Union News

Artificial stone claims first official death
A 36 year old Gold Coast stonemason has become the first known worker to die from silicosis contracted from artificial stone cutting. Anthony White, who became the 'face' of the silicosis crisis, passed away last Saturday morning. He is believed to be the first stonemason to die of the irreversible lung disease since warnings over the potential scale of the health epidemic were raised last year.

After working in the industry for more than 10 years, Mr White was diagnosed with silicosis in November 2017 after developing a chest infection that would not clear up. He spoke out about the lack of regulation in the industry and urged other tradies to get tested. In a shocking tragedy for the family, Shane White, Anthony's brother, has revealed he has also been diagnosed with silicosis. He learnt of his diagnosis a week ago and has resigned from his job as a stonemason. Both brothers had worked at the same Gold Coast stone cutting business for over a decade.

Doctors fear the disease could be the "next asbestos" after identifying a sudden spike in the number of stonemasons diagnosed with the condition. 
Read more:  Nine.com.au, The Daily Mail ; More information on Silica

Reminder: Draft silica standard
Safe Work Australia is seeking input on the recommended values for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and respirable coal dust (RCD). The draft report on silica recommends a TWA of 0.02 mg/m3 to protect for fibrosis and silicosis, and consequently minimise the risk of lung cancer, in workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica at the workplace.

To provide comments on the draft evaluation reports and recommendations for respirable crystalline silica and respirable coal dust by 30 April 2019, access the SWA consultation platform Engage.  Help strengthen the VTHC submission supporting the reduced exposure standard by signing Greg Ballantyne's petition now!

Carcinogenic welding fumes - what inspectors should look for 
In March 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancers [IARC] classified welding fumes as carcinogenic in humans. In response to this UK's Health and Safety Executive has recently issued new safety information to any work that involves welding, in any industry.

The HSE states: "regardless of the duration, HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measure in places, as there is no known safe level of exposure".

From now on HSE inspectors will require that all welding activities, including welding outdoors, will require stronger control measures than just general ventilation.

  • Indoors: all welding activities will typically need local extraction ventilation, as often respiratory protection as well
  • Outdoors: exposures to fumes also need controls - extraction or respiratory protection

No Australian regulator has taken such an approach.

While many in the UK are very unhappy with the HSE inspectorate – but at least business and workers will know what to expect when the inspector visits.
Read more: HSE Bulletin Change in Enforcement Expectations for Mild Steel Welding Fume; More information on Welding

Ask Renata

Hi Renata, 
There's an unlicensed employee and my employer has allowed them to operate the forklift to unload/load trucks. Are they allowed to operate a forklift without a licence?

The short answer is NO – forklifts are very dangerous and there have been many incidents where people have been seriously injured and even killed.

The ONLY circumstance in which an unlicensed person can operate a forklift is if they are currently in training, but these persons must be must be within sight and sound of a licensed operator at all times. It is not sufficient that there is a licensed operator somewhere on the premises.

For someone to be considered to be "in training", they should be undergoing and currently enrolled in a training course - it is not acceptable for a person to be "in training" indefinitely. See this page for more information: Forklift safety

Please send any OHS related queries in to Ask Renata - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.

Gig workers: take the survey now!
Workers, with Victorian unions, are standing up to improve their safety, pay and conditions for all in the 'on-demand' economy. These workers know first hand how difficult it is to earn a 'living wage'!

Gig workers Victoria, a network of on demand workers housed in Victorian Trades Hall Council, has launched a survey, which can be taken in English or in a range of languages, so gig workers can tell their stories. If you or someone you know has had any experience in this sector, please take the survey or pass it on. There's also a team of organisers seeking to empower on demand workers in Victoria with the knowledge and skills needed to end workplace exploitation and insecurity. Check out the new Gig Worker website, come along to one of the meetings being organised in March. 

Asbestos News
Beach pavilion riddled with asbestos
.The Herald Sun reports that the Bayside Council is committed to the Dendy Beach Pavilion project, 'despite costs blowing out to $2 million before work even begins'. The plan to rebuild and expand Brighton's "asbestos riddled" lifesaving club has been on the table since 2012 but has suffered long delays since the start. Brighton Life Saving Club director Tim Bolton said they were keen to replace the more-than-60-year-old building, which was "in a very sad state of repair and no longer fit for purpose". Source: The Herald Sun

NT: Asbestos removalist seriously injured
Two construction companies face more than $1.5 million in fines after NT WorkSafe laid charges over an incident that left an employee seriously injured after a 3m fall. In April 2017, the 31-year-old was working on the roof of a breezeway, removing asbestos sheets from the exterior of a primary school building in Darwin's northern suburbs, when he slipped through a void. Read more.

Read more on Asbestos in the home and Asbestos in the workplace

International union news
UK: Stress-inducing unpaid overtime topped £32bn last year
.According to new analysis of official statistics by the TUC,UK companies claimed £32.7 billion (A$60.4 billino) of free labour last year because of workers doing unpaid overtime. More than 5 million people put in an average of 7.5 hours a week in unpaid overtime during 2018. On average, that's equivalent to having £6,532 (A$12,071) taken out of individual pay packets.

UK's peak union body released its findings on 1 March, the TUC's 15th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. This marks the day the average person doing unpaid overtime has effectively worked the year so far for free. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "It's not okay for bosses to steal their workers' time," adding: "Overworking staff hurts productivity, leaves workers' stressed and exhausted and eats into time that should be spent with family and friends. Bosses who do steal people's time should face consequences. So we're calling for new rights to ensure that employers who break the rules on working time can be brought to employment tribunals." The TUC says the government should actively enforce statutory paid annual leave, rest breaks and the right not to work more than 48 hours a week on average. These rights should be enforceable both by complaints to a government enforcement agency and by taking a case to Employment Tribunal. It says this dual-channel system is already used to enforce the national minimum wage (NMW), which is a flagship policy. 
Read more: TUC news release, blog and Unpaid Overtime Calculator. Source: Risks 888

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