SafetyNet 623

Welcome to the May 11, 2022 edition of SafetyNet.

A note from Martin:
This is my first edition of SafetyNet and I would be remiss not to begin by acknowledging Renata Musolino's incredible contribution over 20 years here at Trades Hall. Renata officially retired last Wednesday, but fear not, we shall be seeing Renata at future events, out and about. As was conveyed by Luke in one of the many warm speeches at Renata's farewell...

'You know her as an amazing comrade, lifelong unionist and international expert on occupational health and safety.... Her legacy is what you don’t see, 1000’s of workers who never got an occupational disease or injured at work, and families who never lost a loved one. All up I think she answered over 20,000 OHS inquiries. I know she won’t be a stranger to our movement and she leaves with our solidarity, love and respect. Well done comrade.'

Thank you Renata.

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

Latest Numbers 
The so-called 'plateau' appears to be tilting upwards. There were almost 14,000 new infections reported today, an increase of 3,194 from daily infection numbers last Wednesday. It's possible numbers will continue to increase through winter, especially with so few restrictions here and around the country.

There were 13,973 new infections reported today in Victoria. Victorian figures, May 11: 

  • 67,608 active cases (last week 57,154). 
  • 17 deaths reported 
  • 3,069 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 533 are in hospital, 33 are in ICU, and 5 of these are on ventilators. Hospitalisation and ICU numbers are on the increase.
  • 1,673,533 total number of reported infections since the pandemic began

You can check the Victorian live update here

The figures in NSW are 12,265 new cases, 1,452 in hospital, 48 in intensive care and 19 on ventilation. On May 11 they reported 11 deaths. 

Australia wide: As of May 11, there have been a total of 6,370,417 COVID cases (6,029,879 last week) and 7,605 deaths, sadly an increase of 295 from last week.

Worldwide: As of May 11, there had been 518,440,513 worldwide infections (514,510,812 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,280,181. (Source: Worldometer). Read more: Coronavirus;COVID-19 Victorian situation

Vaccination update 
As of May 11, 83.3 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 86 per cent had received their first dose, and 53.99 per cent had their third dose. There are still too few Victorians who've had their third dose, which is so crucial in protecting against severe disease. 

Australia wide, by May 11, the figures are 83.91 per cent, 86.76 per cent respectively, with 52.59 per cent having received the third shot. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates. 

Ask Renata
Hello Renata, I am the HSR at my workplace... trying to convince the CEO to improve the ventilation... the per litre levels is 7 litres rather than 10 and the filters are not up to the higher standard that is in your checklist. We have various public groups that use spaces next to the offices as well as function rooms that are hired out. There are no windows that open nor air purifiers. The CEO doesn't think anything needs to change and believes Covid is over.... It is very frustrating. Thank you for your advice.

Hi there

We respectfully disagree with your CEOs assertion that ‘COVID is over’. Businesses are still required to have a COVID Safe plan. Victorian COVID figures for May 4th show 57,154 active cases, 473 in hospital (25 in ICU and 6 on ventilators) and 11 deaths. Unfortunately, too many of us are dying every day. It's also likely these numbers will increase with winter coming and so few restrictions in place. To quote immunologist and Nobel laureate, Professor Peter Doherty "when the government decided COVID was over, it forgot to tell the virus."

You've “asked about the per litre levels and it is 7 litres rather than 10 and the filters are not up to the higher standard that is in your checklist”. It is our understanding that the Australian Standard recommends ventilation rates for office spaces be set to 10 L/s/person; which would mean your workplace is not up to Australian standards if your airflow is only 7 litres per second per person.

That being said, we think this line of 7L vs 10L perhaps misses the bigger picture. Your employer has a duty, so far as is reasonably practicable to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risk to health. Your employer also has a duty, under s.22(1)(b) to monitor the conditions of the workplace to ensure they’re safe and to change those conditions if they are not.

In the context of COVID this means considering all the aspects of air flow in the working area. If you have not seen it already, we have compiled a webpage on ventilation and infectious diseases here that goes into details for HSRs to consider. In short, especially as various public groups use adjacent spaces and you identify that you have ‘no openable windows or air purifiers’, your employer should consider purchasing one or more HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, as well as ensuring that there is a filter on any HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems. The World Health Organization, as best practice to reduce the spread of COVID-19, recommend a F8 grade or higher. It is good practice not to rely on just one control. Where reasonably practicable these measures should be implemented in conjunction with other controls such as physical distancing, mask wearing or WFH.

In Unity,
Martin Raspin

If you have any OHS-related questions send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. Your questions will be answered by someone in the VTHC's OHS Unit.

OHS Basics Month - coming June 2022
Every worker has the right to a safe and healthy workplace, and safety is core Union business. 

In a VTHC first for 2022 we are launching OHS Basics Month. Our aim is to empower HSRs, delegates, and workers by sharing OHS skills and knowledge.

We're kicking off OHS Basics Month with a seminar on the fundamentals of OHS and will be joined by OHS legend, Renata Musolino. Renata will share her insights into the how-to's of organising for a safe workplace.

Some light food and drinks will be provided so make sure to RSVP here for catering numbers

If you can't make it to any of these events, don't worry! They'll be streamed live to our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page. Make sure to like our page so you don't miss out.

June 5: ACTU Walk for Safety 
In 2021, 1,500 workers were injured at work every single day. 194 Australians were killed on the job. That's 194 families who lost a loved one - a father, mother, brother or sister. It's 194 too many.  Every workplace injury and death is preventable. The ACTU is looking for your help to get that number down to zero by joining the Walk For Safety 2022.

What to do:

  1. Register for Walk For Safety 2022. Get your very own fundraising page to raise funds to support our campaigns for safer workplaces.
  2. Complete the two or four kilometre walk around scenic and historic surrounds of Trades Hall in Carlton.

Every dollar raised will help the ACTU continue to organise for safer workplaces and to support injured workers. Find out more

Are you interested in working at the VTHC? 
The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) is looking for a full-time Digital Fundraising Organiser - a great job for someone who is excited about experimenting with digital fundraising to fight for radical change for working people.

The Hall is looking for a digital organiser to work in the digital/data team, managing the digital fundraising program and supporting unions to run digital campaigns. Applications close May 13. Check out the details on Ethical Jobs.

Asbestos News  
Blue Mountains City Council and ASEA are co-hosting the Asbestos Safety & Management Conference, May 19–20 in the beautiful Blue Mountains. 

A draft program is now available and includes a mix of plenary, panel and breakout sessions including:

  • Australia’s asbestos history, legacy and future challenges
  • Managing asbestos contaminated sites
  • Asbestos-related diseases including progress in diagnosis and treatment
  • Asbestos management in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • International perspectives and updates on asbestos ban campaigns from around the world

The conference is a hybrid event - attend in-person or live-stream. For more information about the conference, click here

And in international asbestos news:

A second boss of an asbestos removal company is now facing jail time for failing to protect workers from asbestos exposure during a major refurbishment project in Plymouth. Chelmsford Crown Court heard that in February 2017, concerns were raised by workers at Ensure Asbestos Management Limited who believed they were being put in danger. The firm’s contracts manager Phillip Hopwood pleaded guilty to three criminal safety offences and was sentenced to 15 months in prison and disqualified from being a director for 10 years. Offences included producing fraudulent asbestos clearance certificates. At an earlier hearing, company director Billy Hopwood was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment and disqualified from being a company director for five years.
HSE news release

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

International Union News 
UK:Education Unions warn about work overload:
Work overload is adversely affecting the health and welfare of teachers and lecturers, their unions have warned. A meeting of leaders from 10 education unions in the British and Irish Group of Teacher Unions (BIGTU) called on policy makers to prioritise action to tackle the problem. BIGTU said there is ‘mounting concern’ amongst education unions about the impact of overwork on health and wellbeing in the sector, adding the ‘stressful working hours’ are causing a recruitment and retention crisis in the profession. BIGTU is calling for a reduction in the non-teaching administrative workload and for action to end ‘unhelpful’ external audit and inspection processes.
EIS news release

Covid inquiry must get to truth on workers deaths
UK: The TUC and Covid Bereaved Families for Justice are calling for the public inquiry into coronavirus to focus on what could have been done to prevent worker deaths. They add that voices of key workers and the families of those who contracted the virus at work will be central to understanding what went wrong and learning lessons for the future. Frances O’Grady said: “Far too many were exposed to the virus at work - and lost their lives as a consequence. Now the government owes it to them, and to their families, to make sure the public inquiry investigates what should have been done to keep everyone safe at work.”
TUC news release and check out what happened worldwide on 28 April

Union’s Role in Fighting gender-based violence in the textiles sector
IndustriALL is launching the third and final chapter of the research on gender-based violence and harassment with a summary of the results from the garment sector, where women report that trade union presence in the workplace makes a difference in fighting gender-based violence.

An estimated 80 per cent of workers in the textile and garment sector are women, who mainly work in lower paid machine and stitching jobs. Women are often fired when they become pregnant or if they report sexual harassment.

The women union leaders interviewed gave accounts of pervasive sexual harassment and abuse in their factories from supervisors, managers and male machine technicians. Women workers face regular incidents of inappropriate touching, sexualized gestures, verbal abuse and sexual favours.

“Many times if you want to get your contract extended the supervisor will ask sexual favours, it is difficult for women to say no as they want to keep their job…When the machine has a breakdown and the technician comes and touches them, they can’t say no as they want the machine repaired as they have to get their work done and they accept this,” says a union representative in Indonesia.

There is a strong link between heightened risks of GBVH when workers face employment insecurity because of short-term contracts, poor working conditions, a lack of living wages, lack of social protection and being unable to exercise their right to organise and bargain collectively. Unattainable productivity bonuses and unfair piece work systems add to women’s vulnerability to violence and harassment.
Living wages, decent work and ending precarious work are of critical importance in ending GBVH in the garment and textile sector. In addition, strategies to relieve production pressures and ensure women are not forced to work overtime, are essential in ending GBVH.
A lack of effective systems for reporting violence and harassment, along with a culture of silence, impunity and victim-blaming, contribute to low levels of complaints.

The interviews also show the importance of confidential complaints systems that women trust and trade union representatives who can report incidents anonymously on behalf of a worker.
Further recommendations from women leaders interviewed include:

  • Training and awareness raising for all workers and senior trade union leaders, senior and line managers on GBVH and complaint mechanisms
  • More training and guidance on gender-responsive collective bargaining
  • Integration of GBVH in occupational health and safety and the development of processes for gender-responsive risk assessment
  • Awareness raising and training for union leaders, union representatives and managers on domestic violence
  • Increase awareness of and strategies on the inclusion and recognition of the rights LGBTQI+ workers

IndustriALL textile and garment director Christina Hajagos-Clausen says:

“We know that gender-based violence in the workplace exists and it is unacceptable. This research shows the importance of union participation when addressing the issue and and finding solutions.”

Download the report here:


Working from home and expectations of being available

Working from home arrangements are now common in many workplaces, and while there are many benefits, including flexibility and work-life balance, there are still many challenges for employers and workers.

A Norwegian study undertaken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic found that both working from home and expectations of availability had an influence on worker perceptions of their work environment, wellbeing, health and organisational commitment. The research found availability expectations while working from home are associated with increases in negative work consequences, including:

• higher levels of work demand
• role conflicts
• physical health (such as neck pain)
• mental distress
• lower levels of co-worker support

The study highlights the need for improving awareness of working from home risks and preventative approaches that aim to improve health and wellbeing. Comcare has guidance for employers and workers in striking the balance with flexible work, along with other working from home resources


Workers gained more weight, drank more, exercised less during pandemic: new study calls for action

An extensive Japanese study has shown a sharp rise in the incidence of unhealthy weight gain, high blood pressure, hyperglycemia and liver damage following COVID-19 restrictions and work-from-home policies.

The study authors from the Jikei University School of Medicine are calling for employers to promptly implement health interventions, particularly for workers with gained weight.

"Since remote work and virtual meetings will persist after the COVID-19 pandemic, weight management programs become more important than ever," they say.

The research team reviewed the results of annual health assessments, from 2018 to 2021, from 130,000 workers in 1,400 companies reporting to the Tokyo Health Service Association. (All workplaces in Japan are legally mandated to provide their employees with these health examinations.)

While Japan never instituted strict lockdowns for COVID-19, the Japanese Government repeatedly urged the public to avoid closed and crowded places, to refrain from face-to-face conversation, to wear face masks and to limit travel. Many companies introduced remote working at the Government's request.

This resulted in dramatic changes in lifestyle for the majority of the workers covered in the study.

The researchers focused on the one-year incidence of five health problems (being overweight, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, hyperglycemia, and liver damage) as well as four unhealthy habits (snacking, heavy drinking, physical inactivity, and sleep deprivation) and compared results before and during the pandemic.

They found the incidence of weight problems, hypertension, hyperglycemia and liver damage increased significantly during the pandemic in both sexes.


Regulator News


WorkSafe HSR Newsletter
Last week WorkSafe sent out its regular newsletter for HSRs. Items of interest include an invitation to access WorkSafe's HSR Support channel by scanning a QR code. At this stage we're reluctant to recommend WorkSafe's support service for injured workers, as we believe there are a few issues to be resolved. If you are injured on the job, then contact your union as soon as possible if you have any questions or issues. You can also contact the VTHC's Union Assist for expert advice. Check out the April edition of the HSR Newsletter.


Regulator frustrated after yet another forklift-related breach

In Victoria, food service wholesaler CBB Enterprises Pty Ltd was fined a total of $35,000, without conviction, for failing to provide a safe working environment and failing to contact WorkSafe Victoria immediately after becoming aware that a notifiable incident had occurred.

CBB was charged with and pleaded guilty to the breaches, under the State OHS Act, after a pedestrian worker was struck by a forklift and sustained severe leg injuries requiring surgery.

He suffered post-operative infections and has not been able to return to to work.

The April 2021 incident occurred when the forklift reversed around a corner at CBB's Dandenong South warehouse and ran over the worker's leg and foot.

The Dandenong Magistrates Court heard the employer did not have a traffic management plan to separate pedestrians and forklifts, and it had been reasonably practicable for it to implement clearly designated exclusion zones, pedestrian walkways and safety barriers.

After CBB was sentenced, WorkSafe health and safety executive director Dr Narelle Beer said it was "frustrating that forklift injuries are still so prevalent considering the enormous amount of guidance, information and regulation that occurs".

Last year, WorkSafe responded to two forklift fatalities by describing the vehicles as hazards that should be "eliminated" from workplaces where reasonably practicable (see related article).

Several weeks earlier, SafeWork NSW warned employers that they could be forced to stop using forklifts where they failed to operate them in accordance with WHS laws (see related article).

After CBB was sentenced, WorkSafe said that in addition to ensuring pedestrians are separated from moving machinery, employers should implement an effective communication system between operators, transport contractors and ground staff, and take steps to identify and control visibility issues, particularly where lighting is poor.

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


National Safe Work Month 2022

Safe Work Australia has released the theme and campaign kit for National Safe Work Month 2022 ahead of the official campaign launch on 1 October.

The theme for 2022 is Know safety, work safely - encouraging everyone to make health and safety a priority in the workplace.

Safe Work Australia are encouraging interested parties to start planning their work health and safety activities for October by joining National Safe Work Month following these steps:

  1. Go to the National Safe Work Month Website and download resources from our campaign kit.
  2. Customise and share the resources with your workplace.
  3. Follow Safe Work Australia on social media to keep up to date on new campaign materials and to share National Safe Work Month updates.
  4. Use the hashtags #safeworkmonth, #KnowSafety and #WorkSafely when promoting National Safe Work Month on social media.

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 (Education Sector) AEU - Abbotsford    
  • 23 - 27 May - Bendigo   
  • 15, 16, 17 June & 29, 30 June - Online (Currently Full)
  • 18 - 22 July - Narre Warren
  • 26, 27, 28 July & 10, 11 August - Carlton

Course hours: 9am - 5pm
Course length: All initial OHS training courses are 5 days.
Course fee: $870.00 incl. GST Regional: $895.00 incl. GST

Refresher course dates:  

  • 26 May  (Education Sector) - AEU, Abbotsford   
  • 16 June - Online
  • 1 July - Narre Warren
  • 7 July - Carlton
  • 14 July - Work Related Gendered Violence - Carlton
  • 3 August - Work Related Gendered Violence (Education Sector) -  AEU, Abbotsford

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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