Union news

Ask Renata

I was working alone after hours one night when someone tried to break in at my workplace - luckily it didn't happen. When I told a friend he asked me whether I had thought of using the panic button to alert the police. I don't know what that is, and I don't think the workplace has one. Is it illegal to not have a panic button in case of further attempts or successful break ins?

It’s not a specific legal requirement to have a panic or duress alarm – at least not under OHS legislation. Personal security/safety is not specifically addressed in legislation - but is covered under the employer's general duty of care. This requires employers to  provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes workers' safety - and so where workers' safety might be at risk because they are working alone, the employer needs to identify that this is a risk and take action to eliminate/minimise it. For more information on what can/should be done, check out this page on the website.

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

Violent brawl at Melbourne school
On Tuesday afternoon a teacher at Berwick Secondary College was attacked and his school placed in lockdown when a fight broke out between as many as 20 students. The teacher, who had been trying to break up the fight, was seriously injured, as was a student. Police were called to the Manuka Rd campus and arrested three boys, aged between 14 and 16, who were later released pending summons.

Meredith Peace, AEU Victorian Branch President said, “the incident has been deeply concerning and our priority is the safety of all staff and students involved. Principals, teachers and support staff, like everyone else, are entitled to work in a safe environment. Violence, whether physical or verbal, is not acceptable and should not be tolerated. The government must do more to protect the physical and mental health of their employees."

She referred to the long hours and extra pressures faced by school staff and added, “Responsibilities of all staff in schools has changed significantly over time, dealing with complex and challenging behaviours, learning difficulties and the impact of social issues such as mental health and family violence.

“It’s clear that schools need more resources and support so that school staff can react appropriately when instances like these occur, but more importantly to put in place proactive supports that may reduce events such as these."
Read more: AEU media release

Legal protections for older workers

Australia has an ageing population, and there are increasing numbers of older workers in our workplaces. Almost 20% of Australian workers are over the age of 55 and this proportion will continue to rise. A vital part of the workforce and economy. mature workers face unique challenges. Many experience age discrimination in the workplace or when looking for work. This is occurring despite a lack of evidence that older workers are less productive. These workers often juggle work and caring responsibilities, which are less well recognised than the typical caring role faced by younger workers. 

A new fact sheet recently released by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) outlines the national and state legislation protecting mature workers from discrimination and upholds their right to seek flexible work arrangements. It also addresses the way workplace health and safety laws can be uniquely relevant to older Australians. 
Read more: Legal protections for mature workers fact sheet 


Farmers' Federation warning on quad bikes
The Victorian Farmers Federation has urged farmers to take extreme care when operating quad bikes, to install operator protection devices and even to consider using alternative, and safer farm vehicles. VFF President David Jochinke said the ACCC had found that quad bikes caused an average of six emergency department visits per day in Australia. “That is an absolutely shocking statistic,”  he said. He said that while quad bike deaths make the news, what’s unknown is the number people, including children, who are seriously injured in quad bike incidents.  Read more: VFF media release. Source OHS News

Asbestos news
Impact of Mr Fluffy on homeowners 
A community and expert reference group that has analysed the impact of the Mr Fluffy asbestos saga will recommend a board of inquiry and support for ongoing studies into the health impacts on homeowners. Senior Australian of the Year and paediatrician Dr Sue Packer, who chaired the group, has called the crisis "a clear example of an evolving and enduring catastrophe", which was "entirely preventable" had the Commonwealth government heeded warnings about the dangers of asbestos in the 1960s.

After looking into the issue as part of the Mr Fluffy Legacy Project, the community and expert reference group has included recommendations under six key themes in a draft discussion paper. The report has been provided to Mr Fluffy homeowners, who have until September 11 to review it before it is finalised for the ACT government. 
Read more: The Canberra Times  

SafeWork NSW: video on pressure cleaning asbestos roofs
In the August edition of SafeWork Wrap, NSW's regulator responds to several incidents where high pressure water was used to clean asbestos roofs causing widespread asbestos contamination.  It says that in one incident, neighbours had to vacate their properties during the clean-up process and couldn’t return until clearance certificates were issued.  In this case, clean-up costs exceeded $400,000. If asbestos is disturbed, there is a risk of inhaling airborne asbestos fibres which may lead to asbestos related diseases. High-pressure water or compressed air must never be used to clean asbestos roofs.  A new, short video has been produced which addresses the issue. Check it out here.

UK: Record high asbestos deaths defy official assurances
Despite being long banned, asbestos continues to be the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with the toll increasing and defying official estimates that it would peak years ago. According to asbestos law specialist Louise Larkin, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) originally predicted that the number of deaths caused by the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma would peak in 2012. This was later changed to 2016 and then 2018 and now it’s 2020. The personal injury solicitor with the union law firm Thompsons said in the face of this growing tragedy, moves to quickly implement preventive measures are crucial. “It is vital that plans are put in place to control asbestos safely wherever it is present. More needs to be done by those in charge of public buildings to ensure that asbestos is properly managed, which involves identifying where it is and what condition it is in. It may not be an issue - if it remains undisturbed and it is highly unlikely that there is a significant risk - but turning a blind eye is no longer an option.” The asbestos disease compensation expert added: “Let’s hope that asbestos deaths do drop at the turn of the decade, but sadly it will still be a long time before we can say that the impact of asbestos is something of the past.” 

In Australia we have had a similar experience. It was predicted that the number of deaths due to asbestos exposure would peak - but the calculation is that there are approximately 4,000 deaths due to asbestos-related disease each year. This compares to 1.193 road fatalities. 
Read more: Thompsons Solicitors news report. Source: Risks 910


ASEA Conference
The 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference will be held in Perth from 11 - 13 November, at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre. 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

John Lennon Airport staff vote to strike over safety 
Flights from Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport could face wide-scale disruption after GMB members voted to strike over safety and other concerns. About 200 workers on the Swissport EasyJet and Swissport Mainline contracts voted overwhelmingly for industrial action over health and safety issues, working practices, pay and the company’s breach of the union recognition agreement. The strikes are scheduled for 22, 24 and 29 August. Further dates are expected to follow, and workers will also observe a continuous overtime ban. Read more: GMB news release. Source: Risks 910


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