SafetyNet 609

Welcome to the February 2, 2022 edition of SafetyNet.

Unfortunately we report the deaths of two more Victorians since our last edition.

It appears we are now past "the peak" of Omicron infections, with the numbers of new infections and active cases decreasing. Nevertheless, numbers are still high, putting our healthcare system and essential workers under enormous stress.

The supply of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) is still an issue: the federal government continues to refuse to make them free and accessible to everyone who needs them. 

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 more Victorian workers killed

It is with great sadness that we report that another two workers have been killed in Victoria.

The first fatality is that of a 60-year-old truck driver who died in hospital on January 21 as a result of a fall from the top of a truck at a Maffra grain depot the day before. He had sustained serious head injuries. 

According to WorkSafe, it appears a hand rail failed as the man was closing hatches on top of the truck's grain container, causing him to fall approximately four metres to a concrete driveway below.

The second fatality was that of a 70-year-old who died in hospital yesterday after falling from a trailer being towed by a tractor in Woorinan South on Monday. WorkSafe believes the tractor-trailer was turning when the worker fell to the road at about 1pm.

The deaths bring the workplace fatalities for 2022 to four, three more than at the same time last year. 

VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased workers. No worker should be killed at work - every workplace death is preventable. Mourn for the dead and fight for the living. 

Job opportunity in the VTHC OHS Unit

The upcoming retirement of Renata - whose role includes producing SafetyNet, answering 'Ask Renata' queries, writing content for the OHS [email protected] website and liaising with affiliates and WorkSafe - means there's a fabulous opportunity for someone to join the VTHC's vibrant OHS Unit. Please pass on to anyone who may be interested. Applications close February 20.  Check out the job description here.

COVID Update

Although Omicron continues to spread quickly across Victoria and Australia, with the state recording 14,553 cases today February 2 (up from the last few days), the outlook for the Omicron wave is improving significantly. On the 30th of January the Premier, Daniel Andrews, noted that the drop in cases in the community presented "a more optimistic picture" than government modelling had initially predicted with many epidemiologists advising the government saying that Victoria has now passed the peak of the Omicron wave.

As of today, number of active cases in Victoria today, February 2, was 73,886 (last week 139,562) with  25 deaths reported. There have now been a total 2054 COVID-related deaths in Victoria. Of the active cases, 768 are in hospital, 99 are in ICU, and 31 of these are on ventilators. You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide, there have been 2,579,240 COVID cases in total (2,285,286 last week) and 3,835 total deaths.  Worldwide: as at February 2, 2022 there had been 381,718,207 worldwide infections (358,865,529 last week). There have now been 5,7063,317 official COVID-related deaths worldwide.  (Source: Worldometer.) 
Read more about Coronavirus

Vaccination update 

One of the best ways to stay protected from COVID-19 is to get the 3rd shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. This will become more important as it seems likely that the Victorian government will be including booster shots in the statewide vaccine mandate. Remember that boosters reduce your chance of hospitalisation by 90 per cent against Omicron and your chance of death by even more. To book your booster shot today, go to the Victorian government's vaccine booking portal here.

As of February 2, 92.95 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16 had been fully vaccinated, 94.27 per cent had received their first dose. Australia wide, the figures are 93.4 per cent and 95.58 per cent respectively. In Victoria, 31.6 of the total population have now had their third dose. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates.

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. Teachers must have their third shot by February 25, if eligible. 

Is your workplace doing enough to prevent the spread of Omicron?
The COVID-Safe workplaces team is currently surveying health and safety reps and workers across Victoria to understand how Omicron has affected their workplaces and what employers are doing to limit the spread. Have your voice heard and be part of making our workplaces safer and better for all by completing the survey here!

COVID sessions for HSRs

Online COVID Safe Training for HSRs has returned this year. VTHC is running four (4) sessions over the coming weeks:  

  1. February 21 - 1 to 3.30 pm 
  2. February 28 - 1 to 3.30 pm
  3. March 10 - 12.30 to 3 pm 
  4. March 21 - 12.30 to 3 pm 

These sessions are geared towards Victorian HSRs, aimed at providing resources and information on how to exercise your powers as a HSR in helping prevent workplace outbreaks of COVID-19. They have been updated to cover the Omicron wave and the importance of Rapid Antigen Tests and booster doses, however if you attended the course last year the conversation around your powers at work is the same.

Prime minister offers aged care workers a bonus

Scott Morrison is offering an insulting one-off payment of $800 to aged care workers - an amount that for many workers won’t even cover the cost of rapid antigen tests they’ve already purchased.

A recent survey by the nurses' union (the Australian Nursing and Midwife Federation) found that a quarter of aged care workplaces are not providing free RATs to workers, with one in five workers saying they’ve paid for them out-of-pocket.

Aged care workers deserve permanent pay rises. They have told us that they’ve already spent hundreds of dollars tests. If RATs aren’t made free and accessible now, it’s likely that this cost will spill into thousands of dollars in coming months. Aged care workers need permanent pay rises and we all need free and accessible RATs for all. Send a message to your MP demanding free RATs for everyone.

Ask Renata

Apologies: Renata forgot to include an 'Ask Renata' last week - but hopefully you'll find this week's question, which came in from a manager, interesting and useful. 

Hello OHS Info

I am hoping you can provide me with some advice. We supply suitable drinking water and outlets for out staff. However I would like to know whether we are we obligated to provide hydrolytes for staff to mix into their water bottles. 

Under the OHS Act and the compliance code, employers must provide their workers with adequate facilities (so far as is reasonably practicable), which includes water. They must also provide safe systems of work and so on (under s21 of the OHS Act - see Duties of Employers). 

There is nothing specific about water additives - however, if the weather is extremely hot, and there is a risk of workers becoming dehydrated or suffering from heat stress, then there would be an argument that the use of hydrolytes is a good idea. I believe that some employers whose employees work outdoors do provide such additives as an extra control.  

The following is from a quick search of information on the internet: "The body's ability to stay cool in hot weather is dependent upon proper hydration. But hydration isn't maintained by water consumption alone. Electrolytes are also required for hydration." 

As the employer, your legal duty is to identify hazards and risks and then implement controls to either eliminate or minimise the risks to workers. If providing hydrolyte powder to add to their water means minimising the risk of the serious consequences of heat to the workers, then I believe you should be providing it. 

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.  

Asbestos News

Business Research and Innovation Initiative asbestos grants

In 2021, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) made a successful submission to the Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII) – RegTech Round, on the challenge of using technology for real-time and accurate asbestos testing. BRII is administered by the Australian Government, through the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

Five applicants to ASEA’s RegTech challenge were successful and will receive grants totalling $487,573. Grants will be used for initial 3-month feasibility studies, to test ideas to make the identification of asbestos more accurate in real-time and less burdensome overall. The most successful projects will be eligible to apply for an additional grant of up to $1 million to develop a prototype or proof of concept. Read more: ASEA media release 

UK: Families win payout from BBC for asbestos deaths

The British Broadcasting Commission (BBC) has paid £1.64m (AD$3.14) in damages over the deaths of 11 former staff members who died of cancer after working in corporation buildings riddled with asbestos. 

All 11, who included make-up artists, engineers, riggers, set builders, studio managers and television producers, died of mesothelioma. They worked at 18 locations, including Broadcasting House in central London, Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham and Television Centre in White City, west London, its headquarters for decades until 2013. The nine men and two women worked for the BBC between 1959 and 1998.

Harminder Bains, the lawyer for the families of some of former BBC staff who died of mesothelioma, said she suspected far more corporation personnel had been exposed to asbestos than those in the 11 settled lawsuits.

“While the BBC may only have settled 11 cases, I don’t believe that they have only exposed 11 people to asbestos. There must be hundreds if not a few thousand people [who were] exposed to asbestos by the BBC, given the number of locations but also the long number of years asbestos was present in BBC locations,” said Bains. Read more: The Guardian 

Brazil: Minaçu, site of the country's last asbestos mine

Even though Brazil imposed a ban on asbestos in 2017, a state law under dispute in the courts keeps Sama's Cana Brava asbestos mine nearby operational and exporting the asbestos abroad. The locals remember when it 'snowed' in Minaçu - when the town's chrysotile [white] asbestos mine lacked safety procedures to contain asbestos powder and stop it spreading across the nearby urban area. 

At any point, a court decision could suspend the mining activity, as it did for 16 days last year, or end it for good. The development of a new rare earths mine in the region, has seen increased hiring and some residents believe Minaçu should reinvent itself and move on from asbestos. But for others, without asbestos, the town is over. "If Sama stops, the town stops," said Joaquim de Souza, 54, who lives near Minaçu's massive hill of asbestos tailings. Some, like de Souza, wrongly believe chrysotile asbestos is harmless. 

This is a fascinating report on how the asbestos mining company, Sama, controlled the town, funding cultural, religious and sporting events, choosing the mayors and the councilors. Read it in Sight Magazine.

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home.  

Allegations of sexual assault at Rio Tinto

In shocking news this week, 21 women working for mining company Rio Tinto reported actual or attempted rape or sexual assault in the past five years to a formal, independent review commissioned by the company. 10,300 workers responded to the review. 

The review, headed by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick (EB & Co), was tasked with reviewing company culture.

The commissioning of the report came after WA parliamentary inquiry which revealed almost two dozen sexual assaults on mine sites had been investigated by police over a two-year period. 

The Rio Tinto report found sexism and bullying were systemic across the company's worksites. The report found:

  • Women were significantly more likely to experience sexism than men: the company's workforce is approximately 79 per cent male despite recent attempts to increase diversity
  • The majority of respondents reported everyday sexism which affected their self-esteem, personal relationships and general health
  • Almost half said they had been bullied

The company's chief executive Jakob Stausholm said the findings were "deeply disturbing". He said, "I offer my heartfelt apology to every team member, past or present, who has suffered as a result of these behaviours."  

Rio Tinto has committed to enacting all 26 recommendations made by the report aimed at preventing discrimination and an unacceptable workplace culture going forward.

It is ironic perhaps that Rio Tinto's former HSE chief has been appointed as chair of Safe Work Australia. Ms Joanne Farrell replaced Diane Smith-Gander as chair on February 1. Farrell had a 40-year career in the mining industry, and in late 2019 retired from her role as global head of health, safety and environment for Rio Tinto.
Read more: Female mine workers report sexual assault, harassment to independent Rio Tinto review, ABC News online 


Research

Workers' views on non-standard work schedules

Non-standard work schedules (NSWSs) are those which are outside of regular and predictable daytime hours. These may have negative effects on worker and family health.

Researchers from the U.S.A undertook a qualitative study to try to understand worker perspectives on the health and well-being impacts of NSWSs among full-time, transportation maintainers, correctional, and manufacturing workers. Forty-nine workers participated in eight focus groups and the researchers then examined the data.

The workers unsurprisingly reported that long work hours and irregular and unpredictable schedules posed the biggest obstacles to their well-being. They reported that NSWSs were associated with behavior impacts (poor family and social connections, poor eating, poor sleep, lack of exercise recovery), physical health impacts (exhaustion, weight gain) and extended work exposures (increased stress, increased accidents).

The researchers concluded the results highlight the importance of developing and implementing effective workplace interventions to address these barriers to health and health behaviors.
Read more: Suleiman, A et al. Worker perspectives on the impact of non-standard workdays on worker and family well-being: A qualitative study. [Full article]BMC Public Health, vol. 21, no. 1, 2022

The association between long working hours and infertility

Korean researchers sought to investigate whether working long hours was related to infertility among female Korean workers, taking age into consideration.

The researchers used data from the 2018 National Survey on Fertility and Family Health and Welfare in Korea - a cross-sectional, nationally representative, and population-based survey. Infertility was defined as women who were not pregnant after regular unprotected intercourse for a year. Working long hours was classified as 52 hours or more per week, and age, whether younger or older than 40 years old.

Without going into the specifics, the results showed that the prevalence of infertility increased as weekly working hours increased - but only for the younger than 40-year subgroup.

The researchers concluded that infertility is associated with working long hours, especially in young-aged workers, and therefore, working schedules must be structured to better suit young female workers.
Read more: Ahn, J, et al, The Association Between Long Working Hours and Infertility [Full article] Safety and Health at Work, vol. 12, no. 4, 2022


Regulator News

Victorian news

WorkSafe's HSR newsletter

The February edition of WorkSafe's HSR newsletter was posted this afternoon. It has a number of items which should be of interest to HSRs, including a new fact sheet on hazardous manual handling, advice on trench operations, and more. If you haven't subscribed yet, do so. Here's the latest edition.

WorkSafe is recruiting for inspectors

The regulator is advertising for and recruiting a number of inspector positions - both general and specialist construction - in various Victorian locations. WorkSafe is holding a number of virtual information sessions on the positions, to provide applicants with an opportunity to learn more about the organisation, culture, the Inspector role and recruitment process. These are optional and do not form part of the application.  Applications close on February 14.  

In our view, experienced and passionate HSRs would make fabulous inspectors. So take a look at this page if you're interested.

Guidance on Diesel Exhaust

In June 2012 the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified diesel engine exhaust as a Group 1 carcinogen – that is, carcinogenic to humans.

This week WorkSafe Victoria released new guidance: Controlling the risk of exposure to diesel exhaust. The guidance helps employers eliminate or reduce the health risks associated with diesel exhaust. It is very thorough, and covers the following topics:

  • What is diesel exhaust
  • Workplaces likely to have diesel exhaust
  • Health risks
  • Identifying hazards and assessing risks
  • Control the risks
  • Workplace exposure standards
  • Air monitoring
  • Health monitoring

Read more: Diesel - a declared carcinogen; and Exhaust fumes 

WorkSafe Victoria: Horticultural industry event: Safe harvests

WorkSafe, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, and Labour Hire Authority are hosting a free online information session to help ensure farmers are aware of the latest health and safety requirements, COVID-19 employer obligations and their responsibilities towards seasonal workers.

Representatives from Agriculture Victoria and Victorian Farmers Federation will also attend to provide information on seasonal workforce support and general farm safety.

The virtual event gives growers a chance to seek advice on anything they're unsure about in a relaxed setting, whether that be how to best control OHS risks, COVID-19 isolation rules or the legal responsibilities of labour hire hosts and providers.

After the online event, inspectors and authorised officers from WorkSafe, Labour Hire Authority and the Department of Justice and Community Safety will visit local farms to conduct compliance checks and offer advice on how to tackle health and safety hazards. 

The online information session will be held on Wednesday 9 February 2022 at 5-6pm. Register here.

OHS Essentials for the construction industry

Construction is one of the state's most high-risk industries. On average, nine people every day were injured working in construction last year and sadly, 33 lives have been lost in the industry since 2019, including 12 last year alone. 

The industry accounted for about 14 per cent of all accepted injury claims in Victoria in 2021, with the 3222 construction claims accepted by WorkSafe, the third highest of any industry. The most common injuries were musculoskeletal (1004), wounds, lacerations and amputations (717) and tendon, muscle and ligament trauma (591). The leading causes of injury last year were body stressing (1084), slips, trips and falls (1007) and being hit by a moving object (731).

WorkSafe's OHS Essentials program is available to help make construction workplaces safer. It provides independent consultants who give free, confidential and tailored safety advice for small to medium businesses.

David Woollands, who runs a small construction and commercial maintenance business in Melbourne's north-east, said the program had been invaluable to improving his business and the safety of his workers. "What we don't want to see with our employees is ongoing repetitive injuries that are going to cause them issues," Mr Woollands said. "What's great when you come out of a program like this is knowing that you've done everything you can to make sure your employees are safe."

To find out more about the OHS Essentials program and to watch David's story, go to this pageRead more: WorkSafe media release 

National news

Alert on ladders from South Australia

After one worker was killed and two seriously injured in recent ladder incidents, SafeWork SA has issued an Alert telling PCBUs that under the hierarchy of controls for preventing workplace falls, working from a ladder "should be the last option" and they must, where practicable, eliminate height risks by performing tasks on the ground or from a solid construction. 

Other high-level controls include performing height work on passive fall prevention devices like scaffolds, safety mesh or elevating work platforms.

The death occurred in January, with a worker falling from a ladder and sustaining fatal head injuries while installing ceiling joists in a warehouse. 
Read more: Three serious falls from ladders in six weeks. SafeWork SA Safety Alert

New resources from Safe Work Australia

Safe Work Australia has developed two new infographics:

  1. Workplace sexual harassment statistics and 
  2. What to do if you are sexually harassed at work 

as part of its suite of materials which complement the workplace sexual harassment guidance materials published last year.

The materials provide guidance to anyone who has a WHS/OHS duty to protect the health and safety of workers.

Under Australia’s model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws, PCBUs have a positive duty to do everything they reasonably can to prevent sexual harassment from occurring at work, just like other risks to health and safety. This includes both physical and mental health. The same duty applies to employers under Victoria's OHS Act. 

The infographics are useful tools to support PCBUs, employers and small businesses to promote the importance of managing sexual harassment at work and can help start a conversation about managing WHS hazards in relation to sexual harassment. For more information, go to the workplace sexual harassment web page. Read more: The right to a workplace free of discrimination and sexual harassment 


Prosecutions

Abattoir convicted and fined after worker falls

Mutton meatworks Ararat Abattoirs Pty Ltd was last week convicted and fined $35,000 (plus $2,930 costs) over an incident in 2019 when an employee fell from a raised platform, hitting his head.

The company pleaded guilty in the Ararat Magistrates' Court on Friday to one charge of failing to provide and maintain safe systems of work, so far as was reasonably practicable.

Workers would stand on a 1.5-metre-high platform to load refrigerated shipping containers with boxes of mutton. On 2 November 2019, a worker was performing this task when he fell from the platform, hitting his head on the ground. He was taken to hospital and discharged two days later.

A WorkSafe investigation revealed that employees were at risk because the task of loading the shipping container was being performed on a raised platform, in proximity to an unprotected edge, with no fall protection in place. 

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said all workplaces must ensure they are doing everything reasonably possible to prevent the risk of falls from heights.

"Already this year there has been one death due to workplace falls. That comes after eight deaths and 1,307 injury claims for falls from heights last year,” Dr Beer said. “Thankfully, nobody was killed in this case, but it serves as a warning to all employers to ensure they take proper measures to reduce or eliminate such risks.” Read more: 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. 


International news

UK: Long COVID hits NHS hard

In what could be a warning for Australia's health system and our federal government, NHS trusts in England lost almost 2 million days in staff absences due to long COVID in the first 18 months of the pandemic, according to figures that reveal the hidden burden of ongoing illness in the health service.

MPs on the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on coronavirus estimate that more than 1.82m days were lost to healthcare workers with long COVID from March 2020 to September 2021 across England’s 219 NHS trusts. The estimate is based on data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from 70 NHS trusts and does not include the impact of the highly transmissible Omicron variant that has fuelled record-breaking waves of infection in the UK and globally since it was first detected in November.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the APPG, said the government had paid “almost no attention to long COVID and the severe impact it was having on vital public services” and called for immediate support for those affected. “Thousands of frontline workers are now living with an often debilitating condition after being exposed to the virus while protecting this country,” she said. “They cannot now be abandoned.”

The Office for National Statistics estimates that 1.3 million people, or 2 per cent of UK's population, are living with long COVID, based on people self-reporting symptoms that last more than a month after a COVID infection. More than half a million have had symptoms for at least a year, with ailments ranging from breathlessness, fatigue and a cough to muscle aches and pains, “brain fog”, headaches and palpitations. Read more: The Guardian. Source: Risks 1030 


Training schedule

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 : 

  • 7 - 11 February - Online*            
  • 7, 8, 9 & 24, 25 February - Online*   
  • 28 February  - 4 March  (Education Sector) – Online*
  • 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 - Online*           
  • 16 February - Online*        
  • 8 March - Trades Hall, Carlton*       
  • 16 March 2022 (Education Sector) - AEU, Abbotsford*

Other courses:

1 - COMCARE Refresher: Thursday 31 March 2022 - Trades Hall, Carlton*

3 - COMCARE Initial course: 7, 8 April and 20, 21, 22 April 2022 - Trades Hall, Carlton*

4 - 2 Day Manager’s Training Course: 5-6 May 2022 - Trades Hall, Carlton*

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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