Union News

Worker killed in Ballarat this morning

A construction worker on a house in Ballarat was killed this morning after being crushed by a collapsing wall. The house in Mount Pleasant was being demolished when the wall collapsed on the man about 9am.

The worker, who has not yet been formally identified, died at the scene. Another person working on the site was reportedly uninjured.

WorkSafe is investigating the incident and a report will be prepared for the coroner. This fatality brings to 23 the number of Victorians killed at work this year. The VTHC expresses our condolences for the worker's family, friends and colleagues. Read more: The Age

VTHC HSR Conference, October 29. Register NOW!

We have just received approval under s69 of the OHS Act to run our hugely successful Conference for Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs). This year, the Conference will be held on As usual, our HSR Conference will take place on Tuesday October 29. The theme of this year's conference is "Emerging Issues - Safe and Inclusive Workplaces". We are also expanding where we will be running the conference, so it will be easier for HSRs in non-metropolitan Melbourne to attend:

  1. Melbourne: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
  2. Bendigo: Trades Hall Council, Bendigo
  3. Gippsland: Federation University, Gippsland Campus, Churchill
  4. Portland: South West TAFE campus, Portland
  5. Wodonga: Wodonga TAFE Space, Lawrence Street Campus

The conference is free and is sponsored by WorkSafe - but registration is essential. It is the primary event for HSRs in Health and Safety Month. Elected HSRs are entitled to attend the conference on paid leave as per s69 of the Act, but they must give their employer at least 14 days' notice. Employers must grant HSRs the paid leave to attend. So get on to this as soon as possible to ensure you've got the leave and you're registered.

We also welcome Deputy HSRs - and many employers are happy to grant them paid leave to do so. So ask!

Go to the Registration website page now to register - it's super easy. Once you've registered you'll be able to download a letter for your employer and proof of the s69 approval from WorkSafe.

Ask Renata

Hi Renata
I wondered whether it is permitted to wear track suit pants at the workplace?

There is nothing in OHS legislation which either specifically permits or prohibits the wearing of track suit pants (or any other article of clothing) in the workplace.

Under the 'general duty of care', the employer has a duty to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

It may be that there is an OHS reason as to why track suit pants are not suitable - for example if workers are using chemicals and need to wear appropriate protective gear. Your employer should be explaining why track suit pants are unsuitable, and also providing appropriate overalls, etc. However, if there is no specific occupational health and safety issue why they cannot be worn, then it is not an OHS issue at all!

A second 'however', though: employers can require (legally) certain dress standards, as part of the requirements of a job. For example, if the employees of the business have interactions with the public, the employer may require 'neat casual' such as black pants, etc. This is because under ‘common law’ the employer has a right to give employees lawful instructions, and the employee is expected to comply.

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

Injured Workers Support Network new website
Have you checked out the new Injured Workers' Support Network (IWSN) website yet? It's a great new site, with resources and advice for any worker who has been injured in the workplace. There's an invitation to join the Network, and also to sign up to get regular updates. Check the new site here.

VTHC upcoming events

Training on 'Independent Medical Examiners'
IMEs are part of the Workers' Compensation system, and judging from the experiences of injured workers, sometimes their 'independence' leaves a lot to be desired. The IWSN and the VTHC OHS Unit are combining to provide training to interested people (HSRs, union organisers, injured workers) around a campaign on IMEs. There will be two separate training sessions - in order to satisfy people's availability.  The training will take place at the Trade Hall (Corner Victoria and Lygon Streets, Carlton South). If you are interested in attending, please RSVP via the appropriate link, below. 

  1. Tuesday 24 September, 12 - 2pm.  Register here
  2. Thursday 26 September, 6 - 8pm. Register here

Non-conforming building products - cladding - can cost lives

Unions, the ACTU and the VTHC, as well as many other groups, made submissions to the Federal Government inquiry into non-conforming building products. The title of the report Non-conforming building products: the need for a coherent and robust regulatory regime, released in December 2018, speaks for itself. 

This week, Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, warned that lives could be lost unless the state and federal governments work together to resolve the cladding crisis. Mr Andrews said both levels of government have a responsibility to work together on resolving the “significant challenge”, warning a blame game could put innocent lives as risk. Questioned on Sunday about cladding falsely labelled as fire resistant being imported into Australia, Mr Andrews warned of "deadly outcomes".

The lack of safety of flammable cladding and poor building standards came into sharp focus when flames raced up the external wall cladding at the Lacrosse building in Docklands in 2014. The Andrews government has committed $600 million to remove the combustible material used on hundreds of high-risk buildings. Read more: Senate Inquiry Report Non-conforming building products: the need for a coherent and robust regulatory regime; Premier warns of 'deadly outcomes' in cladding crisis blame game, The Age

Asbestos news

Asbestos is in almost all NSW public schools
According to an audit tabled in parliament by the NSW Labor Party, almost half of NSW's public schools are contaminated with deteriorating asbestos. There have been a total of 2,185 schools identified with asbestos - 109 of these have friable asbestos, which is extremely hazardous, while the asbestos is damaged in a further 988.

Labor minister Courtney Houssos, addressing the Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, said, "Minister, this is not asbestos that is sealed up in walls, this is asbestos that is breaking down, that is underneath classrooms, that is debris that is potentially fraying in school toilets and staff toilets, in school libraries and halls around the state in over 1000 - so almost half of NSW schools."

According to Ms Houssos, the department had 'buried' the list, which had not been updated since 2017, on its website. Although the NSW Education Minister said that children's safety was of 'utmost importance', and the government had a plan to remove the asbestos - she was not prepared to discuss or give any details.  Read more: The Daily Mail

Queensland cracks down on asbestos work
It has been reported that Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) is running an ongoing campaign targeting unsafe work practices associated with high-risk asbestos activities. Over the past two years, WHSQ has launched 36 investigations into such activities, such as using high-pressure water on asbestos materials, demolishing structures without first removing the asbestos and removing asbestos from domestic premises without controls.

Action has also been taken over the removal of asbestos without an appropriate asbestos removal licence and illegal burying of asbestos waste. In the past 12 months, WHSQ has cancelled five asbestos removal licences and suspended three others over unsafe and incompetent asbestos removal. Another eight licence holders are currently being assessed.

The regulator said that ignoring asbestos laws and putting people at risk can result in stiff penalties, including on-the-spot fines, with clean-up costs exceeding $100,000.
The crackdown is ongoing, with a specialist asbestos team enforcing compliance with state laws, as well as educating employers and providing technical support to help address community asbestos concerns. Read more: AIHS news

Brazil: Eternit Abandons Asbestos!
In a press release issued by Eternit, S.A. – formerly Brazil’s biggest asbestos conglomerate – company President Luís Augusto Barbosa confirmed that Eternit had “abandoned 100%" asbestos and would now play a leading role in the green revolution by introducing a new asbestos-free photovoltaic tile, capable of transforming solar power into electricity. Product testing is ongoing and Eternit expected the tiles to be on the Brazilian market within 18 months. The USP of the new Eternit product is that the photovoltaic cells are applied onto the tile itself without the need for an additional panel.
See: Eternit lança telha de energia solar e diz que superou Amianto [Eternit launches solar power tile and says it has overcome asbestos]. Source: IBAS.

Brazil: denial of asbestos disease in miners
A PhD dissertation by Dr. A.P. Amaral published this year (2019) explores in depth what a Brazilian Commission had reported in 2010 about the dangerous conditions in which asbestos workers toiled with a focus on the situation in the town of Minaçu, home to the country’s sole remaining chrysotile asbestos mine. This brief article about the thesis highlights the isolation and deprivation experienced by victims and their families who received neither support nor acknowledgement of the occupational nature of the illnesses contracted. In a town where the asbestos discourse was dictated by those with vested interests in the survival of the industry, the injured were marginalized and silenced by the overpowering forces against them.
Read more: The full article on the IBAS website.

France: Backward step in asbestos control
On August 27 France’s Council of State  suspended provisions of an interministerial decree of July 16 stipulating that as of July 19 identification of asbestos prior to the commencement of work must be undertaken by certified operators. According to the ruling which accomplished this reversal: “While it is undeniable that the prevention of asbestos-related risks constitutes a public health imperative, it is not established, in the circumstances of the case, that the continued operation of these provisions is required.”

This is extremely disappointing as without identification prior to work commencing in buildings, the risk of asbestos exposure can be high. In Australia, the asbestos regulations stipulate that before any demolition or refurbishment work commences the asbestos register be reviewed, a further process of identification be carried out, and any asbestos present be removed.
See: Amiante: le Conseil d'Etat suspend l'obligation de certification avec mention pour le repérage avant travaux [Asbestos: Council of State suspends obligation of certification requiring identification before works].

ASEA Conference: Perth 11 - 13 November
A reminder of the 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference, at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.  The conference is 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 news

Lesotho: Agreement to end harassment at big brand factories
A union-backed campaign has won action to end widespread sexual harassment at factories in Lesotho which produces garments for major 'high street' brands. The action by the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) to stop long-running gender-based violence at Nien Hsing Textile company factories has resulted in the binding agreements signed by unions, apparel brands and women’s rights organisations.
Global union IndustriALL said its affiliate IDUL has been fighting gender-based violence and harassment at the company's factories for many years. In response the company, which employs over 10,000 workers, “even cancelled a memorandum of understanding in retaliation for being asked about the violations when IDUL wanted to access the factories to organise.”

IndustriALL said the agreements to address the pattern of abuse and harassment come after a report by the US-based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), revealing that managers and supervisors at Nien Hsing forced workers into sexual relationships by “conditioning the maintenance of employment contracts/or provision of more favourable working conditions on a female worker’s willingness to engage in such a relationship.” It found management was complicit as it did not take disciplinary action against the offenders, creating a tolerance of the abuse and a fear of reporting the violations.

After extensive negotiations, IDUL together with four other unions in Lesotho, IndustriALL US affiliate Workers United, WRC and the Solidarity Center signed agreements with Nien Hsing, Levi Strauss & Co, The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands to address gender-based violence at five factories in the country. May Rathakane, IDUL deputy general secretary, said: “We are committed to protecting workers’ rights and well-being at factories, and to ensure that female workers feel safe, valued and empowered.” She added: “This is a breakthrough to better working conditions and will protect workers from retaliation by employers.” A complaint and fact-finding body will be set up to investigate the abuses. Education and training on sexual harassment for factory workers, supervisors and managers will also be carried out.
Read more: IndustriALL news release. WRC news release and investigation. Source: Risks 931.

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