This is the September 1/2 edition of SafetyNet.
It is with great sadness that we report that a Victorian worker was killed in the past week. In other bad news, the numbers of locally acquired infections in the NSW and Victorian COVID outbreaks continue to climb. However, it is Spring time, and it's sunny in Melbourne so that should help lift our spirits - especially as warm weather should mean a reduction of infections.
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]
Fatality in Victoria
On Saturday, on a property at Jindivick, a farmer was killed when his quad bike overturned. The 80-year-old farmer was found unresponsive under the quad bike, which did not have rollover protection fitted. It is believed he was spraying a paddock at the time of the incident. WorkSafe is investigating.
This is particularly tragic as the Victorian government has on a number of occasions offered subsidies to farmers to fit rollover protection to their vehicles. The VTHC sends its sincerest condolences to the man's family.
The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 34 for 2021.
Victoria: Over the past week we have seen new community infections in Victoria increase with the numbers being too high for the government to end the lockdown on September 2 as had originally been planned. The number of new infections reported on Wednesday September 1 was 120 - a worrying increase from the 76 reported on Tuesday. Unfortunately, Victoria recorded its first deaths since October last year: two deaths related to COVID were reported on the evening of August 31. There have now been 822 COVID-related deaths in Victoria.
The number of active cases in Victoria on September 1: 900 (52 in hospital, 16 in ICU - 15 on ventilators). Of the 16 in ICU, none had been vaccinated - this underlines why it is crucial to get vaccinated as soon as possible. By this week more than 1000 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.
In news from around Australia:
NSW: the state has continued to have the highest numbers of new community infections since coronavirus first arrived in Australia. Over the past week, the numbers have been over 1000 daily. There were 1,116 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 24 more COVID-related deaths in NSW the past week, including the first death of an indigenous person - of huge concern because the indigenous population, despite having been identified as a priority group, still has a very low percentage of vaccination. There have now been 100 deaths related to the current outbreak, and 22,308 locally acquired cases reported since July 16 (14,673 last week). There were 917 COVID-19 cases in hospital, with 150 people in intensive care, 66 of whom require ventilation. This is putting a huge amount of pressure on the State's hospitals and health care workers.
- ACT: the territory's lockdown, initially to September 2, was this week extended to September 17. On Wednesday there were 23 new cases, bringing the active cases to 265.
As at September 1, Australia has had a total of 55,111 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (46,726 last week). We also reached a terrible milestone: there have been over 1000 deaths - 1012 (but not all states had reported yet).
Worldwide: as at September 1, there had been 218,540,994 infections (last week it was 213,948,124). 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 4,533,609. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus
According to the ABC Vaccine tracker 35.03 per cent of Australians are now vaccinated (58.71 per cent have received one dose). This is a great improvement - we are slowly creeping up the OECD ranking: but according to The Guardian, we have dropped back to 35/38, so there is still a long way to go. According to the paper, Australia's system has some glitches (Australia’s vaccine certificate system can’t recognise people with mixed Covid jabs as fully vaccinated)
It is increasingly important that everyone who is eliglible be vaccinated as soon as possible. And remember: if you know anyone who is hesitant, check out the VTHC's new 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
Vaccinations and the airline industry
Earlier this month, Qantas said it would mandate cabin crew, pilots and airport ground workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID from 15 November 2021, while the remaining workforce will have until 31 March 2022 to get the jab.
The Transport Workers Union criticised the company, saying Qantas failed to consult with its workers before making the move. The union said employees are still concerned about the difficulties in accessing a jab or losing pay as a result of taking time off.
This week Virgin Australia announced that it is planning to make vaccines mandatory for its customer-facing staff also by 15 November and office-based employees by 31 March, 2021. Unlike Qantas, however, Virgin said that it would first consult with unions before deciding a final policy. In welcoming this, the TWU said of Qantas that its similar announcement “jumped the gun” by not speaking to or consulting with staff first.
My son, aged 22, works in automotive retail. Last week, without consultation, a manager took the stools away from the bench which is also the employees' workstation. The reasons he gave were because they were 'lazy' and they had 'young legs' and should be able to stand while at work.
Yes, they do stand sometimes, however they are also reaching above their heads for parts and attending customers when they enter the shop. They have fatigue mats, but now their legs are hurting and they are experiencing lower back pain because they are standing all day. When they reported this, management said they were young and should be OK! Is this right?
Well, you've picked up a few issues with what the manager has done - and certainly I agree that the action was not warranted and needs to be challenged:
- Standing all day, or for long periods, puts all workers at risk, irrespective of their age. It also leads to fatigue. See: Working standing up
- The manager is engaging in discriminatory behaviour, which is totally without basis. That is, that "it's OK for young people to stand all day because they have young legs". This is a ridiculous statement/assumption!
- There is a legal duty under the OHS Act to consult with affected employees and their representatives (if they have any), when proposing changes to the workplace or the system of work - which this clearly was. Note, the consultation must happen before the changes are made. By just arbitrarily making this change, the employer is in breach of the OHS Act. See: Duty to Consult
- Does your son have an elected HSR? If so, then the HSR needs to take this issue up immediately with the employer (this may or may not be the manager). The HSR has rights and powers to make the employer address this issue.
- Is your son in a union? If he is not, then he needs to join one, as the union helps its members. OHS is an area where unions provide advice on issues, guide workers through the process of electing a rep, and provide training to ensure they are supported with any future OHS issues.
- In the meantime, your son can take the issue up directly with the employer/manager under s73 of the Act. Under this section, if there's no elected HSR, then a worker can take an issue up with the employer. The employee cannot issue a PIN, but s/he can take the matter up directly with WorkSafe, the regulator, and an inspector can be sent out... See: Resolution of issues
- The other thing he can do is contact WorkSafe directly and seek advice and assistance there.
- Finally - if your son, or any of the other workers, finds that their pain increases, they need to consult their own doctor, and if necessary lodge workers' compensation claim.
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?
If so, then you probably know first hand the many problems with Australia’s migration system. The Migrant Workers Centre research survey to assist in its campaign for more pathways to permanent residency and a fairer visa system is still open. It is collecting responses from anyone who has ever stayed on a visa in Australia.
Responses will inform the MWC policy recommendations and most importantly, help drive its campaign for pathways to permanency. Not only this, but many of those who have already filled in the survey ended up getting real assistance from the Migrant Workers Centre to get their particular issues resolved. Responses will be confidential. Take the survey now
Senate inquiry vindicates TWU criticism of federal government
A Senate inquiry has found that regulatory strategies aimed at curbing drug use, speeding and driving while fatigued in the heavy vehicle sector are doing little to address the systemic causes of this behaviour, highlighting the urgent need for an independent body empowered to eliminate unsafe economic practices.
Such a body had been established by the Gillard Labor government - the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) - but it no longer exists. In July this year, the Transport Workers’ Union blamed Federal Government inaction for the deaths of 200 truck drivers in five years and warned that death rates would increase as deadly pressures would be exacerbated by extreme demand during the pandemic. In April 2016, the LNP Government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, less than two weeks after its first ever minimum pay order, and despite its own report concluding that truck crashes would be reduced by 28 per cent. In its press release, the union said "the abolition of the tribunal brought down investigations into safety in deadly sectors such as the transportation of oil, fuel and gas and tore up regulation guaranteeing owner drivers payment within 30 days of completing a job."
The Senate inquiry backs much of this up: it found the heavy vehicle industry is one of the most dangerous sectors in Australia, causing about 180 deaths per year and recording an "increasing number of hospitalisations".
Compounding many safety issues are working conditions – long hours, sedentary practices, poor nutrition, social isolation, shift work and time pressures – which "mean road transport drivers are more likely to experience chronically poor physical and mental health", it found. These factors were confirmed by a major study by Monash University which 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.
"Scrutiny of the road transport sector is largely focused upon the risk-taking behaviour of drivers... [but] there are insufficient efforts to address the underlying systemic causes for such behaviour," the report says. "The underlying economic and contracting pressures are the leading causes of this safety crisis. These pressures are often caused by the major clients of the transport supply chain who set rates of pay, and the terms and conditions through tendering cycles. This behaviour has resulted in a 'race to the bottom' on prices."
The report concludes that the April 2016 abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) "resulted in little or no regulatory protection for all commercial operators against low and incentive-based rates, which create a structural environment for unsafe work practices". Among its 10 recommendations is that the Government "establishes or empowers an independent body that will, in consultation with industry, set universal and binding standards (including binding standards with respect to pay) which ensure the safe performance of work and eliminate unsafe economic and contracting practices".
Read more: TWU press releases: 200 truck drivers killed since Road Safety Tribunal abolished and Monash study reveals shocking health problems; Senate Inquiry and final report. Source: OHSAlert
Amazon: 'No way to live'
SafetyNet subscribers may remember articles on the terrible treatment of Amazon workers and delivery drivers around the world, and the company's efforts to avoid scrutiny (see: SafetyNet editions 254, 566, 571, and 590). This week an ABC investigation revealed what life is like for these drivers in Australia, including one who depends on getting work from the international behemoth to survive.
Melbourne driver Alex Ayliff delivers parcels for Amazon Flex: he uses his own car, pays for his own petrol, insurance, car maintenance and parking costs. Drivers must also pay their own superannuation and workers compensation insurance. And he is worried Amazon will cut him off from the Flex app. He earns $108 to deliver between 30 and 40 packages in a four-hour block (although apparently the company pays a higher rate on weekends and public holidays).
Yet Amazon is now the world's richest retailer earning $1.1 billion in Australia last year. Profits helped fund its founder Jeff Bezos’s history-making trip into space last month. With no apparent sense of irony, Bezos told a news conference after stepping off the spacecraft developed by his company, Blue Origin: “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this.”
Of course, there are safety concerns - like cars packed too tightly, not being able to see clearly, and very tight timeframes. “This is the kind of work we saw in the 19th century, before the development of minimum standards under employment protection regimes,” Michael Rawling, a senior lecturer in employment law at the University of Technology Sydney told the ABC. “This is a David and Goliath battle between vulnerable workers and large, multinational tech companies breaking into the Australian market and making conditions worse.” Read more: 'No way to live' ABC investigations
NSW: man fined for dumping asbestos
A man has been fined $270,000 after the NSW Environmental Protection Authority uncovered building and asbestos waste buried at a rental property in Sydney’s southwest — alongside 1500 tyres, car parts and 240 vehicles.
Fouad Arja, was convicted and fined over the offences following prosecution by the NSWEPA. The convictions come after a complex investigation conducted by the EPA which relied upon covert surveillance footage obtained from drones and CCTV, as well as a search warrant conducted with NSW Police. Read more: The Daily Telegraph
International union news
SE Asia: Open letter to keep workers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka safe
Garment workers' lives are put at risk by exempting workers from lockdown measures and making them work at full capacity in garment factories to meet orders of brands headquartered in countries with high vaccination rates. Currently this is happening in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh during the wave of the delta variant. Over 50 organisations from around the world have written an open letter urging brands, governments, and employers to take immediate action.
The current wave of COVID-19 and the spread of the Delta variant in South Asia is leading to a surge of severe illness and death in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In August, Bangladesh saw a 20 per cent positive rate and its largest single day death toll to date, while Sri Lanka faced doubling infection and death rates.
As both countries are key exporters of garments, workers in the apparel industry, who have little access to medical infrastructure or vaccines, have been especially hard hit with little support if they fall ill. For economic reasons, the governments of both countries excluded garment workers from lockdown measures by categorizing them as essential workers; therefore, they must report to work in crowded factories where the virus can easily spread. Read more: Clean Clothes Campaign
UK: England reopening came at a cost
A month after England dropped most of its coronavirus restrictions, experts have confirmed fears about a high human cost. The government went ahead with the changes despite thousands of scientists warning it was a “dangerous and unethical experiment.” In an open letter published in the July 7 Lancet medical journal, they argued that a rising number of COVID-19 cases, the new Delta variant and the fact that a large part of the UK population was not yet fully vaccinated made the move too risky. Since then it has becoming clear that while vaccination has had a big impact, the pandemic is continuing to claim lives.
“The UK is averaging around 90 deaths a day from COVID. Our reopening has been far from an unqualified success,” said Kit Yates, co-director of the Centre for Mathematical Biology at the University of Bath. “If there was one lesson I wish other countries would take from watching the UK's attempt to reopen is that vaccines are not the whole solution to the problem,” Yates told CNN. “Yes, they make a huge difference, but if you want to keep on top of this disease then you need to back vaccines up with other tried and tested public health measures: Mask mandates in indoor public spaces, ventilation in schools and work places, a functioning, locally-driven test, trace and isolate system in combination with support for isolation.” With children unvaccinated and about to return to school, “we should expect to see further rises in transmission when this happens, which will inevitably lead to more cases, more hospitalisations and tragically more deaths,” Yates said.
Read more: CNN News. Deepti Gurdasani, John Drury, Trisha Greenhalgh 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. Source: Risks 1011
Study confirms mitigation is necessary in schools
A study has confirmed that wide-ranging mitigation measures are necessary to prevent COVID-19 transmission in schools. The research, led by scientists from Swiss government agencies and CERN (the European Council for Nuclear Research), was published online on 20 August.
It found: “The most effective single intervention was natural ventilation through the full opening of six windows all day during the winter (14-fold decrease in cumulative dose), followed by the universal use of surgical face masks (8-fold decrease). In the spring/summer, natural ventilation was only effective (≥ 2-fold decrease) when windows were fully open all day.”
A combination of multiple mitigating measures led to a greatly increased reduction in risk. “Combined interventions (ie. natural ventilation, masks, and HEPA filtration) were the most effective (≥ 30-fold decrease). Combined interventions remained highly effective in the presence of a super-spreader,” the paper found.
The authors concluded: “Natural ventilation, face masks, and HEPA filtration are effective interventions to reduce SARS-CoV-2 aerosol transmission. These measures should be combined and complemented by additional interventions (eg. physical distancing, hygiene, testing, contact tracing, and vaccination) to maximise benefit.”
Read more: Jennifer Villers et al. SARS-CoV-2 aerosol transmission in schools: the effectiveness of different interventions, [Abstract and Full article (pdf)] medRxiv 2021.08.17.21262169; published online 29 August 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.08.17.21262169. Source: Risks 1011
Healthy lifestyle interventions for workers during COVID-19
COVID-19 continues to have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of workers. The reinstatement of lockdowns and associated restrictions contribute to increased sedentary behaviours, decreased physical activity and often poor dietary choices, such as snacking and higher consumption of alcohol.
A research trial conducted by Spanish researchers among university employees aimed to turn this trend around by conducting three supervised interventions over 18 weeks:
- Education on healthy habits
- Mediterranean diet for nutrition
- Telematic (supervised in real-time) aerobic and strength exercises.
Participants were surveyed six months after completing the interventions and the results showed employees adhered to a healthier lifestyle. Sitting time was reduced by 2.5 hours per day, physical activity levels increased, and health-related quality of life improved by more than four points, which is of clinical significance.
These positive results suggest employers could consider healthy lifestyle programs and services for workers during COVID-19 and beyond, especially those workers that continue working from home as part of ongoing flexible working arrangements.
Read more: Guillermo García Pérez de Sevilla, et al: Adherence to a Lifestyle Exercise and Nutrition Intervention in University Employees during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Randomized Controlled Trial [Full article] Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul; 18(14): 7510. Published online 2021 Jul 14. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18147510
Is working in later life good for your health?
Work, rather than unemployment, is recognised as being good for health, but there may be an age when the negatives outweigh the benefits. As countries around the world increase their typical retirement age, the potential effect on population health and health inequalities needs to be examined.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield carried out a systematic review of literature published since 2011 from developed countries on the health effects of employment in those over 64 years of age.
The seventeen relevant studies they identified found evidence of beneficial or neutral effects from extended working on overall health status and physical health for many employees, and mixed effects on mental health. The benefits reported however, were most likely to be for males, those working part-time or reducing to part-time, and employees in jobs which are not low quality or low reward.
They concluded that extending working life (particularly part time) may have benefits or a neutral effect for some, but adverse effects for others in high demand or low reward jobs. However, there is the real potential for health inequalities between those who can choose to reduce their working hours, and those who need to continue working full time for financial reasons to be widened. Further, they found a lack of evidence for effects on quality of life, and or on interventions to enable older workers to extend their healthy working life.
Read more: Susan Baxter, et al. Is working in later life good for your health? A systematic review of health outcomes resulting from extended working lives [Full article] BMC Public Health 21, 1356 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11423-2
Labour Hire Authority removes drug trafficker from labour hire industry
The Victorian Labour Hire Authority (LHA) has refused a labour hire licence application by Amatak Labour Services Pty Ltd. The LHA reviewed the application and found that the company's sole director, Nico Keat, had been found guilty of 12 offences relating to drug trafficking, theft, failure to answer bail, and suspected proceeds of crime and stolen goods, and was therefore not a fit and proper person to participate in operating a labour hire business. The Springvale South-based provider was supplying workers to industries including horticulture and was known to provide labour hire services in the Yarra Valley region.
To maintain a labour hire licence all relevant people to the licence, such as company directors, must pass the fit and proper person test prescribed by the Labour Hire Licensing Act 2018, which includes not being found guilty of certain offences and breaches.
The decision followed eight other recent licence refusals for a range of reasons, including past breaches of OHS laws and awards and conditions.
Labour Hire Licensing Commissioner Steve Dargavel said, "Drug traffickers have no place running labour-hire businesses. "The job of the Labour Hire Authority is to make sure that Victorians can have trust and confidence in those who are responsible for the wages and safety of some of the most vulnerable workers in our community."
The mistreatment of labour-hire workers or unlicensed labour-hire activities can be reported to the LHA on its website or by phoning 1300 545 200.
WA: resources and start date for WHS transition
The West Australian Government has confirmed that its version of the national model WHS Act will probably commence in January 2022 – pending the completion of three sets of underpinning regulations – in releasing resources to help duty holders prepare for the change.
The materials outline the main responsibilities under the new laws, the new consultation and worker representation provisions, and key changes to the enforcement regime.
The State Work Health and Safety Act 2020 passed Parliament late last year, implementing much of the model WHS Act and provisions recommended by national reviews. These additional provisions include those creating the offence of industrial manslaughter and prohibiting insurance against safety penalties. The resources include a message from the Hon Stephen Dawson, Minister for Industrial Relations (video and transcript). Source: OHSAlert
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics on fatalities since August 19, at which time it had been notified that 73 Australian workers had been killed at work this year. 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.
Pipecon pleads guilty to one charge over trench collapse which killed two
In breaking news this week, civil construction company Pipecon pleaded guilty in the Victorian County Court on Monday to one count of breaching the OHS Act in a case over the deaths of two young Ballarat workers after a trench collapse. WorkSafe charged the company in 2019 with two offences over the deaths: failing to provide a safe workplace and failing to provide supervision to ensure a safe workplace.
The company directed Jack Brownlee, 21, and Charlie Howkins, 34, to carry out high-risk excavation work during construction on the Winterfield housing estate at Delacombe on Ballarat's outskirts in March 2018.
Mr Howkins died at the scene after the trench they were working in collapsed. Mr Brownlee was trapped for three hours and died the following day in hospital from his injuries.
The ABC reports that the court heard none of the required safety measures were in place when the men were directed to enter the manhole. The company initially pleaded not guilty, indicating it would argue there were adequate supervision and systems of work in place. The matter has been subject to repeated court delays and a planned County Court trial was adjourned again earlier this month. However, this was resolved on Monday after a representative from the company pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to provide supervision to ensure a safe workplace. Prosecutors withdrew the other charge.
Ballarat Trades and Labour Council secretary Brett Edgington worked closely with the families to advocate for industrial manslaughter laws, which were introduced in Victoria in the wake of the deaths. He said, "For the families, just hearing Pipecon get up and admit guilt I think was a very profound moment."
Mr Edgington said it was unfortunate the families who had campaigned for stronger workplace laws had to live with the existing legal process. "We've just seen how awful that system is for everybody involved — the fact that it's taken three years, the fact that we've got into a sort of bargaining position on the charges," he added. Source: ABC news online
WorkSafe prosecutes two employers for silica breaches
Over the past couple of years, the effects of exposure to silica dust have been widely publicised due to an increase in young workers being diagnosed with the incurable disease silicosis. This increase has been mainly to do with the popularity of engineered stone in the homes of Australia, which contains extremely high levels of silica, particularly in comparison to 'natural' stone such as marble or granite.
There has been a lot of activity:
- successful public campaigns by unions and union councils to reduce the exposure standard in Australia (see: Silica);
- media scrutiny on programs such as 7.30; The Project; and printed media;
- the introduction of interim regulations banning the use of power tools;
- blitzes by OHS/WHS regulators, including health monitoring of workers in the industry.
Last week, WorkSafe Victoria laid charges against two companies for breaching their duties under the OHS Act and regulations and putting workers at risk.
1 - Stonemasonry business charged over silica exposure
WorkSafe has charged stonemasonry business Hilton Stone Pty Ltd with failing to control risks associated with exposure to crystalline silica. The company faces a total of six charges under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.
The company is accused of failing to provide or maintain a safe system of work by failing to provide proper controls for power tools used to cut, grind or polish engineered stone; and by failing to reduce the risk to employees from machinery, by having an appropriate guard in place.
WorkSafe further alleges Hilton Stone failed to provide employees with appropriate personal protective equipment; failed to put in place health monitoring of employees; and failed to comply with an improvement notice.
The charges follow inspections at the company's Dandenong site between March 2020 and March 2021 as part of WorkSafe's targeted enforcement blitz on crystalline silica risks. The matter was listed for a filing hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 26 August.
2 - Quarry operator charged over silica exposure
Boral Resources (Vic) Pty Ltd, operating a quarry at Montrose, has been charged with six contraventions of the OHS Act after workers were exposed to respirable crystalline silica. The company has been charged with:
- failing to provide and maintain systems of work that were, so far as was reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;
- failing to supervise workers to enable them to perform their work in a way that was safe and without risks to health;
- failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it were safe and without risk to health.
The charges follow a WorkSafe investigation into work practices at the quarry between January 2016 and November 2019.
WorkSafe alleges the company failed to implement control measures, including the use of respiratory protective equipment, to reduce the risk of workers being exposed to dust generated during blasting, crushing, mixing, screening and transferring quarried rock.
It is further alleged the company failed to control the risk despite obtaining air monitoring results which indicated the dust contained respirable crystalline silica in excess of the Workplace Exposure Standards for airborne contaminants that could cause serious injury or death to workers at the quarry.
Source: WorkSafe media releases
To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
NT: reckless conduct charges laid against PCBU, manager
A PCBU faces a maximum, record-shattering WHS penalty of up to $35 million, while its chief operating officer could be jailed for five years, after they were charged with a total of 14 reckless conduct breaches relating to a fatality.
This week NT WorkSafe laid a total of 24 safety charges, across three severity categories, against the operator of the Bootu Creek Mine in the Northern Territory, and 14 against the mine's chief operating officer, Trevor Cook. The matters are listed for the Darwin Local Court on 12 October.
If found guilty of all charges, the operator, OM (Manganese) Ltd, faces a combined maximum penalty of $35 million, while its CEO could be fined up to $2.1 million and jailed for up to five years.
Australia's current record-high workplace health and safety fine of $3.6 million was imposed on the operator of the Dreamworld theme park in Queensland in relation to the deaths of four patrons on a ride.
The case involves the death of a 59-year-old mine superintendent at the Bootu site in August 2019. WorkSafe said the man entered the mine's open cut "Tourag" pit after four workers who had entered the area reported seeing sediment slipping from the wall earlier that day. As he was inspecting the pit wall, a section of it gave way and buried him, causing fatal injuries. Potentially the nine workers who had entered the pit that day could have been killed or injured.
Comcare: Defence fined $1 million over live-fire fatality
The Department of Defence and has been convicted and fined $1 million, the largest recorded for the Commonwealth WHS jurisdiction, under federal work health and safety laws over the death of a soldier during a training exercise in the Northern Territory.
Following an investigation by Comcare, Defence pleaded guilty in the NT Local Court to a single criminal charge under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011. The charge relates to a live-fire exercise at the Mount Bundey Training Area, south-east of Darwin, on 10 May 2017, where a 25-year-old suffered a fatal gunshot wound.
Defence pleaded guilty to the charge in May 2021, admitting it failed to provide a safe system of work for the exercise. This included not providing adequate risk assessments, training and briefings, and failing to mark dangerous spaces at the training site where participants could be exposed to live fire.
Comcare’s General Manager of Regulatory Operations Justin Napier said the risks associated with the training exercise were substantial and foreseeable. “Defence had a range of measures available that would have minimised or eliminated the obvious risks associated with an inherently dangerous activity,” Mr Napier said.
Defence was convicted of a Category 2 offence under section 32 of the WHS Act – exposing a person to risk of death or serious injury. The maximum penalty was $1.5 million.
Read more: Comcare media release
France: One in 10 suicides is work-related
One in 10 suicides in adults in France is related to work, according to a new government study. The report from the French ministry of health, Santé publique France, also provides a definition of ‘work-related suicide’ for the purposes of identifying cases for further investigation by workplace health and safety inspectors. Any of five criteria is used to identify a potential work-related suicide that is automatically subject to investigation:
- A suicide in the workplace;
- a suicide note blaming work;
- a victim in work uniform;
- testimonies of bereaved pointing to work-related factors; and
- known difficulties at work prior to the suicide.
Information on 1,135 suicides was collected by eight participating coroners' offices (Instituts médico-légaux) between 1 January and 31 December 2018. The newly published findings reveal 10 per cent of all suicides examined were potentially work-related according to the five defining criteria. Of those whose employment status was known, 28.3 per cent were employed at the time of death. Of these, work appeared to have played a role in 42 per cent of suicides.
Source: Risks 1011.
Tuesday 14 September: Central Safety Group
Topic: New research on manual handling injuries
Work-based musculoskeletal injuries remain a major issue, but research is telling us more about how and why these injuries occur, along with better prevention and management strategies.
Professor David Caple AM has recently been involved in a range of projects related to manual handling injury prevention in hospitals. These injuries account for around 70 per cent of WorkCover claims in hospitals for both clinical and non-clinical staff.
When: 12:00-1:00pm, Tuesday, 14 September, 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 2020: $75]
*If unsure of your membership status, contact: [email protected] Book online now by COB Monday 13 September
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 before the course.