Welcome to the August 25/26 edition of SafetyNet.
As usual the journal kicks off with an update to the COVID situation around the country - but there is lots of other news too.
Visit our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page for news, memes and more. If you have any questions or need any advice, we can be reached via the Ask Renata facility on the website or through the closed OHS Network Facebook page. If you have comments or want to send through any ideas, email us at [email protected]
Victoria: Over the past week we have seen numbers of new community infections in Victoria increase (and over the past days decrease!) but also extend out of Metropolitan Melbourne into regional Victoria. Numbers have gone well beyond the initial 20 something. The number of new infections reported on Wednesday was 45 - which is down from the 50 on Tuesday and the 71 on Monday - so hopefully we are getting on top of the current outbreak.
The number of active cases in Victoria on August 25: 538 (34 in hospital, 9 in ICU, 7 of whom require ventilation). By this week more than 770 exposure sites had been listed. It is crucial to keep up with these, and comply with the directions (eg to isolate and get tested). Go to this Victorian government page.
Burnet Institute epidemiologist Mike Toole said he was shocked to witness large groups gathering last weekend “like one big party”, although he said he understood it was because people are fatigued. But University of South Australia epidemiologist Adrian Esterman warns this fatigue could be dangerous: “Events like the street pub crawl in Melbourne create exactly the kind of situations where you get super-spreading events.”
Of great concern have been the public protests against lockdowns and other public health measures in Melbourne, Sydney and elsewhere. The protesters, many of whom were not wearing masks or maintaining appropriate physical distancing, are not only against the health measures, but are also anti testing, anti vaccination - and some deny that COVID is real. They are putting not only themselves, but their families, their work colleagues, and the community at risk.
The Melbourne protesters claimed to be concerned about the suffering caused to ordinary people by the public health measures to contain the virus. But a journalist noted that among all the home-made placards and chanting, there were no demands for social support for affected workers or the unemployed; no demands for more resources for the health system; no chants or placards against big business or the rich. Read more: Right-Wing mayhem in Melbourne
In news from around Australia:
NSW: Greater Sydney is now in its ninth week of lockdown - with the 'hotspot' LGAs with extra restrictions such as a curfew. Numbers last weekend reached over 800 infections daily, and although the numbers dipped, there were 919 new community infections in the state in the 24 hours before Wednesday morning. Of these the state confirmed that 106 cases were in isolation during their infectious period, 18 were in isolation for part of it, 37 cases were infectious in the community, and the isolation status of 758 cases was under investigation.
Unfortunately, there have been sixteen more COVID-related deaths in NSW the past week, including that of a 30 year-old woman. There have now been 76 deaths related to the current outbreak, and 14,673 locally acquired cases reported since July 16. There were currently 645 COVID-19 cases in hospital, with 113 people in intensive care, 40 of whom require ventilation.
ACT: the territory went into lockdown to September 2, there were 167 active cases.
- Both Queensland and WA have further restricted entry from NSW, Victoria and the ACT.
As at August 25, Australia has had a total of 46,726 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 985 deaths.
Worldwide: there had been 213,948,124 infections (last week it was 209,357,040). This is again almost 4.6 million new infections in the past week. The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,463,919 - the trend has remained at just under -0.1 per cent. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus
New ACTU factsheet - Ventilation
Australian Unions have released a new, updated factsheet about workplace ventilation and COVID-19, developed with the assistance of infectious diseases experts.
Knowledge on the details of exactly how COVID-19 is spread between individuals has continued to improve and workplaces need to take action to prevent further transmission. There is now much clearer evidence that to stop the spread of the virus, fresh air and good ventilation – especially in workplaces – are essential. Access the new ACTU guidance, Ventilation
Vaccinations: VTHC resource and update
Have vaccines been coming up a lot in conversations with your workmates? Trades Hall has developed a handy guide to help you navigate challenging conversations about vaccines and help address some of your workmates' concerns. It's free and fabulous! Get your copy of Talkin' 'bout My Vaccination
According to the ABC Vaccine tracker 30.88 per cent of Australians are now vaccinated (53.56 per cent have received one dose). This is a great improvement - we are slowly creeping up the OECD ranking: we are now 34/38, so there is still a long way to go.
We reported last week that federal Industrial Relations Minister, Michaelia Cash, held a 'roundtable' of stakeholders to address concerns about how they can and should approach COVID-19 vaccination policies in the workplace and to support the vaccine rollout more broadly. It appears that no major agreements came out of the meeting which was attended by the ACTU and a number of unions; a large number of employer associations; the Attorney-General’s Department; Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO); Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner; and Safe Work Australia.
"It was a positive meeting and really pleasing to see employer groups and unions come together in the spirit of co-operation," Minister Cash said. "It was clear from the discussion that participants are united in the goal to have as many Australians as possible vaccinated against COVID-19." Read more: Roundtable media release
ACTU petition for paid vaccination leave - have you signed yet?
The message remains: for us to be able to get back to any sort of normal, Australians need to be vaccinated as soon as possible. If you still haven't signed the ACTU petition for paid vaccination leave, do so now.
ACTU says the biggest barriers to vaccination continue to be the government’s failure to secure adequate supply and a struggling roll out system that is still beyond the reach of too many Australians. Workers currently have no right to be absent from work to get their vaccinations, and casual workers miss out on shifts and lose pay if they have to get vaccinated and recover outside working hours.
The ACTU is calling on the Morrison Government to give workers time off to get their jab and recover from the side effects, without being left out of pocket. Securing a universal right for workers to access paid leave is essential for individuals and the community as a whole, which will be less vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks through the exposure of unvaccinated workers. The Victorian government has introduced a level of paid leave for government sector employees and we hope to see this rolled out across the state.
Please sign the ACTU's petition demanding nationwide vaccination leave - and ask all your work colleagues and family to do so as well.
we are all working from home at the moment due to the lockdown. One of my DWG members went into work on the weekend - with approval - to get some things she needed to be able to do her work. While onsite she was verbally abused by some youth and too scared to leave the site. She called the police, but they didn't attend. Eventually her husband came to pick her up. Her manager has told her it cannot be logged on the workplace incident report system as it was a weekend and not during work hours. My belief is it is still a workplace issue not just a police issue. Can I get some clarification please?
I have no doubt that this incident needs to be logged on to the company's incident report system. The staff member attended the site for work purposes, the attendance, although on the weekend, was approved (I assume by her manager), and the incident was absolutely work-related. Had something occurred, or even if now after the event, the staff member suffers some post incident stress, and considers putting in a WorkCover claim - then the test is always whether the incident was work-related.. I believe it passes this test.
Please remember if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
QLD: Union warns of asbestos-contaminated soil
The Queensland branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) warns that 200 tonnes of material delivered to a school building site in Brisbane has been contaminated with asbestos. The union first detected the asbestos in 50 tonnes of landfill supplied by BMI Group to the Brisbane South State Secondary College site last week. It asked the contractor Broad, a subsidiary of CPB Contractors owned by CIMIC, to audit the site. Broad has apparently refused to do so.
"Broad/CPB have taken a cavalier 'she'll be right' approach - at an operating high school - to managing what is a deadly public health risk," CFMEU assistant secretary Jade Ingham said in a statement. He has also called for BMI Group's quarries and recycling sites across southeast Queensland to be audited for asbestos.
"We now know that at least 200 tonnes of material from BMI is contaminated with asbestos, and need to know exactly what other building jobs in SE Queensland this material has been delivered to by Martin Brothers and other subcontractors," Mr Ingham said. "We have a situation here where potentially dozens of building sites could be contaminated, while workers and the public remain unaware of the risk."
The union has asked workplace health and safety representatives at the landfill sites to check material. Source: Southern Highland News
WA: Petition for permanent memorials
WA-based Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) has launched a petition to that state's Parliament for permanent memorials to be erected in Perth and the Pilbara to honour the thousands of lives lost to asbestos disease.
It also wants the memorials to act as a deterrent to tourists who continue to visit Wittenoom and its spectacular gorges.
ADSA chief operating officer Melita Markey has raised the issue with Tourism, Culture and Arts Minister David Templeman and most recently with Stephen Dawson MLC, and has suggested the memorials be incorporated into the Wittenoom Closure Bill which will be introduced into State Parliament later this year. Wittenoom, a blue asbestos mining town in the Pilbara region, which despite health warnings as early as 1948, continued to operate until 1966, killing thousands of workers, their families and town visitors. This includes State Minister Ernie Bridge MLA who died from mesothelioma which he contracted during his time dealing with the town’s closure. Sign the ADSA petition. Read more: Asbestos Diseases Society campaigns for memorials for asbestos victims
International union news
UK: Unions demand action on ventilation in schools
Education unions have said the UK government must take firm action to improve ventilation in schools to reduce further Covid disruption. In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, the unions - NEU, Unison, NASUWT, ASCL, NAHT, GMB and Unite – say proper measures to increase airflow in time for the start of the next academic year will make a difference to health and limit the damage to learning for pupils. Their 17 August letter states “the benefits of ventilation in the control of airborne diseases are already well understood and accepted”. They point to carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors – which can provide an indication of the effectiveness of ventilation in a room – and micro (HEPA) filters for removing harmful particles as measures that will make a significant difference and should be properly funded. The joint letter concludes with a “call for urgent action by the DfE to invest in ventilation measures in our schools, including but not limited to the provision of CO2 monitors to monitor air quality and other measures, including where appropriate HEPA filters, which can help slow the spread of such diseases.” Read more: NEU news release. NASUWT news release. Unite news release. Morning Star. Source: Risks 1010
Shifts ‘significantly associated’ with heart problems
Long-term night shifts are “significantly associated” with heart-related health problems in UK workers, according to a new study. Researchers from China, Hong Kong, the USA and Sweden examined UK data and found working late hours was linked with irregular and fast heart rate, with women potentially at greater risk.
Working night shifts also increased the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), according to the paper published in the European Heart Journal. Researchers have previously looked how night shift work impacts health, including a 2018 study finding an increased risk of CHD from rotating shift patterns. The authors of the latest study say they believe it is the first of its kind to test the association between night shift work and atrial fibrillation (AF) - a heart condition causing an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.
The study - which used information from 283,657 people in the UK Biobank database - found “both current and lifetime night shift exposure were significantly associated” with a risk of atrial fibrillation regardless of genetics. The findings suggested that among people who worked an average of between three and eight night shifts a month for 10 years or more, the risk increased to 22 per cent compared with daytime workers.
Previous research has also found women who worked night shifts had an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, asthma and faced a greater risk of miscarriage. Night shifts have also been linked to a higher risk of road traffic accidents while travelling home from a shift.
Read more: Ningjian Wang and others. Long-term night shift work is associated with the risk of atrial fibrillation and coronary heart disease [Abstract and Full text], European Heart Journal, 2021; ehab505. Published 10 August 2021. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehab505. The Independent. Source: Risks 1010. Read more on the Health effects of Shift work
The latest edition of WorkSafe's newsletter for HSRs was posted late last week. The newsletter reminds HSRs that the temporary regulations approved in 2020 putting duties on employers and self-employed persons to notify WorkSafe of a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 in the workplace were re-made for an additional 12 months in July this year. The newsletter also has an invitation for HSRs to join the webinar advertised below, and links to the latest Safety Alert on gas cylinders and WorkSafe's warning to employers of the risks of working at height. As well as this, there are links to WorkSafe information on Consultation, DWGs and more. Check out the newsletter online here.
Reminder of the August 31 Webinar on mentally healthy workplaces
A reminder of WorkSafe's second webinar in its WorkWell series, 'Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces Where Young People Thrive'.
Creating workplaces where young people can thrive and contribute is important because young workers are particularly vulnerable to injury at work. Employers and managers make a big difference to the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.
The webinar will look at:
- why preventative strategies are needed to improve mental health in the workplace
- how to create psychologically safe environments where conversations can be started and continued
- how leaders can make a difference for young people
When: Tuesday 31 Aug 2021 at 10:00am to 11:00am.
Where: Online webinar event. Register now by going to this page on the WorkSafe website.
Major Hazards newsletter
Issue 18 of WorkSafe's Major Hazards newsletter was posted this week. The newsletter has items on:
- pre-assessment advice for Major Hazard Facility sites - In the lead-up to submitting an application for an MHF licence renewal, the regulator encourages operators to engage with the MHF unit if clarification is required regarding compliance with the regulations.
- a new quarterly Dangerous Goods newsletter, 'The DG Digest' - and an invitation to subscribe
- notification that Safe Work Australia, which is currently updating its guidance materials for Major Hazard Facilities, is seeking views and feedback from MHF sites across the nation to help improve the guides. Although the guides are based on the model WHS laws, Victorian operators may be interested in completing the survey - closing date is September 3
- major international incidents: two in Texas, one where two workers were killed, and two large fires in Iran
- announcing a Major Hazards online information session for MHF CEOs/Safety Case signatories to be held on Thursday 2 September 2021, 9:00am to 10:00am
The newsletter also has a number of other items such as explaining the new system which provides provisional payments to workers who submit and mental health claim. To read the August edition of Major Hazard Matters, and to register for the information session, click here.
Construction and clean air
Safe Work Australia has issued advice on the risks of hazardous air to construction workers. The advice begins:
The air you breathe at work can contain dusts, gases, fumes or vapours. Construction workers are at risk of breathing in hazardous air, including through:
- cutting, grinding, polishing and crushing concrete, pavers, tiles and bricks
- cutting drywall/plasterboard
- using paints, glue and varnishes
- welding, and
- cutting and sanding some types of wood.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities on August 19, at which time it had been notified that 73 Australian workers had been killed at work this year - this is six more than at August 5. The fatalities were: 2 each in Transport, postal & warehousing and Manufacturing; one each in Construction, and Agriculture, forestry & fishing. The total numbers of fatalities have been in the following sectors:
- 28 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 11 in Construction
- 8 in Manufacturing
- 7 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 5 in Arts & recreation services
- 3 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 2 in Mining
- 2 in Other Services
- 2 in Public administration & safety
- 1 in Wholesale trade
- 1 in Accommodation & food services
- 1 in Education & training
- 1 in Retail trade
- 1 in Administrative & support services
These figures are based mainly on initial media reports and provide a preliminary estimate of the number of people killed while working. Once the appropriate authority has investigated the death, more accurate information becomes available from which Safe Work Australia updates details of the incident, consequently sometimes the numbers of deaths in each sector change. Updated information is used to publish Safe Work Australia’s annual Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities report which includes finalised work-related fatalities from 2003 onwards. Note that the figures are based on preliminary reports, and so at times will change. To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.
It is interesting how decisions vary greatly depending on where a matter is heard. The following two recent prosecutions illustrate this. In the first, a company was convicted and fined for not providing fall protection, a SWMS and supervision to an apprentice. It was fortunate that the young worker did not fall before the situation was remedied.
In the second case, where a worker's hand was crushed and three of his fingers 'degloved' and could not work for months, the employer was not convicted but sentenced to an 'adjourned undertaking for a period of 12 months', and to pay $12,000 to the Court Fund.
Carpentry firm convicted and fined $10,000 for lack of fall protection
David Franklin Builders P/L was doing carpentry works at a residential construction site at Black Hill. A WorkSafe Inspector attending the workplace in October 2019 observed a third year apprentice standing on wall plates at the edge of the two story townhouse with no fall protection to prevent a fall. There was no supervision of the apprentice. The company did not have a SWMS for the work. The inspector issued a prohibition notice prohibiting all carpentry works associated with truss erection and box gutter construction. On 13 December 2019 the inspector re-attended the workplace: hand railing and scaffolding was in place, and a SWMS was produced.
In sentencing the offender, the Ballarat Magistrates Court acknowledged the offender’s good character, lack of priors and early plea of guilty. The company was convicted and fined $10,000, plus costs of $1,662.
Worker suffers serious damage to hand
Cyco Systems Corporation P/L manufactures parts for high performance automotive engines at a small factory at Mentone. On 18 July 2019 an incident occurred when an employee's hand made contact with the linishing belt of a lathe used in the assembly process. The incident resulted in the degloving of his small, ring and middle fingers, hyperextension of his index finger, as well as the removal of a nail. He underwent an operation and was unable to work for two to three months. The court found the company had failed to reduce or eliminate the risk of serious injury by providing adequate guarding.
Cyco Systems pleaded guilty and was without conviction sentenced to an adjourned undertaking for a period of 12 months, and to pay $12,000 to the Court Fund with costs of $1,891.
To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
UK: Spate of deaths prompts HSE farm safety alert
More must be done to improve farm safety after four fatalities on farms in just over a fortnight, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned. The tragedies, between 27 July and 10 August, came in the wake of HSE’s latest statistics on fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain. These showed the number of deaths in the sector almost doubled year-on-year, up from 23 in 2019/20 to 41 in 2020/21. Agriculture has a fatality rate of about 20 times higher than the average five-year annual rate across all industries, HSE noted.
HSE’s acting head of agriculture Adrian Hodkinson said: “While we must respect the ongoing investigations following these tragic incidents, most injuries or deaths that we’ve historically seen on farms have been both predictable and preventable.” He added: “The fatality rate within the sector is high, but there are simple measures workers can take to reduce risk including making sure to switch off the power to vehicles or machinery before attempting to carry out repairs, keeping people away from moving vehicles; and ensuring dairy bulls, and cows with calves are not in fields with public footpaths. We are urging people who work on farms to make safety a priority and help us to reduce the number of deaths and injuries in the industry.”
Read more: HSE news release. Fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain 2020/21, 19 July 2021.
USA: Amazon loses bid to stop NY safety probe
A US federal judge has dismissed Amazon.com Inc's attempt to block New York’s attorney general from investigating the online retailer's ability to protect warehouse workers from Covid-19. In a 10 August ruling, US District Judge Brian Cogan rejected Amazon's lawsuit claiming attorney general Letitia James acted in bad faith by trying to police its pandemic response, and stop its alleged retaliation against workers who were unhappy the company wasn't doing more.
“The state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that employers are complying with state labour laws, are enforcing important health safety measures, and are sanctioned for illegal conduct that occurs within the state,” Cogan wrote. Amazon had argued that federal health and labour laws pre-empted the attorney general’s oversight. Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company was “disappointed” with the procedural ruling.
The NY attorney general sued Amazon in February over its treatment of thousands of workers at a Staten Island fulfilment centre and a Queens distribution centre. James accused Amazon of prioritising profits over safety, and improperly disciplining two employees who complained about working conditions, one of whom was fired. The attorney general is seeking a court-appointed safety monitor for Amazon. Read more: Seattle Times. Commercial Observer. Reuters. Source: Risks 1010
HSR Initial & Refresher training
With the lockdown still underway in Victoria, the VTHC training courses are still being delivered online. If you've enrolled in a course and are not sure what's happening, then please contact Natalie Wood at [email protected] at the VTHC 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 to, 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):
- 9 September – Gendered Violence & Sexual harassment: Education (Abbotsford)
- 21 September – HSR Refresher Training (Geelong)
- 29 September - HSR Refresher Training (Carlton)
- 26 October - HSR Refresher Training (Carlton)
Read more about the Work-related gendered violence course here: Knowledge is power in fight against gendered violence.
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.