Welcome to the March 23 edition of SafetyNet.
Unfortunately, the past week has been another tragic one for Victorian workers.
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]
Two Victorian workers killed in separate incidents
WorkSafe is investigating the deaths of two workers who were killed last Friday in separate incidents.
In the first incident, a 53-year-old crane operator was crushed by steel beams weighing several tonnes at about 11.15am in Dandenong South. At this stage, it appears that a coupling failed, causing the beams to fall on the worker.
Less than three hours later in Kyabram, a 56-year-old worker died after a tractor-spreader combination he was operating overturned. According to WorkSafe, it is understood he was driving the vehicle on a road when it jack-knifed and rolled at about 2pm.
The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the men's families, friends and work colleagues. No worker should die at work - every workplace death is preventable.
The two deaths bring WorkSafe's workplace fatality toll to nine for 2022, six fewer than at the same time last year.
It has been difficult to predict what the effect of the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron has been. Although experts have said there would be an increase, this is not yet clear, as case numbers have fallen and are now rising again. There were 9,594 new infections reported yesterday.
The number of hospital admissions is continuing to increase, though those in ICU are stable for the moment. These numbers highlight that we must keep taking precautions.
Victorian figures, March 22:
- 52,983 active cases (last week 42,250)
- 7 deaths reported
- 2,682 COVID-related deaths so far
- 256 are in hospital, 24 are in ICU, and 5 of these are on ventilators
- 1,195,239 total number of infections since the pandemic began
You can check the Victorian live update here.
Australia wide: there have been a total of 3,943,245 COVID cases (3,656,931 last week) and 5,736 deaths.
Worldwide: as at March 22 there had been 471,914,860 worldwide infections (461,312,402 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,104,226. (Source: Worldometer.)
Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation
As of March 21, 81.02 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.73 per cent had received their first dose, and 50.67 percent had their third dose. This is not high enough, given that it's the third dose that reduces the the chance of being hospitalised by 90 per cent. Also low are the percentages of children between the ages of 5 and 11 who have been vaccinated.
There is a misconception in the community that the new COVID variants are less serious than the original strains. But as we know, people are still dying from COVID - including young people. Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician at the Australian National University, said in an article in The Age this week, that in 2020 the death rate for coronavirus was roughly 1 to 2 per cent of all people infected. This figure soared dramatically for those over 80 years of age. This of course was mainly with the Alpha strain, as opposed to now with Omicron. Post-vaccination, the risk of death still remained dependent on a person’s age and whether they had been vaccinated.
“If you’re a 30-year-old your chance of death was one in 10,000, even a year and a half ago, but being vaccinated sees that drop another twentyfold,” he said. “Those over the age of 70 and the unvaccinated remain at highest risk of severe illness.”
In other words - it's is still extremely important to be as fully protected as possible. To book your third shot today, go to the Victorian government's vaccine booking portal here. Those in the community who are particularly vulnerable are now getting their fourth shot. Read more: People are still dying from COVID. But who? And are they vaccinated? The Age
April 5 VTHC Webinar - Occupational Violence
Anyone can experience occupational violence & aggression (OVA) in their workplace. OVA can come in all forms from name-calling to physical acts of violence. Each instance of OVA can have a massive impact on the people involved. HSRs fight for safer workplaces every day, so join our OHS Network for a webinar and workshop on occupational violence & aggression.
When: Tuesday, 5 April
Time: 4pm - 5:30pm
Where: on Zoom
RSVP for the OVA webinar and workshop here.
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.
My question is about the role of the HSR. There is no mention in my job description that part of the job is taking on the role of l HSR. However, as soon as I began the job management told me that I would be the office's HSR and I had no choice in the matter. In addition to this, I am also the deputy Fire Warden (also not by choice).
I don’t believe my skill set is suited to a regulatory role such as HSR, although I am trying to make the best of it and learning as much as I can. However, I find myself wearing too many hats and I feel anxious about trying to remember my different responsibilities and expectations and I do not want to do the HSR role. Can I choose to relinquish my role? Can management stop me doing this?
Under the OHS Act, a person must be nominated to take on the role of the HSR – and accept that nomination. Once this happens, then the HSR must be elected in the workplace by members of the relevant Designated Work Group (DWG). If there is only one nomination, then that person is automatically elected as HSR. However, the employer cannot simply appoint a HSR. This is outlined in sections 54, 55 and 57 of the OHS Act. According to your description of how things happened, you would not be considered by WorkSafe as an HSR. In any case, note that the role of an HSR is totally voluntary, and a person has the right to resign as HSR at any time.
Further, an elected HSR has no duties as HSR. The HSR’s role is to represent the members of their DWG, not to carry out tasks for the employer, or have any legal duties. The employer can nominate someone as their OHS representative, who may have OHS related duties – but this position is not the HSR. If your employer is confused and has appointed you as the OHS management representative, then this is another matter and needs to be sorted out. Your employer cannot expect you to take on extra duties that you are not trained for – and my advice would be to contact your union.
With regards to being appointed as a Fire Warden, this is something employers usually call for people to indicate their interest in taking up. However, if not enough people volunteer, then the employer may look to appointing staff. This is not related to the role of HSR, and in this case too, the employer needs to provide adequate information and training.
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.
ANMF calls on employers to end violence
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation's Victorian branch has called on private aged care employers to urgently adopt its 10-point plan to end occupational violence. The call comes in light of a 2021 RMIT University report that found 93 per cent of workers in the sector have experienced physical violence, and 44 per cent have been threatened with a weapon. It found that a culture of blame and management focus on accreditation standards in the industry are contributing to "dire consequences" from violence.
Based on a wave of surveys of more than 800 managers, nurses and personal care workers, the study also found 87 per cent have been sexually harassed by facility residents. More than 70 per cent reported being hit, kicked, shoved, spat on or bitten, and having objects thrown at them.
The researchers, Dr Jillian Cavanagh and Patricia Pariona-Cabrera, said their study found greater implementation of the 10-point plan – which provided employers with practical systems and process to prevent and reduce the opportunity for violence – was associated with lower levels of workplace violence and better mental health for staff.
There was a lack of training for managers, nurses and carers around emotional intelligence, resilience and managing emotions, Cavanagh said. A culture of blame was also prevalent, where nurses and carers are held responsible when incidents of aggression and violence occur.
The study made 10 recommendations, including that private aged care providers examine strategies and implement the ANMF's plan and related human resources management practices as a systemic policy. Read more: ANMF Occupational Violence and Aggression - It's Never OK campaign; ANMF 10-point plan [pdf], RMIT Report [pdf]. Source: OHS Alert
SA: Focus on managing asbestos
SafeWork SA inspectors are visiting workplaces across that state to ensure they are managing asbestos, and will focus on identifying and managing asbestos in buildings built before 31 December 2003. They will be checking to ensure that asbestos in workplaces is identified and its location marked and recorded in an asbestos register.
The compliance campaign supports the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management 2019-2023 by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA). The National Strategic Plan aims to eliminate asbestos-related diseases in Australia by preventing exposure to asbestos fibres. Additional information on the above compliance campaign is available on the SafeWork SA website where you can also download a couple of useful checklists.
ASEA Consultation on new guidelines
A reminder that the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency is 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. Also for consultation is the Communicating Asbestos Facts and Figures guide which is to be read and used in conjunction with the guidelines.
Anyone who is interested should participate and make a submission, but the agency has nominated unions and worker representatives, and employer representatives as one of the groups it particularly wants to hear from.
Consultation open: Asbestos Risk Communications Guidelines and Asbestos Facts and Figures The information and papers can be accessed on the ASEA website. Closing date for public comment is April 8 For more information, please contact ASEA directly at e[email protected]
UK: Company withheld information on asbestos risks
One of the UK’s biggest manufacturers of asbestos and the industry bodies that it co-founded historically withheld information on risks posed by the carcinogenic material, playing down the dangers while lobbying the government for product warnings to be tempered, according to documents released after a lengthy court battle.
A lawyer who acted for the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK in its fight to obtain the documents about Cape compared its behaviour to the tobacco industry’s former refusal to admit evidence of harms from smoking while its own research showed the opposite.
Despite the company having considered labelling in the 1950's and its own medical advisor accepting in 1969 that the fatal cancer mesothelioma could be caused by “short and possibly small” exposure and that “no type of asbestos proved innocent”, when Cape began to label its product in 1976 with a “take care with Asbestos” warning, it said “breathing asbestos dust can damage health”, but made no reference to the risk of mesothelioma, the documents show. Read more: The Guardian (UK).
International Union News
UK: Retail chain apologises for saying staff could work with COVID
Retail chain Wilko has apologised for ‘some miscommunication’ in which it told staff they could continue to work if they tested positive for COVID. In a memo, reported by The Mirror, the company said staff with the virus could continue to work in stores if they felt well enough. In the memo, the company, which has 414 stores in the UK, said: “If you test positive for COVID-19 and feel well you can continue to come to work, if you feel too unwell you can follow the absence policy.”
Wilko confirmed the memo was sent out but the company has since made a u-turn. “When we get something wrong, we hold our hands up, admit it, and work to correct the situation,” Wilko chief executive Jerome Saint-Marc said in an online statement. In a post on the company’s Facebook page he said he wanted to “reassure all our customers and team members” that the company's advice to staff with COVID symptoms or those who test positive was to stay at home and avoid contact with others. “As throughout our 92 years on the High Street, the safety and wellbeing of our shoppers and teams is at the heart of our business and we're truly sorry for any understandable concerns our communications may have raised,” he added.
People with COVID in England are no longer legally required to self-isolate with all restrictions now removed, but it is still recommended. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, people are still asked to self-isolate after a positive test. Read more: The Mirror and related report. BBC News Online. The Guardian. Source: Risks 1036
UK: Always-on culture is a significant problem
The right to disconnect is supported by a clear majority of workers, new data from Ipsos has revealed. Despite 67 per cent of the UK workforce having work-related communications outside of their working day, more than half think it is unacceptable to do so, the world’s third largest market researcher found. Commenting on the findings, Andrew Pakes, research director at the union Prospect, said: “Digital technology has undoubtedly kept us safe, connected and working during the pandemic, but for many the lines between work and home have become blurred, making it harder to switch-off work and contributing to burnout and poor mental health. Prospect has been leading UK calls for a right to disconnect to help ensure flexible working is a success and that we put in place the safeguards to tackle the risks of surveillance technology and work pressures that mean some people simply cannot switch-off from work.” He added: “Employers need to recognise that this is a problem which will ultimately result in lost days, decreased productivity, a demotivated workforce and burnout.” Read more: Prospect news release Source: Risks 1036
Ukraine: US reporter shot and killed
An award-winning US journalist working in Ukraine, Brent Renaud, has been shot dead in Irpin, outside Kyiv. Ukrainian police said the journalist was targeted on 13 March by Russian soldiers. Two other journalists were injured and hospitalised. It is the first reported death of a foreign journalist covering the war in Ukraine, although several have been injured. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) condemned the killing and called for the killers to be brought to justice. Less than two weeks ago Ukrainian journalist Yevheniy Sakun, a camera operator for the Ukrainian television channel LIVE, was killed when a building near the TV transmission tower in Kyiv was hit by shelling.
“We are shocked by the increasing number of attacks on journalists trying to cover the war in Ukraine,” said IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger. “The deaths of journalists Brent Renaud and Yevheniy Sakun cannot go unpunished.” Ricardo Gutiérrez, general secretary of the European journalists’ federation EFJ commented: “These systematic attacks on journalists and other war crimes require a strong response from the international community.” He added: “The EFJ calls once again for the establishment of a special international tribunal on these war crimes committed in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This murderous spiral must be stopped!” The UK journalists’ union NUJ has produced war zone safety information with guidance for reporting in conflict zones. Read more: IFJ news release. NUJ news release and war zone safety information. Source: Risks 1036
In the March edition of the HSR Newsletter, WorkSafe's Executive Director of Health and Safety, Dr Narelle Beer introduces herself. Dr Beer points HSRs to WorkSafe's Corporate Plan and says they "will know that supporting Victoria’s network of Health and Safety Representatives" is one of WorkSafe's six strategic choices.
She says the organisation is "actively discussing ways we can engage and support [HSRs]. One potential opportunity is to host a ‘HSR event’. This will allow [WorkSafe] to have face to face conversations, exchange ideas and develop systems and processes to ensure WorkSafe can support and engage meaningfully and effectively."
Other items in the newsletter include the importance of consultation on changes to office-based work; the proposed Psychological Health regulations; WorkSafe's "UMM.." campaign which targets younger workers; Return to Work; and more.
Referring to the tragic loss of 66 lives in 2021, WorkSafe Chief Executive Officer Colin Radford comments that no one in the community was immune to the devastating consequences of a death or injury at work. He said, ""We need every workplace to take the time to properly assess their health and safety risks and plan how to eliminate or manage them, because failing to do so can lead to tragedy." Read more: March 2022 HSR Newsletter
Public comment: Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations (proposed regulations)
These are very important regulations and contain 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' - these are currently complaints involving aggression or violence; bullying; and sexual harassment
Public comment on the regulations closes at 5pm, Thursday 31 March 2022. Find out more here. Providing comment is very easy, and you can comment on just a few specific things or make more general comments. It's very important that WorkSafe hears directly from workers and HSRs.
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.
SA: New Labor government committed to introducing Industrial Manslaughter
It appears likely that South Australia will become the sixth Australian jurisdiction to enact the WHS offence of industrial manslaughter, with Labor winning the State election last weekend. In Labor's pre-election industrial relations platform, Premier-elect Peter Malinauskas said there are "too many avoidable injuries and deaths in workplaces", and his party will "introduce industrial manslaughter laws with a focus on avoiding preventable deaths".
The document said the laws will apply "where an employer acts recklessly and their actions are the primary cause of an employee's death", and "the penalty will fit the crime, with maximum prison term of up to 20 years along with significant financial penalties for companies".
If SA brings in this legislation, then NSW, Tasmania and the Commonwealth jurisdiction will be the only jurisdictions without the offence (although NSW has a WHS clause clarifying that the death of a person at work can, in certain circumstances, constitute manslaughter under the State Crimes Act 1900).
SA Labor's policy also promises to legislate for aggravated offences carrying higher penalties for abuse and assault on frontline retail workers and extending labour hire regulation across all industries. In addition, there is a commitment to introduce jail time for the worst cases of wage theft. Sources: OHS Alert; Workplace Express
NSW: New Engineered Stone Code of Practice to reduce silicosis
The national Code of Practice – Managing the risks of respirable crystalline silica from engineered stone in the workplace came into force in NSW on 25 February 2022.
The Code provides clear guidance on how businesses can protect workers from breathing in silica dust from engineered stone to prevent the deadly lung disease silicosis. Businesses can also access useful resources to help put the Code into practice. A Silica Dust Control Plan template is currently available on the NSW Code of Practice webpage. A simple safety checklist and translated resources will be made available soon.
SafeWork NSW is also offering a free educational webinar on Monday 28 March to help businesses and workers learn about their responsibilities under the Code. The webinar will explain what steps businesses need to take to protect workers from silica dust exposure, provide key updates on the industry, and more. Participants can also speak with SafeWork inspectors during the live Q&A session. For more information, and to register, visit Eventbrite.
National Fatality Statistics 2022
Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities on March 17, at which time it had been notified that 29 Australian workers had been killed at work this year. This is four more than at March 3. Three of these were in the Transport, postal and warehousing sector. The fatalities have been in the following sectors:
- 15 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 6 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
- 3 in Public administration & safety
- 2 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
- 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.
Criminal charges over incident leading to Campbellfield toxic waste fire
The Environment Protection Authority has laid criminal and civil charges over an incident that caused a massive industrial blaze last year at a Campbellfield chemical recycling facility.
The fire at Bradbury Industrial Services burned for days in early April 2019, spreading toxic smoke across the northern suburbs and forcing residents indoors and the closure of schools and businesses. Several workers were injured from burns and chemical exposure.
Ten charges have now been brought against Bradbury and its director, Paul Anthony Bristow, over the work practices that allegedly sparked the fire and contamination of the environment. One of the charges carries a prison sentence of up to seven years and a fine of $413,000 for Bristow.
In addition to these charges there is a series of investigations into an alleged toxic waste dumping syndicate involving Bradbury and an associate, Graham Leslie White, who have been linked to more than a dozen chemical stockpiles in Melbourne and at a bush property in western Victoria. In the fortnight before the Campbellfield fire, Bradbury’s licence had been suspended after an EPA investigation found it was storing more than double the permitted level of materials on-site. The company was ordered to reduce the size of the stockpile by removing 300,000 litres of highly flammable liquids from its premises.
More than 175 firefighters fought the blaze, which also seriously contaminated a nearby waterway. Nearly $1.8 million was spent by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Melbourne Water to contain the fire and clean-up the pollution, which seeped into Merlynston Creek. Bristow and Bradbury have been charged with negligently polluting the environment, polluting a body of water, causing an environmental hazard and violations of its operating licence.
The charges were welcomed by United Firefighters Union Victorian secretary Peter Marshall, who said it showed action was being taken against those who put the health of firefighters and the community at risk.
WorkSafe has also levied 42 civil charges against Bradbury over the various stockpiles it has uncovered, including seven new charges this week. "WorkSafe alleges Bradbury failed to take all reasonable precautions to prevent a fire or explosion of dangerous goods at the premises," a spokeswoman said. "It is also alleged the company failed to reduce the risks associated with dangerous goods storage and failed to notify WorkSafe of an excess quantity of dangerous goods at the site." Source: The Age
To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
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:
- 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.