SafetyNet 618

Welcome to the April 6 edition of SafetyNet. We hope you find this week's edition useful and interesting. Feel free to share it and please encourage others in your workplaces to subscribe.

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

Helicopter crash kills five 
The pilot and four passengers on a helicopter charter flight were killed when it crashed last Friday near Mt Disappointment. It had  taken off from Moorabbin Airport, picked up passengers at the Batman Park helipad in Melbourne and was on its way to Ulupna. 

Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators took over the site of the helicopter crash on Friday, with Bureau Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell indicating they would remain at the site analysing the wreckage for at least three days.  The Commissioner added that once their analysis was complete and they had retrieved any components to take back to their Canberra technical facilities, the helicopter’s owner or their insurance company would winch the wreckage out.

It is unclear whether all of these fatalities will be added to Victoria's workplace fatality statistics although preliminary investigations indicate all were on work-related business.

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and work colleagues of those who died in the incident. 

April 28: International Workers' Memorial Day

This year's international theme is: Make safe and healthy at work a fundamental right.

Every year, Victorian Trades Hall Council hosts a commemoration service to remember those Victorians who lost their lives at work.

Please join us on the 28th of April for International Workers Memorial Day 2021 to commemorate the workers we have lost in the past year. The ceremony will include a minute's silence at 11 am and an opportunity to lay wreaths. 

The event will be live-streamed through the Victorian Trades Hall Council Facebook page or you are welcome to attend VTHC in person.

When: Thursday April 28, 10.30 am - 11.30 am.
Where: At the 'Memorial Rock', Victorian Trades Hall Council, corner Lygon and Victoria Street, Carlton. Let us know whether you're coming: RSVP here  

Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living. 

COVID Update 

There were 12,150 new infections reported today. The number of new infections is gradually increasing, as are the numbers in hospital. It is for this reason that the few restrictions in the state remain in place.  

Victorian figures, April 6:

  • 62,028 active cases  (last week 58,488)
  • 3 deaths reported 
  • 2,766 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 331 are in hospital, 16 are in ICU, and 4 of these are on ventilators (note these numbers are quite a bit lower than they have been over the past week)
  • 1,343,648 total number of infections since the pandemic began

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide: there have been a total of 4,785,679 COVID cases (4,436,572 last week) and 6,436 deaths. 

Worldwide: as of April 6 there had been 493,746,386 worldwide infections (485,506,335 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,182,708. (Source: Worldometer

An interesting fact: While there were only 23,899 new infections in the USA yesterday, there were a staggering 448 deaths. In Australia however, even though we had 58,178 new cases, we had far fewer deaths: 38. This may be related to the health care system in Australia compared to that in the United States. The other explanation is probably the level of vaccination in the community. While Australia has almost 83 per cent of our total population vaccinated with two doses, only 65.8 per cent of people in the USA have received two doses.   Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation

New COVID-19 Variant appears in the UK 
A new COVID-19 variant has been identified in the United Kingdom, but experts say there is no cause for alarm yet. The variant, known as XE, is a combination of the original BA.1 omicron variant and its subvariant BA.2. This type of combination is known as a "recombinant" variant. An early indication from the U.K. suggests XE could be slightly more transmissible than BA.2, but the World Health Organization said more research is needed. Source: abcNEWS and watch Dr Norman Swan's explanation on how variants develop and why we should not discontinue surveillance.

Vaccination update 
As of April 4, 82.34 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.78 per cent had received their first dose, and 52.43 percent had their third dose. This is not high enough, given that it's the third dose that reduces the chance of being hospitalised by 90 per cent. 

Australia wide, by April 5, the figures are 82.9 per cent, 86.5 per cent respectively, with 52.1 per cent having received the third shot.  Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates. 

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,

We have a small office inside a warehouse we are renting. What are the regulations in regards to the office having openable windows as opposed to just glass windows?  

This is a very important question given the need for good ventilation in times of COVID. 

Your employer has a legal duty under Section 21 of the OHS act to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risk to health and, under section 20 of the Act, to eliminate risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable. (See: Duties of Employers) Although there is not a specific rule or anything in legislation requiring an office to have windows that can open, there are a number of other health and safety considerations that open windows play an important role in addressing, with ventilation being the most salient.  

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, ventilation has had a more important role in workplace health and safety. It is your employer’s duty to minimise, so far as reasonably practicable,  the risk of the spread of infectious diseases in your workplace. Fresh air circulation in the office space needs to be good enough to ensure this. Fresh air flows need to be at least 10 litres per person per second and humidity levels should be between 40 and 60 per cent.

A good, affordable way of checking whether or not ventilation levels are adequate is by installing a CO2 monitor. If the CO2 levels in your office are above 800 parts per million, it is likely that you’re not getting enough fresh air. Given that the windows don’t open – which is the most effective way of ensuring good fresh air inflow – the employer needs to make sure that the heating, ventilation and air condition [HVAC] system is working properly and is well maintained. The employer needs to make sure that it is bringing in external rather than recycled air.  

Also, under section 22 of the OHS Act  it is the employer’s duty to employ experts, so far as is reasonably practicable, to monitor the conditions of the workplace to ensure they are safe for workers. If you believe your office’s ventilation is not up to scratch due to windows that can’t open, the employer may need to have experts come in to provide advice and recommendations. If the HVAC system is unable to ensure proper ventilation, either the employer OR the person with management and control of the workplace may have to invest in a high efficiency particulate absorbing [HEPA] filter. For information on the best HEPA filters, see this page.  Finally, windows are important in maintaining a safe office temperature too. See this page for guidelines around maintaining a comfortable office temperature. More information on ventilation.  

In this situation, where the warehouse (and office) is being rented by your employer, it may be that there needs to be negotiation and agreement with the owner of the warehouse, who has the ultimate management and control of it, to make the necessary changes/invest in the necessary equipment. It is something that needs to be raised and resolved.

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.  

April 5 VTHC Webinar - Occupational Violence 
If you missed our webinar yesterday on occupational violence & aggression (OVA) in the workplace, then you will be able to watch it on the We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page - probably by early next week. Special expert guest was Kathy Chrisfield, from the ANMF who outlined how the union has tackled OVA. 

Asbestos News  
WA: Wittenoom closed but can it ever be cleaned up? 
The state government formally closed the Wittenoom mine last month - but has not announced any rehabilitation plans. According to a mine restoration expert, cleaning up the asbestos in and around it would be one of the biggest and most complex mine site rehabilitations in history and cost more than $100 million. Meanwhile, the traditional owners continue to call for the McGowan government to lead the clean-up and return their country to its original state.

Three million tonnes of asbestos tailings, which litter the 46,000 hectare Wittenoom Asbestos Management Area, have been left behind, now making the site what is believed to be the largest contaminated site in the southern hemisphere. Curtin University's Dr Adam Cross said the financial costs could run in to the hundreds of millions of dollars, but stressed that someone had to take responsibility for cleaning up the area. "We have an implicit requirement to try and return landscapes that we damaged to something like the ecological quality that was there before we impacted upon them."

The country surrounding Wittenoom belongs to the Banjima native title holders of the Pilbara. Banjima elder Maitland Parker said the final closure of the town was "the best news", but his attention had turned to fixing the contamination. The asbestos has prevented Mr Parker from visiting his country around Wittenoom for more than 20 years.  Read more: ABC Online.    

ASEA conference: May 19 - 20 
The Asbestos Safety and Management Conference, is coming up soon: 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 conference will be a hybrid event, offering delegates the opportunity to either attend in-person or livestream the event.  Read more about the conference or to purchase a ticket, go to the conference website.

Britain: More women dying of mesothelioma  
Asbestos is killing more and more women every year. But evidence from the UK's HSE reveals that many are still not aware of the disease and how it can be acquired at work, which means they can be more at risk. According to the latest HSE data, excess deaths – that is higher than average deaths than might be expected – from mesothelioma are found on female death certificates in specific types of jobs: administrators, medical secretaries, teachers and women who work in banks and post offices.

Approximately 5,000 people die every year due to asbestos-related disease in Great Britain. Out of these, 2,369 people died from mesothelioma in 2019 from exposures at work. According to Cancer Research UK, 17 per cent of mesothelioma cases in the UK, on average, are in females, and 83 per cent are in males.

However, female cases of mesothelioma are growing at a faster rate than those in men. The rate of new cases of mesothelioma in females has doubled (97 per cent) HSE says since the early 1990s, but rates in males have increased by about half (51 per cent) in that time. The data for 2019 showed for the first time that male cases dropped by 9 per cent, whereas for women these remained the same. Read more: Clearing the air on asbestos dangers to women. British Safety Council 

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

International Union News 
International Workers Memorial Day around the world 
Work is killing 3 million workers worldwide each year. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and past president of our own ACTU, says that dying to work must end now, and health and safety must be recognised as a fundamental right for all workers. The figures are frightening: of the 3 million, 400,000 are killed by work-related strokes; 450,000 deaths are caused by work-related chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis); 360,000 die as a result of workplace injuries. Each year there are 374 million work injuries. 

This year, occupational health and safety (OHS) must join freedom from forced and child labour, from discrimination at work, and freedom to join a trade union and bargain collectively as International Labour Organisation (ILO) fundamental rights at work.

There must be no more opposition from callously indifferent employers, or recalcitrant governments. Our right to go to work and come back at the end of the day just as fit and well as we started it must be baked in. Read the full feature in Hazards magazine and ITUC 28 April #iwmd22 webpages

Norway: Benzene risks to offshore workers under-estimated  
The number of workers exposed to the cancer-causing benzene contaminating the muds used in offshore drilling is greatly under-estimated, a union has warned.

Halvor Erikstein, an organisational secretary and occupational hygienist with the Norwegian energy union SAFE, investigated benzene exposures during offshore oil well drilling and found a University of Bergen matrix used to designate exposed jobs “has completely omitted exposure from benzene blending into drilling mud” and during the ‘deaeration’ of systems. This means a wide range of rig jobs are excluded from the at-risk count, including scaffolders, drillers and drill floor crew, mud loggers, derrick workers, turbine operators and hydraulic technicians.

The SAFE report shows that as well as mistaken assumptions about where exposures occur, factors such as humidity have a substantial impact on the effectiveness of respiratory protective equipment, with filters ineffective at high humidity. Exposures to benzene are linked to cancers, blood and neurological disorders and other health effects. Erikstein notes: “This type of exposure has been met with silence by the Norwegian oil industry.” 
Read more: Drilling Mud and Benzene The Elephant in the Room Chemical Environment [PDF of Powerpoint], SAFE, 2022. SummarySource: Risks 1038 


Research

COVID, occupational stress and positive psychological capital

The COVID 19 pandemic challenged our livelihood, physical health, mental health, employment, and economy.  Lockdowns, quarantines, online teaching, and learning have become new normal. 

The negative effects, spread across the globe and society, caused a confused mindset, fear, anxiety, stress, and other psychological complications, especially amongst Health Care Workers (HCWs), children, elderly people, and Frontline Workers (FLWs).

In this work, the researcher examined the levels of Occupational Stress (OS), and psychological well-being (PWB) of HCWs and police personnel during the pandemic and the relationship between OS and PWB. Further, the study analyzed the role of Positive Psychological Capital (PPC) as a mediator and Emotional Quotient (EQ) as a moderator in the relationship between OS and PWB.

The researcher, from the School of Business and Management, CHRIST (Deemed University), Bangalore, Karnataka India, found that Positive Psychological Capital (PPC) characteristics of the respondents such as believing in their own ability and performance, willingness to succeed or attain the goals framed, ability to bounce back from the hard times, and their optimism about the future helped them to tackle the stress caused by the pandemic and to maintain a better state of psychological wellbeing in the fight against the pandemic. 
Read more: T.Ravikumar, Occupational stress and psychological wellbeing during COVID 19: Mediating role of positive psychological capital [Full articleCurrent Psychology, Vol 5, no 1-8


Regulator News

Victorian news   
Warning on trailer safety  
WorkSafe has issued an alert reminding agribusinesses, farmers and workers to not ignore the dangers of riding on the back of trailers and attachments following a number of serious incidents. 

A 70-year-old worker suffered critical head injuries and later died in hospital after falling from a trailer being towed by a tractor at Woorinen South in February. This was the third life lost in a workplace incident involving falls from trailers and attachments since 2018, with a number of serious injuries also recorded over this period.

A 68-year-old worker was killed when he fell and was run over by a tractor and trailer at Somerville in 2020 and a 56-year-old farmer was killed after he was crushed while feeding stock using a tractor and trailer on a farm near Mansfield in 2018. 

In March, a worker suffered serious injuries after they fell from the trailer they were riding on during burning off work. This incident follows seven serious incidents involving passengers falling from trailers and attachments in the past four years. 

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said using trailers to carry passengers on farms or roads posed a significant risk. "There is no safe way to ride on trailers and attachments that are not designed to carry passengers; there is a huge risk of falling, being thrown off or being crushed by loads that shift and fall," Dr Beer said.

As well as providing details of the incidents over the past few years, the Alert lists recommended ways to control the risks when using trailers and attachments. Read more: WorkSafe alert

Alert: Sleeping of blasting shots in mining and quarrying  
WorkSafe has issued an alert about controlling the risks associated with sleeping shots in mining and quarry blasting operations. Such operations in Victorian mines and quarries typically involve 'load & shoot' operations where blasting is conducted immediately after loading or on the same day.

Recently, an increase in blasting delays have been reported which results in the loaded bench being slept (charged explosives remaining loaded in the blasting holes or loaded above ground) for an extended duration. These delays often occur due to breakdown of specialist vehicles, adverse weather or misfire events.

Blasting delays increase the risk to employees' and other persons' health and safety due to the explosives security, for example from uninitiated or unintentional detonation, deterioration or theft of the explosives. Read more: WorkSafe Alert.

Reminder: New rights and protections for labour hire workers 
From March 22, labour hire workers  have additional rights and protections with the commencement of amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act).

The definitions of 'employer' and 'employee' have been amended so that a labour hire worker is treated as an 'employee' of both the labour hire provider and the host employer for the purposes of the OHS Act. This means that host employers owe all the same duties to labour hire workers under the OHS Act as they do to any other employee; and labour hire workers have the same OHS Act rights and protections at their host employer’s workplace as direct employees of the host.

This includes rights to representation under Part 7 of the OHS Act and protections against discrimination under section 76 of the OHS Act.

Also, a new duty in the OHS Act requires labour hire providers and host employers to consult, coordinate and cooperate with each other where they share OHS Act duties to the same worker, so far as is reasonably practicable. Read more on WorkSafe's website here.

National News  
NSW: WHS Regulations made for gig economy platforms  
In a first, the NSW Government has made the Work Health and Safety Amendment (Food Delivery Riders) Regulation 2022 which require gig economy platforms that engage food delivery riders, on bicycles and motor bikes, to provide these workers with high-visibility personal protective equipment and induction training.

The PPE includes retroreflective outer clothing items and food and drink bags or containers comprised of retroreflective materials and devices, which comply with the relevant Australian Standards.

The induction training is defined as a course provided by the food delivery platform that covers: hazard and fatigue management; general road safety; the selection, fit, use, testing, storage and maintenance of hi-vis PPE; and the WHS duties that apply to food delivery riders and food delivery platforms.

Bodies corporate could be fined up to nearly $36,000 for failing to comply with the PPE and induction requirements, and more than $7,000 for failing to keep proper records of its PPE and training processes. Riders too could face fines of up to about $1,500 for failing to wear or use their hi-vis equipment or make their training verification records available for inspection when requested by a safety inspector or a police officer. Source: OHS Alert

NSW: Speak Up Save Lives app a success  
SafeWork NSW says the ‘Speak Up Save Lives’ app is making workplaces across the state safer for all employees by allowing workers to anonymously raise safety concerns with SafeWork NSW. The regulator says that last year there were 560 reports which triggered interventions in high-risk safety issues. The app has helped SafeWork NSW prevent injuries and deaths, with 1,297 reports since its inception two years ago. Read more: SafeWork NSW media release

Minister for Fair Trading Eleni Petinos said anonymity is a major concern for workers, who fear speaking up could lead to punishment or even the loss of their jobs. 

Safe Work Australia Fact Sheet: WHS duties in a contractual chain 
This new fact sheet provides information for persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) who are working as part of a contractual chain.  

A contractual chain refers to the situation where, in relation to the same project or work matter, there are multiple contractors and subcontractors.  A contractual chain can form in any industry but is a common way of conducting business across the economy, for example in industries such as building and construction, road transport and events management.  

It provides guidance on duties under the model WHS laws and examples of how contractual relationships fit within the model WHS framework. This includes individual contractors and self-employed persons, who may be both a PCBU and a worker in a contractual chain. 
Download the factsheet here.

National Fatality Statistics 2022  
Safe Work Australia has not updated its statistics on fatalities since March 17, at which time it had been notified that 29 Australian workers had been killed at work this year. 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. 


Prosecutions

Victoria market butcher fined $10,000 after worker's hand caught in mincer 
Bao Quoc Tran, with his ex-wife, runs a family partnership butcher shop at Queen Victoria Market. He cuts meat, trains staff and delivers to customers. On 20 April 2019, an employee was pushing meat into a mincer when his right hand became trapped, sustaining serious injuries. The mincer had an unguarded circular feed chute at the top of the machine which was large enough to allow bodily access to the dangerous rotating mincing auger.

It would have been reasonably practicable for the employer to eliminate the risk to workers by installing fixed guarding over the circular feed chute to prevent bodily access to the rotating auger. He also failed to have in place a documented safe operating procedure and appropriate training in the procedure. 

Bao Quoc Tran pleaded guilty to two charges under the OHS Act, and was, without conviction, fined $10,000 plus costs of $5,679.50.

Formwork company fined $19,000 
Balmain & Co Pty Ltd ('Balmain'), a project construction company developing and building residential and commercial developments, subcontracted Structure 360 Pty Ltd to do formwork at an eight-level residential apartment block in Peel Street, North Melbourne.

On 31 August 2019 Structure 360's employees and contractors were erecting the formwork on Level 5 of the workplace. A tower crane was lifting concrete panels and columns. A Structure 360 employee tasked Balmain employees with lifting the formwork deck materials that were on Level 5 onto the suspended formwork deck on Level 6, and then left the workplace. On the second attempt to lift the formwork, the bearer collapsed. One Balmain employee rode the load down when it collapsed. Another Balmain employee was working on Level 5, directly underneath, and  became trapped. There were no exclusion zones marked out on Level 5.

The company should have implemented systems of work to minimise the risk, such as establishing an exclusion zone underneath the section of suspended formwork deck; and/or have a suitably qualified person inspect the suspended formwork deck before loading the materials. 

Structure 360 pleaded guilty to breaching s23(1) of the OHS Act (Duties of employers to other persons) and was without conviction fined $19,000 plus $3,797 costs.

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


Events

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 :  

  • 26, 27, 28, April & 4, 5 May - Trades Hall, Carlton 
  • 16 - 20 May - Geelong    
  • 16 - 20 May (Education Sector) AEU - Abbotsford    
  • 23 - 27 May - Bendigo   
  • 15, 16, 17 June & 29, 30 June - Online
  • 18 - 22 July - Narre Warren

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
  • 16 June - Online
  • 1 July - Narre Warren

Other courses:

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

2 - 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. 


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