Welcome to the January 12 edition of SafetyNet.
We hope you had a safe Christmas and New Year, and are ready for the year ahead. It's going to be a big year in OHS - new psychological health regulations are expected to come into effect mid year (you'll be hearing a lot from us about that) and reforms to worker's compensation are in the works. It's also a double election year, and we all know that if we want the healthiest, safest workplaces and the strongest regulations that really protect workers, we need Labor governments. There'll be plenty of opportunity to get involved so if you haven't already signed up to the OHS Network you can sign up here.
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]
Worker killed in farming incident
Sadly, a worker was killed since our last edition.
On the 14th of December, a 47-year-old farm worker was killed after becoming entrapped in a hay baler at Swan Marsh. The worker's arm was caught and dragged into the machine.
This brings the workplace fatality toll to 63 in 2021. No worker should be killed at work. Every death is preventable. Mourn the dead; Fight like hell for the living.
On the 26th of November 2021 the World Health Organisation designated the Omicron variant of COVID-19 a variant of concern.
This variant has now become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Australia, although the Delta strain is still circulating in the community. Thankfully, Omicron appears to be less severe than previous variants and the risk of severe disease may be reduced by up to 70%. However, the variant spreads significantly faster and can still lead to serious illness or death.
The rapid emergence of Omicron is already posing challenges to workers and workplace health and safety. Workers are now far more likely to catch the virus at work making employers' legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of workers more important than ever. Additionally, staff shortages due to isolation means that workers may be pressured to perform tasks outside of their job description or work unsafe hours, particularly in essential industries such as healthcare, essential retail and food transport and manufacturing. Familiar tools such as good ventilation, social distancing, adequate PPE and the ability to work from home where possible are all essential in slowing the spread of Omicron to ensure workers safety and to avoid overloading our healthcare system.
If you suspect that your employer is shirking their health and safety obligations, contact your union.
Rapid Antigen Testing
Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) detect whether proteins of COVID-19 are present in your body. They can detect COVID-19 during the ‘acute phase’ of infection, which is when symptoms first start to appear or shortly before that. Unlike PCR tests, Rapid Antigen Tests can be self-administered, done at home and will provide a result within 20 minutes. In Australia, RATs must be at least 80% effective to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. More information on Rapid Antigen Tests can be found here
In order to relieve pressure on the overwhelmed PCR testing infrastructure and reduce transmissions, health authorities have announced that if you test positive on a RAT, you are considered a ‘probable’ case. Unfortunately, due to an Australia-wide shortage, price-gouging from businesses and a lack of leadership from the federal government, RATs are hard to find and unaffordable for many workers. With many industries either requiring workers to return a negative RAT result before returning to work, or industries that have frequent COVID contacts, such hospitality and early childhood education, where staff are required to test frequently, lack of affordable and accessible RATs is spiralling into a disaster.
Unions have been pushing for accessible, affordable RATs since mid-2021 but were ignored by the Federal Government. We're not giving up - sign our petition demanding Scott Morrison make RATs free and accessible for all Australians.
If you're currently struggling to find a RAT, this website lists locations that have RATs in stock.
Following a positive test, you need to report it, and you and your close contacts need to isolate for seven days. More information on the directions around Rapid Antigen Tests can be found here.
Employers providing RATs for employees coming in to work can be useful in managing workplace outbreaks as they are able to provide a result quickly, meaning if anyone is positive, they are able to know and isolate before spreading the virus to other people.
With case numbers spiking due to Omicron, isolation requirements have changed.
If you are a close contact from your workplace or outside the household
- If you are symptomatic you must isolate and test using a rapid antigen test, or get a PCR test if you can’t access a rapid antigen test.
- If you are asymptomatic you are strongly recommended to use a daily rapid antigen test for 5 days, or monitor for symptoms if you do not have access to a rapid antigen test, and isolate and get tested if symptoms emerge.
If you are a close contact from someone in your household (including accommodation and care facilities)
- You must quarantine for 7 days and get tested in day 1 and day 6 of your quarantine with a rapid antigen test, or a PCR test if you can’t access a rapid antigen test.
- You are able to leave isolation on Day 7 of your isolation period if you received a negative result from the Day 6 test.
Note that from 12 January workers in the manufacturing, distribution or packaging of food and beverages including retail supermarket workers may be exempted from close contact isolation requirements if it is necessary for continuity of operations and other options have been exhausted. To mitigate risks, exempted workers must be asymptomatic, undertake daily RATs for 5 days and return a negative result prior to attending work. They can’t enter shared break areas, and employers are asked to facilitate solo break time. Face coverings must be worn, using N95/P2 respirators if possible and both the worker and workplace must consent to the worker’s return. This mirrors similar arrangements already in place for critical healthcare workers.
Anyone who tests positive from a Rapid Antigen Test must report this to the Department of Health and isolate for 7 days.
We advise all readers to check the appropriate websites to ensure they are following the most up-to-date advice. For more information, check out:
What if I've tested positive?
If you have tested positive, you must isolate for 7 days. Here's a useful checklist of what to do if you've returned a positive test.
You must tell your employer if you have tested positive so they can notify your workplace contacts. If you are a permanent employee (not a casual), you are entitled to sick leave while you're recovering from COVID. If you are a casual or believe you will lose income while isolating, you are eligible for a $750 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment to support you through your recovery.
Find more information about isolation support here.
Your employer cannot force you to work while you are unwell. If you have tested positive or you are unwell and awaiting a test, and your employer asks you to work, you have a right to refuse.
COVID-19 vaccinations update
COVID-19 Vaccination Boosters
It has been proven that immunity provided by Covid vaccines wanes over time; booster shots are essential to increase the protective antibodies that fight against COVID infection. Preliminary studies have found that having a booster dose of an mRNA vaccine restores a significant level of protection against the Omicron strain, reducing the risk of symptomatic infection, severe illness, and death from COVID-19.
As of Wednesday January 12, 18% of Victorians over 18 have received their booster shot and 93% of Victorians over 12 are fully vaccinated.
ATAGI and the Victorian Department of Health highly recommends that if you had your primary course four months ago or longer, you are due for your booster shot. This reduces to 3 months on 31 January. Right now there are more than 1 million Victorians eligible for their third shots.
If you are eligible for your booster shot and you haven't made a vaccination appointment, please arrange this as soon as possible by calling your GP, a medical centre or pharmacy in the booster roll out, or using the online booking system or calling 1800 675 398 for the state run vaccination hubs.
The Government also announced early this week that workers in key industries would be required to get their third vaccination before being permitted to work onsite. This applies to workers in healthcare, aged care, disability, emergency services, correctional facility, quarantine accommodation and food distribution. Workers eligible for a third dose on or before Wednesday 12 January will have until Saturday 12 February to get their vital third dose. Workers not yet eligible for a third dose will be required to get it within three months and two weeks of the deadline to receive their second mandatory dose.
Getting vaccinated is critical to protecting yourself, your loved ones and your community from serious illness, as well as helping reduce the strain on hospitals. Vaccinations, alongside social distancing, masks and ventilations, is how we ensure workplaces are as safe as possible from the spread of COVID.
You can book your third dose here: https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/third-dose
For the latest update about vaccination booster requirement for workers, you can find it here: https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/information-workers-required-to-be-vaccinated
For ATAGI’s statement on the omicron variant and Covid 19 vaccination booster, you can read it here: https://www.health.gov.au/news/atagi-statement-on-the-omicron-variant-and-the-timing-of-covid-19-booster-vaccination
ACT: Canberra family unknowingly buys Mr Fluffy house.
A Canberra family bought a house in May worth $1.8 million, just 18 months before discovering deadly, loose-fill asbestos in their new home.
The property is the 6th house found to be missed by the state's asbestos removal program that inspected thousands of houses between 1989 and 1993. Three decades after the original program to identify and clean up Canberra's so-called "Mr Fluffy" homes — houses insulated with potentially deadly, loose-fill asbestos.
A "full asbestos assessment" does pick up the presence of loose-fill asbestos. The Asbestos Response taskforce recommended in 2014 that these assessments be mandatory for the sale of any home built before 1980. However, that recommendation was not adopted.
Mr Papas has implored authorities to think again and act to prevent another family from having a similar experience.
"I know my trades have been exposed and I think that's the hardest part," he said.
NSW: Asbestos routinely dumped in landfill and improperly handled by workers at Bingo plant, AWU alleges.
Workers at Bingo Industries’ Eastern Creek recycling plant are routinely handling potentially deadly asbestos without proper safety equipment and procedures in place, the Australian Workers Union (AWU) has alleged.
AWU representatives inspected the billion-dollar recycling and landfill facility on Thursday after several failed attempts to gain entry. “When our officials were delayed entry to the site by Bingo management, it seemed clear there was something to hide; what we discovered on site today confirmed our fears,” AWU NSW secretary Tony Callinan said.
Callinan also expressed concerns workers were expected to wash their clothes at home, potentially carrying the deadly fibres with them to expose loved ones.
“We have members routinely expected to sort through broken up pieces of building waste, including asbestos travelling along conveyor belts. They are then expected to wash their clothes in their homes, even though they could be covered in asbestos dust. It is shocking,” he said.
Callinan said the alleged oversights had been reported to Safe Work NSW, and the AWU would also be considering other legal avenues.
Source: news.com.au https://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/asbestos-routinely-dumped-in-landfill-and-improperly-handled-by-workers-at-bingo-plant-awu-alleges/news-story/758bcd0213090ad099a0f23f61799da9
Digitisation stress overwhelming workers and more support is needed.
Research from Germany's Witten/Herdecke University has indicated that dealing with digital applications at work and the digitisation process is having a negative impact on workers' health.
The researchers surveyed 710 public servants being impacted by transition to 'E-Government', finding 10 per cent were "digitally stressed", feeling unsupported and ill-prepared by their employer for the digital transition. They feel stressed by constant screen time and the need to be available on different communications channels simultaneously.
The researchers say their results shed light on the "potentially destructive factors in the digital transformation process".
Technology can have significant impacts of organisations and the work environment. The research shows it is increasingly important for companies to ensure their workers are equipped with appropriate digital competency and to implement interventions to help workers deal with new technology without stress, such as "digital pilots".
Read more: Risk factors for digital stress in German public administrations. Sammy Wrede, et al, Germany, BMC Public Health, published online December 2021, doi: 10.1186/s12889-021-12247-w. Source: OHS Alert
Is menopause a workplace issue?
The International Labour Organisation released a podcast considering menopause as a workplace issue. Traditionally considered a personal issue for women, unions, researchers and policy makers are increasingly considering menopause to be a workplace issues.
With thousands of women of menopause age in the workforce, the effects of menopause on women workers as a workplace issue is hard to ignore. Fatigue, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, 'brain fog' and insomnia have significant impacts on women workers' ability to participate meaningfully and safely at work.
Thousands of women workers will leave the workforce early due to the effects of menopause. Employers are suggested to consider policies and interventions to better support women workers of menopause age, such as flexible work.
Find out more:Is the menopause a workplace issue? 7 January 2022 International Labour Organisation https://voices.ilo.org/podcast/is-the-menopause-a-workplace-issue#headline Source: ILO
New factsheet on solar ultraviolet radiation
Safe Work Australia has developed a factsheet on the risks of solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure at work.
UV radiation is a workplace risk, particularly for outdoor workers. It is a risk, not only for those who work in direct sunlight. UV radiation can be reflected off certain materials, such as concrete, metal, snow, and sand.
The Trades Hall OHS Unit has prepared a thorough webpage on Sunlight - Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation which includes a Risk Assessment tool for OHS Reps and a poster to track daily UV.
Fatality charges laid after union push.
WorkSafe revealed late last year it had launched proceedings against Energy Australia Yallourn Pty Ltd in relation to the death of a worker at the Yallourn power station in November 2018.
The 54-year-old worker sustained severe burns in an arc flash at the power station, before dying in hospital. He had just completed routine maintenance reinstalling a circuit breaker when an allegedly faulty protective panel allowed a cable to touch live components, causing the arc flash.
WorkSafe controversially announced in November 2020 that it wasn't charging Energy Australia over the fatality, a decision that was reversed following a review by the State Director of Public Prosecutions.
The review was requested by the vice president of the Mining and Energy Union's Victorian district, Mark Richards, who pushed for the case to be prosecuted.
In a statement issued today, the union's Victorian secretary Geoff Dyke said it was important for workers to see Energy Australia being held to account over the fatality to restore their confidence in safety laws.
He also said the charges sent an important reminder to the employer to maintain safety standards as the Yallourn power station heads towards its scheduled closure in 2028.
Energy Australia's case is listed for a filing hearing at the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court on 13 January 2022
RACV fined $475,000 after fatigue induced car collision
RACV has been convicted and fined $475,000 for failing to ensure its contractors were managing the risk of fatigue.
An employee of one of the RACV's roadside assistance service contractor companies, YJ Auto Repairs, was killed when he ran off the road and hit a tree at Healesville in March 2018. Evidence showed that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.
At the time of the accident, the worker had been on call for 89 hours and had been working for 17 hours straight.
The court heard that RACV did not require YJ Auto Repairs to provide fatigue safety training or have a safe systems of work in place to mitigate fatigue risks. The courts also heard it was routine for YJ Auto Repairs' workers to work 96-hour on-call shifts over four days and nights.
It found it was reasonably practicable for RACV to provide contractors with information on the risk of fatigue and suggest they implement policies and procedures to minimise associated risks.
This case was significant as it considered the extent of responsibility of duty holders for contractor fatigue management.
Company fined $10,000 over bullying behaviour
Harry Kim Pty Ltd was fined $10,000 after an injured employee was subjected to bullying and harassment from her employer.
After sustaining a back injury at work and taking time off in 2017, the employer sent a number of texts and make phone calls to the injured employee concerning her employment status. There were also a number of in person confrontations.
The behaviour was persistent and repeated over a period of two months, and included yelling at the employee, demanding to see records of workers compensation payments, threatening the employee, and turning up at her house unannounced and attempting to force open the door.
The bullying behavior exposed the employee to risks to her health and safety, namely anxiety and depression.
In breach of s21(1) & 2(a) of the OHS Act, Harry Kim did not have any or any adequate processes, policies or procedures to ensure that bullying behaviour did not occur, to regulate workplace behaviour or to provide a mechanism to assist employees to raise concerns.
To check for any Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Global: WHO concedes respirators are necessary
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has conceded higher protection respirators are necessary to protect workers from COVID-19 in a wide range of health and care workplace settings. The new recommendation states staff should have access to properly fitted respirators.
Previously, the WHO has rejected or downplayed the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19, limiting the respirator recommendation to just medical ‘aerosol-generating procedures’ or surgical masks.
Turkey: Turkish metalworkers fight for a fair contract
Covering 142,000 metalworkers in more than 300 companies, Turkish metalworkers have commenced sector-wide collective bargaining. Since mid-December, metalworkers have carried out actions, urging employers to accept their demands against the backdrop of Turkey’s economic crisis.
The unions are demanding pay and benefit increases, an improvement of working hours, healthcare, and paid overtime.
Myanmar: Workers die in jade mines
The death of at least six jade miners in a landslide in Hpakant, Myanmar on 22 December 2021 highlights the urgent need to curb unsafe mining practices and protect miners’ lives, the global union IndustriALL has said.
The incident involved a landslide that occurred amid heavy rainfalls in the monsoon season. 70 jade miners were swept into a large mining pond. In 2020, more than 160 jade miners were killed in another landslide in Hpakant.
Studies had established that landslides were mainly caused by unsafe mining practices implemented by mining companies.
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.
Initial course dates :
- 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:
- 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.