Union News

Union News

Fatality in northern Victoria

It is with great sadness that we report that a subcontractor was killed on Monday when he fell from a ladder at a residential property in Rutherglen, in Victoria’s north-east. According to WorkSafe Victoria, the worker his mid-60s was installing skylights when he slipped from the ladder and fell to the floor below about 10.30am.  Everyone at the VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to family, friends and work colleagues of the deceased worker.

This brings the number of workers killed in Victoria this year to 21 (although the ‘official’ number is 15 according to the WorkSafe stats)

Tragic incident kills workplace researcher

Also on Monday, a university professor and mother of two was killed by a falling tree in Melbourne's Princes Park as she was walking to work. Associate Professor Allison Milner was a social epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Melbourne's School of Population and Global Health. AP Milner was the recipient of a 2017 fellowship from the State Government to tackle the high incidence of suicide among working men. She was an accomplished researcher who published numerous academic papers on work-related stressors, disability and suicide.

Ask Renata
Hi, I just want to inquire into what is considered “too cold to work”. I am in a factory that has no heating whatsoever. I am happy to do the work, however it’s just so cold it’s uncomfortable and seems there’s no solutions in sight.

Yes, workplaces that are at “ambient temperature” (that is, at the same as outside) will be very cold at the moment. The Workplace Amenities and Work Environment Compliance Code states that workplaces should be maintained at temperatures between 20 – 26 degrees Celsius for sedentary work. Active work may require a slightly lower temperature.

Regardless, if the temperature is noticeably cold, this could affect your health and safety, and your employer has a duty to start taking actions to ensure your warmth: installing heaters, providing proper cold weather clothing to wear, warm rest rooms, etc. You can find more information and a link to the compliance code on our website here.

If you have any ohs related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website

Quad bikes – ongoing hazard
With manufacturers and suppliers still fighting against recommendations for mandatory rollover protection, the Victorian Coroner has found that a roll-bar would have saved the life of a 69-year-old farmer. In the report, the coroner supports the ACCC’s ‘comprehensive report’ and recommendations to Government to mandate OPDs and other safety measures to improve quad bike safety.

National Farmers’ Federation General Manager of Workforce & Legal Affairs Ben Rogers said it was now clear that OPDs saved lives. “The Coroner’s finding adds to a mountain of research that affirms that OPDs can prevent loss of life in incidents of quad bike rollover,” he said.  “We hope that the Coroner’s conclusion is the ‘push’ the Government needs to make mandatory OPDs a reality. The evidence is clear and can no longer be ignored.”

A coalition of leading rural and medical voices, led by the NFF, met with MPs and Senators in Canberra last week to plead with the Government to endorse the ACCC’s recommendations.
Source: Safety Culture OHS News

ACTU: Four in five working people injured or ill due to work
Almost 80 percent of working people have been injured, or become ill, or both as a result of their work, according to a survey released this week by the ACTU, Australia’s peak body for working people. The same number of people say existing penalties for employers are not enough to make them take safety seriously.

The Work Shouldn’t Hurt work health and safety survey carried out in July exposes an underbelly of unsafe work practices that has led to unacceptable numbers of working people dying as a result of their work, being exposed to trauma, experiencing violence, or sustaining psychological/physical illnesses and injuries.

More than 26,000 working people responded to questions about their experiences of work health and safety, including the sorts of working conditions they had faced in the past 12 months. Areas surveyed included exposure to traumatic events – like the death of a colleague, occupational violence, hazardous conditions, poor management, and remote or isolated work.
Read more: ACTU media release and The Work Shouldn’t Hurt Report [pdf]

QLD: Casualisation and ‘production first’ hurts mine safety
Declining job security in coal mining is a major mine safety risk factor, a new union survey of miners in Queensland has found. The mining division of the CFMEU found that almost nine in ten of the 1,000 plus coal miners surveyed said that casualisation of jobs at their work site has affected safety. There has been a widespread move away from permanent, direct employment by operators to casual jobs supplied by labour hire contractors over the past five to ten years in the coal mining sector. Permanent employees are now a minority at many Queensland coal mines. Approximately four in ten survey respondents said they feared reprisals if they spoke up about safety, increasing to six in ten for casual mineworkers. Many mineworkers had experienced or witnessed retaliatory action over raising safety concerns, including casual workers finding they are suddenly no longer required, said CFMEU Queensland district president Stephen Smyth. “No-one is told that the reason they’ve been sacked or disciplined is for raising a concern over safety – but workers can see what is happening,” said Smyth. “They are labelled as whingers and moved on or otherwise victimised. We need 100 per cent of mineworkers to feel confident they can report safety issues without fear. These results reflect what we hear every day from mineworkers on the ground and they are a poor reflection on the industry. You can’t have insecure, vulnerable workers and a ruthless focus on production and expect there will be no consequences for safety.” The union leader concluded: “There’s no room for complacency. It’s clear that workers at the coal face don’t believe companies are making safety their number one priority – operators must take this opportunity to show they are committed to change.”
Read more: CFMEU news release  and survey results [pdf] .

Asbestos News
NSW: CFMMEU members protest low pay for asbestos removal
Last week dozens of angry workers protested outside a cleaning company in Norwest Business Park, claiming to have been underpaid to remove dangerous asbestos.

A total of 50 members of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) protested outside the NSW Branch of commercial cleaning company, JaniKing.  The company’s chief executive Ben Stoltz is a major shareholder of national hazardous waste disposal firm, GBAR Group, which is accused of underpaying employees to remove asbestos.

The union’s assistant state secretary Rob Kera said that negotiations over an enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) had stalled between union members and the company, which was currently paying well below award rate for asbestos removal work.  Mr Kera said “Our members approached us to support them to secure an enterprise agreement and that is what we are aiming to do.” He added “The job they do is extremely high risk and could cost you your life so members want to be remunerated appropriately.”

Mr Stoltz, however, said GBAR refused to negotiate with the union, “as it prefers to negotiate its own EBA”. He claimed that GBAR’s proposed EBA was based on pay rates that exceed the minimum Award requirements. Source: The Daily Telegraph

ASEA conference
The 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference will be held in Perth from 11 - 13 November, at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre. Early bird registrations are available until 23 August so hurry up to secure your place at Australia’s only conference on Asbestos Safety at a reduced price.

The conference will provide a unique opportunity for all members of the asbestos management system to come together, exchange information and share ideas with over 300 domestic and international professionals from a range of sectors including workers’ health and safety, public health, the role of the non-government sector, and international campaign work. There will also be particular sessions focused on the work of asbestos support groups, the latest research into asbestos awareness communications and the latest from medical researchers.

This year ASEA will collaborate and focus on Australia's National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management 2019-2023 and the roles and responsibilities those in the asbestos management system have in working together toward preventing exposure to asbestos fibres. The roles of employees and their representatives in supporting and advocating for workers’ health and safety in relation to asbestos management is a key component to achieving this.
Read more about the conference here

For more information on asbestos, go to Asbestos in the workplace and Asbestos in the Home on our website

International Union news
UK: Unite launches silica exposure register
UK Construction union Unite has launched an online register to allow workers who have been exposed to dangerous silica dust to record their exposure. The union says this will assist with potential future legal cases if they experience long term health problems. Unite says industries where workers are potentially exposed to respirable crystalline silica include mining, quarrying, foundries, potteries, ceramics, glass manufacturing, stonemasonry, construction and industries using silica flour. As SafetyNet readers will know, inhaling large amounts of silica dust over a long period can cause silicosis, a frequently fatal lung-scarring disease. It can also lead to other potentially fatal illnesses including lung and other cancers, silicotuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney and autoimmune diseases. Unite national health and safety adviser Bud Hudspith said: “Unfortunately many employers remain willing to play fast and loose with the health of their workers. Unite’s primary aim is to ensure employers prevent silicosis and lung cancer through the removal or strict control of silica dust.”

Like in Australia, Unions in the UK have been highly critical of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for defending the existing UK occupational exposure standard of 0.1mg/m3, five times the level being discussed here in Victoria, and twice the current US limit. Unite has produced a short film to explain how the register operates and the dangers of inhaling silica dust.
Read more: Unite news release and silica exposure register. Unite silica dust film. Source: Risks 909

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