It is unbelievable that the fruit pickers were expected to bring their own water. 

The young man's family had requested a coronial inquest into his death however the coroner did not believe an inquest would assist the investigation. Source: ABC news online

Asbestos news

Italy: Stephan Schmidheiny back in the dock 
On the morning of June 9, 2021, asbestos victims, their relatives and supporters again made their way to an Italian courthouse to bear witness: another day, another trial against Stephan Schmidheiny. The former CEO of the Swiss Eternit Group is facing charges of intentional homicide at the Assizes Court of Novara over hundreds of asbestos-related deaths in the town of Casale Monferrato including those of 62 former workers and 330 members of the public killed by exposure to Eternit’s asbestos. In the last decade, the Swiss billionaire has been charged by public prosecutors in various Italian jurisdictions with murder, manslaughter, aggravated culpable homicide, causing permanent environmental damage and failing to comply with safety rules. Read more: International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

Japan: Historic Victory for Asbestos Victims 
After more than a decade, asbestos victims achieved their goal of holding the Japanese Government and building products’ manufacturers to account for injuries and deaths caused by occupational exposures to asbestos. On May 17, 2021 the Supreme Court of Japan issued a plaintiffs’ verdict in its first unified asbestos judgment. The Court accepted arguments advanced by the legal team representing 500 claimants in class action lawsuits brought by asbestos-injured construction workers or family members at courts in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Kyoto. In response, the Prime Minister of Japan met with victims to apologize on behalf of the Government and the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Tamura announced that a reconciliation agreement had been signed. Read more: IBAS 

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

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 2021Take 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. 

International news

USA: Healthcare rules come in after thousands die  
New emergency temporary standards have been introduced in the USA to protect healthcare workers from the dangers in the workplace due to the coronavirus pandemic. This new standard requires employers to remove workers who have Covid-19 from the workplace, notify workers of Covid exposure at work and strengthen requirements for employers to report worker deaths or hospitalisations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations (OSHA).

This has been celebrated by the healthcare workers and unions but they have expressed disappointment that it does not cover all frontline workers such as meatpacking, grocery, transportations and corrections, who have all seen a high level of Covid-19 infections and death. Many of these workers are low-wage workers of colour who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The measures in place are starkly different to those we have implemented in Victoria. Read more: TUC Risks Health and Safety News


Research

UK: Black and minority ethnic workers ‘over-represented’ on zero hours contracts

The UK’s top union council, the TUC, has released a joint report with Race on the Agenda (ROTA) regarding the overrepresentation of black and minority ethnic (BME) workers on zero hour contracts. They have warned that structural racism in the labour market is trapping BME workers on low pay and insecure work. Zero hour contracts, which seem to be a particular UK issue, are where workers are 'employed' by not promised or guaranteed any hours at all by the employer.

Around one in six zero hour contract workers are BME workers. This is despite BME workers making up one in nine workers overall. BME woman are disproportionately impacted. They are almost twice as likely to be on zero hour contracts as white men and almost one and a half times more likely compared to white women.

Two in five BME workers on insecure contracts report threats of losing their shifts if they turned work down and more than half of BME insecure workers struggle to manage their household finances due to insufficient hours. This is compared to a quarter of white insecure workers who face threats of losing shifts and two in five white insecure workers who struggle to manage their household finances.

This insecure work also has an impact of the safety of their work as BME insecure workers experience disproportionately high Covid-19 mortality rates. The TUC have also found workers in insecure jobs are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than those in less insecure occupations. Insecure work is also linked to higher work-related accidents and ill-health.

The TUC and ROTA are calling for a ban on zero hour contracts, for all workers to have a sight to a contract that reflects their normal hours of work, reporting obligations to detail or justify the use of exploitative work practices, and introduction of ethnic minority pay gap reporting. The TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said “No matter your race or background, everyone deserves to be treated fairly at work.” Read more: TUC news releaseROTA websiteThe Guardian.  Source:  TUC Risks 1001 

Disinfectants and risk of miscarriage in nurses

Researchers from the US looked at the association of occupational exposure to high-level disinfectants (HLDs) with risk of miscarriage among nurses.  Their study included women who enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study 3 (2010–2020) and had at least one pregnancy during follow-up. Occupational exposure to HLDs was self-reported at baseline. Every 6 months, they sent participants a follow-up questionnaire asking for detailed information on pregnancies.

Of the 2579 nurses followed, the researchers documented 768 (19 per cent) cases of miscarriage in 3974 pregnancies. Compared with women with no HLD exposure, duration, frequency, and type of HLD and use of exposure controls were not associated with risk of miscarriage. However, when restricting to pregnancies that occurred within 12 months of HLD use, occupational exposure to unspecified types of HLD was significantly associated with higher risk of miscarriage.

The researchers found no associations between occupational use of HLDs and miscarriage, except when they restricted to pregnancies occurring within 12 months of assessed baseline exposure. 
Read more: Ding MLawson CJohnson C, et al Occupational exposure to high-level disinfectants and risk of miscarriage among nurses [Abstract] OEM 


Regulator News

Victorian news

New OHS bill read in parliament

The Occupational Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (the Bill) has been introduced into Parliament and was second read today, Wednesday 23 June 2021.  Workplace safety laws will be strengthened with reforms to expand worker rights and protections, boost employer accountability and streamline enforcement.   

A key change in the Bill will ensure that labour hire workers have all the same rights and safety protections as other workers. Labour hire workers are employed by a labour hire company or agency and perform work at the worksite of a “host” employer, often supervised by the host or their staff. Under current laws, the host employer does not owe labour hire workers the same health and safety duties as they do their own staff.

The Bill addresses this gap by extending the definition of “employer” and “employee” in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 to ensure labour hire workers are considered employees of the host under the Act. Labour hire providers and host employers will also be required to consult and cooperate on their shared responsibility to ensure the safety of labour hire workers with sizeable fines for any breaches.

The Bill will also:

  • prevent employers dodging liability for breaching workplace safety laws by prohibiting contracts that insure or indemnify a person against paying monetary penalties under workplace safety laws
  • update powers for HSRs and authorised employee representatives (ARREOs) to take photos or videos to record suspected workplace safety breaches in real time, as well as enabling WorkSafe Inspectors to issue notices and reports electronically

The Minister for Workplace Safety Ingrid Stitt said, “We’re making common sense changes to Victoria’s workplace safety laws to make them stronger and more effective in keeping all workers safe on the job.”  Read more: Victorian government media release

Mental Injury Provisional Payments

From July 1, Victorian workers will be able to access to early treatment and support while awaiting an outcome for their mental injury claim through a mental injury provisional payments pilot. Eligible workers can access provisional payments for reasonable treatment and services for their mental injury for up to 13 weeks, even if their claim is rejected. Workers who are eligible for provisional payments will be entitled to claim reasonable costs of:

  • Medical treatment and services,
  • Medications,
  • Travel to and from treatment appointments,
  • Return to work support,
  • Other costs associated with the mental injury.

More support for injured workers is always welcome. The Victorian union movement pushed for better support, including weekly payments on top of expenses, and while we did not achieve everything we wanted, this scheme will make life easier for workers with a mental injury and remove financial barriers to getting the support they need.

The VTHC has put together a printable factsheet on the provisional payments. More information on the WorkSafe website. Source: WorkSafe

June edition of Safety Soapbox

The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was posted yesterday.  This month's edition has items on the death of a worker struck by a concrete-placing boom, elevating work platforms, overhead powerlines, and more.

The 'Absolute shocker' shows a worker on a scaffold standing on a bucket in order to reach where he needs to be working! The scaffold has no fall protection. Whoever organised the scaffold is in breach of his duties - and further there appears to be no supervision of the worker. 

As always, the Safety Soapbox has the list of incidents reported to WorkSafe: In May 2021, the construction industry reported 192 incidents to WorkSafe. Of these, 73 per cent resulted in injury, there were two fatalities, one of which was due to a medical condition. Access the June 2021 edition of Safety Soapbox here  - the summaries of reported incidents can be downloaded from this edition of Safety Soapbox.

National News 

New occupational lung disease campaign

Today, Safe Work Australia launched the Clean Air. Clear Lungs. campaign.

The aim of this campaign is to raise awareness of occupational lung diseases and provide persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) and employers information to manage these risks at work. 

Occupational lung diseases are caused by workplace exposure to a range of often invisible hazardous chemicals and dusts. High risk industries include agriculture, construction, manufacturing and those working with engineered stone.

Safe Work Australia has information, including case studies, information sheets and checklists, to help duty holders identify and assess the risk of exposure to hazardous materials at their workplace. Go to the site to learn more about occupational lung diseases, identifying the hazards, managing the risks, and monitoring and reviewing the controls at your workplace. Information has also been translated into languages other than English.

For more information and to access the Clean Air. Clear Lungs. campaign kit, visit this page on the SWA site. Subscribe to the Occupational Lung Diseases mailing list and keep an eye on SWA's social media

National Fatality Statistics 

Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics on fatalities since 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. TThe 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


Prosecutions

Community Energy Group fined for unsupervised apprentice

Electrical company, Community Energy Group, has pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for failing to provide supervision for employees to perform their work safely and without risk to health.

This comes after two Energy Safe Victoria officers observed an apprentice working unsupervised installing solar panels on a property at Craigieburn. The apprentice was installing electrical cables into a live switchboard and installing solar panels with no edge protection on a double storey property. The apprentice had no formal training in the work he was directed to perform. 

 Julie Nielsen, WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety, said it was never acceptable for apprentice electricians to undertake work without being effectively supervised by qualified electricians. "This incident could have easily ended in tragedy," she said. "It is vital that inexperienced workers are properly supervised, trained to perform their tasks safely and encouraged to speak up or ask questions if they are unsure or feel unsafe." 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. 


Events

June 29: Free WorkSafe Webinar - Asbestos in Demolition

WorkSafe asks: 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!

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) 
  • 9 September– Gendered Violence & Sexual harassment: Education (Abbotsford)
  • 21 September  – HSR Refresher Training (Geelong)

Read more about the Work-related gendered violence course here: Knowledge is power in fight against gendered violence.  

We have also scheduled a new five day initial training course at the AEU in Abbotsford which is Early Childhood specific:  August 25-27 & 2,3 September 2 & 3

Go to this link to enrol in a five day initial or a refresher course. Remember to then notify your employer at least 14 days' of the course.


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