Welcome to the March 9 edition of SafetyNet.
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]
Fatality in Victoria
We are still awaiting more details and confirmation from WorkSafe, but we believe that earlier this week there was a work-related road fatality. We send our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased.
Following the relaxation of restrictions, the number of new daily infections has, as expected, increased. Today the state recorded 7,081 new cases. However, the numbers in hospital and in ICU have continued to fall.
Victorian figures, March 9:
- 38,874 active cases (last week 41,162)
- 9 deaths reported today
- 2,611 COVID-related deaths so far
- 196 are in hospital, 32 are in ICU, and 3 of these are on ventilators
- 1,098,093 total number of infections since the pandemic began
You can check the Victorian live update here.
Australia wide: there have been a total of 3,429,179 COVID cases (3,236,095 last week) and 5,464 deaths.
Worldwide: as at March 9 there had been 449,453,561 worldwide infections (438,2556,613 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths has now exceeded 6 million: 6,034,275. (Source: Worldometer.) Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation
How we live
More workers are returning to their workplaces, as can be seen by increased traffic on the roads and people on public transport. A reminder that all workplaces must still have COVIDSafe plans in place, to ensure that the risks of contracting COVID at work are identified and minimised. Mask-wearing and checking in requirements have not changed since last week.
As of March 9, 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. Australia wide, the figures are 79.88 per cent, 85.99 per cent respectively, and 46.22 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:
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 last week: 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. In the meantime, have a go at So Fresh: A Ventilation Game, that walks you through controls that can improve ventilation in your workplace. We also have a new tool: Ventilation checklist. 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.
I would like to know what my rights are with regard to a microwave, fridge, kettle, and so on at work. I work in retail and upper management denies these at all our stores. We don’t have clean drinking water at work either. Are you able to provide some information?
It is unacceptable for your employer to not provide the adequate facilities for your welfare. Under section 21 of the OHS Act, employers have a legal duty to provide "adequate facilities for the welfare of employees". The Act is objective-based so it doesn’t specify what “adequate facilities” are. However there is a Compliance Code which sets out what employers need to do/provide in order to comply with section 21.
The compliance code specifies “Employees need to have access to hygienic facilities for preparing and eating meals while at work”. It sets out what dining facilities are required. The code says the employer needs to provide:
- food warming facilities, such as a microwave oven
- vermin and dustproof storage for all food and utensils. This needs to include a refrigerator big enough to store perishable foods for all employees using the facilities
- Boiling water and clean drinking water for dining rooms and dining areas. The water supply needs to be separate from any basin used for washing hands. An appliance that provides boiling water as required is desirable, but an electric jug may be appropriate in workplaces where a small number of staff are present. At workplaces remote from a fixed room or building, the water may either be boiled on site or transported there, provided that it arrives as hot as practicable.
- free, clean drinking water at all times
Larger workplaces need to have dining rooms, while workplaces with fewer than 10 employees eating at one time, then a separate dining room need not be provided, but a dining area still needs to be provided. For more information, and a link to the Compliance Code, go to these pages: Drinking water and Dining facilities.
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.
More jobs in the OHS Team
We are looking for people who want to make a difference. There are positions open for two fixed term Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Outreach Organisers on a 6 month (until 30 Sept 2022) contract to work in our Carlton office as part of our OHS Team.
The OHS Outreach Organisers will be responsible for helping workplaces be COVID-safe by connecting with workers and workplaces to promote the importance of QR code check-in and other COVID safe activities. The Organisers will also be responsible for promoting vaccine take-up amongst workers. Applications close 11:59 pm, 15th Mar 2022.
Read more, including position descriptions here.
UK: Boss of asbestos removal firm jailed
An asbestos management company director has been jailed for 10 months after failing to protect workers from asbestos exposure during a major refurbishment project in Plymouth, sout-west England. Plymouth Magistrates’ Court heard that in February 2017 Ensure Asbestos Management Limited workers raised concerns that they were being put in danger while refurbishing a department store. The company had been retained to survey and remove asbestos containing material.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered irregularities in the asbestos surveys and clearance certificates, with some found to be fraudulent.
Ensure Asbestos Management Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence was fined £100,000 (AD$179,400). Because the company is in liquidation, there is no prospect of a payment being made and so no order for costs was made. Billy Hopwood, the director of Ensure Asbestos Management, pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment. He has was also disqualified from being a company director for five years. Contracts manager Phillip Hopwood pleaded guilty to three criminal breaches and will be sentenced at a later date. An HSE inspector said the company failed to work within the law despite having a wealth of knowledge on the risks associated with exposure to asbestos and the necessary training to have done so safely. They deliberately falsified documents and cut corners. Read more: HSE news release. Source: Risks 1034
Asbestos communication guidelines
A reminder that the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has released Guidelines for communicating about asbestos risk and Communicating Asbestos Facts and Figures guide for public comment, which closes Friday 8 April 2022. The papers and further information including how to make a submission can be accessed here.
Annual Asbestos Conference
Another reminder of this year's Asbestos Safety and Management Conference: 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).
The national event will focus on those on the front-line of asbestos safety management. It 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.
International union news
England: Changes ‘to hit low-paid workers hard’
The end of COVID rules will leave low paid workers are an increased risk, UK's retail union Usdaw has warned. The union was commenting after PM Boris Johnson scrapped the remaining COVID legal restrictions in England and said he wanted to shift the onus from state mandates to personal responsibility. Under the Living with COVID plan which took effect on 24 February, the legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID has ended, as well as provision of free tests.
Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said “there is some concern whether this is based on following the science or political convenience. COVID is still out there, and infections remain high, so we urge a cautious approach to lifting all restrictions.” He added: “Leaving self-isolation up to individuals means that many people who can’t afford to take time off may feel pressured into going into work. It could also lead to spike in infections, putting more pressure on staffing levels and on low paid workers’ finances.”
The Usdaw leader said scrapping free tests “is purely an economic decision by the government. However, charging for tests will price out low-paid workers who are already struggling to make ends meet with food and fuel prices rising, energy bills soaring and real wages falling. This will be an additional cost that many cannot afford.” He said despite the government removing mask wearing and other rules, the union “will continue to call on employers to put the safety of our members first and urge the public to respect shopworkers by wearing face coverings, observing hand hygiene and maintaining social distancing.” Read more: Usdaw news release.
UK: Rules needed on intrusive worker surveillance
Intrusive worker surveillance tech and artificial intelligence (AI) risks are “spiralling out of control” without stronger regulation to protect workers, the UK’s peak union council, the TUC has warned. It says that left unchecked, these technologies could lead to widespread discrimination, work intensification and unfair treatment. The warning came as the TUC published new polling, conducted by Britain Thinks, which revealed an overwhelming majority of workers (60 per cent) believe they have been subject to some form of surveillance and monitoring at their current or most recent job. Surveillance can include monitoring of emails and files, webcams on work computers, tracking of when and how much a worker is typing, calls made and movements made by the worker, using CCTV and trackable devices. Three in 10 (28 per cent) agree monitoring and surveillance at work has increased since COVID - and young workers are particularly likely to agree (36 per cent of 18-34 year olds). Last year the TUC launched its manifesto, Dignity at work and the AI revolution, for the fair and transparent use of AI at work (see Risks 991) .
Read more: TUC news release, TUC AI manifesto and reports [and PDF of Manifesto]. Source: Risks 1034
Psychological Health Regulations
The proposed Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations (proposed regulations) have a number of requirements that we, as unions, fully support. These include:
- a duty on employers to identify psychosocial hazards and control the risk by first trying to eliminate them.
Psychosocial hazards are defined as any factor/s in:
- the work design, or
- the system of work, or
- the management of work, or
- the carrying out of work, or
- personal or work-related interactions
that may cause a worker to experience a negative psychological response that creates a risk to their health and safety.
- a duty to develop written prevention plans for certain psychological hazards. Those in the proposed regulations are:
- aggression or violence;
- exposure to traumatic content or events;
- high job demands; and
- sexual harassment.
- a duty to submit, in writing, a report detailing 'reportable complaints' (we don't like this term) - these are currently complaints involving aggression or violence; bullying; and sexual harassment
Note: VTHC and affiliates are currently formulating our submission, and have a number of changes and amendments which we believe will strengthen the regulations and provide increased protection to workers. These include adding insecure work and fatigue as psychosocial hazards, and more. We will make our submission available for HSRs and anyone interested to use as a basis for their own submission.
Public comment on the regulations closes at 5pm, Thursday 31 March 2022. Find out more here. Keep your eyes on SafetyNet, for material for HSRs so they can send in their views.
New guidance on Labour Hire amendments
WorkSafe has published three pieces of new guidance to support labour hire amendments in the Occupational Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2021 (the Act), which commences on 22 March 2022.
The three pieces of guidance, available on WorkSafe’s website, are: [PDF comparison table]
- Duty on labour hire providers and host employers to consult, cooperate and coordinate
- Duties to labour hire employees under the OHS Act comparison table [PDF]
- Duties to labour hire employees under the OHS Act comparison table [Web version]
The guidance has been made available in advance of the amendments taking effect to allow time for duty holders to familiarise themselves with their new duties. WorkSafe is preparing additional material, including case studies, to support the labour hire amendments when they commence.
New guidance on Rapid Antigen Tests
WorkSafe has produced advice on the use of rapid antigen testing as one of a broader range of COVID-19 control measures that employers should consider as part of their obligations under the OHS Act. Read more here.
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.
WA: Insecure work is a health hazard
In an Australian first, Western Australia (WA) has formally recognised that job insecurity can harm both a worker’s physical and mental health. A new code of practice on psychosocial hazards in the workplace introduced by the state safety watchdog provides practical guidance on how all workplaces across the state can comply with their duties under its OHS Act.
According to Alexis Vassiley of Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Work and Wellbeing, including insecure work in WA’s code is unlikely to change much in the short term. “Real change will require legislative reform or an increase in union strength,” he noted. “Some countries in Europe, for example, now have laws limiting the numbers of temporary agency workers and those on fixed term contracts. Such laws also need to be backed up by enforcement mechanisms – notably vastly increased resources for regulators.” He continued: “The WA government’s new code of practice represents an important first step within Australia’s industrial relations landscape. Formal recognition of insecure work as a health hazard should act as spur to further reform. Insecure work is widespread. We know what’s wrong with it. It’s time to do more about it.”
Two of our leading experts in this field, Michael Quinlan of the University of New South Wales Sydney and Elsa Underhill of Deakin University, told an ongoing federal Senate inquiry into job security there are three major negative outcomes of insecurity: higher incidence/frequency of injuries, including fatalities; poorer physical and mental health (such as from bullying); and poorer knowledge of, and access to, employment rights and less willingness to raise concerns.
Read more: Code of practice - Psychosocial hazards in the workplace, [pdf] Western Australia Worksafe 2022. The Conversation.
National Fatality Statistics 2022
Safe Work Australia last updated its statistics on fatalities on March 3, at which time it had been notified that 25 Australian workers had been killed at work this year - this is five more since the previous update on February 17. The fatalities have been in the following sectors:
- 12 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 6 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 2 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 2 in Public administration & safety
- 2 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.
Company which almost killed a worker gets off with an enforceable undertaking
M C Earthmoving Pty Ltd (MCE) supplied earthmoving equipment and operators. It was engaged by another company to supply operators and plant to excavate, hail and place overburden at a Fulton Hogan Quarries Pty Ltd quarry in Tynong Norththe workplace, and provided and operated the equipment identified as Haul Truck 2 (HT2).
On 29 April 2019, a 31 year old employee was operating on a HT2 with a second employee to manually grease underneath and on the chassis of the vehicle, as the automatic greasing system had malfunctioned. The process required an employee to use a spanner to take the caps off the grease nipples on HT2, and then apply the grease.
Whilst the first worker was removing the grease nipple caps against the chassis behind the offside wheel of HT2, the second worker turned the front steer wheel to the right. This pinned the first worker between the wheel and the chassis.
The injured man was in a coma for seven days and in hospital for 22 days. His injuries included a fractured trachea, scapula and ribs, brain injuries and loss of voice. He also contracted sepsis and pneumonia while in hospital.
The company failed to minimize the risk of crushing by not ensuring the greasing of HT2 was done solely by the operator of HT2, that the engine of HT2 was turned off during greasing and that lockout/tagout or similar plant isolation systems were employed.
On 3 March 2022, at the Dandenong Magistrates’ Court, the charge of breaching s21(1) of the OHS Act against MCE was withdrawn after the company entered into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) (as per s16 of the Act). The EU involved three undertakings over the course of 18 months as follows:
- MCE will be commissioning and supplying a fully serviceable Mobile Safety Training Trailer to the Civil Contractors Federation (CCF) Victoria;
- MCE will be supplying the necessary training equipment for the MST Trailer to enable CCF Victoria to deliver the CCF Courses; and
- MCE will commission CCF Victoria to develop a case study of the incident for use in future safety courses such as the Mobile Plant Risk Assessment course.
It is estimated the total cost of the EU will total $96,770.00. CFF is an industry body representing the civil construction industry in Victoria.
`The VTHC and our affiliates have serous concerns with Enforceable Undertakings: the inappropriateness of some of the measures, the lack of consultation with relevant unions, and more. We have taken the matter up with WorkSafe on a number of occasions.
Charges over shipping container crushing fatality
A stone benchtop business has been charged by WorkSafe after a man was fatally crushed at a Campbellfield factory in February 2020.
Best Benchtop and Stone Pty Ltd is facing three charges under section 26 of the OHS Act for failing to ensure that a workplace was safe and without risks to health.
It follows the death of a man who was helping the company's director unload a shipping container when approximately 30 stone slabs weighing 220 kilograms each fell on top of him.
WorkSafe alleges it was reasonably practicable for the company to take measures to reduce the risk of the slabs falling during the unloading process and causing serious injury or death to persons carrying out tasks inside the container.
The matter is listed for a filing hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 9 March 2022.
Freight company charged after worker crushed to death
WorkSafe has charged a freight transport company after a worker was fatally crushed while unloading sections of large steel light poles from a truck at Altona North in June 2020.
The 56-year-old worker was killed when two of the sections became unstable and fell off the truck and on top of him.
Norman Carriers (Aust) Pty Ltd faces two charges under section 21(1) of the OHS Act for failing to, so far as reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a safe working environment. Specifically, WorkSafe alleges the company breached:
- section 21(2)(a) by failing to provide or maintain a safe system of work that would eliminate or reduce the risk of loads becoming unstable and falling from a truck.
- section 21(2)(e) of the Act by failing to provide information, instruction and training that would enable workers to unload trucks safely.
The matter is listed for a filing hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 15 March 2022.
Note: both these fatalities occurred before the Workplace Manslaughter laws came into effect on July 1, 2020.
HSR Initial & Refresher training
Trained HSRs are more effective HSRs - have you just been elected and haven't organised your training yet? Do it now! And if you completed your initial five day training then organise your annual refresher now. There are things happening in the OHS space you need to be aware of.
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, 29, 30 March & 11, 12 April - Trades Hall, Carlton/online
- 28, 29, 30 March & 11, 12 April - Online
- 28 March - 1 April - Ringwood
- 6, 7, 8 April & 28, 29 April - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 26, 27, 28, April & 4, 5 May - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 16 - 20 May - Geelong
- 16 - 20 May (Education Sector) AEU - Abbotsford
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:
- 16 March 2022 (Education Sector) - AEU, Abbotsford
- 22 March - Bendigo
- 24 March - Online
- 27 April - Trades Hall, Carlton
- 5 May - Geelong
- 10 May - Online
- 26 May (Education Sector) - AEU, Abbotsford
- 31 May Work-Related Gendered Violence (Education Sector) - AEU, Abbotsford
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.