Victorian worker killed
A truck driver was killed in a single vehicle crash in Bingo Munjie on the morning of July 1. Emergency services were called to the Omeo Highway to reports a truck had left the road and rolled down a steep embankment about 10.40am. The driver and sole occupant of the vehicle died at the scene.
The staff of the VTHC extends our condolences to the worker's family, friends and colleagues.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) - update
With no new locally acquired cases in Victoria in the past week, the restrictions in metropolitan Melbourne have now been further relaxed and are in line with those in regional Victoria. The current restrictions:
- mandated wearing of masks indoors and in public facing situations ( such as shops and supermarkets), but no longer in schools or in workplaces (if there is no interaction with the public)
- checking in with QR codes
- physical distancing and space quotients (1 person per 2 metres square)
- maximum numbers/percentages have increased for venues, gatherings and at workplaces
- The number of visitors to the home per day remains at 15.
The removal of the requirement for masks to be worn in many workplaces will encourage more workers to return to work and to Melbourne’s CBD. Go to these pages for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions: this Victorian government page and our page Coronavirus the Victorian situation
NSW: 35 local cases were recorded on Monday, including three guests at an illegal party and two more aged care residents, 18 yesterday, and 27 announced today - only 18 of which are are linked to a known case or cluster. As a result, NSW's Premier today announced that the Greater Sydney's lockdown has been extended by seven days to midnight Friday July 16. Tougher restrictions may be needed in the city's south-west to 'stop the movement of people'. To date there are have been 357 locally acquired cases in NSW in this latest outbreak.
Australia has had a total of 30,554 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and no COVID-related deaths for months.
Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 185,342,305 (last week it was 182,565,124). This is almost 2.7 million new infections in the past week - of concern is that the upward trend has continued, with an increase of 3 per cent. The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now over 4 million: 4,008,208 - however, still trending downward at 4 per cent - but with cases increasing this may also increase. (Note these figures are updated constantly)
We have now reached just under 8 per cent of Australia’s population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so a noticeable increase since there has been more scrutiny on the so-called 'rollout' of vaccines which commenced in February. As one commentator quipped on the ABC, the 'rollout' has been more of a 'dribble'. We remain at the bottom of the table for COVID-19 vaccinations among advanced economies (OECD countries).
As noted in last week's SafetyNet, it will be mandatory for all aged care workers to have received at least one dose of a vaccine from September. It emerged this week that five residents at an aged care facility in Sydney had tested positive to COVID, and had contracted the virus from an un-vaccinated worker. The head of the facility said the law had prevented the company from insisting that staff be vaccinated until very recently, implying that it was the fault of workers themselves if they were not vaccinated. However, a worker in the sector rang in to the ABC earlier this week reminding listeners that it has been very difficult to get vaccinations and that if workers had been vaccinated at the same time as residents, which would have been sensible, then this would not be case now.
The introduction of mandatory vaccines nevertheless raises a number of issues, such as time off for to receive the vaccination, and any necessary leave needing to be taken if there are side-effects. It may be that HSRs will need to be involved in any related discussions at the workplace. For example, the supply of the Pfizer vaccine remains a real issue with greater supplies not expected for several months. The Age this week looked into what it called the 'vaccine trap' that Australia finds itself in, and the factors which have contributed to our low rate of immunisation: The global tally that reveals the real test for Scott Morrison on vaccines
For those who have not yet had a look, check out the Vaccine rollout tracker in The Guardian, which has information on dose numbers, comparisons between Australia and the world, how we're tracking against the original and revised goals and much more.
More online VTHC COVIDSafe Training sessions
The VTHC has been running free 2 hour online training courses on COVID Safety. The free online training course, done through Zoom, have been extremely popular, and were booked out.
There have been two more sessions scheduled. Because these are limited to 20 participants, they are targetted particularly to Victorian HSRs. The sessions are:
Wednesday 14th of July, 10 am to 12 pm (midday) and
- Wednesday 14th of July, 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm
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.
I am concerned that testing and tagging of electrical equipment at my workplace is a bit hit and miss. Can you tell me what the legal requirements are in this area, please?
The OHS/WHS legislation does not specifically address testing and tagging, but employers/PCBUs must, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure that any plant (including electrical equipment) is safe when used, handled, stored and so on. This comes under the general duties (s21 in the Victorian OHS Act). Further, there is an Australian Standard which sets out when certain types of equipment must be tested and tagged. This forms part of ‘state of knowledge’, and so the employer/PCBU must take this into account when complying with the general duty of care. Safe Work Australia also has advice on maintaining electrical equipment in the workplace. Take a look at this page on the site: Electrical equipment - what are the laws/guidelines?
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Do you have a question on workers' compensation? A new service is now available!
Subscribers of SafetyNet and those who go to the [email protected] website, will be familiar with our 'Ask Renata' service. Often people send in queries which are not strictly OHS, but more on workers compensation issues. Renata tries to provide some information, but often has to go to a Workers' Comp expert for more advice or to verify the answer. Now those with queries in this area can get the expert advice directly from an expert at Union Assist by submitting their inquiry through the VTHC's new service on the Injured Workers Support Network website. Try it out now, and be confident you'll get up to date advice.
Share your OHS experiences right NOW!
In the past few editions we have asked HSRs to fill out the Australian Unions survey on your experience of health and safety in the workplace. With apologies, it appears as though there was a problem with the link. So if you tried before but were unable to get onto the survey page, please try again!
While the survey is a little long, 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 only open until this Friday, 9th July 2021. To complete the survey, please copy and paste the following link into your browser:
Thank you very much!
Victoria: Incentives called for to reduce illegal dumping
Experts in asbestos removal are calling for a state or national register or business tax breaks to dispose of hazardous material properly, in order to halt a worsening illegal dumping problem in Victoria.
Sites in Lara and Lillimur have been of particular concern. An incident in Lillimur, a town half way to Adelaide on the Western Highway, is under investigation by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) after it caught fire in May and spewed toxic smoke across the region. According to the EPA, illegal dumping is becoming more common in Victoria’s remote areas. The regulator has said it will crack down on the potentially dangerous activity, and has created a new Waste Crimes Prevention Directorate to coordinate its efforts against waste crime in Victoria.
Industry experts such as Stephen Marett, managing director of Grounds Maintenance Australia, although agreeing more needs to be done, have called on state and federal governments to provide incentives for people to do the right thing.
Newly appointed EPA CEO, Lee Miezis, said waste crime was one of his priorities for the north east of Victoria on his first visit to the region following his appointment. “The EPA has invested in a new EPA Waste Crimes Prevention Directorate to coordinate our efforts against waste crime across the state, and the community can expect to see more strong regulatory action,” he said. “We have seen examples of waste being illegally dumped with the potential to do great environmental harm. I believe the community has no tolerance for such actions and rightly expect EPA to take action wherever it is detected.” Read more: Inside Waste
WA: Wittenoom - a problem unresolved for 55 years
The legacy of an industrial asbestos mine site which devastated the lives of Aboriginal people and workers, many which fell victim to the deadly diseases mesathelioma and asbestosis, continues to be a a huge problem for successive governments, all of which have failed to take action when the mines walked away in 1966 without taking responsibility for remediating the site.
The Wittenoom Asbestos Management Area covers more than 46,000 hectares, and incorporates the Nambigunha, or Wittenoom Gorge, whish is littered with huge piles of washed-out asbestos tailings. Yampire Gorge inside the Karijini National Park also still contains asbestos piles. It is the largest contaminated area in the southern hemisphere.
Country surrounding the old township of Wittenoom and Karijini National Park belongs to the Banjima native title holders of the Pilbar, whose elders are calling on government and the mining companies to finally take action and remediate the sites. "It's not only Banjima people, there's Guruma people, Yindjibarndi people, Ngarluma people, Yinhawangka people, Nyaparli people and Palyku people that used to live in Wittenoom and worked in these mines as well," said Banjima elder Maitland Parker. Read more: ABC News online
Asian asbestos industry takes a hit
After many years of campaigning, the global ban asbestos campaign has chalked up a significant win as the asbestos industry is forced to take a big hit in Asia. The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has amended its Environmental and Social Framework to exclude asbestos containing materials from AIIB-financed projects.
Global and national trade unions asbestos ban groups and victims have been campaigning to eliminate asbestos related diseases by targeting multilateral banks, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the AIIB, and the World Bank Group, for many years. The campaign called on them to take action to prohibit the use of chrysotile asbestos containing products and thereby eliminate the exposure risk caused by bonded asbestos products to workers and consumers as these products age, decay or are disturbed. While asbestos fibre has been banned, materials containing less than 20 per cent asbestos fibre were allowed by the AIIB. This meant nearly all building materials containing asbestos were still able to be used.
The AIIB has now published the updated exclusion policy within its revised Environmental and Social Framework which now includes the “Production of, trade in, or use of asbestos fibres, whether or not bonded”. The updated policy allows some exemptions to the new policy, in special circumstances and for purposes of transitioning to alternative products only.
The next target is the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The Asbestos Not Here Not Anywhere campaign is seeking urgent updates from the ADB which is also currently reviewing its own Safeguards Policy. Read more: APHEDA media release
More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home.
UK: survey finds widespread harassment at work
Half of women report having suffered unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace, according to a UK new poll. About a quarter of women suffered unwanted touching at work, heard colleagues make comments of a sexual nature about a fellow colleague in front of them at work, or were questioned or interrogated about their sex life in the workplace, the survey by YouGov found. Researchers, who polled over 1,000 women living in the UK, found one in 10 women suffered sexual assault at work and one per cent of women had experienced a rape or attempted rape at work.
Sarah Morrison, a senior campaigner at Avaaz, the global civic movement that commissioned the survey, told The Independent: “No woman should ever have to fear sexual violence or harassment at work, but shockingly it is still part of working life for millions of women in Britain.”
The poll found that about half of women in the UK who have ever worked believe the government is not doing enough to stop women from suffering sexual harassment in the workplace. Avaaz is urging the UK government to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention (C.190), the first international convention that expressly aims to safeguard employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.
The UK has yet to ratify the convention, despite MPs, campaigners and unions calling repeatedly for the government to do so. A joint statement from 30 unions in March called on the UK government to “implement a new mandatory duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment at work and ratify ILO Convention No.190” (Risks 989). Australia has not ratified this convention either.
Read more: Avaaz website. Joint UK union statement, 12 March 2021. ACTU media release, June 2020. ILO convention 190. Source: Risks 1003
UK: Historical disaster - 26 children killed
There was a shocking anniversary this week: On July 4 1838, a mine disaster at Huskar Colliery in Silkstone, England, killed 26 child mineworkers: 11 girls and 15 boys aged 8-16. These kinds of disasters were very common at the time, however, this case was unusual in that details were reported in London newspapers. Public outcry forced an inquiry into conditions in British mines. However young children continued to be forced to work down mines until into the 20th century. Source: Bread and Roses
‘Scarily fleeting’ contact with variant may infect
The transmission advantage of the Delta variant of COVID is a sign that the race between vaccination and the virus could tip in favour of the latter unless countries ramp up their immunisation campaigns and practise caution, scientists have warned.
Research conducted in the UK, where the variant accounts for 99 per cent of new COVID cases, suggests it is about 60 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which previously dominated. It may also be linked to a greater risk of hospitalisation and is more resistant to vaccines, particularly after one dose. Of real concern is news from the UK: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that face masks will soon no longer be legally required and distancing rules will be scrapped at the final stage of England's COVID lockdown roadmap.
Health officials here in Australia, reviewing CCTV footage from Sydney, suspect it has been transmitted in “scarily fleeting” encounters of roughly five to 10 seconds between people walking past each other in an indoor shopping area in Sydney, New South Wales. Cases have also been recorded in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia, with several large cities either in lockdown now or just having come out of it. The Delta outbreak in the Northern Territory spread from a mining camp and now poses significant risk to the community, officials said. This is what Victoria's Chief Medical Officer, Brett Sutton, warned a few weeks ago.
Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds school of medicine, commented: “The ideal scenario is that you build your vaccine wall before you get exposed to variants because that means that even if you do get an outbreak, you’ve got sufficiently few people that are susceptible that the R [reproduction number] never gets above 1, you don’t see an increase in that outbreak. The problem is that we haven’t reached that protective level, and so if you do get infections and cases growing there’s plenty of susceptible people to pass that infection on to.” He told the Guardian the evidence suggests “we must go belt and braces in all of this. There’s no point leaving it half done – we can’t ignore children in vaccination campaigns. If we do, then we could end up in a cycle of variants.” Read more: Variants: distribution of case data, 18 June 2021, PHE, updated 25 June 2021. ACTU news release. BMJ News. The Guardian, related story and follow up. BBC News Online. New Daily.
Better masks eliminate risk
The quality of respiratory masks healthcare workers wear makes a huge difference to their risk of coronavirus infection, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust research has found. Providing staff high grade FFP3 respirators, a long-time demand of UK unions, can result in up to 100 per cent protection.
By contrast, there is a far greater chance of staff wearing standard issue surgical masks catching the virus. For most of last year, the hospital followed national guidance which specifies that healthcare workers should wear surgical masks, except in a few limited situations. Though fluid resistant, these masks are relatively flimsy and loose-fitting and are not meant to screen out infectious aerosols - tiny virus particles that can linger in the air and are now widely accepted as a source of coronavirus infection.
The study found that staff caring for COVID patients on “red” wards faced a risk that was up to 47 times higher than those on “green” or non-COVID wards. Lead researcher Dr Mark Ferris, a specialist in occupational health at the hospital, said staff were getting COVID despite doing everything they were asked to in terms of infection control.
When the second wave of the pandemic began in the UK last December, managers made a local decision to upgrade the protection on red wards. “The only thing left to try that could make a difference was FFP3 respirators, and they did,” Dr Ferris said. In the weeks following this move, the rate of infections among healthcare workers on red wards dropped spectacularly, quickly falling to the level experienced by staff on green wards where there were no COVID patients. The study concludes that “cases attributed to ward-based exposure fell significantly, with FFP3 respirators providing 31-100 per cent protection (and most likely 100 per cent) against infection from patients with COVID-19.” The paper says fluid-resistant surgical masks were “insufficient” to protect healthcare workers. Read more: Mark Ferris, et al. FFP3 respirators protect healthcare workers against infection with SARS-CoV-2, Authorea. 24 June 2021 [pre-print]. DOI: 10.22541/au.162454911.17263721/v1. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 1003