Welcome to the 6 July, 2022 edition of SafetyNet. Last week's publication was interrupted by COVID. We're pleased to be back and able to bring you this week's edition.
Sadly there have been two workplace deaths in Victoria since last SafetyNet.
WorkSafe report a farmer died after becoming entrapped in a harvesting machine on a property at Gembrook on 29 June. It's believed the 82-year-old man had been working alone on the harvester before he was found unresponsive around 10am.
A maintenance worker has also died after falling through a polycarbonate roof panel on a shed at a Monbulk plant nursery last Wednesday. WorkSafe report the 66-year-old man was taken to hospital with serious head injuries but died on Friday.
WorkSafe are investigating both deaths.
We send our sincere condolences to family, friends and colleagues of the deceased. These workplace deaths were preventable. Two Victorian workers did not return home to family and friends, as they should have. Mourn the dead, but fight like hell for the living.
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.
ASBESTOS NEWS: MR FLUFFY TASKFORCE TO SHUT UP SHOP
First established in 2014, the ACT Government’s Asbestos Response Taskforce will close at the end of the month. Eight years ago the ACT Government embarked on the first step of its $1 billion plan to buy back and demolish all homes contaminated by Mr Fluffy.
Since then, seven previously unknown Mr Fluffy homes have been identified. One was found as late as January this year, while another was discovered in May last year. Both properties had been initially inspected as part of the original Commonwealth Government asbestos removal program which operated between 1989 and 1993.
According to the government, there are still around 20 privately owned homes and a ‘small number’ of properties now owned by the government which are in the process of being demolished. A smaller coordination team will continue to manage those remaining properties.
Last year, the Federal and ACT governments agreed to a $16 million fund to help cover medical expenses for victims of loose-fill asbestos insulation. It was announced just two days before the death of long-time campaigner James Wallner who contracted mesothelioma after growing up in a Mr Fluffy house.
He died ten months after being diagnosed with the disease.
Source: Riotact 21 June 2022
My co-worker has raised a concern about one of our science classrooms having no access to fresh air, especially when using gas. They wondered if there is a requirement to have fresh air or some sort of extraction system?
WorkSafe Victoria's Workplace Amenities Code of Compliance is a good place to start for guidance on ventilation. Page 24 explains how your employer can meet their section 21 duty to provide a safe work environment ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ in relation to ventilation.
You may also find the ventilation page on our website helpful.
Ventilation is also an important consideration in your workplaces’ COVID Safe Plan – see here for more information.
In addition, the Australian Standard relevant to ventilating buildings (AS 1668.2-2012) includes information that in education, the net area of floor for a laboratory per person is 3.5m2 (with a ventilation flow rate of) 10L/s per person, but notes that the presence of gas may trigger additional extraction obligations under other Standards.
Remember, as an HSR you do not need to possess all the answers on how to provide a safe workplace. Once you identify an uncontrolled or inadequately controlled risk and raise it with your employer, it is their job to eliminate or control the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.
Of course, knowing your rights is only half the battle – you’ve got to have the power to enforce your rights.
Check to see if there is an employee-elected health and safety representative (HSR) at your workplace. If there is, then raise the matter with him or her and ask for it to be taken up with the employer representative for safety issues. The employer's nominated representative must then seek to resolve the issue.
If you don’t have a HSR then talk to your fellow workers and set up a meeting with the employer, challenging the status quo and seeking remedy.
See our web page for more helpful information on resolving safety issues in the workplace.
COVID-19 LATEST NUMBERS
On Tuesday 5 July Victoria recorded:
8,740 new daily infections
16 COVID deaths
543 hospitalisations, 28 in ICU and 5 of these on ventilators
Cumulatively this equals:
2,146,523 total Victorian infections
4,009 Victorian COVID deaths (an increase of 127 since last week)
You can check the Victorian live update here.
Australia: As of 5 July, there have been a total of 8,275,606 COVID cases (231,706 since last week) and 10,071 deaths, 211 more than last week.
World: As of 5 July, there had been 555,013,578 worldwide infections (549,539,873 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,362,197 (Source: Worldometer).
83.76% of all Victorians, as of 5 July, have received their second dose, 86.27% their first, and only 55.35% their crucially important third dose.
The figure for all Australians for the same date is 84.36%, 87.01% and 54.09%.
RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS (RATS) AS A CONTROL MEASURE
The COVIDSafe team at the Victorian Trades Hall Council has been visiting a variety of workplaces in Melbourne and in regional Victoria speaking with workers about COVID safety measures at their workplaces. The team noticed that majority of workplaces don’t provide workers with Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs). In some cases, some workers were bringing RATs from home for themselves or to share with co-workers.
WHY SHOULD RATS BE PROVIDED?
RATs are an important way to prevent COVID cases at work before it turns into an outbreak that may result in staffing shortages or store closures.
Rapid antigen tests are of the most effective ways of managing the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace, as it can assist to eliminate the risk of an outbreak before it occurs (it allows workers to quickly know if they are infectious and either not attend the workplace, or immediately leave).
RATs are less accurate than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests but are much more accessible - especially if you are testing at work. They can be done on site, during paid time, and are relatively inexpensive for the employer.
It is a health & safety duty of all employers in Victoria to maintain as far as is reasonably practicable a safe and healthy workplace, including from COVID-19, and rapid antigen tests are one relatively affordable way for employers to help provide this. For more about RAT’s (click here).
CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR EMPLOYER
We encourage health and safety representatives (HSRs) and workers to speak with their employer about providing RATs at the workplace. It might be easier if you approach it with the angle that by keeping workers from getting COVID, it minimises the risk of there being an outbreak at the workplace and therefore any staffing shortages. Staffing shortages can lead to the workplace having to temporarily close, which is obviously not going to be a good outcome for the business!
You might also consider doing a petition within your workplace to request RATs from the employer. A petition is useful in that it shows employers that an issue affects multiple people in the workplace.
Health and safety representatives (HSRs) have the power to introduce effective controls for COVID-19 such as a RAT program by:
- Checking there is a risk assessment for COVID-19
- Reviewing and evaluating the risk assessment and the controls for COVID-19
- Requesting a RAT program to be added to the controls for COVID-19
- Implementing the RAT program
- Using Provisional Improvement Notices (PIN) if necessary
For more information visit our website (click here).
COMPANY FINED $600,000 FOLLOWING APPRENTICE'S DEATH
Road tanker manufacturer, Marshall Lethlean, has been convicted and fined $600,000 following the asphyxiation death of 20-year-old apprentice, Dillon Wu, who was working inside a tanker at its Cranbourne West factory in 2018.
The company was sentenced in the Melbourne Country Court today after earlier pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace was safe and without risk to health.
The court heard that in October 2018, the apprentice, who had been working at the factory less than two weeks, was asked to undertake work inside a tanker. The apprentice died of asphyxiation after entering the confined space of the tanker to conduct the work.
The previous day another worker had left a welder inside the tanker along with a wire feeder, which was in a state of disrepair and leaked argon gas overnight, reducing oxygen.
The court found it was reasonably practicable for the company to have provided and maintained a system of work that required a qualified welding inspector to routinely inspect and maintain equipment; require workers to store the welder and wire feeder outside the tanker when not in use; and require workers to turn off the argon gas main at the end of use.
You may find our webpage page helpful for more information on how to control risks associated working in confined spaces.
ST BASIL'S CHARGED AFTER DEADLY COVID-19 OUTBREAK
WorkSafe has charged St Basil's Homes For The Aged In Victoria with nine breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act following a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at its Fawkner residential aged care facility in 2020.
WorkSafe alleges that in July 2020, after being notified by a worker that they had tested positive to COVID-19, St Basil's failed to:
- Require workers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Train workers how to safely don and doff PPE
- Verify that staff were competent in using PPE
- Tell staff when PPE should be used
- Supervise the use of PPE
Ninety-four residents and 94 staff members tested positive for COVID-19, with 45 residents subsequently dying from COVID-19 related complications.
St Basil's has been charged with multiple breaches of the OHS Act with the maximum penalty for each being 9000 penalty points ($1.49 million at the time of the alleged offence).
WorkSafe report there are several other investigations relating to the control of COVID-19 risks in workplaces which remain ongoing.
WORKSAFE VICTORIA AWARDS 2022
WorkSafe are calling for nominations for their 2022 Awards acknowledging excellence in workplace health and safety, and return to work.
There are 7 award categories in all, including, of course, Health and Safety Representative of the year, the category which acknowledges HSRs who’ve represented their DWG in an outstanding manner.
It is, in our view, the most important and prestigious award, and was won last year by United Workers Union members Adrian Lidsey and Christopher Ball for their outstanding achievement in finally turning Crown Melbourne into a non-smoking workplace.
Entries close on 15 July 2022, so don't delay if you’d like to nominate a HSR, or HSRs, at your workplace.
GENDERED VIOLENCE CAMPAIGN
Earlier this month, WorkSafe launched a new mass-awareness campaign ‘It comes in many forms’ to raise awareness of work-related gendered violence as an OHS issue.
Gendered Violence is any behaviour that creates a risk to health and safety, directed at a person (or affects a person) because of their sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. Types of gendered violence can range in severity from comments and gestures, to physical and sexual assault.
Resources are available on the WorkSafe website including a fact sheet for employers (available here) with helpful information about identifying gendered violence, controlling hazards and managing risks.
WORK EXPOSURES AS A FIREFIGHTER CAUSE CANCER
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has declared occupational exposures a 'preventable cause of cancer' for firefighters. On 1 July, a working group of the World Health Organisation (WHO) agency announced: “After thoroughly reviewing the available scientific literature, the Working Group classified occupational exposure as a firefighter as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), on the basis of sufficient evidence for cancer in humans.” It added: “Occupational exposure as a firefighter causes cancer. There was sufficient evidence for cancer in humans for the following cancer types: mesothelioma and bladder cancer. There was limited evidence for cancer in humans for the following cancer types: colon cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, melanoma of the skin, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”
Source: IARC alert, news release, Q&A and infographic. Demers P, DeMarini D, Fent K, Glass D, Hansen J, Adetona O and others. Carcinogenicity of occupational exposure as a firefighter, Lancet Oncology, Published online 30 June 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(22)00390-4
JORDAN: CHLORINE GAS LEAK KILLS 12, AFTER STORAGE TANK FALLS, INJURES 251 MORE
A tank filled with 25 tonnes of chlorine gas fell while being transported at Aqaba port, a major transit route for Iraqi imports and exports. A video posted on state television's Twitter page showed a storage tank falling from a winch and slamming into the deck of a ship, followed by yellow gas rising into the air as people ran away. Chlorine is a widely used disinfectant and water purification agent, but if inhaled, the gas turns to hydrochloric acid, which can lead to internal burning and drowning through a reactionary release of water in the lungs. Specialised teams are still dealing with the leak, the Civil Defence service said on its Facebook page. Evacuation aeroplanes were being sent into Aqaba, state television said.
Source: Reuters. Posted Tue 28 Jun 2022 at 7:18am
SLOVENIA: SIX PEOPLE CONFIRMED DEAD IN CHEMICAL PLANT BLAST
State news agency STA reported the explosion occurred in the town of Kocevje at the Melanin plant which produces chemicals used in paints, rubber and several other industries. Police found the bodies of five people who were missing after the explosion. A sixth person died of their injuries and five others were also injured, one of whom remains in serious condition. Firefighters quickly extinguished the fire and the army decontaminated the surrounding area. An investigation is under the way.
Source: May 13 (Reuters)
In an all too familiar story for Australians, UK Parliament must act to stop the ‘seemingly endless’ allegations of sexual misconduct by MPs as political parties cannot be trusted to make it a safe place to work, two unions have warned. As No 10 admitted Boris Johnson had known about allegations against Chris Pincher before making him deputy chief whip, the FDA and Prospect said politicians were time and again failing to “deal properly with sexual misconduct by one of their own”. In a joint letter to the House of Commons Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, Dave Penman and Mike Clancy, general secretaries of FDA and Prospect respectively, wrote: “If the parties will not act, then parliament must, by taking a zero-tolerance approach to sexual misconduct by MPs and by taking seriously its responsibility to provide a safe workplace for those working there.”
The British Film Institute (BFI) has acknowledged that long hours working remains a persistent problem for the industry and that more support should be provided for its freelance workforce. The BFI’s Skills Review examined the needs for training and skills development across the production sector for scripted film and high-end television and made recommendations to address increasing pressure on the industry. Spencer MacDonald, national secretary with the creative industries union Bectu, welcoming the review, adding: “We urgently need a rethink of the industry’s working culture to create lasting and meaningful change for crew. It is critical that employers work in partnership with the workforce and its representatives to establish healthier working practices and shore up the industry for the future.”
Source: Bectu news release.
Enhanced sick pay provided to NHS staff during the Covid-19 pandemic has been axed. The special pay arrangements were offered to staff who were off work sick with either Covid or long Covid during the pandemic. Staff received pay if they were isolating from the virus and a full 12 months pay if they had long Covid. But from 7 July staff will revert to normal contractual sick pay arrangements. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the changes were part of learning to live with Covid. It comes as Covid infections and hospital admissions are rising, driven by two new fast-spreading sub-variants of Omicron - BA.4 and BA.5.
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 at least 1 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!