Welcome to the December 8 edition of SafetyNet.
As we approach the end of the year, we urge employers to make even more efforts in ensuring that hazards and risks in the workplace are identified and eliminated or controlled if they cannot be eliminated. Traditionally, the end of year sees more workplace fatalities than during other times. We do not want more needless deaths before the holiday season, more families in mourning.
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]
VTHC End of Year Party - RSVP now!
Are you an HSR/Deputy HSR? Are you in Melbourne? Have you RSVP'd to the End of Year Party yet? If not, then do so right now.
HSRs work tirelessly to keep workers across Victoria safe. It's been a huge year and to celebrate everything we've achieved we're going to have an end of year party! And we can finally meet face-to-face!
The VTHC OHS Unit is inviting HSRs and DHSRs to our End of Year event on December 15.
This will be an opportunity not only to catch up with each other, but also find out about all the fabulous things the union movement has achieved in the OHS space the past two years, and what is coming up in 2022. There will be food and drink, so join us.
When: 6pm - 8pm. Wednesday, December 15
Where: 'Loading Bay' - Victorian Trades Hall Council, corner of Victoria and Lygon Street, Carlton
RSVP (essential for catering purposes!): Click here
And talking of end of year parties
Every day of the year should be safe, that includes the work Christmas party. Your employer still has a duty to ensure a healthy and safe environment, so far as is reasonably practicable.
The talented people in our unit have created a game to walk HSRs through what their employers can do to make their workplace Christmas party a safe event for everyone. Have a go now! VTHC's Workplace Christmas Party Safety: The Game
Latest on Omicron
On 26 November, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated a new COVID-19 strain, known as B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern and named it Omicron. Omicron joins Delta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma on the current WHO list of variants of concern.
While it appears that the variant is more contagious than Delta, it is unclear whether it is less severe. Evidence is also emerging that the Pfizer vaccine offers a level of protection against the new variant.
NSW recorded 10 new cases of the Omicron variant over the weekend, with nine of the infections connected to a cluster involving a Sydney climbing gym and two schools. By Monday, the state had recorded 25 cases of Omicron — 14 locally acquired and 11 from overseas or on international flights. A case has also been recorded in the ACT,
Latest figures December 8
Victoria: Unfortunately, the number of new infections daily remains stubbornly around the 1,000 mark - sometimes even higher. The number in hospitals and in ICU is hovering around the same number, slightly up from last week.
- Active cases on Wednesday December 8: 11,331
- New cases reported: 1,312
- Hospitalised: 303, in ICU: 51; on ventilators: 27
- Total number of COVID-related deaths: 1,390
- Vaccination rate: 91.36 per cent double vaccinated; 93.46 per cent one shot (over 12)
Check the Victorian situation here.
- Total cases: 220,552 (210,237 on December 1).
- Total COVID-19 related deaths: 2,065.
- Vaccination levels: 88.29 per cent double vaccinated; 92.96 per cent one shot. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age
- Total cases: 267,252,563 (262,993,505 last week).
- Total number of COVID-related deaths: 5,284,820
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 am just wondering if there are any rules against a 15 year old working in a manufacturing factory?
This is not a matter that is directly covered by the OHS legislation. The legal age to work in Victoria is actually 11! But there are some types of work children under 15 cannot do. See this Victorian government page for more information on this.
What is relevant though is that the OHS Act places a general duty of care on all employers towards all employees.
So, it’s most important to make sure that the employer has taken into account the age and experience of the 15 year old and ensures that their health and safety is protected as much as reasonably practicable. It’s also crucial that the employer provides the right type and right amount of information, training, instruction and supervision to the worker, AND that the young worker knows what their rights are.
Check these pages and if it’s someone you know, then I would suggest discussing these matters with them, and recommend that they join the relevant union for that workplace:
Inexperienced workers are more at risk of being injured in the workplace, so it is crucial that they know their rights.
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.
Retail, hospitality workers facing violence and aggression as we come out of lockdowns
Retail and hospitality workers continue to be on the frontline of the pandemic, confronted with some horrific behaviour from customers, many workers health and safety is being put in jeopardy. The COVIDSafe Workplaces Team at Trades Hall visited over 300 workplaces in November to speak to workers about their experiences since the end of lockdown. The response was overwhelming and concerning, with about in 1 in 30 workers threatened with physical assault (and in some cases, assaulted) and about a quarter being subject to aggressive behaviour and verbal abuse simply for asking customers to check in. Nobody deserves to feel unsafe at work for simply trying to do their job.
The team found that workers were often poorly equipped to deal with the requirement to ask customers to sign-in and to verify their vaccination status. A quarter of workers indicated that they had no training at all in how to manage aggressive behaviour, with many others only receiving very rudimentary training. Workers were often unsure of what to do when incidents occurred with few avenues of support if things went wrong.
Unfortunately, workers continue to be subject to abuse and occupational violence throughout December following the introduction of vaccination requirements for general retail. The outreach team has visited a further 170 workplaces to find out how this had gone. Roughly 20 per cent of workers indicated that they felt unsafe asking for proof of vaccination, with others saying that while they generally felt safe, enforcement was uneven due to concerns about asking some customers. Half of all workers the team spoke to were subject to verbal abuse or aggressive behaviour when asking customers to sign-in, while threats of physical violence were generally rare, they were shocking when they occurred.
Some workers were called Nazis for attempting to enforce the vaccination requirement. One retail clothing store worker described how a customer who refused to show proof of vaccination struck her with a handbag and threw a stack of clothes into her face. At the more extreme end, a café manager in Footscray was struck in the face after requesting a customer check-in at the premises.
A story on the ABC last week reported that a Melbourne CBD bookstore had hired professional security after a staff member working as a COVID-19 marshal was allegedly pushed down an escalator. The Dymocks employee was briefly knocked unconscious in the incident after allegedly being pushed by a customer who refused to check in using a QR code and show his vaccine certificate. Later, the staff member was found to have suffered a mild concussion and cuts to his back from tumbling down the escalator. Police were investigating.
As the percentage of Victorians vaccinated continues to grow, the state government last week gave the clearest indication yet of the criteria it will use to discontinue the vaccine mandates, in the face of continuing criticism of rules requiring people to prove their immunisation status in retail and hospitality settings. Premier Daniel Andrews said the rules could change in the next few weeks but only after health authorities assess the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for children aged between five and 11, as well as the booster program.
ASEA releases updated stocks and flows model for asbestos
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has released updated asbestos stocks and flows information for Australia. This project was undertaken in partnership with Blue Environment. This updates the model estimates from 2015, and reflects new information from literature and industry experts. The model estimates the amount of legacy asbestos remaining in the built environment (stocks) and the quantity of asbestos-containing materials (ACM) reaching the end of its productive life and is now becoming waste or is in disuse (flows).
The updated estimates show that in 2021, around 6.4 million tonnes of legacy asbestos remains in the built environment in Australia. This includes 3.4 million tonnes of asbestos cement pipes, 1.7 million tonnes of asbestos cement sheeting (domestic) and one million tonnes of asbestos cement sheeting (commercial). Together, asbestos cement pipes and commercial and domestic sheeting make up approximately 95 per cent of the remaining legacy asbestos in the built environment in Australia.
Read more: The asbestos stocks and flows estimates infographic and the 2015 Australian stocks and flows model.
International union news
South Africa: documents to ratify Convention 160 submitted
With women mineworkers raped and murdered underground, energy workers killed during night shifts while others are attacked and scarred for life with acid while at work, the South African workplace is a crime scene for gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH).
Confronted by this horror, trade unions continue to fight against GBVH and the campaign for the ratification of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 190 which seeks to eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work and the adoption of Recommendation 206, are part of sustained actions to stop GBVH and create safer workplaces.
On 29 November, the South African government submitted its documents to the ILO as part of the ratification process. The documents were submitted at a meeting in Johannesburg with the ILO, the department of employment and labour, and trade unions that are part of the National Economic Development and Labour Council – the country’s social dialogue platform. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) represented unions.
Read more: Industriall media release
Improved working conditions reduce instances of workplace bullying
Workplace bullying is a pervasive and common issue that affects many organisations and employees. While there have been a range of management strategies and tools to support workplaces, new research has found addressing psychosocial conditions are most likely the key to reducing the problem.
A recent European study of German workers has found that factors such as high workload, insufficient resources and organisation factors like restructuring can leave some employees at a higher risk of being targets of workplace bullying.
The study looked at a representative group of employees in Germany, following them over a period of five years, and recording self-reported instances of bullying in relation to their job demands and resources. The study asked participants to report on:
- Instances of being bullied in the workplace
- Work pace and quantity
- How much influence they had in the workplace and the quality of their leadership
- Organisation factors like restructuring and layoffs.
The study concluded that 90 per cent of self-reported bullying instances could be attributed to the above factors, and that interventions to reduce bullying should focus on addressing these psychosocial concerns and conditions.
Read more: Conway, P, et al, Antecedents of Workplace Bullying among Employees in Germany: Five-Year Lagged Effects of Job Demands and Job Resources. [Abstract, and Full article] IJEP, Volume 18 Issue 20 10.3390/ijerph182010805.
Comcare Emerging Evidence Alert
This regular publication from Comcare reports on a number of research studies (including the item above) and subscribers may be interested in checking it out. Items include: Return to work; Presenteeism and Absenteeism; Working hours; and more.
Download the pdf version here.
More Amendments to workplace safety legislation
The Andrews Labor Government last week introduced the Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill, 2021 which will, among other things, strengthen health and safety laws to provide more support to workers and families affected by the debilitating effects of silicosis and similar occupational diseases.
The Bill recognises the progressive and ongoing nature of diseases such as silicosis, and will mean that workers with eligible diseases will not need to prove that their injury has stabilised to access lump sum payments. They will also be able to make subsequent applications if their impairments progress. Other amendments include increased support for the families of workers with silicosis and similar diseases, such as counselling and improved compensation and assistance entitlements.
These are in line with the Labor Government’s Silica Action Plan, which has also permanently banned dry-cutting, introduced Australia’s first licensing scheme for businesses working with engineered stone and provided free health screenings for past and present stonemasons.
The bill will amend the OHS Act to improve compliance by:
- changing the threshold required for a WorkSafe inspector to issue a prohibition notice not only in cases where a risk is immediate but also when they reasonably believe that an activity involves or will involve a serious risk to the health and safety of a person from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard.
- certain diseases or illnesses will be able to be prescribed as notifiable by regulation, recognising the significant impact and changeability of highly contagious or potentially serious illnesses in the workplace
- ensuring that notifiable workplace-acquired or workplace-transmissible illnesses align Victoria with the model Workplace Health and Safety Act
The Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt, said “We’re strengthening our laws to better protect Victorians from the full range of risks that exist in the modern workplace and make sure employers are accountable for their workers’ health and safety.”
Read more: Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill, 2021; Government Media release
WorkSafe urges employers to protect new and inexperienced workers
Over the coming weeks, WorkSafe Inspectors will be visiting businesses across Victoria with a focus on protecting at-risk workers, particularly in the Retail Industry.
As part of the campaign and to support this activity, WorkSafe has sent out a message to inform business owners, employers and managers of their responsibilities and obligations.
WorkSafe says: These workers can be at a higher risk of experiencing mental and physical injuries in the workplace. COVID-19 requirements and aggression towards workers from some members of the public are making conditions even more challenging for many people.
The communication also contains links to useful resources and information.
New guidance on welding
WorkSafe and its major stakeholders - unions and employer organisations - have developed a new and very informative resource: Controlling exposure to welding fumes.
In March 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) re-classified welding fumes from a Group 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans) to a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans).
The purpose of the guidance is to:
- Increase awareness of the risk associated with exposure to welding fumes
- Provide guidance on controlling the risk from exposure to welding fumes
Read more: Welding fumes
Updated guidance for 'surge' workforce
WorkSafe Victoria has updated its guidance: Surge workforces in healthcare and social assistance. The guidance has been written to help employers in healthcare and social assistance manage the risks associated with returning, new and redeployed employees entering the workforce to meet critical shortages. Check out the guidance here.
National Return to Work 2021 Survey initial findings
Safe Work Australia has published the 2021 National Return to Work Survey Headline Measures Report.
The report provides an overview of key return to work measures captured in the 2021 National Return to Work Survey – Australia’s only national return to work survey of people who get workers’ compensation for a work-related illness or injury.
The 2021 results, used for national reporting and jurisdictional comparison, show a national returned to work rate of 91.6 per cent and a current return to work rate of 81.3 per cent.
The ‘returned to work rate’ is the proportion of workers who reported they had returned to work since their work-related injury or illness. The ‘current return to work rate’ is the proportion of workers who reported they had returned to work since their work-related injury or illness and were in paid employment at the time of the survey.
A more detailed 2021 National Return to Work Survey summary report will be published in early 2022. Read the 2021 National Return to Work Survey Headline Measures Report.
National Fatality Statistics 2021
Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics on fatalities since November 25, at which time it had been notified that 122 Australian workers had been killed at work this year. Fatalities have been in the following sectors:
- 41 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 22 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 18 in Construction
- 12 in Manufacturing
- 7 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. To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Preliminary worker deaths webpage. 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.
The UK's OHS regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, has just published new guidance: Ventilation during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic This is very comprehensive and covers the following:
- Assessing the risk of poor ventilation
- Identifying poorly ventilated areas by using CO2 monitors
- How to improve ventilation
- Balancing ventilation with keeping people warm at work
- Air cleaning and filtration units
- Ventilation in vehicles
Company fined $41,500 after confined spaces 'near miss'
Fuelcraft Pty Ltd supplies trucks and tanks and provides maintenance services to the fuel and gas industry.
On 15 May 2019, a third year 'Heavy Fabrication Engineer' Apprentice and another employee entered a large ISO tank which had been used to store diesel on a train carriage, taking oxy torch with them, and were both wearing dust masks and goggles.. They used a scissor lift to get into the tank.
Atmospheric testing was done with a sniffer by dropping it into the tank and obtaining an oxygen reading. This was the first time that the apprentice had undertaken 'hot works' - that is, work which can produce heat, flames or sparks. Typical hot works includes welding, flame cutting or grinding and usually includes the use of fuel gases such as Acetylene with Oxygen for cutting.
The employee could not see the floor when he entered the tank but he could feel some sort of dirt on the bottom. He began cutting the tank and after about ten minutes, due to the lack of ventilation, the smoke from cutting the steel which was impregnated with diesel became too dense. The tank became very smoky and dark. The apprentice noticed flames on the floor.
The other employee was able to get out of the tank but the apprentice fell, hitting his elbow and sliding to the bottom of the tank. On his second attempt to get out, the other employee was able to pull him up by the arm.
The company failed to maintain a safe system of work in relation to work in confined spaces and failed to provide necessary information, instruction and training to employees. It also failed to notify WorkSafe of the incident.
To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
UK: Company fined £300,000 after blasting operation puts workers at risk
A quarrying company was fined £300,000 (AD$558,118) for safety breaches, after a flyrock projection event occurred during the use of explosives.
The blast resulted in rocks being ejected outside of the danger zone. HSE's investigation found that flyrock from the blasting operation had landed approximately 270m away, punctured the roof of an occupied work shed, and put a hole in the outside pane of the occupied manager’s office skylight window. Source: HSE
Russia: 51 killed in coal mine tragedy
On 25 November, 46 miners and five rescuers died at the Listvyazhnaya mine in Russia’s worst coal mining incident in more than ten years. According to reports, as the mine filled with smoke after a methane gas explosion, workers died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
On the day of the tragedy, 285 people were inside the mine - 239 managed to get to the surface and 64 of them were taken to hospital. The bodies of eleven miners were retrieved on the same day. 35 workers are still missing, presumed dead, as rescue operations have been suspended due to high concentrations of methane and risk of explosion.
The mine director and two other managers have been detained and accused of violating industrial safety rules. The local chief state inspector of the Russian technical supervisory body, Rostekhnadzor, has been also detained and accused of negligence. Violations of fire safety, the lack of equipped escape routes, malfunctioning electrical wiring, failure to conduct safety briefings and assessment of working conditions, failure to provide personal protective equipment and workwear, violations of the work and rest schedule were identified. More inspections will follow. Read more: Industriall media release
Qatar: ILO releases report on work-related deaths
An in-depth analysis of work-related deaths and injuries in Qatar by the International Labour Organization, has shown that 50 workers lost their lives in 2020 and just over 500 were severely injured, with 37,600 suffering mild to moderate injuries.
Most were suffered by migrant workers from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, mainly in the construction industry. Falls from height and road traffic accidents were the top causes of severe injuries, followed by falling objects on worksites.
The report, One is too many: The collection and analysis of data on occupational injuries in Qatar, provides the most complete and accurate picture of work-related deaths and injuries ever compiled in the country. Its findings are based on data collected from all medical institutions that provide acute care for injured workers in the country. Read more: ILO media release
HSR Initial & Refresher training
Get organised now to do either your initial five day training or your annual refresher in 2022.
Remember: under Section 67 of the OHS Act 2004 all HSRs and DHSRs are entitled to attend a one-day refresher course every year, yet many just don't get around to it. If this is you, then check out the courses scheduled for next year, and enrol now, before they fill up. It's important to attend in order to keep up your knowledge of OHS law and practice up-to-date. In the past year we have had significant amendments to the OHS Act, new regulations (for crystalline silica) and new codes.
The Initial course dates :
- 12, 13, & 17, 18, 19 January - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 17 - 21 January - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 24, 25 January & 1, 2, 3 February - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 2, 3, 4 & 17, 18 February - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 7 - 11 February - Bendigo
- 7, 8, 9 & 24, 25 February - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 28 February - 4 March (Education Sector) – AEU, Abbotsford
- 2, 3, 4 & 17, 18 March - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 9, 10, 11 & 23, 24 March - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 28, 29, 30 March & 11, 12 April - Trades Hall, Carlton
Course hours: 9am - 5pm
Course length: All initial OHS training courses are 5 days.
Course fee: $870.00 incl. GST Regional: $895.00 incl. GST
Refresher course dates:
- 14 January - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 25 January - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 14 February - Ringwood
- 16 February - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 8 March - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 16 March 2022 (Education Sector) - AEU, Abbotsford
Also, Work-related gendered violence refresher course: 3 February - Trades Hall, Carlton. (More info: Knowledge is power in fight against gendered violence) The course covers:
- Session 1 - legislative update on the Victorian OHS 2004 Act, OHS Regulations 2007, WorkSafe compliance codes and guides.
- Session 2 - consultation, communication, problem solving.
- Sessions 3 & 4 - hazard identification and control with either manual handling, work related stress, incident investigation or hazard mapping.
Course hours: 9am - 5pm
Course length: 1 day
Course fee: Metro: $330.00 incl. GST Regional: $350.00 incl. GST
Go to this link to enrol in a five-day initial or a refresher course. Remember to then notify your employer at least 14 days before the course.