Union News

Four Victorian workers killed this week
A 56-year-old man was killed after he was crushed between a fence and a garbage truck in Koonwarra, South Gippsland. He was found at 9:30am last Wednesday morning. WorkSafe believes the driver was working alone at the time and had stepped out of the truck when it rolled forward and pinned him against the fence. WorkSafe is investigating the death.

Working alone increases the risks of harm to workers and where possible should be avoided - read more here.

One killed, one critically injured, two others shot
A 37 year old security guard was rushed to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning after a stolen car sped past shooting into a crowd outside Love Machine nightclub in Prahran. He later died in hospital. Three other men were also shot: a second security guard, aged 28, was still fighting for life at The Alfred hospital on Sunday night. A 50-year-old man, also a security guard, and a 29-year-old patron sustained non-life threatening injuries.

A 26-year-old man also presented himself to hospital on Sunday afternoon with non-life threatening injuries, which police believe happened at the shooting; and a 20-year-old woman may have fallen at the scene and hit her head on the ground. She was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Read more: The Age.

Worker killed in four metre fall
On Monday a man in his 70s was killed after falling about four metres at a factory on McNaughton Road in Clayton. WorkSafe has said it appears he was working inside a makeshift cage attached to a forklift when the cage came off the forklift tines and fell to the ground. WorkSafe is investigating the death.

Man killed after falling from roof
In a horrific incident which occurred yesterday just before noon, a man in his 60s was killed after falling off a roof at a property at Neilborough, just north of Bendigo. It is believed the contractor was working with another person on a verandah roof when he fell and was impaled on a metal picket. WorkSafe is investigating the death.

Employers have specific duties when workers are performing work at height. The Prevention of Falls regulations apply when work is at more than 2 metres. Too often, and tragically, the risks of falling from height are not properly controlled. Read more: Working at Heights

The staff of the VTHC OHS Unit send our sincerest condolences to the workers' family, friends and work colleagues.

These four fatalities bring the total number of Victorian workers killed at work this year to 15; four of these will not form part of the official WorkSafe tally (including Sunday's fatality).

Man who killed surgeon sentenced to 10 years jail
Joseph Esmaili, the man who killed a Melbourne heart surgeon after an argument over smoking, will spend at least 10 years in jail after becoming the first person sentenced under Victoria's one-punch laws. The 24-year-old punched Patrick Pritzwald-Stegmann in the head at Box Hill Hospital, in Melbourne's east, in May 2017. The blow knocked the surgeon unconscious and caused him to fall backwards and hit his head on the tiled floor. He died in hospital a month after the attack.

The pair had gotten into an argument after the surgeon asked Esmaili and his friends to stop smoking in a non-smoking area outside the hospital's entrance.

Mr Pritzwald-Stegmann's wife, Christine Baumberg, said "I call on the Victorian Government and the management of all Victorian hospitals to properly enforce hospital smoking bans and to provide a safe workplace for all hospital staff."
Read more: ABC News online

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Ask Renata

Hi Renata, 
I was wondering about taking lunch breaks at our desks. I wanted to clarify if eating at your work station is an OHS/WHS breach or concern? As I understand it a meal break needs to be away from your work duties, for mental health reasons. Yet sometimes we have so much work to do, some of us feel we have no choice.

Employers must provide breaks (though exactly how much isn't specified in OHS legislation) as otherwise workers become fatigued. A worker's concentration and work performance also suffers. See this FAQ on Breaks.

They must also provide 'adequate facilities' – including facilities for eating. What employers need to provide is found in the Workplace amenities and work environment compliance code. See this FAQ on Dining facilities.

I would not recommend eating at your desk OHS reasons – not just for reasons of psychological well-being/mental health but also fatigue. Add to this that apparently desks have lots and lots of germs (see this article) and my advice would be to make sure you get a proper break away from your work station!

The other issue you've raised is workload. This is also an OHS issue as workers who feel constantly under pressure with high workloads are at risk of suffering stress (see the section on Stress on the website, including workplace factors which contribute to it.)

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.

Firefighters demand crackdown on 'death traps' 
The United Firefighters Union (UFU) is calling for emergency laws to jail, fine and sue operators responsible for illegally stockpiling toxic chemical waste that causes industrial fires, warning that dump sites are "death traps" for emergency services personnel.

UFU Victoria secretary, Peter Marshall said on the ABC this week, that firefighters who battled the huge industrial blazes in Campbellfield this month and West Footscray in 2018 have reported a range of conditions. He said his members have suffered lung infections, nosebleeds, rashes and memory loss after exposure to the highly toxic smoke and debris produced by the burning of solvents, paints, inks and other unknown chemicals found at the illegal waste dumping operations.

In a letter to Premier Daniel Andrews, Mr Marshall called for those responsible for creating the stockpiles to be held "fully accountable both in criminal sanctions and civil penalties". He wrote: "The threat of imprisonment should be real and prosecuting bodies should have a 'pro-charge' policy to ensure that prosecutions are initiated in all circumstances where a fire occurs involving toxic chemicals that have, in any way, been illegally produced, sold, transported, stored or disposed of."
Read more: The Age. Listen to the interview on ABC Breakfast here.

Victorian govt announces waste monitoring
As part of the Andrews Labor Government crackdown on the illegal storage of hazardous material, chemical waste will be electronically monitored from July this year. Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D'Ambrosio announced the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) will invest $5.5 million to switch to a fully GPS electronic tracking system to better record the production, movement and receipt of industrial waste.

A new integrated waste tracking tool, with improved data analytics and reporting, will also be developed over the next 12 months, to deliver insights on sector activity, trends and highlight potential illegal activity. This best practice tracking system will be finalised by March 2020, so that industry will have three months to transition before the new Environment Protection Act legislation comes into effect on 1 July 2020.

The Minister said, "We're implementing these new measures to crack down on the illegal storage of hazardous waste and increase safety for the community." 
Read more: Vic Government media release 

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Asbestos News
Australian unions help out in Vietnam
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA has been working in Vietnam to support the campaign to eradicate asbestos since 2010. Asian countries consume the majority of asbestos globally, but there is a renewed momentum in a range of countries towards bans within the region.

To achieve their goal, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA has facilitated cooperation between Vietnamese and other regional governments and the Australian Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, the world's only standalone asbestos agency.

The project addresses the three main obstructions to a ban of all forms of asbestos: misinformation from the asbestos industry; the perceived lack of viable alternatives to asbestos as a low cost building material; and the sharing of both international evidence and credible domestic research to provide accurate and independent impact estimates to help persuade decision makers on the hazards of asbestos.
Read more: Eradicating Asbestos in Vietnam, Mirage News

Vietnam's asbestos frontline
A letter by civil society groups recently sent to leading politicians addressed false statements and misinformation propagated at a 2018 pro-asbestos workshop in Vietnam's National Assembly. The letter accused organizations including the International Chrysotile Association, the Vietnam Roofing Association and others of: spreading "false and incorrect information and data about the harmful effects of white asbestos" and "creating confusion and misunderstanding about the situation and the scientific basis for… [banning] white asbestos". Asbestos vested interests are desperate to forestall the implementation of a Prime Ministerial Order banning chrysotile asbestos roofing material by 2023 and are marshalling political and economic allies to force a government U-turn. 
Read more: IBAS

More information on the site: Asbestos in the home and Asbestos in the workplace

Silicosis: Have you been tested?
A fit and healthy NSW stonemason has been was diagnosed with the irreversible and deadly lung disease silicosis which is striking dozens in his trade after a friend asked him 'have you been tested?'.  Byron Bay tradesman Kyle Goodwin, 33, had worked as a stonemason for nearly a decade when he became aware of a nationwide spike in silicosis cases in the stone cutting industry. Mr Goodwin got checked that day - and was diagnosed with accelerated silicosis, as well as early stages of progressive massive fibrosis. Read more: 9News

Workers are being exposed to high level of silica dust in their workplaces, with Safe Work Australia looking to reduce the exposure standard - something the VTHC has been campaigning around. Help strengthen the VTHC submission supporting the reduced exposure standard by signing Greg Ballantyne's petition now! 
More information on Silica

International union news
Global: ITUC aims to show killer chemicals the door
In a high profile new campaign, the global trade union confederation ITUC is calling for killer chemicals to be shown the door. Sharan Burrow, the union body's general secretary (ex-ACTU), says the chemical industry is set to grow four-fold by 2060 and warns hazardous exposures at work already claiming a million lives each year. Writing in Hazards magazine, she warns the global industry "can get away with this because it resorts to illegal or unethical practices to bury the evidence of health risks linked to its products."

The workplace chemical exposures crisis is behind ITUC's decision to renew its campaign to protect workers. On International Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April 2019 the union body has adopted the theme of 'Taking control - removing dangerous substances from the workplace', including an emphasis on a 'Zero Cancer' approach. ITUC is urging reps to seek to eliminate or minimise exposure to carcinogens in the workplace and says a first of its kind ITUC at-a-glance guide to work cancers and their causes will ensure unions can identify and challenge preventable and potentially deadly exposures.

According to Burrow: "In human terms, the cost of hazardous workplace exposures is one worker death every 30 seconds." She said prevention isn't happening "because corporate chemistry has captured regulators, bribed obliging scientists and attacked its detractors. It is a fatal endeavour that must be stopped."
Read more:

Source: Risks 893
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Vietnam: Women making clothes for export face sexual abuse
Female factory workers producing clothing and shoes in Vietnam – many probably for major international brands – face systemic sexual harassment and violence at work. Approaching half (43.1 per cent) of 763 women interviewed in factories in three Vietnamese provinces said they had suffered at least one form of violence and/or harassment in the previous year, according to a study by the Fair Wear Foundation and Care International.

The abuse – which ranged from groping and slapping to rape and threats of contract termination – sheds a light on working conditions endured by women in some Vietnamese factories with as many as 20,000 employees, said Dr Jane Pillinger, a gender-based violence expert and author of the study. The research is the first to correlate violence and sexual harassment in garment factories with workplace factors endemic to the "fast fashion" industry. These include excessive overtime, low pay, long working hours and unrealistic production targets, imposed by often well-known brands, said Annabel Meurs, Vietnam country manager for the Fair Wear Foundation, a non-profit organisation financed by its 130 garment company members.

"We were shocked by the detrimental effect it had," said Meurs. "Violence and harassment affect productivity, competitiveness and company reputation, as well as women's integrity, health and wellbeing. It sounds simple, but most garment brands are not aware that they have so much influence on factory floor conditions." Although the names of the factories and the brands they supply were kept secret to encourage participation in the study, there is a "strong likelihood" that they include European and US brands, said Pillinger. Read more: The Observer. Source: Risks 893

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