Welcome to the August 4/5 edition of SafetyNet.
In the past two weeks, two Victorian workers were killed at work. The VTHC extends our sincere condolences to the workers' families, friends and colleagues.
In the latest COVID news: Victoria records zero new infections on Wednesday. In NSW the situation remains extremely serious with 233 new cases. Queensland too is battling to control an outbreak and the south west part of the state has gone into lockdown.
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]
Two fatalities in Victoria
We are saddened to announce that two workers were killed in Victoria in the past week.
A skydiving instructor was killed when a tandem dive went wrong last Friday July 30. Two men crash-landing in a paddock on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road in Torquay just before 1pm. Paramedics were unable to save the 35-year-old skydiving instructor who died at the scene.
Another man in his 50s was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. Victoria Police said the instructor cushioned the landing for the other man, and asked emergency service workers if he could stand up during the 20 minutes paramedics were treating him. Unfortunately his condition then worsened and he could not be revived.
Ralph Hamilton-Presgrave, the owner of Australian Skydive, the company that organised the jump, said he was unsure what exactly went wrong, but the parachute malfunctioned, resulting in a heavy landing. Read more: The Age
The second fatality occurred at the Melbourne Market in Epping, the city's wholesale fruit and vegetable market. According to the Melbourne Market Authority the 23-year-old man was killed in the incident, which happened at 5:30am Monday morning. He was driving an electric vehicle which struck a stationary truck.
Victoria Police and Worksafe are investigating.
The VTHC extends our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the two workers.
Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) - update
After a week of relaxed restrictions, the number of new infections in Victoria remains low: on Tuesday this week there were four community infections (plus one from overseas) all of which were in isolation for their entire infectious period. On Wednesday, there were none at all.
While the restrictions will remain in place until at least next Tuesday, 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.
The current number of active cases in Victoria is 99. 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 sixth week of lockdown. There were 233 new infections in the state in the 24 hours before Wednesday morning. Of these, at least 68 were in the community while infectious for part or all 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. Unfortunately there have been more COVID-related deaths in the past week, including the death of a young man in his 20s. He was not vaccinated. There have now been 17 deaths related to the current outbreak.
Queensland: the state recorded 16 new local COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. The 16 cases are all linked to the Indooroopilly cluster, Deputy Premier Steven Miles said. These cases bring the total number of local cases in the current outbreak to 63.
As at August 4, Australia has had a total of 35,086 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 927 deaths.
On August 4, 2021 the world hit a new milestone: over 200 million cases of the coronavirus. There had been 200,235,188 worldwide infections (last week it was 195,980,203). This is over 4 million new infections in the past week. The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,258,450 - alarmingly the upward trend in both has reached over 12 per cent. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends)
15.7 per cent of Australians are now vaccinated (17.7 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 - still appalling.
This week the NSW premier has set a target of 6 million vaccinations for people living in NSW, and the Prime Minister released the government plan and targets of percentage of the Australian population which will have to be vaccinated before we can open up. Prime Minister Morrison outlined a phased plan: we are currently in phase A. Lockdowns will be “less likely” under phase B which will be triggered when 70 per cent of the adult population has been vaccinated against COVID. That could happen by the end of 2021. However, to be able to travel overseas, 80 per cent will need to be vaccinated. Read more: 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. Australians will be able to freely travel when 80% of population is vaccinated, Morrison says. The Guardian
Is it the law to do a pre start up check for forklifts?
I don't think this is mandated anywhere in the regulations, and it's certainly not in the OHS Act. However, an old publication of WorkSafe's (which they have now archived - go figure! It was a very useful document, and we may ask for it to be updated and restored), had the following on p11:
"Completing the safety checklist should be part of every forklift operator’s daily routine.
Before starting a shift all operators should check their forklift is in safe working order, ready to be used and capable of completing the tasks required of it.
If any damage or problems with a forklift are noticed, they should immediately be reported to a supervisor.
Conducting regular safety checks is also part of an effective forklift maintenance regime."
The document, Forklift Safety, also provides an example checklist to use. Note that the advice makes it clear that regular safety checks are 'part of an effective maintenance regime'. The employer has a general duty of care to ensure to ensure that plant is safe and without risks to health, is regularly maintained, and that there are safe procedures in place.
I believe it is common practice to have operators undertake a pre-start check... If this does not happen, then there may not be an effective maintenance regime in place, and what is the employer doing to ensure that the forklifts at the workplace are safe? Read more: Forklift Safety.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
VTHC educator critical of Safe Work materials on sexual harassment
Workplace sexual harassment occurs within a context of gendered violence, rather than being a standalone issue. It is an OHS issue and therefore employers have a duty to address the hazard, which is the behaviour that has occurred rather than the individual identified as the source of the hazard. Gendered violence, including sexual harassment, causes injury and must be addressed as a priority in workplaces in order to eradicate or mitigate the effects it has on workers. If we don’t understand that sexual harassment occurs within a cultural and social environment that supports gendered violence, and which impacts the workplace, then we will only ever address individual behaviours rather than systemic ones that allow for the actions, behaviours, systems and structures to occur and injure workers in the first place.
Unfortunately, Safe Work Australia’s recently developed infographics and resources about sexual harassment and employer WHS duties in relation to it, fall short of understanding the need to see sexual harassment within this broader framework.
Encouraging respectful relationships at work, alongside stamping out offensive behaviours early is only one part of the solution to the eradication of gendered violence in the workplace. Workplaces must also ensure that women, LGBTIQ workers and those who do not conform to society’s expectations of gender are protected. There are myriad ways this can be done, some examples being ensuring parents and carers are able to fully participate in workplaces, ensuring there are appropriate facilities such as toilets for everyone, as well as ensuring that systems of work are safe and don’t force people to work alone or in environments in which they are made to be vulnerable.
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
QLD: man sues ex-employer for $1.7m
A former plant operator has filed a $1.7m lawsuit in the Supreme Court against a past employer after claiming he developed asbestosis and related illnesses from his work more than 40 years ago.
The Collinsville man worked for Amaca Pty Ltd – formerly James Hardie and Coy Pty Ltd – at the Newstead and Wacol factories between 1973 and 1979 where he alleged he was exposed to asbestos dust and fibre.
The 72 year-old man say he operated various plant, machinery and systems involved in the manufacture of asbestos cement building products, and that he had to “handle, remove and otherwise work with raw asbestos fibre, asbestos cement products and debris of asbestos cement products” in factories that were “contaminated with asbestos dust and fibre”.
The man has accused his former employer of failing to provide or require workers to wear protective gear. He also said workers were not warned about the need to take precautions to minimise any exposure to asbestos dust and fibre, nor that exposure to asbestos could cause serious injury.
While 'over 40 years' sounds like a very long time ago, in fact it was the late 1970's when it was well known that exposure to asbestos could lead to long term and fatal disease. Source: The Townsville Bulletin
UK: HSE failed workers on COVID airborne spread
The Hazards Campaign says the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must address dangerous failings in its advice and ‘mandate’ the provision of high quality respiratory protective equipment for all NHS and social care staff. Commenting ahead of a 27 July socially distanced protest at the HSE’s HQ, the union-backed grassroots campaign slammed HSE’s failure to recommend the more protective FFP3 respirators rather than general purpose surgical masks.
Janet Newsham, the chair of the Hazards Campaign, said: “With the disappearing COVID-19 public protection, workers need to be properly protected and their employers have a legal duty to ensure workers’ health and safety and anyone else affected by their work activity or in their work premises.” She said HSE has “largely failed” its legal duty to require safe working conditions, adding: “By reacting too late, hundreds of thousands of workers have been infected, many left with long-Covid and some have sadly died. As long as employers fail to ensure adequate ventilation and a proper precautionary level of face masks, workers will continue to be exposed to COVID-19 virus.”
She said the safety regulator was well aware of the inadequacy of surgical masks to protect workers from airborne viruses, with a 2008 HSE study concluding: “Live viruses could be detected in the air behind all surgical masks tested. By contrast, properly fitted respirators could provide at least a 100-fold reduction.” (Risks 983).
Read more: Hazards Campaign news release. Evaluating the protection afforded by surgical masks against influenza bioaerosols: Gross protection of surgical masks compared to filtering facepiece respirators, [pdf] Research Report RR619, 2008. Source: Risks 1007
Australian study recommends eight ways to avoid COVID burnout
A major Australian study, conducted by Charles Sturt University researchers, has found that more than half of our frontline workers are suffering burnout from COVID-19, with triggers including inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and confusing organisational communication.
The study, which makes eight recommendations, examined the effects of working during the pandemic on more than 1,500 police, paramedic, child protection and community health workers.
They found the rates of emotional exhaustion, depression and anxiety in these workers were many times higher than in the general public, and significantly higher than among hospital-based health workers.
While they expected to identify negative mental health impacts, they were alarmed by the extreme and disturbing levels found. According to lead researcher Professor Russell Roberts, the data identified the major predictors of poor mental health and burnout were overwork, the increased complexity of work, insufficient practical support and guidance and confusing, ambiguous and conflicting communications - all factors which organisations were able to address.
Despite Australia's relatively low COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, these workers experienced significant personal and professional impacts. Sources of stress included the general fear of being infected and spreading it to family and colleagues - but made worse by a lack of access to PPE. The work also became more complex, intense and demanding: managing increased hygiene precautions and PPE use, staff absences, increased client needs, rapid changes in regulatory frameworks, procedures and protocols.
Workers were generally dissatisfied with consultation, communication from management and support mechanisms.
The researchers recommended:
- Services bring on additional and redeploy existing personnel and resources to meet increased operational demands due to COVID-19.
- Organisations develop a communication strategy and plan to be activated in crises, pandemics or major service disruptions.
- Senior executives demonstrate their awareness, understanding and connection to the "on-the-ground" experiences of frontline workers, acknowledge their effort, and consult on improvements.
- Organisations revise policies and procedures to take into account such crises.
- Frontline staff be provided with appropriate PPE, PPE training and support for tasks outside the normal scope of practice.
- Workers be provided with a range of mental health support services from both within and outside their organisations.
- Organisations recognise that work has social components that are essential for workplace wellbeing and to support individual resilience.
- Organisations avoid cutting wages or delaying pay increases for frontline staff during times like the pandemic and consider ways to "tangibly recognise" their increased workloads and stress.
Read more: The mental health, wellbeing and work impacts of COVID-19 on first responders and frontline workers in Australia: Summary of findings, June 2021, [pdf] Charles Sturt University. Source: OHSAlert
Company, director fined $375,000 after worker's fatal fall
A company and its director have been convicted and fined a combined $375,000 following the death of a worker at a Clayton warehouse in 2019.
Lagondar Nominees Pty Ltd and director Emil Lagondar were sentenced in the Melbourne Country Court on 29 July after pleading guilty on 15 June to one charge each of failing to provide a safe workplace. They were fined $250,000 and $125,000 respectively.
The court heard the company had sold its Clayton warehouse and the worker was helping with decommissioning work prior to settlement.
On 15 April 2019, the worker was in an unsecured cage elevated by a forklift about 4.5 metres off the ground when the cage fell from the forklift to the concrete floor below. He suffered fatal head injuries.
A WorkSafe investigation found that the cage was unstable and unable to be properly secured to the forklift and that there were several risk control measures that could have been taken, including using an elevated work platform such as a scissor lift, which was available at the workplace. Read more: WorkSafe media release
Abattoir fined for multiple breaches following employee injury
Koallah Farm Pty Ltd operates an abattoir in Koallah. From May 2018, WorkSafe inspectors attended the workplace and identified risks to employee health and safety in connection with a number of issues including:
- the use and storage of substances at the workplace
- the maintenance of fire extinguishers
- lighting in access passages
- the use of stairs and walkways between separate areas
- the electrical supply for a pump shed
- guarding on a drive shaft in a waste pump pit
- the use of a loading dock transfer plate, and
- the use of items of plant at the workplace
On 4 April 2019, an employee performing slaughterman duties on the kill floor hooked a beef carcass onto a rail with shackle equipment including a hook and pulley. As the carcass reached a second rail, it fell to the ground. The shackle struck him on the side of the body, causing wounds to his elbow, ribs and hips. He received treatment in hospital. The company failed to notify WorkSafe of the incident.
Koallah Farm was prosecuted and sentenced for several breaches of the OHS Act relating both to the incident and WorkSafe's previous visits:
- S111(4) failure to comply with improvement notices - $10,000
- S21(1) & 21(2)(a) failure to provide or maintain plant in relation to the incident on 4 April 2019 - $30,000
- S38(1) failure to notify the Victorian WorkCover Authority of the incident on 4 April 2019 - $2,500
Employer fined $25,000 after crushing injury
Carrum Downs company Australian Dairy Park Pty Ltd manufactures baby formula and other milk powder products. At the factory is an item of plant, the "robotic arm", used to lift cans of baby formula using suction arms, and pack them into boxes for distribution. It is enclosed by perspex preventing employees from entering the room while it is in operation: there are two interlocking doors allowing access. Once the doors are opened, the robotic arm stops.
On 18 July 2021 an employee working on the production line noted a can stuck on the conveyor inside the robot room. He entered the room through a gap in the perspex. As the worker removed the can from the conveyer, the robotic arm activated/lowered, crushing the tips of his fingers.
At the time of the incident, the guarding was inadequate as there were three gaps in the perspex which allowed entry without triggering the interlocking doors.
The employer pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $25,000 plus $2,386.33 costs. Had it not been for the plea of guilty, the company would have been convicted and fined $50,000.
To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Worker awarded $635k for injury
An injured worker has been awarded about $635,000 in damages, after the Supreme Court found his employer's failure to identify his tasks as hazardous manual handling caused his disabling musculoskeletal injury. In April 2016, the process worker injured his right shoulder and elbow using excessive force to push a blunt "duck knife" through shrink wrap he was removing from a pallet of wine bottles. He needed surgery, and hasn't worked since the incident.
Justice Jacinta Forbes found the worker's injury was caused by the "intrinsic nature" of his role, and his employer at the relevant time, Best Bottlers Pty Ltd, failed to identify or take steps to control the risks.
Read more: Young v SMYBB Pty Ltd (t/as Best Bottlers Pty Ltd)  VSC 445 (30 July 2021). Source: OHSAlert.
Infringement notice legislation now in force
In line with a Victorian Government 2018 election promise the Andrews Labor Government has introduced on the spot fines which should provide an immediate alternative to prosecution, for those employers who do the wrong thing.
The Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Infringements and Miscellaneous Matters) Regulations 2021 (Infringement Regulations) have now been made and list 54 prescribed offences. For a summary of the new provisions, and to get more information on what the 54 offences are, go to this page on the website: Part 7B - Enforcement.
August is Tradie Health Month
WorkSafe Victoria is this month providing tradespeople with free access to the right tools and resources to build physically and mentally safe work sites.
The WorkWell Toolkit is a free online tool that uses a step by step approach to promote mental health and prevent mental injury by offering support and information to small and medium-size businesses.
The OHS Essentials program is a free workplace safety consultation service for small employers where an independent occupational health and safety (OHS) expert can deliver personalised advice to manage safety.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia has not 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. 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.
Bangladesh Shezan Juice factory fire tragedy
More information has emerged about the brutal and unsafe conditions at the Shezan Juice factory where a fire on the night of July 8 killed at least 52 young workers in Narayanganj’s Bhulta area, just outside Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Forty-nine workers died after being trapped on the third floor of the six-storey building with its only exit locked. Three others were killed after jumping from the burning building. The juice factory is a subsidiary of Sajeeb Group and is owned by Hashem Foods Ltd.
Among the dead were 16 or more under the age of 18, some as young as 11, indicating that the company was exploiting child labour, in open violation of Bangladesh’s limited industrial laws.
Amid widespread criticism, globally and locally, Bangladeshi authorities have arrested eight individuals on murder charges. They include Sajeeb Group chairman and managing Director Md Abul Hashem, his four sons, and three other senior factory officials. The Rupganj police station has filed a case against the individuals and several unknown people.
Source: Workers Solidarity Bulletin
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.
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]
Book online now (RSVP by 9 August)
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, then you should enrol now: it's 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 may be online):
- 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.