SafetyNet 598

Welcome to the October 19 edition of SafetyNet - coming to you a day early this week.

It is with great sadness that we report that there was another fatality in Victoria in the past week.

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

Another Victorian worker killed at work

In the second fatality involving a forklift in less than a week, a 49-year-old worker was killed in an incident on Saturday at Lara. 

WorkSafe, which is investigating, believes the worker was helping move a steel rack with a forklift when the rack dislodged and fell on him. 

The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 45 for 2021.

Everyone at the VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the man's family, friends and work colleagues. No worker should die because of work. Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living. 

Forklifts, though common in many workplaces, are extremely dangerous pieces of plant (or equipment). Employers have a duty to identify the risks of working with forklifts and eliminate them so far as is reasonably practicable. 
Read more: Forklift Safety 

October 15: Anniversary of West Gate Bridge collapse

Last Friday, October 15, marked 51 years since the West Gate Bridge collapsed. It was Australia’s worst industrial tragedy. 35 workers died that day, 18 were seriously injured and hundreds of family members and workers were deeply affected by this disaster. To this day, they and the communities of the workers who lost their lives still feel the trauma of the incident as if it happened just yesterday.

Every year since then the West Gate Memorial Committee has organised a ceremony but once again, due to the COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne, we were not able to commemorate their lives in person at the base of the bridge this year. However CFMEU members across the State observed a minute's silence at 11.50am to reflect on that tragic day and how it changed them, changed their community and changed their industry. 
Based on a post on the CFMEU Facebook page, by the delegate on the Epping Towers, Hacer Group. Read more about the bridge collapse West Gate Bridge 50th Anniversary.

VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference, October 28 - Not too late to register

Just over a week to go!! If you haven't yet registered for Health and Safety Month's biggest and best event it's not too late to register online. Due to the ongoing lockdown, the event will once again be an online event.  Registrations close COB tomorrow, Wednesday October 20, so register now!

This year the theme is: HSR Super Sleuths: Exercising Your Powers To Uncover Hidden Hazards And Risks.   

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 - however, if you didn't give your employer 14 days' notice, you're not guaranteed to get paid leave to attend - but you should still ask. Also, it's too late to get the conference materials posted to you, but these can be downloaded and printed at home. 

When: Thursday October 28, 8.30am - 2.30pm
Where: Online
Cost: Free!
Open for all Victorian HSRs and Deputy HSRs 
Register here, now! (if ok'd by employer or you're taking a leave day)

Have you shared your experience of COVID Safety in the workplace? 

Fill out the VTHC's COVID-Safe team's 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


The number of new infections continues to be over 1000 per day, with the highest ever new infections in one day in Australia last Thursday October 14 at 2,297. While we are hoping that this means we have reached the peak, with vaccination levels expected to reach 70 per cent fully vaccinated by Friday, we may yet see higher numbers once the lockdown ends. 

The number of active cases in Victoria on Tuesday October 19 is 22,476, with 1,749 new cases reported. There have now been 981 COVID-related deaths in Victoria - another 47 since last Wednesday. Of the active cases, 851 are in hospital, 155 are in ICU, and 103 are on ventilators. Check the Victorian situation here

The Victorian government announced last weekend that the state would move to the next phase of the Roadmap at 11.59pm this Thursday October 21. This is the beginning of the end of our long lockdown and comes a week early as we will have reached 70 per cent fully vaccinated ahead of schedule. This means, among other things, that the curfew will end, and we can have visitors in the home. The wearing of masks is still mandated, as is checking in with QR codes. If you are not yet vaccinated - please arrange this as soon as possible. 

As at October 19, Australia has had a total of 145,314 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (131,415 last week). There have been 1,543 COVID-19 related deaths. 

Worldwide: as at October 19, there had been 241,806,193 infections (239,447,170 last week) and 4,918,952 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 19, 67.99 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16  are fully vaccinated, and 88.81 per cent partially vaccinated (60.37 per cent and 86.22 per cent last Wednesday). Australia wide, the figures are 69.18 per cent and 85.12 per cent respectively. 

In NSW news which may also influence other states, the NSW Supreme Court has upheld the State government's use of Public Health Orders to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for certain categories of workers, dismissing arguments that the directions compromised objectors' "right" to choose what they put in their bodies. 

In two proceedings brought against NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, Chief Medical Officer, Dr Kerry Chant and the State of NSW by a total of 10 workers in health, aged care, construction and education, the plaintiffs argued that the orders made under NSW's Public Health Act were invalid. Source: Workplace Express

COVIDSafe training sessions coming up

Have you missed out on the VTHC's COVIDSafe training sessions? 

Due to high demand, additional COVIDSafe training courses have been added. The sessions will run on the dates and times below and are capped at 40 participants per course due to the interactive nature of the workshops. 

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  

Hi there, 

Can you tell me whether light fittings with missing diffusers are an OHS risk?

While it's not a clear OHS risk, light fittings in workplaces, particularly newer ones, are part of the overall design and if they were supplied with diffusers, then these should be in place.

A “diffuser” is any material that scatters light, but it's most commonly applied in the form of a light panel or cover. The main purpose of a diffuser is to diffuse (or “spread out”) light. It makes bright or harsh light softer across a wider area and eliminates some of the unwanted glare caused by recessed lights.

Employers have a general duty of care under s21 of the OHS Act to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes the workplace itself and includes ensuring that any 'plant' is properly maintained. Further, they have a duty to monitor the conditions in the workplace, such as the levels of light. See: Duties of employers.

With regards to light and lighting, there's nothing specific in law, but the topic is covered in the Compliance Code and there are also Australian Standards which set out how much light is needed for the type of work being done. For more information, go to this pageYou'll note that the code says the lighting should be free from glare, and this is something diffusers prevent.

What I recommend is that you talk with the members of your DWG and check whether the lighting is causing them any problems, and then take the matter up with your employer.

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

Asbestos news

WA: Asbestos contamination concern

Two building sites at Curtin University are being checked for asbestos contamination after a Sydney gypsum board manufacturer found traces of the dangerous fibre in material imported from China. Media reports are that Probuild has banned the cutting of fire-resistant gypsum board at its St Catherine’s College and Unilodge construction sites at Curtin University’s main campus in Bentley.

Manufacturer USG Boral has warned its product should not be used until it completes its investigations and many sites across Australia are now being checked.  

CFMEU WA state secretary Mick Buchan said two other construction sites in Perth were affected in addition to Curtin University. Mr Buchan said on the two sites he was aware of work was stopped, areas isolated, unused boards covered and hygienists called in to conduct testing. “It beggars belief were still seeing imported products get through the borders and Border Force,” Mr Buchan said.

There have been a series of contamination problems in recent years from materials sourced from China. The Perth Children’s Hospital had asbestos in ceiling panels made in China.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald  

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

International union news

UK: School unions call for more safety measures

Education unions have written to England's education secretary asking him to urgently reconsider the reintroduction of additional safety measures in schools, in light of rising rates of COVID infection and absence among school students.

The five unions – GMB, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON and Unite – said they will also be writing to all local authorities and directors of public health asking them to consider measures in their local areas. The unions point to measures now being readopted in several local authority areas in response to rising cases, including social distancing, reintroduction of bubbles, avoidance of large gatherings such as assemblies and meetings, and the reintroduction of face coverings in secondary schools.

The unions have warned that without such measures, students’ education and the health of students, their families and school staff will all be damaged unnecessarily. GMB national officer Avril Chambers said, "School staff have kept our schools open throughout the pandemic: they deserve to stay safe and our children deserve not to have their education interrupted any more than it already has been." UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said, “To offer pupils and staff greater protection, face masks must return right away, along with school bubbles and other sensible precautions that were ditched. Air filters are also key to limiting the virus spread and ensuring pupils have a more stable academic year.” 
Read more: 
NEU news releaseUNISON news release and release on school Covid surgeThe Guardian. Source: Risks 1017


ACTU survey: Australian workers face insecure work, threats and violence

According to a recent ACTU survey, a shocking 67 per cent of injured or ill insecure workers reported not taking time off because they feared it would negatively impact their job, and 60 per cent reported not taking time off because they had no paid leave available.

The survey also found that only a quarter of insecure workers felt that they had adequate support to return to work after an injury, compared to 61 per cent of permanent employers.

Fear of reprisal from employers creates an environment where insecure workers compromise their health and safety to keep their jobs. Half of insecure workers – compared to only 32 per cent of permanent workers – did not report a workplace sexual harassment incident because they were worried about negative consequences for themselves.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said, “Insecure work doesn’t just have massive social and economic consequences. It creates a dangerous work environment, when people don’t feel they have the adequate support to report a hazard or take time off when they’re sick or injured."

The survey also found that threats to mental health and workplace violence are high on the list of occupational health and safety risks faced by Australia’s workers. Mental health continues to be the fastest growing challenge to the safety of working people in their workplaces, as well as ‘appalling’ rates of workplace violence experienced by the pandemic’s frontline workers.

Approximately one in six (17 per cent) workers reported they had experienced mental health injuries as a result of their work, with 10 per cent saying they were regularly bullied. Over half (56 per cent) of healthcare workers said understaffing in their workplace was causing overwork, leading to stress. Almost one in three (30 per cent) said they skip entitled meal or rest breaks, the highest in any industry. And almost half (47 per cent) of healthcare workers said they or their colleagues have been exposed to violence or threats of violence in the workplace. Over three quarters (76 per cent) of healthcare workers said they or their colleagues experienced traumatic events, distressing situations or aggressive clients at least some of the time, the most of any industry. 
Source: ACTU Media releases

USA: Frontline workers more likely to get infected

A US study has confirmed that one's job is a major factor in determining whether they will have tested positive for COVID-19, with all frontline workers more likely to have been infected.

Researchers from the universities of Wisconsin and Ohio State used national data from over a million US respondents to a Facebook-Carnegie Mellon University survey administered from September 2020 to March 2021 to estimate the likelihood of frontline workers, compared to non-frontline workers, ever testing positive for Covid-19 (SARsCov-2) or having had a positive test the previous two weeks.

After taking account of other factors, “both healthcare and non-healthcare frontline workers had higher odds of having ever tested positive for SARsCov-2 across the study time period. Similarly, non-healthcare frontline workers were more likely to test positive in the previous 14 days. Conversely, healthcare frontline workers were less likely to have recently tested positive.”

The authors conclude: “Our findings suggest that occupational exposure has played an independent role in the uneven spread of the virus. In particular, non-healthcare frontline workers have experienced sustained higher risk of testing positive for SARs-Cov-2 compared to non-frontline workers.” They recommend: “Alongside more worker protections, future COVID-19 and other highly infectious disease response strategies must be augmented by a more robust recognition of the role that structural factors, such as the highly stratified US occupational landscape, have played in the uneven toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.”  
Read more: D Phuong Do, Reanne Frank. US frontline workers and COVID-19 inequities [Full article], Preventive Medicine, volume 153, 106833, 2021. Source: Risks 1017 

Regulator News

Victorian news

Reminder of WorkSafe Victoria's OHS Month events

WorkSafe 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.  

WorkSafe Victoria Awards postponed

Due to the ongoing restrictions for gatherings, WorkSafe Victoria has postponed both the Awards ceremony and the announcement of the winners. The event was originally scheduled to be held on October 7, but will now be held in early 2022. 

HSR newsletter out now

WorkSafe's online October HSR Newsletter was posted to subscribers yesterday. An interesting item is a reminder of the regulator's Injury Hotspot Tool. The tool provides an industry-wide snapshot of not only how people get injured at work but also where the injuries occur.

Over 50 types of industries featured with data and information available on possible hazards and solutions.  The tool is available to all parties to help discussions between HSRs, workers and employers about how to have safety solutions in place, to protect workers from the most common sources of injury.

The newsletter also reminds workers who work with silica to 'be silica smart and get tested at the new clinic' and remembers the anniversary of the West Gate Bridge disaster. 

National news

Comcare Webinars

Comcare's webinars are this week - Managing psychosocial hazards and risks is this Friday, October 22, and includes practical, solutions-based content. 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

Clean Air. Clean Lungs

The Occupational lung diseases are conditions of the respiratory system caused by workplace exposure to dusts, gases, fumes and vapours.

This week for National Safe Work Month, Safe Work Australia is asking everyone in industries with a high risk of occupational lung disease to think, work and be safe. The national body has released a series of information sheets about different occupational lung diseases which include:

Safe Work Australia has also been running the Clean Air. Clear Lungs. campaign which provides PCBUs (employers) with information about how to identify and manage the risks of occupational lung diseases at their workplaces. For more information visit: National Safe Work Month CACL webpage

National Fatality Statistics  

Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities on October 14, at which time it had been notified that 102 Australian workers had been killed at work this year, 13 more than its last update on September 30. Fatalities have been in the following sectors:

  • 35 in Transport, postal & warehousing 
  • 18 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 12 in Construction
  • 10 in Manufacturing
  • 6 in Mining
  • 5 in Arts & recreation services
  • 5 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
  • 1 in Healthcare & social assistance

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.  


Cinema operator fined after worker burnt with oil

Reading Cinemas Management Pty Ltd operates movie cinemas including Gold Class cinemas where food and beverages are served. The kitchen had three deep fryers.

Employees were responsible for cleaning the fryers, usually at the beginning of a shift, before they were turned on. Generally, the supervisors or managers were also expected to troubleshoot and try to fix the fryers, programmed to heat oil to 180 degrees Celsius, if they malfunctioned during a shift. 

On 28 July 2018, a worker saw an error message on one of the fryers. He unplugged the heating element from its socket and then tried to move the oil vat in the fryer to re-position the heating element to plug the fryer back in. He lost his grip and the hot oil splashed onto his hands, forearms, thighs and right lower leg. He received hospital treatment and has undergone multiple skin grafts to his legs.

The company failed to reduce the risk of burns by providing and maintaining a system of work which allowed access to the internal chamber of the fryer only when the oil had cooled. It also failed to provide the necessary instructions and training to enable employees to troubleshoot issues with the fryers.

Reading Cinema management pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $20,000 plus $4,008 in costs.

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

International news

US: Colorado postal worker is third to be shot and killed in US in two days

A US Postal Service worker in Longmont, Colorado, was shot and killed on Wednesday October 13, according to a statement from police. The postal worker was the third to be killed in the US the two days, after two USPS employees were shot dead Tuesday in a Memphis postal facility. The FBI said the shooter in Memphis also was a postal employee. In Longmont, police said officers responding to a call found a postal employee shot in front of neighborhood mailboxes. The worker died at the scene.
Source: Confined Space


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:

  • 8 - 12 November - Ringwood
  • 15 - 19 November - Werribee   
  • 29 November - 3 December - Carlton (currently full)
  • 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
  • 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. 


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