SafetyNet 608

Welcome to the January 27 edition of SafetyNet. 

Victoria is still experiencing high numbers of COVID (Omicron variant) infections, but it is hoped that we have reached the peak. Our healthcare system and essential workers continue to be under enormous stress. Supply chain issues and resultant shortages continue - with Scott Morrison proposing the ludicrous idea of allowing children to operate forklifts!  The federal government has still not agreed to make Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) free and accessible. 

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

COVID Update

Omicron might be milder than Delta and the original variant, but the transmission rate remains very high. The numbers of new infections are still increasing, particularly as individuals are now required to report a positive RAT result. Thankfully however, the peak of the Omicron wave seems to be over and active case numbers are declining.

The number of active cases in Victoria yesterday, January 26, was 139,562 with 13,507 new cases reported. There have now been 1,871 COVID-related deaths in Victoria. Of the active cases, 1,089 are in hospital, 113 are in ICU, and 40 of these are on ventilators. You can check the Victorian live update here

Australia wide, there have been 2,285,286 COVID cases in total and 3,230 total deaths. On December 15, just before we closed for the end of year break, the number of cases in Australia was just 235,529. The huge increase of over 2 million cases illustrates how much more infectious the Omicron variant is. 

Worldwide: as at January 26, 2022 there had been 358,865,529 worldwide infections (on December 15 the number was 271,725,553)There have now been 5,632,426 COVID-related deaths worldwide. 
(Source: Worldometer.) Read more about Coronavirus

Third, 'booster', vaccination crucial

As of January 26, 92.37 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16 had been fully vaccinated, 93.86 per cent had received their first dose. Australia wide, the figures are 92.04 per cent, 94.68 per cent respectively. In Victoria, 31.15 percent have now had their third dose. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates.

According to the Chief Health Officer, we need to get a booster dose because it offers a 68-fold reduction in the risk of death compared to unvaccinated people and a 7-fold risk reduction compared to being two-dose vaccinated.

There has been increasing evidence that immunity from infection decreases significantly 12 - 15 weeks after the second shot of any of the approved vaccines. While there is still some protection against serious disease, it is crucial that everyone get their third shot as soon as eligible. Initially this meant waiting six months - however now anyone over the age of 18 is eligible for the third shot after four months - three in Victoria.  

Health officials believe that while we might be past the peak of infections, we are likely to continue to see hospitalisations increase for the time being.

This means fewer hospital beds for our sick loved ones COVID-related or not. So, what are you waiting for? Book your third dose now if you are eligible which is currently 3 months after you had your second dose. Do it to protect yourself, your family, and our community. Book now at one of the state vaccination hubs or walk in clinics.

Many will be aware that the Victorian government requires that all workers – in Melbourne and regional Victoria – on the Authorised Worker list be fully vaccinated - including their third shot (if eligible) by 12 February.

The decision to not be vaccinated can affect someone's livelihood and threaten their life. Here are two instances from this week's news:

1 - A second AFL player will not be playing this year due to his vaccination status. Brisbane Lions is set to terminate the contract with Cam Ellis-Yolmen because of his decision not to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Ellis-Yolmen will join former Blue Liam Jones to opt out of the game as a result of his decision to reject compulsory vaccination. 

Also, West Coast star forward Jack Darling’s career, meanwhile, remains unclear as a result of his failure thus far to get vaccinated. He cannot train with the Eagles until he has one shot, with the AFL also imposing a deadline of February 18 for West Australian, Queensland and South Australian players to have two jabs, or full vaccination, to continue training. Read more: The Age

2 - American rock singer Meat Loaf died last week at the age of 74, apparently due to COVID. While his vaccination status has never been revealed, Meat Loaf, whose real name was Marvin Lee Aday, was outspokenly anti-vaccine mandate and anti-mask before his death — once telling a reporter, “If I die, I die, but I’m not going to be controlled.”  He was opposed to pandemic restrictions, slamming lockdowns and mask mandates during an interview last year, saying he considered such measures ineffective and 'political'. Read more: The New York Post

The Prime Minister, RATs and children

The ACTU and Australia's union movement have condemned Scott Morrison for the failure of his government to listen to advice from medical experts, businesses, and unions as far back as 2020 that large numbers of Rapid Antigen Tests would be required to keep working people and the broader community safe. Unlike the UK and US governments which are providing free RATs for anyone who wants them, enabling people to test frequently and without delays, keeping the community and workplaces as safe as possible, our government continues to insist only some Australians can get them free. 

Instead of accepting responsibility for the lack of tests,  Scott Morrison last week flagged the idea of allowing people under the age of 18 to apply for forklift licences, as one way of tackling the shortage of workers in the supply chain caused by the highly contagious Omicron. 

Not surprisingly, unions around the country slammed the proposal, highlighting the high workplace fatality rate involving forklifts and similar mobile machinery. "Morrison wants to see children operating one of the most hazardous pieces of industrial plant on worksites. It is completely unacceptable," the national assistant secretary of the CFMMEU's construction division, Nigel Davies, said. Unions fought for decades for regulations requiring workers to obtain a high-risk work licence and be over the age of 18 to operate forklifts and other machinery to "ensure safety for all workers."

Despite the regulations, fatalities occur as forklifts are highly dangerous. Both WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWorkNSW last year issued warnings to employers. Luckily the proposal was voted down by the National Cabinet. Source: ACTU media release; OHSAlert

Omicron Risk Assessments

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to pose risks to health and safety in Victorian workplaces, highlighted by the surge of cases from the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Remember: your employer must meet their occupational health and safety duties, to eliminate (or minimise) the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace. This means conducting Omicron risk assessments in consultation with health & safety representatives and workers. 

On Monday the 17th of January, the ACTU along with 30 unions held an emergency meeting, at which union leaders reported on the devastating impact the latest COVID wave is having on the health and incomes of working people. Unions are demanding urgent Omicron risk assessments, free rapid antigen tests, N95 masks and upgraded safety protections for workers. 

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said that unions would write to employers reminding them of the obligations to take all reasonable steps to keep workers safe. Ms McManus also said “for those employers who will not work with us to make workplaces safe, the Union movement will do what is necessary up to and including ceasing work in order to keep workplaces safe.” Read more: ACTU media releaseUnions threaten to stop work unless Omicron safety measures improve. SMH

Has your Employer either recently reviewed and updated their COVID risk assessment or undertaken an Omicron COVID risk assessment? Did they consult with HSRs and workers? 

If you answered "No" to either of the two questions or aren’t sure, it’s time to contact and seek the assistance of your union to call on your employer to identify and eliminate the COVID risks in your workplace as far as is reasonably practical. Every worker deserves a safe workplace. 

If you have questions around maintaining a COVIDSafe Workplace, you can also contact the COVIDSafe Workplaces team at Victorian Trades Hall Council here.

Omicron Impact Survey 

As noted, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has had a massive impact on Victorian and Australian workplaces over summer. Workers have been at the forefront of this outbreak, with many at risk of infection every day that they come to work. We’ve heard a lot in the media from about supply chain issues, staff shortages and its effects on business. 

We want to hear you, as Health & Safety Representatives or workers, how the Omicron outbreak has impacted your workplace and your workmates.  

We know that some workplaces are handling the outbreak better than others and that different workers have unique challenges from this outbreak. 

This is your opportunity to help make Victorian workplaces safer by taking part in the Omicron Impact Survey. Workers experiences must be front and centre in health & safety. 

ACTU Omicron Webinars

The ACTU is holding a series of webinars and virtual town hall meetings to educate HSRs, activists, members and the public about workers’ rights and the key health and safety measures that workplaces should be implementing, in light of the current situation with the Omicron variant.

Know your rights - Omicron and Work (2 sessions) 

For union members and the general public – Town Hall discussion

Thursday 27 January,
12:30pm and 6:30pm (AEDT)
Click here to register.

Omicron and safe workplaces - Health and Safety Representatives and Delegates briefing (1 session)

Tuesday 8 February 
3pm - 4pm (AEDT)
Click here to 
register.

WA: Laundry worker dies in extreme heat

According to unions, ‘deplorable’ conditions in a Perth laundry led to the death of a worker on Christmas Eve. The 55-year-old woman, who worked 60-hour weeks at South Pacific Laundry, collapsed inside the factory about 8.20pm on 22 December and died two days later after suffering from a blood clot and cerebral aneurysm.

The United Workers Union and the manufacturing union CFMMEU investigated the tragedy and slammed the working conditions in the factory. They found workers were working in extreme heat with machinery exhaust fans blowing hot air directly onto their workstations. Several workers reported to the union officials that they suffered from heat stroke and breathing difficulty while working in the factory. The only water dispenser available was broken and workers were processing dirty bedding with no PPE because it was too hot to wear.

Union officials said workers 'had panic attacks coming to work'. “Conditions inside were deplorable - the worst I've ever seen,” one union representative told the West Australian newspaper. The workers of the factory, many of whom only spoke limited English, were regularly forced to work six or seven days a week by South Pacific Laundry. Read more: West Australian


Research

Two vaccine doses not enough for Omicron

Three doses of the Pfizer vaccine offer protection equivalent to two doses against other variants, new research has found.

The study from Germany published in the journal Science used sera from 51 participants, which was challenged with Wuhan, Beta, Delta, or Omicron variants to check for antibody levels. The participants had received either two or three doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Though neutralising antibodies are just one measure of vaccine effectiveness, the authors said they can be strongly predictive of the degree of immune protection against symptomatic COVID-19 infection.

After 21 days, the effectiveness of a double dose had waned significantly against Omicron, with 20 out of 32 immune sera displaying no detectable neutralizing activity against Omicron. But within 4 weeks of a third dose, the protective effect against Omicron had increased 23-fold compared with two doses.

“Our data show that a third BNT162b2 [Pfizer] dose effectively neutralizes Omicron at a similar order of magnitude as was observed after two doses of BNT162b2 against wild-type SARS-CoV-2,” the authors concluded.
Read more: Alexander Muik et al. Neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron by BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine–elicited human sera, [Full article] Science, first release 18 Jan 2022. DOI: 10.1126/science.abn7591 Cidrap news updateSource: Risks 1029 


Regulator News

Changes to COVID-19 notification requirements

The Occupational Health and Safety (COVID-19 Incident Notification) Revocation Regulations 2022 revoke regulations that required WorkSafe to be notified if an employee, a contractor or a contractor's employee receives a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis and attended the workplace within the infectious period.

The changes became effective from 14 January.

The regulations requiring notifications commenced in 2020 and were renewed in July last year. As the management of COVID-19 has since changed significantly, notification requirements are no longer considered a necessary measure to manage the health and safety risks of COVID-19 in workplaces.

However, WorkSafe stresses that there are no changes to Victorian employers' duty to take every reasonable step to protect workers from risks to both their physical and mental health, including managing risks associated with COVID-19, and to report notifiable incidents to WorkSafe.

This includes the contraction of COVID-19 at the workplace, where the person requires immediate in-patient care or dies as a result.

Workplaces must also still adhere to the COVID-19 notification requirements set by the Department of Health, where notice must be given to the department when five positive cases have attended the work premises within seven days.

WorkSafe Victoria Awards and presentation dinner

WorkSafe has announced that it will be holding the Awards and presentation dinner on Thursday, 24 February at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne. The WorkSafe Awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of Victorian workers and employers in Occupational Health & Safety and return to work.

WorkSafe said, "Despite the challenges of the past two years, Victorian employees continue to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to reducing workplace harm and improving outcomes for injured workers."

Tickets can be purchased from this page for $110 (and includes a three-course meal with beverages). Hurry and secure your seat, as ticket sales close on Friday, 4 February 2022.

National news

National Fatality Statistics 2021  

In 2021: 155 Australian worker fatalities were reported to Safe Work Australia. This compares to 194 reported in 2020.

The industries with the highest number of fatalities:

  • Transport, postal & warehousing: 52
  • Agriculture, forestry & fishing: 35
  • Construction: 21
  • Manufacturing: 13

For more information on all the fatalities, go to the Safe Work Australia Preliminary worker deaths webpage


Prosecutions

Company fined after casual worker injured in forklift incident

A recent WorkSafe prosecution highlights the dangers of forklifts. 

Delacombe company Enviroflame Firelogs, a manufacturer of compressed bricks using recycled timber salvaged from pallets and other timber. These are produced and packaged for sale as fire wood.

Frederick George Coulter, a company Director and Secretary, also regularly works at the workplace operating machinery and providing instruction to the casual worker employed to do various tasks such as wrapping and stacking pallets, operating forklifts and general labouring. At the time he was the only employee of Enviroflame.

On 3 July 2019 the worker was crushed by a forklift being operated by Coulter, and sustained various musculo-skeletal injuries. In the raw materials storage area, Coulter reversed the forklift and hit a spare hydraulic ram leaning against a wall. After moving the forklift three metres forwards, he told the worker to pick up the ram. As he was doing so, Coulter reversed the forklift, pinning him between the forklift and a pallet which was against the wall. 

The worker was taken to hospital by ambulance. He underwent surgery to place pins in his left ankle and sustained badly bruised toes. At the time of the incident, Coulter did not hold a valid forklift licence.

WorkSafe Inspectors found there was no physical separation or other forms of traffic management between forklifts and pedestrians at the workplace to prevent collisions. Risks included a risk of mobile plant colliding with pedestrians or other mobile plants resulting in serious injury. 

Enviroflame were unable to produce work procedures, policies or other documents as no documents existed. There was no traffic management plan or other work procedures in place at the time of the incident.

The company pleaded guilty and was fined $40,000 plus $5,222 costs. Coulter was also prosecuted and fined $7,500. In making its decisions, the Court noted the company and Coulter's guilty pleas, lack of priors and unlikelihood of reoffending, Coulter's personal circumstances, including his age, poor health and financial circumstances and that the company was no longer operating and was seeking deregistration.

Near-miss leads to $25,000 fine for unsafe lifting

A heavy-duty trailer manufacturer has been convicted and fined after a trailer fell while being lifted, narrowly missing three workers.

MaxiTRANS Australia Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Ballarat Magistrates' Court on 18 January after pleading guilty to failing to maintain systems of work that are, as far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risk to health.

It was fined $25,000 plus $5,742 in costs.

The court heard that on 20 June 2018, three workers were using two cranes to lift a partially constructed trailer at its Wendouree premises. Workers usually did this by attaching chains to lifting lugs, which were fixed to the trailer using a magnetic drill.

That day, however, the magnetic drills were being repaired and so the workers looped a chain and hook around rails at the front and rear of the trailer. As a worker was placing a support stand beneath the raised trailer, it fell, hitting the stand, rolling to the right and narrowly missing all three workers.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said WorkSafe would not hesitate to prosecute employers who fail in their duty of care to maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

"This was a significant failure, which could easily have been catastrophic for the three workers involved," Dr Beer said. "The risks associated with working with cranes are well-known and there is no excuse for failing to ensure that safe systems are in place to protect workers."
Read more, including advice on how to manage the risks of cranes: WorkSafe media release

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


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

Other courses:

1 - 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 

2 - COMCARE Refresher: Thursday 31 March 2022

3 - COMCARE Initial course: 7, 8 April and 20, 21, 22 April 2022

4 - 2 Day Manager’s Training Course: 5-6 May 2022

Go to this link to enrol in any of the five-day initial or refresher courses. Remember to then notify your employer at least 14 days before the course. 

*Note: all courses scheduled in February are being run online via Zoom. This will be reviewed at the end of the month. 


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