SafetyNet 597

Welcome to the October 13 edition of SafetyNet.

It is with great sadness that we report that a young worker was killed in a forklift incident yesterday, October 12.

A reminder to HSRs in Victoria that if you want to be guaranteed leave with pay to attend the 2021 VTHC HSR Conference, you must notify your employer today. 

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]

Union News

Victorian worker killed in forklift incident

It is with great sadness that we report that a 25-year-old worker was killed yesterday following an incident with a forklift in Somerton. According to WorkSafe, the forklift was being operated on a sloping driveway when it tipped and crushed the young man who was standing nearby.

WorkSafe is investigating. The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 44 for 2021.

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the worker's family, friends and co-workers. No-one should die at work. Every death is preventable. Source: WorkSafe media release

Register NOW: VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference, Thursday October 28

Two weeks to go!! 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.  

Today is the last day on which HSRs can be guaranteed to get paid leave from their employer to attend. If notice is given after today - HSRs can still attend by mutual consent, or if the employer refuses, then on another type of leave. So it is strongly recommended that all HSRs notify their employer today and register. Note too that if you want a hard copy of the resources posted to you, you will need to register by the end of the week.

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. This means that you've got to do it now, today if you haven't done so already! 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
Where: Online
Cost: Free!
Open for all Victorian HSRs and Deputy HSRs 
Register here, now! (and then let your employer know!)

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.

Coronavirus Update

Victoria

The number of new infections continues to be over 1000 per day, with the highest ever new infections in one day in Australia on Saturday October 9 at 1,965. It is not a coincidence that these high numbers come about two weeks after the Grand Final weekend, when many Melburnians (and perhaps Victorians generally) broke the rules and had BBQs and gatherings. It is also about a fortnight since the bigger anti-vax, anti-lockdown 'demonstrations' took place.

Since October 9 the numbers have come down a little, then gone up again - but we are hoping that the trend will be downwards. Today's number is 1,572, with unfortunately 13 deaths. The good news regarding the 'de-coupling' of number of infections and numbers in the hospitals/ICU continues - as the percentage of Victorians who have been double vaccinated increases. 

The number of active cases in Victoria is now 19,861 - compared to this time last week, when it was 14,410. There have now been 934 COVID-related deaths in Victoria - another 46 in the past week. Of the active cases, 705 are in hospital, 146 in ICU - 92 on ventilators - a lot of very sick people.  

While it is expected that the government will further ease restrictions in line with the Roadmap once we get to 70 per cent fully vaccinated, we will still need to take precautions, such as wearing masks, checking in with QR codes, getting tested and so on. If you are not yet vaccinated - please arrange this as soon as possible.  

In news from around Australia:

  • NSW:  The cases in the state have continued to decrease steadily (444 today), as expected, due to the high percentage of people now vaccinated. The state is tracking towards 80 per cent fully vaccinated. There are currently 716 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital, with 150 people in intensive care, 76 of whom require ventilation. However, as the state more or less 'opened up, on Monday this week, it is expected that there will be an increase cases over the next fortnight. 
  • ACT: the territory today recorded 51 new cases. There are 16 in hospital, eight in ICU, five of whom require ventilation. 
  • NT: the government has announced that it will require all 'high risk' workers to have had at least one vaccine dose by next month. The mandate covers anyone working in 'public-facing' roles.

As at October 13, Australia has had a total of 131,415 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (117,826 last week). There have been 1,461 COVID-19 related deaths. 

Worldwide: as at October 13, there had been 239,447,170 infections (236,590,937 last week) and 4,880,758 COVID-related deaths. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus   

Vaccinations update

According to the ABC Vaccine tracker as of October 12, 60.37 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16  are fully vaccinated, and 86.22 per cent partially vaccinated (53.57 per cent and 82.94 per cent last week). Australia wide, the figures are 63.36 per cent and 82.82 per cent respectively. The third vaccine approved, Moderna, is now available. 

A reminder of the terrific feature in the VTHC's Megaphone journal: Your Top Questions About Vaccines - Answered! It's informative, amusing and will help you in discussions about vaccines with your family, friends and work colleagues. 

Melbourne demonstrations 

This week, The Age published an opinion piece written by VTHC's Secretary, Luke Hilakari, who was inside the CFMEU offices on the day of the biggest riot watching a crowd of hundreds of hi-vis clad men screaming at union leaders. In the piece Mr Hilakari said, "Among the obvious opportunistic anti-vax ring-ins and the well-known far-right provocateurs, I saw people who genuinely were construction workers, even some union members." He acknowledges that, often based on misinformation spread by anti-vaxxers, some workers "fear the vaccine, (are) worried about losing their job and income, and feel alienated from the majority of their workmates." 

The problem of the increasing presence of right-wing, fascist groups needs to be confronted. He notes that the Greens have proposed that an inquiry investigating the rise of the far right in Victoria be established, but says it needs to go further. He proposes "A good first step would be a royal commission into far-right agitation in Australia, with powers to investigate links to foreign influence, social media, commercial interests and media platforming of known far-right agitators."  Read more: We need a royal commission into the organised far-right in Australia, The Age

New and updated resources for HSRs

New Hazard information pages on our website

In the past week we have written two new Hazard information pages on the OHS [email protected] website - both on increasingly important and/or emerging issues.

  1. Ventilation - but specifically in relation to the need for ventilation in workplaces to be adequate to control the spread of infectious diseases generally, and COVID-19 in particular. Experts in the spread of disease now have advice on what sort of ventilation workplaces should have, and how to check that it's doing the job. Measures include ensuring a certain level of fresh air and checking/monitoring CO2 levels. In Victoria for example, the government has been implementing measures to ensure better ventilation in schools. 
  2. Climate Change - as this increases global warming, many current workplace hazards are worsened by climate change. 

Updated COVID information from the ACTU

This week the national union body, the ACTU, has updated its COVID Aware Workplaces resources. If you haven't had a look recently, go to this page on the ACTU 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. 

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. 

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata,

I'm a fairly recently elected HSR in a fairly large company. We have six HSRs onsite as well as an OHS Officer. We can't get regular DWGs up and running. We get told we can, but they don't ever happen. Today I was told that we shouldn't have tool boxes or DWGs just for the sake of it only when there is an issue or items to be spoken of. I thought that undermines the whole idea of work groups. Management says they don't stop DWGs from happening but they wont schedule them either. What are your thoughts please?

I think there's a bit of confusion as to what a DWG (Designated Work Group) is. Under the OHS Act, a DWG is a grouping of employees at a workplace, which can have any number of DWGs. These must be negotiated and agreed between employees (or their representatives) and the employer.  A DWG is not a meeting. 

Under the Act, there are two key criteria which must be used as guidance to decide the number and location of any DWGs - that they:

  1. best and most conveniently enable the interests of employees (in the DWG) to be represented and safeguarded, and
  2. best takes account of the need for an HSR to be accessible to each member of the group.

The whole point of having the right type and number of DWGs is so that the members of the DWGs can elect HSRs, have access to them, and for their HSR to take these OHS concerns up with their employer. As an HSR, it is very important that you have the ability to consult with your DWG about their issues so that can represent them - this is your primary role. So, somehow, the HSRs must be able to consult with their DWGs - and this may be through regular meetings. 

However, the OHS Act does not specifically state this is how consultation should occur, and certainly does not say anything about how often a DWG should meet and under what circumstances. However, it does state in s69(1)(e) that employers must "provide such other facilities and assistance to a health and safety representative for the designated work group as are necessary or prescribed by the regulations to enable the representative to exercise his or her powers". As the main role of a HSR is to represent members of their DWG and consult with them regarding health and safety concerns, this should be facilitated by the employer.

I suggest you speak to your employer/OHS Officer about the requirement to provide you with assistance and facilities to adequately represent your members. If they continue to push back, your union organiser should be able to give you further assistance - for example, some unions have agreed regular DWG meetings with their HSR, so this could be negotiated. 

In the meantime, you can ensure that you consult with your DWG members by going around to speak to them - this can be done by undertaking regular workplace inspections, a power you have under s58 of the Act. Also, you should encourage your DWG to come to you when/if they have any OHS issues or concerns. You could investigate setting up a Whatsapp group, or something similar as well. 

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

Asbestos news

National: Asbestos Awareness Week

A reminder that during the last week in November is Asbestos Awareness Week, when 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 disposal - a problem being addressed 

In February 2021 Sustainability Victoria launched the Asbestos Disposal Management Plan (ADMP) to increase accessibility to asbestos disposal across the state.

Since then, SV has been connecting with stakeholder groups to design a safe asbestos disposal network, supported by appropriate infrastructure and guidance to minimise risks to staff, service providers, customers and the environment. It has been collecting information and has sought to establish links across government to inform implementation of the ADMP.

In introducing the ADMP to stakeholders, SV says it 'heard':

  • The highest priority for all is ensuring worker/public safety. 
  • The ADMP is broadly supported. 
  • There are complex implementation challenges that need to be addressed.
  • Illegal dumping and mismanagement of asbestos in other waste streams is an ongoing concern and resulting clean-up costs are high. 

Over the next six months SV will confirm infrastructure and service needs for asbestos transfer sites. These sites, ideally located at existing waste facilities, will provide for short-term storage and consolidation of small quantities of packaged asbestos before it is transported to licensed landfills for disposal. SV says it will work with stakeholders to identify potential locations for pilot asbestos transfer sites, and develop an operational support package and a communications package, which will include key resources and templates.

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


Research

COVID study identifies WHS gaps in flexible work

A recent study has shown that workers' experiences with flexible work during the pandemic have been "very positive", with benefits to wellbeing. However the study has highlighted gaps in WHS support for these workers, and identified seven elements that support safe flexible work.

The NSW Government's Centre for Work Health and Safety’s study of over 1,000 workers with flexible arrangements during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown found they were more rested and more engaged, reporting a more positive working environment than their office-based counterparts. The study was in collaboration with Edith Cowan University, Southern Cross University, the University of NSW, and Live Better.

The Centre's director Skye Buatava said working flexibly can be a very positive experience for workers, but some employers lacked adequate WHS processes and mental health training for such work.

The study also found that:

  • social isolation was a major psychosocial risk factor for flexible arrangements;
  • flexible workers placed high value on feeling trusted by their line manager and employer;
  • the experience of flexible and remote work was different for workers in different demographics;
  • both flexible workers and managers felt responsibilities around WHS issues for home work were unclear.

The seven elements required for psychologically safe and productive flexible work are:

  1. Senior leadership commitment;
  2. Frequent organisational communication;
  3. Accessible line manager support;
  4. Workers' commitment to flexible working and wellbeing;
  5. Adequate resourcing;
  6. Adaptive training and development; and
  7. Tailored work designs for flexible working.

Read more: Centre for Work Health and Safety Flexible work and psychosocial safety; Summary Research Report; and A Best Practice Guide for flexible and work-from-home arrangements. Source: OHSAlert. Read more: Teleworking - or working from home 


Regulator News

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.  

Harvest season: opportunity for farmers to 'brush up' on safety

Horticulture businesses in the Koo Wee Rup, Lang Lang and Cardinia regions are being urged to ensure they put health and safety first as harvest season moves into full swing.

WorkSafe, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions and the Labour Hire Authority are hosting an online information session 6pm to 7pm on Tuesday 19 October. to provide businesses with advice, including how to meet occupational health and safety obligations. The session will also include information on how to stay COVID-safe, support workers and ensure labour hire workers are provided through a licensed labour hire provider.

Agriculture Victoria, Australian Asparagus Council, Victorian Farmers Federation and AUSVEG VIC will also participate in the informal webinar to offer support and answer any questions growers may have. Register here

Subject to COVID-19 restrictions, WorkSafe, Labour Hire Authority and Department of Justice and Community Safety inspectors and authorised officers will conduct compliance checks on farms in the Koo Wee Rup, Lang Lang and Cardinia regions in November to check businesses are operating safely.
Read more: WorkSafe media release  

National news

Comcare Webinars

A reminder that Comcare is holding several webinars, including: Managing psychosocial hazards and risks.

The management of psychosocial risks are an issue faced by organisations. This webinar, to be held on October 22, will include practical, solutions-based content, from Comcare as the regulator and national authority. It 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 in the webinars can register on the Comcare website

National Fatality Statistics  

Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics on fatalities since September 30, at which time it had been notified that 89 Australian workers had been killed at work this year. 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.  


Prosecutions

Solar panel installer convicted, fine $500,000

A solar panel installer has been convicted and fined $500,000 (plus $5613 costs) for safety breaches at sites across Victoria, including a 2019 incident where a worker suffered serious injuries after falling through a skylight.

Global Renewable Energy Solutions Pty Ltd was found guilty at the Werribee Magistrates' Court on Monday October 11 of five charges of failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace was safe and without risk to health.

In June 2019, three workers were installing a solar electrical system on a 4.5-metre high shed at Werribee South when one fell through a skylight to the concrete floor below. He fractured his spine and pelvis and was in hospital for over a week.

WorkSafe found there was no perimeter guardrail on the roof or fall protection around the skylight, none of the workers were using a safety harness and a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) did not identify that there were skylights in the roof.

A WorkSafe investigation further revealed the company had engaged in unsafe practices at four further rooftop solar installation sites at Cobram, Truganina, Newham and Corio in 2019.

Those safety breaches included:

  • When an unsecured portable ladder was used access a shed roof at Cobram, it slipped sideways while a worker was climbing down, causing persistent back pain and shock.
  • Workers at a Truganina property alerted management that collapsing roof tiles were compromising their safety. Despite a SWMS that stated "work must cease immediately if [an] incident or near miss occurs" the workers were directed to keep working because the company needed the money.
  • Workers were denied use of a scissor lift to safely transport solar panels to the roof of a shed in Newham and were instead directed to carry the panels up an unsecured extension ladder.
  • Harnesses worn by workers on a 10-metre high commercial shed at Corio were not connected to the roof, perimeter guard-railing was not installed around the whole work area and the transparent sheeting on the roof was not covered.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Andrew Keen said the company had shown a continued disregard for its workers' safety. "This case should serve as a wake-up call to any employer that thinks it can put profits above the safety of its workers," Mr Keen said. Read more: WorkSafe media release

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


International news

USA: New rules plan for work heat dangers 

The Biden administration is to introduce the USA’s first ever labour standard aimed at protecting workers from extreme heat, as part of a growing recognition of the dangers posed by warming temperatures caused by climate change.

The federal safety regulator, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), will draft its first rule governing heat exposure designed to protect those who work outdoors in agricultural, construction and delivery services as well as workers in warehouses, factories, and kitchens. “Over the past few weeks, I have travelled across the country to see first hand the devastating human and economic toll of extreme weather exacerbated by climate change,” President Biden said in a statement. “Rising temperatures pose an imminent threat to millions of American workers exposed to the elements, to kids in schools without air-conditioning, to seniors in nursing homes without cooling resources, and particularly to disadvantaged communities. My administration will not leave Americans to face this threat alone.”

The administration said it would form an interagency Heat Illness Prevention Work Group to provide a better understanding of the challenges and best ways to protect workers from heat injuries. OSHA will prioritise heat-related interventions and work inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius), the administration said. OSHA is already working to complete a programme before next summer that will target industries at higher risk of heat injuries, and to focus more resources on inspections. 
Read more: 
Statement by President Biden and Factsheet: Biden Administration Mobilizes to Protect Workers and Communities from Extreme Heat 20 September 2021. OSHA news release and Heat illness prevention campaignNational COSH news releaseNew York Times. Source: Risks 1016 Read more on Heat and Climate Change on the OHS Reps site. 

ILO adopts COP on safety and health in textiles, clothing, leather and footwear industries 

Experts from governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations have adopted a code of practice on safety and health in textiles, clothing, leather and footwear – the first for one of the world’s oldest manufacturing sectors.

Based on international labour standards and other sectoral guidelines, the code provides comprehensive and practical advice on how to eliminate, reduce and control all major hazards and risks. This includes chemical substances, ergonomic and physical hazards, tools, machines and equipment, as well as building and fire safety.

More than 60 million workers around the globe will benefit from the new code, which will be of particular importance to developing countries and emerging economies.

Jukka Takala, chair of the experts' meeting, highlighted the importance of the new code, stating:  “Having spent the past 50 years regulating, enforcing and, in particular, promoting occupational safety and health, I can personally attest to the fact that the adoption of this ILO Code of Practice is a milestone in the textiles, clothing, leather and footwear industries.”

“We want to ensure that Rana Plaza will never happen again,” said Kamrul Anam, worker vice-chair, referring to the 2013 Bangladesh garment factory building collapse, in which more than 1,000 people were killed. “If everyone commits to translating the provisions in this code into action, we can ensure that no worker – in Bangladesh or any other country – will ever have to risk their life in a garment factory again.” Read more: ILO news release  


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