Welcome to the October 6 edition of SafetyNet - from locked down Melbourne, now with the dubious honour of being the most locked down city in the world!
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]
Want to share your experience of COVID Safety in the workplace?
Now is your chance! The COVID-Safe team at the VTHC OHS Unit is running a short survey on Covid-safety measures in your workplace. By participating in the survey, you’re doing your part to help make Victorian workplaces COVID-Safe, and you’ll be entered into a prize draw. We encourage as many of you as possible to fill out the survey here.
Do you have a specific question about Covid-Safety in your workplace? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with your union, or submit an inquiry through the Covid-Safe Workplaces website.
COVIDSafe training sessions coming up
Have you missed out on the VTHC's COVIDSafe training sessions?
Due to high demand, we have added an additional six COVIDSafe training courses to run over the coming months. The sessions will run on the dates and times below and are capped at 40 participants per course due to their interactive workshop nature.
October 14th 1:30pm to 4pm
October 18th 1pm to 3:30pm
November 8th 1pm to 3:30pm
November 15th 1pm to 3:30pm
December 6th 1pm to 3:30pm
- December 8th 1pm to 3:30pm
These sessions are geared towards Victorian HSRs and are highly popular so we encourage you to RSVP as quickly as you can to ensure that you have a space. Register by clicking on the date you'd like to attend.
VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference - Thursday October 28
Calling all HSRs and Deputy HSRs: if you haven't yet registered for Health and Safety Month's biggest and best event - the VTHC's annual HSR Conference - please register online now! This year the theme is: HSR Super Sleuths: Exercising Your Powers To Uncover Hidden Hazards And Risks. OF course, due to the ongoing lockdown, the event will once again be an online event.
The conference will be a great opportunity for HSRs to learn lots and after hearing from a few very knowledgeable speakers, actively participate in smaller workshops and hone their skills. We will also look at how to use the new HSR powers under the OHS Act.
The conference has WorkSafe approval as a training course under s69 of the OHS Act, meaning that as long as HSRs give their employer at least 14 days' notice, the employer must release them on paid leave to participate. While the employer has no legal obligation to release deputies on paid leave, ask anyway - you are welcome to attend, and many employers are happy to do so. Register here - from this page you can download the Approval letter from WorkSafe Victoria, and a Notice of attendance letter you can give/email to your employer.
When: Thursday October 28, 8.30am - 2.30pm
Open for all Victorian HSRs and Deputy HSRs
Register here, now! (and then let your employer know!)
If you haven't had a chance yet, check out this fabulous ABC feature on the Delta variant. It's very informative and easy to understand. It goes a long way to explaining why we haven't had as much success controlling the outbreak this time, even with the strict lockdown.
The number of new infections has been over 1000 per day for about a week now, with yesterday's numbers, 1763 being the highest number of new infections in one day since the pandemic first hit Australia in 2020. Today's number is 1402. While this seems to be bad news, there is some good news: although the number of new cases has been high, the number of people hospitalised, in ICU and on ventilators has not increased to the same extent as the numbers. This is because as the vaccination rates are increasing, fewer people are getting very ill. The rate of infections and the rate of hospitalisations has 'de-coupled'.
The number of active cases in Victoria is now 14,410 - compared to last week at this time, when it was 9,890. There have now been 888 COVID-related deaths in Victoria - another 32 in the past week.
Of the active cases, 525 are in hospital, 94 in ICU - 53 on ventilators. Our vaccination rates: as of October 5, 53.57 per cent of us are fully vaccinated, and 82.94 per cent partially vaccinated (48.22 per cent and 76.89 per cent last week).
Remember to check exposure sites, even though DHHS is now not listing them all. This means it's crucial to check in with the QR codes wherever you go, so that if there's an exposure at any place you have visited, you will receive text messages. Go to this Victorian government page to check the sites.
With Victoria's vaccination rate now over 80 per cent first dose, it is expected that next week there will be some announcements regarding a further easing of restrictions, in line with the Roadmap.
In news from around Australia:
NSW: The cases in the state have continued to decrease steadily, as expected, due to the high percentage of people now vaccinated. Today 594 local cases were reported, with unfortunately 10 further deaths. There have now been a total of 395 deaths since the beginning of this outbreak - 54 in the past week.
- ACT: today there were 28 new cases were reported, and one death. There are currently 395 active cases.
As at October 6, Australia has had a total of 117,826 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (100,919 last week). There have been 1,379 COVID-19 related deaths - 123 more than last week.
Worldwide: as at October 6, there had been 236,590,937 infections (233,513,553 last week) and 4,831,569 COVID-related deaths. (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 as of October 5, 53.57 per cent of Victorians have been fully vaccinated (82.94 per cent have received one dose). Australia wide, the figures are 57.36 per cent and 79.94 per cent respectively. The third vaccine approved, Moderna, is now available.
Last week there was a terrific feature in the VTHC's Megaphone journal: Your Top Questions About Vaccines - Answered! It's informative, amusing and will help you in discussions with your family, friends and work colleagues.
Melbourne demonstrations - update
Ever decreasing numbers of anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination and some COVID deniers have continued to demonstrate in Melbourne. Unfortunately, the actions of these people have led to an increasing number of infections at the Melbourne office of the CFMMEU's construction and general division's Victorian branch, with family members of CFMEU workers now becoming infected.
Breaking news: new COVID treatment on the horizon
This week the federal government bought 300,000 courses of a potential treatment for COVID-19 before the drug has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Molnupiravir could halve the chance of a patient dying or being hospitalised, according to Merck, the US pharmaceutical giant manufacturing the drug. The promising early results have been welcomed, but some are cautioning they want to see more work done before the drug is made available locally.
Read more: Merck pill could cut COVID risk in half but won't be a 'miracle' cure for coronavirus, scientists say and Federal government buys 300,000 doses of Merck pill ABC news online
With the Victorian government now mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for all 'authorised workers', I am wondering whether my employer could be in breach of certain sections of the OHS Act - if I or other employees do not want to be vaccinated. The sections I'm wondering about are: S.21 S.22 S.23 S.32 S.34 S.35 S.37 S.53 S.73 S.76 S.78A
Your employer has an obligation under the OHS Act to provide you and all their employees with a working environment that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health. This means a lot of things when it comes to minimising the risks of infection with COVID-19. These things must be covered in the employer's COVIDSafe Plan, and include workplace hygiene, implementing physical distancing, mask wearing, QR check-in systems, and more.
In addition, all employers (in fact all Victorians) have a duty to comply with any public health orders that have been mandated by the state or federal governments.
As this requirement for COVID vaccinations is a public health direction, your employer must abide by it or be in breach of them, and seen as not providing a safe and healthy workplace.
As for the sections of the OHS Act you have provided, it is hard to give advice without more details of how you think your employer is breaching the Act. I should be able to give you further advice if you point out specifically which parts of those sections you believe your employer is breaching and why.
We have quite a bit of information on vaccines - here. And you may find this article, produced by another section in Trades Hall, interesting also. You should contact the union if you need more advice, or contact me again with more information.
Please remember if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
National: Asbestos Awareness Week
Every year in Australia, in the last week of November, activities are held to promote the awareness of asbestos - which is endemic in our built environment. This year the VTHC will be running a number of events, including a Live Show on Thursday November 25 at 7pm. Guests on the show will be Ms Simone Stevenson, the Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency and Mr Peter Clark, OHS Organiser with the CFMEU whose specialty is asbestos.
We will also be producing materials for all HSRs to use in their workplace, as well as a couple of interesting videos HSRs should find interesting.
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has developed a campaign pack with materials, posters and information for the week - check it out here.
Asbestos features in "Restoration Australia"
Recently, the ABC TV show “Restoration Australia” had an episode featuring a home that contained asbestos. The show handled this situation well, and in an educative fashion.
The episode, Episode 2 – Lyons, is available to watch free on ABC iview here.
International union news
October 7: World Day for Decent Work
With trade unions and workers’ rights supporters mobilising around the world on October 7, the World Day for Decent Work, the ITUC is calling for governments to adopt national jobs plans based on dialogue with unions and employers.
Every country needs to play its part to address the 575 million global jobs gap and to formalise at least half of informal jobs by 2030. Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “Full employment must come to centre stage in recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure future resilience. “Jobs with rights for all, including maximum working hours, living minimum wages and health and safety at work. Inclusive jobs – because women lost the majority of jobs to COVID-19. Climate-friendly jobs and jobs in care and infrastructure – because the recovery from the pandemic must deliver a sustainable future for the world.” Read more on the ITUC website.
UK: as petrol and food runs low, temp visas only prop up broken system
UK government plans to relax immigration rules for truck drivers and poultry processors are ‘propping up a broken and exploitative system’, the Unite union has warned. The union said depriving other countries of their workers will allow the low pay and unpleasant and stressful working conditions that are the root cause of the driver and chicken factory shortages to continue. Unite national officer for road transport, Adrian Jones, said: “By plundering workers from other nations, the government is propping up a broken and exploitative system. Kicking these issues into the long grass instead of taking decisive steps now will only create worse disruption down the line.” Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture, Bev Clarkson, said: “The poverty pay and insecure contracts on offer in poultry processing do not compensate for the physically draining and unpleasant work. That needs to change. What must not happen is the reestablishment of an employment system that relies on exploited migrant labour and pits workers against each other.” To protect workers and prevent a race to the bottom on working standards, Unite called on the government to ensure that safeguards are put in place to prevent foreign staff from being exploited in both industries. Read more: Unite news release. Government news releases on temporary poultry worker and HGV driver visas. Source: Risks 1016
Global: Make health and safety a fundamental right
New estimates suggesting the total work-related toll each year could be close to a ‘staggering’ 3 million deaths reinforce the need for occupational health and safety to be recognised as a fundamental right at work, IndustriALL has said.
The global union said that in November this year the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Governing Body will decide on whether to include on the agenda of its 2022 International Labour Conference the elevation of occupational health and safety to an ILO fundamental right. IndustriALL and other global unions are insisting that this needs to be done by amending the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, as this would be the easiest and fastest way to include occupational health and safety in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.
IndustriALL said the World Health Organisation (WHO) and ILO partial work deaths estimate of nearly 2 million each year – which does not include work deaths related to psychosocial factors, infections and even classic occupational diseases like silicosis - creeps ‘closer to 3 million’ when gaps in the analysis are filled. IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: “All the killings of workers are preventable – enough is enough. This carnage must come to an end. We reiterate our strong demand to the ILO to make occupational health and safety a fundamental right, along with freedom of association, collective bargaining and others.” Read more: IndustriALL news release. ITUC news release.
WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury, 2000-2016: Global Monitoring Report [pdf], WHO/ILO, September 2021. Source: Risks 1016
Do workplace naps increase alertness?
A recent study has found that while scheduled nap breaks for night shift workers can improve alertness and safety when they're most likely to be fatigued, it has mixed results for melatonin regulation.
From monitoring workers in simulated 12-hour night shifts, researchers from Japan's Hokkaido University, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and other institutions found those provided with a two-hour nap break showed enhanced alertness and vigilance later in the shift. They hypothesise that being in a dark nap room allows workers to recover from light-induced melatonin suppression.
This suppression, combined with chronic circadian misalignment, has been linked to health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, depression and cancer among shift workers.
However, they found the increased melatonin concentration in workers who took nap breaks "rapidly diminished" after they went back to work, and at the end of the simulated shifts, there was no significant difference in melatonin levels between workers who did and did not have a nap.
The findings show a nap break strategy can enhance workers' alertness during the late parts of night shifts and reduce fatigue-related safety risks, but is unlikely to mitigate melatonin suppression.
"The most effective way to prevent melatonin suppression during night work may therefore be to reduce the intensity of light and short-wavelength light as much as possible," they said, "However, bright and or blue-enriched lighting is desirable for providing night workers with good visibility and alertness."
Taking a nap during a night shift is widely believed to "relieve sleep pressure and recover alertness and performance losses", the researchers say, noting that most shift workers try to have afternoon or evening naps before night work to mitigate fatigue and reduced alertness, but it is often difficult to fall asleep at those times.
Read more: Sang-il Lee, et al Effects of 2-hour night time nap on melatonin concentration and alertness during 12-hour simulated night work, [Abstract] Industrial Health, published online September 2021, doi: 10.2486/indhealth.2020-0245. Source: OHSAlert
OHS Month: WorkSafe Victoria events
The state's OHS regulator has scheduled a number of free events in late October as part of Health and Safety Month. Remember the VTHC is also running our annual OHS Reps' Conference - the biggest event for HSRs, so if you can only attend one event, make it this one!
To check out WorkSafe's events - mainly online webinars, go to the Health and Safety Month webpage.
Comcare is holding several webinar, including: Managing psychosocial hazards and risks.
The management of psychosocial risks are an issue faced by organisations. This webinar will include practical, solutions-based content, from Comcare as the regulator and national authority.
This webinar will feature Comcare guest presenters:
- Tom Dawson, Director Regional Operations SA/NT
- Michael Dubravac, Senior Inspector Regional Operations VIC/TAS
- Justin Napier, General Manager Regulatory Operations Group, will MC this webinar.
The webinar will detail:
- Psychosocial hazards and risks - what are they and what are the impacts on workers
- The data, insights and challenges faced with managing these hazards and risks
- How to effectively manage psychosocial hazards and risks using guidance materials and tools available.
Comcare is also hosting two more webinars for National Safe Work Month. Those interested can register for them on the Comcare website.
National Fatality Statistics
Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities on September 30, at which time it had been notified that 89 Australian workers had been killed at work this year - five more since the last update on September 16. The total numbers of fatalities have been in the following sectors:
- 33 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 12 in Construction
- 10 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 9 in Manufacturing
- 6 in Mining
- 5 in Arts & recreation services
- 4 in Public administration & safety
- 3 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 2 in Other Services
- 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.
Ice-skating rink operator fined after carbon monoxide exposure
Kenneth Charles Jensen, the operator of the Winter Wonderland rink in Wodonga has been convicted and fined $50,000 (plus $3,752 costs) after patrons and visitors were exposed to unsafe levels of carbon monoxide. He was sentenced in the Wodonga Magistrates' Court last week on a charge of failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it were safe and without risks to health.
On 9 June 2019, the rink had to be cleared after some patrons and visitors developed headaches and became nauseous. Two children, including one who twice lost consciousness, required oxygen treatment at hospital.
A WorkSafe investigation found carbon monoxide emissions in the exhaust from an LPG powered ice resurfacing machine, that was regularly used to polish the rink, exceeded recommended levels. The machine was defective and had not been properly maintained or tuned to minimise the levels of carbon monoxide in the exhaust emissions.
There was also no monitoring of carbon monoxide levels being undertaken at the rink and tests found inadequate ventilation meant dangerous carbon monoxide levels inside spread through the building rather than dispersing. Source: WorkSafe media release
Construction company fined just $50k after worker crushed and killed
Civil construction company Multiworks Australia Pty Ltd has been fined just $50,000 following an incident in which a worker was killed when he was crushed while guiding machinery onto a truck in Mildura.
The company was sentenced in the Mildura County Court on 23 September after pleading guilty to a charge of failing, as far as was reasonably practicable, to provide a safe workplace.
On 24 October 2017, a truck driver suffered fatal chest injuries as he stood on the upper deck of the truck. A drum roller was being reversed onto the truck's lower deck, when it suddenly sped up and jumped onto the upper deck, crushing the worker.
A WorkSafe investigation found that the company had failed to prepare and implement a Safe Work Method Statement for high risk construction work that specifically addressed the loading and unloading of machinery.
The fine of $50,000 seems so inadequate, given a worker lost his life. Source: WorkSafe media release
Care facility fined after resident leaves site and falls
St Vincent's Care Services Ltd is the operator of an aged care facility in Werribee has been fined $25,000 after an 85 year old resident left the facility and was later found in a ditch on an empty block nearby (in September 2020 a construction company was fined over the same incident - see SN 550).
On the morning of 10 March 2018 the man exited the facility. CCTV footage of the car park in front of the reception area showed him walking along the footpath. Apart from the CCTV there was no physical record of him leaving. There was no follow up, by the operator or any of its employees, monitoring where the man was going or whether he had returned.
Later that morning the man's family arrived to visit him. He was not in his room and nowhere in the facility. The CCTV footage was checked - at about 11.00 am the man was found about 100-200 metres from the facility. The reason that he was not immediately seen in the searching of the car park was that he had fallen into an area that was being excavated by road builders. He was about 600mm below the general lie of the land and it was only the waving of a newspaper that caught a searcher’s attention. The resident was badly injured and was taken to hospital for treatment.
Hospital fined in bullying case
In a rare conviction on bullying, a Werribee hospital where a worker was subjected to 18 months of bullying by a senior staff member has been convicted and fined $60,000, plus $19,630 costs.
Wyndham Clinic was sentenced in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court last week after pleading guilty to one charge of failing to provide and maintain, as far as was reasonably practicable, systems of work that were safe and without risks to health.
From September 2014 until she resigned in March 2016, the worker was bullied by Wyndham Clinic's Chief Executive Officer Peter Bailey. The behaviour included verbal abuse such as yelling and swearing, telling the worker to look for another job and that other people in the office did not like her.
A WorkSafe investigation found that Wyndham Clinic had neither policies and procedures to specifically address bullying, nor did it have a system in place to report bullying behaviour. The court heard the bullying and the clinic's failure to address it left the worker feeling hurt, humiliated, fearful and worthless.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Andrew Keen said bullying behaviour could have lasting impacts on workers and entire workplaces. "Workplace bullying can devastate individuals and their families and put whole workplaces under stress," Mr Keen said. "All workers deserve to go to work without fear of being bullied or harassed and all employers have a clear responsibility to protect workers from risks to their physical and mental health, including from this sort of abhorrent behaviour."
Read more: WorkSafe media release; Bullying
To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Tuesday 12 October: Central Safety Group
Topic: The current job scene for OHS - what's different now?
The news is that at the moment there are more roles on offer than candidates, according to Helen O’Keefe, who runs HOK Talent Solutions, a leading national health & safety executive search agency. This will be the subject of her zoom presentation for CSG at midday on Tuesday 12 October.
Helen will discuss the reasons for the current shortage of applicants happening across the board in a range of industries, as well as in different levels and roles in the OHS field. She will be offering advice to recruiters, current job seekers and people trying to decide whether to move in the current job climate.
When: 12:00-1:00pm, Tuesday, 12 October, 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 by COB Monday 11 October
VTHC Training for HSRs and Deputy HSRs
With Metropolitan Melbourne still in lockdown, the VTHC training courses continue to be delivered online (the only exception may be regional courses). 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.
Five day Initial Training Courses
It's extremely important for HSRs to complete the five day initial course - this ensures they have the best training to be able to understand their rights under the Act and represent the members of their DWGs. Here are the dates and locations of the courses:
- 11 - 15 October - Carlton
- October 20,21,22 & November 4,5 - Frankston
- 8 - 12 November - Ringwood
- 15 - 19 November - Werribee
- 29 November - 3 December - Carlton
- 13 - 17 December - Carlton
HSR Initial & Refresher training
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.
Upcoming 2021 dates for Refresher training and locations:
- 26 October - Carlton
- 26 October - Carlton
- 28 October - Frankston
- 15 November - Education focus: AEU, Abbotsford
- 26 November - Carlton
- 29 November - Bendigo
- 16 December - Carlton
Go to this link to find out about costs and to enrol in a five-day initial or a refresher course. Remember to then notify your employer at least 14 days before the course.