SafetyNet 613

Welcome to the March 2 edition of SafetyNet.

This week we have seen a slight increase in the number of new COVID-19 infections in the state - not unexpectedly following the lifting of some restrictions - but the numbers in hospital continue to fall. 

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 
Following the relaxation of restrictions, the number of new daily infections has, as expected, increased. Today the state recorded  7,126 new cases. However, the numbers in hospital and in ICU have continued to fall. 

Victorian figures, March 2:

  • 41,162 active cases  (last week 42,016 )
  • 28 deaths reported today
  • 2,518 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 264 are in hospital, 37 are in ICU, and 5 of these are on ventilators 
  • 1,054,538 total number of infections

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide: there have been a total of 3,236,095 COVID cases (3,074,283 last week) and 5,210 deaths. 
Worldwide: as at March 2 there had been 438,2556,613 worldwide infections (427,885,338 last week). There have now been 5,981,089 official COVID-related deaths.  (Source: Worldometer.) Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation

How we live 
This week more and more Victorian workers have begun to go back to their workplaces, with the recommendation to work or study from home removed.

Workplaces should still have COVIDSafe plans in place, to ensure that the risks of contracting COVID at work are identified and minimised. While face masks are no longer mandatory in most indoor settings, many will continue to wear them. Masks are still required in the following situations: 

  • On public transport, in taxis and rideshare, on planes, and indoors at an airport
  • Workers in or visitors to hospitals, and indoor areas at care facilities
  • Workers in hospitality, retail and the court system
  • Workers at justice and correctional facilities
  • Students in year 3 or above at primary school, and workers at early childhood centres and primary schools (masks can be removed in secondary school)
  • People working indoors at an event with more than 30,000 people attending
  • In special circumstances, such as if you have COVID-19 or are a close contact and you're leaving home

Vaccination update 
As of March 2, 79.46 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.41 per cent had received their first dose, and 46.63 percent had their third dose (note that this has just recently been approved for 16 and 17-year-olds). Australia wide, the figures are 76.69 per cent, 85.81 per cent respectively, and 44.43 per cent had received the third shot. You can check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates. While Victoria is no longer in 'lock down', it is extremely important that everyone maintains high levels of care to minimise the risks of getting infected. 

If you have not done so yet, please organise to get your third, or 'booster', shot as soon as possible. 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 third shot today, go to the Victorian government's vaccine booking portal here 

COVID sessions for HSRs 
Online COVID Safe Training for HSRs has returned this year. There are two sessions over the coming weeks:  

  1. March 10 - 12.30 to 3 pm 
  2. 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.

VTHC Ventilation webinar and workshop - if you missed it
The OHS Unit ran a very successful webinar on a very topical subject yesterday: Ventilation. The turn out was great, the presentations were fabulous, and the discussions in the workshops were very interesting. The team is currently editing it, and once this is done, we will load it on our FB pages and on the site. Read more: Ventilation and infectious diseases  

Is your workplace still COVIDSafe? 
Now that restrictions are relaxing even further, it can be hard to keep up with what your bosses’ obligations are, and what you can do as a worker. It’s important to remember that workers must be consulted as their COVIDSafe plan changes, if you’re worried or unsure about this, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our COVIDSafe team here. All workers deserve to have a COVIDSafe Workplace.

Ask Renata

Hello Renata,

My work requires me to use some personal protective equipment (PPE) - as the risks cannot be eliminated and even with controls in place, I am still at risk if I don't wear special gloves and eye protection. My question is: who is supposed to provide and pay for this PPE? 

The short answer is that your employer must provide and pay for any PPE necessary to ensure that employees are able to carry out their work in a manner that is safe and without risks to health. The OHS Act places a duty of care on employers to identify hazards and risks, and then eliminate them so far as is reasonably practicable. In many cases, it is not possible to eliminate the risks at source - by eliminating a hazardous chemical for example, because it is necessary for the work involved. In such cases, the employer has the duty to implement controls to minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

The controls implemented should be according to the 'hierarchy of control' - that is, as close to the hazard as possible. So, for example, substituting the chemical for another one that is less hazardous. If a risk remains, then measures such as engineering controls come next - like exhaust ventilation. The last control is the provision of personal protective equipment - this is because even when necessary, there are problems with PPE. 

The duty to implement controls is the employer's. If workers have to wear/use PPE then it is the duty of their employer to ensure that the most appropriate PPE is provided to them - and paid for by the company. The employer also has the duty to provide workers with training on the need for and correct use of any PPE.

In some other jurisdictions, this duty is specifically found in regulations - and clearly communicated by the WHS regulators. However, this is not the case in Victoria. Read more on PPE

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 
Asbestos communication guidelines
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) is now consulting on the new Guidelines for communicating about asbestos risk which have been developed by the Agency in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders. They are also consulting on the Communicating Asbestos Facts and Figures guide which is to be read and used in conjunction with the guidelines.

The consultation period opened on Monday, and will be open for 6 weeks, closing Friday 8 April 2022. The papers and further information including how to make a submission can be accessed here.

This consultation is focused on asbestos communications, specifically the communication of asbestos risk. The guidelines are for anyone who has responsibility for communicating about asbestos risk with the public. 

Anyone who is interested should participate and is welcome to make a submission. For more information or any queries, please contact ASEA directly at [email protected]

Annual Asbestos Conference 
This year's Asbestos Safety and Management Conference, will be held from 19–20 May 2022 at the Fairmont Resort & Spa in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Blue Mountains. Run by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), it is being jointly hosted by the Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC). 

This important national event, which will have a special focus on those on the front-line of asbestos safety management, will comprise a 2-day conference including a series of plenary sessions, workshops and networking activities, as well as optional pre-conference activities held on 18 May.

The conference will be a hybrid event, offering delegates the opportunity to either attend in-person or livestream the event. Read more: 2022 Asbestos Safety and Management Conference.

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

Reminder: Mind Your Head resources 
Mind Your Head is a joint initiative of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Employers Mutual Limited, the Centre for Workplace Excellence and supported by WorkSafe Victoria's WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.

  1. OHS checklist for psychosocial hazards Mind Your Head OHS checklist for psychological hazards, for activists and HSRs to use to assist in identifying psychosocial hazards in their workplace.
  2. Mind Your Head WHS Guidance Booklet - provides guidance on psychological hazards

Go to the Mind Your Head website for more information and resources. 

International union news 
ITUC and ETUC: Putin's war must stop
International union confederations, the ITUC and the ETUC, have condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine.  They have said in a statement that the attack on Ukraine is a flagrant violation of international law and of Ukraine’s territorial integrity as a sovereign and democratic state.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “We mourn for those who have lost their lives and offer our deepest condolences and solidarity to those who have lost loved ones or been injured. The imposition of sanctions by governments which support democracy and the rule of law is both inevitable and justified and should focus particularly on the entourage of President Putin who is leading Russia down this destructive path and threatening peace in Europe and the world." 

Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the ETUC and of the ITUC Pan-European Regional Council said: “We strongly condemn the war, that hits people and workers first, and advocate for dialogue, peace, and democracy to be reestablished immediately."

The ETUC and ITUC called on their members to extend practical solidarity to the workers and people of Ukraine through a solidarity fund for the ITUC’s Ukrainian affiliates, and by calling on governments outside of Ukraine to provide safe haven for refugees fleeing the conflict.

Workers – both in Ukraine where the threat is existential, and in Russia and Europe where living standards and jobs will be affected – must not bear the brunt of war. The union confederations are urging governments to ensure that those with the most resources shoulder the greatest burden of the sanctions. Read more: ITUC ETUC Joint statement 

"Fighting for our future": Climate crisis guide 
In an editorial, international food union confederation IUF says: "
Trade unions have a long and proud tradition of fighting for a safer, more equal world where the rights of workers are a prerequisite for achieving economic and social progress. We now live in an increasingly unstable climate where extreme weather events have become commonplace. While all humanity is under threat, the crisis has a disproportionate impact on people in precarious employment, including many agricultural workers, migrant workers, women workers, LGBTI workers and workers from ethnic minorities."

It says that achieving a climate friendly food system is an urgent task which demands a collective response, and that ‘market corrections’ will not resolve structural and entrenched inequality. It warns that there is a real danger that entire communities of workers and their families will be sacrificed to climate restructuring as the sector seeks to reinvent itself. "Transition to more climate friendly food sectors demands careful planning and implementation with unions negotiating with employers and governments to achieve sustainable employment. Skill development, income protection, job guarantees and public and private investment in green technologies are required. A more equal distribution of wealth is critical to guarantee political, social and economic stability through this transition."

It stresses that unions must be involved to ensure communities are not "abandoned to poverty, intergenerational unemployment, addiction, and the politics of resentment where scapegoated communities are subjected to violence on a daily basis."  

Fighting For Our Future – An IUF Guide on Tackling the Climate Crisis in Intensive Livestock Production [pdf] was released this week, beginning a new chapter in the organisation's work to integrate climate and environmental stability with the fight for equality and democratic rights. Read more: IUF Editorial The Guide is also available to download from here in Spanish, German and Portuguese (with French and Swedish coming soon)


Research

Shift work and health effects

There have been number of recent studies which have added to the knowledge of the effects of shift work on our health. Here are two which subscribers may find interesting - I did!

1 - Night shift work and melatonin and sex hormone levels 
There is some evidence that disruption to the circadian rhythms and subsequent hormone-related changes may increase the risk of hormone-dependent cancers among night shift workers.

In 2007 and again in 2019, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that shift work is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” (Group 2A) based on sufficient evidence from experimental animal models but limited human, epidemiological and mechanistic evidence. IARC also concluded that there were too few studies and inconsistent results to comment on the evidence of sex steroid hormone alterations, especially among men.

In this study, researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health examined the melatonin and sex steroid hormone levels among night shift workers to evaluate hormone-related changes in melatonin and sex steroids in a population of male rotating shift workers working both day and night shifts in a slow backward rotation. 

After collecting data, measuring light exposure and analysing urine samples, the researchers concluded that night shift work was indeed associated with melatonin and sex hormone-related changes in timing and total production, providing insight into the mechanistic path for its association with hormone-dependent cancer. 
Read more: Harding, BN, et al, Changes in melatonin and sex steroid hormone production among men as a result of rotating night shift work – the HORMONIT study 
[AbstractFull textScand J Work Environ Health 2022;48(1):41-51 

2 - Shift work and increased risk of preterm birth 
Previous studies of preterm birth (PTB) concerning night work have been inconclusive and partly limited by imprecise data on working schedules. This Swedish study investigated the risk of PTB in relation to detailed, registry-based data on working hours.

In this cohort of Swedish health care employees with registry-based data on working hours, night work, especially working frequent consecutive nights, and quick returns from night shifts during the first trimester was associated with increased risk of PTB among pregnant women. Read more: Kader, Manzur et al. Shift and night work during pregnancy and preterm birth-a cohort study of Swedish health care employees. [Full articleInternational journal of epidemiology vol. 50,6 (2022): 1864-1874. doi:10.1093/ije/dyab135

Precarious workers under-report occupational injuries

In a first, researchers have proven that precariously employed workers in Sweden under-report occupational injuries. The researchers from Sweden and the USA noted that under-reporting of occupational injuries (OIs) among precariously employed workers in challenges effective surveillance of OIs and targeted preventive measures.

Examining the national OIs register and records from a labour market insurance company, they found that:

  • under-reporting of OIs followed a dose–response pattern according to the levels of precariousness (the higher the precarious level, the higher the under-reporting); 
  • under-reporting of OIs, decreased as the injury severity increased and was higher with highest level of precariousness in all groups of severity;
  •  there were higher under-reporting estimates among all occupations in the precarious and borderline precarious groups compared with the non-precarious ones.

The study empirically demonstrated that under-reporting of OIs in Sweden is 50 per cent higher among precariously employed workers. This may represent unrecognised injuries that especially burden precariously employed workers as financial, health and social consequences shift from the employer to the employee.
Read more: 
Kreshpaj B, Bodin T, Wegman DH, et al, Under-reporting of non-fatal occupational injuries among precarious and non-precarious workers in Sweden [Full article


Regulator News

Victorian news  
REMINDER: Proposed Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations

A reminder that public comment on the proposed Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations (proposed regulations) and associated Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) is now open.

The proposed regulations will strengthen the occupational health and safety framework and will recognise that hazards that pose a risk to psychological health are no less harmful to workers’ safety and wellbeing than physical hazards.

They will also provide clearer guidance to employers on their obligations to better protect workers from mental injury.

We urge HSRs to take a look at the draft regulations and provide comment. We believe these regulations will make a real difference to workers' psychological health.

Public comment closes at 5pm, Thursday 31 March 2022. Find out more here.  Keep your eyes on SafetyNet, as we will be developing some material to encourage HSRs to send in their views. 

WorkSafe Awards Dinner  
A reminder that due to the number of COVID-19 infections still being relatively high, WorkSafe has postponed its Awards Dinner to April 21. It's a terrific night - particularly for the finalists of the HSR of the Year Award - and for their workmates, colleagues and for their union. More information and to buy tickets.

National news 
QLD: Safety alert after carbon monoxide fatality 
With the ongoing heavy rains and floods in Queensland now and in the past few weeks, WorkSafe Queensland is reminding businesses that there are a range of risks when cleaning up after storms. 

Tragically, a man recently died from carbon monoxide exposure while laying carpet in a Toowoomba store. A generator was being used in a poorly ventilated space.

The regulator acknowledges that generators can be useful in flood clean-ups, but they must be used in a safe way. It says atmospheres in enclosed spaces should be monitored using a suitable air monitoring device (e.g. gas detector) where plant and equipment exhaust is generated, and that exhaust gases are ventilated to prevent the build-up of contaminant exhaust gases, including CO. Read more: Queensland alert, Carbon monoxide.

SA: New guidance on RPE 
SafeWork SA has released new guidance on respiratory protective equipment (RPE). Recent compliance audits relating to crystalline silica and licensed asbestos removal highlighted the need for greater education on the selection and use of RPE.

SafeWork SA has issued 162 statutory notices associated with RPE in the past 3 years. Of these, 78 per cent of prohibition notices and 48 per cent of improvement notices were issued to the construction industry. Many of these notices were issued for the incorrect selection of RPE providing inadequate protection for the wearer, poor fit or failure to train wearers in the use of RPE when working with hazardous substances such as asbestos and silica dust. These substances can cause serious health conditions if breathed in by a worker. 

In South Australia, as in many other jurisdictions, any PPE, including RPE, that a worker is expected to use must be provided and paid for by the employer (PCBU). Check out the new guidance here, and more information from the SA regulator hereMore information on PPE.

National Fatality Statistics 2022  
Safe Work Australia last updated its statistics on fatalities on February 17, at which time it had been notified that 20 Australian workers had been killed at work this year - this is eight more since February 3. The fatalities have been in the following sectors:

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

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

Victoria: Importer charged after stone slab fatality 
WorkSafe has charged a stone importer after a worker was fatally crushed in April 2020 at a Dingley Village warehouse. The 34-year-old woman was killed after three stone slabs weighing up to 250 kilograms each fell on top of her as she was helping to unload a shipping container.

Australia Rong Hua Fu Pty Ltd, trading as RHF Stone, is facing three charges under section 21(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to provide or maintain a safe working environment.

WorkSafe alleges one breach section 21(2)(a) for failing to provide or maintain a safe system of work for the unloading of stone slabs, and a further two breaches of section 21(2)(a) for failing to provide or maintain safe plant, relating to a forklift being used at the time of the incident and racks used to store stone slabs at the warehouse. The incident occurred before the introduction of  new section of the OHS Act: Workplace Manslaughter. While we do not know all the circumstances in this incident, the risks to workers would have been clear had any form of risk assessment been undertaken by the employer, and there may have been a level of negligence involved. 

The matter was listed for a filing hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 28 February 2022. 

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

ACT: PCBU pleads guilty after worker killed 
Better Building Holdings Pty Ltd this week pleaded guilty to a Category 2 charge laid against it for the workplace death of a carpenter who fell over 6 metres at a worksite at Denman Prospect in 2020.

Sentencing will occur on 6 May 2022, before the Industrial Court Magistrate. The maximum fine for such a charge is currently $1.5 million. 

Acting Commissioner Amanda Grey is committed to firm enforcement and compliance actions for all work health and safety incidents, particularly in residential construction, and is pleased to see Better Building Holdings taking responsibility for this tragic incident. She said, “[The man's] death was preventable and my thoughts and condolences are with his family, friends and colleagues today.

“Every worker has the right to a safe workplace, and the right to return home safely. Charges like the ones that Better Building Holdings needed to respond to should be laid promptly and those who breach the WHS laws held to account. I’m glad to see Better Buildings Holdings take responsibility for its failure to provide a safe workplace for [the worker].”
Read more: at the time of the incident, WorkSafe ACT issued a Safety Alert. Source: Media release 


Events

March 7, APHEDA International Solidarity

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA invites you to an online conversation celebrating global solidarity and sisterhood.

Join Melbourne APHEDA activist Lisa Zanatta (CFMEU) and APHEDA partner Ou Tep Phallin (CFSWF), for a wide-ranging zoom chat about women’s rights, activism and union campaigns in Cambodia.

Ou Tep Phallin has been the President of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation (CFSWF) since 2018. She is a vocal and passionate leader of women workers, particularly those in the beer promotion and entertainment industries. The CFSWF has worked with APHEDA since 2007, campaigning for the rights of public service, food and beverage, and entertainment workers. They are currently supporting striking workers and unionists jailed for protesting mass layoffs by NagaCorp, who run Cambodia’s NagaWorld casino and entertainment complex.

Lisa Zanatta is a qualified Carpenter and Joiner and for the past 35 years an activist in the then BWIU, now CFMEU. She is currently a union organiser and women’s officer with the CFMEU - Construction and General Division in Melbourne, as well as an advocate and member of the Victorian Government Building Equality Committee. In 2019, Lisa was elected to BWI Asia Pacific Regional Women’s Committee and participates in many Women Union activist groups and networks, including the Victorian Trades Hall Council’s Women’s Committee.

When: Monday March 7, 6.30 pm - 7.30 pm
Where:
This an online event. All welcome. Register here.

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 :  

  • 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:  

  • 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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