SafetyNet 607

Welcome to the January 18 edition of SafetyNet.

It is with great sadness that we report the first two workplace fatalities of 2022.

The omicron variant has continued to spread through Victoria, placing enormous stress on our healthcare system, as well as on supply chains causing shortages of meat and fresh produce at supermarkets. The challenge has been great enough for Scott Morrison to deport a tennis player and allow close contacts to go back to work, but not challenging enough to make RATs free and accessible! Apparently you can't make everything free, but you CAN make everything unsafe. 

Sign the petition to make RATs free and accessible here.

If you haven't yet booked in your 5-day initial HSR training or your refresher course for 2022, now is the time! It's never been more important to have well-informed, union trained HSRs keeping workplaces safe. Find course dates and book in here. You're doing far more to protect your coworkers than Scott Morrison has in his whole career.

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

Two workers killed in the past week.

It is with great sadness that we report the first two workplace fatalities of 2022. Both occurred in the past week.

A 40-year-old truck driver was killed at Karramomus, near Shepparton on Thursday 13 January. The tip truck he was driving veered off the road, struck a tree and caught fire.

A 49-year-old worker was killed in Dandenong South on Monday 17 January. The worker was crushed by a shipping container when a component failed and the container fell back on the driver’s cabin.

This brings the workplace fatality toll to 2 in 2022. No worker should be killed at work. Every death is preventable. Mourn the dead; Fight like hell for the living.

COVID update

The Omicron variant continues to spread across Victoria extremely quickly, with the state recording 20,769 new COVID-19 infections today. The good news is that this is a significant drop in case numbers from previous days, signalling that this current wave may have approached its peak. However, the official case numbers still represent an underestimation of community transmission with epidemiologists speculating that actual case numbers could be up to 5 times higher. There are a number of reasons for this. Testing centres are being overwhelmed, many cases of Omicron are asymptomatic and many people are either not reporting results from Rapid Antigen Tests or unable to access these tests due to supply issues.

The real toll of the pandemic is reflected in the state’s hospitalisation numbers. Victoria's COVID-19 hospitalisations are currently at 1,173 with 125 in intensive care and 42 on ventilators. Almost half of those in hospital are unvaccinated, a significant overrepresentation given that 94% of Victorians over the age of 12 have received two doses of the vaccine. Proportionally, the rate of hospitalisation is lower compared to earlier waves in part due to the reduced severity of the Omicron variant and the fact that the variant is less likely to reproduce in the lungs. 

Staff shortages have continued to affect supply chains and essential workplaces across Victoria. This has led to an expansion of the close contact isolation exemption to include a number of new workers. As of 18/01/2022 workers in emergency services, education, critical utilities, custodial facilities and transport and freight have joined the food production and distribution industries in being exempt from isolation if they are a close contact with the following conditions;

​​- Close contacts will be able to leave the house to go to work only, for the rest of the time they will be in quarantine.

- Social activities will not be permitted.

- Close contacts must take a rapid antigen test before attending work across five days.

- They must be asymptomatic.

- Workers must wear a mask the entire time while at work, preferably an N95 mask.

- They must take meal breaks separate from other workers.

Additionally, workplace reporting rules have changed. For a full overview of what a workplace is required to do if there are cases in the workplace, see the Victorian government’s advice. Unfortunately, staff shortages have led some employers to abandon their health and safety obligations to workers, coercing workers to return to work even though they are COVID-positive. As was said in the last SafetyNet, if you believe your employer is violating their OHS obligations, contact your union.

Code Brown declared for Victorian hospitals.

A Code Brown alert has been activated across all metropolitan and six regional hospitals in the state. 

From midday yesterday, healthcare staff and resources can be redeployed to different sites and non-essential services will be postponed. ADF personnel have been called upon to drive ambulances and assist planning.

The alert is to help streamline emergency services and ease the strain on health resources from growing COVID hospitalisations. Health authorities are anticipating up to 100 hospitalisations everyday in the coming weeks.

This will be an extreme burden for the healthcare workers who have borne the brunt of the pandemic since the beginning. Many healthcare workers don't have access to the rapid antigen tests they need, are working with extreme staff shortages, being deployed in areas outside their area of expertise and having leave cancelled or renegotiated.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch) Acting Secretary Paul Gilbert said ‘Nurses and midwives have had the week from hell, on top of two years of intense difficulty. These coming weeks will only be worse."

ANMF media release. Read more: ABC

Tey’s Meats 

Last week it was revealed that hundreds of workers at Tey’s Meats processing plant South Australia were being subjected to an unsafe COVID workplace. At least 140 of their nearly 400 strong workforce had tested positive. Many of these workers are in insecure work with the majority on temporary visas and about 90% of workers born overseas. 

SA Health issued an exemption that would allow infected asymptomatic workers to work, putting other workers, their families and wider community at risk. Despite Tey’s assurance that only asymptomatic workers would return to work, it’s been claimed that several staff were clearly still unwell, “They still have a runny nose, they have coughs, they still have sore throats.” All workers continued to use communal eating and toilet areas, making exposure and potential infections more likely. Colour coded hairnets were issued to staff based on COVID status, with ACTU President Michelle O’Niel calling it “demeaning and dystopian”. 

In response to the unsafe work conditions at Tey’s, workers, their Union and the community put pressure on Woolworths to suspend sourcing meat from Tey’s, whilst workers COVID safety was at risk and by Monday after a phone conversation with Michelle O’Neil and Woolworths Chief Executive Brad Banducci, Woolworths announced that they would suspend supplies from Tey’s South Australian and source produce from other meat works. 

Finally on Tuesday of this week, the ACTU was advised that no COVID-Positive worker would be forced to work at Tey’s after the company agreed to the Union’s demands, that workers with COVID will be able to isolate, rest at home and recover. This is an important reminder the best way to be safe at work is to join your union. 

Ask Renata

Hello, I work in a heritage listed building with no air conditioning. I am curious to know what is the recommended inside temperature to work in?

Heat, whether 'seasonal' or part of the 'normal work environment', can be a hazard - working in heat can lead to workers suffering serious illness and can also lead to increased accidents. At the very least, it is very uncomfortable for workers having to work in heat.
 
While there is nothing specific in the law about working in heat, your employer has a duty to provide you with a workplace that is safe and without risks to health. If you and your colleagues are working in very hot conditions, this could be a risk to your health. 
 
Given the risks of climate change, this problem is only going to get worse in the future, so your employer should take action to address the hazard now - before it gets any worse!
There's no legal temperature that is considered too hot to continue working, however the Victorian Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment gives a guide of between 20 - 26 degrees Celsius for sedentary workers. Workers performing physically strenuous work will likely prefer a cooler work environment. Indoor workplaces need to be capable of maintaining a comfortable temperature range suitable to the work, whether through air conditioning, fans, insulation, airflow control etc.
Speak to your employer about arranging some temperature control at work. Installing air conditioning may be expensive, but this is an issue that is going to arise every summer and only get more extreme in the future, so it's a worthwhile investment. If air conditioning is not feasible in the short term, pursue other forms of temperature control, such as fans. Also consider other measures such as increasing the number/frequency of breaks, have cool water available within arms reach and (if you have certain dress standards) relaxing dress codes and allowing lighter clothing/shorts.
Don't forget, under s35 your employer must consult with you as the HSR, either through an agreed upon issue resolution procedure or the one laid out in the OHS Act.

Heat can be a really serious hazard. Less than a month ago, a worker was killed at a Perth laundry as a result of heat stress. The 55-year-old worker died after working a 60 hour work week in extreme heat. Inside the factory, machine exhaust fans blew hot air directly onto workstations and the only source of drinking water was broken. Several workers had reported that they suffered from heat stroke, difficulty breathing and panic attacks while working in the factory before their coworker was killed.

If you're concerned about heat at your workplace, you can find more information and an action plan on our heat hazard page here. Learn more about climate change as an OHS issue here.

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. 


Regulator News

WA - PTSD precedent introduced

Ambulance workers in WA with PTSD will automatically be entitled to workers' compensation next month. The new provisions apply to ambulance officers, paramedics and ambulance communications officers who are diagnosed with PTSD on or after 1 February.

The changes are significant as the legislation presumes an ambulance worker's PTSD to have been significantly caused by their employment, unless their employer can prove otherwise. For workers who regularly face traumatic scenes at work, this relieves the burden of having to prove their PTSD was caused by their work.

According to the WA Industrial Relations Minister and Mental Health Minister, the current claims process for ambulance workers with PTSD can cause further harm by requiring them to relive traumatic events and delaying support.


Prosecutions

Company and director fined for forklift crush incident.

A Ballarat company and its director have been fined over s21 and s144 breaches that resulted in a forklift accident leaving an employee with serious musculoskeletal injuries.

Frederick George Coulter is a Director and Secretary of Enviroflame Firelogs. On 3 July 2019 an incident occurred when the IP was crushed by a forklift and sustained various musculoskeletal injuries. The forklift was being operated by Coulter, who did not hold a valid forklift license.

Enviroflame had no policies or procedures to control the risks associated with mobile plant like forklifts. There was no traffic management plan or physical separation between forklifts and pedestrians at the workplace to prevent collision type injuries occurring. 

Enviroflame's contravention was attributable to Coulter, in that he knew of the absence of traffic management measures at the workplace and was able to make decisions about implementing such measures. He was fined $7,500 and the company was fined $40,000.

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


International News

Long COVID forces workers to food banks.

Two UK council care workers have been forced into food bank lines after exhausting sick leave.

The two workers contracted COVID at the end of 2020 after an outbreak at their workplace that infected 30% of the staff. They have both been on sick leave since being infected, after being diagnosed with long COVID. Their union, Unite, has called for their employer to follow the lead of the local health trust and pay the two workers full sick pay while they recover, a discretion that's allowed under the 'Green Book' agreement. 

Unite regional officer Richard Gates said: “The impact of Long Covid has resulted in both members having days when they can’t even get out of bed, brain fog, no energy, and breathlessness, so the last thing they need on top of this is the stress and worry of having no money and the prospect of being taken through the sickness absence procedure over being off from work. It is not right that they are relying on food banks and benefits to survive.”

Source: Risks1028. Unite media release: https://www.unitetheunion.org/news-events/news/2022/january/two-long-covid-bedford-council-care-workers-rely-on-food-banks-as-heartless-bosses-stop-pay/


Events

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:  

  • 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.

Details:

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. 


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