Union news

HSR Conference: more coming soon

This is a 'teaser' - the VTHC is awaiting sign off from WorkSafe Victoria of our application to run the 2019 HSR Conference in October - which we hope to receive next week. So expect an email with details of the conference, and how to register for what is the biggest event for HSRs in Australia (dare we say, 'the world'?)

Ask Renata

Hi Renata

I am in the process of getting cleared for pre-injury duties and hopefully returning to work this week. What bothers me, though, is that my injury was completely mechanical, not my fault at all, a part of plant equipment detached and wasn't supposed to fell on top of me. However WorkCover is not interested in investigating, even though every single work colleague is astounded when they hear what happened after asking how I got hurt.

The issue is that the compensation arm of WorkSafe and the prevention arm are quite separate and really don’t 'speak' to each other. The only time there is an automatic investigation is when there is a very serious incident – in these cases the employer has a duty to notify WorkSafe and this usually triggers an investigation. In cases of serious injury, death, big plant failure, etc it happens and prosecutions may follow (see: Notifiable incidents).

What any injury/incident in any workplace should trigger is an investigation by the employer to identify the hazard and risk – the employer then has the duty under the OHS Act to take actions to eliminate so far as is reasonably practicable, that hazard or risk, or if not reasonably practicable, minimise it.  This is the general duty of care – see: Duties of employers.

How employer provide safe and healthy workplaces is by undertaking regular identification and then removal/minimisation of hazards and risks - and doing this in consultation with workers and their elected health and safety representatives (HSRs). Of course many employers don’t do it – until something happens. That’s why the OHS Act provides workers with the power to elect HSRs, who have powers and rights to take issues to the employer and make the employer take action. See: HSRs and Deputies - their role and powers.

Soo.. do you have an elected HSR there? If so, then this person can raise the matter with the employer and get this and any other issues addressed. If there’s no HSR, then contact the union – an ARREO can enter the workplace and take a look – but the union can use OHS to increase membership and also promote the need for and assist in the election of an HSR.

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

Teachers 'overwhelmed' by students' mental health issues

According to a survey undertaken by the Victorian teachers' union (AEU) half of all state school teachers and staff reported that they know of students in their school who have self-harmed in the past year. They also said they were struggling to support students experiencing a host of mental health problems including anxiety, anger, depression and drug and alcohol abuse. Of great concern is that fewer than half of the 3500 government school teachers and staff who took part in the survey believed their school had access to appropriate mental health services. The AEU survey will form part of the union's submission to the Andrews government royal commission into the state's mentail health services. The results suggest poor mental wellbeing among students is impacting on the wider classroom environment, with 80 per cent of respondents reporting that mental health-related issues had negatively affected student learning at their school. 

AEU branch president Meredith Peace told The Age the results showed the state’s mental health system was failing students and teachers. “It is clear that mental health issues are having a significant impact on student learning achievement, with massive difficulties accessing support services and accessing timely services, for too many students,” Ms Peace said.

They also found reported mental health problems were generally higher in low socio-economic status schools. For example, 91 per cent of teachers at poorer schools reported experiencing anger management issues among students, compared with 67 per cent of teachers at wealthier schools. “The more disadvantaged a student or school is, the less likely it is for them to be able to access appropriate and timely care," Ms Peace said. "Real steps must be taken to address this ongoing cycle of disadvantage and to support the wellbeing of students.” Read more: The Age

Industrial Manslaughter update

WA: Labor commits to introduction of Industrial manslaughter laws
WA Premier Mark McGowan announced the government would introduce industrial manslaughter laws as part of a workplace safety package, which also included a $12.9 million cash boost to hire 21 new workplace safety inspectors, at Labor's annual state conference on Saturday August 24. These inspectors would investigate fatal and serious incidents. Negligent or reckless employers must be held accountable for the conditions in their workplaces," Mr McGowan told the conference. "The majority of employers and managements who do the right thing need not fear these laws in any way but life is too precious not to set a high bar. Jail time is a powerful deterrent and it sends a strong message." 

Ms Regan Ballantine, mother of 17-year-old Wesley who was killed on January 4, 2017, welcomed the commitment. She called on detractors to "examine their own conscience" when opposing the move, and said the legislation sent a necessary message to the industry about the gravity of their responsibility to protect human life. Her son was working as a steel fabricator for Industrial Construction Services on night shift at 4.30am installing a glass ceiling when he fell through a void. He was rushed to Royal Perth Hospital but later died. Earlier this month, site contractors Valmont pleaded guilty to failing to ensure subcontractors were not exposed to hazards on site and was fined just $38,000 in the Perth Magistrates Court.  

Unions WA secretary Meredith Hammat said the measures would "save lives and prevent injuries" but came too late for families like the Ballantine's.  

Not surprisingly, WA's peak industry and business bodies have slammed the Premier's decision, saying they won't prevent workplace deaths and will damage industry instead. WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Chris Rodwell said the laws would "distract the government" from tackling safety concerns and called on the opposition to oppose the proposal.
Read more: Labor to introduce industrial manslaughter laws in workplace safety overhaul and WA's peak industry bodies slam McGowan's industrial manslaughter laws The West Australian

NT: Unions call for Industrial manslaughter laws as worker confirmed dead 
A 59 year old worker who was buried on Saturday afternoon under a collapsed wall of dirt and rock at the Bootu Creek mine in the Northern Territory has since died.

Unions in the Territory are now calling for industrial manslaughter laws to be implemented and for workplace culture to be shifted to prioritise worker safety.  CFMMEU NT organiser Kane Louth said that current and former Bootu Creek mine workers have contacted the union with concerns about the mine. "They're making allegations that similar slips have occurred recently, not dissimilar to the one that occurred on Saturday that took this gentleman's life," he said. "If that's the case we want to know one, what the company's done, and what the NT WorkSafe has done to make that right." The CFMMEU would seek an urgent meeting with NT WorkSafe once its investigation at the site was complete.

In a statement released on Monday, Singapore-based OM Holdings Ltd — which owns subsidiary OM (Manganese) Ltd (OMM), which runs the Bootu Creek mine 110 kilometres north of Tennant Creek — confirmed the death. "All operations at the mine were halted, subsequently certain operations have re-started. All employees are offered access to counselling services," the statement said. In fact, OMM was directed to cease in-pit operations immediately, according to a statement issued by Primary Industry and Resources Minister Paul Kirby. Read more: ABC online

Asbestos news

ACT: Residents/Advisory group calls for Inquiry 
Mr Fluffy residents and the ACT government's advisory group are calling for a full board of inquiry - Canberra's equivalent of a royal commission - into the legacy of the loose asbestos insulation saga. The man behind Mr Fluffy, Dirk Jansen did not live to see the disaster that resulted from his business of pumping loose asbestos fibres into the ceilings of at least 1049 Canberra homes. For $82.50, the roof space of each home was pumped with 120 kilograms of asbestos fibres from a hopper through a tube from the back of a ute by workers without protective clothing. It is believed Jansen imported the asbestos from South Africa via New Zealand to get around the trade sanctions with South Africa.  

Jansen died in 2001, and because he never kept detailed company records, information is sketchy. What there is has been pieced together from company records, Commonwealth records, and former employees for various government reports over many years. And although most of the homes have been demolished now, there are still about 60 left in the ACT, and an unknown number in NSW. Victoria was lucky in that the business never came here. 
Read more: 'We must be eternally vigilant': Call for Fluffy inquiry, The Canberra Times

Zimbabwe: Asbestos Production
The company – Shabanie Mashaba Mines (SMM) – that operates Zimbabwe’s Mashaba chrysotile asbestos mine has announced plans to export raw asbestos fiber for the first time in a decade. According to media reports, the fiber had not been produced by mining but by processing of the mine’s tailings; between 1907 and 2007, asbestos mining at this site had produced 143 million tonnes of asbestos-containing waste. The first asbestos shipment which will be transported in a fortnight is destined for India. Meanwhile, work on revitalizing the asbestos mine is ongoing. The company said that within 3 years, production at the mine will be 75,000 tonnes/year.
Read more: SMM to resume asbestos exports. The Sunday Mail Source: IBAS

ASEA Conference: Perth 11 - 13 November
The program for the 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference, to be held at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, is now available. 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.
Check our the conference program here. For more information and to register, click here

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home.

International Union news

Argentina: Judge bans delivery apps on safety grounds
When a courier delivering a takeaway in Buenos Aires was hit by a car, the company’s response was not to check how he was, but to ask: “How is the order?” Courier Ernesto Floridia, 63, was run over on 27 July while delivering pizza ordered through Glovo, an on-demand courier service. When he texted the company about the accident, the co-ordinator replied: “How is the order. It is in good or bad condition to be delivered?” When he said he couldn’t move, the coordinator messaged: “Ernesto can you send me a picture of the products please?”

Ámbito Financiero journalist Yanina Otero tweeted a photo of the exchange in which Floridia’s phone appears to be smeared with blood. The tweet went viral, and was retweeted more than 60,000 times, with social media users outraged at Glovo’s response. On 2 August, Judge Roberto Gallardo ordered the suspension of the apps in the city over concerns delivery companies don’t meet transport and labour laws. The ruling means the use of the apps is banned until delivery firms start observing the law. His ruling applies to all companies that fail to comply, but specifically mentions major delivery apps Rappi, Glovo, and PedidosYa. Judge Gallardo commented: “The situation described entails a foreseeable and immediate risk to frustrate the rights to life, physical integrity and work.” He ordered credit card companies to block transactions made via the apps. Delivery companies will also be fined ARS10,000 (A$272) each time police checkpoints catch a courier breaching health and safety requirements. In recent months there has been an alarming number of road accidents in Buenos Aires involving couriers, with 13 to 40 incidents per month since February, according to figures quoted in the ruling. ASIMM, the delivery workers’ union, said the apps reward couriers for working faster, creating incentives to cut corners with road safety. It added that people sometimes use the platforms to send drugs, turning couriers into unwitting mules. ASIMM’s Gonzalo Ottaviano described the ban as “the last remaining alternative” in a drawn-out struggle against precarious working conditions. “If the most important thing is how quickly the pizza gets there, more guys are going to die,” he said.
Read more: The Guardian. Source: Risks 911

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