Welcome to the July 21 edition of SafetyNet.
In the latest COVID news: Victoria remains in lockdown, extended for seven more days, as does Greater Sydney and some regional NSW areas such as Orange. Yesterday, after two new cases were identified, taking the number of cases in the cluster to five, South Australia has also gone into a seven-day lockdown. The measures having to be taken vary a great deal due to how much more infectious the Delta variant has proved to be.
Visit our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page for news, memes and more. If you have any questions or need any OHS advice at all, 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
The Delta variant of COVID-19 has been extremely challenging to governments trying to 'get ahead' of the community infections.
On Thursday last week the Victorian government declared a snap full lockdown from midnight - initially for five days to midnight Tuesday July 20th. While the numbers have been kept low, yesterday the Premier announced that was too soon to come out of the lockdown, and that it would be extended a further seven days, to midnight Tuesday July 27th.
The number of exposure sites is now over 360, with people identified as contacts being required to take action depending on what tier site it is. The government’s great concern is that it appears there has been outdoor transmission - something which did not occur during the second outbreak last year. Chief Health Officer, Professor Brett Sutton said on Monday, “The Delta variant shows that transmission within stadiums occur. We think there’s been outdoor transmission probably at the MCG and AAMI. We don’t know if it’s at seating, we have individuals not seated together. There’s no evidence they have attended a food chew together. We think it is a pinch-point going into the stadium out doors.”
The current number of active cases in Victoria is 118 - with cases now in regional Victoria, such as in Mildura and Philip Island. The number of new infections announced today was 22 - more than in the previous days, but the good news is that all were linked to known outbreaks and 16 were isolating during their infectious period..
Under our current Victorian lockdown, we have gone back to there being only five reasons to leave home:
- shopping for necessary goods and services
- care and caregiving, including medical care, or to
- exercise (with one other person)
- authorised work and permitted study
Masks must be worn indoors and outdoors, and we must remain within five kilometres of our homes when going out to exercise or to shop. Go to these pages for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions; and to check exposure sites: Victorian government page and our page Coronavirus the Victorian situation
NSW: Greater Sydney is now in its fourth week of lockdown. Unfortunately there have been a further three COVID-related deaths in the past week. The latest was a woman in her fifties, found dead in her home in Green Valley. Emergency Services had responded to reports of a concern for her welfare. This fatality brings to five the deaths related to the current outbreak.
There were 110 new infections in the state announced today - 60 of which were active in the community for either part or all of their infectious period. This is not good news. The numbers of cases circulating led NSW's Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, to tighten the lockdown this week. The virus has now spread outside Greater Sydney and some areas in regional NSW, such as Orange have been put in lockdown.
Australia has had a total of 32,266 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 915 deaths.
Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 192,260,989 (last week it was 188,616,093). This is almost 3.65 million new infections in the past week - the upward trend has continued again with an increase of 14 per cent. The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,133,799 - the trend is up by 1 per cent. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website)
We have reached 11.3 per cent of Australia’s population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (28.77 per cent have received one dose). This is only a slight increase since last week. We are still ranked 38/38 for OECD countries. 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.
The good news is that 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Australia this week and it is expected that a million more will come each of the next few weeks.
Finally, a great new ad was released this week from Victoria’s Arts Community and organised by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The ad strikes a totally different tone from the ‘official’ federal government ads - it’s a ‘feel good’ message, which hopefully will have the required effect: more people getting vaccinated.
What OHS is required policy and procedure wise for a cabinet making/joinery business? What is required in terms of first aid available for business with under 10 staff? What signs are required?
All businesses, irrespective of size or industry, must comply with the general duty of care under the Victorian OHS Act - see Duties of Employers.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Workers Compensation questions? Now you can get an expert to respond!
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.
Unions call on Minister Hunt to urgently act on silica
Unions have met with Health Minister Greg Hunt to urgently address the absence of preventative measures in the National Dust Disease Taskforce’s (NDDT) report - released last week.
The National Dust Diseases Taskforce was established over two years ago to inquire into the causes of occupational dust diseases and make recommendations to provide necessary protections. To date the NDDT has narrowed its focus to just silicosis in the engineered stone industry despite significant outbreaks in quarrying, construction and other industries.
Unions support the NDDT recommendations on data gathering, coordination of information and awareness raising, medical diagnosis and research – however the balance of the recommendations favour these activities at the expense of improved prevention which is the only way to effectively reduce the number of workers suffering from a highly preventable group of diseases.
Australian unions called on Minister Hunt to adopt the following recommendations:
- Immediately adopt a licensing system for work with engineered stone as a transitional measure toward the implementation of a ban,
- Immediately draft a regulation that requires persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs/Employers) to identify risks of exposure to respirable crystalline silica and other inorganic dusts and apply strong measures that control hazards at its source,
- Classify silicosis and other silica related diseases as deemed diseases for the purpose of workers compensation,
- Establish compensation funds to support those suffering from dust diseases such as silicosis and coal workers pneumoconiosis, and their families. These funds should be funded by particular industries,
- Invest in product development that could replace engineered stone with a much safer product,
- Immediately further reduction in the Workplace Exposure Standard for respirable crystalline silica.
“Exposure to high quantities of silica causes silicosis, lung damage and autoimmune diseases like scleroderma.” said ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien. “1 in 5 engineered stone workers is expected to develop silicosis, which is incurable and can even leave workers needing a lung transplant. The Government must move to immediately ban these dangerous products before more workers are diagnosed with this incurable disease.” Read more: ACTU media release
UK: Deaths from key asbestos cancer remain over 2,000
The asbestos related cancer mesothelioma is stilling killing over 2,000 people in the UK each year, latest official figures show. New statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show 2,369 people died from mesothelioma in Great Britain in 2019. This is seven per cent lower than the average of 2,540 deaths over the previous seven years. After a sustained rise over many years, this year’s total marks the second successive year when mesothelioma deaths have fallen.
HSE said current mesothelioma deaths largely reflect occupational asbestos exposures that occurred before the 1980s. It added the figure for 2019 – the latest year for which mesothelioma death figures are available - is consistent with projections that a reduction in total annual deaths would start to become apparent at this point. However, it said it is still not certain how quickly annual deaths will decline. HSE has made repeated predictions of an imminent peak in mesothelioma deaths which have subsequently turned out to be mistaken. Mesothelioma is one of several cancers linked to asbestos exposures. Studies show there is at least one and possible up to three asbestos-related lung cancer cases for every mesothelioma. Commenting on the figures, UNISON head of safety Kim Sunley said: “Asbestos remains a problem in some workplaces including many schools. Funding has to be found to make sure it’s safely removed once and for all.” Read more: Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma statistics for Great Britain, 2021, HSE, 7 July 2021 [pdf]. UNISON news release. Source: Risks 1005
UK: HSE ‘buries bad news on work deaths’
On the day everyone was focused on the England football team’sin the Euro semi-final, the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) took the opportunity to “bury bad news on work deaths,” a workers’ safety campaign has alleged.
The national Hazards Campaign said latest figures released by the safety regulator on 7 July show a ‘massive’ 25 per cent increase in reports of workplace fatalities in 2020/21, despite many workers during the reporting year being furloughed or working from home. Chair of the Hazards Campaign, Janet Newsham, said the increase from 113 reported fatalities at work in 2019/20 to 142 in 2020/21 “is because HSE isn’t carrying out sufficient preventive inspections, isn’t holding bad employers to account, and hasn’t sufficient resources to carry out the enforcement needed to protect workers and prevent these incidents.” Saying the country needs a “robust, transparent, accountable and proactive HSE”, she warned the regulator had instead outsourced most inspections and tried “to paint a rosy picture of health at work, we know only too well the terror many workers face in the workplace, with employers ignoring health and safety and placing many young and vulnerable workers at risk. The pandemic has highlighted the risks many employers are willing to take with workers’ lives.” She concluded: “We need an HSE enforcing health and safety law, not cosying up to employers or government. The Hazards Campaign want the HSE to be independent from pressure from government and big business.”
The high number of work-related deaths from COVID-19 are not included in the HSE fatality figures. HSE figures show there were 383 work-related COVID-19 deaths in 2020/21 reported by employers under the RIDDOR injury and disease reporting regulations. Read more: Hazards Campaign Source: Risks 1005
Bangladesh: Factory boss charged with murder after deadly fire
A factory owner in Bangladesh has been arrested and charged with murder after 52 people, including children, died in fire that broke out on 8 July (SafetyNet 584). Abul Hashem, the owner of Hashem Foods, and four of his sons were among eight people detained on 10 July. Police say they all face murder charges. Narayanganj district Police Chief Jayedul Alam said that the entrance had been padlocked at the time of the fire, breaching health and safety and fire regulations. “It was a deliberate murder,” he said.
A separate probe is under way into the use of child labour at the factory, which is part of the Sajeeb group of companies. Unions report that children as young as 11 had been working at the factory and were among the victims.
Investigators say the fire in Rupganj, an industrial town near the capital Dhaka, took hold because of chemicals and plastics stored inside the building. The six-storey factory manufactured fruit juices, noodles and sweet confectionery. While many workers had left for the day when the fire started, it is believed that hundreds of people were still inside overnight. Eyewitnesses said many workers were injured after they jumped from the factory's upper floors to escape the blaze.
In the wake of the fire, several food, beverage and agricultural trade unions quickly formed the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee and called on the government to “investigate the violation of workers’ rights, including health and safety rights at the Hashem Foods factory as well all factories operated under Sajeeb Group and to take legal action against the culprits.” The committee also demanded that the injured workers receive all necessary medical treatment and that compensation be provided to the injured and deceased workers’ families. It said the company had been warned by authorities about fire safety risks and child labour violations after an 8 June inspection but did nothing. The unions said there had been no follow up action by the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE).
Little gain from COVID research
Medical researchers have said the federal government’s hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in COVID research has largely failed to produce useful findings on the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. An analysis out this week in the Medical Journal of Australia has shown a disturbing degree of poor science, waste and what could only be described as selfish behaviour on the part of researchers. The researchers said too much focus was put on the now-discredited hydroxychloroquine treatment, while the government did not fund any trials on how to encourage vaccine-hesitant people to get a jab.
Other trials were set up in a way that made it almost impossible to provide any useful data, the researchers said, and only 7 per cent of registered trials were completed. “We haven’t made the same large contributions as other countries,” said Professor Angela Webster, the paper’s senior author. A federal Health Department spokesperson said the government has spent $374 million on treatment and vaccine research but Australia’s success in suppressing the virus meant there were fewer patients to recruit for trials.
Read more: Angela Webster, et al, The landscape of COVID-19 trials in Australia [Extract] MJA. Source: The Age. Also, interview with Dr Norman Swan on the ABC's Health Report.
"On the spot fines" a reality from July 31 in Victoria
Fulfilling a 2018 election promise, the Victorian government this week made the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Infringements and Miscellaneous Matters) Regulations 2021 (Infringement Regulations), which contain 54 prescribed offences.
From July 31, WorkSafe inspectors will finally be able to issue on the spot fines - infringement notices - with penalties of up to $1,817.40 for offences such as not having an up to date asbestos register, license matters, or the use of equipment or substances that are not licensed or registered. Infringements can also be applied to both individuals and businesses failing to meet duties relating to the 54 offences.
Legal obligations have not changed: the infringement notice scheme allows inspectors to deal quickly with failure to comply with straightforward requirements. Read more: Victorian government media release; WorkSafe Victoria statement. The Infringement Regulations, including the table of offences, are also available on the Victorian Legislation website here. A summary of the new regs is being put up on the website here, and will completed soon.
Reminder - WorkSafe Infringement Notices Webinar
WorkSafe will be holding a webinar tomorrow where you can find out more information about infringement notices and take the opportunity to ask questions.
When: Thursday 22 July 2021
Time: 10am - 11am
Register now - The link to the webinar will be provided via email.
New Safety Alert: Refilling gas cylinders
Last week WorkSafe issued a safety alert about the hazards associated with refilling Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders. The alert was issued after two recent incidents involving the refilling of gas cylinders, such as those used in forklifts and barbeques.
- Incident 1 – Fire Rescue Victoria and Victoria Police attended a service station where a member of the public had tried to fill a barbeque gas cylinder from a LPG dispensing bowser, causing a leak and releasing gas into the atmosphere.
- Incident 2 – an employee received burn injuries to their hands whilst refilling a forklift gas cylinder from a LPG dispenser.
Only minor injuries were sustained, however the incidents highlight the potential danger associated with filling gas cylinders from a LPG dispenser. The alert goes through the safety issues, and provides advice on how to ensure risks are controlled. Read more: Refilling gas cylinders
WorkSafe urges farming families to learn from the past
In a media release issued during this week's National Farm Safety Week, WorkSafe Victoria says: "Farming is a business often passed down through generations. Now is the right time to build safe practices into business operations to ensure an enviable farming lifestyle into the future."
Agriculture is one of the state’s most dangerous industries: four lives have already been lost in 2021 and 24 people have been killed as a result of workplace incidents in agriculture in the past three years. Further, every day more than one person working in agriculture is injured badly enough to lodge a worker’s compensation claim.
Beeac brothers Tom and Bill Alston, are managing directors of 6500-acre Stonyhurst Pastoral. Although following in their family's footsteps, they are always seeking new ways to improve their operation, including safety. In a video with WorkSafe, the third-generation farmers share how they have made improvements on the farm including introducing drones to muster sheep, which has brought both productivity and safety benefits. Check out the video. Source: WorkSafe Victoria media release
July edition of Safety Soapbox
The latest edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was posted today. This month WorkSafe’s focus is on a 2019 formwork collapse on a construction site, when two packs of form ply were being loaded onto a deck under construction, seriously injuring a worker standing underneath it.
The editorial makes the point that WorkSafe Inspectors have identified a serious trend in heavy materials being landed atop of incomplete formwork decks on recent construction site visits.
Other items covered in this edition include: the new Infringement Notices; the recent introduction of provisional payments for mental health claims; prosecutions and interstate news.
The Safety Soapbox has the list of incidents reported to WorkSafe: In June the construction industry reported 166 incidents to WorkSafe. Of these, 79 per cent resulted in injury. There was one fatality that was due to a medical condition. 5 per cent of the injuries were serious. Access the July 2021 edition of Safety Soapbox here - the summaries of reported incidents can be downloaded from the Safety Soapbox.
Reminder: New Grants for workplace safety
These WorkSafe grants support initiatives that deliver outstanding workplace safety and education projects in Victoria. The latest round of grants, valued at up to $2 million, is open for applications until Wednesday, 18 August. Grants will be awarded across three tiers of funding - up to $50,000, $50,000-$500,000 and more than $500,000.
Applicants must be a community group or local organisation, an employer, or employer or employee representative group and have an ABN. Grant applications can be submitted online More information on how to apply for a grant.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics on fatalities since July 8, at which time it had been notified that 58 Australian workers had been killed at work this year. The total numbers of fatalities have been in the following sectors:
- 23 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 9 in Construction
- 6 in Manufacturing
- 4 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 4 in Arts & recreation services
- 2 in Mining
- 2 in Other Services
- 2 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 2 in Public administration & safety
- 1 in Wholesale trade
- 1 in Accommodation & food services
- 1 in Education & training
- 1 'unknown'
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.
Labour hire agency fined after worker's finger amputated
In June 2018, on his first day of work in the bread packing area at Davies Bakery Pty Ltd, an employee of labour hire agency Chandler Personnel Services Pty. Limited, was removing bread from the infeed conveyor to the slicer. This was a common practice, done daily, to prevent bread building up when the slicer stopped working. While undertaking this task, his right-hand middle finger went through the conveyor belt, came into contact with the in running nip point, and was amputated.
The worker had worked in the pastry section of the site for about a year, but had not been inducted at the workplace nor given any training or information on the machines there by the host employer. The day before the incident, Chandler directed him to work in the bread packing area.
Chandker failed to assess the work related activities, including the bread line, to ensure that employees were capable of undertaking the required work safely and liaising with the host employer about risks and means to control those risks. The company pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $7,000 plus $6,566.60 costs.
Developer fined, not convicted, after contractors trapped in trench
Oxha Nominees Pty. Ltd, the developer and principal contractor building a multi-level aged care facility in Epping, engaged plumbing subcontractors to do work including the installation of sewer lines.
On 25 February 2019, two workers were engulfed and trapped to shoulder height in a trench when one of the trench walls collapsed. They were taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
A signed SWMS identified the risk of trench collapse, and the control measures which were to batter and bench the trench sides or use trench boxes (shields). The SWMS also identified the risk of falling into the trench and that the trench be guarded with barricades. The Site Manager was nominated as the person responsible for controlling these risks.
Two trench shields were in place – but a portion of the trench was unprotected. There was also an exclusion zone with temporary steel fencing around the perimeter of the works – which was removed after the incident, and prior to WorkSafe attendance, so emergency services had better access to the two workers in the trench.
The company pleaded guilty to a rolled-up charge that included a failure to control the risk of trench collapse and a failure to control the risk of falling into the trench. It was, without conviction, fined $25,000 plus $2,551 costs. This incident could have resulted in the death
To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
UK: HSE advice on temperature during heatwave
While our editor was putting together SafetyNet on a cold and very wet winter's day in Melbourne, an email came through from the UK's regulatory body, the HSE - Heatwave: Temperature in the Workplace.
The email starts off: "With temperatures soaring in parts of Britain this week, make sure you have the right advice and guidance to work safely" and then sends the reader to the HSE's workplace temperature website. Britain's meteorological office issued its first ever heatwave alert (see: The New York Times) with temperatures reaching... 33 degrees celsius!
Workers in England have greater issues to be concerned about this week, however, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson removing ALL COVID-19 restrictions on Monday July 19.
July 19 "Freedom Day"
Doctors and scientists have warned about the rise in COVID-19 infections as people across England ditched masks and social distancing on what has been dubbed "Freedom Day". A 7 July 2021 letter published in The Lancet and signed by more than 100 scientists and doctors from around the world accused England's ministers of conducting a “dangerous and unethical experiment.” The signatories blasted the “unethical and illogical” approach which could see millions develop “long COVID” postviral health problems. The letter stated: “The UK government must reconsider its current strategy and take urgent steps to protect the public, including children. We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on 19 July 2021.”
But the government went ahead: Monday marked the end of laws mandating the wearing of masks and the enforcement of social distancing in England, with the last remaining closed businesses, such as nightclubs, reopening.
Media reported that across the country young people, including many 18 and 19-year-olds who had never been out in nightclub, celebrated as the clock struck midnight in reopening parties.
But, despite being the one who made the decision, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged caution as coronavirus case numbers continue to rise. The government is betting the UK’s massive vaccination rollout (68 per cent fully vaccinated, 87 per cent one dose) will prevent mass COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths. So far this has been the case, with about 40 deaths per day, down from a peak of over 1,800 when daily infections were at a similar level in January.
However, with no restrictions in place and the majority of cases being the highly transmissible Delta variant, the current daily new case rate of approximately 50,000 is likely to double to 100,000 by next month. A senior government health advisor has warned that daily cases could reach as many as 200,00! Read more: ABC news online Deepti Gurdasani, and others. Correspondence. Mass infection is not an option: we must do more to protect our young, The Lancet, Online First 7 July 2021. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01589-0.
HSR Initial & Refresher training
Well, it's back to online training for the moment at least, and the VTHC Training Unit will be in touch with anyone who has registered on courses with information.
It's a good time to do the training if you're working from home, particularly if you haven't got around to doing your annual refresher, a very important 'update' on all the new stuff going on. Most HSRs do their initial training, but 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 (some of these at least will be online):
- 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.
Also scheduled is 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.