SafetyNet 620

Welcome to the April 20 edition of SafetyNet.

We hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable good few days' break. Although we said there would be no edition this week - here's a very short one! 

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

Tuesday, April 26: Rana Plaza Commemoration 
April 24 will be the 9th Anniversary of the mass murder of garment workers at Rana Plaza on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. On that day in 2013, over 1,100 workers were killed when bosses forced them back into work despite warnings about building safety.

Please join the Melbourne commemoration event.  The garment workers will be joining the commemoration. There will be speakers followed by laying of flowers and a minute's silence.

When: Tuesday April 26, 7.45am 
Where: The Qualitops factory, 6 Brex Court Reservoir.

All are welcome. Please maintain safe COVID safe practices. More information: Jenny Kruschel +61 0419 337 137

Next week, Thursday April 28: International Workers' Memorial Day
This year's international theme is Make safe and healthy work a fundamental right.

This is a reminder of Victorian Trades Hall Council's annual commemoration event to remember those Victorians who lost their lives at work - and to urge all of us to keep fighting to improve health and safety in our workplaces.

Join us in person next Thursday April 28 for the International Workers' Memorial Day 2022 event. Listen to a couple of guest speakers, participate in a minute of silence at 11 am and then lay flowers and wreaths. The event will also be live-streamed through the Victorian Trades Hall Council Facebook page.

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. 

IWMD Event Latrobe Valley 
An International Workers Memorial Day Commemoration service is also being held next week in Moe. The event is being jointly conducted by ACV/GARDS and the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council. Reverend Marilyn Obersby will officiate at the Ecumenical Service, and speakers include:

  • Perdita Dickson, WorkSafe (Manager Occupational Health and Operational Programs Prevention, Strategy & Planning Division)
  • Steve Dodd, Secretary of the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council

Singer/musicians Susan Parrish & Patrick Wakefield, "In Harmony", Richard Harris & Co - bagpipers will also be present.

When: Thursday April 28, 11.00 am.
Where: Gippsland Heritage Park, 211 Lloyd St, Moe. 
There will be a free community BBQ at the conclusion of the event - all welcome!

HSR of the year and other WorkSafe Awards
The WorkSafe Awards are being announced tomorrow evening at the Awards Dinner. The most important award is, of course, that of HSR of the Year.

The finalists are: 

  • Adrian Lidsey and Christopher Ball (Crown Melbourne, Southbank) - both members of the United Workers Union (UWU), Adrian and Chris presented to HSRs at the VTHC HSR Conference;
  • Cameron McCormick (University High School, Parkville), who is a member of the Australian Education Union (AEU); and 
  • Alyce Dickson (Barwon Health, Geelong), who is a member of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).

All finalists have been wonderful advocates for their DWG members and have achieved great 'wins' - all deserve the recognition being nominated as finalists has brought.

We will bring you the results of this and the other awards in the next edition of SafetyNet.

COVID Update 

Many Restrictions Lifted 
Announcements were made today in both Victorian and NSW as it appears that the peak of Omicron infections has begun to subside. 

The Health Minister, Martin Foley, today announced that Victoria's COVID restrictions will ease from midnight Friday. Changes include:

  • Removal of vaccine mandates and check-ins to enter retail and hospitality venues
  • Masks will no longer be required in primary schools, early childhood, hospitality and retail settings, or at events of any size
  • Close contacts will also no longer need to isolate - provided they wear a mask indoors and avoid sensitive settings. They will also need to undertake at least five negative rapid antigen tests (RATs) over the seven days that would previously have been the self-quarantine period 
  • All visitor restrictions in hospitals, except for mask requirements, will be removed. Health services will be able to tailor their own settings based on their own circumstances
  • changes to requirements for arriving international travellers.

In relation to workplaces: 

  • Individuals (who are positive we assume, and perhaps also close contacts) will be required to notify their workplace contacts, in addition to informing their social contacts.
  • Workplaces/employers will not have to individually identify and notify each potentially exposed worker 
  • Visitor restrictions in care facilities will be retained to protect the vulnerable
  • Face coverings will still be required on public transport and at airports – excluding airport workers who aren’t public facing – and in sensitive health, aged care and justice settings
  • All workplaces will still require a COVIDSafe Plan

What does this mean for workers? Experts have recommended that if close contacts of people who are positive with COVID return to the workplace, then they need to inform their employer, who in turn should ensure that they have indeed completed the required RATs and are negative. Other workers should be informed that close contacts have returned to the workplace and that their RATs have indicated they are negative. Other workers at the workplace, particularly vulnerable ones, then have the necessary information to decide what precautions they may want/need to take. 

The Health Minister, Martin Foley, said: “This sensible easing of restrictions is only possible because we are one of the most vaccinated societies in the world, with almost 70 per cent of Victorian adults already armed with their third dose.” He added: “Many things that are very effective in driving down transmission will remain strongly recommended. That will keep us protected during winter and help us respond to emerging risks.”
Read more: Victorian government media release

Numbers
There were 10,628 new infections reported today in Victoria. 

Victorian figures, April 20:

  • 53,518 active cases  (last week 60,756). The numbers are evening out and slowly decreasing.
  • 3 deaths reported 
  • 2,862 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 437 are in hospital, 34 are in ICU, and 12 of these are on ventilators. These numbers are higher than last week. 
  • 1,471,567 total number of infections since the pandemic began

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide: there have been a total of 5,494,804 COVID cases (5,153,174 last week) and 6,842 deaths. 

Worldwide:  As of April 13, there had been 506,029,761 worldwide infections (500,838,107 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,228,132. (Source: Worldometer).

It has emerged over the past couple of weeks is that there are numbers of Australians now being re-infected with COVID. The latest reports are that at least 8,000 Victorians have been re-infected with the disease, and the cases of re-infection are increasing. Read more: ABC news online. Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation

Vaccination update 
As of April 19, 82.86 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.87 per cent had received their first dose, and 53.17 per cent had their third dose. While there are still too few Victorians who have received the third dose, the percentages for older Victorians are high: 

  • over 90 per cent in those over 70;
  • over 85 per cent of people aged in their 60s; and 
  • over 81 per cent of people aged in their 50s.

Those over 65 (over 55 for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island Australians) can now get their fourth shot. It is extremely important that everyone maintains high levels of care to minimise the risks of ending up in hospital.

Australia wide, by April 19, the figures are 83.45 per cent, 86.61 per cent respectively, with 51.58 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

Hi Renata,

My employer, which is a large regional city employer, has told me that there is no legal requirement to have an elected HSR. I have checked the OHS Act and this seems to be the case - I can't see anything. I note that section 35 requires consultation. With an organisation of this size how can I persuade management that an elected HSR from a DWG should be in place? Can they just respond that consultation occurs via the employer appointed OHS Representative?

Your employer is misleading you. Whilst there is no legal requirement to have an elected HSR, once a request has been made to negotiate DWGs and elect HSRs, it is almost inconceivable that this will not happen. Let me expand in more detail

The Act puts a specific legal duty on the employer to negotiate and agree the establishment of Designated Work Groups at a workplace when requested by any employee (or their nominated representative). This is the first step in the process which culminates in the members of each DWG electing (at least) one HSR. This is quite apart from the duty to consult on how to consult with employees (under s35).

So the steps are as follows:

  1. Request goes to the employer to establish DWGs
  2. The employer must initiate negotiations to establish DWGs within 14 days after such a request
  3. Negotiations must include:
    • Numbers of DWGs (taking into account a number of ‘particulars’ – like the number of workers, locations, type of work, shifts, etc)
    • How many HSRs per DWG (there must be at least one) and how many deputy HSRs (if any)
    • Term of office for HSRs and DHSRs (no more than 3 years)
  4. There must be agreement on the DWGs – that is, the employer cannot impose what they want, nor can they refuse to establish DWGs
  5. If there are any 'particulars' on which agreement cannot be reached within a reasonable time, then either the employees (or their nominated rep – usually a union organiser) or the employer can request the attendance of a WorkSafe inspector who will come in and make the determination. In this case, 'particulars' can include the number of DWGs, the number of HSRs and/or deputies.
  6. Once DWGs are established, then the members of each DWG elect their HSRs/deputies – or if they don’t run the election themselves, they can determine how one will be run (eg ask the union, requests WorkSafe or even.. though we recommend they shouldn’t.. ask the employer)
  7. At any time either party may request a variation to current DWGs..

See these pages on the website:

It very much surprises me that (being such a large employer):

  • there are no DWGs already in place at your workplace. I assume that in the health areas, which are probably unionised, there aren’t already DWGs and HSRs in place
  • their OHS ‘experts’ don’t understand the duties of employers under the OHS Act!!

Their response really concerns me as they are denying you and the other workers the right to be involved in ensuring the workplace is as healthy and safe as possible. 

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.  

VTHC Webinar - Occupational Violence 
If you missed our webinar last week on occupational violence & aggression (OVA) in the workplace, then watch it here. Special expert guest was Kathy Chrisfield, from the ANMF who outlined how the union has tackled OVA. Kathy's presentation was followed by a very good Q&A session, with some very good discussion. Read more: Occupational Violence.

Asbestos News  
QLD: Millions spent to remove asbestos from schools
Asbestos was removed from almost 200 Queensland state primary and high schools in the past financial year, with the government paying more than $13m in costs.

A high number of the state’s older school buildings are known to contain building materials containing the material, with asbestos identification procedures occurring at more than 500 schools during the 2020-21 financial year. Source: Sunday Mail.

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

International Union News 
Global: International Workers' Memorial Day
With just over one week to go until International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, Britain's TUC is urging unions and safety activists to get their plans in place for the biggest event ever. It says there are two reasons for making an extra effort this year. Covid has exposed how worker safety is being disregarded. And the union movement globally is on the verge of winning recognition of occupational health and safety as an International Labour Organisation (ILO) fundamental right at work. For organising ideas and resources for your own event, visit the dedicated TUC webpages. 
Read more: TUC 28 April resources and events webpages. Find out what is happening worldwideSource: Risks 1040

Brazil: Natura workers force cosmetics giant to talks  
Job cuts and spiralling workloads that were leading to more stress and worker injuries at a Brazilian cosmetics giant have been challenged by the union. A 25 March protest by members of Químicos Unificados, the union representing workers at Natura Brazil, brought production to a standstill. Four days after the action, the company agreed to meet with the union and to improve conditions at the factory. Natura worker and union leader, Ivani Souza, said: “The work pressure has increased, but there are fewer people working, and we end up paying the price. The workload is excessive and many workers suffer injuries. That’s why we’re asking for decent pay and conditions.” A union statement noted: “There is no doubt that the pressure placed on Natura has borne fruit. Still, this is not the time to sit back and let the company act in its own interests”. Read more: IndustriALL news release. Source: Risks 1040

Regulator News

Victorian news   
New Lead Compliance Code    
The Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt, has approved the making of the new Lead compliance code (code). The code came into effect last Thursday 14 April 2022.

The new code provides practical guidance for those who have duties or obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, in relation to exposure to lead in the workplace. The code has replaced the existing non-statutory Lead guidebook and is now WorkSafe’s main practical guidance for controlling risks associated with lead exposure.

A copy of the code can be found on the WorkSafe website, or by calling WorkSafe's Advisory Service. 

New 'in-language' resources

Workers born overseas are at higher risk of workplace injury than other Australians.

It can be hard to raise safety concerns if your co-workers speak a different language to you or if you work with close friends or family. But of course all workers have the right to be in a healthy and safe workplace, whether you're a worker or an employer.

Because of this, it is important that we talk about safety because every workplace has different health and safety needs. 

WorkSafe has produced translated materials and easy to use resources in 19 languages  - these can be found here

In addition, there is a poster to help get the safety conversation started at your workplace:

National News   
Reminder: Comcare Webinar on Contractor management  
The Contractor management—Shared duties and control webinar may be of interest to workers and HSRs under the Comcare system. 

Comcare's Senior Inspectors, Susan Jones and Craig Servin from Comcare's Regulatory Operations Group will provide organisations that engage contractors with a clearer understanding of shared duties and responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).

The webinar will cover:

  • refresh of duties and responsibilities under the WHS Act
  • understanding ‘control of work’ and what is reasonably practicable
  • practical tips on managing contractors.

Webinar details: Tuesday 3 May; 11am - 11:45 am AEST; via Microsoft Teams. Register now.

National Fatality Statistics 2022  
Safe Work Australia last updated its statistics on fatalities on April 7,  at which time it had been notified that 47 Australian workers had been killed at work this year, this is 18 more than at the time of its previous update on March 17. 

The fatalities have been in the following sectors:

  • 22 in Transport, postal & warehousing 
  • 12 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 3 in Public administration & safety
  • 3 in Construction
  • 2 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services 
  • 2 in 'other services'
  • 1 in Accommodation & food services
  • 1 in Manufacturing
  • 1 in Mining

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

Victorian prosecutions
There have been no major prosecutions since the last edition

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

UK: Worker's burns cost company £0.5m  

A chemical firm has had to pay out almost £500,000 (AD approximately $880,000) in fines and costs after a worker suffered superficial burns when hairspray chemicals ignited. Robert McBride Ltd was handed the penalty for criminal safety breaches after the 31-year-old worker suffered 13 per cent burns to his right arm and hand following the incident at the company’s site in Hull. On 21 August 2017, a batch of hairspray was being mixed in a 10,000 litre stainless steel mixing vessel. As the worker was adding powders into the vessel using a metal scoop, flammable vapours ignited, briefly engulfing his upper torso. Robert McBride Ltd, which has since shut the Hull factory, pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) 2002 and was fined £480,000 (AD$844,480) and ordered to pay costs of £13,441.80 (AD$25,400).
Read more: HSE news release  Source: Risks 1040 


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 :  

  • 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   
  • 16 June - Online
  • 1 July - Narre Warren
  • 3 August Gendered Violence as a Workplace Issue (Education Sector) -  AEU, Abbotsford

Other courses:

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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