SafetyNet 610

Welcome to the February 9, 2022 edition of SafetyNet.

The overall trend of new COVID cases is downwards - but we need to keep up our efforts. 

Have you booked in for your 5-day initial HSR training or your refresher course for 2022? If not, then do it now! It's never been more important to have well-informed, union trained HSRs keeping workplaces safe. Find course dates and book in 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] 

Union News

COVID Update

Although Omicron continues to spread quickly across Victoria and Australia, with the state recording 9,908 cases today February 9 (up from the last few days), it does appear that we are over the peak of this current outbreak. 

As of today, number of active cases in Victoria was 57,022 (last week 73,886) with 21 deaths reported. There have now been a total of 2,219 COVID-related deaths in Victoria. 542 are in hospital, 71 are in ICU, and 27 of these are on ventilators. These numbers are decreasing. You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide, there have been 2,780,440 COVID cases in total (2,579,240 last week) and 4,302 total deaths.  Worldwide: as at February 9, 2022 there had been 400,234,714 worldwide infections (381,718,207 last week). There have now been 5,780,676 official COVID-related deaths worldwide.  (Source: Worldometer.) Read more about Coronavirus

Vaccination update 

Please organise to get your third, or 'booster', shot as soon as possible: 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 9, 92.6 per cent of Victorians over the age of 12 had been fully vaccinated, 94.11 per cent had received their first dose. Australia wide, the figures are 92.82 per cent and 95.11 per cent respectively. In Victoria, 43.16 per cent of those over 12 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. 

Survey reminder: 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 

The sessions are geared towards Victorian HSRs, and aim to provide resources and information on how to exercise your powers as an 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.

Ask Renata

Hi there,

Can you tell me whether there is an age limit on climbing ladders in the workplace?

The OHS Act does not go into such level of detail - in fact, the Act does not mention ladders at all. This is because OHS legislation in Australia is what we call ‘objective based’ – that is, the duties on employers require that they provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This is called the ‘general duty of care’, and covers everything. The duty includes ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe systems of work, and the safe use of 'plant' (this includes ladders). 
See Duties of employers

Employers must identify hazards and risks at the workplace and then take action to eliminate them or minimise them so far as is reasonably practicable - and this must be done in consultation with affected workers and their elected health and safety representatives (HSRs). See Duty to consult

Regulators recommend that the use of ladders be minimised because there is a real risk of falls. WorkSafeSA recently issued an alert after two serious injuries and a fatality where the regulator warned that ladders should be a 'last resort'. Other high-level controls include performing height work on passive fall prevention devices like scaffolds, safety mesh or elevating work platforms, the regulator says in the safety alert

If a worker is more at risk due to age (for example young and inexperienced, or older and therefore possibly less stable) then the employer needs to take this into consideration as well. Check out this page on Ladders 

In addition, if the work is being done at two metres or more above the ground, then the employer must follow the hierarchy of control as specified in the Prevention of Falls regulations. 

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.  

Reminder: Job opportunity in the VTHC OHS Unit

If you're experienced in OHS and have strong commitment to unions and workers, then don't forget about the exciting job in the VTHC's OHS Unit. The role includes producing SafetyNet, answering 'Ask Renata' queries, writing content for the OHS [email protected] website and liaising with affiliates and WorkSafe. Please pass on to anyone who may be interested. Applications close February 20.  Check out the job description on Ethical Jobs here.

February 4: World Cancer Day

According to the best available data, over one in ten (14 per cent) cases of lung cancer could be prevented if asbestos, silica, diesel exhaust and welding fume exposure were reduced in workplaces. 

This equates to about 1800 work-related deaths every year from lung cancer that could have been avoided with better safety measures.

In recent years, Australia has seen a dramatic spike in the number of workers suffering from silicosis caused by exposure to respirable silica dust. Silica dust also causes lung cancer. On the occasion of World Cancer Day last week, the ACTU said that without immediate action from the Federal Government and employers, the numbers of lung cancers is likely to increase.

ACTU Assistant Secretary, Liam O'Brien said, “We are calling upon the Morrison Government – once again – to implement the recommendations put forward by the National Dust Diseases Taskforce." 

Adequate workplace exposure standards, including for diesel exhaust and welding fumes, must be implemented for all dangerous substances, to avoid more preventable deaths from lung disease. Read more: Silica; Diesel; Welding; ACTU media release

Asbestos News

International push to ban baby powder

Due to concerns over alleged links to cancer, there is an attempt to force a shareholder vote to stop Johnson & Johnson (J&J) selling talc-based baby powder across the world, including the UK. The shareholder vote has been proposed by Tulipshare, a London-based investment platform that allows customers to pool shares in order to meet the threshold to submit resolutions for shareholder votes. 

J&J withdrew its talc-based baby powder from sale in the US and Canada in 2020. Sales of baby powder had dropped after US regulators detected carcinogenic chrysotile fibres in a sample.

The company is now facing more than 34,000 lawsuits including many from women who claim they used baby powder and later developed ovarian cancer. Read more: The Guardian

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

More men can and do take parental leave

The national Workplace Gender Equality Agency this week issued the first of two 2020-21 scorecards which shows the proportion of employers offering both parents paid leave has risen by up to 25 percentage points in some male-dominated industries over eight years. New data  from the agency's 2020-21 census on gender equality for employers of 100 or more employees, reveals 3 in 5 employers are now offering paid parental leave, the vast majority of those making paid leave equally available for both parents.

Agency director Mary Wooldridge says men are becoming less concerned about the potential stigma, improving women’s ability to return to work and bolster their long-term economic security.

Although women are still far more likely to take parental leave, 91 per cent of organisations providing it make no distinction between women or men taking leave, and only 9 per cent offer it solely to women. Employers leading the way are offering gender-neutral parental leave which can be taken by either parent with no qualifying period – with leaders in the field offering as much as 26 weeks (6 months). The mining and construction sectors have seen an increase of 25 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. 

Ms Wooldridge said: “When fathers take parental leave they report improved wellbeing and happiness ... and women say they receive more emotional support and experience less stress.” 
Read more: Workplace Gender Equality Agency media release; The Age  


Research

Long-term nightshift work and breast cancer risk

Night shift work may disturb circadian rhythms. While this disturbance could influence the risk of breast cancer, research papers have reported conflicting results. A group of mainly Spanish researchers reviewed, summarized, and combined the results of studies measuring the effect of long-term nightshift work (15 years or more) on breast cancer with special attention to menopausal status and time since retirement age. After discarding many studies where there may have been a risk of bias, they considered 18 studies. 

They found that women with long-term night shift work had 13 per cent more risk of breast cancer than women who did not do night shift work. Postmenopausal women showed no increased risk, while premenopausal women had a 27 per cent higher risk. Women with a higher probability of recent long-term night shift work (women under retirement age) had a 23 per cent higher risk than women who did not work such shifts.

The researchers concluded that long-term night shift work may increase the risk of breast cancer, especially in women before menopause or shortly after discontinuation of nightshift work. 
Read more: Schwarz, C, et al, Long-term nightshift work and breast cancer risk: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis with special attention to menopausal status and to recent nightshift work [Creative Commons Open access: MDPI Summary or full textCancers (Basel), vol.13 (2021), no. 23.  

Night work, rotating shift work, and the risk of cancer in Japanese men and women

In another study looking at the effects of shift work, and the limited evidence linking it to various cancers, Japanese researchers investigated whether there is an association between different forms of work schedule and the risk of numerous cancers among Japanese men and women. 

The study cohort was 45,390 working men and women aged 40–79 years and registered in the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study (JACC Study) to calculate the hazard ratios for cancer among those who working night work and rotating shift work for their longest occupations compared with day work.

They found that among men, rotating shift work was significantly associated with increased risk of esophageal cancer, and also found that it tended to be associated with the increased risk of prostate cancer.
Read more: Arafa, A, et al Night Work, Rotating Shift Work, and the Risk of Cancer in Japanese Men and Women: The JACC Study. [Creative Commons Open access: Abstract or pdf of Full studyJournal of Epidemiology, Volume 31 (2021) Issue 12 


Regulator News

Victorian news

UMM.... New campaign aimed at young workers

'UMM' is WorkSafe’s latest social campaign for young workers, aimed at helping them identify unsafe behaviour in the workplace and find ways to speak up or take action.

The regulator says the term 'UMM' refers to that familiar feeling when something's not quite right. When the line of safety is being crossed and you don't know exactly what to do about it. 

Young workers will be directed to WorkSafe’s UMM website where they can find useful information and resources. If you're a young worker or you know a young worker working in an unsafe workplace, contact the Young Workers Centre for assistance and advice. Read more: WorkSafe media releaseYoung workers and OHS 

New WorkSafe Safety Alert

A new safety alert highlights the hazards and risks associated with traffic management and work related violence and aggression at drive-through COVID-19 testing centres. WorkSafe says the current increase in the number of cases of COVID-19 is placing strain on drive-through testing centres. Due to the recent Omicron outbreak there were higher volumes of vehicles moving through the sites and longer waiting times and employees were at increased risk of being struck by a moving vehicle and of experiencing work related violence and aggression.

While the situation has improved over the past couple of weeks, the regulator recommends that all drive-through COVID-19 testing centres should have traffic management plans in place. Additional safety measures to reduce the risk of work related violence and aggression should also be implemented, and the safety alert provides examples. Read more: Safety at COVID-19 drive-through testing centres 

Reminder: WorkSafe is recruiting inspectors

The closing date for applications for a number of general specialist construction inspector positions in various Victorian locations is February 14. 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.  If you are an experienced and passionate HSR, you could make a fabulous inspector. So take a look at this page if you're interested.

WorkSafe Awards Dinner

Due to the number of COVID-19 infections still being relatively high, WorkSafe has decided to postpone its Awards Dinner to April 21. It's a terrific night - particularly for the finalists and their workmates, colleagues and for their union. More information and to buy tickets (date still to be updated)

National Fatality Statistics 2022  

Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities on February 3, at which time it had been notified that 12 Australian workers had been killed at work this year. The fatalities have been in the following sectors:

  • 6 in Transport, postal & warehousing 
  • 2 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 2 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
  • 1 in Construction
  • 1 in Public administration & safety

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. 


Prosecutions

Director fined after two workers fall 

Muhammad Bardan was the sole director and secretary of Ridgecon Pty Ltd, a construction company, and was the principal contractor at a construction site located at Camberwell. Ridgecon is currently in liquidation.

On 8 July 2019, two workers of a subcontractor were completing carpentry works for Ridgecon. Bardan directed them to work on the first floor where the balcony had no fall protection. They got to the first floor via an extension ladder in a stair void. As they were taking measurements, a stack of plaster sheets fell towards them and pushed them off the balcony. They both fell from a height of about three metres. One of the workers suffered a twisted spinal cord and was taken to a hospital by ambulance - at the time of the injury there was no prospect of him walking again. The other worker was uninjured.

Ridgecon, as a 'person' with management and control of the workplace, failed to ensure that the workplace was safe and without risks to health when it failed to control the risk associated with fall from height - the contravention was attributable to Bardan, as an officer of Ridgecon, for failing to take reasonable care.

Bardan pleaded guilty to one charge fined $20,000 (plus $5,692 costs), without conviction. Had he not pleaded guilty, her Honour indicated he would have been sentenced to pay a fine of $30,000 with conviction.

Crane operator found guilty of breaching s32 of the Act

Jason Ross Briggs, a licensed crane operator, was charged and found guilty of breaching s32 of the OHS Act - reckless endangerment placing other persons at a workplace at risk of serious injury - after an April 2019 incident in Yarraville.

On the day of the incident, he was installing three prefabricated housing modules by dropping them into position onto the construction site. He completed the lift of the first, smaller module, safely and started the lift of the second, larger one. However, the crane tipped, extensively damaging and destroying both modules. The falling module also hit two residential buildings either side of the construction site. One was so damaged that the occupants were forced to relocate to temporary accommodation.

No-one was injured, despite two riggers nearby who were guiding the module from the ground, and three people present in the severely damaged residential property. 

At the time of the incident, the crane was operating without the required counterweights. Briggs was aware of this, and attempted the lift, despite his employer instructing him that if a lift could not be done safely, then it ought not be attempted.

A plan for the lift had been prepared, with the weight of each module and specifying counterweights of 26.1 tonnes. These were on site, but Briggs told his his colleagues he would not to use them, because if fitted on the crane, they would have hit the fence of one of the neighbouring properties.

Expert evidence confirmed that as a result, the crane operated at an overload rate of 172%, and that it overbalanced due to insufficient counterweights.

The crane's data logger confirmed that in order to do the lift Briggs had entered false information on the crane's safety system, indicating that the counterweights were much higher than they actually were. Furthermore, he had activated a manual override of the safety system which, in the absence of the required counterweights, would have prevented the boom from operating. 

Briggs was convicted and sentenced to serve a 2 years' Community Corrections Order ('CCO'), with all core conditions (including to be of good behaviour and under the supervision of a Community Corrections' Officer throughout the duration of the order). He was also ordered to perform 250 hours on unpaid community work as part of the CCO, and to repay the Authority's costs of $4,466.

This was a rare prosecution of a worker under s32. The court was provided with a number of arguments, including that the offence was serious and had a number of aggravating factors (eg Briggs was an experienced and licensed crane operator, aware of the employer's instructions, and took actions to override safety systems). 

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


Events

February 16: Dangerous Goods Advisory Group

The first DGAG bimonthly meeting for 2022 will be held via ZOOM on Wednesday February 16. The DGAG is a general networking / discussion update meeting, open to all, to discuss issues that are going on for Dangerous Goods and Chemical Regulation at the moment. 

This meeting will kick off at 5.50 pm to initially meet up and run between 6.10pm and 8.10pm.

Where - On Zoom from from 5.50pm.  To join the Zoom Meeting click here.
Meeting ID: 850 6875 2344 Passcode: 404269  

The meeting will have a similar agenda to past meetings. The topics to be discussed will be:

  1. Hazardous Chemicals / Dangerous Goods Incidents 

  2. The ADG Transport Code & Changes in the UN Model Regs, IMDG Code, IATA Regs, NZ Regs etc

  3. Dangerous Goods (Storage & Handling), GHS Haz. Chemicals, & Environmental Risk Management of Industrial Chemicals

  4. Update on Classification and Training for Dangerous Goods

  5. Information sharing 

  6. Other meetings and events

  7. Discussion regarding a possible end of year event - possibly in a public garden

For a more detailed agenda, or more information, contact Jeff directly.  (DGAG convenor and Webinar host), Haztech Environmental, Ph: 03-9885-1269 Mob: 0403-072-092, Email: [email protected] 

Jeff can assist in setting up the Zoom meeting or adjusting computer settings. Contact Jeff for instructions on how to join.  

RSVP: Jeff has asked for those intending to participate to respond to his emails at the latest by Monday 14th Feb 2022, so that he has a good idea of how many will be taking part.

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. Trained health and safety reps make a real difference in their workplaces, and it's great to meet with others and share experiences!

Initial course dates :  

  • 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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