Welcome to the 24 August, 2022 edition of SafetyNet.
Happily, there have been no workplace deaths reported since last correspondence.
We hope you find this week's journal useful and interesting. Feel free to share it, and please, encourage others in your workplace to subscribe.
HSRs NEEDED FOR RESEARCH ON PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH REGULATIONS WIN one of three $50 gift vouchers
Researchers at the University of South Australia are conducting an online study to investigate Health and Safety Representative's perceptions of the new OHS Amendment (Psychological Health) Regulations. Participation involves the completion of an online survey. This survey will take approx. only 6 minutes to complete. Eligibility Criteria: - Current or previous Health and Safety Representative - Able to read and understand English - Computer/laptop or smartphone with internet access
To access the survey, go to: https://tinyurl.com/HSR-OHS-survey
COVID-19 LATEST NUMBERS
On Tuesday 23rd August Victoria recorded:
3,638 new daily infections
25 COVID deaths
433 hospitalisations, 28 in ICU and 7 of these are on ventilators
Cumulatively this equals:
2,543,202 total Victorian infections
5,140 Victorian COVID deaths (an increase of 165 since last week)
You can check the Victorian live update here.
Australia: As of 23rd August, there have been a total of 9,934,175 COVID cases (an increase of 104,082 since last week) and 13,420 -deaths, an increase of 461 since last week.
World: As of 23rd August 2022, there had been 601,376,570 worldwide infections (596,179,834 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,473,566 (Source: Worldometer).
89.31% of all eligible Victorians (5+), as of 23rd August, have received their second dose, 91.92% their first dose. For the third dose the figure is 69.6% (16+).
The figure for all eligible Australians (16+), for the same date is First Dose 97.9%, Second Dose 96.2%, the third dose 68.8% and the fourth dose 22.2% (16+).
Check COVID-Live for Daily Updates
COVIDSafe Workplace Outreach Update
Every week, the COVIDSafe Workplaces team visits dozens of Victorian workplaces to find out what the major issues are for frontline workers in retail, hospitality, and other public facing business.
The results have been of concern; despite ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and record deaths, most workplaces management of the risk had progressed little from earlier in the pandemic. One of the most effective and least intrusive ways to manage the risk of COVID-19, is ensuring adequate ventilation and airflow. Unfortunately, this is one area the team saw lacking.
Why should I care about good ventilation?
COVID-19 is a virus predominantly spread by airborne droplets and aerosols, a well-ventilated space brings in new air and reduces transmission by diffusing particles in the air before they can be breathed in. Ventilation means bringing in fresh air and removing stale air.
I’m a Health and Safety Representative, what are some steps that can improve ventilation?
Find out if your workplace is adequately ventilated!
The first thing to do to is ask your employer to figure out if your workplace is adequately ventilated. This means:
- A minimum fresh air flow of 10 litres per person per second
- Co2 levels of under 1000ppm (although 800ppm is best practice)
- Humidity levels between 40% and 60%
Your employer can monitor ventilation by investing in a CO2 monitor. These are not expensive and can be easily set up to make sure CO2 levels are below 800ppm. Remember that you can always ask your employer for a risk assessment on workplace ventilation.
What if this shows that the ventilation isn’t adequate?
If your workplace is not adequately ventilated your employer should go through these steps until you reach CO2 levels below 800ppm:
- Can windows and doors can be opened to increase fresh air flows?
- Are heating ventilation and air conditioning systems [HVAC] turned on and set not to run on recycled air?
- Can air conditioning filters of a high enough quality limit the spread of COVID-19 (of a F8 standard or higher)?
- If the above isn’t possible consider purchasing air purifiers for rooms or spaces where adequate ventilation can’t be achieved.
I work in a small business, my boss says they can’t afford it to improve ventilation.
Firstly, when it comes to providing a safe workplace, your boss has a duty, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure your workplace is safe and free of hazards. Cost is generally not a relevant consideration.
However, if you work in a small public-facing business government support is available! Ventilation grants are still available through Business Victoria, and registration is open until Thursday 8th September 2022. For more information on the Business Victoria ventilation grant visit Small Business Ventilation Program – Ventilation Grant.
You can read more about the importance of ventilation on our website here.
Is your workplace still COVIDSafe?
Now that restrictions have eased, it can be hard to keep up with what your employers’ obligations are, and what you can do as a worker. Even though restrictions have eased, your employer still has a duty to keep your workplace safe and free of hazards, including COVID-19. If you think your employer should be doing more, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here. All workers deserve to have a COVIDSafe Workplace.
I am a HSR at my workplace. I contacted WorkSafe’s enquiry line because my employer was insisting they conduct the election for a HSR vacancy in my DWG. I don’t believe this is appropriate. My boss claims WorkSafe attended and determined it’s OK for the employer to run the election. I have received no entry report nor was I provided opportunity to accompany the inspector or ask any questions about the determination. Can you please advise?
It is up to the members of the DWG to decide how to run the election, not the employer. Members may decide to hold a meeting and elect someone with a show of hands, or the election process may be more complex. The DWG can also choose to ask their union to assist. See our webpage for more helpful information.
That said, if the DWG cannot agree on a method they can ask Work Safe to arrange for an inspector to conduct the election, or appoint another person to do so, including someone from your union.
Regarding the workplace visit by a WorkSafe Inspector, they may visit the workplace at any time and HSRs have the power to request a visit by an inspector. HSRs also have the right to be notified by WorkSafe of any inspection and to accompany WorkSafe Inspectors if they're conducting the inspection anywhere a member of their DWG works. (See section 58 (1)(b) of the Act)
Under section 103, a Work Safe Inspector is required to give a written report when or as soon as practicable after leaving the workplace, to the occupier and HSRs (if any). The report must cover several items, including:
- The time of entry and departure
- The purpose of the entry
- A description of things done while at the place
- A summary of the inspector’s observations while at the workplace
- The procedure for contacting WorkSafe and the Inspector for further details of the entry
- The procedure for seeking a review of any decision made by the inspector during the entry
The OHS Act also has processes for seeking an internal review if you disagree with an Inspector’s decision (or non-decision). See our webpage for more information
ETU ISSUES SAFETY ALERT REGARDING HIGH VOLTAGE SWITCH GEAR
The ETU have issued a Safety Alert regarding the safe operation of high voltage switch gear following what it describes as 'industry steering away from the once established practice of routine switch gear maintenance to ensure the best possible protection'.
Following multiple incidents of switches failing, being incorrectly operated or injuring workers, the ETU have strongly advised workers should not operate any high voltage switching device unless steps detailed in the alert have been satisfied, including but not limited to:
- A risk assessment undertaken of the task
- A manual handling and ergonomics assessment documenting loads and stresses placed on the employee
- Adequate measures put in place to mitigate any risks or hazards identified
Click here for further information and more ETU OH&S and Safety Alerts
WORKSAFE WA PROBES DEATHS IN THE AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY
It’s been announced an investigation triggered by 12 work-related deaths within 12 months in the Western Australian agriculture industry will consider the impact of environmental factors and the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector's safety standards.
WA’s Safety Commissioner launched the inquiry in June immediately after the 12th fatal incident, where a 24-year-old worker in the Great Southern region was struck on the head when he used a tractor to move a bogged vehicle and the towing equipment failed (see related article).
The Commissioner is concerned there appears to be a culture in the industry where production is "put before the safety of families and workers." The Commissioner has said "I envisage the inquiry will be completed, and the report written by the end of this year."
Read more here: OHSAlert 19 August 2022
WORK SAFE GRANTS MILLIONS FOR FRESH SAFETY IDEAS
Projects to reduce workplace harm and improve outcomes for injured workers in seven different industries will receive a total of $2.47 million as a result of WSVs 2021-22 funding round.
Nine projects were chosen for their focus on ‘prevention, promotion of knowledge and confidence, and community value’ Work Safe’s CEO, Colin Bradford has said.
"We are delighted to be able to provide funding for these innovative projects that reflect our values and will prevent harm in workplaces across Victoria,"
"From using wearable technology devices to identify injury risk factors, to developing programs to reduce psychosocial harm, these ground-breaking initiatives will make a lasting difference to the lives of Victorian workers and their families.'
Organisations to receive the grants include:
- The ASU who received funding to develop a cultural change model and training program to prevent and address psychosocial harm in the local government and community services industries.
- The RTBU who’ll work with key industry stakeholders to deliver guidance clarifying ambiguous or contentious OHS risk management issues on rail construction projects
Other organisations to receive funding include Boroondara City Council, La Trobe University, Lort Smith, Mactown Consulting, Veg Education (a specialised agriculture RTO) and Yooralla, who’ll review hoist practices in the social assistance industry.
WorkSafe's says its grants program is focused on supporting workplace and community solutions that will make the biggest difference to the health, safety, and wellbeing of Victorian workers.
The 2022-23 funding round will be announced on the WorkSafe website in the coming months.
Source: Work Safe 18 August 2022
STAFF EXPOSED TO MONTHS OF VIOLENCE AND AGGRESSION AT CARE FACILITY
Victorian Person Centred Services Ltd ('VPCS'), which provides residential care for vulnerable young people, pleaded guilty in relation to occupational violence perpetrated against staff in a care home in Moe.
The young person had a history of concerning behaviours including threatening and carrying out violence.
Staff were punched and kicked over a number of months. 'Triggers' documented in care plans the included 'ethnicity' and 'unfamiliarity with staff.' Company procedures discouraged staff from seeking refuge in the staff office where workers were sometimes forced to retreat from the young person's aggression.
VPCS pleaded guilty under section 21(1) and (2) of the OHS Act agreeing it was reasonably practicable to reduce the risk of injury to workers by providing and maintaining systems of work in which:
- did not discourage workers from taking refuge in the office when the child was engaging in threatening behaviours; and
- not rostering on staff who were at greater risk of assault because of their skin colour or unfamiliarity to the young person
VPCS pleaded guilty and was, without conviction, sentenced to pay a fine of $55,000.
Source: WorkSafe: Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings
UNSAFE SYSTEM OF WORK RESULTS IN ACID EXPOSURE AT OIL REFINERY
Viva Energy operates an oil refinery in Geelong part of which produces alkylate for use in the manufacture of avgas and petrol. Hydrofluoric acid (HF acid) is a catalyst for the creation of alkylate and is hazardous and acutely toxic.
Employees were required to take a sample of the HF acid twice a week but were exposed when it leaked, flowing into lines within a sample cabinet. At the time each employee was only wearing A Class PPE, risking serious injury or death.
The offender failed to provide and maintain a system of work, so far as was reasonably practicable, in which employees wear a minimum of:
- Class B PPE whenever they worked on equipment which contained or may have contained HF acid
- Class C PPE whenever HF acid was allowed to flow through the lines connected to the sample cabinet while an employee was taking a sample
The offender previously had such a system of work in place on 7 February 2014, however by 14 September 2017 the offender reduced those PPE requirements.
Viva Energy also failed to notify WorkSafe in relation to the incident which necessitated an employee seeking treatment at the Geelong University Hospital for HF Acid exposure. Viva pleaded guilty and was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $100,000 for the acid exposure, $10,000 for failing to notify Work Safe and ordered to pay costs of $11,458.
Source: WorkSafe: Prosecution Result Summaries & Enforceable Undertakings
RECENT ABS STUDY HIGHLIGHTS PREVALENCE OF MENTAL ILL-HEALTH
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ recently released their national study of mental health and wellbeing indicating 44% of Australian adults – 8.6 million people – experienced a mental health condition at some point in their life. Of note:
- 15% of Australians reported experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress – with females (19%) more likely to experience this than males (12%)
- one in five people (20%) aged 16-34 years experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress – more than twice the rate of those aged 65-85 years
- one in six Australians (17%) aged 16-85 years had experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviours in their life
- Anxiety was the most common group of 12-month mental disorders (16.8% or 3.3 million people)
The last ABS survey, undertaken in 2007, found similar numbers of Australian adults (45%) experienced a mental health condition in their lifetime, 20% in any given year. It seems there's been little improvement.
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Study of Mental Health & Wellbeing 22 July 2022
ASBESTOS NEWS - talc-based baby powder to be withdrawn from all markets
Johnson and Johnson have finally announced plans to withdraw its talc-based baby powder from ALL global markets in 2023.
The company continues to face multiple cancer claims from U.S. users of the product with tens of thousands of North Americans alleged to have contracted mesothelioma, ovarian and lung cancers because of the tainted powder. Outside the U.S. however the numbers remain unknown.
Since the company stopped sales in the U.S. and Canada, various groups have condemned exposing women and children to deadly fibres through the continuing sale of the product outside of North America.
Grassroots campaigner Mohit Gupta from the Occupational and Environment Health Network of India has been forthright in his condemnation:
“Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based baby powder is sold in India and is very popular. In fact, it has a dominant share in India’s very lucrative market for baby products. It is very shameful that the company has decided to continue sales in India as if Indian lives don’t matter.”
Welcoming the plan to end all sales of the toxic baby powder, Sugio Furuya, Coordinator of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN), said:
“Whilst ABAN is relieved that Johnson & Johnson has finally done the right thing, there can be no doubt that its delay in acting will result in many more cancer cases – cases which could have been avoided had this toxic product been withdrawn simultaneously in all markets.”
Source: International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, Laurie Kazan-Allen, 15 August 2022
DHAKA: STRONGER WORKPLACE SAFETY FOR 10x BANGLADESH INDUSTRIAL SECTORS
The ILO and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) have signed an agreement on 17 August 2022 to enhance workplace safety and health in ten priority economic sectors. Under the agreement, a number of capacity building and promotional activities will be carried out to strengthen workplace safety and health at institutional as well as enterprise levels. These activities will be supported by ILO’s RMG programme funded by Canada and the Netherlands. The initiative will see 15 safety units established to build safety culture in ten industries: electronic & electrical, chemical, plastic, light engineering, leather, food processing, furniture, printing and packaging, domestic RMG and steel re-rolling. Simultaneously, 2400 safety representatives and 100 safety committees will be developed to improve awareness and capacity on workplace safety and health among employers and workers.
Source: ILO 17 August 2022
Employers need to act now to make sure their workplaces are ready for warmer weather in the future, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said. The safety regulator said it is asking employers to ensure extreme heat becomes part of their long-term planning. It said heat is classed as a hazard and comes with legal obligations like any other hazard, adding the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations, which require employers to provide a reasonable temperature in the workplace. John Rowe, HSE’s acting head of operational strategy, said: “All workplaces need to acknowledge that the working environment is changing. There are low-cost adaptations to the structure of work, but things like improved ventilation and air conditioning should also be considered which will involve investment in the workplace. Extreme heat that we have witnessed of late isn’t going to stop and we want employers to plan and respond to this now.”
UK: COVID MUST BE CLASSED AS AN OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE
Ministers must class Covid as an occupational disease to strengthen protections for workers, the TUC has said. A new report from the union body notes many other countries already officially recognise Covid as an occupational illness, with important consequences for workplace safety and the support working people workers can access if they suffer long-term damage to their health. It says the existing evidence shows that Covid meets the qualifying rules for an ‘occupational illness’ and to qualify for industrial disease benefits. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “If you become sick due to your work, with life changing consequences, you should get proper support. But ministers have still not added Covid to the list of occupational diseases. Two years into this pandemic, that is shocking negligence. And it leaves workers unfairly exposed. Covid must be added as soon as possible.”
US: UBER DRIVER KILLED WHILE ON DUTY
A Montgomery County man has reportedly been shot and killed while working as an Uber driver. According to Police, the incident happened Wednesday morning in Temple Hills where officers found a man shot inside a car and subsequently pronounced him dead at the scene. Investigators later identified the victim as a 55-year-old working as an Uber driver at the time of the shooting.
Source: ConfinedSpace, Weekly Toll 22 August 2022
VICTORIAN OHS HISTORY – FREE PUBLICATION RELEASE
OHSIntros this week released the second part of its trilogy on the history of OHS in Victoria. It may now be downloaded free from a link below. The 86-page document will be available for a limited period only, in the lead up to Victoria’s Health and Safety Month in October. The second part – “Commemorating the anniversary of workplace health and safety - from WorkCare to WorkSafe” tells the story of the implementation of the Robens-style Victorian OHS Act in 1985 through the WorkCare/WorkCover eras, then its revision during the WorkSafe era. This was when the regulator was adopting new thinking on reducing work harms across the state as the nature of work and the workplace was changing.
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!
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.