SafetyNet 586

Welcome to the July 28 edition of SafetyNet.  

In the latest COVID news:  Victoria, having controlled the latest Delta variant outbreak, came out of lockdown, this week, though a number of restrictions remain in place. South Australia has also ended its seven day lockdown.

NSW: the situation in Greater Sydney has continued to worsen, with the government extending the lockdown until the end of August.      

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]

Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

The good news is that after an almost two week lockdown in Victoria, the government has ended it with some restrictions to remain in place. Victorians are once again able to leave their home, go shopping, go out to dinner and more. Space quotients and maximum numbers are in force, however, and visitors to the home are still now allowed. While some large sporting events, like the AFL, will take place, this will be without spectators. 

While the advice is still to work from home if we are able to, up to 25 per cent (or 10 workers, whichever is greater) are able to return to the workplace if necessary.

Wearing masks both indoors and outdoors (unless working alone) and checking in with QR codes remain mandatory. 

There are still a large number of exposure sites - so people need to check these regularly. 

The number of new infections announced in Victoria today, Wednesday, was 8 - none had been in community while infectious. The current number of active cases in Victoria is 205. 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: There were 177 new infections in the state announced Wednesday - of these, at least 68 were in the community while infectious for part or all (46) of their infectious period. While there has not been an 'exponential' growth in cases, it is very concerning that the state still has a large number of cases in the community while infectious. 62 cases were still under investigation when SafetyNet went to print.  Unfortunately there have been more COVID-related deaths in the past week.  There have now been eleven deaths related to the current outbreak. 

Greater Sydney is now in its fifth week of lockdown, and on Tuesday the government announced that the lockdown would be extended another month. However, Sydneysiders are still able to go 10km from their homes for shopping or other purposes! And the wearing of masks outdoors is not mandated. 

As at July 28, Australia has had a total of 33,266 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 922 deaths.

Internationally, the cumulative number of infections stands at 195,980,203 (last week it was 192,260,989). This is over 3.7 million new infections in the past week. The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,192,978. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends)

Vaccinations update 

13.9 per cent of Australians are now vaccinated (17.6 per cent have received one dose). The arguments about how it went wrong and how to fix it continue, but we are still well behind our current target. We are now ranked 36/38 for OECD countries. (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.)

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

If the company make changes to the layout without adequate consultation with HSRs, what would the next steps/course of action be?

This is not easy, as you've said 'without adequate consultation' - not 'without consultation'. The issue may be one of determining whether the consultation was 'real' and would satisfy the requirements of the Act. 

Section 35 of the Act not only requires the employer to consult on a range of issues - such as when proposing changes to the workplace - which may affect the health and safety of employees, but also how this must be done. The Act states (at s35(3)):

An employer who is required to consult with employees under subsection (1) must do so by—

(a)        sharing with the employees information about the matter on which the employer is required to consult; and  
(b)        giving the employees a reasonable opportunity to express their views about the matter; and  
(c)        taking into account those views.

So in looking at whether the consultation was genuine, think about the following questions. Did the employer:

  • consult or inform? 
  • consult when proposing the change? Or only afterwards?
  • share all the relevant information?
  • give HSRs and employees a chance to give their views, voice their concerns?
  • take these views into account? For example, was there adequate time given to consider these views? Were there any changes to the proposed actions as a result of the consutation?

I would suggest there are two things you need to do at this stage:

  1. organise a meeting with management to remind them of their duty to consult under s35 of the OHS Act - and what consultation means. Go through the problems with how the changes were made and how the consultation was inadequate.  See: Duty to Consult (and show the section in the Act to your employer) : 

    Discuss how to ensure that proper consultation happens in the future and alert them that if this doesn't occur, you will consider issuing a PIN. See: Resolution of Issues 

  2. With regard to the current (new) set up: consult with your DWG members and do an inspection to identify any problems/OHS issues the changes created. Document these, then alert your employer that you have a number of issues with the new layout that you are seeking to resolve - as per the page I referred you to above. Go through the issues, what the problems are and what changes you would like implemented - either in the same meeting or in a separate one. If you don't get anywhere, then you can issue one PIN or more (a different PIN is required for each issue) or call your union or WorkSafe to assist you.

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

VTHC Migrant Workers Centre Survey

Have you ever stayed on a visa in Australia? How has your visa impacted your life?

There are many problems with Australia’s migration system. Too often, workers, students, partners and family members are forced to go from visa to visa with limited work rights or healthcare, and very few pathways to permanent residence.

There is now an opportunity to change this: the Australian Government is currently reviewing Australia's migration programs and the Migrant Workers Centre is campaigning for more pathways to permanent residency and a fairer visa system.

The Centre has launched a research survey about the experiences and barriers faced by migrants in Australia. It is collecting responses from anyone who has ever stayed on a visa in Australia. The MWC wants to know how your visa impacts your work, housing and social life, and what challenges you face when applying for visas.

Responses will inform the MWC policy recommendations and most importantly, help drive its campaign for pathways to permanency. Responses will be confidential. Take the survey now 

Union blames Federal government for death of 200 truck drivers

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has blamed Federal Government inaction for the deaths of 200 truck drivers and warned that death rates will increase as pressures are exacerbated by extreme demand during the pandemic. Last Sunday, a truck driver was found dead following a truck fire, bringing the death toll for truckies to 200 in just over five years, while the overall number of people killed in truck crashes has reached almost 1,000 in the same time period. 

In April 2016, the Liberal National Party (LNP) Government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, established by the previous Labor government, despite its own report concluding that truck crashes would be reduced by 28 per cent. A Federal Government report called for the tribunal’s abolition because of its “significant cost to the economy … with any potential safety benefits significantly outweighed by the associated costs”. The tribunal’s annual funding was $4 million. Research shows heavy vehicle crashes cost $4.64 billion a year.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine called for urgent government regulation to address the growing crisis in trucking. “Last year we heard the Prime Minister call truck drivers ‘heroes’, but when it comes to the alarming death rates, poor vaccination access, workplace outbreaks and truckies forced to queue for hours in the rain for COVID tests, he is completely silent.

“A truck driver killed every 10 days – that’s the legacy of the LNP Government’s reckless move to rip down a road safety watchdog to line the pockets of their mates at the top of trucking supply chains. For more than five years since, the Federal Government’s inaction has enabled wealthy retailers, manufacturers and oil companies to put a deadly squeeze on transport contracts, forcing operators and drivers to cut corners in safety to stay in business."

Earlier this year a major study by Monash University revealed chronic health problems in trucking, including over 80 per cent of drivers overweight or obese, one in five suffering from depression, over 70 per cent living with chronic pain and almost a third with multiple chronic health conditions. Source: TWU media release

Asbestos news

National asbestos map in development 
A national public database that could help predict which homes across the country contain asbestos is being developed by the federal government. The national residential asbestos heatmap, which will draw on pre-existing state and territory data along with artificial intelligence, is being produced by the Commonwealth's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency to help forecast where building materials that contain asbestos are in residential properties.

The agency's chief executive Justine Ross has said the new technology aimed to help eliminate asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma. While the release of a federal government-run national map detailing the locations of properties with asbestos is not expected to be publicly available until early next year, Ms Prideaux, a former Mr Fluffy home owner, who is also part of the Mr Fluffy Homes Full Disclosure Group, has welcomed its announcement.

"We had been worried about not all the homes being known about, so for the government to publish a list such as this is fantastic," Ms Prideaux said. "People who had some form of exposure or asbestosis will now be able to trace their exposure back through the list, and this is absolutely a major step."

The national asbestos map will be made up of data from pre-existing registers from state, territory and federal governments and will also use artificial intelligence to predict which properties are at risk. The federal Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has said the map will focus on predicting the presence of asbestos anywhere in the home. Read more: ASEA media releaseThe Canberra Times 

Union issues warning on asbestos  
The national branch of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has posted a long article warning its members of the ongoing hazard of asbestos. The union warns that it's not possible to know something is asbestos just by looking at it: "he only way to be sure is to have a sample tested by a NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) accredited laboratory." The union emphasises that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, and that exposure to asbestos fibres can lead to developing a fatal disease later in life. Read more:  Are you asbestos aware

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

International news

Global: Women far more likely to face workplace violence and harassment 
Women are more likely to face violence and harassment at work, a new poll commissioned by the global union confederation ITUC has found. Respondents in ten countries were asked “Do you think men or women are more likely to face violence and harassment, or are they equally likely?”. They came from nine professions: teaching, nursing, doctors, journalism, law, sport, politics, finance and banking, and building and construction.

One in three respondents thought women are more likely than men to face violence and harassment at work. Excluding building and construction, fewer than one in ten people thought that men are more likely to face violence and harassment across each of the industries. The 10 countries covered by the report were Australia, Brazil, France, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the USA. Over 12,000 people were interviewed for the report. 
Read more: ITUC news release and full report.

England: Back-to-work chaos  
New back-to-work safety guidelines for England will cause widespread confusion and lead to more infections, the TUC has said. Commenting after the government updated its ‘working safety during coronavirus’ guidance on 14 July, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want the economy to unlock as soon as possible. But these new back-to-work safety guidelines are a recipe for chaos and rising infections.”

Under the changes, stipulations on mask wearing, social distancing and work-from-home have all gone. O’Grady said the new guidelines were produced without proper consultation with either unions or employers and were only released two full working days before the restrictions were set to end on 19 July.

“Instead of providing clear and consistent guidance on how to keep staff safe at work, the government is abandoning workers and employers,” the TUC leader said. “As infection rates surge, every employer must by law carry out a thorough risk assessment and take action to keep their workers safe. But these inadequate guidelines will leave many employers with more questions than answers and worried about their liability if they get things wrong.” She added: “Wearing face coverings should remain a legal requirement on public transport and in shops – it is not a matter of ‘personal responsibility’, nor should it be left to individual employers to decide. Workplace safety rules must protect shop workers, bus drivers and others working in public settings.”  
Read more: 
TUC news release and blogWorking safely during coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance from Step 4, BEIS, updated 14 July 2021. Source: Risks 1006

England: Masks 'expected' to be worn in shops 
The UK government has said it “expects and recommends” shoppers wear face masks in England, but this is no longer required by law. Social distancing will also not be a requirement and people working from home can start to return to work, ministers said. The new guidance leaves firms to decide what if any protective measures to employ. Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw welcomed early indications that retailers are keeping important safety measures in place. Last week Sainsbury's and Tesco joined the bookseller, Waterstones, which had said customers should continue to wear masks to protect staff and other shoppers. The union is calling for the whole retail industry to follow suit, to avoid customer confusion, and for the shopping public to abide by the policies and respect shopworkers. 

The union's general secretary said, "Protection for retail workers through customers wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing should be backed up by the law and not left to individual choice.” Source: Risks 1006

For more news on the unfolding chaos in England following 'Freedom Day' go to the latest edition of Risks, number 1006. 


Research

Farming incidents caused by stress and fatigue

A Scottish study has identified stress and fatigue as key causes of agricultural incidents. The University of Aberdeen research team found that “lapses in situation awareness” related to stress and fatigue were a main contributory factor.

The Non-Technical Skills in Agriculture group (NTSAg) said the project was the first to look at the the issue. Researcher Ilinca-Ruxandra Tone interviewed farmers from the UK and Ireland. Her research found many lapses had occurred “at a perception level”, such as a failure to notice something. Other lapses included misjudging the size of a vehicle, with some of these incidents being attributed to a recent change in equipment or machinery or over-familiarity with existing equipment.

“We found consistently that farmers' stress and fatigue can negatively affect their mental picture of what is going on which leads to accidents and incidents,” she said. “This is hugely significant given that stress and fatigue are prevalent issues in agriculture, alongside more serious mental health issues, and our findings extend our knowledge to establish a link between stress and fatigue and situation awareness.” 
Read more: 
Farmers WeeklyBBC News OnlineThe ScotsmanUniversity of Aberdeen farm safety project and NTSAg website. Source: Risks 1006

Noisy open-plan offices increase stress symptoms by 34 per cent

Australian researchers have said the current pandemic is providing employers with an opportunity to address the significant stress risks posed by open-plan office noises.

Bond University assistant professor of organisational behaviour Dr Libby Sander is the lead author of a recent study where participants exposed to typical open-plan office noise showed a 34 per cent increase in sweat response – an indicator of physiological stress – compared to those in a quiet, private office environment.

The exposure to other noises like photocopying, phones, people talking and typing also led to a 25 per cent increase in negative mood, the study found.

Employers need to be conscious of what the noise levels are in their workplaces, even if they don't seem excessive and the impacts on workers appear to be subtle, Sander says. The study's experiment only involved an eight-minute exposure period but produced significant effects, which can only be exacerbated over time.

Office noise is the most complained about aspect of open-plan offices and has been shown to have cumulative adverse effects on worker wellbeing, performance, job satisfaction and turnover intention. 

COVID-19-induced workplace changes present an opportunity for employers and HR practitioners to assess workspace design to minimise the effects of noise. Most workers undertaking flexible work are finding they are more able to control noise and distraction while working at home.

With an expected increase in remote working arrangements post-pandemic, many offices are likely to become smaller. Sander said, this will increase the risk of noise becoming more concentrated, and needs to be addressed.  
Read more: Elizabeth (Libby) Sander, et al, Open-plan office noise is stressful: multimodal stress detection in a simulated work environment. [Abstract] Journal of Management and Organisation, published online June 2021, doi: 10.1017/jmo.2021.17. Source: OHSAlert


Regulator News

Victorian news

COVID-19 regulations renewed 
Critical regulations to ensure the efficient and effective management of COVID-19 risks in Victorian workplaces are being renewed. The remaking of the regulations for an additional 12 months will ensure employers continue to notify WorkSafe of COVID-19 cases in their workplaces. The new regulations came into force on 27 July 2021.

Employers are required to notify WorkSafe immediately on becoming aware that an employee or an independent contractor or a contractor's employee has received a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis and has attended the workplace during the infectious period. Self-employed persons are also required to inform WorkSafe immediately on receiving a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis if they have attended the workplace during the infectious period.

Failing to notify WorkSafe under s38 of the Act can lead to fines of up to $43,617 for an individual or $218,088  for a body corporate. 

To notify WorkSafe of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis or for more information about the infectious period for the purposes of notification, go to this page or call the WorkSafe advisory service on 13 23 60.

National News

New infographics on Sexual Harassment  
Safe Work Australia has produced some new infographics which provide information to support small businesses meet their duties under Work Health Safety laws and outline some practical steps on how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. They cover:

WHS/OHS duties require persons conducting a business or undertaking (such as employers) to do everything they reasonably can to prevent sexual harassment from occurring at work, just like other risks to health and safety.

National Fatality Statistics  
Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities since July 22, at which time it had been notified that 60 Australian workers had been killed at work this year - two more than at its last update on July 8. The two fatalities were in Transport, postal & warehousing, and in Agrriculture, forestry & fishing. The total numbers of fatalities have been in the following sectors:

  • 24 in Transport, postal & warehousing 
  • 9 in Construction
  • 6 in Manufacturing 
  • 5 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


Prosecutions

WorkSafe Victoria has not added further prosecution results on its website since last week. 

To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. 

NSW: $375,000 after fatality

South Coast Under Road Borers was last week fined $375,000 after a young worker was fatally crushed by a truck in October 2017.

The Shoalhaven company pleaded guilty to a breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 in the District Court of NSW after an investigation by SafeWork NSW found the company did not have safe systems of work in place for the servicing of its heavy vehicles at its premises.

Safework NSW’s Executive Director, Investigations & Enforcement, Valerie Griswold, said workplace safety laws are enforced to prevent these tragic losses of life and when businesses fail to comply with the laws, SafeWork NSW will take enforcement action.

“This situation truly presents the worst-case scenario in a workplace,” Ms Griswold said. “This young man had only been on the job for three weeks at the time of the incident and not only was he unsupervised, but he did not have any prior relevant experience in working on heavy vehicles."

The incident occurred on 27 October 2017 when the worker was working underneath a truck that had not been properly stabilised on soft, sloping ground. The full judgement is available on the NSW caselaw website


International news

UK regulator: good ventilation will help reduce COVID-19 transmission at work

The UK's health and safety regulator, the HSE, has updated its guidance to help employers identify poor ventilation in work areas and take practical steps to improve it. This can help reduce the risk of COVID19 spreading in the workplace.

The updated guidance includes a new video setting out the key advice, and there is information on:

  • identifying poorly ventilated areas and using CO2 monitors
  • improving natural ventilation
  • how to improve mechanical ventilation
  • air cleaning and filtration units
  • ventilation in work vehicles

The HSE has also developed some examples of how businesses have improved ventilation to reduce COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. Check these out here.


Events

Central Safety Group Tuesday 10 August
Topic: Living through COVID-19 in healthcare and aged care 
Speaker: Alison Hunt-Sturman, Group Manager, WHS, Mercy Health Australia

When the COVID-19 crisis arrived, organisations everywhere were hit with a massive task without warning and precedent. The healthcare industry faced significant challenges in managing and implementing new and complex requirements.

Alison Hunt-Sturman, Group Manager, WHS, at Mercy Health Australia, will present a compelling account of what happened across the healthcare industry as well as within her organisation.

Book online now (RSVP by 9 August)

When: 12:00-1:00pm, Tuesday, 10 August, 2021 
How: Online via Zoom. Financial members will automatically be emailed the Zoom meeting link. (N.B. A video recording of the session will be available on the website exclusively for financial members.) 
Cost: Financial members* free. Others $10 [Individual membership fee for 2021: $75] *If unsure of your membership status, contact [email protected]

HSR Initial & Refresher training

With the lockdown ending and restrictions being eased, the VTHC training courses will be going back to face-to-face. If you've enrolled in a course and are not sure what's happening, then contact the Training Unit.

Remember: if you haven't got around to doing your annual refresher, its' 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.

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 (some of these may be online):

  • 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.


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