Union News

Another Victorian worker killed this week

It is with great regret that we report that a man in his late 40s was killed by a forklift load that fell from its tynes at a machinery depot in Somerton, in Melbourne's north, on Saturday morning. While the tragedy is still being investigated by WorkSafe, it is clear that the load could not have been properly secured. 

This brings this year's workplace death toll to 16. The flowers from Workers Memorial Day haven't even wilted yet, but we had to hang the banner again.

Our thoughts are with the colleagues, family and friends of the man. Every workplace death is a needless tragedy that should never occur.

Ask Renata

Hi Renata, 
Just wondering what toilet breaks are allowed/workers are entitled to in regards to working long hours on their own? I usually work four hours, but sometimes up to six hours on my own. Taking a toilet break is very frowned upon as it means the store has to close.

There's nothing specific in Victoria's OHS legislation on either working alone or on toilet breaks, but employers have what is called a general duty of care to all employees, and this includes providing a safe system of work.

In order to do this,  the employer must undertake an identification of the hazards and risks associated with the work and working alone, and then implement controls. In terms of toilet breaks, the employer must have some sort of system in place so that if a worker needs to go to the toilet, he/she is able to do so. It's an unsafe system if workers cannot go to the toilet when they need to – it can put their health at risk. Making decisions on and implementing measures must be done in consultation with affected workers.

See these pages for more information: Working alone and Breaks.

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.

Asbestos News
Two power station stacks demolished
Earlier this week hundreds gathered to watch as two of the four chimney stacks at the former Morwell Power Station in eastern Victoria were demolished. The chimney stacks have been a feature of the Latrobe Valley's skyline since the coal-fired power station opened in 1956. Barry Dungey, general manager of remediation at Energy Brix, the company that ran the power station, said everuthing went as planned. He said dust suppression was "top of mind" for the team and that the chimneys were free from asbestos. Read more: ABC news online

Royal Hobart Hospital: asbestos stops work
Asbestos at the Royal Hobart Hospital has led to work at the redevelopment site to be stopped once again. Work has now resumed, but the major upset is that it was nearly two weeks before workers were given the news about its presence and their potential exposure. Michael Anderson,State Secretary of the Tasmanian branch of the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union, questioned whether the State Government has lost sight of 'safety first'. 

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

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Quad bike stand-off
The Australian union movement has been campaigning for years for the introduction of mandatory rollover protection on quad bikes - which kill an average of 16 Australians every year. Since 2011, there have been 121 deaths associated with the use of quad bikes, also known as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and 13 deaths associated with side-by-side vehicles (SSVs). Deaths occur equally during workplace and recreational riding. Approximately 15 per cent of deaths involve children.

Last year, after many years of campaigning not only by unions but also safety experts, the ACCC proposed major changes to improve the safety of quad bikes, including the introduction of a safety rating system, crush protection devices and mandatory minimum performance standards. The Assistant Treasurer then sought submissions into the exposure draft mandatory standard recommended by the ACCC - by June 9 this year. 

It has now emerged that Honda and Yamaha are threatening to withdraw from the Australian market if operator protection devices become mandatory. These companies should be ashamed - the Chair of FarmSafe has hit out at their threat. "This is an astonishingly infantile reaction from otherwise respected multinational companies," said Mr Charles Armstrong. Others, however, such as Mojo Motorcycles, have said they will ensure compliance with any new requirements.  Read more: If ACCC rulings adopted Honda and Yamaha to quit selling quad bikes, The Queensland Register.  Quad-bike roll-bar: Mojo to comply, Honda and Yamaha threaten to walk. The Weekly Times

Australian firefighters lead call for flourine-free foam
A group of firefighters and fire safety experts last week called on international negotiators to ban fluorinated chemicals in firefighting foam.

Delegates from more than 180 countries were in Geneva this week for the annual meeting of the UN's Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs). On the agenda were proposals to tighten controls on PFOA and PFOS, two fluorinated industrial chemicals used in a variety of manufacturing processes for their resistance to water and oil.

The EU has identified both substances as persistent, bioaccumulative and reprotoxic.

Speaking at a press conference hosted by the civil society network Ipen on the sidelines of the convention, firefighters from international and Australian trade unions, as well as experts from aviation and oil and gas companies that have stopped using fluorinated foam, urged delegates to ban PFOA and to "close loopholes" in the convention for the ban on PFOS.

"As a firefighter I can tell you our anxiety levels are high, because we know we've had to deal with exposure to this toxic chemical for over 50 years," Mick Tisbury, president of the United Firefighters Union of Australia and commander of the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade, said of PFOA. "Right now we feel like we've got a ticking time bomb in our bodies."

New data on exposure to fluorinated chemicals for Australian firefighters was included in an Ipen report recently published advocating for fluorine-free firefighting foam. It found "significant elevations" of fluorinated chemicals in the blood of Australian firefighters compared to the general population of the country, according to the NGO.

All major airports in Australia have phased out the use of fluorinated firefighting foam, the report said. Tisbury said that his fire brigade has found the fluorine-free foam performs just as well.
Source: Chemical watch report

International union news
Global unions target safety at work in pulp, paper, graphical and packaging
Workers in the pulp, paper, graphical and packaging sectors, represented globally by IndustriALL Global Union and UNI, are using this 2019 Workers Memorial Day to kick off a yearlong campaign around the three fundamental worker rights needed to make work safe:

  1. The Right to Know – workers must know the hazards and risks in their workplace
  2. The Right to Act (commonly known as the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work Without Punishment)  
  3. The Right to Participate in the safety programs and structures that manage safety in the workplace.

Each of these Rights will be highlighted with action by workers across the global pulp, paper, graphical and packaging sectors. Read more: Industriall media release

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