Union News

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 as long as they have received the 14 days' notice - so this means you must do this by October 15th at the very latest to guarantee you will get 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.

FREE posters for the conference are available now - we have lots of these available and if you'd like some, contact [email protected]. You can check out the poster here.  Feel free to copy it and post it on your noticeboard if you can't get hard copies.

VTHC: 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) - come along and meet the OHS team, if you haven't already. 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

Injured Workers Support Network new website
And just another reminder: 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.

Ask Renata

Hi Renata
I work in a team that is predominantly made up of women. We have to go to set up at community events, and this often involves lifting heavy equipment and setting up marquees, often on our own. Assistance isn't always available, and our team is made up of women with different levels of physical strength. Should we be lifting such heavy items?

There is nothing in OHS which specifically addresses about weights, nor is there any differentiation between men and women. This is because even light weights can create a risk, depending on several factors, and just as women have different levels of physical capacity, so do men  – see this page on the site. For general information on manual handling, go to this page.

There are regulations on manual handling, which require the employer to eliminate, so far as is reasonably practicable, or else minimise hazardous manual handling - to follow a hazard/risk elimination/reduction procedure. The regulations stipulate that the employer must identify any hazardous manual handling tasks and then implement controls according to the preferred order of controls – see a summary of the regulations, here.

So, I would recommend raising the issue officially with your employer - request that a policy be developed covering the work done out of the office at outdoor and other events. The policy should cover:

  1. Assessment of all the tasks to determine whether there is a risk of hazardous manual handling – this assessment can be done on a number of ‘like’ tasks – eg putting up a marquis
  2. the development and implementation of specific controls for each task/job. Note that team lifting may be a control, but it’s at the bottom of the hierarchy. Nevertheless, it may be that certain things can only be done by providing assistance.
  3. Workers need to be trained, provided with the correct equipment and all relevant information

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

HSR videos

The wonderful Sam, from the team, has been filming some short videos with HSRs and posting them to our Facebook page. The latest is Aiden - a brand new HSR working in disability, he's also an absolute gun. Check out how he expertly handled the issue of clients causing safety concerns whilst on a moving bus, consulting with experts and trialing several solutions, including issuing a ceasework!  He has a great team supporting him and shows what HSRs can do when they understand the Act and their powers.  Watch the video here.

Surge in cases of silicosis

The alarming surge in the number of stonemasons diagnosed with the lung disease silicosis illustrates the importance of continuing the fight to lower Australia's exposure standard to 0.025mg/m3 as an 8hr TWA - as being advocated by the VTHC (see our information page on Silica). The recent introduction in Victoria of regulations banning the dry cutting of engineered stone is a good start, but it's very possible that workers will continue to be exposed to unacceptably high levels of silica dust. This week, the ABC's 7.30 ran another story of a 34 year old former stonemason struck down by silicosis. Check out the report here.

Senate inquiry into trucking conditions and safety

Crossbench Senators have voted with Labor and the Greens to establish a Senate inquiry that will revisit how pay and conditions in the trucking industry impact road safety. The inquiry by the Senate's Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee will report by April 2020.

Its terms of reference include the "importance of an enforceable minimum award rate and sustainable standards and conditions" for all stakeholders, plus "efficient cost-recovery measures for industry stakeholders, including subcontractors".

The establishment of an inquiry was endorsed at a transport industry forum in Canberra last month, which was attended by more than 30 representative bodies, including truck drivers, the TWU, transport operators and industry associations. The forum was organised by Labor's shadow assistant mInister for road safety, Glenn Sterle, who is a former owner-operator and ex-TWU official. It called for the inquiry to focus on the "importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry".

After thorough industry consultation, the Gillard Labor Government established the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) in 2012 to set pay and conditions for road transport drivers in the road transport industry - however it was scrapped by the Turnbull Government in 2016 after controversy over the effect on owner-drivers and others. Unsurprisingly, then, the government the government Senators voted against the inquiry, arguing it is already taking action on road investment and regulation, complementing a new Office of Road Safety and the Joint Select Committee on Road Safety.
Source: WorkplaceExpress

Asbestos news

Clean up of Geelong dump site
The huge task of the clean up and removal of a contaminated waste stockpile near Geelong is under way after the site's owner went into liquidation leaving a clean-up bill of $100m. The now insolvent C&D Recycling company abandoned about 320,000 cubic metres of mostly building waste at Broderick Road in Lara after it shut in December 2017. The stockpile, a fire hazard which is also contaminated with asbestos and other toxic substances, will take years to clear. 

The site’s former operator, David McAuliffe, was originally sentenced to three months due to the state of the site but has had his sentenced overturned and now has just an 18-month community corrections order and a $15,000 fine. The site’s former leaseholder, The Australian Sawmilling Company (TASCO), went into liquidation in April this year. This leaves the EPA with the clean up costs - the state government is contributing $30m. Source: The Australian

ASEA Conference: Perth 11 - 13 November
Don't forget the 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference, at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.  All members of the asbestos management system have the opportunity 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 sessions focused on the work of asbestos support groups, the latest research into asbestos awareness communications and the latest from medical researchers. Check out 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

UK: Danger of 19th century working conditions, TUC warns
Britain risks slipping back to 19th century working conditions, the TUC has warned. A new report from the UK's peak union body says there are 3.7 million people in insecure work, nearly two million (1.85m) self-employed people earning less than the minimum wage and workers still facing the longest pay squeeze for 200 years.  It says that unless the balance of power is reset in the workplace, economic inequality and insecure work will continue to get worse. Increasing the number of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements is the best way to raise wages and improve conditions, the report adds. It recommends “broadening the scope of collective bargaining rights to include all pay and conditions, including pay and pensions, working time and holidays, equality issues (including maternity and paternity rights), health and safety, grievance and disciplinary processes, training and development, work organisation, including the introduction of new technologies, and the nature and level of staffing.”

The report notes: “Research shows that workplaces with collective bargaining have higher pay, more training days, more equal opportunities practices, better holiday and sick pay provision, more family-friendly measures, less long-hours working and better health and safety. Staff are much less likely to express job-related anxiety in unionised workplaces than comparable non-unionised workplaces; the difference is particularly striking for women with caring responsibilities.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We urgently need to reset the balance of power in our economy and give people more of a say about what happens to them at work. We know that collective bargaining is the best way to raise wages and improve conditions – so let’s expand it across the whole workforce.” In 2018, labour law expert John Hendy of the Institute of Employment Rights argued in the union-backed safety magazine Hazards: “Collective bargaining is the only way of giving workers an effective voice and power to prevent injustice in the workplace.”
Read more: TUC news release and report, A stronger voice for workers: how collective bargaining can deliver a better deal at work, TUC, September 2019. The Guardian.
Wage war: Delivering workplace justice through union collective bargaining, Hazards magazine, number 142, 2018. Source: Risks 914

USA: Deadly meat industry could soon get deadlier
Trump administration policies threaten to worsen the already dangerous conditions for meatpacking workers in the United States, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned. A new report from the group says the current administration is weakening oversight of slaughterhouses and lifting limits on production speeds. The 100-page HRW report, ‘When we’re dead and buried, our bones will keep hurting’: Workers’ rights under threat in US meat and poultry plants, describes alarmingly high rates of serious injury and chronic illness among workers at chicken, pig, and cattle slaughtering and processing plants.

HRW interviewed workers who described serious job-related injuries or illnesses, and nearly all the interviewed workers identified production speed as the factor that made their job dangerous. “US meat and poultry workers are put under intense pressure to keep up with production, risking traumatic injury and disabling illness,” said Matt McConnell, research fellow in HRW’s business and human rights division. “By giving companies the green light to accelerate their production, the US government is putting workers’ health on the line.” He added: “The US government should not ignore the human impact of its policies. It has the power and the obligation to improve workers’ conditions, and should not make them worse.”
Read more: HRW news release and video. ‘When we’re dead and buried, our bones will keep hurting’: Workers’ rights under threat in US meat and poultry plants, HRW, September 2019. Source: Risks 914


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