Welcome to the November 17 edition of SafetyNet.
The big news this week is the commencement of the Crystalline Silica regulations - see more below.
Visit our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page for news, memes and more. If you have any questions or need any advice, we can be reached via the Ask Renata facility on the website or through the closed OHS Network Facebook page. If you have comments or want to send through any ideas, email us at [email protected]
Victoria: The numbers of new infections seemed to be finally coming down but have crept back up over the past few days.
The number of active cases in Victoria on Wednesday November 17 is 14,260, with 996 new cases reported. There have now been 1,248 COVID-related deaths in Victoria. Of the active cases, 357 are in hospital, 58 are in ICU, and 35 of these on ventilators. These numbers are consistently coming down. Check the Victorian situation here.
The vaccination rate in the state is amazing, with 87.84 per cent of the population now fully vaccinated. Until we reach the 90 per cent rate, however, there are still measures in place, such as wearing masks indoors, so please comply. If you are not yet vaccinated - please arrange this as soon as possible.
As at November 17, Australia has had a total of 191,623 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (182,870 on November 10). There have been 1,898 COVID-19 related deaths.
Worldwide: as at November 17, there had been 255,023,835 infections (251,497,635 last week). The total number of reported COVID-related deaths is 5,128,772 - although we know that this is probably an underestimation. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus
By November 16, 87.84 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16 had been fully vaccinated, and 92.78 per cent partially vaccinated. Australia wide, the figures are 83.53 per cent and 90.7 per cent respectively. After being well behind due to supply issues, Australia is now one of the most vaccinated countries in the world. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age
Inquest into St Basil's COVID outbreak
An inquest into Australia's deadliest aged care COVID-19 outbreak has heard that Senior Victorian health officials were warned about the horrifying conditions at a Melbourne nursing home just days after the Commonwealth seized control of the facility.
Victoria's coroner, John Cain, is investigating the deaths of 50 residents, 45 of whom died with COVID-19, at St Basil's Homes for the Aged at Fawkner, in Melbourne's north, in July and August last year.
Judge Cain will investigate how prepared both state and federal health departments were for the outbreak, how it started at St Basil's, the spread of the virus, the decision to furlough staff and how future tragedies could be prevented.
The inquest has recently received an independent report from Ian Norton, an expert in disaster and emergency health responses, who found that a lack of coordination between state and federal health departments was a "root cause of the tragedy at St Basil's".
Witnesses have told the inquest that procedures for distancing, wearing and disposing of PPE, were not implemented until well after the outbreak began, and issues with under-staffing and the appointment of a replacement workforce that was 'inadequate'. WorkSafe is also investigating the outbreak.
Read more: ABC news online; The Age
COVIDSafe training sessions coming up
Have you missed out on the VTHC's COVIDSafe training sessions?
There are two more COVIDSafe training courses to be run at this stage. The sessions will be 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.
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.
I would like to know what the specific requirements are for the number of evacuation exits for a basement gym at my school? The gymnasium is also used for assemblies and exams, catering for around 200 students. I would like to know whether two emergency evacuation exits, which come off a single doorway entry to the space is sufficient.
There is nothing specific in the OHS Act - nor in regulations or even in a Compliance Code.
However, remember that both the employer and the person with management or control of a workplace have duties under the OHS Act. The employer has general duties under s21 of the Act, to provide so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. The employer also has duties to 'others' - including students - under s23.
Under s26 of the Act, a person with management and control of a workplace must ensure, so far as is practicable the workplace and entry and exit are safe and without risks to health. In relation to what is reasonably practicable, they must take into account Australian Standards - and there are a few on emergency exits, and so on.
The 'rules' are actually found in the National Construction Code of Australia. This is a national code and applies to all commercial buildings in Australia, including schools. NCC 2015 was originally adopted by the States and Territories on 1 May 2015 and is now considered law. NCC 2019 was adopted on May 1, 2019 and is now available. The Code calls up a number of Australian Standards and specifies what is required in terms of number of exits required, dimensions of exits and paths of travel to exits, emergency exit signs, other equipment, fire resistance and more. (The Code can now be accessed online free - upon registration at the ABCB website). However this applies to buildings as they are being built, so may not be helpful.
In conclusion - if you believe that use of the gym for general assemblies and exams is putting the safety of those in attendance at risk, then what you need to do is raise the issue - through your HSR if you have one (and I hope that you do) - and request that they raise it for resolution with the employer (see Resolution of issues).
Have some ideas about what would improve things - and if you/the HSR still thinks it's a problem, then are there alternatives? You might also have a chat with your organiser or the OHS organiser at your union.
If you have any OHS-related questions send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. Your questions will be answered by Renata or one of the other members of the VTHC's OHS Unit.
VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference Recording and Resources
In case you either missed the annual VTHC HSR conference or haven't had a chance to check the page, you can access the recordings of the speakers, including WorkSafe's CEO Colin Radford, VTHC Secretary Luke Hilakari, the Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt and the keynote address by Professor Lin Fritschi, John Curtin Distinguished Professor and Epidemiologist from Curtin University. The highlight was a group of United Workers Union HSRs from Crown Casino who told of how they successfully achieved a ban on indoor smoking at Crown. Check out the recording, and download the materials on this page.
National Asbestos Awareness Week
National Asbestos Awareness Week 2021 is November 22–28 with the theme “Think Twice About Asbestos.”
November 25: VTHC Asbestos Awareness Week Live Show
How much of a problem is asbestos in Victoria? Probably bigger than you think! Join experts Ms Simone Stevenson and Mr Peter Clark for our Live Show at 7pm on Thursday November 25. Simone is the CEO of the Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency (VAEA) and Peter is an OHS Organiser with the CFMEU who specialises in asbestos-related issues in the construction industry. Tune in on our Facebook page We Are Union OHS Reps at 7 o'clock for an hour of interesting discussion - and get your questions ready.
For information and materials developed by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency for the week, check out and download the campaign pack on its website. Resources include:
- translated materials for culturally and linguistically diverse audiences, and
- short animations for social media use
- written template materials,
- print assets (including posters and flyers)
- digital assets (including materials for social media)
Nov 26: Asbestos Awareness Webinar – Think Twice About Asbestos
The Asbestos Council of Victoria/GARDS is this year holding an online webinar for Asbestos Awareness Week - but hopes to go to face-to-face events next year.
- Vicki Hamilton OAM is the current CEO/Secretary of Asbestos Council of Victoria/GARDS and has been a member of ACV/GARDS since the organisation was incorporated in 2001. Vicki has conducted a support group for asbestos sufferers and their families once a month since 2002 in Gippsland and now has a group in Metro Melbourne. Both support groups are open to asbestos & silica sufferers
- Jane Anderson - appointed as the Latrobe Health Advocate by the Minister for Health in May 2018. The first-of-its-kind in Australia, the role of the Advocate is to provide independent advice to the Victorian Government on behalf of Latrobe Valley communities on system and policy issues affecting their health and wellbeing.
- Jo & Kevin Packham - Kevin has Peritoneal Mesothelioma. He and Jo will share their experiences of diagnosis (and misdiagnosis), surgery, treatment and what they are doing.
The seminar is at 11am Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney. Register in advance to receive a confirmation email containing information on how to join.
Short renovation video
Was the building you work in built before the late 1980s? If so, do you know whether there's any asbestos somewhere? How much do you know about asbestos? Check out a short video "Breath-taking renovations" which gives potential DIYers great advice on potential dangers in the home. It's amusing but gets across a very important message: Do you want a home that's worth dying for? Check it out now - in time for Asbestos Awareness Week.
Interesting article on cancer
On the Queensland government website, check out this interesting article: Lung cancer is a leading cause of death
International union news
UK: Maskless PM in hospital visit as MP cases rise
Boris Johnson appeared maskless during a visit to a hospital on 8 November despite fears that COVID is spreading around parliament, with 114 people catching the virus on the Palace of Westminster estate in the past month. The Prime Minister was seen walking along a corridor in a hospital in Northumberland and posing for pictures alongside medical staff, all wearing surgical masks. The PM’s office said Johnson followed the guidelines set by the local NHS trust. A source said he had just left a meeting where he was speaking, was not in a clinical area, and put a mask on shortly afterwards. Safety measures have been gradually reintroduced to the House of Commons, and more Tory MPs have begun wearing face coverings in the chamber, though some frontbenchers remained maskless during an 8 November debate. Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, commented: “.. we’ve been warning for some time that poor enforcement or observation of the rules, particularly amongst MPs, would result in a spike in infections”. He added that “everyone should be wearing a mask and practising social distancing to protect themselves and parliament staff. MPs should be leading by example on this.” Source: Risks 1021
Depression and anxiety affect silicosis sufferers
Research has shown that the health consequences of dust diseases go further than physical effects.
In addition to the effects on their lungs, people living with silicosis and other forms of dust disease are at risk of psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety. The research shows a clear link between lung diseases caused by inhaling dust particles like silica and mental illness.
Aneka Srinivasan, project lead of Mental Health Foundation of Australia, says that this is no surprise when the upheavals and anguish accompanying a diagnosis of silicosis or asbestosis are factored in. “The development of psychological issues is quite commonly seen and if we consider dust diseases, which can affect lung function, someone diagnosed with silicosis might have to stay at home more because of their condition, completely stop work or stop doing what they love,” she said.
Research shows psychological conditions often emerge after the initial diagnosis, which is a problem for people seeking compensation, particularly when they are required to pursue claims for damages. There are two issues:
- first, the nature of anxiety and depression often means these conditions are difficult to treat because they are connected to the diagnosis of a dust disease, which is irreversible and largely untreatable;
- second, in many states in Australia, different time limits apply to when a worker is required to bring a damages claim for their dust disease and their psychological injury.
Read more: The New Daily
New Crystalline Silica regulations require licences
Engineered stone is commonly used for kitchen and bathroom benchtops. When it is cut, ground or polished workers may be exposed to respirable silica dust, which can cause deadly lung and respiratory diseases – including silicosis.
Silicosis is caused by breathing in tiny silica particles which can cause incurable scarring of the lungs. In severe cases it can be fatal or patients may need a lung transplant. For this reason the VTHC, unions and respiratory physicians began a campaign on silica several years ago. This led to interim and now permanent regulations.
The Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt MP, has approved the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Crystalline Silica) Regulations 2021 which came into effect on Monday 15 November 2021. The Regulations replace the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Crystalline Silica) Interim Regulations 2021.
The Regulations strengthen the regulatory regime to better protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica by:
- introducing Australia’s first licensing regime for engineered stone, including increased manufacturer and supplier duties;
- making permanent Victoria’s prohibition (first introduced in 2019) on uncontrolled dry-cutting of engineered stone; and
- adding additional regulatory oversight of high risk crystalline silica work outside of engineered stone across all industries, including the construction and earth resources industries.
Commencement of the Regulations will be a phased approach to ensure duty holders are provided with enough time to ensure they are prepared for the relevant changes to their duties and obligations.
A 12 month transition period for the licensing regime and specific controls mandated when working with engineered stone, including the continued prohibition on dry-cutting, began on November 15.
WorkSafe CEO Colin Radford said licensing the use of engineered stone would ensure the necessary safety measures were in place to protect workers. "Silicosis is a serious disease that can strike down young workers with devastating consequences for them and their families," Mr Radford said.
"This year alone, WorkSafe has accepted 59 claims from workers who have developed silica related disease as a result of workplace exposure and sadly, four people have lost their lives. This is unacceptable."
While the VTHC welcomes the new regulations, we would like to see the exposure standard lowered to 0.02mg/m3 as an 8-hr TWA, with an action level of 0.01mg/m3. We also support the phasing out of engineered stone completely. Read more: WorkSafe media release; Summary of the Crystalline Silica regulations (currently being updated)
Major Hazard Facilities Forum presentations
Recordings of 11 presentations from the National Major Hazard Facilities forum in May 2021 are now publicly available via the WorkSafe Victoria website.
Check out the presentations from the event, which brought together people from across Australia to engage with Major Hazard Facility operators, Safety Practitioners and Regulators with modern safety theory. Forum presentations
Safety Soapbox newsletter out now
The November edition of WorkSafe's Safety Soapbox was posted out today. The editorial urges caution during what is traditionally one of the most dangerous times of the year in construction. Employers and workers are urged to 'slow down'.
this time of year sees busy workloads and tight deadlines - but these are no excuse for workplaces to cut corners on safety.
Builders and contractors also need to start thinking about what they need to do to make their sites and workplaces safe over the holiday period. Builders, site supervisors and contractors should be starting now rather than waiting to the last minute to review and implement controls make their sites are safe for the holiday period.
- Promotion of the new First aid compliance code (see our FAQs);
- Increased site inspections and audits to ensure solar installations are conducted safely and in accordance with all industry and safety regulations by Solar Victoria, Energy Safe Victoria and WorkSafe.
- New COVID signs, posters and templates for workplaces;
- Electrical safety; and
- Incidents reported to WorkSafe: In October 2021, the construction industry reported 173 incidents to WorkSafe. Of these, 66 per cent resulted in injury. There was one fatality due to electric shock.
Access the November 2021 edition here - the summaries of reported incidents can be downloaded from this edition of Safety Soapbox.
1 - Communicating OHS across languages compliance code: public comment open
The draft compliance code Communicating OHS across languages is now available for public review and comment from until close of business Monday 6 December 2021. The draft was developed by a reference group comprising of union and employer representatives and WorkSafe staff.
A dedicated webpage has been created to facilitate public comment on each of the proposed code via the Victorian Government’s consultation platform, Engage Victoria. This enables employers, employees, other interested parties and members of the public to view the proposed code materials online and provide online submissions. Check the draft code and provide comment here: Communicating occupational health and safety across languages compliance code
2 - New Compliance code on first aid
We have now updated our FAQs based on the Compliance code on first aid:
3 - Webinars on horticultural safety
WorkSafe and Agriculture Victoria, the Labour Hire Authority, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions and the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) are holding a series of webinars to assist growers in protecting themselves and their workers against OHS risks.
These will provide an opportunity for horticulture producers around Victoria to learn more about keeping farms safe, seasonal workforce support, COVID-19 employer obligations (including vaccination requirements), and the treatment of labour hire workers.
Attendees will also learn about WorkSafe's OHS Essentials program, which links small to medium businesses with independent consultants who offer free, confidential and tailored advice on how to improve health and safety in their workplace.
The remaining virtual sessions will run from 4-5pm on 8 December 2021 and 19 January 2022. Farmers are welcome to attend all three sessions to keep up with the latest information. Register for the webinars here. Read more: WorkSafe media release
Safe Work Australia launches new website
On November 10, Safe Work Australia launched its new website. Some of the changes include:
- a clean look and feel
- easier to find content and data
- filter options in the search function
- improved accessibility
- improved navigation experience
However, this has caused us a little headache: whenever a regulator or government agency updates its website, all the links on our site to that site are broken! We will be working through these to update them, and apologise for any inconvenience!
National Fatality Statistics 2021
Safe Work Australia last updated its statistics on fatalities on November 11, at which time it had been notified that 118 Australian workers had been killed at work this year - is this thirteen more than at the time of its previous update on October 28. Fatalities have been in the following sectors:
- 41 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 20 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 17 in Construction
- 12 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
- 2 in Retail trade
- 1 in Wholesale trade
- 1 in Accommodation & food services
- 1 in Education & training
- 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 database 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 Preliminary worker deaths webpage.
Pipecon fined after trench tragedy
Civil construction company Pipecon was last week convicted and fined $550,000 following a trench collapse at Ballarat in 2018 in which two young workers were killed.
The company was sentenced in the Ballarat County Court on November 11 after earlier pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to provide workers with necessary supervision.
The workers were laying pipes at a housing development in the Ballarat suburb of Delacombe in March 2018 when the trench collapsed and they were engulfed.
34-year-old Charlie Howkins died at the scene while 21-year-old Jack Brownlee died in hospital the following day.
The court heard it was necessary for Pipecon to have reduced the risks to health and safety by providing supervision to ensure workers did not carry out work in the trench unless battering or benching of the excavation was in place and/or trench shields and manhole cages were used. Read more: WorkSafe media release
The company was originally charged with further breaches of the OHS Act, including failing to provide a safe workplace - but in a negotiated outcome all other charges apart from that of failing to supervise were dropped. This, and the fine of $550,000, is shocking and not the outcome Charlie and Jack's families had hoped for. Jack's father, Dave, put it plainly: "$275,000 per death seems a little below what you would expect".
Charlie and Jack's families were instrumental in the campaign for new Industrial Manslaughter laws in Victoria. Thanks to their tireless advocacy, and the solidarity of thousands of union members around Victoria who campaigned with them, other Victorian families will not, hopefully, have to watch other employers get away with manslaughter with a slap on the wrist.
The union movement sends our love and solidarity to Dave, Janine and Lana and their wider families and communities.
To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
United States of America
OSHA's Uphill Road to Protecting Workers from COVID-19
Less than two days after it was issued, OSHA's Vax-or-Test Emergency Temporary Standard was blocked by a Federal Appeals Court. This is only the first battle of a long war. Many fear that although the standard stands on firm legal grounds, it still faces an uphill battle which could end up undermining the federal government's ability to regulate workplace safety and health. "That’s because the petitioners in BST Holdings raise legal arguments that, until recently, were considered quite radical, but that are catnip to the conservative Republicans who currently dominate the federal judiciary and especially the Supreme Court," according to
Cutting Off Their Own Noses
OSHA's recently issued Vax-or-Test Emergency standard would arguably help businesses -- especially those who want to lure customers into safer stores, and those who think vaccine mandates are a great idea, but fear the political blowback. They're happy that OSHA is taking the heat for them. Even the Chamber of Commerce has had a surprisingly moderate reaction to the OSHA standard. But some business associations -- like the National Retail Federation -- are teaming up with right-wing anti-labor ideologues to use bogus arguments to fight the standard in court. Unfortunately some conservative judges are listening. Tim Noah outlines the sordid situation for The New Republic.
Stats show workers hit hard by COVID
While furloughs and the economic slowdown caused by COVID led to a fall in reported workplace injuries, there was a massive rise in work-related illnesses, official government statistics show. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) newly released ‘Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses 2020’ shows private industry employers reported a 5.8 per cent decrease in the number of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2020, compared with 2019. There were 2.7 million injuries and illnesses in 2020 compared to 2.8 million in 2019.
By contrast, the number of workplace illnesses in 2020 quadrupled to 544,600 cases, up from 127,200 cases in 2019. BLS notes: “This increase was driven by a nearly 4,000 per cent increase in employer reported respiratory illness cases in 2020 at 428,700, up from 10,800 in 2019.” Under the US reporting rules, COVID is listed as a respiratory illness.
While the rate of injury cases decreased in 2020, from 2.6 cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers to 2.2 cases in 2020, the rate of illness cases increased from 12.4 cases per 10,000 FTE workers to 55.9 cases. The increase in the illness rate was driven by the rise in the respiratory illness rate, which rose from 1.1 cases per 10,000 workers to 44.0 cases. There were 1,176,340 non-fatal injuries and illnesses that caused a private industry worker to miss at least one day of work in 2020, 32.4 per cent higher than in 2019. Of these cases, 33.2 per cent (390,020 cases) were categorised as other diseases due to viruses not elsewhere classified, which includes reported Covid-19-pandemic related illnesses.
However, according to Confined Space, they don't know how many people have actually been infected with and affected by COVID because no one is keeping track. Three international experts on workplace health, P University of Manchester and School of Public Health discuss the Lessons from COVID-19 for the next pandemic: We need better data on workplace transmission. Read more: US Department of Labor BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, 2020, 3 November 2021. Confined Space.University of Toronto,
TONIGHT November 17: Dangerous Goods Advisory Group
The final DGAG bimonthly meeting for 2021 will be held tonight, Wednesday November 17. The DGAG is a general networking / discussion update meeting, open to all, to discuss issues that are going on for Dangerous Goods and Chemical Regulation at the moment.
This meeting will be a combined Physical Meeting and Zoom Meeting at 5.50 pm to initially meet up and then Physically and Remotely run between 6.10pm and 8.10pm.
- On Zoom (Zoom attendees please join from 5.50pm). To join the Zoom Meeting click here. Meeting ID: 851 0071 9278 Passcode: 606492
- Face to face: the Middle Park Community Centre (Upstairs) Meeting Room in Middle Park 254-256 Richardson St, Middle Park VIC 3206. (with a clean up to 8.40pm, followed possibly by a meal at the Thai Cafe in the nearby (200m) shopping centre)
The meeting will have a similar agenda to past meetings
The topics to be discussed will be:
- Hazardous Chemicals / Dangerous Goods Incidents
- The ADG Transport Code & Changes in the UN Model Regs, IMDG Code, IATA Regs, NZ Regs etc
- Dangerous Goods (Storage & Handling), GHS Haz. Chemicals, & Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals
- Update on Classification and Training for Dangerous Goods
- Information sharing
- Other meetings and events
For more information, contact Jeff Simpson (DGAG convenor and Webinar host), Haztech Environmental, Ph: 03-9885-1269 Mob: 0403-072-092, Email: [email protected]
Jeff can assist in setting up the Zoom meeting or adjusting computer settings. Contact Jeff for instructions on how to join.
Tomorrow, November 18: VTHC Annual Young Workers Conference
Young workers are facing an uncertain future. It's harder than ever for young people to access affordable housing, healthcare and to find secure work.
We're up against a Liberal government hellbent on smashing workers, selling out to their big business mates, and refusing to take the urgent climate action we need.
To win a fairer, safer future for all young workers we need to make our voices heard.
That’s why this year, the Young Workers Centre conference is all about building youth power - and we can’t do it without you!
As part of the conference the Young Workers Centre holding a practical how-to on the skills you need to organise other young people in your workplace, neighbourhood or electorate. You'll hear from young workers who are building worker power and community power and learn the skills needed to start organising yourself. Sounds good? RSVP and we'll see you there!
When: Thursday 18th November, 6:00 - 8:00pm
Where: Zoom, RSVP now to get the link!
VTHC Training for HSRs and Deputy HSRs
The scheduled courses for rest of the year are 'sold out' - with waitlists! However, the new timetable for next year is currently being finalised, so keep your eyes on the OHS [email protected] website as it's a good idea to book early as our courses will be very much in demand when things get back to normal.
Note: once face-to-face training begins in 2022, it will in line with the VTHC's COVIDSafe Plan, which means that all participants will need to provide and show a valid COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate prior to entering Trades Hall or training at other venues.